Archive Page 2

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 my partners since I was about 21, and as a result, I’ve not had to put on much of a “false front” of masculinity when it comes to long-term dating situations, so I can’t even make the excuse of it being a side-effect of trying to live/date passably as male. As a young adult, I made the pretty standard dumb dating mistakes that just come with the limited maturity you have when you’re 20-22. During much of my mid-to-late twenties, I moved onto what I considered to be more mature adult relationships. But, these situations always seemed to play out in the same way: meet someone, have an exciting year together, everything stagnates and falls apart, things end. Rinse, repeat. I definitely noticed the pattern after a few times, but I always chalked it up to “well, they just weren’t the right person.” But as this same pattern played out over and over again- often with the same fights, the same difficulties, and always the same ending- I began to re-examine myself and my own behaviors; after all, the common denominator here there was me. I had thought I had picked out the problem back then…that I was choosing relationships that were “projects” because I felt powerless to do anything to fix myself. And so I resolved to stop such things, and focus on making myself better and choosing relationships with more appropriate balance and boundaries. In hindsight, I had missed a major part of what had always been going on, and it would crop up again even as I made different choices in partners.

As it turns out, I had been placing value on the wrong parts of myself. As I worked through my self-esteem issues, I had chosen to focus on what I felt were my positive, attractive qualities- namely that I was intelligent, had a wide variety of interests, and did interesting things with my life. The problem here is that as I applied this to dating, I strove to attract people not with who I was, but on the experience they would have with me, and what I could for their lives. Sound familiar? From the above-mentioned article:

    I’m a bit strange and sensitive and daydreamy, and retain a somewhat embarrassing belief in the ultimate decency of humanity and the transformative brilliance of music, although I’m ambivalent on the Shins. I love to dance, I play the guitar badly, and I also – since we’re in confession mode, dear reader, please hear and forgive – I also play the fucking ukelele. Truly. Part of the reason I’m writing this is that the MPDG trope isn’t properly explored, in any of the genres I read and watch and enjoy. She’s never a point-of-view character, and she isn’t understood from the inside. She’s one of those female tropes who is permitted precisely no interiority. Instead of a personality, she has eccentricities, a vaguely-offbeat favourite band, a funky fringe.

While I don’t play the guitar, and I only kind of play the ukulele, the above paragraph is a pretty succinct description of me at 26. As it turns out, I had turned myself into a supporting character in my own life, and in the interest of attracting partners and maintaining relationships, I subverted all of my own needs. When someone dated me, it wasn’t me as a person they were buying into, but me as an experience. But, as it turns out, when you present yourself as the adventure vacation of romantic partners, that’s exactly how people treat you. As long as there are novel experiences to be had, and life-changing personal growth to acquire, they’re head-over-heels excited to be with you. You’re the month-long backpacking tour of Asia they’ve been dying to take their whole lives.  But as soon as you’ve shown them all you can, and helped them grow as much as you’re able, there’s nothing left to hold the relationship together. Vacation spots are escapes, after all. No one stays on vacation forever because they’re not invested in that place, they just want the experience that place provides. And even more so, because you’re an experience and not a person, you become terribly invested in providing it…you twist yourself in ways to hide the flaws that don’t fit within the “experience”, never really allowing yourself to be the “real” you. Only main characters get to have flaws and be dynamic, and a MPDG is never a main character, and any part of her that doesn’t advance the storyline is unimportant.  And so it went for me, a long line of partners who never really knew me, but who were always so grateful for all I’d shown them, always telling me that I had changed their lives forever and made them better people…right after which they’d take their improved-self and move on to someone else (and in my case, very frequently marry that person). I was, in essence, the Manic Pixie Queer Girl, my own LGBT-ified version of a classic movie trope.

It’s easy to see how I ended up being a Manic Pixie Queer Girl. As a MPQG, you have lots of torrid, passionate romance and a seemingly-never-ending stream of fun with different people. For a while, especially for someone who spent a lot of life feeling pretty unwanted, it feels amazing to have people so enamored with you. It’s intoxicating to have people infatuated with you.  But looking back, I never got much out of those relationships, aside from sex and temporary companionship. No one ever *really* saw me, or loved me, or cared for me. They had no real interest in who I was inside- my goals, my aspirations, my fears, my perspective. They gave me no real support, and I never grew from the experience. It’s a life that’s lonely in its own specific kind of way, and ultimately just depressingly unfulfilling. I was never the love of anybody’s life, just a temporary, exhilarating stop-over.  In the end, I was just a vehicle for change in their lives, a secondary character that drives their own story forward- just as so many Manic Pixie Dream Girls in a hundred Hollywood films.

