Friday, July 31, 2009

The Mars Bar

I’m still a little bit drunk as I compose this post; hopefully that won’t make too much of an impact on the cohesiveness or the coherence of anything. In any case, I’m going to keep this short. The reason I’m drunk, in case you were curious, is because I went out to the Mars Bar, the only gay bar in all of Adelaide! Tonight I was accompanied by a couple of friends from my lab, and what was particularly special about tonight (aside from it being my introduction to the Adelaide LGBTQ community) was that it was the first drag show one of my friends had ever seen. The bar (or club) was a fairly unique scene for me, as well: Pullman and Cruces didn’t exactly have gay bars—and the venues they did have didn’t really come equipped with strobe lights, lasers, etc. Before and after the drag performances I was taken to the dance floor by my friend and together we danced like a couple of silly white people with scarcely any rhythm or style; meanwhile all around us couples and groups danced, and every so often I’d see a girl dancing with herself (but not in that cool Billy Idol way) and I would be tempted to ask her to dance. I never did, though. I couldn’t get up the guts to ask anyone (Aside from my friend...and that’s fine. We had an excellent time).

The drag show itself was something completely unreal. All the drag shows I’ve been to, each queen did her own routine solo, and the drag queens rotated throughout the course of the night. Here, they all performed more or less at the same time—it was all one elaborate show, all the drag queens performing side-by-side (with moments when some would be off-stage doing costume changes). And the drag queens themselves—damn—they were gorgeous! I suggest you check them out at (granted, these photos aren’t of all the drag queens I saw tonight, and they certainly don’t do anyone justice). At the end of the night I was talking to my friend about another friend of mine who happens to be a drag queen. This person told me once that they feel more themselves as their drag persona. As I was telling my friend this story, an interesting thought occurred to me: delving into another gender role is liberating as it allows us to be free to explore and experience that which we otherwise would not.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Balancing Act

I was just about to write this excellent piece about gender expression, leading up to an announcement the I’m going to Taboo Haircutters on Saturday for a make-up appointment, but I just realized I essentially did this approximately a week ago in my post “The Essence of Queer.” That’s a bummer. Well...damn, what am I going to write about now? Well, there’s always one of those topics I mentioned in the comments section of Lori’s blog...

Lori recently wrote about Isis King distancing herself from the trans community, and it got me thinking about this delicate balance between being a trans woman and simply being a woman. Generally I like to think (and more than publically suggest) that the two categories are not mutually exclusive—and really, they are not. Being a trans woman doesn’t invalidate being a woman any more than other descriptors might; the word “trans” simply qualifies an aspect of our gender. That said, the social perception is that we must choose one over the other, and, indeed, there is ample pressure to want to be plain Jane women. Let’s face it; being trans really sucks from time to time: it makes finding a date much more difficult than it otherwise would be, we face huge legal obstacles, we have to worry about whether or not any given masculine trait might unravel our gender, etc. I know there have been moments I wanted to leave all that trans-baggage behind.

When I was preparing to come to Australia I often toyed with the idea of going Stealth. Hey, it’s a new country, no one knows me here—it’s the perfect opportunity to finally shed the trans skin and just blend it—well, blend in as well as a 6’2” girl with copious tattoos can. I actually decided to go along with this plan for a bit, and for the first couple weeks it was remarkably easy to “not be trans.” But this wasn’t a result of consciously going stealth; rather, I just didn’t have time to think about my gender (or even my sexual) identity. The thing is, I couldn’t “outrun” my own past, Facebook saw to that quite effectively. Even without Facebook, though, any Google search for my name brings up hits from the Seattle Gay News, this blog, transgender-related reports in the Daily Evergreen—even interviews with the Pullman-Moscow Daily News in which I discuss being transsexual (which you can read, too, assuming you type in the correct search phrase and feel like paying the subscription fee to read the news paper online). Point is, it wasn’t long before I found myself wondering who all knew what about me—people in my new lab obviously knew I was gay (as I really don’t try to hide that at all; it’s scarcely under the surface at all), but I wasn’t aware if they knew about the big T. Assuming they knew, I started telling one of them about my hometown, and about Trinidad—and, in passing, that Trinidad is where I had “my surgery.”

