Statement on Windycon 2017 and the “Tutti Frutti” controversy

As someone who writes about LGBTQ issues and feminism professionally, I’m fairly used to finding myself embroiled in controversy, whether in digital spaces or otherwise. Something I never expected, however, was to find myself in the center of a imbroglio as bizarre as the happenings at Windycon this past weekend. A whole lot of unclear wording has lead to a whole lot of over-the-top drama, and it would honestly have been my preference to not engage with any of this at all. However, the pitch of the conversation within certain circles of the fannish community has more or less forced my hand, and this is my accounting of my part in this whole hullabaloo.

Here’s the story, from my side.

Before the panel

I’m someone who has been in and around science-fiction conventions for almost a decade, primarily in the Detroit and Chicago areas. I’ve been doing panels at conventions for about four years now, and I’ve probably done 50+ panels at this point, primarily on diversity issues. I’ve been a panelist at Windycon in particular on a several prior occasions, and I submitted to be a panelist once again for Windycon 44 (held this past weekend).

When I was provided with the programming list to indicate what I might be interested in talking about, I noted a fair number of programming items that were of interest to me, including one called “Tutti Frutti Literature” that contained a short description about discussing the effects of shifting social norms and “lifestyles” on SFF literature. “Shifting social norms” quite often refers to the increasing visibility of queer and trans folk in my experience, and so I submitted for that panel since there were few other panels connected to gender and sexual minority experiences. When I received my panel schedule later on, I noted that I was assigned to this panel and would be moderating it. Not having any objections to either item, I gave the situation little further consideration, other than to do my usual prep for moderating such a panel.

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Shortly after I arrived at Windycon, a friend contacted me to let me know that there was some buzz objecting to the language of the panel title and description. I read through the threads on Twitter of people who were upset by the “Tutti Frutti” terminology, given the history of “fruity” being a colloquial slur against gay men. These folks, like me, interpreted the panel description as at least somewhat applying to queer and trans issues. They repeated tweeted at the convention, and did not receive a response. I initially decided not to wade into the social media conversation, but once I started to get tagged by people in the conversation, and receiving pretty hard (and quite undeserved, IMO) criticisms for being involved in the panel, I clarified as much as I could at that moment.

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My general assumption with this panel is that it had been proposed by a queer and/or trans person who was couching their language to make the panel sound more widely applicable, and that the panel title was something of an attempt to reclaim some previously hurtful language. Reclaiming language is a frequent occurrence among marginalized people, and I’ve sat on panels with titles using reclaimed slurs (including terms like Queer, Tranny, Dyke, Crip, etc). I also generally give cons the benefit of the doubt in such situations because I’ve had mostly positive experiences with programming staff. But, I also didn’t write the panel title or description, and I shared all of these facts with those commenting on social media. I planned to make similar commentary at the opening of the panel, and then continue on to moderate what I had hoped would still be an interesting and valuable discussion.

At the panel

When I arrived at the panel, I was initially struck by the number of folks who seemed interested in what we (as panelists) had to say about the social media controversy, as well as the fact that I was the only woman sitting on the panel (something fairly unusual for sexual and gender diversity panels). One of my fellow panelists, Mr Chris Barkley, indicated that he had a statement he wanted to read about the social media response that would later be posted to the digital fanzine File 770. The Head of Programming Ops, Louisa Feimster, also arrived and indicated she would also be addressing the social media criticisms.

When we started the panel, I indicated that I would let Louisa and Mr Barkley speak their minds before I said what I needed to say, and moved onto the actual discussion. Louisa went first, and explained that when she envisioned the panel and wrote the description and title, she had intended it to refer to kink. This caught me completely off guard. I had imagined that kink, poly, sex work, and other forms of sexuality outside the charmed circle could be part of our discussion, but I had not for a second imagined that the primary focus of the panel was intended to be kink in SFF literature. Louisa went on to explain that she used the term “tutti frutti” in contrast to the term “vanilla”, which is common in-community slang for non-kinky folks.

For what it’s worth, I absolutely believe that Louisa had exactly that intention in mind when she wrote the panel, and simply wasn’t aware that it could be a loaded term for queer folk. That said, given the ways in which queer and trans people have been kept at the margins and frequently experienced harassment and erasure within the fannish community, I also absolutely understand why people were upset and concerned about the panel title. One only need look at the Sad Puppies/Rabid Puppies movement to know how real and current backlash on diversity topics in SFF culture is. The fact that Louisa offered no concession or even slight apology that the title had upset people was concerning.

After Louisa’s comments, I immediately began reformulating my approach to moderating the panel in my head, but I still fully intended to remain and participate. I then turned things over to Mr Barkley to give his statement. I was not prepared for the angry, vitriolic response that Mr Barkley gave. It caught me even more off-guard than Louisa’s clarification. There was NOTHING but absolute denigration and belittlement for those who objected to the panel title, including language like “Someone was offended…TOO BAD!” and “save your outrage” that has LONG existed as the discourse of the so-called anti-PC movement that routinely attacks and harasses people like me for our work towards shifting language and culture towards inclusivity and multiculturalism. He accused the critics of unwarranted attacks on “fandom as a whole”, and definitely seemed to imply that fandom/fannish culture (and Windycon by extension) were saintly entities beyond reproach, the proverbial good guys.

Mr Barkley’s egregious tone-policing of queer concerns made me feel quite unwelcome. As a young queer trans woman on panel of unfamiliar older men who clearly had some anger at my community and were predisposed to thinking we were overly-sensitive, I did not feel especially safe. I’ve been in similar panel situations before (including one at Windycon several years ago), and the usual result is me being shouted down by men until I’m nearly in tears. Given that I already had one clearly angry, hostile panelist harboring very negative beliefs about someone like me, I made the decision that I would recuse myself from the panel for my own safety and emotional well-being, and in protest of the kinds of over-the-top tone-policing and complete dismissal (and denigration) of the concerns of queer folks that Mr Barkley had engaged in.