So, what’s a Manic Pixie Queer Girl to do? Well, the first step is for her to recognize that she was right prat for arrogantly thinking the whole thing was impossible. After that, it’s to step into her own spotlight, of course. Take charge, and be willing to be the main character in her own story. And, so I have. I’ve stopped selling myself as “The Mari Experience” to potential romantic interests, and I’ve shied off the folks who give indications that they view that way.  I’ve given up on being everyone’s summer-in-Europe of relationship partners, and I no longer view it as any part of my job to ensure that people evolve, or to save them from their boring lives. I’ve stopped hiding my flaws, instead choosing to express them as simply part of the whole, complete, three-dimension, dynamic person that I am. I’m still quirky, still weird, still living my own little unique existence. But, when I bring new people into it, it’s no longer as “let me show you all these cool things that will make your life more interesting”, but instead “let me share all these things that I love with you, because they’re important to me and I want you to be a part of the things I love.” Most of all, I’ve stopped looking for partners who can grow from me, and instead started looking for partners who can together grow with me. I’m not here to change anyone’s life. I’m just here to live mine, and I’m hoping to share the ride with someone who loves all of me- quirks, flaws, bangs, ukulele and all.

Advertisements
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 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.]

22
Feb
14

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.

11
Feb
14

Three Little Pills, or “Something resembling poetry about hormones.”

I wrote the following piece on a whim a few weeks back. I thought there might be more to it, but I hasn’t really come together, so I decided to just go ahead and share it. And be nice- poetry isn’t really my thing- but this gets at something personal about transition for me that I don’t think I’ve ever been able to properly write about. Someday it might grow into something longer, or perhaps something spoken. But for now, it is what is, and I’m happy with it. Without further ado, “Three Little Pills”:

 

Three little pills. 
That’s all it takes. 
Three tiny green ovoids, not much larger than a grain of rice,
Spread across my day to keep things even. 
Hell, they’re mostly sugar- just 2 milligrams in each is anything one might call interesting. 
6 milligrams per day. Almost nothing compared to the 130 kilograms that make me up. 
That’s 4.6×10^-7 percent of my body.
I’ll lose more than that in shed skin cells today.
It’s a lot of weight for so little mass. 
Three little pills,
One in the AM and two a night. 
And it’s enough change a body that once looked hard, bulky, masculine,
A body I grew to despise, that made me nauseous at the mere glance in mirror, 
A body that recoiled from even the most well-intentioned of intimate touches,
A body that screamed out to everyone but me “This is a man!”
A wrong body.
To one with softness, curves- breasts and hips, undeniably feminine 
A body that, even with its imperfections, I’m pleased to see reflected back at me each day,
A body that warms to soft kisses, and opens to loving embraces,
A body I’m proud to call a woman’s, 
A body that’s right. 
Okay, so they had a little help from two slightly bigger brown pills.
But that’s mostly to kickstart the process. 
It’s the three little guys, scored down the center, carrying their tiny payload
That really do the work.
Correcting a terrible birth defect,
A body that doesn’t match its brain.


29
Jan
14

Obama’s State of the Union Address Ignores ENDA (and more), or “Remember when the President stood up for trans rights in front of Congress? Yeah, me neither.”

In tonight’s State of the Union address, President Obama talked extensively about jobs and the economy. He discussed immigration reform. He touted the success of the Affordable Care Act. He devoted several minutes to discussing current foreign policy situations. He touched on education, tax reforms, and pressed for an increase in the federal minimum wage. Sadly, he left a number of critical issues completely untouched- chief among them the concerns of the LGBT community and the languishing of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, commonly known as ENDA.

Oh sure, he gave the minimum of lip service to our existence in his brief mentions of “marriage equality” and later his hat-tip to “sexual orientation” in his statement about equality in regards to the upcoming Olympic games in Sochi. Meanwhile, in 29 states it remains perfectly legal to fire (or refuse to hire) someone because they’re gay, lesbian or transgender. 33 states offer no protections to transgender workers. According to the most recent report from the National Center for Transgender Equality, 90% of transgender workers have experienced some form of harassment. Nearly half (47%) had been fired, had not been hired, or had missed out on a promotion because they are trans, including 26% who had been actually lost their jobs. Because of the persistent discrimination and transphobia in the US, losing our jobs has even more catastrophic effect than it does for the straight, cis population, leading to four times the rate of extreme poverty, and four times the rate of homeless (1 in 5 trans people will be homeless at some point in our lives). Most heartbreaking of all, 41% of trans people will attempt suicide at some point in their lives, more than 25 times the risk of the general population.

These bleak facts stem for a systemic, entrenched anti-trans bias within the entirety of the US economic system, from education to the workforce. While we have lots of work to do to disassemble this bias, comprehensive workplace protections for transgender individuals (and indeed, all LGBT people) would provide a large measure of stability and would represent a huge leap forward in trans rights. Congress has an excellent opportunity to enact such protections, though S. 815, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) of 2013. The proposal passed the Senate in November 64-32, including three yes votes from Republicans. While Congress has previously considered similar bills, this marks the first time such a bill containing protections for trans people has gained final passage in a chamber of Congress. All indications are that- if allowed to come to a vote on the House floor- the bill would pass, and President Obama has indicated that he would sign it. So what’s keeping this critical legislation from passing? The unwillingness of Speaker John Boehner to allow a vote, as he views it as “unnecessary” (I’d be willing to bed the 1 in 4 trans people who’ve been fired would handily disagree). Unfortunately, the rules of the House make it nearly impossible to circumvent the Speaker’s block on the vote.