I don’t think every trans person will have this same pull back into the world of T, but it is inevitable that aspects of their trans past/identity will turn up every now and again. As for me, I cannot live without the trans community—I can’t seem to help myself from talking about trans identity and issues. Recently I found out that a program exists in Adelaide called Bfriend that is designed to help those questioning their sexual orientation or gender and provide support and resources for those wanting to come out and/or become more active in the community. Through Bfriend I learned about transgender dinners and clubs, lesbian dinners, and—most importantly—opportunities to volunteer to become a mentor to someone questioning or considering coming out. The important thing to remember is balance: we do ourselves no favours to live entirely as trans when we transitioned to be men or women, and we likewise limit ourselves if we hop into stealth the moment we achieve passability (or whatever standard of complete transition we are hoping to achieve). As I said at the beginning of this blog, I will soon be going to Taboo to get a little bit of a make-over, something of which I’m learning not to be ashamed or embarrassed. This is my little way of claiming a square yard of femininity—a miniature escape to simply be a fucking girl.

Rethinking Hate Crime Legislation

When Allen Andrade was on trial for the murder of Angie Zapata I was stuck at home sick—I was downing codeine-laced cough syrup like there was no tomorrow and, despite all the throat lozenges I sucked, I scarcely had any semblance of a voice. None of this stopped me from leaping up to scream a mixture of emotions at the guilty verdict. At that moment I was extremely happy that finally, Angie had justice—her murderer would never again see the outside world, and what’s better he had been found guilty of a hate crime in the face of a “Trans Panic” defence; I felt hope this conviction would set a precedent for future trials, give hope to the families of other victims that there might still be justice in this world. I felt angry. Angry that even now a life in prison seemed too generous, considering what this man did to Angie—my thoughts flashed back to Gwen and Brandon, to Duanna—to all the unnamed victims. I thought of how these people, my “family,” were brutalized in the most inhuman of ways. Suddenly our messed up justice system seemed too good for their murderers. Last, I felt profound depression. This conviction didn’t bring Angie back; none of this so-called justice can undo what’s been done. We have lost so many lives—so many who were really just at the beginnings of life. In the face of the loss, what we call “justice” seems to have very little meaning.

This last emotion aside, however, I’ve consistently been an advocate for hate crime laws, even playing my own little role in the passage of the trans-inclusive hate crime bill in Washington State. The theory behind hate crime laws is simple enough to follow. On one level, these laws are about getting justice for the victims, the vast majority of whom belong to marginalized and oppressed communities. In terms of federal hate crime laws, federal agencies and recourses can be used to investigate hate crimes in instances where local law enforcements agencies either don’t have the resources or the will to investigate and/or pursue prosecution. Hate crime laws also come with enhanced punishments, which are very important for two reasons. First, in the cases of anti-transgender hate crimes, the defendants often are able to get lesser sentences with plea bargains and the employment of the “Trans Panic” defence. Many of these defendants get off with mere slaps on the wrist for committing incredibly heinous murders; enhanced punishments would correct some of this imbalance. The second reason for enhanced punishments is directed at the enhanced nature of a hate crime. The most common argument I hear against hate crime legislation (aside from that it will be used to silence religious institutions) is that it created a different standard of justice. After all, “all murders are hate crimes” and establishing this system offers preferred protection over others. Of course this is nonsense; hate crimes have further reaching effects than just to the immediate victim. Hate crimes target entire populations—a population that, as I already said, is more often than not already marginalized and oppressed. Hate crimes at this rate amount to terrorism. So hate crime laws often come with enhanced punishments attached, as, in theory, punishment fits the crime and greater punishments are necessary for the atonement of greater crimes. Hate crimes are most certainly greater crimes.

