Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Selfies, Self Acceptance, & Transition

Yesterday I posted and open letter to loved ones who intentionally misgender me. This post is a kind of sequel to that post. This post is for people who read that letter  and want to know more about my transition. And it's going to be all about me and how good I look. So buckle up as I use the following photos to demonstrate how I feel and probably appear much more authentic than I have in the past.



Now this may initially seem like a clean cut portrait of triumph. But it's not some simplified escape of easy liberation narrative. I'm not here to invalidate the person I was 5 years ago. Just because I feel wiser and feel more myself today doesn't mean I actually am. There are inauthentic photographs of me now and surely there were photographs and undocumented moments of authentic joy in my past. My pre-transition life was not complete misery and my life today is by no means free from discomfort. But what I most want to highlight here is the fact that the bulk to the selfies I take today are much more reliably expressive and forthcoming than photos I've taken of myself in the past.

I don't necessarily think I look better in these newer pictures. And actually I acknowledge that the way I look now deviates much more from common standards of beauty/attractiveness in my culture. I'm fully aware that I was “prettier” then and that prettiness fits easily onto my frame. But ease doesn't make a thing right. The contrast I see every time I look at these photos has little to nothing to do with physical beauty.

For instance this person might be called handsome but probably not beautiful:


You can see more of the person I am in the the more current shots. In older photographs of me I see a shrinking. I see myself hiding my features I see a sort of failed demure-ness that I barely recognize as ever being part of myself. I remember seeing photos of myself back in 2006 and deleting all the candid shots I could find because they didn't conform to the kind of pretty I was trying so hard to project. I remember comparing candid and posed shots of myself and thinking and thinking, “You look pretty good when you're trying.”




One of the most prominent differences that I physically remember is that while being photographed I never allowed my crooked and yellow smile to be preserved on film. Sure I would smile and laugh big a lot but when the camera was about to click I'd tell myself to “tone it down.” So it's a bit of a lie to say physical beauty has nothing to do with this contrast, because I did a great deal of work in acting out what I thought was beauty. I approached putting on femininity was like it was my job. And I absolutely knew what customers would like. Like most people at the close of their 20s, I've climbed through a world nauseatingly full of suggestions on how to best express myself.

It's taken something like 10 years, but I've finally become more comfortable and somewhat skilled at living in my body and using it to express myself honestly. In pictures today I am more playful, unafraid of taking shots that don't conform to what's been decided as my “good angles”. In the only playful pictures I could find of my early twenties self, I'm either drunk, completely unaware a photo was being taken, or there was a person I trusted very deeply behind the camera.

This is the sort of photos I usually took of myself:
And this is the only pre-transition photo I could find of myself as an adult that I felt honest and forthcoming:


And I actually hid this photo for a long time because part of me knew it bespoke things about me I wasn't willing to be honest about quite yet. I was afraid and doubtful of the my own vulnerability and openness.

The person in the above photo and more current pics is noticeably less concerned with how others might perceive them. In some sense taking selfies is a ritual for me. Getting to see myself distracts me from what others might think. It's important that I make it a ritual because I can't quiet the constant anxious mutterings of disapproval in the background of my subconscious that pressure me to pay attention to what others think of me. Before transition I barely ever noticed that voice was wrong. It was a fixation that drove me without even asking. One that, if I'm not being vigilant, will seep back into my habits and put its ghostly thumb on the scale of my decisions.

Even now as I write this I can feel it telling me that people who read this will think I am shallow, vain, vulgar, and wrong and so of course shouldn't be writing this piece, not in public at the very least. The voice only speaks in run on sentence. And sometimes I am too tired or anxious about other things to ignore it. If someone happens to snap a photo in one of these disquiet moments I can feel myself diverting. I can feel the false demure creeping back in. I hear Tyra Banks telling me to “smize,” I strain to hold my face in a blank sort of positive. The results, while not completely dishonest seem completely vacant.

When these moments of anxious self-doubt strike I avoid making eye contact with the camera, and if I do look into the camera it is not playful. It's deferential to any potential viewer. In those moments I am either afraid to be seen or just not fully connected to myself and my own body.