So, back to Obama’s State of the Union Address. President Obama prodded the members of Congress towards action on a number of issues, including extending unemployment benefits, increasing the federal minimum wage, closing tax loopholes, and funding preschool education. Unfortunately, he entirely failed to prod Congress on the final passage of ENDA. Job protections for LGBT people are not a particularly controversial topic for the public at large. A poll by the Center for American Progress back in 2011 demonstrated that nearly 3 of 4 Americans support workplace protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals, including a majority of Republicans. More troubling is that 90% believe these protections already exist. So, we have a policy that the majority of Americans- and a majority of Congress- supports (indeed that most think already exists) that won’t become law because of one single legislator’s objections. The State of the Union seemed like the perfect opportunity to press for action on such an item. Mr Obama could have very publicly called on Boehner to allow such a vote (either directly, or indirectly). The President could have promised to sign an executive order to require protections for LGBT people in all federal contractors as an additional pressure, much as he did with the federal contractors and minimum wage. President Obama’s press office included such items in his pre-address “fact sheet”, but that’s a far cry from a expression of public support in a major address. When the President took the podium, all we heard was a deafening silence on one of the most critical issues facing us today.

Some might argue that it’s a fairly “minor issue”, affecting a small number of Americans, and not worthy of the President’s limited speech time. However, as a comparison, roughly 1.6 million people recently lost their unemployment benefits, about 0.5% of the population by my estimate. LGBT identified folks make up about 4% of the US population by current estimates, more than 8 times as many who would benefit from the far-more controversial unemployment extension. However, that issue was found worthy of mentioning at length in his speech. Returning to the minimum-wage issue for a moment, about the same number (1.6 million) of individuals currently make minimum wage (per Bureau of Labor Statistics)  as recently lost unemployment checks. And yet, raising the federal minimum wage was a key issue in Obama’s address. Don’t misunderstand me, I believe these are both very important and worthwhile issues and they certainly warranted being discussed in the President’s speech. But in sheer numbers, the passage of ENDA impacts a greater number of people, and it’s nonsensical to argue that we’re comparatively insignificant minority.

I could take the President to task for many oversights in his address, from drug policy to criminal justice to reproductive rights to proper funding for the NIH. However, his failure to press for action for such basic protections that could do so much to improve the lives of trans (and other LGBT) individuals is absolutely inexcusable, particular given that that ENDA enjoys wide support with Americans and has functionally zero fiscal implications. If this version of ENDA dies in the House without reaching the President’s desk, it will represent an enormous missed opportunity to provide trans and queer people with something most have never had- a chance to live their lives without fear of losing their livelihoods and incomes simply for being who they are. The simple fact is, Mr Obama had the opportunity to take a groundbreaking step in going to bat for the LGBT population in his address (and, in doing so, keep a key campaign promise). However, as has become so common a theme in his administration, President Obama left queer and transgender Americans out in the cold.

28
Jan
14

Why Genital Essentialist Comments are Transphobic Microaggressions, or “People need to stop talking about what “real” men and women have in their pants.”

Microaggressions: those little phrases you hear every day that give you a stinging reminder that the world considers you “less than”. The term was originally coined back in the 1970s in regards to racism, but it’s come into usage in feminist, queer, and pretty much all other intersectional conversations about privilege. Dr Derald Sue, who has written extensively about racial and other microaggressions gave the following definition in a Psychology Today article in 2010:

“Microaggressions are the everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, which communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership.”

Think of it like this: open aggressive harassment is like someone dropping a big rock on your car from an overpass- it’s sudden, immediate, and it’s probably going to do some serious damage. Microaggressions are like being caught behind a gravel truck every day- each little hit does a fairly minor amount of damage but the accumulated effect day after day is going to make a big mess. Some microaggressions are direct: intentionally misgendering of a trans person, or asking a black guy what gang he’s in. Some are more subtle: men referring to certain tasks as “women’s work,” or someone commenting on the enjoyment of cake by a random person of size passing by. Jared Leto’s recent acceptance speech at the Golden Globes is another perfect example, as Parker Molloy recently discussed over on The Toast. If it’s sort of thing someone might brush off criticisms of as “being too sensitive”, there’s a pretty good chance it’s a microaggression. If you’re still having trouble conceptualizing this, the good folks over at The Microaggression Project have cataloged more examples than you’ll ever need. (Caution: it can be a pretty triggery website.)

Transphobic microaggressions take many forms, from downright hostile comments about how “gross” or “weird” trans people (and/or their bodies are) to insidious things like the use of phrases like “hot tranny mess” in a derogatory fashion about someone’s appearance. One that seems to be among the most prevalent (and dismissed) are comments about the sort of genitals (or other features) that “real” men or women should have, a situation commonly known as “essentialism”. When these comments are specifically about the sort of genitals that one particular gender has (or doesn’t have), it becomes genital essentialism. I recently came across this post in the blogosphere, ostensibly written about standards of female beauty, but unnecessarily containing a bold transphobic microaggression. (I have extended criticisms of the entire misogynist piece, but we’ll skip those today.) The writer opines:

“I’m going to let you and the rest of society in on a secret, real women have vaginas. In fact, that is the number one prerequisite in being considered a person of the female persuasion. It’s not the shape of your hips or the size of your rump, it’s the fact that I can’t find a penis anywhere on your body.”

