06
Mar
15

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.

 

22
Jan
15

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.

 

20
Aug
14

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!

22
Mar
14

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!

13
Mar
14

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

02
Mar
14

5 Books #1- Science Fiction for People Who Don’t Think They Like Science Fiction

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.

 

Honorable Mentions:

“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

28
Feb
14

On Being a Manic Pixie Queer Girl, or “Just because you’re queer doesn’t mean you can’t fall into being a cliche.”

(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 partners since I was about 19, 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 fulfilling. 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.

25
Feb
14

Arizona’s SB1062 Would Have Dangerous Consequences, Faces Backlash or “The Arizona GOP continues to get things very, very wrong.”

The state of Arizona, or at least its legislature, is once again on the anti-queer bandwagon. After last year’s embarrassing fiasco where they attempted to legislate where trans people are allowed to void their bladders, one might have hoped they had learned their lesson. But, the GOP being who it is, they’ve opted to turn their queerphobia up to eleven with their latest jab at the LGBTQ community, SB1062.

SB1062, an amendment to the state’s current statutes on “the free exercise of religion,” codifies a person or company’s right to refuse service to anyone on the basis of their religion without fear of reprisal from government agencies and regardless of any local ordinances to the contrary. It appears to stem from a string of recent incidents around the country where businesses have been sanctioned for refusing service to queer individuals. It’s been approved by both chambers of the Arizona legislature, and it current awaits a signature from GOP Gov. Jan Brewer, who has given little indication of her position on the legislation.

 Previously, this statute granted this right to refuse service based upon religious objection only to any “religious assembly or institution”, but the revised statute would read:

“Person” includes a religious assembly or institution ANY INDIVIDUAL, ASSOCIATION, PARTNERSHIP, CORPORATION, CHURCH, RELIGIOUS ASSEMBLY OR INSTITUTION, ESTATE, TRUST, FOUNDATION OR OTHER LEGAL ENTITY.

This grants the ability of essentially organization, business, or person to access the particular protections of this statute (because really, there aren’t many things that don’t fall into those categories. The particulars of the statute read as such:

41-1493.01. Free exercise of religion protected; definition

4 A. Free exercise of religion is a fundamental right that applies in this state even if laws, rules or other government actions are facially neutral.

7 B. Except as provided in subsection C of this section, state action shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability.

The key portion of that pile of legalese is “even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability.” Rules of general applicability is a term that stems from a landmark Supreme Court case involving the free exercise of religion clause of the First Amendment, known as Employment Division, Department of Human Resources vs Smith. In it, the Court ruled that a person could not claim exception from a law based upon one’s religious beliefs if the law created rules that were of “general applicability”, that is-that they weren’t particularly targeted to religion or specific religious groups. This means that, as a general rule, people cannot claim exemption from things like employment, housing, or healthcare non-discrimination laws simply because of their particular religious beliefs. However, the proposed Arizona law would specifically enshrine the right of people within that state to ignore essentially ANY state law if they can ground it in their particular religious convictions.

So, what are the implications of a law like this? It means a corporation can adopt a particular religious doctrine and use it to deny service to LGBT individuals. It means religious hospitals can refuse to treat LGBT people. It means perfectly legal “No Gays Allowed” signs on businesses owned by anti-queer religious people. It means pharmacies being able to legally refuse to fill HIV meds, birth control, emergency contraception, and hormones for trans people if the pharmacy or it’s owners have specific religious views.  It could be interpreted to mean that police officers wouldn’t be required to assist LGBT individuals if their personal religious beliefs would be violated in doing so. It would absolutely mean that religious doctors or other healthcare professionals could deny life-saving pregnancy termination procedures to women if it violates their religious beliefs. Given that many racial hate groups use religion to justify their racism, it could mean that companies or organizations could use this law to refuse service to racial minorities Taken to extremes, it could even be used as a potential defense in violent hate crimes (after all, the Bible makes clear that homosexuality [along with lots of other things] is punishable by death), or as a justification for legalized spousal rape or beating (since there’s justification for both in the Bible).

Not surprisingly, the bill has received a huge amount of backlash from everything from feminist and LGBT activists concerned about how the law will be used, to business owners who are concerned that it will have wide reaching effects of tourism in Arizona (a large force in their economy). George Takei wrote a length missive calling for a boycott of Arizona if the bill is signed, and that call has been echoed loudly in the LGBT community. The mayors of Arizona’s largest cities, both of their sitting Senators, and a large contingent of their members of Congress have called of Gov. Brewer to veto the bill. Leaders of the state’s largest business groups wrote to Brewer imploring veto, concerned about opening businesses to potential litigation and having the state branded an unfriendly place for visitors. And in just the last few days, even three member of the state legislature who voted in favor of the bill have come forward urging a veto on the measure, calling passage of the measure a “mistake.’