So while a cursory glance at these pictures looks like a simple FtM; sad to happy; in-my-shell to out, transition, it's not really. Please don't read this as a before-and-after fairytale makeover style story. Self-acceptance is not a product or prize one earns. It can't be bought or earned or tricked into becoming. It just comes when it comes. I can't control or regulate self acceptance and confidence, those aren't things I can control directly.

I think most people get the idea of self acceptance all wrong. Kind of like how they get the idea of coming out all wrong. They think both of these are just something you do, then you're done. You accept yourself and then the work is over or that once you come out as gay, or transgender, or whatever that you're all done and can just live peacefully after that. Well let me tell you this: self acceptance, has an aftermath (just like coming out). It often fails to land because of resistance, deeply ingrained self-denial, or just plain clumsiness.

I've come out to my parents at least three times. Each incident went seemingly smoothly to me. There was some vacant smiling and the requisite “whatever makes you happy” sentiments. They nodded quietly. They didn't ask any of the questions I'd prepared myself to answer. They didn't ask anything at all. Their confusion and resistance only came later. Usually when my expressions had forced them to confront what they'd hoped was a private reality they'd tolerate about me. Each time I came out I mistook their vacant vaguely pleasant looks for acceptance. Just like 5 years ago, when I mistook my own vacant and vaguely pleasant looks for expressions of myself.

 


These days I nestle affirmations into my daily life. I've surrounded myself with a community of people that see me for what I am and commend me for it. And then when these moments of self acceptance do flash into me I catch them (sometimes on film) and cherish them. I make evidence so I can remind myself of what's possible. I never know how long I'll end up getting with these moments or when the next one will come along, so I try and keep my life open to them as best I can.


<3

Monday, June 8, 2015

Call Me Wryly: An Open Letter to Loved Ones Who Intentionally Misgender Me


Hello friend, lover, family member/sibling. You are receiving this letter because you have called me by my former name, or refused to use my pronoun (they/them), and/or because you have willfully expressed sentiments that are doubtful of or hostile to the existence and experiences of transgender people (e.g. "transsexuals are confusing to our children.")

You might already know, but I'm transgender. I was assigned female by doctors and raised as a girl by my parents. For me being a girl was like wearing an ill fitting pair of pants for 12 years (from adolescence into mid 20's). I had to constantly adjust, cinch in, and fidget to find any semblance of comfort and normalcy.



But also I'd just gotten used to that discomfort and all the rituals surrounding it. I'd become accustomed to the fact that the gender I was raised with didn't quite fit. And honestly, I thought it was like that for all girls. I assumed that being a girl was supposed to be uncomfortable. The cultural teachings I was raised with about, the way Eve was punished for the Original Sin, and how "pain is beauty" supported this theory.

Now, I don't want to get into the specifics of my gender identity and how I realized it (we can talk about that later,  just ask) but I want you to know that the thing you have the luxury of calling an opinion about gender is not a luxury I have. My gender is insistent and unconscious. I can't erase it or push it away with a conscious opinion. I can't choose to feel my gender differently any more than you can choose to dream what you dream about. If I suddenly changed my mind back to believing that trans people are just mentally ill (what I was taught and believed before) I would still feel uncomfortable in the ill fitting role of "girl." I'd still have to adjust constantly to get by and probably still feel mysteriously disingenuous (like I did for most of my early 20s).


So I took off the role of girl, and it feels sort of like standing in front of a crowd not wearing pants, or wearing something that is unrecognizable as a garment to most people.


People look away. People call me wrong, they call me obscene. But Lordy is it ever comfortable. Perhaps more importantly, it's honest. Not everyone recognizes me this way, but those who do see qualities and attributes that would never have been able to come through if I was still a girl.

That recognition, the comfort and honesty I share with myself and with my friends and family is worth any rejection or prejudice I face. The wisdom I get from being myself honestly is so much richer than pretending that my soul can fit into the outfit society gave me (which is a very fine thing. Womanhood is beautiful, just not a good fit for me).

Now comes the part that will possibly be offensive/difficult:
When you call me"she" and "her" or when you use my my old name, it hurts me. It stings like a cruel nickname. Like being called "Freckles" if you hate your freckles or "Carrot Top" because you're a redhead. It hurts me. Refusing to use my chosen name and pronoun hurts me. (Using the wrong pronoun/name by accident also hurts, but we all hurt each other through slips of the tongue sometimes).

