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.
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.
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.
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.
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. 🙂
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.
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.
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. 🙂
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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!
Alright, so, I’ll admit that sometimes trans-related issues get the majority of my writing efforts here, which wasn’t (and really still isn’t) my goal with this project. My interests are wide and varied, and dammit, I’m going to work harder on actually talking about them! One of the things I’m absolutely crazy about (as I think I’ve mentioned before) is books and literature. I’m particularly fond of the wide range that makes up science fiction, but my reading certainly isn’t limited to just sci-fi. So in the vein, I’m starting a new column series about books, with the goal of posting one a month (on the the first day of the month). Sometimes it might be a list of five book suggestions on a particular theme, sometimes it might be a book review, and if I’m tenacious enough to corner an author at a convention, it might even be an interview! So, on that note, let’s get to our inaugural post in this series: 5 Science Fiction Books for People Who Don’t Think They Like Science Fiction.
Sci-fi gets an awfully bad rap from a lot of people- one that I feel is rather undeserved! A common perception is that science fiction is written for men, and that it mostly involves space ships, ray guns, and aliens. Unfortunately, the science fiction world doesn’t do enough to shed itself of that kind of image. The Sci-Fi Channel (sorry, SyFy…*eye roll*) is dominated by space-and-alien kinds of movies and show, and portions of the convention scene (particularly WorldCon) are still dominated by the writing of white men talking about spaceships. Heck, even the two biggest awards for science-fiction writing- the Nebula and the Hugo- have trophies with space themes. Don’t get me wrong, all of that certainly IS science fiction. But the world of sci-fi is so much broader than that. And I’m not talking about fantasy bodice-rippers, and Twilight-esque teen vampire lit (because that’s fantasy, which I will continue to insist is a separate (though still worthwhile) genre, no matter how much book retailers want to cram them together in the same shelves.) Fortunately, many publishers and lots of conventions are embracing the diversity of science-fiction, and bringing lots of new fans into the sci-fi community.
So, let’s talk about sci-fi ACTUALLY is. On its face, science fiction is simply speculative fiction (set in the future- either near or distant), where there is some form of driving premise involving science. This can range from the sweeping cultural space epics of Iain M Bank and Isaac Asimov, to the mind-bending cyberpunk works from Neal Stephenson and William Gibson, to dystopian literature by the likes of Ray Bradbury and Margaret Atwood, to imaginative biopunk works from Paulo Bacigalupi and China Mieville. Often, science fiction leverages this speculation to make subtle (or sometimes quite overt) commentary on modern social and political situations including capitalism, race, sexism, and religion. And while there’s a certainly an abundance of white male authors, people like Ursula K LeGuin, Margaret Atwood, Octavia Butler, Connie Willis, and Lois Bujold have been prominent writers in the science-fiction realm for decades, several of whom are recognized Grand Masters of the Science Fiction Writers Association.
In crafting this list, I strove to entirely avoid anything that’s space-related, so it leans heavily on the dystopian types of stories. I tried to include a variety of writing styles and themes, and did my best balance out the heavily serious entries with some more light-hearted fare. I also wanted to demonstrate some of the diversity in authors, so only 2 of 5 are white guys. Lastly, I shied away from anything from the “hard” science fiction realm, it can put off people who are new to the sci-fi world. In any case, if you’re the sort of person who has previously thought of sci-fi as nothing more than a lot of permutations of Star Wars and Star Trek, I highly suggest you give at least one of the following a try and see if I can’t change your perspective:
1. “Never Let Me Go” by Kazuo Ishiguro – This one is sneaky. You’ll be halfway through the book (at least) before you realize it’s anything but a touching coming-of-age story. It’s a beautiful example of the subtle premise reveal, and it makes the realization of what’s really going on that much more impactful. Ishiguro’s writing here is too good to spoil by sharing details, but the broad points he makes about the nature of what it is to be human are powerful.
2. “Cat’s Cradle” by Kurt Vonnegut – I’ll be the first to admit that I’d look to sneak Vonnegut into almost any book list. But “Cat’s Cradle” is beautiful in its absolute absurdity, and manages to take pokes at both religion and the arms race. It’s perhaps one of the best pieces of satirical dystopian fiction that’s ever been published. And if you’ve never read Vonnegut (shame on you), it’s a really good entry piece to his work.