I introduced myself. I gave my name, my credentials as a writer, critic, educator, activist and fan. I identified myself as a queer trans woman (that’s TRANSGENDER, not TRANGENDERED), and offered my deep concerns about the kinds of tone-policing and categorical dismissal that Mr Barkley was engaging in. I explained that my own experiences at Windycon and in fandom in general, as well as the well-documented experiences of other queer and trans folks, showed that SFF convention culture is far from saintly and stainless with regards to its treatment of LGBTQ people. I then stated that I was not interested in engaging further with a situation that was so dismissive of the concerns of people like me, and I did not believe that the panel was a place for me, and walked out of the room.

Further Considerations

I’ve endured men on panels shouting me down and cutting me off until I was in tears. I’ve endured audience members engaging in such egregious disruption and offensive commentary that I’ve had to ask them to leave and report them to Con Ops. I’ve endured levels of mansplaining, ableism, and acephobia so severe that they left another panelist shaking and traumatized. I’ve endured an author derailing an entire panel to deride me as “what was wrong with media” and accuse me of “destroying her livelihood” because I’m a professional critic. But this is the first time I have ever walked out of a panel that I was sitting on, and I do not regret that decision. Mr Barkley’s behavior was downright hostile to the point of hyperbole. He made it clear that criticism of fandom were not welcome to his mind. Given my own experiences with the ways in which men will defends each other’s toxic hostility, I did not feel safe as a highly marginalized woman in that space, and I did what I felt was necessary for my own well-being.

For those who are still insisting that the original critics of the panel title and description were being overly sensitive, I charge that perhaps it is you who are hypersensitive to even modest amounts of criticisms of either yourself or fannish culture. Fandom is not perfect, stainless, or utopian. The same biases and marginalization that exist in the mundane world exist at conventions and in other corners of fannish life, and marginalized people have absolutely every right to make their criticisms. Marginalized people do not owe you benefit of the doubt.  If you don’t want people to be looking so critically at such things, then do better and make fandom not just a tolerant place, but a place were differences and diverse experiences are embraced, valued, and supported. When mistakes are made (and mistakes DO HAPPEN) then consider following the three simple steps to addressing a fuck-up in a restorative manner:

  1. Offer an genuine, contrite apology.
  2. Make amends, and promise to do better in the future.
  3. Actually do better.

Whether you intended the slight or not is only somewhat relevant. Intent is not magic, and it does not completely absolve your mistake automatically. It only provides a basis for why you actually deserve forgiveness. To respond by claiming the parties objecting to your actions have no right to object only makes things worse, and quite quickly marks you as someone with little concern for them. It is not the behavior of any ally.

Finals Thoughts

I regret that this minor misunderstanding has now exploded into days long ordeal of fannish drama. I am concerned that Windycon was clearly aware of the social media uproar at least a day before, but took no action to address it until the actual panel, either on social media or with the panelists.

I find it DEEPLY hypocritical that Mr Barkley finds the space to justify his own “outrage and anger” (his words) over a criticism that wasn’t even directed at him personally, while denigrating the fairly tame and measured concerns raised by people on Twitter about the panel’s title and description as a “witch hunt”  and “angry, unwarranted attack”.

Criticism is not malice. At no point did any person attempt to demean the entirety of Windycon or fandom as anti-LGBTQ, and Mr Barkley would have you believe. Someone pointed out a concerning panel item that could be interpreted as problematic, and stated their concern, which was echoed by others. Those concerns were reasonable, given the historic context of the general air of dismissiveness much of fandom has had towards the concerns and interests of LGBTQ fans.  An unwillingness to accept criticism speaks to worrying degree fragility, especially when it also leads to lashing out angrily rather than engaging with the criticism. If Mr Barkley responds to impersonal criticisms this way, then I can only imagine how extreme his response to a criticism of his own actions or words might be. Given that information, I will think twice before agreeing to appear on a panel with him, and perhaps other women and LGBTQ folks should do the same.

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Spoken Word Piece, TDoV 2017 at University of Michigan: Visibility Has Failed Us

This is a spoken-word piece I first performed when hosting the University of Michigan’s Transgender Day of Visibility Speak-Out event on March 31st, 2017.

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They told us visibility would save us.

We were told for so long that if we could just get people to see us, if we only took off our invisibility cloaks and let people get a good long look at who we really are, that we’d finally have a place in the world.

After all, it worked for gay people. Kind of. Gay, lesbian, and bisexual folks came out in massive waves and suddenly it seemed a lot harder to hate the gays because they were your next door neighbors, your tax account, your school principal. They starred your movies, wrote your TV shows, and produced your Broadway musicals. It should be the same for trans people, right?

Except it wasn’t like that.

They saw us, and they immediately hated us even more.

They saw the way we undermined the system that hold so close to their hearts, to the notion that is so intrinsic to their being that even looking at us makes them want to hurt us…the immutable, inviolable, absolute binaries of sex and gender.

And the idea that we had been quietly moving among them for years without anyone so much as noticing, that we had been next to them at the grocery store, sitting in the same movie theater, eating the same restaurants, attending the same schools, working in the same offices…

WE HAD BEEN PISSING RIGHT NEXT TO THEM IN THEIR BATHROOMS FOR YEARS AND THEY NEVER EVEN KNEW WE WERE THERE.

They saw us and and they panicked, unable to cope with a new vision of the world where one can no longer know how a person’s genitals and chromosomes are shaped at a simple glance. They didn’t shift their worldview to find a space for us. They decided to make the world fit what they needed, by killing us through violence, discrimination, marginalization, and neglect.

Visibility has failed us.

Yup. There, I said it.

Visibility has failed trans people.

It failed us because it’s based on the false assumption that we could somehow turn ourselves into something palatable and consumable by cisgender people, that we could have the agency to turn visibility into a way of setting our narrative, that we could make transness “normal”, that we could prove to cis people that we are just like them.

For many of us, visibility was never a choice anyway. The visibility narrative is based on the idea that all trans people can choose to fade into the crowd if we so choose, and so that visibility becomes a thing for empowerment and self-definition.