Refusing to use the name and pronoun of another person is a form of bullying. It's an enforcement of "this is how it is" on people who are harmed by the current status quo of gender. It is the same as saying "I care more about the way I think than I care about you and your well being." When I hear you say, "I just can't change the way I see or talk about you" what I hear is, "I'd rather see the world the way I always have than consider a trans person's reality." It's bull-headed and inconsiderate, and usually ends up with the refusing person's opinion being seen by society as antiquated. Yes it's hard to change old habits. But that's what we do for the people we love. When they need us to, we change the way we do things.

All of this leads me into answering the question you probably asked yourself when you began reading the very first paragraph of this letter. Yes, my friend, the things you said/did were transphobic. They didn't feel transphobic to you because it's all theory for you. Your gender makes already sense to you. So my confusing gender must seem like a theory for you to contemplate and entertain at your leisure, a hypothetical you an safely abandon when it conflicts with how you see the world. But it's not theory to me, it's not a choice or an opinion. My gender is confusing 100% of the time. It's an inescapably huge part of my life. I am what I am, which means I can't be what you think I should be, no matter how frustrating that makes your attempts to comprehend the world.

Also I need you to know that your words hurt me and scare me. But I'm probably going to get over that fear quickly because I know you. I know how tender and generous you are. I know you care about me and probably didn't intend to hurt me. I remember how we bonded over the specific and fascinating details of our shared passions and history. I remember how we grew together. I love you and probably think of you as family.

In a sense I'm grateful that you've spoken what you believe out in the open and are willing to let others question it and maybe even question it yourself. It gives me hope for my future. It's a concrete set of thoughts and behaviors I can identify as harmful to me. Even if you don't believe me about the pain, your self-aware proclamation of these transphobic words and sentiments could be part of beginning steps to change how you treat and think about trans people. It's an acknowledgement of the conflict between my lived experience and your worldview.

But even if you aren't changing your mind just yet, I still want your friendship and love. Because I know you see there's more to me than just my (confusing) gender and I know you can learn from me as I have learned so much from you. I may not be able to withstand the thousand cuts of being misgendered forever, but for now I love you enough to endure the discomfort. 

I believe in our relationship and in both our abilities to change. I didn't choose to love you, but I am choosing to find a way to keep loving you in the future. Cause our relationship is pretty damn great. I know I've been clumsy about it in the past, but right now, today, in this letter, I want to invite you into the uncertainty of my life, which means witnessing the uncertainty of my gender. It'll be hard for us both, but I want you here, with me. You are irreplaceable. I don't want to lose you when/if the time comes that I can no longer stand the pain of being misgendered.


With Love, Hope, and the deepest Gratitude,
Wryly T. McCutchen

Friday, March 27, 2015

On Gender Policing in Trans Communities: transitioning is not weakness

note: after writing this I realized that I was deeply inspired by and bascially restating a lot of what Julia Serano has to say about Gender Artifactualism in her book Excluded here's a crash course in that.


It's very common in transgender and nonbinary communities for folks to applaud each other for choosing not to medically transition or not to wear binders or heels or whatever else. Usually it's just the standard “Good job doing that soul searching.” and “I'm glad you found a choice best reflects you.” This sort of encouragement is wonderful. It's a big part of why trans people (and other marginalized individuals) seek community. It's tough for us as trans folks to find this sort of encouragement in the world at large. And it can feel especially tough for nonbinary trans folks who have ostensibly zero out role models in the greater public eye and must seek validation almost exclusively through community. There is excruciatingly small public awareness about what it means to be transgender and specifically nonbianry.* So the encouragement we give each other is necessary.

Unfortunately, sometimes the support sought or given becomes politicized in a way that's problematic or even exclusive. When such choices are described with the language like “fight against gendered expectations” it casts those who do choose to undergo more physical and medical changes as somehow “giving in” to society. It can also call into question the identity of the trans individual's nonbinary-ness, implying that there are rules and standards to being nonbinary that exclude folks who take HRT or get gender affirming surgery. Worst of all, it shoves a political value onto trans folks's personal care choices and tells them they are weak, shallow, or backward for adopting particular traits. We're already heavily and mercilessly politicized by the cis world. Can we not politicize each other this way?

