Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Stranger


I’m having a lot of trouble articulating my thoughts, and I’m fairly certain this has nothing to do with my writing skills and everything to do with a swell of confusion clouding my thoughts. I started writing late last night...

Smile big. That blissful arcing mouth betrays nothing—a life finally beaming with rapturous felicity. Recently I’ve seen so many pictures of astoundingly beautifully trans women and girls, their faces filled with that radiant ecstasy that only accompanies a feeling of becoming. They take off the mask and, well, they don’t particularly blend into the rest of the world. Unlike much of the world, these amazing women stand out because they are unabashedly authentic. That smile betrays nothing because there are no dirty secrets to hide. Instead that smile conveys a palpable sense of self-belonging: a manifestation of the true self that transcends any physical realities or assumed limitations therein. That smile...it speaks volumes.
“Why don’t you smile?” We’re sitting on the couch, playing picture slide-show with photos from facebook—she’s every friend I’ve ever had, the Fin from orientation, the random faux-hawk- sporting dyke from GLBTA—she leans over my shoulder to get her face right up next to the picture and remarks, “You never smile in your pictures.” And it’s true: I don’t. The absence of facial expression betrays me. My face is a transparent facade, a mask my “transition” could not dislodge.


I am a stranger. To this culture and to myself, I am an outsider. I feel invisible in a crowd, like no one can see me. They see the tattoos. They see the height. They see the awkward body, hidden under the baggy clothes. But they don’t see me. Maybe I cannot blame them, though. Looking in the mirror, I don’t see me either.

I want to be the girl I am in my head—in my imagination—but that seems like an impossible task. What kind of girl are you? How do you relate to yourself as a girl? How do you relate to yourself as a girl in your head—a character constantly pitted against a physical and social manifestation that, seemingly, can never be merged? How do you take off the mask and become this other person?

These questions, for me, first manifested as a feeling of disconnection with femininity. I’m feminine, even though I nothing about my appearance seem to coincide with that. I’m tattooed, I’m tall, and my body has few curves (well, few curves that I’m proud of)—I’m awkward and I’m tough, punky and queer. I remember when I was in high school I used to subscribe to a trans youth email listserve and one day I asked, “How can I begin to feel like a girl when I’m so lodged into a male reality?” The replies came back: shave your legs. So many sources tell us that femininity is something to be bought or manufactured. Feeling too masculine? Well, pluck those eyebrows, shave those legs, and put on a dress from Meyers. Peep-toe pumps, I hear, will really do the trick. Have you tried makeup?

Since when is femininity a commercial commodity? Since when did gender come packaged and mass-produced for consumer consumption?

But it’s more than just commercialized gender. Talking to a telephone counsellor tonight we discussed how many non-transgender women, like me, feel awkward in their bodies compared to other women—how many of them, like me, look out of place in traditional feminine attire and therefore gravitate towards more masculine or androgynous gender expressions. At the end of the conversation, I asked my counsellor, “How do you relate to yourself as a woman?” She paused for a while and said, “I don’t know. I think it’s a bit like an attitude. It’s how I go about in the world, it’s a part of my identity. It’s always been a given.” I think that’s part of it. It’s not a given for me, and so in finding ways of relating to the girl in my imagination, I have nothing to build on. It seems like all the givens—all the assumptions—work against me; I feel like everyone—even I—fails to “read” me—to see me—for who/what I really am.

And that’s it. I feel alienated from my own gender because of an inability to perceive my true self in any clear fashion. I feel further alienated when, in an attempt to find some superficial facet of femininity, I am met with an unattainable commercialized standard of what femininity is—a commercial definition that does not become me. How do you relate to yourself—to your true self—when it becomes progressively difficult to find a clear expression of that self? When you become a stranger to yourself and to others?

Friday, December 25, 2009

Dream

I had a pretty awesome dream last night—or, at least I think it was (generally speaking) awesome. I don’t really remember most of it, but I awoke with a real happy feeling, so I assume it was a good dream. I was a punky, androgynous boy (approximately high school age). An unnamed childhood friend and I were hanging out in my bedroom, which in this dream was in the attic of an old Victorian house. Together we sat on the large, soft ultramarine comforter of my bed as thin, blurry slivers of light came through the partially-drawn blinds. Drawings from my art classes cluttered the walls, juxtaposed with various album art from my favourite bands. The room had an early-morning feel to it—a golden ambiance, like the Robert Frost Poem (Nothing Gold Can Stay). I told my friend I had something to show her as I turned away from her. I slipped out an amber tube of pills, shaking two glossy red capsules into my hand. Covering my mouth with my hand, I tossed the pills down my throat, forcing a dry swallow. I could feel the pills grating down my throat, hard and smooth like stones, feeling as though they would easily become stuck somewhere between my guts and my mouth. My friend gasped, not sure what the hell I was trying to show her. Then, out of nowhere, it happened: I had suddenly transformed into a shy-looking girl with a mischievous smile and shaggy, dirty blonde hair. I don’t even remember what clothes the boy me had been wearing, but they had likewise been transformed into a lacy white dress. It was like a cartoon version of the Jekyll-Hyde transformation; like the hazy daydreams of a closet trans girl.

The dream has had a significant influence on my thinking today—in large part it has affected me in ways I can’t quite discuss yet. I like it when my subconscious speaks to me in such a blatant way, though, and I figured I’d share it with you before it became a lost memory.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Doubt, privilege, and nagging questions

You should know by now that I don’t shy away from controversy, and this post may well be another example of that. For this reason you may want to be wary about reading this specific post (as a couple of controversial elements are briefly touched upon). Also, if this is redundant (and if redundancy offends you) I’m very sorry.

It’s been a while since I wrote my opinions on the use of the word “cissexual” or “cisgender” or (as a shortened/prefix version) “cis(-).” Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your point of view) you can no longer read this post; I took it down because I felt it was a tad divisive. Overall, though, I don’t care to rehash my opinions on the use of the term. I really don’t. My general opinions are pretty solid on this matter and the idea that any huge debate even exploded over this issue is, in my opinion, a little more than disconcerting. However, I recently read an argument against the use of the “cis” terminology (in all its forms) that made me stop for a second. Gwendolyn Ann Smith, a woman I high respect and admire, wrote:

But cisgender, used in the same way, shuts out our allies, our friends, our partners. Rather than levelling the field, it further sets transgender apart from the whole, and creates a dichotomy that honestly is not needed.
This is something that the transgender community, and frankly many other communities, does on a regular basis. At one time it was "crossdressers" versus "transsexuals", then it was "transsexuals" versus "transgender". There have been some who have adopted even more baroque terms such as "women born transsexual" or "Harry Benjamin Syndrome" to further distance ourselves from each other.


I somewhat disagree with the hypothesis that the use of the term “cisgender” sets transgender people further apart. Further, I think Gwendolyn is dead wrong in her argument that the cis/trans terminology creates a dichotomy—the dichotomy already existed. Gwendolyn is spot on, however, in her assessment that this dichotomy does not benefit us. The reality of the situation—if we can allow ourselves to be divorced from socio-political constraints—is that no person (at least no person I’ve ever met) can fit into a strictly “cisgender” mold at all times. Culturally-based gender restrictions tend to be so rigid and so extreme that none can really conform to them continuously in all aspects of their lives. In a sense, everyone is transgender. Really, this isn’t a new notion—this is the kind of chic idea I heard bantered around a lot of transgender forums back when I first started exploring my identity—it’s kind of in the same vein as the “everyone’s a little gay” idea (although, maybe not a good analogy seeing as the bell curve model of sexuality would suggest that a small number of people truly are 100% gay or 100% straight, and perhaps the better phrase would be “everyone’s a little bisexual/pansexual/queer”). The idea that everyone is a little transgender has also been repeated recently in talks of trans-inclusion in LGBT legislation as well as in efforts to unify the LGBTQ community. And theoretically and idealistically, I am completely behind this outlook. Only one
problem: there is still a hell of a lot that separates people classified as “transgender” from the rest of the world, not least of which is the pathologization of trans people within the mental health community. Gwendolyn also wrote:

Many years ago: I learned a proverb: It's not what you call me, it's what I answer to. Those who are transgender, myself included, are all too familiar with being labelled with identities we ourselves do not accept. Why should we, therefore, feel we can so easily label others?


This proverb pretty much underscores my frustration. Someone may not identify a cisgender (or cis-whatever), and their identity ought to be respected. But, as a trans woman, I never really wanted to be identified as transsexual/transgender. It’s not my primary identity...or even my secondary identity. However, think back to when Gwen Araujo or Angie Zapata was murdered, and all the victim blaming that went on—how many people started asserting that it was a transsexual’s responsibility and obligation to disclose their transsexuality. Think about how transsexuals are described as deceitful when they don’t disclose, and how they are frequently then relegated to some third gender category when they do. It’s a catch22, no matter how I identify (or don’t) my identity is belied by my transsexuality; while it might not always be the case, I often find myself feeling as though my identity as a girl is undermined by my transsexuality—as though people treat me differently or view me as something “other” because of it. Furthermore, this message of othering has been internalized, such that I feel like I am something “other,” and it’s true: I do have a different background from the majority of girls my age. The question at play is simply does this different history negate my gender identity and am I defined by my gender history, forever marked as transsexual/transgender/other? There are two answers. Individually, from a queered perspective of the world, the answer is no. I am not marked, identity is fluid, and my identity as a girl—more importantly my identity as Sonia—trumps my now somewhat absent identity as trans-. However, socially speaking, yes, my transsexuality trumps all other identities and washes away other aspects of who I am. Socially, I’m still labeled as something other than how I, particularly, care to identify. Socially, it’s not what I answer to, it’s what you call me.

What I have just described covers much of what has come to be called “cisgender [or cissexual] privilege,” and it is one of the main causes of my anger around gender. It’s not to say that non-trans folk should be shunned for their ability to have their gender and (potentially) their identities recognized and respected—everyone deserves that—my problem is that trans identities, even “men/women of trans experience” who may not primarily identify as trans (or identify as trans at all anymore), frequently do not have their identities recognized or respected. And, if you’ve read my last post, you’ll know just how much this issue has been eating at me lately.