But for so many of us, visibility isn’t a choice. Those can’t or won’t assume cisnormative appearances and behavior will always be marked. For those without access to the shields of whiteness, of affluence, of ability, visibility is an everyday reality…and the sudden rising paranoia about our mere existence has painted a target on their backs that is is too indelible to scrub off.

Visibility as a mechanism for our liberation never had any hope for anyone but the whitest, wealthiest, and most cisnormative looking trans people, and it left the rest of us in the dust.

And so, I’m here to reclaim my visibility for myself and for my trans siblings.

I’m putting cis people on notice. My transness isn’t something constructed for your consumption, and my outness doesn’t exist for your education, your edification, or your self-congratulatory allyhood.

I am not your object of fascination,

I am not your walking fetish,

I am not your ticket to progressive credibility,

and I am definitely not your free fount of information on all things trans.

 

I am not for you to stare at. (And believe me, we feel it when you stare.)

 

My visibility isn’t for you.

My visibility is for every trans woman whose only experience with transness is in daytime talk-shows, right-wing propaganda, dead girls on Law & Order:SVU, and bad porn.

My visibility is for the 16 year trans girl still desperately trying to find a way to tell her parents that the lurching forward of her testosterone-fueled puberty makes her want to die.

My visibility is for the fat trans girl who thinks that she’s the only chubby trans girl in the whole world and that she can’t ever be beautiful in her own skin.

My visibility is for my black trans sisters who feel like not one single voice in the media has their back or cares whether they live or die.

My visibility is for the middle-aged trans woman who is still in the closet, who needs to hear my story, to find some piece of it that resonates with her so that her journey to herself can finally begin.

My visibility is for every college-age trans girl who is terrified that there’s no life after college, that no one from our community ever finds success and happiness.

My visibility is for the trans lesbian who’s struggling with the validity of her sexuality because lesbian culture still equates being a dyke with having a vagina.

My visibility is for the neurodivergent trans girls, the disabled trans girls, the chronically ill trans girls who are wondering if transition and disability are things that can coexist.

My visibility is for every single baby trans girl who I’ve mentored over the last half-decade, who needed a mother-figure or a big sister to make a big hateful world seem a little less cold and dark.

My visibility for every trans girl who has taken her own life because the world just seemed too terrible and dangerous and unwelcoming.

My visibility is for me, for scared, lost 18 year old me, who would have given anything in the world to see a pretty young trans woman in real life, to meet even one person like her, to have someone tell her about the journey to being herself, to make it seem like something that was truly achievable instead of some impossible mountain to climb.

Trans Awareness Week Opening Speech at University of Michigan, November 2016

This is a short speech I gave to help kick off the Trans Awareness Week programming at the University of Michigan’s Spectrum Center in November of 2016, where I had the honor of introducing the amazing Tiq Milan.
As we open our Trans Awareness Week programming, we find ourselves a community standing at a precipice. Indeed, the wider world is more aware of the existence of transgender people than it ever has been. We have made tremendous gains in visibility in just a few short years, moving from quiet obscurity to a focus of the national political discourse.
Unfortunately, that kind of visibility has also placed us firmly in the crosshairs of the right-wing machine of hate that has whipped our neighbors into a panic over something as simple as using a restroom. It’s made us the enemy of a new presidential administration that is hell-bent on promoting a culture of hate and destroying the small amount of political progress we’ve clawed for ourselves and our young people under President Obama. It’s also placed trans women of color more literally in crosshairs, with 2016 standing as the most deadly year yet for the campaign of violence against our black trans sisters.
With that in mind, I believe it’s time for a shift in goals for Trans awareness work. We can no longer afford to simply work for the wider world to know that we exist.  We need the LGBTQ community to be aware that we’re still struggling, and we’re still at risk, and that the fight didn’t end with marriage equality. We need people to be aware that we’re not predators, not perverts, and not broken or sick.
We need people to be aware that we face horrifying levels of harassment, discrimination, poverty, and violence.
We need people to be aware that we are a community of breath-taking diversity, both of body and of spirit. We are creators, writers, artists, innovators, activists, lifesavers, caretakers, teachers, students, laborers, and we are friends, lovers, parents, siblings, and families. We need people to be aware that we are beautiful as we are, both inside and out.
More than anything, We need people to be aware that we’re actually living, breathing human beings deserving of respect, care, concern, and love as much as any other person. And just an importantly, we need other trans people to know all those things too.

2016 TDoR Keynote Speech at University of Michigan

In the interest of posterity, I thought I’d share some of the speeches I’ve given in recent months. This is the keynote speech I gave at the University of Michigan’s Transgender Day of Remembrance event in November of 2016.

It has always been interesting to me that Transgender Day of Remembrance is the event at the center of Transgender Awareness Month. The people we’re honoring tonight are the trans people we’re often the least aware of: trans women of color, sex workers, and the homeless of our community. Even as we’ve made advancements as a community, these are people who have so often been left behind.

During my time with The Advocate, it has been solemn duty to ensure that those whose lives have been so tragically taken by the forces hate do not slip from this world in anonymity, that their lives and memories are honored for the person that they truly were, that we as a community are forced to see their faces and speak their names. It is work that has taken an emotional toll, but that remains among the most important writing I’ve ever done. I’ve spoken to the families of so many of the amazing people we’re honoring in power this evening, and every single one of them brought light and love into someone’s life. These are human lives, not just tragic statistics.

I’d like to share some of the little details about a few of these beautiful human beings that I had the opportunity to learn.

Amos Beede volunteered with homeless people in Vermont, bringing them things they needed and giving them an ear when no one else would.

Goddess Diamond was described by her mother as having “a big heart” and “the most loving person I’d ever met.”

Dee Dee Dodds worked for Casa Ruby, whose director told me she was “like family.” Her Aunt told me she had a wonderful sense of humor.

Dee Whigham had just become a registered nurse, something she had wanted to do since she was a child. She was adored by her patients.