My choice to refrain from chemically or medically altering my body to better express my gender doesn't make me morally superior to trans people that do choose to treat their dysphoria with medical and chemical procedures. Not taking HRT doesn't make me more stalwart than those who do. Not getting surgery doesn't mean I respect my body more. And I'd appreciate it if people (trans and nonbinary included) would stop telling me these actions means more than I say they do.

For myself and for other trans individuals, I view being transgender as a complex condition of life for which there are medical and non-medical treatments available. Deciding to take HRT and or have gender affirming surgery is no different than deciding to take anti-depressants or getting a mastectomy in the face of highly probable breast cancer. These are serious health choices, ones that aren't usually made in direct reaction to a discrete risk to one's immediate health or well being but made after careful consideration of lived experience and potential outcomes. These are decisions made in hopes of shifting the way someone balances the conditions of their life. It's a complicated self care process.

Let me break it down for you with a hypothetical:
Say your best friend has bipolar. If she decides to explore life without meds after years on Zyprexa you don't tell her that she's fighting the good fight against society's expectations of sanity and those evil drug companies. You say “that choice must have been a tough one.” and ask her what you can do to help accommodate this change in her life. If it doesn't work out for her and she chooses to go back on meds you wouldn't see her actions as “giving in” to Big Pharma. You don't assume her choice was about your politics or your identity. Because that would make you an egocentric jerk. Instead you recognize that her choice was about her own self care. You'd see it as her choice to manage the conditions of her life (regardless that her choice is different than the ones you make to manage the conditions of your own life).

The way we sort out and express our needs and desires is unique, part of what makes us individuals. And it should be respected. This is clear to me as a poet and a person with conflicting desires. Sometimes I hate that gender even exists, so yeah, I do sometimes dream about a world without it. But those dreams are mine, they aren't fit to be mapped onto the desires of other trans and nonbinary individuals or groups. My desires for a world without gender are not more politically pure or correct than the desire I to have a huge dick. My occasional desire for a less round body as well as those for a less gendered world do deserve to be expressed, but not at the expense of other's choices for expression and self care. These desires do not deserve to be seen as intrinsically appropriate for other trans and non-binary people. Like any member of a marginalized group, my desires and doubts aren't representative.

Being skeptical of medical transition steps is currently my personal choice. But it will never be a symbol for my politics. And as much I want to meet people whose experiences mirror my own,  I work not to project my personal skepticism of medical transition onto others. Because it's not my business to decide how others best manage their personal and unique experience of being transgender. It's not yours either.



*In popular culture there's been a fantastic surge in representation of binary trans folks  in the last 5-10 years (particularly for trans women). I have a suspicion that some of the exclusionary distancing language used by nonbinary folks comes from the pain of being erased or simply not recognized at all by the limited portrait of transgender lives currently seen in pop culture. I can see refusals to conform to those binary narratives as politically important to the nonbinary community, but I don't think they belongs in the language we use to support each other's self care choice. It certainly shouldn't come at the expense of others. There is not a scarcity of acceptance and recognition. We don't need to steal/win it away from our siblings.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Some very useful gifs

Tonight I suddenly realized I haven't posted in almost two months. Rest assured I've been working on a few dynamite posts this month. Unfortunately I have been too busy with grad school to polish them up for posting. So instead of those I've decided to share with you my very favorite Audrey Hepburn gifs. I hope they are useful to you on your journey down the information superhighway.

