Archive for June, 2012

June 25, 2012

“do you think, because i am poor, obscure, plain, and little, i am soulless and heartless?”

Conventionality is not morality. Self-righteousness is not religion. To attack the first is not to assail the last. -C. Bronte, from the preface to Jane Eyre

reader, i will be on hiatus for a while to deal with important personal needs…so unless something seriously major pops up or i end up fighting writer’s block by blogging, which does occasionally happen, i’ll be off the intercats for a bit, and this post is a bit of a follow-on to my last one, so you’re not getting anything truly new and ground-breaking. also, Charlotte Brontë, wherever you are, thank you so much for existing…i bet you probably never would have imagined a creature such as i, and yet i think one of your books helped me through the darkest places in my life…you, Emily Shore, and Eva Gore-Booth.

about trans spaces and inclusion…and why “stop criticizing and make your own space” is silencing
one common silencing tactic in dealing with the criticism of the iron fist the local support cabal keeps on the “trans community” is “well, Erica, make your own space!”  yeah, sorry, that’s a separate but equal argument. it’s like saying that “well, Erica, they won’t let you drink at their nice water fountain, so you use the hose out back.” it might be my bitterness here but i remember how that worked out for my grandparents…add in that when nobody knows who you are, you’re going to have a very hard time competing with an established group of people who allegedly already fill that role where you live. i know some of you mean well, but even well-meaning silencing is silencing, and the reality is that a competing group would not be able to have the access to resources, connections, and, oh yeah, space to meet in. add in that i am decidedly not a leader and given that the issue involving the established group is their inability to accept difference, not nonexistence entirely, and it’s just not a workable solution. if it were, wouldn’t someone else have started it? plenty of other people have shared being unwelcome with this “support” cabal, so it’s not like my experience is all that unique…these tales are told in private, though, for you must not question things in public.

i know you mean well with this one, but the dominant and oppressive institution needs to stop being oppressive and people need to stand up to it rather than handing me a garden hose and telling me my half-colored ass can go around back because maybe there’s a tap there. don’t do that…we both deserve better and the solution isn’t trying to duplicate a resource that sucks up money and claims to represent the community, it’s to make that resource actually serve the damn community.

community and ‘where do we go from here’
well, we certainly talked about what next and people do have some ideas about what an inclusive community would look like. the problem is: this is still a far-off utopia for most of us, and the trouble with utopia is that its literal meaning in Greek…”no place.” (Sir Thomas More was quite the wit.) i feel like the reality is that community must take many forms, from starting your own group if there’s no group where you live and you want one to online communities to reforming transfundamentalist dominance of institutions that work to oppress people who don’t match their vision of who is and isn’t trans. also, part of building this community is freeing up information and that matters, too. when information is controlled by anyone, friend or foe, transfundamentalist or not, and then used as a bargaining chip or for personal gain, it hurts us all. if you won’t volunteer the name of a doctor who treats trans women, a fairly rare resource in many places, when asked, ask yourself why you’re not doing that…ask yourself what the gain is in keeping that information to yourself.

to see a fine example of someone who is an information-sharing rockstar, check out Catherine’s tumblr for lists of informed consent providers and the like. now, of course, someone claiming to be informed consent doesn’t mean they actually *are*, they might be informed consent for some but not all, but she does a great job. this is what we need more of; the willingness to share information to make each other stronger is a huge part of building an inclusive community the same way that transfundamentalists who hoard information use their position to keep community exclusive because of their fears and self-loathing. information is power, and when shared, we all benefit.

(ps: if you can get to Santa Cruz, CA, Dr. Jennifer Hastings is really amazing.)

politics and community-building, or ‘inclusion means inclusion’
uh, this is nice and easy. i don’t give a shit what your politics are outside trans space. inside trans space, you need to be polite, respectful, and inclusive.

in other words, if you’re “uncomfortable with feminists,” you “hate all Republicans,” or you think Tori Amos should be canonized as a saint, that’s lovely, but you need to leave your willingness to damage other people for your political ends at the door. respect and inclusion are not partisan values, or at least they shouldn’t be…some people can’t seem to figure that out. taking out your issues on other trans people, again, just weakens us all. i don’t give a hot fuck what corridor you voiced your identity in or who you voted for in the last election if you’re willing to work toward better outcomes for us all. i similarly don’t care if you don’t think this is possible, as people accomplish lots of things in this big green world without politics and it shouldn’t be any different just because we’re trans.

if your politics mean you can’t respect a safe space, the identities of others, the basic ability to be polite, or including all trans people, then you’re blaming your own personal fear and self-loathing on your politics. i mean, i hate myself too, so i know where you’re coming from, but i don’t use that to justify hating other people. i dunno, i just hope maybe someday neither of us will hate ourselves either way?

