Thursday, May 28, 2009

Road to Bridge Town

Crossing the Hawthorne Bridge is like déjà vu; I’ve done this all before. The water below is dark, cold, and shimmering in the fading light of the summer day, the air, a cool and crisp breathe—the dying ephemeral release of all the tempered energies of the day. I belong here.

I’ve only been to Portland twice, but each time I visited I felt as though I were returning home. It’s not much of a secret that I have a bit of a “freak” side—but that’s the beauty of Bridge Town: everyone has a “freak” side, but no one is afraid of laying out for all to see. Portland is still clearly inundated with images of the now-standard ideals of beauty in their storefront windows and billboards and magazines, but taking stock of the people on the street none of bombarded images of socially constructed beauty seem to have had much of an impact. There are men and women of virtually every body type, each seemingly perfectly content within their skins. Whether or not they are is a different matter entirely—but each of them exudes this confidence in their own appearance that is frankly refreshing given the commonly pervasive obsession with an impossible ideal of femininity. Understandably, I fall in love with almost everyone I meet walking through the city streets.

There’s a strange dialectic of comfort and insignificance that I feel within the shops and streets of Portland. While in places like Pullman most people are focused on—even intimidated by—my height, tattoos, dyed hair and multiple piercings, in Portland I blend into the woodwork. This must be what it’s like to be “normal”? That’s not to say being in Portland equates to a complete lack of recognition; folks in the coffee shops and stores were always more than eager to talk to me; merely being in Portland erases that “freak factor.” The tall tattooed tranny carries no novelty here. She is just a person.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Introducing Joey Sayers

I want to bring a certain cartoonist to your attention: her name is Joey Sayers and she pens “Thingpart” ( I’ve know about Joey for a few years now, having first been introduced to her work in Best American Nonrequired Reading 2004; her simple cartoons had the perfect mixture of off-the-wall sarcasm, wit, and random absurdity. Here’s an example of her work:

OK. Maybe she just appeals to my strange sense of humor (I swear she’s my humor soul mate). I don’t really have a whole lot else to say about her—she’s awesome and you should check her out. I also wanted to share with you some sample pages from her newest collection of cartoons (which you can buy for a mere $6 at her website).

Monday, May 11, 2009


A month or so ago I found a preview for the new documentary, “Outrage,” on Pam’s House Blend. Watch it here:

On a deeply ethical level, I’m divided about my opinion of this film. On the one hand I adamantly believe in exposing the lies used against the LGBT community—the controvertible arguments the religious right pitches only serve as fuel for anti-LGBT hatred and, I’d argue, can only result in more discrimination and violence (granted, I don’t have the figures to back this, but I’m sure I could write a lovely graduate thesis arguing as much). On the other hand, this documentary aims to attack the tenacious twaddle of the religious right by revealing the hypocrisy of closeted gay politicians advocating against gay rights. It seems to me that staying in the closet is truly unhealthy: it puts up a façade of normalcy all the while it suffocates the spirit; however, the time and the means of “coming out” ought to be self-determined. Do we have really think we have the right to out other people, even if they are working against the rights of those whom they share affinity?

Barney Frank evidently believes we do have that right, arguing, “There’s a right to privacy, but there’s no right to hypocrisy.” Others have suggested that these politicians being closeted presents a very real threat to the LGBT community—“the closet can kill.” And it’s this point that leaves me conflicted. I agree that the hypocrisy of these politicians is outstanding and it is effective at poking holes in the already-flimsy arguments of anti-gay advocates. That said I’ve always felt people had the right to decide when and if to come out, and if they never come out, well, that’s their prerogative. We live in a dangerous world—it is not safe to be out as LGBT, especially not when you’re in the public eye and the bulk of the people you associate with are ravenous homophobes. The kinds of pressure society places on people who are different can be overwhelming, and it’s understandable to be terrified into suppressing one’s true self. Who in the trans community cannot empathize with that? I don’t necessarily feel outrage at their actions so much as I pity them for allowing themselves to be paralyzed with fear. Whatever their motivation, it is heartbreaking to see LGBT people so engrained with self hatred that they would actively fight against the rights of their people.

Outing these politicians may hurt them in more profound ways than simply crushing their careers—being outed like this could potentially destroy their families, alienate them from their “friends,” and violently force them to deal with a lifetime of self denial and hatred. And yet, reading some comments LGBTQ individuals have made about this documentary I get the distinct impression the queer community is letting its vengeful side get the best of them. I would hope we have other means of combating the lies and filth of the religious right, rather than relying on the hypocrisy of our political opponents; I would hope we could show more compassion for these people who must be struggling with considerable inner turmoil. Instead of sparking rage, I hope this documentary elicits a swell of pity. More powerful than the unveiling of hypocrisy or the just (or unjust) outing of closeted politicians is the story of people, pretending to be something they are not, trapped in an internal struggle between what they are told they should be and what they really are.