In the wake of this much pressure, it seems somewhat unlikely that Gov. Brewer would be willing to sign the legislation into law. However, the fact that the bill hit the governor’s desk at all is a very disturbing reminder of to just what lengths the GOP is willing to go to attack the LGBT community. Unfortunately, this is also far from an isolated incident. Similar bills attempting to enshrine the legal right to discriminate using a smoke-screen of religious liberty have been introduced in Ohio ,Idaho, Mississippi, and several other states recently, though none have yet progressed as far as the legislation in Arizona.

Despite the progress made in areas like marriage equality, the fight for equal rights and equal protections for LGBT individuals is FAR from over, and it appears that this new round of “religious objection” legislation represents the Republicans’ next volley in the pushback against the progress that has been made in the movement for equality for queer people.

 

 (Author’s note:  This is a significant simplification of the case law here, interpreted and explained by a scientist, not a lawyer.)

22
Feb
14

An Empty Gesture for Trans Students, or “Why the new VHSL policy on transgender student athletes helps no one.”

Policies about transgender students have been in the headlines for months, largely due to the signing and subsequent backlash against California’s AB1266, which significantly advanced protections and freedoms for transgender students throughout the state. Recently, the Virginia State High School League (VHSL), the state’s governing body for high school athletics, announced new rules that they claim allow the inclusion of transgender athletes on teams of their identified gender. They’ve pretty quick to congratulate themselves for being so progressive, and the mainstream press has given them a lot of credit for updating their policies for “inclusiveness”.

Unfortunately, either no one in the VHSL did even the slightest bit of research about trans issues, or the entire rule was designed to give the appearance of inclusiveness without actually making real changes. You see, the rule requires that students have undergone gender confirmation surgery (specifically genital surgery) in order to participate. The rule reads as follows:

Virginia High School League rules and regulations allow transgender student-athlete participation under the following conditions:

A. A student-athlete will compete in the gender of their birth certificate unless they have undergone sex reassignment.

B. A student-athlete who has undergone sex reassignment is eligible to compete in the reassigned gender when:

1. The student-athlete has undergone sex reassignment before puberty, or

2. The student-athlete has undergone sex reassignment after puberty under all of the following conditions:

a. Surgical anatomical changes have been completed, including external genitalia changes and gonadectomy.

b. Hormonal therapy appropriate for the assigned sex has been administered in a verifiable manner and for a sufficient length of time to minimize gender-related advantages in sports competition.

c. If a student-athlete stops taking hormonal treatment, they will be required to participate in the sport consistent with their birth gender.

C. A student-athlete seeking to participate as a result of sex reassignment must access the VHSL eligibility appeals process.

[Emphasis Mine]

 

That’s a pretty huge problem for many reasons. The largest of these is the current Standards of Care of the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH). The Standards of Care function as the guiding documents for pretty much all health professionals involved in trans medical care, and their guidelines for surgery are very specific (and almost no surgeon is willing to go against them). They read:

Criteria for metoidioplasty or phalloplasty

in FtM patients and for vaginoplasty in MtF

patients:

1. Persistent, well-documented gender dys-

phoria;

2. Capacity to make a fully informed decision

and to consent for treatment;

3. Age of majority in a given country;

4. If significant medical or mental health

concerns are present, they must be well

controlled;

5. 12 continuous months of hormone therapy

as appropriate to the patient’s gender

goals (unless hormones are not clinically

indicated for the individual).

6. 12 continuous months of living in a gender

role that is congruent with the patient’s

identity

[Emphasis mine]

In the US, the age of majority is 18. Last time I checked, there weren’t exactly a ton of 18-year-olds running around high schools- just a few seniors with really early birthdays. That’s not very many students who have even a glimmer of hope of meeting all the criteria of this policy. Given that genital surgery has quite a long recovery period (stretching months after the surgery), I don’t quite see how this policy is going allow pretty much ANY trans students to participate in high school sports in Virginia. If the members of the VHSL had bothered to ask a practitioner specializing in trans health, or to even just read the WPATH Standards of Care, they’d have been aware of this fact.

As a corollary, this policy isn’t even based upon anything approaching actual medical science. Last time I checked, the mere presence of a penis didn’t make you run faster, jump higher, or give one any other advantage in athletics. Hormonal transition, particularly in adolescents, fundamentally alters body phenotype and shuts down sex hormone production in the gonads, meaning there’s no competitive advantage is gained by simply HAVING your birth gonads. The changes in response to hormone are particularly rapid and profound in adolescents, so any arguments about requiring GCS to mitigate “competitive advantage” are pretty much scientifically bunk.