 
 
  




Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Guest Post: On Suicide and the Transfeminine Expereince

This is a guest post. One of my very dear friends Elly posted this on her facebook wall yesterday in reaction to the coverage and tragedy of Leelah Alcorn's suicide. It was too beautiful and full of truth for me not to ask if I could share it. I'm deeply grateful that she agreed to let me post her story. As someone with lived experience as a trans woman and someone who's been consumed by suicidal thoughts she is far more equipped to write about these things than I am. I thank her for her honesty and bravery in sharing this with me and her community.
[TW: Suicide.]
If you need something to make these things more tangible and real to you, then I want to tell you something: Before my transition, I was going to kill myself. Not maybe. There was no real sliver of doubt left in me, although I was being patient. I'd worked out my plan (carefully optimizing for lethality and viability of organ donation) and I'd composed my note in my head. I thought about it nearly non-stop for years on end, refining the details, hungrily imagining the act itself. The instinctual allure of self-annihilation was indescribably intense: I wanted to die like a drowning woman wants to breathe. Sometimes I fantasized about flaying myself alive. Many of you -- some of my oldest friends and acquaintances -- have never seen me in person in any moment in which I wasn't actively wishing I was dead, although I worked as hard as I could to hide it from you: because it wasn't fit for polite conversation, and because I couldn't allow you to try to stop me.

I started seriously contemplating suicide when I was in seventh grade, and I stopped a little while after I started my transition. I don't know quite when I lost my will to die, or how; one day I just noticed it missing. There was a span of time in which it was so strange and new to actually want to live, I wasn't sure how to deal with it. Now I'm looking back from the far side and it's increasingly difficult for me to empathize with how I know I used to feel. It's an eerie thing to so clearly remember feeling something like that -- to be able to touch every scar I carved into myself down through all those years -- and feel like I only sort of understand. I can't imagine wanting to die anymore. That's why I can tell you all of this.

I was essentially suicidal for fully half my life, and I never even had to worry about most of the things Leelah Alcorn had hanging over her. I never had to deal with the violent condemnation of parents or church. By comparison to her, I consider myself quite weak: I would have died surrounded by would-be allies, having admitted nothing to anyone, done in by nothing much more than my own internalization of the ambient transphobia of this culture. All the Ace Venturas and Crying Games.

I want so badly to live now. I relish every breath I take with a kind of euphoric desperation that I can't describe any better than I can my lost death wishes, and I can't fathom that anything will ever change that now. Still, I'd trade my life in a second for a chance to speak to all the Leelah Alcorns of this world before they leave it: to say, you're not as alone as I know you feel. To tell them: holy shit do I ever worry that I'm always going to look like some kind of ugly-ass man in drag, but I've also lived to figure out that there are much worse ways to be -- and you were beautiful anyway. To say I've felt enough varieties of loneliness now to know that none of them are quite as sharp as being in the love and intimacy of someone who still only sees the facade you've constructed for them. I don't know if my words would make any difference.

There are so many ways in which 2014 was a staggering breakthrough year for transgender equality, but it wasn't nearly good enough. 2015 needs to be better. Every year needs to be better than the last, until there are no more stories like Leelah's. Until the world looks back and knows it can't even rightly imagine what it was like for us.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

No More Transphobic Hand Wringing

A friend dropped this article this article onto my facebook wall this afternoon, and while it came with a bit of a disclaimer from the person who posted it, I clicked right on through. I was interested because what little I've skimmed about Bad Pitt and Angelina Jolie's oldest biological child has excited my gender politics. Also it's exciting to see a famous (tiny) transmasculine person. But my oh my, was I ever disappointed by what I clicked into.

My skin first began to prickle when this Jazz Shaw character put quotation marks around the words "identifies as male" and "gender assigned". The quotation marks display the fact that this writer is either being sarcastic or clearly does not want their* readers to believe they think John (or anyone) identifying as such is legit. But then my skin went into full on curdle at the predictable repulsive gem "politically correct". The only people who use that term seriously do so in effort to deride others for being considerate to other humans and as a means to dissuade others from seeking ways to reduce the harm they do with their language/actions. Seriously, whenever I hear/read those words I automatically assume this author is going to be an oppressive asshole to someone and has chosen this moment to refuse to apologize for it in advance.

So yeah, this writer has a serious problem, and NO it's not the problem they refer to at the end of their article. Which I guess is the problem of confusing our children with the complexities of gender or something? “children around the world are looking at [John] and thinking, “I wonder if that’s who I am too?” This is not a solution. It’s a problem.”
UGH! Just NO. No. No.