The problem here, of course, is that a statement like this also very clearly implies that anyone without a vagina is not, in fact, a “real woman.” It’s an implicit rejection of the femaleness every single trans woman on the planet who has not had GCS. Sure, it’s a flaming angry tirade from a religious crazy about what evil sexual perverts we all are. But, it is a jab at something that trans women hold fairly sacrosanct- their identity as a woman. In that, it becomes a transphobic microaggressions, even if the writer had no negative thoughts about trans women in his mind when he wrote it. A more wide-reaching example occurred just today on Twitter when Joss Whedon (of Buffy, Firefly, and Avengers fame) tapped out this doozy:

whedontweet

Once again, reducing femaleness to genitals…and this time not even the presence of a vagina, but simply the LACK of penis and testicles, making it not only an anti-trans microaggression (by implying that by having male genitals, trans women aren’t women and that by not having a penis trans men aren’t actually men), but also a sexist microaggression (by defining women as simply “that which is not a man,” the implication being that gender is defined in the context of maleness). Again, I’m not necessarily saying that Mr Whedon had any particularly transphobic or sexist intentions when he made this statement, but the fact that a statement like this can be tossed off like it’s nothing speaks volumes about the invisibility of trans people in the minds of the world at large.

Quite unfortunately, this whole “real women have vaginas” thing is a lot more prevalent than you might imagine. You see, a few years back the internets spawned a meme about female body image, centered around the phrase “real women have curves.” Not unexpectedly (nor at ALL unreasonably) there was significant backlash against this reduction a woman’s identity to her physical body appearance. After all, it’s pretty cruel and offensive to declare that thin women aren’t “real” women. Disappointingly, the phrase that seemed to frequently be substitutes in place of it was -you guessed it- “real women have vaginas.” This phrase became a rallying cry against the imposition of unfair beauty standards. Writer Dory Hartley wrote in a piece for Huffington Post:

“Number one: they all have vaginas. If you’ve got a vagina, you’re a real women.”

Again, the implication is clear: No vagina = not a woman, vagina = woman. There’s no room in that equation for trans bodies, and it becomes an inherent denial of our femaleness or maleness of this reduction of identity to genitalia. Tamsin Howse of Kiki & Tea was so body as to actual title a piece “Real Women have Vaginas.” In it she writes:

“Remember – Real women have vaginas. And some people I call women don’t even have that.”

There it is, again- a bold declarative about what exactly the sorts of body parts “real women” have. The follow-up statement feels like an attempt, perhaps, in being inclusive of trans women. But her phrasing contains an implication that she doesn’t believe they really ARE women, just that she calls them women, which feels almost like another microaggression in itself. I could, quite literally, go on for another 1000 words of similar examples. None of these pieces were written by trans-exclusive rad-fems bent on the oppression of trans people; I’m 99% sure none of them harbored any transphobic thoughts as they composed these articles. But each one of them is one more tiny jab at the femaleness (or maleness) of trans people, and a reinforcement of our invisibility.
The common response to this sort of criticism (so common I can practically hear the voices) is that we’re being “too sensitive,” that we’re “looking for transphobia” where it doesn’t really exist, that we’re trying to enforce “overly-PC” standards. These are the sorts of arguments consistently made by oppressor classes defend their privileged status. Similar arguments were made for years in regards to queer microaggression comments (for example, insulting a man by calling him a c*cksucker) that are now quite widely perceived as being offensive and inappropriate homophobic statements. Genital essentialist statements like “real women have vaginas” functionally reduce an extraordinarily complex portion of a person’s identity- their gender- to a rigid, overly simplistic, inaccurate, incomplete, and frankly incorrect biologic assumption that becomes an ugly, painful kick at something critically important to trans people, our firm understanding of our own femaleness or maleness. The accumulated effect of having statements like this bombard us daily from everywhere we look just adds to the pervasive transphobia that we endure from our culture. So, please stop reducing everyone to their genitals, and assuming that “real women” or “real men” have any single defining characteristic. Real women have bodies. Real men have bodies. Real Non-Gender-Binary-Identifying-People have bodies. That’s all you can assume about them.

24
Jan
14

Nine Things to Know If You (or Someone You Care About) Are Struggling With Gender Identity, or “These are the things I wish I could go back and tell 20-year-old me.”

