Statement on Windycon 2017 and the “Tutti Frutti” controversy

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

Here’s the story, from my side.

Before the panel

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

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

Screen Shot 2017-11-14 at 12.53.05 AM

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

Screen Shot 2017-11-14 at 1.00.19 AM.png

Screen Shot 2017-11-14 at 1.00.49 AM

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

At the panel

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

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

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

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

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

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

Further Considerations

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

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

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

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

Finals Thoughts

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

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

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

Advertisements

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.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What a way to start my spring!

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 rights/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.]

On Blog Anonymity and My Commitment to Visiblity, or “I can’t have my cake and eat it, too.”

When I started this blog project, I made a very conscious decision to not share much in the way of identifiable details about myself, or any pictures of what I look like. I’m a fairly shy person by nature, and TNF was started primarily as a project to flex writing skills that had gotten rusty and vent some political frustrations about issues I care about, so it just didn’t seem that important. I was also not enamored with the idea of sharing pictures of myself to the creeper/hate-machine that is the internet, especially when I still at a point where my self-esteem was fairly fragile. I’ve seen so many other trans writers end up with their photos on 4chan, reddit, and the like, or just enduring the constant stream of creepers and haters on twitter or blog comments, and I didn’t want to deal with any of that. But most of all, I felt like it would be contributing to the lurid fashion in which the world (and the internet in particular) treat trans people. I felt like they don’t want to read our words or hear our thoughts- they want to stare at our pictures because we’re still a visual novelty. I didn’t want people to find their way to my blog for a sideshow-style glimpse of another trans woman…I just wanted people to read my writing.

And so I hid behind my pseudonym, and quietly wrote and posted away over the last 10 months. But, over the last few months, a few incidents really kicked my metaphorical chair out from under me, and I began to rethink the manner in which I cling to my online anonymity. The first was in a discussion with a friend about the need for visibility. I had just written this piece on stealth, and I was talking out some of my thoughts on the pros/cons being visible as trans in my school/work situation as opposed to my current de-facto stealth status. She made a remark about not even allowing myself to be visible on my own blog and Twitter account, and questioned my commitment to actually being a visible advocate. I hadn’t really considered that before, and it left me a little speechless. I rolled the thought around in my head for a few weeks, and started to realize that I was trying to have my cake and eat it, too. I wanted to have cred for being a vocal advocate and to participate in the larger discussion and movement for trans rights and trans acceptance, but I also wanted to maintain my quiet, trouble-free, cis-assumptive life. Those two things are not compatible with the other, and I realized I wasn’t going to be able to have to both for very long and that eventually, I was going to be forced to choose between the two. 

The second incident involved some of the more unsavory elements of the trans-exclusive radical feminist (TERF) movement. I had seen these folks go after other activist/advocate friends of mine, and I had seen just how far they’ll go to disrupt their lives. I suppose it was always in the back of my mind that I might catch their attention sooner or later, but I generally thought I was too small-time for them to take much interest (especially since I rarely make any attempt to engage them directly). But while I was tweeting about the Avery Edison situation, I saw one of the more prominent twitter accounts attached to that group come up in my mentions. I’m not going to lie, my stomach knotted and I panicked a little. I anxiously for the next few days to see if I was going to endure any attack, and kept an eye on the websites where they “doxx” trans women who dare to speak out and call themselves women. I was lucky this time and nothing worse came of it, but it was definitely a pretty strong reminder of the kinds of risks I take in being an activist, particularly a mostly anonymous one. Afterwards, I realized that by trying to keep my identity hidden, I was only giving any potential TERF attackers more ammunition…after all, the more secrets I have, the more they have to expose. Beyond that, it would also take the control of my narrative out of my own hands. Just as in the meat-space world, I would much rather people in my cyber-space sphere of influence (limited as it is) hear things from me directly, where I have control of the phrasing and framing of the story, where it’s something I’m willingly sharing, rather than have it just dumped into the world from a third party like some Wikileaks-obtained secret. I don’t want to be a mystery worth investigating.