These were the sorts of arguments I had grown used to using as a response for any opposition to hate crime laws, and all of this opposition was invariably coming out of privileged heterosexual cis males of the conservative religious variety. Imagine my surprise this week when I see members of the queer community (of all socio-economic/political backgrounds) arguing against hate crime laws! Well damn, this was just unexpected. I first noticed the shouts of protest on Bilerico ( but quickly travelled to other sites ( and that showed me how old this queer opposition is. All these sites make some very interesting points, all of which I feel are extremely important to consider in the debate over hate crime legislation. The first, possibly most, important argument stems from the historic systematic oppression of people of colour and people in the LGBTQ community at the hands of the “justice” system. We don’t have to look any further than the treatment Duanna Johnson received at the hands of the Memphis police or the recent arrest of Prof. Henry Louis Gates Jr. for evidence of the justice system’s corruption. But reading the Sylvia River Law Project’s discussion of LGBT people being arrested for simply defending themselves against hate crimes, it becomes clear that enhanced penalties of hate crimes could be used to target the very people they’re supposed to be protecting. Once imprisoned, trans people are open to whole new levels of brute cruelty the likes of which I cannot begin to fathom. Our criminal justice system is broken, and the arguments of the SRLP must be taken into account, lest we exacerbate the problem by breading more violence, hatred and oppression. The letter from the SRLP has caused me to pause and examine my own motivations and assumptions. In the past I’ve been fine with allowing my vengeful side to rear its ugly head whenever hate crimes came up. During Andrade’s trial I sat, sick in my bedroom uttering curses against the man, hoping the bastard would fucking suffer for what he did. I would have been fine if the man had been brutally tortured and, were I honest with myself, I would have openly admitted that I hated the man for what he did to Angie Zapata. This visceral reaction is understandable, maybe even warranted on some level—but at some point we have to break the cycle of violence. I know this as a pacifist, and as an advocate for peace: the ethics of the superego demand more of us. This is the crossroad we are at; this is what makes the debate so much more of a headache: we can accept that our justice system is broken and we can argue that enhanced punishment and stronger laws pose more of a threat to our community than a protection, but at the end of the discussion we are left with the very sobering question of what to do with those who do commit hate crimes. Even if we put all our efforts into prevention and education, and even if we score complete non-discrimination legal protection, hate crimes will still be a part of our reality, and they will not go away, just as racism and sexism have not gone away. There has to be consequence for action; there has to be punishment for crime.
I’m far from comfortable with this issue; there has to be justice for the victims of hate crimes, I just don’t know what this justice looks like anymore. I’m reminded of Sylvia Guerrero’s statements after the death of her daughter, Gwen:

No amount of justice can return the part of me that these men took when they killed Gwen. The closure that people keep talking about hasn't come. It would be so much easier to write that it had. After all, that is what most people want to read: The system worked; my family is whole; the story is over. It would be comforting and allow us to get on with our lives. Of the many things I'm feeling, closure isn't one of them.
Maybe the reason I don't have closure around Gwen's death is that there is still work to do. If I've learned anything since Gwen's murder, it is that hope alone is not enough. Each of us who hopes to live in a state where our families are protected needs to work toward making California that place. For instance, boys and girls in schools throughout the Bay Area need to hear, firsthand, how important it is to be themselves and to respect each other's differences.

After her daughter’s death, Sylvia Guerrero became an advocate for transgender rights and frequently visits schools to raise awareness and understanding of transgender issues and lives. I am aware that no amount of education and sharing will prevent all hate crimes, but I also strongly believe the best way to fight ignorance and bigotry is to come out and share our stories. Maybe this is what justice looks like.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Essence of Queer

Oh, the adventures in Australia I have yet to write about: the disturbing public art, the horrifically racist money, the plethora of awesome internationals I’m meeting…but none of these are making the blog tonight. This piece is about one word: Reinvention. But first I apologize; I’ve not been updating this blog recently for two major reasons: 1) I’ve been damn busy with orientation at the university and 2) I really haven’t even thought about anything trans-related since arriving in Australia. It’s not that I don’t think I should refrain from sharing the vast non-trans aspects of my life with you, rather for a blog titled “The Trans Configuration,” it feels weird to diverge from the subject for too long. But not thinking about trans issues kind of makes updates difficult. What’s worse is there has been a lot of activity in the trans world: the murderer of Lateisha Green was found guilty of manslaughter as a hate crime (should have been murder), and the hate crimes bill was attached to the DoD bill—the significance of which will soon enough play out. I’m sure I’m missing other news; it’s not that these stories aren’t important…I just haven’t been as invested in the world of trans (or queer) issues lately. This has been strangely refreshing for me, as it’s opened up time for reading science again, like I used to in high school. Déjà vu.