The reality of the situation is that trans people are different. We have different socializations, different biological histories, and we have different cultural issues. I often hear people compare, as Caroline did, transsexuality to any other living condition (where you were raised, childhood religious indoctrination, parental political affinity, etc.), and to a degree, Caroline is right. My transsexuality has profoundly affected me—beyond mere gender, my transition brought me into the queer community and opened my eyes to a lot of the privilege and power hierarchies at play along with a lot of the systemic oppression that exists in our world. Transitioning pushed me to a more progressive frame of mind and made me question things—without it, I’d probably be more conservative, more narrow-minded—more Christian (I know! Scary thought!). The point is, however, that while my transsexuality has served me well over the years, I don’t really want to identify as trans anymore. I don’t want to deny that history, and my desire for separation doesn’t really have anything to do with any conformation to the “self-hating tranny” stereotype. I didn’t transition to be queer or to be progressive, though; I transitioned so I could be a girl. So I could be Sonia. So I could look in the mirror and be happy in my skin—so I wouldn’t want to kill myself every time I was reminded that my body controls a fair amount of who and what I can be. Ever since my surgery with Dr. Bowers I’ve had a little slip of paper declaring me, Sonia, to be a female (which in our “sex = gender” world would mean I’m also a girl, right? Heheheheh). I may have gained a lot of things over the course of my transition, but one thing I’m still missing is that “cisgender [cissexual] privilege.”

What makes me angry the most? What still has the ability to make me cry with rage and sorrow? It’s the knowledge that because of this disparity, my identity may well never be realized. I hate saying that transsexuality negates any other valid gender identity (and supersedes all other identity)—academically, politically, intellectually, I don’t agree with this statement. However, at the root of a dark, emotional side of my brain, this idea has been internalized to some degree.

“It’s not what I answer to, it’s what you call me.”

Gwendolyn is right in many ways, but I’m not sure how her ideals (and my ideals) can universally extend in the real world. How do I balance a transsexual history, a drive to educate and advocate on trans issues, and simultaneously pioneer an identity separate from these things? Or, how do I accept that my (past?) transsexuality will continue to define me in ways I don’t necessarily desire—define me as something other than how I define myself?

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Back down the rabbit hole we go.

You know, before the whole incident with Ron Gold’s post on Bilerico I was actually considering shutting this blog down. It’s not so much that I don’t enjoy writing about gender from a transsexual/queer/theoretical perspective—I do enjoy it quite a lot, and moreover intellectualizing is one of my mean of coping with the insanity of the world. However, the particular absurdity of life as a transsexual woman has been getting to me a lot lately. Let me see if I can articulate this properly, and to do this I must first distinguish between the intellectual side of my brain and the emotional—the irrational—side. Intellectually, I know damn well that being transsexual does not in any way invalidate a person’s gender (i.e. trans men are men 100% just as trans women are women 100%). The emotional side, however, feels the very real impact of trans representations in the media that illustrate, quite effectively, that trans men and trans women are distinctly different from men and women respectively (though to the media’s (possible) credit (?) it also says they’re different from women and men respectively). This representation persists even in those depictions meant to be supportive of trans people—the constant use of stereotypes and clich├ęs makes the audience acutely aware that the girl they are watching is not really a girl—she’s a trans girl. What class. The intellectual side of me says that any representation of a trans person in the media that also focuses on that person’s gender is probably disrespectful in some way, as their transsexuality really ought to be fairly irrelevant to most plots (However, the intellectual side of me also says that if that is the case, we end up treading the line of erasing trans existence from media which, well, is pretty much what we have now).

Like most complex scenarios, I’m aware that there’s a pretty cool dialectic at play here: transsexual women are simultaneously transsexual and women (no duh!). That’s the intellectual side of me. The emotional side...er, well, the emotional side of me feels things that I’m pretty damn ashamed to say. The emotional side of me sits here and asks questions like, “When will I stop being trans and start being a girl?” The emotional side of me looks at my gender in black and white terms that suggest I can only be one or the other: I’m either a trans girl or a girl. And, most unpleasant of all, the emotional side of my gets sick of feeling like my girl side is devalued by the trans side—the emotional brain tells me I’d rather be a girl than a trans girl.

Last week I was talking to my friend Dan; the man’s an asshole at times, but he’s also probably the most intelligent person I’ve ever met, he’s progressive, and he’s very accepting of all people (with the exception of idiots). We were having a discussion about gender when I came to a point that I felt like I needed to disclose my transsexuality in order to add extra significance to my argument. So I told Dan, “You probably figured this already, but I’m trans gender...” and he nodded, saying, “Yeah.” Those kinds of exchanges kill me. They tell my emotional brain two things: 1) being trans will always be something that negatively qualifies my gender and 2) my transsexuality is obvious and noticeable to others and something that sets me apart from girls.

And this is where I was, emotionally, when I first read Ron Gold’s first and only post on Bilerico. I admit, my emotional state or already feeling devalued by my transsexuality made me much more sensitive to Ron’s disgusting essay; however, reading Ron’s article, the comments associated with it, and witnessing the massive explosion of opposition from the trans community and their allies, I felt that maybe I had some obligation to keep writing—keep telling this trans narrative to whoever may well come across this blog. The thing is, my transsexuality has become...well, a significantly less integral part of my existence. I often ask myself (on a purely personal level), “What the hell does being transsexual matter? If it doesn’t matter to me, why not drop it and just be a girl? Just be Sonia—the musician, the artist, the biologist, the queer spunky ambitious girl, etc.?” But Ron’s post has reminded me that transsexuality does matter, and is in fact more significant than I really wanted to acknowledge.

It’s not a pleasant thought, and I don’t much like the intellectual rabbit hole it down which it leads.

Friday, December 11, 2009

A note on the Bilerico controversy.

I remember the profound discomfort I experienced in a college Women’s Studies course that, for the period of several weeks, attempted to instill in me the hypothesis that gender is a social construct. It’s a common assertion found in feminist and queer theories—and in many ways it is an accurate notion; much of how people negotiate their internal senses of gender are dependent in some degree on their culture, and individual cultures surely have distinct and institutional means of restricting what is and is not acceptable for any given gender. That said these arguments inevitably pissed me off in a lot of different ways. First of these was my knowledge that, as a trans woman, my society had no role in constructing my gender identity. This is really a problem of semantics, in many ways, as any assertion that gender—as a whole—is a construct of any one force (be that social, biological, or otherwise) is bound to be an incorrect and dangerously over-simplifies analysis of the real dynamic situation. For instance, there is considerable confusion about including “gender identity” (thought to be one’s self-identification as a member of any given gender, or a self-identification outside of those terms), but given the inclusion of the term “gender” in “gender identity,” you could reasonably argue that gender identity is a function of gender. I know very few trans people who would agree that their gender identities were socially constructed, however, as our society would rather relegate trans identity to the realm of mental disorders—something to be fixed. But moreover, even the notion that things like gender expression or gender roles/gender-based behaviours are purely social constructs is a woefully misbegotten idea. I know of many people who’s gender expression transcends what is generally “acceptable” in a traditional gender scheme, and I’m doubtful that society helped construct these “gender non-conforming” expressions (though, surely, specific cultures do have often unspoken rules governing what constitutes an “acceptable” gender expression—I don’t dispute that). And yes, we see a culture-based gender role programming in a lot of media—advertisements seem to be pretty congested with this very real social construction of gender. However, anyone who has studied the biology of sex and gender knows that there are many biologically based gender behaviours. Are they universally exclusive to a specific sex? No. But they do exist in a dynamic system, and they act as evidence that a social construction theory of gender is hugely limiting and painfully ignorant of biological realities.

I would normally go into a discussion of these biological characteristics, but that is not what this blog is about. See, my problem with the social construction theory that was so frequently flaunted in my women’s studies class has been used repeatedly by queer and feminist theorists (as well as people in my women’s studies class) to argue that gender is therefore in many ways irrelevant—the “logical” extension, as they assert, is that transsexual people are really just queer people that are too uncomfortable in their own unconventional genders, and therefore they “mutilate” themselves to conform to the societal norm. It’s at this point I call bullshit—this is the point that made me resist Queer Theory for so long; I had heard these arguments from the likes of Julie Bindel early in my education of Queer Theory, and I stopped listening. I didn’t need to hear this kind of vitriol—attempts to undermine my identity and erase me. More than offensive, these arguments seemed to ignore a lot of the opposing evidence found so readily in other disciplines. It wasn’t until today, though, that I realized how inexorably linked this view is to the notion that transsexuals are delusional.

I remember when I came out, and several people close to me felt I was delusional, that my gender dysphoria was all in my head—all a mental pathology or a disordered way of thinking, and perverting my body was no way of fixing this problem. I remember hearing that my sister agreed: I must be crazy, because there was no way I could be that good of an actor (she was, coincidentally, trying to become a successful actress at the time). Today, I heard these thoughts echoed in a blog post. Now, I’ve come to expect this from Julie Bindel and her clones (as I’ve said above), but I never expected it from The Bilerico Project. I frequently read posts at TBP because I appreciate the thought-provoking material—that’s where I first heard some really reasonable arguments against hate crime legislation; I still find these ideas push me outside of my comfort zone, but they inspire thought and further investigation on my part, and so I welcome their controversy. Today’s post by Ronald Gold, however, was not delightfully controversial: it was blatantly hateful, transphobic, offensive, and hurtful. He asserted just the kind of arguments I’ve outlined: transsexuals are delusional and engage in self-mutilation to manifest their perversion. To support this argument, Mr. Gold bring up the old issues of deconstructing gender constructs—after all, if social constructs of gender are torn down, there will be no need for transsexuals; they can finally embrace their nonconforming genders in a supportive environment.
The problem with Mr. Gold’s and other’s arguments is that even though they want this to be a reflection of reality, it isn’t. Even Julie Bindel admits her bias (though I don’t think she’d call it such) that, “Feminists want to rid the world of gender rules and regulations, so how is it possible to support a theory which has at its centre the notion that there is something essential and biological about the way boys and girls behave?” It’s almost as good as an admission that they recognize that their proposed theories ignore important facets of reality, but to recognize that reality might undermine their arguments, and therefore they essentially throw out the data they don’t like. (And I’m not saying everything is biology. Far from it). There’s a dynamic mixture between culture, environment, and biology—people like Bindel and Gold, however, seem to be wilfully ignorant of this reality in preference of a misguided assumption that because some of gender may have biological bases, that somehow excuses institutional oppression and privilege systems. Likewise, just because individuals may not have gender expressions that conform to societal standards, that does not preclude them from also feeling out of place in their body. There is a distinct separation between one’s gender expression/behaviour and one’s sense of their sex (and therefore their congruence or incongruence within their own sexed bodies). I effect, my expression as a tomboy or my assertive, ambitious nature has nothing to do with my need to be realized as female. I could also be a complete girly girl—my need to have a sense of security in a female body is a separate issue. People like Bindel and Gold seem to be incapable of understanding these points, favouring more stereotypical assumptions of what motivates transsexuals.
As Albert Camus put it in The Plague, “The evil that is in the world always comes of ignorance, and good intentions may do as much harm as malevolence, if the lack understanding.” A truly offensive turn of events in this fiasco at Bilerico was Bil Browning’s defense of Gold’s article as having good intentions, even if it was phrased in an offensive way. I’m sorry, Bil, but you don’t have a fraction of the wisdom of my friend, Albert, and frankly I’m in complete agreement with Camus on this one. What we’re seeing in Uganda right now is the product of good intentions. The problem with the Bilerico post is that despite possible good intentions and despite a possible attempt to support the freedom of gender expression and behaviour, this post erased the identities of transsexuals, assumed a greater understanding of what motivates others, and went on to describe transsexuals as delusional and their transitions as mutilation. This said to a population already told they are mentally defective and perverse. This said to a group whose ability to gain social justice is severely retarded by a persistent categorization as a mental disorder, despite abundant evidence that transsexuality is not a mental health issue. Needless to say, this post opened up a lot of old wounds for people. And now, despite Bil Browning’s apology, Bilerico is not a safe place for trans people. It hurts to see people you thought to be allies—to find something you once so enjoyed—suddenly pander in the trade of hateful rhetoric. I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to look at this blog the same way again.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Queer Performance