Furthermore, even IF the WPATH criteria didn’t preclude minors from having GCS, it remains an extraordinarily expensive medical procedure that is rarely covered by insurance, and only a minority of trans people will complete it in their lifetime, let alone someone still under the care of their parents. Lastly, this policy is horrifically ignorant just what a major decisions having GCS is for a trans person. Not only is it very invasive and full of risks, but it has a lifetime of physical consequences, and it puts a permanent end to a person’s ability to have biological children. It’s a decision that full-grown adults in their 30s struggle with, and it’s complete unreasonable to expect a teenager to make such a decision simply to play a game.

And really, what we’re talking about is high school sports, a bunch of teenager playing a game…not big-money college athletics or professional/world-class athletes. High school sports are supposed to be primarily about learning team-work, sportsmanship, keeping teenagers physically active, and providing a factor to drive student body unity. (Yes, I’m aware that lots of people take them FAR more seriously than that, but that’s another essay topic entirely). At the end of the day, the stakes are embarrassingly small to be this paranoid about someone having a competitive advantage, or to deny trans students the opportunity to participate in an activity that gives them the opportunity to integrate with cisgender peers.

So, really, what can we conclude? Either the VHSL is woefully ignorant about trans issues and far too lazy to actually research a topic before issuing a rule that affects an already heavily discriminated-against student population, or they were seeking the praise and hoping to appear “progressive” and “forward-thinking” without actually making any changes that would allow trans athletes to participate. In either case, it’s a big disappointment for trans students in Virginia, who deserve much better than this sad, lip-service-at-best policy.

22
Feb
14

No Longer Blogger Anonymous , or “Hi, my name is Mari, and I’m a blogger.”

So, as I promised in the last post, here’s where I tell you all who I am.

My name is (legally) Amara, but pretty much everyone calls me Mari (which is pronounced Mar-EE, not MAIR-ee, or muh-REE). My middle name is Brighe (pronounced Bree). I’m 31, and I live in southeast Michigan. I’m a 1st year PhD student at a local university medical school, studying Molecular Biology and Genetics. Before that I spend 5 years working as a medical laboratory professional, and I’m board-certified by the American Society of Clinical Pathology. I studied biochemistry and film history/theory as undergraduate. I’ve (kind of disappointingly) lived in Michigan my entire life. I own a little house of my own that I share with a very needy jerk of a cat named after a famous female scientist, whom i love to pieces.  I’m in a relationship with someone who makes me very happy.

I’m tallish for a girl, chubby, with a mess of frizzy/curly hair dyed purple with bangs that are constantly in my face, and I wear nerdy hipster glasses. I’m fairly extensively tattooed and constantly adding more. I’m not overly caught up in butch/femme labels or rigid limits on how I present. My hair is pretty much always up in a ponytail/pigtails/bun/braid, and I’m usually in jeans and a t-shirt. But, I have my goth girl moments, my punk rock hard-femme moments, my sexy librarian moments, and every so often, I even put on a dress (but I need a damn good reason for it).  Oh, and I have a minor obsession with Doc Martens (and by obsession, I mean I own at least a dozen pairs).

I’m very openly queer, as I’ve mentioned elsewhere in the blog. I tend to simplify to “lesbian” or “gay” when talking to straight folks who don’t much experience with queer issues, but I think both words have a lot of political baggage associated with them, so “queer” is my preferred term. I’m also a neurodiverse person- in particular a high-functioning autistic/Aspergerian- and I do put effort into educating/advocating for the understanding and acceptance of neurodiversity (and gods help you if you mention Autism Speaks in front of me).

I consider myself to be an intersectional feminist; I’m a firm believer in the importance of diversity and inclusiveness in the feminist movement, and in examining/understanding how other forms of oppression and privilege interact with sexism and patriarchal control, particularly racism, classism, heterosexism, and cissexism.  I’m most active in advocating for abortion right/body autonomy, economic justice, and fighting human trafficking.

I keep a pretty busy life. I’m a full-time PhD student and Graduate Research Assistant, and I do some contract consulting work on the side. I’m also a professional DJ and electronic music performer, and I sit on the Board of Directors of an educational non-profit. I’m also a very active member of the Midwest science-fiction convention community- I generally attend 5-7 conventions a year or more and I consider the convention community to be my family. And of course, I’m an active trans, queer, and feminist advocate. I also read prolifically, dabble in photography, and love to travel when I get the opportunity.

And because I promised, here’s a photo (taken today, even!):

Mari2-21-14

This feels like it’s just about the most boring post I’ve ever written, and I apologize for that. I’m not actually very good at talking about myself, and I think it shows here. But, there you have it…I’m officially de-anonymized!

[For safety sake, I’ve chosen to not share the city I live in, or the school I attend. I’m choosing not to post my last name to the blog because quite frankly, it’s ugly, and because I respect the privacy of the rest of my family who’d prefer I not call attention to them via my writings.]




A blog about nerdy things, feminist thoughts, and queer/trans life. It's full of rants, opinions, and personal stories. I don't claim to speak for absolutely anyone but myself. Read at your own risk.

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