Rae’Lynn Thomas loved fashion and party-planning, and her aunt called her a “a light in my life that’s gone out.”
Erykah Tijerina’s sister called “funny, giving, and unapologetic for who she was”.

The friend of a woman known to us only as T.T. share that she was the best person for helping cheer someone up, and that she was working on becoming a hairdresser.

To date, 2016 is already the deadliest year on record for transgender people in the United States. At least 26 trans people have been murdered this year in our country, and 295 murders worldwide have been reported. The vast majority of those we’ve lost this year, and each year before, have been trans women of color, particularly black trans women. We’ve living in a time of epidemic violence against our black trans sisters.

Black trans women exist at the intersection of two of the most marginalized identities in this country. In an era where blackness is criminalized and trans-ness is hated, it leaves black trans women in the ugliest lurch where they encounter constant violence and discrimination from the wider world, and face rejection from the communities where they might turn to for support. Black trans women are far too often left out in the cold, both literally and figuratively, and the sheer number of names on our list for tonight are a representation of that fact in the starkest terms.

Trans women as a whole face tremendous rates of violence, harassment, discrimination, poverty, and homelessness. But for every single one of those measures of marginalization, trans women of color see rates 2-4 times higher than the broader trans community.

Under President Obama, who’s done more for our community than any president in history, we’ve seen the rates of transgender violence grow year after year. What can we expect during four years of President Trump, whose hand-picked staff have shown nothing but disgust and disdain for trans people, who’ve made emphatic promises to roll back even the modest protection we now have, Whose hateful, violent supporters have taken his election win as an implicit social approval of their campaign of attacks against marginalized people? How many more names are we going to be reading a year from now? We will even feel safe enough to come together in public to read the names of our dead, or will these events become clandestine in the new transphobic era of Mr Trump’s administration.

In the six years I’ve been out, I’m more frightened now than I ever have been before. Trans people are facing a future more uncertainty than at any point in recent memory, and for every access of marginalization that uncertainty increases exponentially. It is not paranoia. They are coming for us. They’re coming for our rights to exist on our own terms, to define ourselves and our identities, and to live as our authentic selves. They’re coming for our right to speak out against the hate and injustice that we face at every turn. They’re coming for the tiny future and safe spaces we’ve managed to carve out for ourselves against overwhelming odds. They want us gone or hidden, back into the shadows we existed in for decades, or buried in the ground.

It’s time for us to stand and fight. And we’ve going to need all the help we can get. Stand beside us, stand in front of us, or get the hell out of our way. We’re in this for our very lives, our backs are against the wall, and we’re ready to fight like hell.

RESIST.

Trans Media Representation Without Inclusion Is Nothing More than Exploitation

It’s been a rough couple of weeks for transgender representation in film. First, Michelle Rodriguez announced that she will be starring in a bizarrely-premised film where she portrays a hitman who is “tricked” into undergoing gender-altering surgery and then goes on a revenge spree. Last week, it was announced that cisgender actor Matt Bomer will be playing a trans woman sex worker in the new film Anything, based on the play of the same name. The pair of movies are perfect representations of how disappointing the state of trans representation is mainstream media remains.

Anything, in particular, fall into some depressingly familiar patterns laid down by films like Dallas Buyers Club and The Danish Girl and shows like Transparent that continue to make plain the notion that, while there appears to be a distinct interest in narratives that feature transgender themes, there is little in the way of appetite for actual transgender people, and that the mainstream creators of Hollywood still view trans women as little more than men in dresses.

When the casting of cisgender actors in transgender roles is questioned, one of the most frequent arguments is that straight actors routinely play gay characters, and vice-versa. However, as trans activists and educators have been attempting to explain for decades, sexual orientation and gender identity are completely separate issues. In the modern era, casting directors do not regularly cast cisgender men in roles where they portray cisgender women, and any film or television show that attempted to do so would most certainly be met with extraordinary outcry. So why does it remain acceptable for men to play trans women?

Casting professionals will often hide behind the supposed lack of availability of recognizable transgender actresses. Of course, because the industry continues to refuse to cast trans actresses and give them the opportunity to become recognized, this complaint is a self-perpetuating one. They have similarly defended the choices due to a lack of recognizably trans actress, which is cuts to the core of one of the key issues at play here, that the wide mainstream creative community still views trans women as men, or at the very least, as much close to men than to women. Inherent in this belief is the notion that trans women must inherently be recognizably, visibly trans for the comfort and understanding of a cisgender audience (and indeed, perhaps the creators). Indeed, the reality is that trans women span a wide spectrum of appearances from very cisnormative to profound and intentional transgression of gender norms. Given this, perhaps it is not actual transgender narratives that the creative community is seeking, but rather the spectaclization and exploitation of trans identities for entertainment value.

Transgender characters and narratives in more mainstream film and television have been limited to a few very specific themes that have little do with the actual experiences of trans people. The most common fodder continues to narratives that focus narrowly on the topic of gender transition. The “transformation” aspect of these narratives (featured in Transparent and The Danish Girl) seems to have long captured the public imagination, dating back to the days of bad daytime talk-shows. The consumption of these narratives by the wider cisgender public consistently feels prurient, treating trans people as objections of fascination and turning one of our most personal, formative experiences into what feels like little more than sideshow spectacle. This notion is reinforced by the fact that these narratives also largely focus on the external aspects of transition in both meanings of the term— that is, the physical changes of transition, but also the effects that transition has on those around them. This kind of narrative is so common as to have its own set of oft-discussed tropes within the trans community, such as shots of the character applying makeup, scenes focused on clothing choices, unnecessary sexualizing of the experience, etc.

Even when trans characters are featured outside of the well-worn transition narrative, the variety of stories and characters written is depressingly lacking in variety: trans women as sex workers, trans women as murder victims, trans women as deceptive deviants, trans women as the profoundly mentally ill, and trans women as violent murders. All of these narratives play back into the predominant usage of trans women a spectacle concept and an object of fascination, and seem to affirm the largely puerile interest that the wider public has in our stories. Trans women are portrayed as something to be pitied at best, and something to be feared, mocked, and disgusted by at worst.