The idea of performativity gets thrown around a lot in Queer Theory; indeed, this notion of gender being “performative” was, I felt, inherently offensive. Even separating it from the potentially unintentional connotation that gender is simply an act—like a play, a grand farce—the vast majority of transsexuals I know would readily voice dissenting opinions that gender is not merely something you “do.” A very wise friend of mine once said, “Authenticity is not a word in the vocabulary of those who "do" gender. Just sayin'...” Gender, itself, is a more internalized force—the only “doing” of gender is, in fact, via gender expression, and we all know that any given gender expression may not be an authentic representation/reflection of our gender identity.

But the idea of performative identity still holds some degree of merit. After all, if an identity stays locked up inside a closet, away from any other’s knowledge, then does it really exist? It’s a tree falling without anyone to hear it—a single hand clapping in the wind. Yes, it exists. Yes, it is real, authentic, and even palpable to the individual. It is not, however, relevant insofar as interpersonal relationships are concerned. If that identity never sees the light of day—if there is no one to witness it, experience it, or relate with it—then it may as well be dead. This is, of course, because people are social being with a social culture, and our identities require interpersonal contact. It’s why Judith Butler recognized that some “performances” are successful while others fail. The success of our identities, to some degree, is dependent on external forces, and they therefore cannot be sustained for long within a vacuum.

This is a long set up for my story. I have been learning to play the violin for about two years now. Granted I did not practice much over the first several months, and then there was a half-year hiatus. Altogether I’ve probably had about a year’s worth of dedicated violin study, and in my own mind I fancied myself becoming a musician, taking to the stage like Lucia Micarelli or Emilie Autumn, in a band like Bridget Regan or Rebecca Manthe. Alas, over the past two years, I had never played violin in front of anyone—save for my violin teachers—leaving quite a gap between me, alone in my room, and the sold-out audiences of the big-name violinists. For all the people that did hear me play (three teachers, and (muffled through walls) neighbours) I may as well not have been a musician at all—art is a medium to be shared with others; private art loses any tangible, interpersonal meaning—relevance to the world is nonexistent. This, however, came to a smashing end last night as I, for the first time ever, took to the stage and played before an audience of 30-40 people.

As a performance, I sucked (there’s no polite way to phrase my disappointment in my lack of sill). However, the audience was, nonetheless, very supportive, and I even had several people approach me later and commend me on “beautiful fiddle playing.” While I felt each flat note—every over-shift into third position—and ever skipped beat, I still take great pride that I was able to stand up before an audience and play. Regardless of how I feel about the quality of my performance last night, I realize that I just took the first critical step in my musical career: I am now more than just some girl playing the fiddle in her room. I am now a musician. Granted, I may be a shitty musician at the moment, but I am, nonetheless, a musician.

In all fairness, I was a musician before last night as well. I was still studying music, learning different musical keys, working on intonation and rhythm; however, that identity was not actualized. Likewise a similar scenario exists with any identity: the identity, itself, may well be authentic and real to us (to the individual), but it fails to achieve a realized potential for relevance until it can exist outside of isolation. Once it sees the light of day, though, it adopts relevance and it becomes an actualized expression of the self. I disagree with Butler’s assessment that some performances fail while other succeed. Maybe in the narrow definitions of a judgmental society, such a system of “pass/fail” may exist. But in a more queer sense of reality, there are differing degrees of what manifestations become us, and differing degrees of ability within a definite temporal frame. The overall “success” (if it can so be measured) is more dynamic and, ultimately, the only critic who necessarily matters is, once again, the individual. True enough, members of any given culture can write off a performance as a failure, and castigation may be their subsequent reaction. Nonetheless, even a “failed” performance opens up the door of that new self to you. This is the truth that society doesn’t want you to know: your mere perseverance is necessarily your victory. Your bravery to manifest that identity—regardless of its subjective “success”—is your triumph.

Monday, November 30, 2009

More than Myth: Suicide

Albert Camus once wrote, “There is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide. Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy.” There is much stigma attached to the act of suicide; people think it is an action reserved for the mentally unstable. After all, why would any sane person actively decided to literally destroy their own life? Others I have heard suggest that suicide is simply the end result of losing all hope—it’s what comes of being overcome with sorrow and suffering and having no other hope, coping mechanism, or alternative left. Camus simplifies matters a little in his essay, The Myth of Sisyphus; he suggests that the absurd is an inescapable essential force in life—that man is inevitably faced with the dialectic of on the one hand wanting meaning, significance, and clarity and on the other hand facing the silence and coldness of the universe. In effect, individuals are left with a choice between suicide, taking a leap of faith, or recognizing the absurdity of our live/situations and embracing that.
Choosing the first option results in an immediate escape of absurdity—it’s a confession that life is not worth living. It’s here that on some level I have difficulty discussing more, as very recently I was informed of Mike Penner’s suicide. I doubt any readers are unaware of who Mike Penner was or of his suicide. The news has affected me more than I initially thought. Speaking as someone who has walked to the brink of suicide—who has had two hospital visits because of suicide attempts—I know what it’s like to conclude, albeit temporarily, that life is not worth living. Mike recently came to that same conclusion, only his decision was much more final than mine once had been. In the existential use of the term, I cannot think of many things more absurd than the transsexual narrative—the need to be one thing when the world tells us we’re something else, the need to find our identity when there are no immediate answers to the question, “Who am I?”—the need for acceptance and stability, clarity and meaning in a society that offers none. Suicide in Camus’ view is an admission that life is meaningless and therefore not worth living. For what it’s worth, when one is in the grips of a depression or is otherwise not able to accept the absurd, suicide becomes an understandable, although unfortunate, option.
The second option—the leap of faith—is equally controversial. I hesitate to write much on this if only because many of my friends and family (and some of you super awesome people reading this) are religious. I, on the other hand, am anti-religion. Like Camus, I find leaps of faith to be a denial of the absurd. Abstract beliefs are assumed and a set of hopes is established to bypass dealing with the absurdity of the reality of human existence. In effect, it’s a denial of the reality of the human condition, a deferment to the hope that some absolute meaning or purpose exists. Often, this takes the form of a belief in God, though not always. It’s more a leap of faith that, despite rational observation, refuses to accept the absurdity that individuals experience, instead trusting that there is a universal something more—a blind faith that life is not meaningless. Camus described this as a kind of philosophical suicide because it is an active choice to escape rationality. Do you see why I feel awkward talking about it (given the strong religious views of many family/friends—sorry if it offended anyone)?
The third choice is to embrace the absurdity—embrace the suffering. In the myth, Sisyphus is punished by the gods, forever made to push a boulder up a hill, each time he reaches the top the boulder rolls down the other side and Sisyphus must begin his toils anew. His life is a constant struggle, much like our lives are constant struggles. What Camus notes, however, is that in becoming aware of our circumstances, and aware of the hopelessness of our situations, we become free. Our lot in life—our suffering—only is horrible so long as we juxtapose it with something more preferable. On the other hand, if we accept our lives without any preferable alternative, suddenly things aren’t quite so terrible. Instead, in the acceptance of our life and our fate as entirely our own—as all we have and all we’ll be—we can be truly happy. This is owning our fate, being above it, taking control of life and giving it whatever meaning we personally designate.
I recognize that a lot of what Camus puts forth in The Myth of Sisyphus is highly controversial. It is, however, something I turned to when I was going through my gender dysphoria-spurred existential crisis. This wasn’t really meant to be about Mike Penner’s suicide, nor is it any kind of remembrance post of his behalf. Honestly, I’m some emotionally spent that I doubt I could write such a thing right now. Instead, it’s a summary of Camus’ argument about dealing with the fundamental philosophical question. The awareness of absurdity begets freedom and genuine happiness. What Camus describes is, in actuality, a radical acceptance of our suffering. He asserts that through this embrace we become free.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

I lost you

I lost you though I never had you.
I miss you though I never met you.
I love you though I never knew you.
In your death I made your acquaintance,
Looked in your eyes and saw my own.
I recognize you when none claim you.
Mark your passing when none notice your absence.
Forever remember you when none knew you existed.
Nameless face—faceless visage.
I hold vigil for you tonight.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