So, in processing these two experiences, I came to a realization about how my choice to remain anonymous in my web presence might look to other trans folks…like I’m ashamed of who I am. That was really the tipping point. I came out and transitioned to live authentically, to cease hiding behind doors and masks, and to give up the cycle of personal shame about who I am. Slipping back into anonymity while I rage about the issues that affect me personally is just trading one closet for another, and I’m DONE with closets. I am not ashamed of being trans, and I refuse to let the bullying of the internet and lurid stares of creepers around the world force me behind a curtain.

So, my 1 year anniversary of HRT seemed like a good time to step out of the shadows, and that’s today. So in the next day or so, I’ll be publishing a little blurb of my life, and updating a few things around the site to reflect my actual first name. Obviously, I’m not going to be handing out my address or any specifics that will arm the really dangerous kinds of creepers, but it’ll be all of me. I’ll even include a picture or two (and probably occasionally post some on here and on twitter.) I don’t plan on spilling every gory detail of my life for glorious voyeuristic thrills, but you’ll be able to connect this blog and this writing with a real, living, breathing, unashamed human being.

Happy Holidays, or “I’m not quite dead!”

So, my hiatus from blogging lasted considerably longer than I had hoped. In the first few weeks of my first semester of graduate school, I had sincerely hoped that I’d find a comparatively normal work-life balance. Sadly, that turned out to just not be the case, and I needed to remain completely focused on classwork and research for the entirety of the semester. But, now that hoops have been jumped through (which I’ll talk about in a later post), I’m looking forward to making time for regular posts once again. I already have several new pieces underway, plus a year-end review!

In the mean time, I just wanted to share send wishings of Happy Holidays to everyone, and particularly to those who are either forced to spend time with unaccepting family, or simply have no one at all because of their choice to live genuinely (in whatever way that might be relevant to you). I’m having a bit of a challenging holiday myself, and I just wanted everyone to know that they’re not forgotten, and that there’s more love in the world than just the kind that comes from blood family.

So Happy Holidays to my trans sisters and brothers, my LGBTQIA+ compatriots, my fellow feminist warriors, all the allies of the world, nerds everywhere, my chosen family, and the members of my blood family who DO support and accept me me.

Remember always that you are loved, and worthy of love.

-TheTNF

Block, Writers, or “I have so many thoughts, but the words won’t come.”

This post will short (shocking, I know.) News commentary will resume today or tomorrow here on the blog, but the longer “original” work commentaries will be slowing down for a bit. And yes, I’m perfectly aware that there’s been zero content here in 7 days. And yes, I feel terrible about that. I’ll be working to correct that shortly. But since this little project is the tireless work of just one woman, well…sometimes that woman’s energies have to go to endeavors outside of her presence on the blog-o-nets. And sometimes those endeavors give her wicked writer’s block. Never fear, I shall push on and continue providing my particular brand of commentary in due course. Just bare with me while I work through some important stuff in the real world.

❤ – TheTNF

Neil Gaiman Reading and Signing or “I met one of my very favorite authors and squeed so hard I nearly burst!”

Get ready to see gap in the thick armor that is my personality. Last night I got to see and meet an author who I have admired for a very very long time, the one and only Neil Gaiman. I’ve been geeked up for this event since I bought the tickets months ago, remember? Anyway, I think Neil is one of the most incredibly talented writers working in fiction today, particularly in fantasy, and I’ve been dreaming of getting to meet him for years, but his few appearances always seemed to be just out of reach for one reason or another. This time he was on what he purports to be his final book tour, in support of his new adult novel, The Ocean at the End of The Lane. Clearly, this was not something I could miss!