Alright then, onwards we go. Earlier today I was listening to the awesomeness and brilliance/idiocy of Alix Olson—give her music/poetry/musical-poetry a listen, you may develop the same love/hate relationship with her I have. In a world that alienates, rapes and abuses the queer community, women, and anyone outside the status quo, her words are filled with the necessary venom and bile to fight back; her indignation is righteous…then again, she also loves to refer to God as a woman (as in mother-goddess culture) and uses the word “herstory” instead of “history”—it’s the same kind of thing as spelling women with a “y”—it’s just poor literacy. Enough of that, though, this isn’t necessarily about her poetry. Alix Olson reminds me so much of the militaristic dyke-genderqueer-purely-for-political-reasons (i.e. genderfuck confusing itself for genderqueer) group that, to the best of my knowledge, is still so prominent in the GLBTA organization up at Washington State University—and not that their specific gender identity (or lack thereof) isn’t fine and good, I just tend to remember how much these specific people promoted a subtle, quiet version of transphobia and anti-feminine sentiment. I generally don’t have problems with militaristic genderfuck dyke feminism; no, the problems only arise when they denigrate desire to be feminine or suggest that gender doesn’t exist. Oh yeah, no bitterness here.

Today on Postsecret I read a postcard that said, “I might say I don’t wear makeup because I believe it objectifies women…But I’m really just cheap & lazy.” The rub of femininity in second-waver feminism, to which my genderfuck “friends” cleaved, is a false assumption that all the traditional feminine exercises are propagations of the objectification of women—everything from makeup to socialized behaviors is assumed synonymous with efforts to attract and serve men; hence the enigma (or assumed hypocrisy?) of the lipstick lesbian. Ha. A balance between conforming to what society tells you if chic or sexy, and what you want to do with your own fucking body for your own damn self-gratification (oh, you know you love the sudden vulgarity).

I’ve been considering trying on a more feminine gender expression for some time now (as anyone who has read this blog for a while may know), and now I actually have the perfect opportunity to do just that: here in Adelaide there is a place called Taboo Haircutters—they specifically advertise an expertise in consulting with their customers, then crafting a style that meets the customer’s personality, style, and flatters their physical features; best yet, they do full-blown make-overs (well, makeup and hair makeovers). It’s that whole bit about flattering one’s own physical features that peaked my curiosity, because I have no idea what that even means. Does that mean they want to make their clients fit society’s mold for beauty? If so their marketing strategy is equal parts brilliant and fucked up. All the same, I’m thinking this is a perfect opportunity for me to run some fabulous experiments. Not only is this an easy way to try out a more feminine expression, but now I run the experiment of what this taboo place will do with the likes of me: a tattooed queer trans woman looking for the tomboy-feminine. It’s a reinvention not only of the self, but also of the very meaning of femininity; deriving strength from something that’s supposed to be weak and utilizing something that’s supposed to be a ploy for attracting men for something completely non-sexual—something completely non-straight. I’m queering…I don’t know what. As a trans woman I’m entering a conformist’s territory, but as a queer tattooed girl I’m breaking with the status quo. But that’s the beauty of this all: once you start living life on your terms you do away with the status quo and enter the essence of Queer.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Reality Settles In

I’ve been in Adelaide for about half a week now—it scarcely feels like more than a handful of days to me, though. I assume the jet lag and culture shock will fade away soon enough, but for the moment it’s very tiring. I’m sure you’ve noticed this blog (and my last blog) have nothing to do with transgender/lgbt topics, and this is simply because being in Australia has literally turned my world upside down. Adjusting to this new environment is currently taking up all my time, so understandably I do not have a lot of motivation to write about various trans-related things (like the new “cis” debate that evidently erupted over at Pam’s House Blend). Instead of the usual trans topics, I’m writing about my experiences here in Adelaide, adjusting and coping with being a fish out of water.

Yesterday was actually a major day for me. I made a simple trip down to the uni to meet my graduate studies supervisor and came back completely weighed down with terror. I guess this meeting was like the sneak peek of the roller coaster track you get after that initial uphill climb. Seems my roller cart is about to dip down over that first summit. I’m wondering if it’s common that beginning PhD students get this overwhelming feeling of stress, terror and doubt as they commence their programs. I’m finding myself wondering if I’m ready for PhD work, if I’m actually ready to put in all that work—am I smart enough, dedicated enough—am I motivated enough for this? The reality that, for the moment, I am completely alone here is starting to sink in, and part of me is tempted to start looking for an escape route. Obviously, I’m stuck here for a while. Too much has gone into this venture to pull out of it before it even begins. I hate the stress is getting to me even now—weeks before my first semester even commences.

Here’s hoping my next post is more optimistic.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Arrival in Adelaide!