None

So this is awkward. I was planning on writing about religion tonight...or maybe (should that topic prove uninspiring) write about Julie Bindel and Janice Raymond’s 2nd-waver BS transphobia. But no, something else has popped up at the last minute that I need to talk about. I have to write about some disturbing things that have been happening in my life recently, and the awkward part to all of this is they involve someone I know. Someone who I know has been reading (monitoring?) this blog. So, with that in mind, I’ve reinstated comment moderation for a while, for my own peace of mind. I still, of course, would love to hear your comments. Consider this me trying to reclaim my safe space.
I had a friend. As sometimes (and awkwardly) happens with friends, she developed a crush on me. I thought this was alright—I didn’t share the feelings, but I figured we could still be friends, right? What transpired was a long series of tug of war, in which she would try to block me off, and then shortly afterwards frantically call me. There was even one instance where she called me at 3am, and another instance when she got into my townhouse to slip a letter under my door (the townhouses require card access, so she had to get one of my house mates to let her in). Then this week she ambushed me outside my home and verbally harassed me. At this point I called a telephone counselling service and explained the situation (the late night phone calls, the text messages, the harassment and ambush outside my home, etc.). With their help I began to realize that this girl was stalking me and harassing me. Sure, it wasn’t anything physical, but nonetheless this was violence. “Domestic abuse,” is what one of the counsellors called it.
I thought I had put an end to it, but again tonight she sent me a text message. Immediately I began to stress out: my heart beat rose dramatically—my heart felt like it was trying to burst through my chest—I found I couldn’t sit still. I called the telephone counselling service again, and while I was on the phone with them, she called four times. It was an 8 minute phone call. I had to send her a text back. I asked her to please stop contacting me. My phone has been silent since. I think it might be over.
As an extra precaution I’m going to the police tomorrow just so there’s a record of instances, just in case she continues to harass me. I don’t think she will, but I guess this is what they call “protecting yourself.”That’s a weird thought. Since I came out as trans and queer, I’ve slowly learned to fear the police. But setting aside the queer identity, what gets me is that the idea of going to the police—what bothers me about even just calling this “stalking” and “harassment”—it makes me feel more like a victim. I thought I would feel empowered, but no. I feel like a victim. I feel scared. I feel vulnerable. Unsafe. I feel...dirty.
Shit. I don’t know what else to say. My head is spinning. I want to sleep, but can’t. I want to scream. I feel like there’s something creeping under my skin that I can’t get out. I feel like I’ve been tainted.
I want someone to talk to, but this fucking country still has me feeling so alone. Damn. I hate feeling this weak.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Post-Op Blues (or gimme my harmonica)

Shuffling around the cold hallways my bare feet hit the hard floor, numb. The new-fallen snow outside the wide windows glitters under the parking lot lights like a pristine, fresh and frozen world completely separate from me in my hospital gown. In my hand is the cherry Jello cup I had managed to snag from the nurse’s station—the readily-available gummy dessert has to be the best part of the post-operative recovery. As I sweetly suck down the fruity gelatine, feeling the immense weight of the pressure packing around my surgery site, I realize that I can wear a bikini without tucking. The realization that my first thought is of swimwear, while outside it is snowing, quickly follows. I raise an eyebrow at my own reflection in the dark window, and continue to imagine how now this lengthy journey is over, the quest is over. I thought, “This is it. I’m now officially a girl.”

Two years ago, the realizations I had while walking the halls of Mount San Rafael Hospital didn’t really touch on the real complexity of emotions I now have about being “officially a girl.” So much of my time and energy over the last several years of my life has gone into either repressing my gender dysphoria, coming to terms with my transsexuality, striving for acceptance (both from friends and family as well as from myself), or trying to secure all the necessary resources for transition. Along my journey I also became interesting in the science and social activism surrounding the transgender community, and so I additionally donned the hats of an advocate, and activist, and an educator. Through it all, transsexuality has been a dominant force in my life for at least the last nine years. Maybe some part of me back in those hospital halls imagined that being in that post-op recovery ward meant that my transsexual identity struggle was over—that now I was just an average girl like any other.

Those thoughts are problematic. On one hand being an average girl was pretty much the entire point of the transition: I did not embark down this road to be a boy, or a transsexual—I did this to be a girl. What’s the purpose of doing this if that was not the inevitable outcome? On the other hand, I shudder at the thought of being “average.”A lot of transition websites talk about the reintegration of trans people into society post-transition. When I first read these sites I admit I was a little offended at the choice of words. “Reintegration”? What, are we prisoners being released on parole? We’re supposed to find our niches back in the world of men and women—essentially re-insert ourselves into the oppressed gender roles as before, willingly limit ourselves to the restrictions of our “new” sex? But these sites do make a good point. After years of dealing with being trans, might there (logically) come a time when we simply deal with being men and women, when our gender become less a consuming force of our energies and time, and we re-allocate all those resources to just living our damn lives? Indeed.

It leaves open a major question, though: What now? After spending some much time and energy to make my outside match my inside—after transitioning to being a girl—what kind of girl am I?

Saturday, November 7, 2009

She is the one...

It was a horrible show about young women who magically turned into meretricious super heroines—vapid, shallow, dense, and poorly-developed girls who week after week defeated ridiculous monsters in the most formulaic, predictable and uninspired fashion, and at the end of the day we got a lovely little contrived moral wrapped up in a bow (assuming we were watching in English). I am, of course, talking about the misogynistic travesty that is Sailor Moon.

I completely stand by my statement that Sailor Moon is a horrible, poorly-written, and poorly-conceived manga/anime. That said, I still love Sailor Moon. It’s a guilty pleasure—I know the franchise is moronic, but it still holds a very special place in my heart. As a feminist I’m disturbed that the bulk of the series involved a bunch of underage girls running around in miniskirts (that barely cover up their underwear) and high-heels—even more disconcerting are the transformations (which occurs in each episode) in which the girls essentially become naked glowing bodies. All along the way we’re treated to the absolute ineptitude and incompetence of the girls, the vast majority of whom are completely boy crazed. Speaking of boys, male intervention is frequently necessary for our heroines to save the day, dashing any hopes of a self-dignified “girl power” message. What blows my mind is that Sailor Moon was conceived by a woman; it makes me wonder if the objectification of the female characters and sexist attitudes conveyed in the series are simply her pandering to a chauvinistic male audience (which would be weird, seeing as the target audience seems to be young girls—or at least I hope it is), or if she really thought super-short mini-skirts and high-heels were conducive to fighting crime.
We’re supposed to identify with Usagi (Japanese for rabbit...because (maybe) she looks like a playboy bunny in-training...I’m trying to not make my inner feminist cry). The problem with this is Usagi (who, as it turns out, is Sailor Moon, leader of the Sailor Scouts) is a total moron. In fact, most of her friends are also total morons, with the possible soul exception of Ami (Sailor Mercury...the scouts are named after the planets, in a somewhat created mythological tie-in that is, ultimately, under-developed). Ami relegated to the stereotypical role of the brain; we also have Minako (Venus), the beauty queen (also a moron); Rei (Mars), a total bitch; and Makoto (Jupiter), the tomboy/closet domestic/future house wife. Of all these, Makoto is the most multi-faceted, being more than justa domestic girl and more than just a stereotypical tomboy. Outside this core cast, there are outer scouts: Haruka (Uranus), Michiru (Neptune), Setsuna (Pluto), and Hotaru (Saturn)—and here’s where the series actually gets interesting. Uranus and Neptune, in the original Japanese version, are partners—both in terms of being a crime-fighting team and in the more literal sense that they are lesbian lovers. When the show was imported to the US, it was assumed that American children could not handle lesbians, so they were re-written to be cousins (with the disturbing effect of, instead of abolishing the image of lesbians, we got implied incestuous homosexuality...good one, Dic). But the really awesome bit here is Sailor Uranus. When she was first introduced, all the inner scouts thought she was a boy. In fact, several of them developed crushes on Haruka! She goes beyond being a tomboy and actually crossdresses much of the time—that said, when she transforms into Sailor Uranus she still kicks ass and looks completely appropriate in a mini-skirt and heels. You don’t get much queerer than that...

Only the series does get queerer. In the last instalment of Sailor Moon we are introduced to the Sailor Starlights—a group of men who magically transform into female super heroines (dressed even more meretriciously than the central Sailor Scouts). Overall, there is too much to really analyse in any one, discrete blog. Each character really deserves her own in-depth treatment. I don’t intend to dissect the series in that detail. Sailor Moon is, really, just a terrible show with moments of awesome queerness—all the same, the anime was instrumental to my coming out. I was in middle school when I became friends with a girl named Maya who, like me, was something of a geeky outcast (then again, who the hell did fit in during Middle School?). She was the one to first get to watching anime (which remains an occasional guilty pleasure of mine), and the very first anime she introduced me to was Sailor Moon.

At the time I couldn’t quite articulate the impact this series had on me. Watching it I was very aware that it was an incredibly girly show—as a boy entering into puberty, I knew I wasn’t supposed to like this. This was girl territory—run away! All the same, I watched it every day after school; when characters died or experience heavy loss, I cried with them, when they fell in love I fell in love, and when they fought the big baddies I thought it was truly badass. Sailor Moon was a gateway into my inner girl—I had previously decided to repress my femininity. I had no knowledge of transsexuality and I couldn’t imagine I could become physically female, but watching this anime I began to re-examine my femininity—I began to pretend that I, too, could magically become a girl. Hence began my long, long journey to self-realization.

I’ve talked to various people in the queer community, and a surprising number of us have the common guilty pleasure of watching anime. Many of us watch Sailor Moon, specifically. The author of Khaos Komix, Tab Kimpton, seems to have had similar experiences, as he has integrated Sailor Moon and anime iconography into his comics about a group of teens growing into their respective genders and sexualities. It makes me wonder how many of us were affected by this series? How many of us saw Haruka and Michiru, and suddenly being lesbian was an option? How many boys watched the anime, realizing then they weren’t heteronormative? How many watched the show and began to rediscover our cross-gender identifications?

Yes, Sailor Moon sucks. At times it’s even offensive to me as a trans feminist. However, it completely reshaped the path of my life, and dammit, I love this anime. Gross and embarrassing though that is to admit.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

What did you learn in school today?