For a big portion of the trans population, our teens and early twenties are when the first really big struggles with questions about our gender identity start to happen. Sure, most of us spend a lot of our childhood being vaguely (or not so vaguely) aware of something being “wrong” or different”, but puberty and sexual development seem to have a way of throwing a pretty harsh light on those feelings. It can be pretty lonely and confusing time, and it’s easy to feel completely lost and overwhelmed by the situation. After all, it’s not as though we’re likely to have a bunch of other friends struggling with these same sorts of issues to lean on, and I don’t think there are many other issues that shake the core of your identity quite like questioning your gender. Often, we’re terrified to admit these feelings to even ONE person (it took me until I was 20 to actually talk to someone about it). Back in those days (the early 2000s), internet information about being transgender/transsexual was pretty scant and stereotyped, and I remember not relating to a ton of it, which made me feel even more lost and confused.

These days, of course, trans people of all stripes are making their voices heard on the web. You have only to look at my extensive (yet not even remotely exhaustive) blogroll to get a sense of that. I wrote a while back about the importance of trans success stories, and why each of our voices is so important. But, as I approach my 1 year mark on HRT, I began to think about the sorts of things that would have been helpful to hear from someone when i was 20 and struggling to understand the mess of thoughts about my gender. Furthermore, I’ve come to realize that supporting a person struggling with gender dysphoria can also be a challenge, particularly if gender issues are something that are very new to you. It’s very easy to feel lost for words when trying to support trans people, especially if you aren’t trans yourself.  So, in light of all that I came up with nine simple, but important thoughts that I believe are important for anyone (young or not-so-young) to hear if they’re dealing with gender dysphoria:

1. Feeling dysphoric about your gender does not mean you’re a sexual deviant or a pervert. Trans people often have to endure being labeled deviants by the transphobic public because of the uninformed (and flat-out WRONG) belief that cross-gender/gender-dysphoric feelings stem from “immoral” sexual desires. Nothing could be further from the truth- gender dysphoria stems from a mismatch between your physical body and your brain’s expectations. I think if most cis-folks took a minute to think about how they’d feel if they woke up one day in a body of the other sex (I’m guessing they’d be pretty damn freaked out), they’d understand the immensely stressful feelings we struggle with every day. A fair amount of good science also exists to support this brain/body mismatch. Sadly, the media has a tendency to portray us in a very unflattering light and pornography and trash television have only retrenched these horribly misguided stereotypes. But it’s important to understand that gender dysphoria is a very real medical/psychological issue! As a corollary, experiencing gender dysphoria does not mean you’re just “gay and confused” or anything else about your sexual orientation. Sexual orientation and gender identity are completely separate concepts, and trans people are gay, straight, and everything in between (and only you can decide where you fall on that spectrum).

2. Everyone’s pathway to understanding their gender identity is different. This one was perhaps one of the hardest things for me, personally. There’s an awful lot of literature floating around that says things like “you’re only a trans woman if you’ve felt X, Y and Z.” These are misleading and bordering on cruel. We’ weren’t all super-feminine children, nor are we all feminine now. Not all of us experience our dysphoria as a specific dislike for our genitals. The unifying experience is the discomfort with the sex we were assigned at birth…the rest is as unique as we are. Your path is your own, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

3. Everyone’s pathway to and through transition is different. This is a follow-on from #2, really. Some people are ready to start pursuing transition as soon as they’ve accepted that they’re trans. Some people aren’t. Some people live part-time or full-time in their preferred gender before starting medical transition. Some people are on hormones for a year or more before they venture out presenting as their preferred gender for the first time. Some people push through their social transition quickly, and others take a bit longer road. Some people choose to have surgery, and some do not. ALL of these things are normal and acceptable! Just because your path and progress differ from someone elses doesn’t make your trans experience or gender identity less legitimate.

4. Gender dysphoria has deeper effects on your emotional health than you realize. Living in a body that feels wrong is exhausting. You’ve been dealing with those feelings for a long time, so it’s easy to chalk them up to just “normal” life for you. But, there’s a good chance that your dysphoria is slowly and insidiously eating away at your mental stability. There’s anxiety associated with trying to “fit” or “pass” in a gender that doesn’t feel natural. There’s the self-esteem hit you might be taking from looking at a body that feels wrong, or maybe even ugly to you. And worst of all, there’s a constant, gnawing depression stemming from the stress and discomfort that dysphoria brings while your brain is being washed with the wrong hormones. Your subconscious is expending lots of energy dealing with these things, and that’s a recipe for some serious problems with your emotional stability Bringing the mind and body into alignment through transition does WONDERS for mental health, and you’ll be astounded by how much the anxiety and depression drops off as transition progresses. (That being said, transition is NOT a magic cure for all emotion problems, and there’s a decent chance that you’ll still have underlying issues to work through once the gender issues are taken care of.)

5. You are probably more attractive than you think. This is was one of my single largest mental roadblocks to transition. The image you see in the mirror every day conflicts with your own internal conception of what you SHOULD look like…that’s enough to screw with ANYONE’S self-esteem! Add to that the likelihood that you’re focusing on the traits that make your face/body feel too masculine/feminine for your brain-sex, and you’ve got a recipe for some pretty harsh judgements about your appearance. Give yourself permission to explore, to find out what the preferred gender version of your face and body might look like. And even more so, give yourself permission to feel attractive. You probably are!