‘maybe you should just move’
yeah, no, sorry, this is not a solution at all. people are tied to where they are for any number of reasons, from where they can afford to live to where their family is to the fact that moving is expensive and no guarantee of success. i relocated to get closer to a place where i felt like there would be more opportunities for me to be out as being trans and fell back in with the same culture i dealt with in small-town New England, and i can tell you that you shouldn’t move because you’re told you can’t be queer where you are. yes, i needed to get away from the environment i was living in, but no, i did not get any additional freedom to come out as trans, which was one of the basic reasons behind my moving in the first place. i still live with isolation and a pass-or-die environment, i still live in poverty and did not succeed in becoming upwardly mobile because there were “more opportunities.” yeah, my poverty has become less crushing, and yes, i live in a place where the economic conditions are not as bad, so i moved up…

…but i failed horribly in the idea that i would find other trans people and not be isolated anymore. i tried the support group. i tried the livejournal community for queers here. i got nowhere, and fell right back in with an entirely new set of dykes who were the same dykes i was around through college and beyond…just different people. i’ve been pretty successful making friends with all sorts of people here. the trouble, though, is that i moved to not be isolated as a trans woman anymore, and that totally didn’t work. i want to be able to not live in isolation, i thought moving would change that, and i was very wrong.  if you want to move for whatever reason that is a good one (better job, more friends there, escaping a bad living sitch) do it, but don’t believe that being rural and queer means you have to move.

(major props to the Rural Queer Project, by the way. check ’em out if you’re rural and queer, they’re building just such a community.)

maybe you really are doing it wrong
…didn’t they say this to women when we sought the vote? how about driver’s licenses, equality under the law, careers outside the home…yeah, actually they did. i, as an American, have the right to my own independence because of these women, and there are analogous women in many countries who have fought for similar rights. in some countries, our sisters are still fighting; in others, they’ve come much farther than the failings of the United States in terms of womens’ rights. scoffing that maybe we’re doing it wrong when it comes to fighting for our same basic rights as queers? perhaps you want to be known as a naysayer by history, like the newspaper headline we once mocked in Women’s Studies, the one where the Oneida Whig trumpeted its disgust for the Seneca Falls resolutions: “This bolt is the most shocking and unnatural incident ever recorded in the history of womanity. If our ladies will insist on voting and legislating, where, gentleman, will be our dinners and our elbows? Where our domestic firesides and the holes in our stockings??”

and yes, i was a Women’s and Gender Studies minor, though it’s now called Gender, Sexuality, and Culture at the college i went to.  a century and change after Seneca Falls, society hasn’t collapsed, people are still getting their dinner…and i think i’m the only person i know who can darn holes in a stocking.

reader, i’ll see you in a little over a month for sure, and maybe a little sooner if the desire strikes me. until then, i leave you with a little more Jane Eyre, namely a quote which is what my next tattoo is going to say…I am no bird, and no net ensnares me; I am a free human being with an independent will.. (and yes, i know it ends with …which i now exert to leave you but that’s not good tattoo material nor the message i want to send!)

June 15, 2012

a book review: Brian Katcher’s “Almost Perfect”

“Erica, Erica…have you read this book?”
“uh, no. been kinda busy lately actually…last four years or so, really.”
“But it’s about this trans girl in high school and this guy who falls in love with her…”
(Erica lets out a long, drawn-out sigh) “…so how bad was it?”

this review contains SPOILERS for the above book. if you want to know what happens, keep reading. if not, here’s a bunch of pictures of wombats. wombats are adorable!

okay so let me put it out there: while i did not dislike this book, it ends on a very conflicted note, and the author definitely wraps up the story arc way too fast and the end result is a little clumsy. i don’t like how the book ended because while i am not SO picky that you have to end up going into the sunset together and happy, the reality is that the book ends on an unclear note as to whether or not a person who is clearly happier and better off as a girl has purged, and that’s kind of creepypants. i know it happens but do books always have to end with “trans antagonist/protagonist gets screwed?” it’s kind of a theme in YA fiction, as a lot of early queer YA books that dealt with teenage same-gender lovers did. people remember Annie On My Mind for a reason, and believe you me as a gay teenager that book was not exactly holding up hope.

anyways, the book comes from the POV of Logan, a cis straight kid from a small town in Missouri…so small that Columbia, not far afield, is the Big City. Logan is getting over a bad breakup with Brenda, and in a small town breakups kind of are tricky…it’s had to avoid each other in a small beehive. not too far into the book, enter Sage Hendricks, a tall, large-handed, husky-voiced girl who he falls in love with. and, well, since you already know why i’m reviewing this book, you probably have figured out that there’s something about Sage: she’s trans.