I was a little nervous that the event would end up cancelled. Neil’s flight was delayed significantly by the tragic crash at the San Francisco Airport, and didn’t touch down in Detroit until after the event was supposed to have started. Luckily, as Neil is an avid Twitter user, we were all kept updated of his progress, and he eventually arrived and made it to the stage. We were treated to a wonderful reading from the new novel first. I’ve heard recordings, both audio and video of Neil reading from his novels and short stories before, of course. But to hear him read his words to us -in person- was just…magic. It’s not often than I can be enraptured by someone reading a book (I actually very much dislike audio books for this reason), but I could have listened to him read for hours, and I would have hung on every word. He did a brief Q&A from submitted index cards, and shared some wonderful anecdotes about the origins of some of his story ideas, his childhood, his relationship with his wife (the lovely Amanda Palmer), and his children. Again, every answer was witty and entertaining, and his awkward charm shone. I wanted him to just talk all night. I think I was literally bouncing in my seat, and I know I was grinning like I was 12. At the end, he had a bit of a surprise…he gave us a reading from his not-yet-released all-ages/children’s book that’s due out this fall. It’s a fantastically absurd and adventurous tale of all of the things that happen to an otherwise ordinary father when trying to bring back milk from the market for his children’s cereal. It was just delightful, and I’m looking forward to reading to rest of it in a few months when it’s available. But, all too soon, Neil’s time on stage was over, and it was time to proceed to the book-signing.

The trouble with a book-signing is that it takes a REALLY long time. And there were over 1000 people in that theater, and even at only 15 seconds each, that’s 4+ hours of signing. The organizers did their best to keep it orderly and such, but that many people throw off a lot of heat, and the seating really wasn’t comfortable enough to be seated for many hours. I think we were fairly lucky, as we were the 3rd of 10 sections called, and even that was an almost unbearable wait. We made it through the line by about 11:15pm, and I got my copy of the new novel signed (personalized!!) and I got to squeak out an embarrassed “thank you” as I scurried away. I, who am never at a loss for words, was struck nearly mute at that moment. Yes, even I have my moments of fangirl silliness. Anyway, I got a few treasured pictures up-close as he signed, and I also got my ticket signed, which will soon be framed in my new office. I’m a little sad that the time constraints were such that I couldn’t get a picture with him, but seeing my name with his short inscription and signature on the title page, along with the brief flash of smile were enough. I have to applaud Neil’s commitment to his fans. He was signing until after 3:00am and I’m sure absolutely exhausted, but he made sure everyone who wanted something signed got their chance.

Despite being terribly hot, sweaty, tired, and hungry, I pretty much floated all the way to my car and smiled my whole way home. I might have even popped a signal tear of joy…you know, just for dramatic effect.

While I’m SO very sure that Neil won’t even come across this trifle of a blog, I’m going to be annoying anyway:

Thank you, Neil, from the bottom of my heart for making me feel like there might be a bit of magic in our world, hiding just out of sight. And thank you for temporarily melting my generally fierce exterior so I could a be an excited little girl, full of wide-eyed wonder, for just a few hours. It was a first for me.

The Importance of Trans Success Stories, or “How blogs, vlogs, and friends kept me going when I needed it most.”

When I first decided to embark on the project that later evolved into TransNerdFeminist, I spent a lot of time considering whether or not to include writings about my personal journey through transition. “After all,” I thought, “haven’t lots of transwomen far more interesting and with much better writing talent already shared their stories? What could my story possibly add?” I still think that I’m not all that wrong there…my story is important to me (because it’s me), and to the people who care about me, but it’s not exactly compelling literature. I think at first I started writing about my own experiences mostly for posterity…something to look back on and see how far I’d come when the journey got daunting. But a second thought occurred to me while I assembling my (ever growing) blogroll. I remembered just how much reading or hearing about the experiences of other transwomen had given a sense of hope during the very early days after I had made my decision to transition. Hearing about these brave women’s victories and how they endured the challenges of their transition gave me hope about my own future, and helped me push on at those times when fear nearly overtook me.

The process of gender transition is rather unique in the grand scheme of human experiences. There’s not much in your life than will really prepare you for what you’re going to face, and it’s difficult for people who haven’t had this journey to relate to it. Don’t misunderstand, I have AMAZINGLY supportive friends who do everything they can to understand what’s going with me, but there’s a degree of understanding that you can’t really get from any other way than living through it. Furthermore, everyone’s experience is rather unique. I don’t there’s any such thing as a “typical” transition or even a typical journey to arriving at the DECISION to transition, and that means that all of us have a different story to tell, and different experiences to share with one another

I’ll be honest, without the internet for information, I’m not sure I’d even still be alive today. All of my earliest information (dating back to high school) about gender dysphoria, being transgender/transsexual, and transition came from the internet. It’s what first allowed me to associate a name with what I felt (even if I frequently fought against accepting it), and feel like I wasn’t totally alone in the world for feeling that way. In the earliest days of my explorations with expression, it’s what let me shop for clothes without fear of being outed. It’s partly where I learned makeup, and entirely where I learned how to take care of my hair. I think for a large portion of the younger portion of the trans community, the web has played a huge part in helping us come to grips with who we are, and allowed us to find resources to help us survive that otherwise would have been much harder to come by. But I think even more importantly, it’s allowed us to connect with one another and to share experiences through blogging, vlogging, podcasts and other social media.