3. “A Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood – This is perhaps my favorite book on the list. Despite being written nearly 30 years ago, its stark warning about the dangers of viewing women’s bodies as little more than incubators for fetuses remains just as relevant now as it was in 1985. It stands as one of the pillar works of feminist science-fiction. It’s also another fantastic example of the slow-reveal, and Atwood’s use of flashback is brilliant.
4. “The Children of Men” by PD James – Yes, you might have seen the movie. But, while the film adaptation is quite good, it’s a significant departure from the even-better novel. It’s a bleak look at potential consequences of a world where nearly everyone has become completely disillusioned and uninterested in the politics and government, as well as the prospect of human extinction. It also explores the dangers of power dynamics, and implications of a generation of spoiled, entitled children.
5. “The Yiddish Policemen’s Union” by Michael Chabon – If you happen to be love detective stories with lots of word humor, this last book is the one for you. Set in a hypothetical future where the Jewish State has been relocated to Alaska with an wonderfully intricate alternate history, it’s mostly a murder mystery, but with subtle commentary on our actual history and on the Zionist movement in Israel. Chabon’s writing is actually laugh-out-loud funny at times, and his word-play is masterful.
“A Canticle for Liebowitz” By Walter M Miller, Jr
“The Giver” by Lois Lowry
“Wild Seed” by Octavia Butler.
Next month on 5 Books: 5 Essential Reads for Young Feminists
(Note: This is a piece that I had finished about 90% of back in July, but never got around to completing. I came across it today, and decided it was worth finishing and posting. Enjoy!)
I try to not be shy about admitting my faults and general fuck-ups. Chief among these faults is a tendency to be a little too arrogant about my own self-understanding and insight. Sometimes, this leads to moments where I feel totally foolish, and I ran into yet another of these moments this recently. The whole “Manic Pixie Dream Girl” concept as both a media trope and a cliche of female dating behavior seems to get a lot of coverage in the blogonets. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, it stems from a stock movie character whose sole function is to bring fun, adventure, personal growth, and a change in heart to the otherwise sullen, mournful, boring male lead. She uses her charming quirkiness, her non-mainstream interests and hobbies, and her off-beat sense of humor to be a mechanism for change for the male protagonist, without ever really having any motivations or needs of her own. She probably dresses idiosyncratically, has some kind of interesting speech pattern, has funky bangs, and owns a cat she talks to in an embarrassing sort of way. Some of the best known examples include Natalie Portman’s character in Garden State, Romona in Scott Pilgrim vs The World, and Kate Winslet’s character in Eternal Sunshine on a Spotless Mind. (Zoey Deschanel’s character in 100 Days of Summer actually turns this entire trope on its head and is worth a watch.) Sadly, as such a common stock character in film and television, the behaviors and expectations are frequently emulated by real-life women when dating, and even more often, subtly pressed onto women by men. Now, as a queer woman who doesn’t date cisgender men, I always thought myself above such frivolous cliches. After all, I thought, aren’t these stereotypes about STRAIGHT relationships? I’m so much more insightful and self-aware! I would never allow myself to fall into such behavior; I am just too worldly and smart for that. Yeah, like I said, sometimes I’m a right arrogant idiot.
But, the other day I was reading this piece and something caught in my brain. Something about her experiences rang just a little too close to home for me. Now, I’ve been out and open about my gender identity to all of my partners since I was about 21, and as a result, I’ve not had to put on much of a “false front” of masculinity when it comes to long-term dating situations, so I can’t even make the excuse of it being a side-effect of trying to live/date passably as male. As a young adult, I made the pretty standard dumb dating mistakes that just come with the limited maturity you have when you’re 20-22. During much of my mid-to-late twenties, I moved onto what I considered to be more mature adult relationships. But, these situations always seemed to play out in the same way: meet someone, have an exciting year together, everything stagnates and falls apart, things end. Rinse, repeat. I definitely noticed the pattern after a few times, but I always chalked it up to “well, they just weren’t the right person.” But as this same pattern played out over and over again- often with the same fights, the same difficulties, and always the same ending- I began to re-examine myself and my own behaviors; after all, the common denominator here there was me. I had thought I had picked out the problem back then…that I was choosing relationships that were “projects” because I felt powerless to do anything to fix myself. And so I resolved to stop such things, and focus on making myself better and choosing relationships with more appropriate balance and boundaries. In hindsight, I had missed a major part of what had always been going on, and it would crop up again even as I made different choices in partners.