Sage generally isn’t a caricature, and you can tell Katcher really tried to keep her as humanized as possible. her family is not too happy that she’s trans, and she is definitely portrayed much more sympathetically than her emotionally dead mother or abusive, engendering father. for example, Katcher gets it right that when you haven’t changed your ID, or if you can’t change your ID, getting carded really can be the end of the world, and his sensitivity to issues of documentation is pretty neat. that said, this is Logan’s book, and Logan screws up pretty bad in terms of how he takes Sage coming out, but i’ve seen/heard of guys doing stuff like that exactly and then come around, as Dylan does. this is where i point something out: i’d have an easier time reviewing this book had it come from Sage’s POV, rather than Sage being this mysterious person with the double-whammy of being mysterious as both trans AND a girl in Logan’s eyes. and you know what? i’m okay with how this book was written, but i know a lot more about being like Sage than i do about Logan. i know the reality of pass-or-die life in school, i know about how weird it feels to be  the exception, and i definitely know about doing the move far away to get rid of everyone who knew you before thing, as my family totally did that, and i know something about parental shame…most of my mother’s was over my appearance and sexuality, not my transness, but it still makes me feel so vulnerable about these things to this day.

at least one other review bitched about how Sage came out to Logan, and i really want to stick up for this because i think when i was a teenager i did exactly this a couple of times: “I…” She swallowed, took a deep breath, and closed her eyes. “I’m a boy.”  alright, not exactly perfect in terms of how we present ourselves as adults but this is a book about teenagers and i know damn well i told my first few girlfriends what i was pretty much like this. let’s talk about the book’s good and bad and not seize on this, mmmkay? it’s not exactly easy to explain something you barely have words for when you’re a teenager…add in being trans and there’s often not even words that the other person would explain, and you say things like that.

the bad parts: Katcher goes a little too close to stereotype and lurid detail in dealing with Sage. the latter, well, the book was told from the POV of a teenage boy. i’ve never been a teenage boy, but i’m gonna assume that they’re probably into lurid detail since after all i really remember how much i thought about sex and the bodies of other girls as a teenager and i think maybe i probably would have been as bad. i also don’t like his proclamation against self-medication…sorry, dude, most teenage trans people only have self-medication as a choice. if you don’t like it, you fight the cis medical orthodoxy that says this, Mr. Katcher, and i’ll fight the trans orthodoxies that erase and trouble from within the trans community. also, there’s violence, because, well, it’s too common, and that violence ends up being the keystone to Sage’s crisis toward the end of the book.  Sage gets a very murky ending, not a bad one, but not one that made me smile or would give anyone hope, and that’s kind of troubling for me. i know it’s only a book but at the same time…trans kids out there could use something positive that affirms their humanity in their proper gender and nothing thus far has done so. i feel like this might seem a little whiny but at the same time please understand how weird it was growing up with no books about people like me and well maybe a couple of dyke “young love” books that weren’t that great in their endings either.

Logan ends up being a pretty cool dude, actually. he starts out kind of troubled but learns to accept, and even love, Sage. he stands up to Sage’s family when they’re bad to her, and though he and Sage end up not together in the end, he understands why and moves on and he gets the happy ending.  i think Logan was definitely supposed to be the nice sympathetic dude type and that’s fine. Logan is the kind of guy i would have been friends with in high school…one of the other poor kids, not pretentious or obsessed, but worried about his image almost as much as he worries about the people he cares about. i think in spite of some words he said the boy wised up and deserved his happy ending but i am one of those saps who identifies with people in books.

so Almost Perfect isn’t almost perfect at all, corny as that sounds. it’s a powerful, flawed, and intense read. i don’t think it’s good for transish teenagers because it presents Sage in sort of a tragic light that i really don’t think is good for someone dealing with it, though admittedly in hindsight i had a lot of “oh god that was me!” moments with this book and that was kind of tricky for me because it made it a lot more intense. proceed with appropriate caution and be appropriately forewarned but i think it’s a book worth reading.

maybe next time i’ll take apart Annie On My Mind since i keep referring to it here.