This situation is so especially horrifying because trans women have so little opportunity to provide highly visible counterpoints to these dominant media narratives. We are hamstrung by our small numbers, our relative lack of social influence, and by our historic tendency towards intentionally invisibility. Many point to the fact that the gay rights movement was propelled forward by high levels of visibility, both in everyday life and within mainstream movement, with the thesis that the same should be possible for trans people. Unfortunately, by sheer numerical quantity, the trans community is only a fraction of the size of the gay community, which already places us a relative disadvantage. Further, when the wider gay rights movement began, gay people already existed throughout public life, and were widely represented throughout the creative media community, leaving them well-placed to have a significant degree of control of how their narratives played out as they became more commonplace in wider media landscape. Trans people lack that existing influence and infrastructure, and therefore often have functionally zero agency when it comes to shaping how we are portrayed by the dominant media culture. We are stuck in a position of being increasingly visible, but without a concomitant increase in agency, which a recipe for exploitation, which has very important real world consequences.

The ways in which trans women are portrayed has become increasingly concerning as the anti-trans rhetoric in the political arena reaches a fevered pitch. In our push for recognition of even the most basic rights (such as using a restroom without fearing arrest), we are forced to contend with both the historical social discomfort of those who transgress gender norms, but also a media narrative of our lives and experiences that was crafted specifically to play on the salacious fascinations of the public.

Additionally, the effects of this limited view of transness on the psychological well-being of the wider trans community and trans women in particular cannot be ignored. We are constantly bombarded with messaging that we are less-than-human, that we cannot hope to be anything more than victims, and that the rest of the world still views us largely as men. While those of us who are already out may have developed the resolve to endure this situation, it still becomes a drag on our mental well-being. In the simplest terms, it’s absolutely exhausting to be seen this way. Worse though, is affect this has on trans people who are still in the process of coming to terms with their gender identity. To call the current cultural view of trans people “discouraging” would be an understatement of the worst kind. That situation is only amplified for trans youth, who are far more impressionable and far more at risk.

What is extremely frustrating is that it is possible to do media featuring trans narratives well. When trans people involved in the creative process, and when we we’re actually cast to play trans characters, truly ground-breaking visual media is created. The Netflix series Sense8 is one of the highest profile examples, featuring the Wachowski sisters at the helm and trans actress Jamie Clayton. The series provides perhaps the most nuanced, humanizing portrayal of a trans woman seen in big budget production to date. On a smaller scale, the now Emmy-nominated webseries Her Story is perhaps one of the best possible examples of how much can be done with the actual experiences people, and its production included trans women in every aspect of the series, from technical to creative to performance. Indeed, there’s at least some sign that bigger networks are taking notice of series like these. Trans actress Laverne Cox will star in a new NBC legal drama, Doubt, this fall. The network hired trans woman novelist Imogen Binnie to write for the show, and it was announced last month that Her Story stars Jen Richards and Angelica Ross will make a guest appearance in the first season.
However, as films like (Re)Assignment and Anything, continue to be produced, it is clear that the hunger for exploitive portrayals of trans women has far from abated. While it is true that television and film are still, at their core, business ventures, the most financially successful art is often that which gives the audience something it didn’t even realize that it wanted. If creators are interested in making truly transformative film and television, it’s time to start betting that the appetite for the genuine experiences of trans women can outstretch the prurient fascination with our spectaclized existences that have long been the mainstay of our appearance on screens both big and small, and to start including the numerous talents trans writers, directors, and performers as trans characters become more commonplace in the media landscape.

Personal Reflections on My Second Hormoneiversary.

I haven’t really done much reflective writing about my own personal experiences with transition in a long while. In a lot of ways, I feel like transition more or less ended once my name change was official. But I recently crossed a pretty much milestone: February 21st marked exactly two years of being on HRT! That seems like as a good a reason as any to look back on the good, bad, and otherwise that physical and social transition had brought, and give a little update about where my life is at this point.

Seriously, it's been two years?

Seriously, it’s been two years?

To give a quick background: I first started coming out as trans back in 2010, but didn’t feel like I was in a place where I was ready to make the decision about whether or not to transition. When I hit my 29th birthday in 2011, I kinda freaked out when I realized I had basically wasted my entire 20s in a life that I hated. I told myself that it was time to make a final decision about transition, and gave myself till the end of the year. Just after Christmas of 2011, I announced my decision to pursue social and physical transition to my tiny inner circle of people who knew about my gender. I spent the first half of 2012 coming out to people, getting comfortable with presenting as female, and having my first cycle of laser hair removal. I started seeing a gender therapist in the summer of 2012, and got approval for hormonal therapy around the end of the year. It took a few months to get in to see the endocrinologist, and I took my first doses of estrogen and spiro on February 21st, 2013. I was more-or-less “full-time” by the spring, and absolutely full time by the end of the summer. On October 21st, 2013, a court granted my legal name change.

 

Me, when I started hormones

Me, when I started hormones

We’ll start with the relatively easy to describe stuff— the physical changes. Well, after two years of estrogen, I can tell you that the changes to my body have been nothing short of dramatic. First and foremost (and in contradiction to most stereotypes), I’ve lost around 70 pounds. It’s difficult to tease out what parts of that are related to hormones and which are due to Crohn’s, but I wasn’t a little girl to begin with, so it’s pretty welcome. My breasts have grown, though not as much as I would have liked. I’m currently standing around at a 44B. I also don’t have quite as much nipple/areola development as I want. My ass, on the other hand, has grown to titanic proportions. Seriously, I went from someone with basically no ass to someone with a rather large ass. I’m pleased, though I wouldn’t mind a little more padding on my hips (and a bit less cellulite). I’ve lost a large amount of muscle mass, and most of my strength. I still have a lot more tummy than I’d like, but much less than I had. My face is much thinner, but my features are still somehow softer. My hair is thicker and healthier, and I’ve had changes to my hairline. My hair is also MUCH drier, and I’ve been able to go down to washing it once a week. My nails have gone to total shit, weak and brittle. My body hair has lessened quite significantly, and my skin is softer and thinner (and much more delicate). I get basically zero blemishes and blackheads now. The smell of my body has changed to something more “feminine”, or at least so I’m told. Oh, have I mentioned that I turned out to be pretty astonishingly pretty? As someone who avoided transition for YEARS because I was afraid I was going to be ugly, I still can’t entirely processes how that happened. But, it did. 🙂

Yes

Yes.

