Posts Tagged ‘transgender

03
Apr
17

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

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

**********************

They told us visibility would save us.

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

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

Except it wasn’t like that.

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

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

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

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

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

Visibility has failed us.

Yup. There, I said it.

Visibility has failed trans people.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I am not your object of fascination,

I am not your walking fetish,

I am not your ticket to progressive credibility,

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

 

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

 

My visibility isn’t for you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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18
Jan
17

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

This is a short speech I gave to help kick off the Trans Awareness Week programming at the University of Michigan’s Spectrum Center in November of 2016, where I had the honor of introducing the amazing Tiq Milan.
As we open our Trans Awareness Week programming, we find ourselves a community standing at a precipice. Indeed, the wider world is more aware of the existence of transgender people than it ever has been. We have made tremendous gains in visibility in just a few short years, moving from quiet obscurity to a focus of the national political discourse.
Unfortunately, that kind of visibility has also placed us firmly in the crosshairs of the right-wing machine of hate that has whipped our neighbors into a panic over something as simple as using a restroom. It’s made us the enemy of a new presidential administration that is hell-bent on promoting a culture of hate and destroying the small amount of political progress we’ve clawed for ourselves and our young people under President Obama. It’s also placed trans women of color more literally in crosshairs, with 2016 standing as the most deadly year yet for the campaign of violence against our black trans sisters.
With that in mind, I believe it’s time for a shift in goals for Trans awareness work. We can no longer afford to simply work for the wider world to know that we exist.  We need the LGBTQ community to be aware that we’re still struggling, and we’re still at risk, and that the fight didn’t end with marriage equality. We need people to be aware that we’re not predators, not perverts, and not broken or sick.
We need people to be aware that we face horrifying levels of harassment, discrimination, poverty, and violence.
We need people to be aware that we are a community of breath-taking diversity, both of body and of spirit. We are creators, writers, artists, innovators, activists, lifesavers, caretakers, teachers, students, laborers, and we are friends, lovers, parents, siblings, and families. We need people to be aware that we are beautiful as we are, both inside and out.
More than anything, We need people to be aware that we’re actually living, breathing human beings deserving of respect, care, concern, and love as much as any other person. And just an importantly, we need other trans people to know all those things too.
06
Mar
15

Personal Reflections on My Second Hormoneiversary.

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

Seriously, it's been two years?

Seriously, it’s been two years?

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

 

Me, when I started hormones

Me, when I started hormones

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

Yes

Yes.

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

Gayness confirmed.

Gayness confirmed.

 

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

I fear this is how all my friends feel.

I fear this is how all my friends feel.

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

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

It’ll be like this, only WAY cuter. 🙂

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

No joke. This is pretty much my life.

No joke. This is pretty much my life.

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

 

My life...it does not suck.

My life…it does not suck.

 

20
Aug
14

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

22
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.




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

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