6. People who truly love and care about you will support you. Yes, there’s a risk in sharing your gender identity with people. It’s terrifying, and when you’re looking at those first few conversations, it feels like you’re risking everything! People might be shocked at first, or need a little time to process the situation. But if you come armed with information and resources, and you’re genuinely reaching out to someone with something this personal and important, chances are- if they’re a person who loves and cares about you- that they’ll become a supporter. And if you don’t have any friends you feel this way about, it’s time to make some. You’re going to need them over the course of transition. Admittedly, family (especially parents) can be a much more complex situation, and those don’t always go quite as smoothly. But, if you’ve chosen your friends well, they’ll stand by you during your journey. And if they don’t, well, they weren’t worth having around anyway. I’m constantly impressed by just how accepting the people in my life have been of my transition.

7. It’s really lonely in the closet. When you’re closeted about your gender identity, you’re hiding part of yourself from those around you. You’re putting up a false front so that you can survive in the world, hiding your true self deep inside. While this keeps us safe, it also means we’re essentially always alone- we’re never sharing all of our real selves with others. Embracing your gender identity and coming out helps you be more present in your relationships, both friendly and romantic, by letting go of the gap we tend to maintain between our true selves and the false front identities we construct to inhabit our assigned genders. It can actually be pretty overwhelming at first if you aren’t prepared for it! I didn’t realize just how much I kept other at a distance until I started transition.

8. Transition happens a lot faster than you think it will (once you get started). Standing at the opening of the metaphorical tunnel that is transition, it often looks daunting to the point of being overwhelming. It feels like it’s going to take FOREVER, and that you’re going to be stuck in that terrifying middle ground for longer than you can bear. It’s not true. If you set measurable goals and stick with them, and focus on making progress, you will flabbergasted at how quickly you’ll be standing on the other side going “Holy shit, did that really just happen?!”. Yes, some of those months of the process are going to suck, and you’re going to feel like it’s TAKING SO LONG, but things pick up speed quickly, and each step drives the next until one day you realize that there aren’t any more steps, and all that’s left is living the amazing, genuine life you’ve built for yourself.

9. It’s okay if you aren’t ready to transition (or if you’re never ready). Transition is a BIG step! There are lots of things you need to have in place. It’s financially burdensome, emotionally taxing, and it has far-reaching consequences for all kinds of scary real-world stuff like jobs, housing, and more. It can take a while (sometimes a long while) to have all things you feel you need lined up. That’s okay! You’re ready when YOU’RE ready. And for some people, transition just isn’t the right thing for them. That’s okay, too. You should still seek out counseling and do whatever it is you can to mitigate your dysphoria, but it certainly doesn’t invalidate the dysphoria you’re struggling with. Whatever it is that works for you is right FOR YOU!
As I mentioned, this list isn’t just for trans people- it’s for anyone who considers themselves an ally to the trans community. Pre-transition folks are often those who are in most need of love and support, and these nine things might be some of the most important things you can share with them as they try to find their path.

16
Jan
14

Terminology, Labels, Descriptors, Boxes and Prisons Made of Words, or “Why descriptive terms are like underwear, and how Julia Serano made me change mine.”

Ahhh, terminology. Amongst queer folks, it’s a Pandora’s Box of potentially ugly arguments. For the transgender/genderqueer/gender-variant/gender-non-conforming (pick whichever umbrella term is your favorite of the day), some days it feels less like a Pandora’s Box, and more like big glass of nitroglycerin (you know, even breath wrong and it blows up in your face). One of the most interesting (and problematic) issues with the terminology that surrounding non-cis people is that, frankly, no one seems to be able to agree on what the terms actually mean. Hell, beyond the fact that people can debate all day about what exactly it means to be “genderqueer”, “gender-fluid”, or “transgender”, we really haven’t settled (as a community) on what exactly one is referring to with terms like “sex” and “gender”! (Here’s a hint, it’s a WHOLE LOT more complicated than “gender is between your ears, and sex is between your legs). At this juncture, I’m even entirely sure I could give succinct definitions (based upon my own beliefs) of what exactly “sex” and “gender” mean to me. (Though that discussion would definitely make an excellent essay for another time). In any case, there are quite literally many dozens of glossaries of sex-and-gender-related terms all over the internet, written by everything from big national groups like The National Center for Transgender Equality and GLAAD, to smaller advocacy sites like TransWhat and TSRoadMap, to individual bloggers like Natalie Reed and Erin Houdini. Not shockingly, even amongst just those six, there’s pretty significant variation as to how the various terms are defined.

“So, TNF,” you might say, “how on earth are you going to talk about terminology and labels without an consensus views on what the terms even mean?” Well, random hypothetical person I made up, I’m going to circumvent that by not trying to assign a universal definition to ANY terminology. After all, I’m really just a random girl on the internet who decided to sit down at her laptop one day and start writing…it’s not really my place to start assigning concrete meaning to terms. Instead, I’m going to talk about the importance (and to some extend the non-importance) of labels, identities and terminology, and how the term I use to describe myself have evolved along with my personal understanding of myself as a person.