Emotionally, I still just (mostly) feel a lot more…right. There’s a kind of calmness from having the right hormones in my body, a sense of balance and alignment. I know that sounds super crunchy, but that’s really the best description I have for it. I seem to have some kind of monthly hormonal cycle that’s reflected in my moods. Three weeks of feeling normal, three days of being really bitchy and irritable, and them four days of being extra weepy and emotional. Beyond that, I’m certainly much more weepy and emotional overall, but it’s challenging to tease out how much of that is hormone-driven and how much of it is just not feeling like I have to fake the emotionally stunted behaviors of dudes anymore. I’m somehow even MORE physically needy than I was before, which is QUITE a feat. I constantly crave physical closeness and touch affection. After totally bottoming out for the first few months, my sex drive has made a slow comeback, but it’s considering more connected to being with someone else…my spontaneous interest in sex is still WAY before where it was before hormones. On the other hand (at least until recently), the orgasms are FUCKING MINDBLOWING. Seeing stars, can’t-move-or-think-straight-for-several-minutes-after kind of stuff. I can feel them through my whole body, and there’s a long, floaty afterglow. I’ve even managed to give myself multiples on more than one occasion! Unfortunately, one of the medications I’m on (not sure which) has robbed me of that recently, but I’m hoping it comes back soon! Things that people told me would happen that absolutely did NOT happen: suddenly liking babies and being attracted to dudes. I still find babies just as gross and annoying as ever, and, if anything, hormones have made me GAYER. Men have gone from “meh” to “EWW GROSS GET IT AWAY”. Weirdly though, I’ve found myself more attracted to certain kinda of butch girls. I think that’s as close to “straight” as I’m ever going to get. Overall, I’m just a much happier, more outgoing, more engaged, more present, more personable, more fun person. I’m just MORE of a person, and it feels amazing. I’ve gotten so many comments from people who’ve known me for years saying that I’m basically shining from the inside out, and that they’ve never seen me happier or more alive.

Gayness confirmed.

Gayness confirmed.

 

Socially, I’ve been very very very very very very very lucky. My friends have pretty much all been incredibly accepting and supportive, and I really haven’t lost ANY because of my decision to transition. I haven’t had to leave any organizations, or stop doing volunteer work. Family stuff…that’s more complicated. Amazingly, my dad has been super good about all of this. He’s been spot on with name and pronouns since I came out, and he really treats me like a daughter, and he’s not ashamed to be seen with me or to tell people about me. Mom…well, mom’s not doing so well. She was pretty downright shitty about it for the first while, and she still regularly gets pronouns wrong or uses my deadname. She’s also constantly critical of how I look, whether my clothes or hair or makeup. It’s nothing overt anymore, just all the subtle crap, and she’s still very clearly embarrassed/ashamed of me. Most of my extended family just wants nothing to do with me, and that’s no skin off my nose…I didn’t like most of them anyway. I’ve also made lots of new friends as I’ve become a more active part of the queer and trans communities, both in meatspace and online. At the same time, there’s definitely some distance growing between me and a number of people I consider close friends. I think it has a lot to do with the directions our lives are taking…I just have a lot less in common with cis straight people these days, even girls, than I’ve had before. It sucks, because I miss that closeness, but I suppose it’s the cycle of lives and relationships.

I fear this is how all my friends feel.

I fear this is how all my friends feel.

Romantically…well, weirdly, I never seemed to have any problems dating once I was really *out*. I know a lot of trans girls do, but I never really seemed to be hurting for people interested in going out with me. Even more shockingly, within the first year of being on hormones, I ended up in a serious relationship with someone amazing! I’m still pretty astonished that it happened that fast. We met in the summer of 2013 as a summer fling that turned into something a lot more. We’ve been doing the long-distance thing every since. Late last summer, after a whole lot of talking about our futures and how we felt about one another, we decided to get married. We initially planned the wedding in secret, but on Christmas day we announced it to the world— we’re getting married on May 30th, 2015!!!!!! I really couldn’t ask for more in a partner, and she makes me incredibly happy, and I’m so so very fortunate to have her in life, and I’m so excited to build a life with her. 🙂

It'll be like this, only WAY cuter. :)

It’ll be like this, only WAY cuter. 🙂

Professionally…that’s been an interesting journey. I left my industry job in August 2013 for graduate school. It was a decision made, in part because I knew i needed more education and credentials if I wanted to advance in my field, and in part because I wanted to secure a relatively safe environment to finish transition, and academia seemed like a good place for that. My goal was to get my PhD, do a clinical fellowship, and become a board-certified Clinical Molecular Geneticist. But something pretty unexpected about a year ago: I started getting noticed for my writing, and got my first contributor spot (at TransAdvocate). It seemed mostly like a hobby, but it was really cool to have thousands of people reading my writing instead of just my little clutch of readers that followed my blog. In July of last year, I got another shock when I was invited to join the staff of Autostraddle as a Contributing Editor. Since then, my writing has been getting more and more attention, and I’m finding it MUCH more rewarding than science has ever been. I’ve also been doing a lot of activist work here in Michigan, lobbying for LGBT rights. I’ve also really begun to the see the writing on the wall in the research world and realized that what I hoped to do with my career just isn’t feasible. So, I’ve decided to leave my PhD program with just a Master’s degree, and move to New England to be with my partner. My long-term goal to move to writing full-time, but in the mean time I’m looking for a hospital job or teaching gigs to keep the bills paid while I continue to build my portfolio. Again, I’m super lucky to have an awesome partner who is being VERY supportive and encouraging of my dreams of writing as profession. My current goal is to be making most-to-all of my income from writing/speaking/training within 3 years.