After eighteen hours of flight time and three days (or two days, as time zones queer my perception of the flow of time) of continuous travel, I finally made it to the beautiful city of Adelaide! Right now everything from my mid back through my neck is stiff and in horrible pain (on account of essentially sleeping in a tin can—er, I mean airplane), and I am suffering from a killer case of jet lag (is today Thursday, Friday or Saturday, and why am I about to pass out from exhaustion at 6pm? And is it 6pm or is it more like 2 am?) Thus is the price of traveling across oceans, continents, and hemispheres, from the land up north and east to the upside-down world of the south and the west. And so far, Adelaide is a bit of a mixture of different experiences—good and bad.

Adelaide, I’m finding, is difficult to describe. It has vibes of Paris, Tucson, and Portland, all while maintaining it’s own unique style. On my first day here (yesterday) I took a trip to the Rundle Mall for some shopping—this mall is intense. It takes up the space of a few blocks and has shops on the street as well as covered in a multi-leveled building. Here I found all sorts of fashion stores (including some banal, yet recognizable shops like Target), and all around there were people of every walk of life: punky teenagers, emo kids, chic looking professionals, school girls (and boys), etc. As far as pricing is concerned I cannot tell if things are expensive or not, mostly due to my lack of familiarity with the conversion between US and Australian. I know things like soda are major rip offs, and even a lot of the food seems over-priced. I’m also noticing that I’ve taken simple pleasures such as free café internet or even unlimited internet for granted. Here, everything seems to cost you: internet is $39/month for 10GB—I have no frigging clue what, exactly, this means. How many Youtube video views is that? How much time on Skype? How many emails is this? It’s all rubbish to me.

Good news is there are some cheaper places for food. The Central Market—just a 5 minute walk from my townhouse—has an extensive plethora of foods from across the world! And it’s all relatively inexpensive (from what I can tell). I just had a banana from the market and it was probably the best phallic fruit I’ve ever tasted. Thing about Aussie markets is that they essentially require you to buy a reusable shopping bag (easily purchased for $1)—this is enforced via a 15 cent charge on all plastic bags. I think it’s pretty brilliant; the folks here in Adelaide are very concerned about being green. There are free busses and trams, both of which I’ve taken and are exceedingly convenient.

So far, I’ve only been to Rundle Mall, the Central Market, and Victoria Square. The Rundle Mall, famous for the silver balls (google it) I’ve already discussed. Both the mall and the market remind me a lot of downtown Portland and the Paris street markets respectively. Both are THE places to go for shopping and both are within a mile of my house (easily in walking distance, but given the rain and chilly winds Adelaide has been having, I’ve been taking the tram to get to the mall). Victoria Square features an amazing fountain along with several statues (the only one I’ve made out featured Queen Victoria…she’s a fascinating sheila, no doubt about that).
All is not entirely wonderful in Adelaide—everything is a bit pricier than I had hoped it would be, and my room in the townhouse isn’t as wonderful/comfortable as I’d like. The shower sucks, the laundry fees are a fortune, I’m lonely, etc. But focusing more on the positive, I’m finding that what people I have run into here are all very friendly. For instance one of my housemates today made me a cup of amazing coffee and helped set me up on the internet—he just offered to do these things without any prompting. I’m blown away by people’s kindness here. I haven’t even thought about being queer or trans here—it hasn’t come up, either in my mind or in conversation. It’s a strangely liberating feeling. And how perfect is it that I finally feel this terrifying sense of freedom on the 4th of July?

Random Aussie Awesomeness:

1)The first Harry Potter is titled “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone” here

2)Rugby and Bacci Ball are on the tele right now

3)People have gorgeous accents

4)It is winter right now and the temps are around 16 degrees (that’s about 50 for you American folks!)

5)American shows are strangely prevalent here

6)There are shows here devoted entirely to mocking the US

7)I cannot tell which way the toilets flush because instead of a circular flush all the water just seems to get sucked straight on out. Sorry.

8)The currency is gorgeous—lots of pretty coinage in all sorts of sizes and weights. The bills are colorful and crisp, feel like a thick rice paper, and have clear plastic windows in their corners. Each bill also has different people on it. The $50 has Edith Cowar on one side and David Unaipon on the other. I have no clue who these people are. The 20 cent coin has Elizabeth II on one side and a platypus on the other.