In a lot of these political campaigns against LGBT rights I’ve heard a lot of people shouting, “They’ll be teaching homosexuality and transsexuality in schools!” (OK, they don’t shout that articulately...I’d rather not type out what they actually say). In some schools children are being taught to accept those who may be different from them—including gay, bisexual, and transgender people (gasp!). The tolerance-based education is primarily centred on anti-bullying lessons, but several on the political right continually launch accusations that this constitutes indoctrination. I’m going to assume that everyone reading this blog knows that this is bullshit. Clearly it’s not indoctrination: boys are not made to wear dresses, gay sexual or queer social identities are not forced on children; all that happens is our children are told what homosexuality and (if they’re lucky) what transsexuality is, and they’re told to accept it. That’s it. They aren’t taught about marriage. Children aren’t really even taught about gay people in history, LGBT civil rights movements, and gender across cultures—they aren’t even taught about sexual, sex, or gender diversity in the natural world. No. Children are, for the most part, told not to bully others. If they’re lucky, they may read a book a watch a film that tells them LGBT people are OK.

And I have to ask the question: if we did teach all the above—even teach about queer sex in our sex education classes, teach LGBT literature, sex and sexuality diversity in biology, etc.—would it be so bad? So what if we teach about different cultures, relationships, and genders? They say these are lessons to come out of the home, but frankly I don’t trust the religious right to teach these things in their homes. I may get flack for saying that, but I don’t really care right now. The point in all this is that while our society is slowly growing more accepting, there is still a gross amount of hate out there focussed on LGBT people—you don’t have to look any further than the media to see the shadow of the very real prejudice. Many private households are not teaching affirmation and acceptance of LGBT people—often if any lessons are taught at all they are lessons to the contrary.

This is an issue that, frankly, really pisses me off. I’m shaking with rage as I write this—I have to consciously and forcibly direct my thoughts to more civilized discourse, lest in my anger I just fill the void with more violence. See, I cannot remember a single time that anything about the LGBT community was ever even mentioned in my home (either in positive or negative connotations) while I was growing up. My teacher at school never taught anything about homosexuality either—not even as far as tolerance education was concerned (and forget hearing about transgender people; no one even seemed to know the word existed). So, where did I get my first lessons? From the kids who made fun of me, assuming I was a sissy or a fag. I got my first lesson about transsexuality from daytime talk shows like Maury and Jerry Springer (I can thank my sister, flipping through the channels on summer vacations for those nuggets of misinformation). In movies I learned that trans women were jokes—that they were ugly men in dresses and freaks and something to make our stomachs churn. I learned about the Bible and God from my family, and from the Bible and God I learned that my desire to be a girl was an abomination—that I was defective and wrong, diseased and untouchable.

I didn’t hear a single accepting voice until after my junior year in high school. I went to a biotechnology summer camp at Montana State University, and while I was there my sense of unease in my body hit a breaking point. At that time I had gathered from the some internet searches, television programs, and movies that transsexuality was a mental disorder—that they were psychopaths and disgusting. I knew that I crossdressed in secret, so I typed in the description of my actions into a Google search engine: cross dressing. I then learned that cross dressing was a fetish. That didn’t seem right. So, while at MSU, I went to my last resource to find out what the hell was wrong with me: I turned to science!

Scientific articles, surely, would have some information about my disorder, right? Well...they do, but I never found those articles. Instead, I found a review of Jenny Boylan’s book She’s Not There. I don’t know how, exactly, I stumbled on that when I started out searching genetics journals, but there it was. I ran out to Bozeman’s Hastings and bought the only copy of She’s Not There that they had, took it home, and read it in one evening.

The walls of my prison shattered in a most stunning explosion.

Here at age 17 I had finally found someone who was expressing the same kind of emotions I was feeling—I felt as though this Jenny Boylan had reached into my subconscious, pulling out my deepest feelings and put words to them. I broke down and cried in the small dormitory: I was OK. I could be a girl and that was OK. There wasn’t anything wrong.

I was raised in a vacuum, no one ever told me about LGBT people. If I had never gone to MSU—if I had never gained access to their archives of academic journals—I don’t know when I would have heard my first affirming voice, or if I ever would have heard such a voice. I don’t want to imagine the implications of this possibility.
When I hear folks talking about the “dangers” of teaching children about LGBT people, all I hear are the shadows of the same intolerance that was indoctrinated into me through religion, the media, and schoolyard bullies. The implications of not teaching about LGBT lives and history in public school are far more drastic than the alternative; leaving these lessons out of the school curriculum leaves a vacuum that is often filled with a contagious hatred. And that’s just on the level of teaching acceptance—I’m not even touching on the fact that our existence in the natural world is never discussed, nor are our contributions to literature, politics, mathematics, science, art—our contributions to human history are all neglected.

What this debate really boils down to is two sides: one saying LGBT folks are human and deserving of recognition, respect, and affirmation like any other people; the other side saying that LGBT people are immoral and diseased, a blight upon

existence. I was reading an article earlier today titled “The Pink Dress.” It’s about a four year old boy who asked his parents for a dress. The parents, after thinking it over, decided to give the boy a dress, even let him wear it to school.

At that morning's drop-off, my confidence in Sam moved up a notch when he announced to his teacher, "Look at my pretty dress! No one is allowed to make fun of me."After school, Sam beamed as he reported that his teachers had said they liked his dress, and the other 4-year-olds had said he looked pretty.


Kids as brave as Sam are starting to become much more common, and I like to think that’s partly because acceptance is finally starting to leak its way into schools (although Sam’s awesome parents also played an enormous role). But what about kids who don’t get this affirming message at home, or worse, get a negative message? When I was Sam’s age, I had already started to get the hints that it was not OK for a boy to want to be a girl. I can’t imagine how much easier my life would have been if in my childhood someone had told me it was OK for me to be a girl. People like Sam deserve a place—they deserve to be themselves, and I can think of no greater disservice than for the education system to permit the erasure of LGBT lives. I’m done with trying to debate the religious right, or avoid the issue of teaching LGBT affirmation and contributions in school. They belong in our curriculums, in our schools, and in our lives.

What's it mean to be a woman?


A while ago my friend Lori (of Lori’s Revival) asked the following: What does it mean to be a woman? What follows are my new-initial thoughts on this question; I may very well have to revisit this topic down the road. While I’m a little late in joining the discourse, my tardiness has not been for lack of interest or attention. Frankly, when I first sat down to write responses I was struck by the rather disconcerting realization that I didn’t really know what it meant to be a woman (or a man, for that matter). It’s not so much that I don’t have opinions on what constitute men and women—the problem comes from attempting to distil an objective definition of these two particular genders (already making the assumption that any answer I compose will be set in a U.S. mindset, as different cultures have different gender schemes). The problem with finding any one objective description is that our ideas of men and women will unfailingly be conflated with assumptions of sex, biologically based sex behaviours, sociological assumptions, popular gender roles;, and many of these assessments assume that the gender binary is not only in play, but an accurate dictator of essential qualities of men and women.

As I’m writing this you have to understand that I’m listening to Joan Jett; generally the music I listen to may influence the overall tone of my posts, but tonight the artist plays a more significant role. Joan Jett (along with a couple of girls I knew growing up) greatly shaped the woman I have become. From them I got my mixture of easy-going, coffee-shop lesbian, queer punk rocker style that makes up my feminine tomboy gender expression. From them I learned that I could be a girl and still be empowered, intelligent, in control of my body and sexuality—that I could write my own destiny. Own my weakness and my strength. To directly quote Joan, herself:

I know I’m a woman and I love being a woman and I embrace it, but I don’t embrace the roles that people have carved out that a woman could be. Personally, I’m more comfortable in boy’s clothes because they don’t make good girls clothes and they don’t make them strong. I guess you can say that I like to blur the lines a bit, and that is what androgynous means to me, it’s saying that we both have male and female within us and to embrace those energies.


And that pretty much sums up my ambivalence about this topic. I can easily discuss the social roles that women are expected to embody—but those narrow niches are not what it means to be a woman. No, being a woman, like being a man, is something much more intangible; it’s a way of thinking—it’s an energy that we emit like an aura. A girl can be strong, dominant, and powerful while not compromising her femininity. One of my favourite quotes comes from Elizabeth Wurtzel, the author of Bitch and Prozac Nation:

The biggest problem that women have is being ambivalent about their own power, ... We should be comfortable with the idea of wielding power. We shouldn't feel that it detracts from our femininity.


The moments I’ve felt the most like a girl have been some of the most banal I can recall. That’s not to suggest that being a girl is boring or commonplace; rather, the moments that I was not trying to abstract or intellectualize things—those moments when I just lived my life fully—were the moments I felt most connected to myself as a girl. Most nights driving for Women’s Transit were nights that I felt distinctly like a woman—and a woman in control. I would be hanging out in the car, blasting some of the greatest music of any generation: easy going. Of all the drivers and dispatch, I was among the most distinct and recognizable, having my own call sign and witty/sarcastic rapport with the other volunteers. Driving those cars with the radio clipped to the belt of my skirt/pants, I felt like the height of feminine badassery.

Every time that I really get into playing the violin, I feel like a woman. I get my whole body into the act, using the full weight of my arm to pull the bow, curving my body into each note—when my whole body is engaged I’m the most connected to my own femininity—I channel that feminine energy and amplify it through my music. I think Joan Jett does something very similar.

See, being a woman, to me, is being able to take control of my own life. It’s being a badass, having great reserves of strength and power, ambition and talent. It is empathy and sympathy—being in touch with the emotional and sensitive side of ourselves and our relationships. Being a woman is being able to tattoo your arms, pierce your cartilage (and not cry), dye your hair funky colors, and then put on a skirt and a flower top (with Dr. Marten boots, of course). Being a woman, to me, is an empowering embodiment of my own feminine gender, even if it might not always be expressed in the most typical ways.

Photo of Joan Jett taken from http://www.dickdestiny.com/rokkkk.JPG

Monday, October 26, 2009

Chemical

There’s a major debate in the field of sex determination concerning the development of brain sex. Originally it was suggested that the brain was sexed by a “hormone wash;” because males have surges of testosterone early in life, it was assumed these waves of “male” hormone were what pushed the brain into a male configuration. More recent studies, however, have discovered differing levels of expression of ~50 genes in the brain between males and females—and these genes are being expressed prior to the development of the gonads (i.e. testes and ovaries)! Other studies, examining transsexual brains (in effort to uncover aetiology of brain sex) suggested that HRT had no effect on brain morphology. This is, of course, is an encouraging finding, especially considering that the brains of MTF transsexuals were comparable to those of non-transsexual women and FTM brains were comparable to non-trans men. This suggested that our brains are naturally developed opposite our bodies—which is exactly the story we’ve been telling medical professionals for decades. Zhou et al.’s studies in which they found MTF transsexuals had a feminized bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (Nature 378.2 1995). Zhou was looking for a sexually dimorphic region of the brain that was not influenced by sexual orientation, and he came across the BST, known to play a role in mammalian sexual behaviour, it also was known to be 2.5 times larger in females than in males, and was known to house both oestrogen and androgen receptors. In his study, Zhou reported that hormones did not affect the relative size of the BST, and therefore HRT was a non-issue.
Subsequent studies, however, have suggested that the BST isn’t fully sexually dimorphic until adulthood (Chung, Vries, and Swaab, 2002). Might this mean that, indeed, Zhou et al’s studies were tainted by HRT? Still others (Blanchard) have suggested that homosexual and non-homosexual transsexuals have distinct aetiologies—this is getting into that fun area of autogynophilia vs. “true-transsexualism” that I, generally, dismiss as utter bullshit.