No joke. This is pretty much my life.

No joke. This is pretty much my life.

So, that’s pretty much it. Looking back to when I start hormones 2 years ago, it’s just overwhelming and amazing to see how much my life has changed, to see how much I’VE changed. Not just physically (though certainly there’s a lot of that), but how much I’ve blossomed as a person. I couldn’t have, in my wildest dreams, ever have imagined that this is where my life would taken me in just 24 months: soon to be married, successful and respected writing, on the verge of finally moving of Michigan. I spent a lot of time telling people that they shouldn’t expect miracles from transition, and that it can’t solve all of your problems. I stand by that statement: transition is a long, hard, complicated journey and there’s nothing intrinsic about it that automatically makes your life better. But it’s an amazing thing to be sitting here, looking at all I have and all I’ve accomplished, and fully realizing how powerful and life-changing letting your authentic self finally shine through can be.

 

My life...it does not suck.

My life…it does not suck.

 

The Ten Worst Things About Being The Token Lesbian Of Your Social Circle

Sometimes, through no fault of your own, you just end up being the token lesbian in a circle of friends. It’s not that you don’t have queer lady friends, it’s that in certain parts of your social network, you’re the sole sapphic representative. For me, it’s that my lady-loving lady friends are kinda spread all over the US, whereas most of my local friends are straight girls and gay dudes. Don’t get me wrong, I love them all to death. But, sometimes there are just things about being the lone rainbow-licker that aren’t super fun, and those things make me want to drink. A lot.

1. You’re the Official Representative™ of the entire queer women’s community.

If a question comes up about the peculiarities of queer lady culture, you’re expected to answer for it. No, I don’t know know why so many lesbians drive Subarus. If something even moderately note-worthy happens to a queer women, you’re expected to have a statement prepared. Sorry, I forgot to check my inbox for the official Gay Girl Nation press release on all of today’s news. Oh, and of course, there’s the “is that a lesbian thing?” question.

Sorry, I just don't know.

Sorry, I just don’t know.

 

2. While they will share all manner of TMI about the all the straight or gay-dude sex they’re having, they turn completely green at the slightest detail of lesbian sex.

Seriously, I know WAY more about the penises of my straight friends’ boyfriends than I ever wanted to. I’ve heard entire oratories about the glories of huge dick. I know just how good (or not good) most of my friends are getting fucked at any given moment. It’s cool— we’re friends, so a little TMI is to be expected. But, one mention of a particularly toe-curling moment in my own bedroom sends them screaming with their hands clamped over their ears. Seriously, it’s just fucking. Ours just doesn’t rely on a fickle appendage.

Are you being serious right now?

Are you being serious right now?

3. They ask for advice about their relationships, even though you have zero understanding how to date or deal with dudes.

I find no particularly pride in my “Gold Star” status; it’s pretty much by accident that I never had sex with a guy before figuring out it wasn’t my thing. Nonetheless, I just really understand absolutely nothing about hetero dating dynamics. Frankly, I’m absolutely baffled you all don’t murder each other. And guy/guy dynamics? You might as well be be space aliens.

 

There's no way you thought I'd actually understand this, right?

There’s no way you thought I’d actually understand this, right?

 

4. They assume you must love Ellen/The L Word/The Indigo Girls/Other Stereotypical Lesbian Thing.

Yeah okay, I have a few stereotypically lesbians tastes. I have an unabashed love of cats, Tegan and Sara, IKEA kitsch, and cheap red wine. But, I can honestly say that I’ve never seen a single episode of the The L Word, and I have pretty meh feelings about Ellen Degeneres. Just because it’s gay doesn’t mean I’m into it.

5. They feel they need to press you onto the butch/femme spectrum.

I have no problem if you’re butch or femme. You do you. But, I’m neither butch nor femme. I’m just Mari. Some days, I wear adorable vintage dresses and pin-curl my hair and use lipstick. Some day, I wear jean shorts, a tank top, a sports bra, and a fuck-off look on my face. Those are not “butch days” or “femme days”. Those are just Mari being Mari. I can’t be simplified is such black-and-white terms, and lots of other queer ladies can’t either. Movies have lied to you.

 

You really think it works that way?

You really think it works that way?

6. You have to hear constantly about how weird/strange/gross vaginas/vulvas are.

I get it. You don’t like vaginas. That’s cool— it means more for us. But, I hear so many of straight-girl friends tell me that they’re horrified by their OWN lady business. Come on, ladies…they’re attached to you. Grab a mirror and get over that internalized misogyny that leads to terror at the thought of you own genitals. Don’t even get me started on how I’ve heard my gay-dude friends describe the vulva. Seriously, there are no teeth or tentacles involved.

Seriously, how are you afraid of your genitals?

Seriously, how are you afraid of your genitals?

7. The absolute disasters that occur when they try to set us up on dates.

Remember how I said I didn’t know fuck-all about hetero dating? Well, you know about as much about queer dating. I know you’re just trying to be helpful, but I really don’t need you to give my phone number/facebook/email to every lesbian you meet. That’s how I end up with stalkers.

Really? You gave ANOTHER random girl my number?

Really? You gave ANOTHER random girl my number?

8. When you finally get to go out to a non-straight bar, and it’s 300 shirtless gay dudes, 6 straight girls, and you.

Good lesbian bars are few and far between, and trying to convince straight girls or gay guys that it’s a fun destination for a Friday night is like selling evolution textbooks in Kansas. Sure, they’ll tell you the club you’re heading to is “pan-queer” and it has a “good mix of people”. But, when you get there, it’s like an Abercrombie catalog with strobe lights, and you spend the whole night drinking tequila shots and trying to avoid getting boy-sweat on your favorite club top.

The only solution is more shots.

The only solution is more shots.

