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.

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.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Rant about fame, micro-aggressions, and responses to them

This afternoon a good friend of mine, with whom I often talk politics and rhetoric, posted this to FB
Liberals be like:
"We must discount everything this person has ever said or ever will say because this one time, out of context, s/he said something that may have offended one of our Saintly Groups! (i.e. gays, trans folk, disabled, and nonwhite people)"
All. The. Time.
The comments section ended up being a rigorous run down of the way tumblr activist have "gone after" celebrities like Dan Savage, Laci Green, and Bill Mahr for saying/doing offensive things.

Firstly I need to state that I personally I love pieces of art/media made by people who hold politics or have done things that I find gratingly reprehensible. I love the show Community but like many I find Dan Harmon's behavior deeply troubling. I love Wes Anderson films and basically every project Tilda Swinton is associated with but both signed a petition supporting the release of Roman Polanski.

I do this by reminding myself that these people aren't their creations. Dan Savage is not the Savage Love. Laci Green is not Sex Plus. X celeb is not (just) their words, behaviors, and projects. This mantra helps me ease the cognitive dissonance I have surrounding my affinity for things crated by people I don't like. Now this practice isn't for everyone. Not every wants to or should be able to ease their contradiction in politics like this. I think it's okay to not subscribe to this way of thinking.

I don't see the mistakes in speech or rhetorical missteps people like Dan Savage and Laci Green as harmless. Regardless of their intent to do no harm or whether or not it was done to promote another "good" cause. And especially as those who are in the public eye and known for specifically for their progressive or inclusive projects. I see these missteps as micro-aggressions. Micro-aggressions signal many minority individuals (even those not under the purview of the offensive word/comment/approach) that this person will mock and potentially ostracize those that divergence from the "norm" (where "norm" is what the celeb considers normal).

When I see an educator or artist make a casual and probably unintentional slur, it cues me to suspend my trust and I begin to worry that this person's work may not be safe to share with some of the people I care about. It makes my hackles go up and I am angry for either myself (if the slur is against me) or on behalf of my siblings who are systematically ostracized by the rhetoric echoing in the mouth of said famous people.

These echoed slurs take them off my recommended list. I can't say that this social impulse is an entirely logical one, but it is very real. I feel it viscerally giving me hesitation when I consider recommending a celeb's content to someone else. Even if the content does not contain anything I found offensive, witnessing the unintentional harm they can cause, I worry that my privilege blinds me to other harmful sentiments and implications that might be a part of their work.

As I have written before, it's important to allow those in the public eye to be fallible. They aren't gods. And people end up seeing much more of their lives than most anyone would be comfortable sharing. And we all say, think, and echo busted oppressive shit from time to time. It's easy to do because it's in the stage directions of the script society has set down for us. That said, their words and actions do have significant cultural impact. Much more significant than most self-described critics on tumblr will probably ever have. And with great power comes great responsibility. Ideally everyone famous out there would watch this video:

Sadly this template is rarely followed. For so many reasons. But mostly because our culture doesn't allow celebrities to make mistakes (especially is they aren't white, cis men) so they feel hesitant to show themselves as having made one. They fear losing the social power and status that their fame gives them.

And that brings me to my next point. I, and these other "tumblr activists" can't ostracize famous people (if the them you are speaking about is either Dan Savage and/or Laci Green). Famous people, by virtue of their celebrity have substantially more social powers and receive more social recognition than I or any other of those tumblr activists do. Yes they can bully and they can say hateful, hurtful things, but celebrity buys you distance from your critics. And I don't deny that when I critique a celebrity that my own personal frustration about this imbalance of cultural attention comes through and as consequence makes me extra acerbic.

To me, though,  saying the tumblr social justice police are ostracizing Dan Savage or Laci Green is tantamount to crying "reverse racism". The power and privilege imbalance at play make it impossible for well supported progressive celebs to be "ostracized" by a small minority of folks who have a comparatively small audience.

I'm not saying that the "burn-it-to-the-ground" approach is called for, because it's usually not. I am saying that whatever impact the "tumblr police" have is significantly less than the impacts of the celebrities they are critiquing. Think of them as trolls if you like. Progressive trolls. They are as effective as other kinds of trolls, only a vaguely annoying/menacing aggregate.

And perhaps the level of the ire with which these celebrity's and their projects are targeted aren't just about the person themselves, or even their body of work. It might just be an inarticulate strike against the frustratingly unfair and often oppressive mechanisms that push some people into fame and notoriety and others into obscurity.

Also I have a limited amount of fucks to give about issues. And tend to shy away from handing them over to folks who are already appear to have a decent supply of social support and recognition from their chosen communities. I'm not saying they don't deserve my empathy, just that they don't appear to be in dire need of it. I honestly don't care if Dan Savage', or Laci Green', or Bill Mahr's images are damaged. They have public attention to spare.

Let's stop making heroes, because they will fuck up. And probably they won't apologize for it. Because heroes don't usually do that.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

I have a crush on David Rees and so will you (if you watch Going Deep)

My partner and I just finished the last available episode of Going Deep with David Rees. A show I've come to love for its earnest enthusiasm for strange bits of knowledge about everyday rituals. To me, it functions like good poetry should. It goes both macro and micro on a quests to find how things are done and grasp for meaning surrounding life's every day activities. It makes us sit with what we as humans so often shrug off simply with cliched euphemism and inattention.

The show itself is a simple 30 minute set-up. First David, in his goofy big-eyed excitement explains what we're going deep about today and why it interests him in particular. Over the next 20 minutes the audience gets to sit shotgun on David's field trips and guest appearances to talk with the experts. The experts range in many different fields an are based on the adorably non-scientific understandings David already has about the topic. After each guest or field trip David tallies up what we have learned so far and at the end of the show this list culminates into a final display of David's new and improved method of doing a simple task.

His facial expressions and bodily gesticulations really sell the action of the show and give the viewer their own sense of wonder about what is really being witnessed. In many episodes David goes through what appears to be a significant transformation. This is wonderful to watch and gives the episodes a nice twist.

I think I feel especially kindred to David because he's a very loud socially awkward person (like me). He gets all jazzed and hooty about exciting things but doesn't feel particularly comfortable with the implications of sharing that excitement with others (as is shown clearly in the episode on how to dig a hole). He is a ridiculous man. Which I love and can't get enough of.

Also his demos are silly as fuck. This show it fun. It's like a kids show for adults, but without all the schmaltzy kid stuff in it. If you have ever felt like you've failed at being a human, or that you just don't know how to human like everyone else, you will love this show. Though it may just make you want to buy parachute cord for your shoes.

I recommend starting with either How to Dig a Hole or How to Swat a Fly.