More recent studies, however, have told different stories. Now the issue of whether or not HRT affects brain morphology is open for debate, and researchers controlling for HRT have found that MTF transsexuals, prior to HRT, have brain morphology that is more similar to that of men. However, one specific area—the right putamen—is feminized in MTF transsexuals (Luders et al. NeuroImage 2009). What role this brain structure plays is still unknown, though it raises whole new questions. It appears that there’s a bit of a discrepancy in the scientific community. What this means, of course, is that there are some vexing questions in the field of brain sex determination (to say the least).

It’s amazing what a chemical—a little bit of estrogen or testosterone—can do. Before I transitioned and well before I knew the meaning of the word “transsexual,” I had a tremendous crush of a gorgeous red-haired girl named Lauren. I wanted nothing more than have a romantic relationship with her—hell, I may have even wanted a sexual relationship; I did, after all, have the libido of a teenage boy. I also had all the horrible awkwardness that came with having the external physical anatomy of a teenage boy along with those pounding waves of testosterone (or...rather, I had small, albeit significantly-sized waves). This meant masturbation, and lots of it (just what you all wanted to read about!). And while the crush died away (there’s a much more awesome story here...I’ll tell you sometime) the libido never did. Right up into college, I was plagued by those damn inches of manhood, peeking their way up in an effort to undermine my gender. Even HRT, while stemming the tide, did not completely arrest that thriving sex drive. At this point, I think I was sexual (i.e. I would have wanted to have sexual relationships with people as well as romantic relationships). All that changed, however, when I had my GRS. After surgery, the libido—the interest in sex and possibly romance—all had vanished.

In a recent email, Dr. Marci Bowers told me, “Post-op drops in libido are the norm rather than the exception and are an unintended consequence of GRS...Your testosterone levels are lower and probably could use a boost. I know most do not want testosterone in their blood but all women have some and it really is responsible for libido...they make an estrogen/testosterone pill called estratest or estratest HS (half strength)...you could try that or try a testosterone cream applied directly down there. It will also reduce the threshold to reach orgasm which many find difficult in achieving despite sensation.”

It makes me wonder what far-reaching effects these chemicals have. It raises the question of whether or not the orchiectomy has left me hormonally imbalanced, and whether or not this huge androgen deficit is now affecting not only my sex drive, but my sexual identity—and then what else might it be affecting? If adult hormone levels affect brain morphology, then what effects are my current hormone levels having? Is it worth it to try out testosterone treatment? Overall, I’m starting to feel comfortable in my differentness and comfortable with my sexuality...or general lack thereof. It might be worth it, down the line, to try out testosterone, but for now I suppose the most important question of all is why should I care? But I do care; all this has brought up one disconcerting issue: to what extent am I just a product of chemicals? How much of my identity is dictated in my neural chemistry—and how does that same identity change in relation to hormone levels and gene expressions? Important to all these questions is the underlying assumption that a fundamental, essential identity exists outside body chemistry, genetics, environment and socialization—that we must be more than the sum of our parts. As a scientist, I want 1+1+1+1 to equal 4; but as a human, vain and craving something more meaningful, I don’t want this to be the totality of all being.

This is what is at the heart of sex determination studies: what makes us human? Why do some of the brain sex study results differ? If trans women have an over-all masculine brain, how is it we come to self-identify as female in a culture that so harshly pushes conformation to the contrary? Are these identities—gender, sex, sexuality—firmly grounded within our cells or are they more fluid? If the later, how can scientists control for all the dynamic processes?

But maybe that’s the underlying truth? Identity—whether it is gender, sexual, social, etc.—perhaps is much more complex, multilayered, and dynamic than we assume. Regardless of what someone may tell you we are nowhere near knowing what “causes” transsexuality or cissexuality—now, just reading over the papers, the issue seems increasingly nebulous. In the face of the clusterfuck of potentially contradictory and controversial evidence, I take a step back. Matt Ridley is one of my favourite scientific authors, and at the end of his acclaimed book, Genome, he wrote the following:

A gene for free will would not be such a paradox because it would locate the source of our behavior inside us, where others cannot get it. Of course, there is no such gene, but instead there is something infinitely more uplifting and magnificent: a whole human nature, flexibly preordained in our chromosomes and idiosyncratic to each of us. Everybody has a unique and different endogenous nature. A self.


Our biology is not static, so why should we assume our social identities are? We are more dynamic—our identities more flexible. Perhaps it would be more comforting to have everything settled in a clean, Mendelian fashion—a gene for introversion here, the gay gene over on chromosome 7, and the transgender gene nestled tightly along the short arm of chromosome 16. We don’t get off that easy. The sooner we become comfortable in the natural variation and plasticity of our identities, the sooner we’ll be able to lovingly accept ourselves and each other.

References:
Zhou, J.N., Hofman, M.A., Gooren, L.J., Swaab, D.F., 1995. A sex difference in the human brain and its relation to transsexuality. Nature 378, 68–70.

Blanchard, R., 1989a. The classification and labeling of nonhomosexual gender
dysphorias. Arch. Sex Behav. 18, 315–334.

Blanchard, R., 1989b. The concept of autogynephilia and the typology of male gender
dysphoria. J. Nerv. Ment. Dis. 177, 616–623.

Chung, W. C., De Vries, G. J., & Swaab, D. F. (2002). Sexual differentiation of the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis in humans may extend into adulthood. Journal of Neuroscience, 22, 1027-1033.

Luders, E., et al., Regional gray matter variation in male-to-female transsexualism, NeuroImage (2009), doi:10.1016/
j.neuroimage.2009.03.048

Ridley, Matt. Genome. Harper Perennial. 2000

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Comfortably Introverted Part 2: Finding comfort in difference

Author’s note: this is what my previous post, “Comfortably Introverted,” should have been, or rather it may be seen as an amendment. If it’s redundant in places, please forgive me.

It was getting on towards midnight and my constant intake of coffee over the course of the day was still keeping me wide awake. Slipping on my boots and a thin hoody, I stepped out into the cold Adelaide air and on towards the Village reception, where I found Eddie. He was sitting behind the desk (as usual) drinking a thick, black cup of coffee; he always looked too tired to be someone working night-shift security details. “Hey, Tats!” he called to me, once he saw me pass through the adjacent sliding glass doors, “How ya goin’?” I stop. I sigh. These questions are always more complex than they need to be. “What’s wrong?” he asks, not missing a beat. So I tell him. I open up about how I don’t feel like a girl—how I feel like I’m a boy, still. I tell him how I feel as though people can see through me, and how it feels like people are giving me dirty looks—how they see the boy and the masculinity and glance away. I tell him I hate how people look at me, that it makes me feel like a freak and only heightens my feelings of gender dysphoria. Eddie nods at me, and then he brings up a very obvious point: I’m tattooed. He tells me that he’s seen people looking at me, only to abruptly look away again, somewhat startled; however, he also said the a lot of people asked questions about the “cool girl with the tattoos.”

I’ve been questioning a lot of things lately: my gender expression, my comfort in my body, my sexual orientation, etc. Just the other day a good friend wrote me an email in which she used the word “heteroromantic.” Having never heard this term before, I quickly googled it, and I found out it comes from the asexual community—they have divided sexual orientation from romantic; you may or may not want to have sex vs. you may or may not want to build an intimate, non-sexual relationship with someone (akin to a sexless marriage, although minus the negative connotations—as you’d be perfectly content with the absence of sex).This has me thinking about what my sexual and romantic identities are. And along came Lisa.

Lisa was attracted to me—something she made abundantly clear over the weeks. I have to admit, the concept of the relationship was tempting: here was a girl who said I was pretty and feminine; she wanted to help me realize my own feminine gender expression (essentially “teach me to be a girl”). Given all the self-doubt I’ve recently experienced around my own gender, the offer (as I said) was tempting. This was an offer of validation. Foolishly, I accepted, but the more time she spent with me, the more I started to hear “Scar” by Missy Higgins playing in the back of my head. Being in this romantic relationship I found myself feeling increasingly uncomfortable and stressed until, shortly after the relationship began, we ended it. Instantly, I felt free again...only now, new self-doubt was born. What did my discomfort in the relationship mean? Was that more indicative of trying to force feelings I didn’t have? Was this an indication that I am not only largely asexual, but aromantic as well?

But the Lisa situation wouldn’t die. Now in the “just friends” territory of doom, I find that even a friendship with her is too stressful. Just under the surface of everything I perceive the pretext of the old romantic feelings and the drive to change me. I find myself pushing her away...and damn, isn’t poetic justice just perfectly brutal? Back in college I knew a girl named Nikki; she and I used to be close friends—she even taught me how to play violin—but after a year of knowing her I noticed that I had developed romantic feelings for her. I disclosed my emotions to Nikki, and we decided to remain “just friends.” Obviously, things are never so cut and dry. She stopped taking my calls. She avoided me and lied to me—she excluded me from her life entirely. I have to admit, that hurt...but I can see now that my behaviour in relation to the situation was stressing her out. Now the tables have turned, and I know all too well what must be done.

This is the kind of situation I never wanted to blog about. It’s a tawdry, vulgar scenario that has a better place in high school poetry than it does in a PhD trans girl’s blog about gender. All the same, this trope bears some recognition for what it is: this entire situation has been a giant set-up for questions concerning my own sexual orientation, romantic orientation, gender expression, gender identity, and social identity (optimist vs pessimist, extrovert vs introvert). Moreover, it’s been a lesson in integrity. I have to be honest with myself.