9. Two words: Fashion Advice.

I know straight girls and gay guys are often super-aware of what exactly is “in” this season, and I know you don’t understand why I feel the need to wear Dr Martens with EVERYTHING. It’s my thing, and you’re just going to have to deal with that. I think I look awesome. Don’t tell me I need Spanx, or that I’m wearing too much eyeliner, or that I should straighten my hair. I might be nice if you’re a girl trying to be helpful, but you need to grasp that queer girls just tend to have a different view on what looks good. Oh, and if you’re a gay guy, I can promise that the moment you criticize my attire, I’m looking for something heavy to throw at you.

What I think of UGGs and leggings.

When you suggest I wear UGGs and leggings.

10. We sometimes have to experience the penis horror show that is a straight girl’s bachelorette party.

I will never understand the need to have a giant penis-themed party right before you wedding. Penis candy, penis cake, penis jewelry, and don’t forget *shudder* male strippers. Why can’t we just look hot, go dancing, and drink too much champagne and leave the phalluses out of it? Or, just don’t invite the gay girl so she doesn’t have feel obligated to awkwardly participate in your dong-related shenanigans.

MichelleObama_ewww

Bonus: We have to endure a never-ending stream of drunken attempts at drunken “experimentation.”

I’m not saying that all straight girls get a little queer-experimental after their third vodka-cranberry, but the sheer number of times that straight friends have tried to kiss me or grope me when they’ve had a few is pretty damn telling. I get it— lowered inhibitions and the feeling of reduced responsibility are a heady combination. Flattering as might be at times, we’re people with feelings and sex drives, and you aren’t likely to do anything but leave both of those things frustrated. Oh, and if your boyfriend is watching while you pull that move, we’re not friends anymore.

 

Rumors of My Blog Abandonment Have Been Largely Exaggerated, or “I’m back…no, for real this time!”

Hi Everyone! Woah, look at this, a new post on TNF! Isn’t that crazy? Well, actually this post was supposed to go up a few days ago, but the magic WordPress demons ate the post just as finished it, and I had stupidly written it directly IN the WordPress system. NEVER AGAIN! So, here I am, recovered from WordPress rage, trying it again!

So, while I haven’t been doing a very good job writing new content for TransNerdFeminist, I have been really busy putting out content for some other really awesome websites. As I mentioned this winter, I’ve joined the writing staff of TransAdvocate, where I’ve published a lot of work that I’m really proud of, including a piece that was quoted by WPATH! And, if that wasn’t exciting enough, I’ve also joined Autostraddle as one of their permanent Contributing Editors! I’ve already published four pieces with them, and including a response piece to Michelle Goldberg’s awful RadFem poster piece in the New Yorker. My response over on AS has some pretty fantastic buzz, and it’s been quoted all over the queer media world. If you’re looking what I’ve published outside of TNF, you can find it all on the publication archive (which I’m striving to keep up to date).

So, what does that mean for the future of TransNerdFeminist. Well, it’s not going anywhere. I’m proud of many of the pieces I’ve posted here, and the website functions as a good contact point for anyone wanting to find me for comment. I will be doing a better job of writing posts sharing new stuff I’ve published on other website, so I’m also hoping this welcome some what of a destination to keep up on whatever I’m writing around the web. Lastly, sometimes there are just things that I’d like to write about that aren’t likely to be of interest any of the sites I write for, so those sorts of things will show up on here from time to time as well. It will likely be things like personal stories, updates about how my life/transition are going overall, and random musings. Hoping to start my book post again, and definitely will be putting effort into recapping conventions I attend as well.

Anyway, thanks to everyone who’s been with me since my early days of writing to what often felt like no one. And thanks to everyone who’s found this site through AS or TA for being curious about the other things I’ve written!

Oh, and while I’m here…if you, or a group you know of, is interesting in having me speak or given panels at your event, you can get a hold of me through my contact tab above! I’ve spoken about queer and trans inclusiveness, creating a consent culture in conventions, being a woman in a STEM career, and feminism in science-fiction, and I’d love to be a part of your event!

That’s all for now, but we’ll have no more 6 month gaps between posts, I promise!

Exciting Changes and Opportunities, or “The 1st Day of Spring sprung all kinds of good stuff on me!”

So, I’ve been quiet around here the last few weeks. In large part, that simply had to do with having an awful lot of obligations in my professional work-life that just draining me of energy to accomplish things in my evening hours, even on the rare nights when I had those hours to use. But, there’s another big development that’s had me a little distracted. I’m now a member of the writing staff for TransAdvocate! The put out a call for submissions for folks interested on writing about trans issues, and I sent a few of my samples from TNF, and low-and-behold, they liked my writing enough to give me a spot! I’d been holding onto the news while the kinks got worked out, and while I got my first piece ready for publication. But this morning, my very first piece on TA was published, an article debunking the “science” of CrossFit discriminating against Cloie Jönsson. I couldn’t be more happy or excited to be part of such an awesome group of activists. I also have some submission in to a few other sites, and currently waiting to hear back.

So, what does this mean for TransNerdFeminist. Well, TNF isn’t going anywhere. It might shift focus a little bit, and you might see a little less trans-related content, since those pieces will likely be heading to TA. But, I’ll see write essays and other random stuff, still do film reviews when I actually have time to go to the movies, and I’m definitely going to continue on with my monthly book column. I’ll also be adding a tab where I’ll link my stuff that gets published elsewhere on the net. And, I’ll still be just as weird on twitter (as the flow of my day allows)!

Oh, and in other awesome news, I also got posted to the #redefiningrealness tumblr that Janet Mock’s folks are maintaining.

What a way to start my spring!

Busy, but big things coming!

Grad School midterms and research demands are currently kicking my butt, which is the primary reason TNF has been so quiet in the last two weeks. I apologize for that, but it can’t be helped. Hope to be back to my regularly hyperactive writing schedule soon! However, I have a pretty big announcement coming very soon, so stay tuned 🙂

And, as always, thanks for reading!

-Mari