June 13, 2012

dear traditional values coalition: i am Mary and i do teach your kids.

so the “Traditional Values Coalition”, an anti-queer right-wing hate group with a long history of lying, has sent out an email to its supporters trying to raise money to stop the US ENDA, aka the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, a set of legal protections for queers which would bring the United States closer to the protections enjoyed by queers in many other countries. so far it’s inclusive of trans people, and given the mess Barney Frank, an openly gay man who’s generally been an enemy of trans women (wonder why we don’t trust you, cis gays?) and the HRC got in for trying to throw us off the bus previously, i expect it to stay that way. i also don’t expect it to pass, but a girl’s gotta dream. anyways, this email is [TW: transphobia] casting trans women in a negative light, playing to stereotype, and saying that if ENDA passes, we’ll be teaching your kids.

guess what? i’m Erica, i’m a trans woman, and i already do teach your kids. while teaching is not my primary vocation, i’ve been a public school teacher, a private tutor, a nursery school teacher, and also a nanny. trouble is, my picture wouldn’t carry shock value…doe-eyed chubby butch girls really don’t carry a lot of danger in the minds of the American sheeple anymore, since through the media lesbians have been rebranded enough that we don’t form much threat…but once upon a time, it was indeed all “homosexuals” who were branded a threat when teaching America’s youth. Proposition 6, also known as the Briggs Initiative, was a 1978 proposal which tried to ban queer teachers in California. thanks to Harvey Milk and resistance from politicians like Ronald Reagan (whose editorial against the measure in the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner is a thing of beauty to this day), Proposition 6 lost by a margin of nearly 17 points; every county from tip to tail along the California coast, from liberal San Francisco to conservative Orange, voted no. it wasn’t that long ago that there was an open war on gays teaching kids in a fairly liberal state in the US…for some time Oklahoma and Arkansas also banned all queers who professed or were known to have same-gender attraction from teaching.

but let’s get back to the “Traditional Values Coalition” and their new trick, something so odiously transphobic it got the HRC to stand up against it without the usual months of hemming and hawing it takes the HRC to ponder trans issues. needless to say they’re playing on a fear of a trans woman who doesn’t “pass” while begging for funds to oppose ENDA. while a group like the “TVC” hates all queers, they’re actually playing into something a number of cis queers use: the idea that trans women somehow are the lowest rung of queer society and represent the easiest point of attack, and then throwing your children into the mix of who is apparently threatened. the “TVC” is thus mixing up a number of social phobias and embodying them in a theoretical trans woman schoolteacher. i’m the reality of a trans woman schoolteacher, but given that Mary (if she actually existed, which she doesn’t, as she’s a “TVC” flunky with beard shadow and a cheap wig) should damn well be able to teach school if she’s good enough at it to merit the position, it’s important to tackle this the right way.

Mary is designed as a figure that one is supposed to fear for four reasons: she’s trans, she doesn’t “pass”, she is not especially beautiful, and she’s working with your kids. i don’t think anyone has ever shown conclusively that  being trans is somehow a communicable condition. despite all the wisecracks i can make about anime conventions and women’s colleges, those institutions attract people who are already trans whether or not they know it, and seeing other trans people and realizing that transition is possible is merely spreading that you can be trans and be a whole person. i talk about this, um, a lot. i have a pretty good life aside from the things you’ve heard me bitch about before and despite my social class and prospective placement in life that stems from it, i’m having a pretty damn good time…the disconnection from community sucks but it’s not something i foresee a fix for in the near future so i gotta keep living, i suppose.

“passing” is so tired but it’s the crux of what this emailed plea for funds uses for shock value, and that’s kind of why it needs to be addressed. what the whole thing ignores is the inconvenient fact that plenty of cis people don’t really constantly pass as their assigned gender on a consistent basis. however, with cis people this isn’t used to subject them to the same kind of ridicule, often treated as a small and harmless joke rather than used to degender and thus dehumanize them systematically. the elevated importance placed on “passing” bears an entry of its own.