So, let me start off by saying what labels and terms SHOULDN’T be. They definitely shouldn’t be rigid boxes that place firm constraints on who and what people are. Once we start putting firm walls up around labels and identities, you’re also certainly going to fuck it up and screw somebody over. Human variation (from height, hair, and eye color to sex and sexual orientation) is impressively gradient. You can trust me on this, I’m a scientist! They also absolutely shouldn’t be used to injure, marginalize, exclude, or oppress others. Once we start projecting our own absolute definitions of various terminology onto others, it’s very easy to slide into “us vs them” types of thinking. After all, once we start drawing circles around who counts as “us,” pretty much everyone else becomes “them.” This sort of behavior seems to become particularly problematic among the least privileged of minorities. Trans people have some pretty heated arguments about who exactly is or isn’t trans, and whether or not someone is “trans enough” (I’ve heard this referred to as the “tranny-er than thou” argument.) I’ve certainly see similar behavior in lesbian circles as well (and even had some of it directed at me). I think it comes having to expend so much energy scratching out a little space in the world that we then feel compelled to defend that tiny space with the ferocity of a polar bear on PCP. Unfortunately, most of the rage is often misdirected at another marginalized group, instead of the actual source of oppression. The end result is a lot of energy spent (pretty much pointless) in-fighting instead of working to actually improve our effing situation. Of course, our individuals thoughts are important in the overall conversation of ideas that evolve (and create) our terminology. But, in grand scheme of things, how we decide a term is defined applies pretty much only to us as individuals.

Instead of “labels” on rigid metaphorical containers, I think it’s much more useful (and healthy) to think of the terminology as a descriptor, as succinct, convenient summaries. That is…instead of committing to our preferred terms as a closely-held identity, we ought to use think of them as “things we use to describe ourselves.” Very few of us think of “brown-haired person” or “blued eyed person” or “average height person” as important, intrinsic personal identities…our terms for our gender, sex, sexual orientation, etc shouldn’t be much different. If metaphors work for you (I love metaphors), instead of thinking of our terminology as something tattooed onto us -indelible, permanent, and unalterable things etched onto us…we should think of them like underwear- important, but only useful while it’s comfortable and easy to change once it starts to bind us up.

There are three big improvements in thinking about terms this way. First, it helps us accept the idea that the descriptor doesn’t have to fit perfectly, that sometimes we’re just hunting for a best-fit descriptor. As an example: when I’m dealing with lots of straight folks who aren’t terribly well acquainted with queer culture, I tend to describe myself as a lesbian. This is far from a perfect descriptor, but “queer and attracted to female-identified and female-leaning people regardless of assigned sex, and evolving somewhere in the poorly defined area between sexual and demisexual” is a mouthful. I actually just prefer the term “queer”, but that just invites irritating questions in that kind of company, and I’m not often looking to give a “Queer 101” lesson in random conversation. So, sometimes, lesbian works just fine. But because I see lesbian (and queer) as a descriptive term instead of a label on a bin, I don’t have any inherent need to give much thought to policing who or who isn’t “really” lesbian or queer.

Secondly, it helps us be more open to evolution, both in our descriptions of ourselves, and our personal understanding of our terminology. After all, if we think of our current preferred term as a clear label with firm boundaries, we’re going to find it a lot harder to change labels, even if our understanding of ourselves has changed. It might even prevent us from seeking a deeper understanding of our identity out of fear of finding that a label we’re heavily invested in no longer applies to us. However, if we view our terms as simply short convenient summaries of our current general position, it becomes much easier to swap out those terms when they’re no longer feeling accurate. And if we’re not committed to an unyielding definition of a particular term, it’s possible that how we look at that term can evolve through experience, research, and conversation. Perhaps a book, an interview, a talk, a personal experience (or a blog post!) presents a new way of looking at the terms we’re currently adopted (or maybe even previously adopted, or maybe even have never adopted but still think about). I think we’re much more likely to allow that experience to change your mind if you’re open the malleability of descriptive terminology.

Finally, it frees us from policing the behavior and identities of ourselves and others. When we’re invested in a rigid identity labels, we become incredibly conscious of any violations of those definitions. We judge and criticize others for not fitting exactly into our notions of what is “transsexual”, “transgender”, “queer”, or even “female”. Even worse, we restrict our behavior to fit within that box, to become someone we might not really be for the sake for fitting neatly into the square we (or others) have drawn. I find that notion particularly tragic for trans folks, as we’ve often literally risked everything- including our lives- to live genuinely, only to cram ourselves into yet another imperfect box. Letting go of that rigid commitment frees us to accept the broad variation in others, to be less concerned about how other behave- and most importantly- to just be our damn selves without compromise or contrition.