For me, reading blogs became a form of support group (traditional support groups are difficult for me due to social anxiety). During the period where I was still struggling to understand my gender identity and make sense of all of my conflicted feelings, I was able to find affirmation in the stories of others who had come before me and struggled with similar feelings. Not every blog I read matched up exactly with what I was going through, but each one seemed to validate a different part of the mess of things inside my brain. This piece by Casey Plett (who sadly no longer blogs) is one I still have bookmarked from that period. I was able to form some pretty solid ideas of the sorts of challenges I’d be facing in transition, but more importantly, I got to hear just how much transition had improved these women’s lives.  I got to read about the fears they had experienced or the doubts they might have had, and that gave me a sense of validation. And as silly as it may sound, it gave me role models. LadyVixion was a huge inspiration to me back then. Around the time I was working towards the transition decision, she was posting hilarious (and sometimes deeply touching) video blogs on youtube about her transition and trans-related issues in a confident, sassy style that resonated with me. I don’t think I’ll ever manage to be quite as bold and brassy as she is, but  it definitely helped me realize that it was okay to be ME, and not feel like I had to fit neatly into a particular trans-person mold. A few others who were important to me were MeghansLife and Grishno. I wish I had bookmarks for all the blogs that gave me so much inspiration back then so I could give them the credit they deserve for helping me through those tough times. Of course, if I’m giving credit for inspiration, I’d be remiss if i didn’t mention two wonderful, beautiful friends of mine who blazed the trail ahead of me. They’ve been invaluable support and amazing resources, and I don’t think I’d be in nearly as good a place as I am without them. For all of our privacy, no names used…but they know who they are.

And all that social media didn’t just help me, either. It helped people around me. When I couldn’t put how I was feeling into words, I could often point to a brilliantly poignant blog post or video posting. When I needed to share information about trans etiquette and basic advocacy with people I had recently come out to, I could also point them to some brilliant writing from the trans community. And beyond all of that, just having that information and those stories out there and accessible means it’s that much more likely that the rest of the world will read something that will give them some insight into what we struggle with, and the complexities of our lives, or just maybe dispel a bit of disinformation or a stereotype in their minds. Information is power, and it changes minds and hearts. And we need all the minds and hearts on our side that we can muster.

I can’t imagine I’m alone in my experience. There seem to be more trans blogs springing up every day throughout wordpress, blogspot, and tumblr. Trans topics pop up on reddit on a regular basis. WeHappyTrans is growing in popularity. The #GirlsLikeUs tag on twitter see dozens of tweets a week. Our presence on the ‘net is bigger than it ever has been. I see comments on so many blogs about how what people are sharing is making a difference in the lives of total strangers, sometimes on the other side of the planet. It’s allowing our comparatively tiny community to shrink the distance between and foster connections that are helping to make us healthier, happier, better informed, and more politically and socially influential that we’ve ever been before.

So, at the end of the day, that’s why I decided to publish my thoughts and experiences about transition: the chance that my experiences might smooth the process or give some reassurance to someone else struggling with their identity or getting ready to start transition or taking the leap to come out to people they care about. If all the work I’ve put in here can give just one person a little more confidence, or help them find clarity when things seem the most confusing. or even just validate a tiny bit of the sea of complicated feels that come with being trans, then it’s absolutely worth it to me. If it helps one cis-person have a better understanding of their trans friend, family member, co-worker or spouse, then then I won’t regret a single second of the work I’ve put into this project. It’s THAT important.
For the good of our community and the sake of those who follow behind us, the more of us sharing our stories, the better.