By Shaw's decree all parents should be saving their children from the dangerous corruption of anything outside cisgender and cissexual experiences. This is troubling in 3 very distinct ways:

1. It is deeply transphobic. It assumes that there is something bad or damaging not just about being trans, but also that just knowing that gender and sex can mean more than just man/woman and male/female is somehow harmful. (hey almost like how some idiots used to think all gay men are pedophiles huh?)

2. It disrespects the agency of one child in particular and all children in general. Assuming that a child doesn't know what they need and that the adults know better. Just because it is a child's decision to look, act, or speak in a particular doesn't mean that that decision is less valid or real. Which leads me nicely into

3. It's hurtful to non-binary people like me who DO go through radical changes in our desires to express our genders. It tells anyone with a gender that is too complex to fit into a tidy spot on a narrow spectrum all of the fucking time that our experiences are too confusing, and inappropriate for children. It erases us. It calls us obscene.

I was particularly pained by Shaw's mournful cry of "What is to become of this little girl". And their trying to explain away young Pitt-Jolie's behavior as temporary. As if temporary-ness of someone's explicitly stated expression or identity is reason enough to ignore and invalidate them. My family members pull this shit with me sometimes. And when they mourn my decision to not have children and the beauty I coulda been or whatever and it hurts in a way that sticks with me. It's just a change dammit not a fucking funeral. Seriously, people respect it when names are changed for marriage, even though about half of those things end up being pretty temporary.

I don't mind the above being faulted as unnecessarily venomous. I can risk being called that today because this morning my twitter stream was filled with necessary discomfort of confronting suicide within the trans community. Specifically the suicide of transgender youth. It's why I found Shaw's disrespectful article so particularly revolting. Because it espouses the exact attitudes that prevent adults from providing trans kids with access to life saving resources.

No. Not on a day like today**. I just can't let a thing like that stand. No more transphobic hand wringing. I've had enough.




PS:
Now that I've verily skewered Shaw,  I do want to say that there's one point on which we probably agree (but for differing reasons). And this is a hard thing for me to fess up to because boy do I ever want me an adorable transmasculine spokesperson who goes by the pronouns I prefer, but dammit, John is 8 years old. They're not an actor or someone who's chosen public life. Their gender or gender expression should not be something we're morbidly interested in. But we are, because part of celebrity culture is about obsessing over and criticizing the family and parenting decisions of famous people. Which is weird and creepy. Let's not do that.

*I very intentionally chose to refer to Jazz Shaw by "they/them/theirs" in this article. Yes, I neglected to the research Shaw's preferred pronoun. In this case alone I'm proud to return the misgendering fire. For John, my dapper little sibling in arms.



**Today is only special because I am hearing about the loss of one of my trans siblings. These losses happen all the time. On Transgender Day of Remembrance, we read a list naming the people we've lost to violence and suicide. These lists are so long that you can't make it to through them without ending up numb, checked out, or chocked up, with your face in your hands. All slippery hot from the accumulation of ache and fury.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Final Impossible post

This is my final October transmission. The last communiqué  in the impossible blogging project.

I feel proud and very rushed. Like I wish I had a drawn out perspective on the foolish accomplishment of all this. But the truth is, I am very bad at viewing my own accomplishments with any sort of objectivity. Most humans are. I feel no relief yet (as of writing this).

I do feel excited to see people's costumes and to be getting back another hour or so of each of my days. I am excited to be back in a city where my heart feels so wet and welcome.

 I know a lot of people are going into nanowrimo tomorrow. And I sort of wish I could be joining y'all and writing up a book about a werewhale who lives in the San Juans, but I need to get on with other things. My schcool work has been woefully neglected lately and I am itching to spend more time on it.

I realize I talk a lot about fear in this arena. And I confess I use this blog sometimes as a method o categorizing my fears. But right now I am having fears about stuff I can't yet share publicly.

I also realize I use blogging as a way to probe and affirm my own uncertainty. I know at the very least that it makes me better at blogging every time.

And I want to say something pithy, something inspirational, that wraps up all the work I have done in the last thirty days, but the truth it that shit don't come when it's supposed to. So stay tuned for a post in the future, that tell you all more about what it's like to blog for 30 days straight. My words will be seeing you soon!

It's been a blast. Thank you.