Like so many other trans people, I spent many years meandering amongst different labels and descriptive terms for myself, and oscillating between accepting and rejecting the idea of giving a label at all. I don’t think I even knew what a transsexual was until I got access to the Internet when i was 16 (I’m in my 30s, okay?). Even then, I rejected that label for myself. (Back then, internet information about “how to know if you are transsexual” was pretty awful). I think my first identity description was something vaguely mumbled about “being kinda like a girl who looks like a boy” when I came out a girlfriend at 20. I tried on a lot of different labels in my early explorations of my gender identity, including “pangender”, “third gender”, and (in a few moments of real self-hate) “cisgender pervert who is making this all up”. I proudly wore the term “genderqueer” for a few years, mostly because I was flatly refusing to consider anything else because I was convinced I’d be a very ugly monster of a girl if I transitioned. It certainly sounded better than “male assigned at birth who knows she’s really a girl but is fucking terrified of transition so she’s currently elected not to pursue it.” The first time I went out in public presenting as female pretty much tossed all of that in the trash, and I began to refer to myself as transgender pretty quickly there after. (I find this kinda funny to reflect on, because I definitely have pictures from those early days, and OH GODS am I embarrassed of how I looked!). I was on the road to physical transition a year or so later.

Through all of transition, I was pretty adamant about my preference for the term “transgender”, and my rejection of term “transsexual”. Years of exposure to stereotypes and horrible media cliche had soured me on the word “transsexual.” It sounded lurid, provocative, almost pornographic to my ears. It reminded me of the generally pretty disgusting portrayals of trans people in pornography. It felt like a reminder of all the ways people misinterpret the reasons for transition as being based upon prurient desire and deviant sexual behavior. I felt like using it to describe myself to other would immediate put in THEIR minds all of those awful media stereotypes pushed into the public mind by the likes of Jerry Springer. In essence, I felt like the rest of the world had sullied the word transsexual to a degree where it was unsalvageable. I knew pretty early on that large number other people viewed the term “transgender” as an umbrella for all people of non-cis gender identities, but I put those out of my mind. I had little arguments here and there about how I felt that “transgender” shouldn’t be an umbrella term, how it should be reserved for those who at least socially transition, and that we should adopt something like “genderqueer” as a blanket term for non-cisgender people. I even admitted, first to myself and then to others, that I pretty well fit the “classic” notion of a what a transsexual person is. So, I stuck firmly to “transgender” and “trans” as my descriptors.

And then, while writing a different (as yet unpublished) piece about the politics of gender labels, I came across this brilliant blog post from Julia Serano. I’ll admit, Julia’s the sort of writing I’m predisposed to be being influenced by, and her book “Whipping Girl” had been fundamental to my coming to understand myself as a trans woman. What I wasn’t expecting, however, was to suddenly and succinctly have my views on the word “transsexual” turned completely on their head. She writes:

    “A final objection to the word “transsexual” has to do with the presence of the word “sex” within it. There is a popular misconception that trans people transition for sexual reasons (e.g., to prey on innocent straight folks, to fulfill some bizarre sexual fantasy, etc.), and many trans folks seem to fear that the word transsexual (because of the word “sex”) enables those assumptions. One can see the de-sexualization of transsexuality in the growing use of the phrase “gender confirmation surgery” to replace “sex reassignment surgery.” I think it also plays a role in why many physically-transitioned folks prefer transgender to transsexual. It’s as if the words “gender/transgender” simply sound more polite and respectable than the words “sex/transsexual.””

Immediately after reading that, I kinda felt like I had been kicked in the head; I was reeling. She had hit on pretty much exactly the sorts of feels I had about term. (She also takes down a number of other objections I had in other parts of the article…you really should go read it). It’s one thing to read something that helps you evolve your understanding of topic…it’s quite another to suddenly have that understanding completely called into question. She continues:

    “While many trans people use “gender” as shorthand for gender identity, in these other areas the word is more commonly used to refer to gender expression or roles (i.e., masculinity, femininity, androgyny). This confusion leads many people to presume that transsexuals transition in order to become gender-conforming or because we uncritically want to perpetuate sexist gender roles, and so on. This is not the case, at least not for me and most transsexuals I’ve spoken with. I experimented with and expressed my femininity plenty when I was male-bodied. For me, transitioning was first and foremost about my physical sex, not gender expression. Being male-bodied felt wrong to me and being female-bodied feels right.” [emphasis mine]

Well, fuck me. Game, set, match for Julia on this one. Dumbfounded is a pretty accurate description of how I felt afterwards…how had I completely missed such a simple idea until now? It honestly took me a few days to process this new set of thoughts…to roll it around in my brain and see if how well I could deal with the sudden shift in view…to see if it really stuck. And, despite feeling a little dizzy from the metaphorical head blow, it really did stick with me. It seems like a such a small bit of insight, but it dramatically altered my views of a word that I previously harboured downright revulsion towards. (There’s the importance of evolution I talked about earlier.)  So, while I’m still not 100% comfortable with the “baggage” that comes along with calling myself transsexual, I’m marching forward with it anyway. I’m “taking it back” as the kids say.
I’m a transsexual woman, and I’m proud to say so.




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.

Follow me on Twitter

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 2,937 other followers

Follow Trans.Nerd.Feminist on WordPress.com