Subtle Hope

Crossposted at "A T Revival," Lori's blog ( If you haven't already, check it out. Lori kicks ass.

This past week, in preparation for the new Wolverine movie, I started devouring all things X-Men: I read through hundreds of pages of Uncanny and Ultimate X-Men, I re-watched all the movies, and the entire animated series (circa 1992-1997). Even now I like to pretend that I am one of the X-Men, complete with my own unique and intense mutant powers, protecting a world that hates and fears me. Sadly, reality is not such that I have the extreme telekinetic and telepathic abilities of my dreams; however, in many ways my imagined mutant abilities may not be relegated to the realm of fantasy. The connection between the X-Men universe and the struggle for LGBT rights is scarcely a novel idea, take this speech from Magneto: “We have seen communities torn apart…roving mobs of vigilantes seek out the infirm among us. Some mutants conceal their true power, living a charade of normality while their spirit suffocates…There are those who have tried nobly to enlighten their human brethren, to strive for freedom and equality for all men. Their efforts have been repaid with brutality and hatred.”

This statement lead me to think that the only real difference between the plight to the LGBT community and the mutants in Marvel’s universe is simply that LGBT people, unlike mutants in the comics, do not have the power to level cities with a single thought. Were we to have these sorts of powers, I fear our world would much more resemble that of the X-Men. For all the fundamentalist right-wing demonization of the LGBT community, you would image gay, lesbian, and transgender people to have those powers (hell, we’re supposedly more dangerous and destructive than the terrorists who orchestrated the 9/11 attacks, right?). I’m going to change gears here slightly and take you back to Pullman, WA in October of last year. While the college was worried about football games and midterms, the LGBT community in Pullman was under attack. Homophobic messages were scrawled onto walls, doors and windows of queer students, folks suspected of being gay were antagonized at bars and in the streets, and two transgender students were physically assaulted. It felt very much like the “roving mobs of vigilantes” our friend Magneto was describing, and in this analogy I began to play the part of the “mutant” fighting for “freedom and equality,” and, like Magneto said, I found my efforts met with more hatred on behalf of the student body and members of the administration. It’s a frustrating battle and, keeping with the X-Men metaphor, I began to feel more and more like Gambit when he said, “I don’ know cher. We stay here fightin’ all the time, thing don’ get much betta’.” In my time working with the LGBTQ community in Pullman I have spent hours on the Speaker’s Bureau going to classrooms openly talking about transgender and gay issues; I’ve spoken out at protests and rallies, and I’ve worked to organize what few trans-related programs exist at this school. All the same, I’ve seen the social reception of transgender individuals gradually become worse in this town. Things don’ seem to get much betta, indeed.

That said I feel it’s important we focus on the subtle changes we make in this world. Oh, certainly you have your marriage equality in Iowa to celebrate, and I by no means wish to devalue the huge importance of that victory. But the Iowas are slow in coming, and they occur very rarely. This, hopefully, is changing, but we have a much better chance of effecting change in subtle, personal ways. Just this past weekend I had the opportunity to speak at the Social Justice Forum in Moscow, ID—a response to the city’s recent failure to extend nondiscrimination rights to transgender people. While I didn’t feel I was particularly articulate that night or informative, I do know for certain that at least three Moscow community members exponentially increased their knowledge of trans people simply as a result of conversing with me. I’ve had friends declare their allegiance to the trans community to me via facebook after I bombarded my profile with trans-related news stories. I hate to say it, but I’m aligning myself with the philosophy of Harvey Milk: we must come out and share our stories with the world if ever we hope to make it better. Milk is famous for saying:

Gay brothers and sisters,... You must come out. Come out... to your parents... I
know that it is hard and will hurt them but think about how they will hurt you
in the voting booth! Come out to your relatives... come out to your friends...
if indeed they are your friends. Come out to your neighbors... to your fellow
workers... to the people who work where you eat and shop... come out only to the
people you know, and who know you. Not to anyone else. But once and for all,
break down the myths, destroy the lies and distortions. For your sake. For their
sake. For the sake of the youngsters who are becoming scared by the votes from
Dade to Eugene.

While I’m still of the mind that all of us should be able to live our lives in peace, only sharing what we choose about ourselves, I likewise believe we shouldn’t have to hide away and stifle our spirits. In the ideal world the burden of educating the public about transgender people/issues and constructing solutions would not fall on our shoulders. Fact of the matter is it does, and in any case what would the alternative be? People ignorant of our life stories define us for ourselves? As Audrey Lorde said, “If I didn't define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people's fantasies for me and eaten alive.” If you’ve never had the chance to read Lorde’s writing I highly recommend her. So inspiring are her words that I’m tempted to end this post with a list of her quotes. Instead, I’ll leave you with two thoughts: “Even the smallest victory is never to be taken for granted. Each victory must be applauded,” and “When we speak we are afraid our words will not be heard or welcomed. But when we are silent, we are still afraid. So it is better to speak.”