And part of me realizes that what I’m feeling right now isn’t necessarily the pangs of asexuality or aromanticism or even introversion. Part of me is assuming that my orientations are a lot more contingent on other factors—that they do not exist as one universality in a vacuum, but instead are a function of where I am in life and the person or persons to whom these orientations may be directed (if that makes any sense). And maybe that’s the fairest way of assessing the situation: case by case, never limited, and always open for review. And maybe that fluidity is common to the other aspects as well. Before writing this I had a brief chat with Dr. Chin (Not a real doctor, but a motorbike-riding, piano-playing uni student). He said to me, “You’re not normative; you have tattoos, etc. People have a hard time accepting what’s not status quo. So, you’re a tomboy and maybe you’re a little more masculine. But that’s you. If some days you want to wear a dress, just do it. Don’t worry. You have to be who you are.” Fucking wise man that Dr. Chin.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Got to give them hope

In the time it took me to walk from my house to the bus stop this morning, it was announced: the Matthew Shepherd bill passed the Senate and is on its way to President Obama’s desk! Cross-posted links shot up all across facebook; the statuses of many of my friends quickly converted into shouts of ecstatic joy at the news: the FIRST ever transgender-inclusive bill had passed the Congress and was well on its way to becoming law. I let out a huge sigh, realizing I just a monumental achievement for my community. As Bil Browning of Bilerico put it, “Our lack of progress in our state has been salvaged by federal action. The only way we're going to gain our rights is via federal law.”

I agree with Bil 100%--at this point I’m not sure state-by-state efforts are as effective. We’ve made some major federal milestones lately, and the prospects for an inclusive ENDA are looking pretty damn good. We may well be standing on the precipice, looking into a world of full national legal equality for LGBTQ Americans. But there’s a lot of work still yet to go.

Back in July I wrote about some queer resistance to hate crime legislation. Among the main queer opponents was the Sylvia Rivera Law Project, who in April announced their non-support of New York’s Gender Employment Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA) due to the inclusion of hate crimes legislation. The points SRLP makes are startling, citing that the LGBT community and people of color are routinely targeted by police and arrested regardless of guilt. SRLP asserts that hate crime legislation will only add ammunition to the machinery of oppression:

Trans and gender non-conforming people, particularly trans women of color, are regularly profiled and falsely arrested for doing nothing more than walking down the street... Once arrested, the degree of violence, abuse, humiliation, rape, and denial of needed medical care that our communities confront behind bars is truly shocking, and at times fatal.


The fear is that not only is the criminal justice system already profiling LGBTQ people and people of color, but that hate crimes laws will intensify this oppression at the hands of law enforcement. The SRLP cites the case of the “New Jersey 4,” a group of queer women of color who were incarcerated for defending themselves against a homophobic assault; the straight man who was attacking them claimed they had committed a “hate crime” against him. Hate crime laws could, potentially, be turned around and utilized to oppress marginalized groups whenever they defend themselves against attacks, or they could escalate the problems created by demographic profiling:

Compared to white men, Black men are disproportionately arrested for race-based hate crimes. The second-largest category of race-based hate crimes tracked by the FBI is crimes committed against white people. Every year, the FBI reports a number of so-called “anti-heterosexual” hate crimes—incidents where members of the LGBT community have been prosecuted for supposedly targeting straight people with criminal acts.


But above all else, the SRLP’s concern seems to be for the real victims of hate crimes:

The real victims who are liable to be thrown to the wolves in this case are the most marginalized members of trans and gender non-conforming communities: poor people, people without jobs or housing, people who resort to survival crimes in order to get by or access health care, people with substance abuse problems, sex workers, youth, people with disabilities, and so many more who are disproportionately targeted for violence, harassment, prejudice in the courts, and incarceration. These are the same people our community must mourn every year at the Trans Day of Remembrance.


I don’t know many people who, after looking at the criminal justice system for five minutes, would suggest that there is nothing wrong. Our system is broken, and it has been broken for a long time. There’s evidence that our focus on punishment is actually detrimental to increasing safety and civility; that increasing the punishments for crimes will only make those who commit the crimes more impoverished and more alienated. While I am certain the fears of the SRLP are founded, I have questions concerning the frequencies of the abuses of the criminal justice system in relationship to hate crimes. I’m certain the examples cited by the SLRP occur—there has been a lot of evidence concerning the disproportionate incarceration of people of color, but I don’t know what the figure are for LGBT people. The APA had this to say:

A defendant's transgender status could affect decisions to arrest, influence jury verdict decision-making and could lead to disproportionate sentences exceeding what is typical for the crime committed. To date, there is little if any empirical research that examines the verdicts against and the sentences given to transgender offenders in relation to their crimes. This research is crucial to gain insight as to whether transgender offenders are treated differently than nontransgender individuals for similar crimes.


Furthermore, there wasn’t much evidence concerning disproportionate incarceration of LGBT people. As I said, I’m sure the arguments of the SRLP are founded to some degree, but I don’t know how much of their fears are represented in reality. The studies haven’t been adequately done (from what little I’ve been able to gather), but that doesn’t mean this is not a very real problem. It just means, like much of LGBT social situations, it has not been as well studied. What is clear is that we do need to reform our criminal justice system, but does that preclude hate crime legislation?

There are many structural problems with hate crime legislation, just as there are many benefits. As NCTE announced this morning (or this evening for you folks in the US):

The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act will have a number of positive impacts. First, it will help educate law enforcement about the frequent hate violence against transgender people and the need to prevent and appropriately address it. Second, it will help provide federal expertise and resources when it is needed to overcome a lack of resources or the willful inaction on the part of local and/or state law enforcement. Third, it will help educate the public that violence against anyone is unacceptable and illegal.


Additionally it seems that having this pass at the federal level sets an amazing precedent for further legal battles (such as ENDA). These are all very positive outcomes of the passage of the hate crimes bill. As Judy Shepherd said:

Dennis and I are extremely proud of the Senate for once again passing this historic measure of protection for victims of these brutal crimes. Knowing that the president will sign it, unlike his predecessor, has made all the hard work this year to pass it worthwhile. Hate crimes continue to affect far too many Americans who are simply trying to live their lives honestly, and they need to know that their government will protect them from violence, and provide appropriate justice for victims and their families.


I agree with Mrs. Shepherd, especially when she calls for appropriate justice. At the end of the day, my feelings are mixed on this issue, but overall I’m fairly happy. We have a lot of work still yet to go for LGBT equality as well as reforming our justice system to operate in a manner that is adequate, appropriate and fair. Above all else, I see today as a historic marker: the plight of LGBT people has been recognized by our federal government and they have, on this issue, said in a large majority that the violence suffered by the LGBT community must stop. They have said that hate against people regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity/expression must be confronted. With the anniversary of Matthew Shepherd’s death nearby and the Day of Remembrance just around the corner, this affirmation from our national leaders gives me hope that we can change the world to be more affirming and accepting of us. Regardless of what undesired side effects this laws may have, the intentions behind the law are clear. It’s taken us a long time, but we have changed the opinions of our leaders, gotten them to see us a little bit more as valuable and as human beings. I know that sounds like a cop out—that should be a given. But it’s not. I have hope that the affirmations we’re seeing in this Congress can become more widespread across the world. Hope.

It’s the same emotion Sylvia Guerrero, the mother of Gwen Araujo, said she held on to the most after her daughter was stolen from her. It’s the hope that through education and advocacy we may “celebrate more birthdays and commemorate fewer murders.”

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Comfortably Introverted


During my first semester as an undergrad at WSU I completed several paintings, most of which featured my archetypal red-haired girl; among my favourites of these (pictured on the left) is the painting of the red-haired girl sitting on a bus, peering out into the vast wheat fields of the Palouse; she is immersed in the music blasting through her headphones, unaware of much of the world around her—blocking it out through her music and through her own imagination. Though there should be more substance to the bus, it has all dissolved away, symbolic of the girl’s self-imposed isolation. She is, in effect, a human embodiment of introversion. It doesn’t take much imagination to assume that the red-haired girl is a literal rendition of the girl inside me. At this point in my life I still had not started transitioning, though I was well underway setting the stage for hormones and name changes. Looking back at a lot of my art, the image of the isolated red-haired girl pops up a lot; in high school she was depicted in states of alienation or experiencing intense physical/psychological pain (though what, exactly, was inflicting the pain was never shown...I’m sure you all can guess, though). But as time moved on—just before and after I started the transition—the girl’s isolation turned into a peaceful introversion.

I think part of me assumed that once I transitioned I would somehow turn into an extroverted, outgoing person. It never happened, though I still have caught myself thinking that perhaps there is something wrong with me because I don’t do things like initiate conversation. Yes, I’m shy. Sometimes it feels like social phobia. But overall, it’s a kind of serene, easy-going introversion. Typically I’m not put off when people do talk to me—indeed, I really enjoy spending time with friends or meeting new, friendly people. I just don’t initiate. It takes an external force to pull me from the world of my mind...and maybe this isn’t a bad thing. I (and you, too, probably) live in a world where extroversion is seen as something good and healthy; likewise introversion is associated with having low self-esteem, depression, and an unhealthy social and psychological wellbeing. Wow. But what if there isn’t anything wrong with introversion at all?

I find myself asking these questions a lot lately: what if the stupid societal assumptions are all wrong? You know what? I’m finding that society’s got a lot of unhealthy assumptions floating around—superficial beliefs that really don’t serve any purpose aside from making a select group feel good about themselves...all coming at the expense of a lot of other people. But we know this: it’s the basic set up of the in group vs. the others.

A similar issue comes up with respect to asexuality. This culture builds up this necessity for dating, sexual relationships, marriage, etc.—all, of course, under the added assumptions that these relationships are heterosexual and monogamous. It’s seen in the major focus around marriage, indoctrinated into us from our earliest memories (think fairy tales like Cinderella, where the handsome prince whisks the girl away into a monogamous, heterosexual relationship. Oh joy, just what every kid wants!) But what do you do when despite an overwhelming cultural drive, you find yourself not wanting sex? What if you additionally find yourself not wanting a romantic relationship?