As it turns out, I had been placing value on the wrong parts of myself. As I worked through my self-esteem issues, I had chosen to focus on what I felt were my positive, attractive qualities- namely that I was intelligent, had a wide variety of interests, and did interesting things with my life. The problem here is that as I applied this to dating, I strove to attract people not with who I was, but on the experience they would have with me, and what I could for their lives. Sound familiar? From the above-mentioned article:
I’m a bit strange and sensitive and daydreamy, and retain a somewhat embarrassing belief in the ultimate decency of humanity and the transformative brilliance of music, although I’m ambivalent on the Shins. I love to dance, I play the guitar badly, and I also – since we’re in confession mode, dear reader, please hear and forgive – I also play the fucking ukelele. Truly. Part of the reason I’m writing this is that the MPDG trope isn’t properly explored, in any of the genres I read and watch and enjoy. She’s never a point-of-view character, and she isn’t understood from the inside. She’s one of those female tropes who is permitted precisely no interiority. Instead of a personality, she has eccentricities, a vaguely-offbeat favourite band, a funky fringe.
While I don’t play the guitar, and I only kind of play the ukulele, the above paragraph is a pretty succinct description of me at 26. As it turns out, I had turned myself into a supporting character in my own life, and in the interest of attracting partners and maintaining relationships, I subverted all of my own needs. When someone dated me, it wasn’t me as a person they were buying into, but me as an experience. But, as it turns out, when you present yourself as the adventure vacation of romantic partners, that’s exactly how people treat you. As long as there are novel experiences to be had, and life-changing personal growth to acquire, they’re head-over-heels excited to be with you. You’re the month-long backpacking tour of Asia they’ve been dying to take their whole lives. But as soon as you’ve shown them all you can, and helped them grow as much as you’re able, there’s nothing left to hold the relationship together. Vacation spots are escapes, after all. No one stays on vacation forever because they’re not invested in that place, they just want the experience that place provides. And even more so, because you’re an experience and not a person, you become terribly invested in providing it…you twist yourself in ways to hide the flaws that don’t fit within the “experience”, never really allowing yourself to be the “real” you. Only main characters get to have flaws and be dynamic, and a MPDG is never a main character, and any part of her that doesn’t advance the storyline is unimportant. And so it went for me, a long line of partners who never really knew me, but who were always so grateful for all I’d shown them, always telling me that I had changed their lives forever and made them better people…right after which they’d take their improved-self and move on to someone else (and in my case, very frequently marry that person). I was, in essence, the Manic Pixie Queer Girl, my own LGBT-ified version of a classic movie trope.
It’s easy to see how I ended up being a Manic Pixie Queer Girl. As a MPQG, you have lots of torrid, passionate romance and a seemingly-never-ending stream of fun with different people. For a while, especially for someone who spent a lot of life feeling pretty unwanted, it feels amazing to have people so enamored with you. It’s intoxicating to have people infatuated with you. But looking back, I never got much out of those relationships, aside from sex and temporary companionship. No one ever *really* saw me, or loved me, or cared for me. They had no real interest in who I was inside- my goals, my aspirations, my fears, my perspective. They gave me no real support, and I never grew from the experience. It’s a life that’s lonely in its own specific kind of way, and ultimately just depressingly unfulfilling. I was never the love of anybody’s life, just a temporary, exhilarating stop-over. In the end, I was just a vehicle for change in their lives, a secondary character that drives their own story forward- just as so many Manic Pixie Dream Girls in a hundred Hollywood films.
So, what’s a Manic Pixie Queer Girl to do? Well, the first step is for her to recognize that she was right prat for arrogantly thinking the whole thing was impossible. After that, it’s to step into her own spotlight, of course. Take charge, and be willing to be the main character in her own story. And, so I have. I’ve stopped selling myself as “The Mari Experience” to potential romantic interests, and I’ve shied off the folks who give indications that they view that way. I’ve given up on being everyone’s summer-in-Europe of relationship partners, and I no longer view it as any part of my job to ensure that people evolve, or to save them from their boring lives. I’ve stopped hiding my flaws, instead choosing to express them as simply part of the whole, complete, three-dimension, dynamic person that I am. I’m still quirky, still weird, still living my own little unique existence. But, when I bring new people into it, it’s no longer as “let me show you all these cool things that will make your life more interesting”, but instead “let me share all these things that I love with you, because they’re important to me and I want you to be a part of the things I love.” Most of all, I’ve stopped looking for partners who can grow from me, and instead started looking for partners who can together grow with me. I’m not here to change anyone’s life. I’m just here to live mine, and I’m hoping to share the ride with someone who loves all of me- quirks, flaws, bangs, ukulele and all.