I remember reading that an estimated, “60% of post-op MTF’s, regardless of quality of surgical outcome, will not use their new equipment for its intended purpose” (which I’m assuming is sex, as opposed to secret storage of small swag). I’m not sure where, exactly, that number comes from. I do know, however, that Dr. Marci Bowers is the person I’m quoting, and given her position I’d assume she would, of all people, have a fair idea of what that figure is. When I first saw that statistic over a year ago, I initially felt a little sad—I assumed the number was more indicative of the loneliness that far too many trans people have to live with. And while it’s certainly true that many trans people do live with a certain degree of loneliness (I know Donna Rose has written extensively on this topic), I also wonder what percentage of this number is due to trans people who just happen to by asexual (i.e. not wanting to have sex). What about trans people who are aromantic (i.e. not interested in having romantic relationships)?

In my “Coming Out” post I talked a lot about how identity (my identity, at any rate) is contingent on a lot of other factors—and the same is true in this case. My identities are all complex, but to simplify things a little it’s easiest to say I’m asexual. Beyond that I’ve assumed that I’m queer with a tendency to be homoromantic...but I’m coming to even question that. Lately, I don’t have any interest in any social relationships whatsoever aside from friendships. Is this just me being my awesome, introverted self, or is there something more to it? In my (extraordinarily limited) experience with relationships I’ve found that romantic entanglements are both extremely awkward and extremely stressful. What the hell? The damn fairy tales never told me that my relationship with the queer princess would make me uncomfortable or overwhelmed with self doubt and stress.

I’d like to know what you think—especially those out there in normative monogamous relationships. Not that I want you all to be horribly uncomfortable/awkward and stressed in relationships, but if you have had analogous discomfort it would certainly make me feel a lot less confused.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

National Coming Out Day

Today is National Coming Out Day...or, at least it is in the US. Here in Australia, there is no such day; October 11th goes unmarked in Adelaide, and no one seems to take note that somewhere this month is considered Gay History Month. All the same, I’ve grown accustomed to honouring the 11th of October, taking care to remember Matthew Shepherd, who was brutally murdered 11 years ago, and Harvey Milk, who urged us all to come out and be out, as only through recognizing us for who we are will our loved ones, friends and neighbours make a personal connection with the injustices committed against the queer community, and only then will they stand with us, accept us, and fight with us for equal rights. It all sounds very good in theory.

But what does coming out really mean? I’m talking here not only about what it literally means, but the consequences it signifies as well. In some parts of the world, declaring oneself as gay is quite literally a death sentence. “Coming out” as LGBTQ can mean anything from freedom and empowerment to acceptance to social ostracization to murder a la hate crime—given the huge range of consequences (normalcy, homelessness, admiration, death), the mere act of “coming out” is at best a rewarded as courageous and is at its worst no more constructive than slitting your own wrists. And what of the underlying meaning of “coming out”? It’s a little more than implied that LGBTQ people will forever need to come out. Oh, you moved to a new town? Well, you better tell people you’re gay. Oh, you’re dating someone new? Do they know you’re a transsexual? “Coming Out” in these senses—as something you have to do and something that needs to be openly admitted—often feels a lot like “coming clean.”How many times has “coming out” as a transsexual been rephrased as “coming clean”? It’s the same principle. We have this dirty little secret that needs to be exposed, lest we’re lying to ourselves or others, or we’re not exhibiting the characteristics of Pride, or living up to Milk’s quixotic dream. The whole point of “coming out” was supposed to be empowering. It’s supposed to be a statement of who we are, and because “who we are” is a marginalized and oppressed group, that seemingly-simple act of expression becomes an open force of rebellion...or so it used to be. Now, everything around “coming out” seems to be the obligation to fess up to something, or it’s become a way for many privileged folks in the community to celebrate the fact that they were able to “come out,” even though there are heaps of people who are unable to do so.

And what are we “coming out” as? I’ve given a lot of thought into this, and so to best demonstrate my qualms with the whole “coming out” act, I will, symbolically, “come out” to you all. I’m putting all my cards on the table:

My name is Sonia Adeline. I’m an Amazon woman—or girl. Girl sounds better because, well, I associate “woman” with a certain age and sense of maturity/attachment to the real world that I, frankly, never hope to attain. I’m a scientist, and artist, and a musician, although my lack of experience and dearth of patience have conspired to retard my musical and artistic abilities. That’s not to say I’m not good at what I do, only I could be much better if only I had more discipline. I’m not particularly adventurous, though given the circumstances of my life it would be easy to make that assumption. Really, I’m just very adept and jumping into uncomfortable situations—at unknowingly stumbling into unexplored (or scarcely explored) territory. I’m laid back/easy-going, humble, kind-hearted...though I have an alter ego who is much more intense/exciting/sarcastic/witty/playful/playfully-sadistic/adventurous/spunky/whatever. She peaks through the everyday Sonia frequently, sometimes making me feel like I have a dual personality. I may be crazy, but I’m probably not insane.

Oh, you wanted to hear about sexuality and gender, huh? Well, I thought I was laying my cards on the table, and my deck...well, let’s just say there are far more than 52 cards—and each card is the size of a damn billboard. But, if you want a limited window, let’s go for it. I like girls. A lot. I like tall girls mostly, though shorter is fine by me too. I’m not picky, though I have preferences. I like trans girls and I like cis girls. I like girls with tattoos and dyed hair, and I like girls who play guitar or paint. I like boys—and/or bois—specifically trans boys. I like genderqueers, though I’m not too attracted to genderfucks. I like cis boys...as friends. Mostly. I like people who make my soul resonate.

But I don’t really want to have sex with anyone. That’s all a problem. Yeah, I’ll call myself “gay” to appease/shut up some idiot. Yeah, I’m gay...but that’s too simple. If I subscribe to the popular theories of sexual orientation and assume that human sexuality is a spectrum along a bell curve (homosexuality and heterosexuality at the poles with most people being some degree of bisexual), I still limit my sample size. This paradigm still assumes that only two genders exists and that I must be sexually attracted to one or both of them. What if there are more genders, and what if I’m attracted to them all? What if I’m not attracted to anyone? What if, as my case is, I want to cuddle with them, hold hands with them, kiss them, but not really fuck them? What then? In a multi-gendered, multi-sexed, and multi-layered world, words like “gay” and “straight” and “bisexual” lose all meaning. The more progressive of us invent words like “omnisexual” and “pansexual” to describe this phenomenon, but even they make assumptions; they assume that I am equally attracted to everyone, even though I clearly prefer feminine expressions. And again, don’t these terms imply that I’m sexually attracted to them—that I, in fact, want to have sex? I’m a passionate, playful asexual. For now anyway. These identities are in constant flux—I may well meet someone who I really want to fuck. Why limit myself now? The only word for me in this sense is queer. I’m queer, and as all queer folks know, “queer” doesn’t really mean anything aside from “atypical.”

What then of gender/sex? It’s true that I was born male, transitioned, and am now female. That technically makes me a transsexual; however, does this mean that I am the “Once and Future Transsexual”? Instead of pulling a sword out of a stone and being crowned king, I get to instead pull a dilator out of a—well, you know—and be crowned “tranny”? I’m not saying I can change the past and I’m not suggesting that I’m not proud of who I am—instead I only mean to say that at some point in the transition, it seems like being a transsexual would take a major backseat to being a girl. Next there’s the somewhat ill-conceived category of “transgender”—a term that is so vague as to be virtually meaningless. In a technical sense, everyone is at some point transgender if for no other reason than a failure to conform to the unattainable ideals of masculinity and femininity (as society imagines them). But those in the know about minority labels recognize that identities like “transgender” have to be self-claimed. Just because a guy is really feminine doesn’t mean he’s transgender, though his gender expression does make him privy to a lot of the discrimination and asinine assumptions made of the transgender community—or the gay community, for that matter. Transgender expressions, whether the individual identifies as trans or not, are irrevocably linked to the gay community thanks to popular stereotypes.

So what’s the point of all these identity labels? Their meaning within the LGBT community is at best muddled by the gross complexity of sexuality, gender, and sex; however, even were sexual orientation and gender as simple as these basic binary cartoons, social realization of these identities are confused. A trans woman may well identify as female, but if she’s not in the privileged position to afford a transition (let alone “pass,” though that’s a different issue entirely) her self-identification as female may as well not exist—gender identities, to some extent, require social recognition in order to be fully actualized. This is the issue at the crux of “coming out”: how much does it matter what people think?

Like it or not, what other people think does matter. Even Daria Morgendorffer wasn’t immune to caring about what others thought of her. It’s a human characteristic—we look for verification of our identities from society; this is possibly why coming out becomes so important: if we don’t get to be out and recognized as ourselves in society, then our identities essentially don’t exist. For example, I self-identify as a feminine tomboy; while a lot of people who know me have found some way to make sense of this oxymoron of a gender identity, most people never recognize it. My height, my build, my tattoos and my piercings all are cues of masculinity—at least to the uneducated—and as such I am assumed to be more butch and more aggressive than I really am. To these people, that feminine identity is not a prevalent, and therefore is not as real as, say, my more punk/alternative identity (which, oddly enough, has nothing to do with my gender at all).

My point in all this is that if you feel compelled to come out as a given sexual orientation or gender identity/expression today, go for it. Knock yourselves out. What infuriates me is that on paper, these identities really don’t mean anything—they’re vague descriptions aiming to describe individual niches in a system that doesn’t really exist in nature—or it doesn’t exist in such simplistic terms. But outside of the theoretical, these words do mean something—they mean social rebellion; they mean liberation and self-actualization and alienation; love and hate; life and death. Identification as LGBTQ is a radical act, even if, on paper, the words are hollow and meaningless. The real truth in this issue is that any identity is essentially devoid of value until we assign meaning to it, and because everyone will value these labels differently, gathering any consistent standard proves ultimately futile. At this point, I would come out to you all; I would paint a picture using my 52+ metaphorical cards, but that would be an empty gesture. I cannot be defined by 52+ separate labels any more than I can be identified by one primary label of sexual orientation or gender. And besides, the notion of “coming out” or “coming clean” about my identity makes me feel like my inner-most self is some sort of dirty little secret, and you’re supposed to be privy to such intimate information. What infuriates me is that people are now expected to come out and be out as a part of Harvey Milk’s vision, or at least as some version of being an open and honest individual—never is there any mention of people who cannot “come out and stay out” because of social circumstances, or because their identities are too complex to distil succinctly into a Coming Out Day declaration. It’s for these reasons that if I “come out” as anything to you today, I “come out” (for now) as Sonia Adeline.