“beauty” is also beyond tired. if you’ve taught in a public school you know that maybe 10% of the women are “beautiful” in the Caucasian-patriarchal western sense. public school is hard on you in body, mind, and spirit, and there’s no easy way around this fact. it’s not a place you can maintain this ridiculous beauty standard even if you were born into it or bought into it. so playing beauty games is gynophobic anyways, since all the “beauty standard” consists of is the boot of patriarchy stomping on women, but playing it with a public school employee is preposterous. do you know how much unpaid work one does?

finally, access to your children. yeah, i do have access to your children…my point in life is to protect small people. it might not always be what i’m doing, but i am the oldest in my family, a woman who lived through some awful things as a child, and yes, that kind of broad-hipped sweet-faced girl who people assume is the mother of every child near her, so i get assigned this role a lot. i’m damn good at it from experience. i don’t want to steal your children, i want to make sure your children are as unhurt as humanly possible by the big stupid world when you entrust them to me. so if you have some weird social phobia that Mary is going to steal your kids, why don’t you have it about me?

the “Traditional Values Coalition” is doing what desperate people do: lying. they’re also playing into phobias inside and outside the queer community about what trans women look like and what we will do if left with your children. guess what, world? i’m betting all your babies i’ve burped and toddlers i’ve changed turn out just fine, and that the kids in high school i teach probably haven’t had a damn thing change because of what their 2nd period teacher’s gender assignment was at birth. guess what, “Traditional Values Coalition”? Mary doesn’t exist, but i do, and i’m your worst nightmare because all your scare tactics are worthless when it comes to me, but i’m doing something far more dangerous than what you intimate: i’m Erica, and i’m in your school, teaching your children to think, forgive, work, and be positive. and i like those traditional values a hell of a lot better than yours.

June 11, 2012

your narrative is your narrative, my narrative is my narrative, and that’s okay.

oftentimes the ignorant believe that trans people, especially trans women, represent a monolith and are all the same. we obviously aren’t, but there are things within our community that cause us to boost this perception, and one of the most toxic is that there is a narrative that all trans people allegedly have in common; the narrative policing is ridiculous and often is obvious, when it ends up policed by transfundamentalists like HBSers and “True Transsexuals” as being the only allowed way to be trans, but sometimes it’s subtle, too, and when it’s subtle, well-intentioned trans people end up alienating those of us who didn’t follow the same path as others. either way, narrative policing hurts real people, and it’s high time we stopped talking about one narrative and considered all narratives valid so that they respect the diversity and difference that exists within actual trans people rather than the basic transfundamentalist ideals allowing only one unchanging narrative to be valid. this post in particular is mostly about trans women because that’s what i have experience being and also because narratives are delicate things and i can speak but for what i am. guys, i’d love to hear your insights, but this isn’t my place to speak…but send me a pingback if you blog about it!

let’s make one thing abundantly clear: because all trans people are valid, all trans narratives are valid. if you’re not on board with the idea that all trans people are valid, ask yourself why that is…i mean, aren’t there cis people who you have a difference of opinion with, or who you find intractably annoying? would you regard their gender as invalid on that basis? i’m suspecting that the answer is no. as a result, i have to wonder why you would do the same to a trans person. it establishes that our gender is, or should be, conditional on something we do or how we act, or on what you think of that person. as recognition of our gender is a basic part of our humanity, what you’re doing is relegating that person to conditional humanity on the basis of what you think of them. that’s pretty barbaric, so why would you do that to a trans person when you wouldn’t do it to a cis person?

…probably because it’s what’s expected of us. we enforce these narratives because we believe we’re not valid without them, because we need to tell the right things to gatekeepers to survive, or because transfundamentalists often control structures within the community and rule them with an iron fist and expect complete narrative compliance. the problem is that these narratives also center only certain experiences, generally which involve social class, culture, religion, and lots of other stuff that ends up normalizing the experiences of middle-class Caucasians with “traditional” family structures. and yeah, those experiences are totally valid…but experiences that don’t match that also need to be considered valid!  for example, i don’t have a father, so i don’t have that element to my narrative, and because i don’t blame my being trans on not having a father, i often find myself in an odd place…apparently you’re supposed to demonize a nonexistent father? that’s kind of weird if you ask me. similarly, as i don’t remember much of my childhood, i can’t tell you if i played with dolls. i know my brother did, though…and he’s a cis straight dude who is completely unthreatened by gender or sexuality differences. given that i am terrified of dolls, i’m betting the answer was no.

but isn’t there more to being a girl than how you relate to your father or if you play with dolls. there’s more to being a woman than whether you wear dresses and makeup or not. none of this is an inherent part of being female even if the patriarchy expects it to be. i don’t really care what you think of the feminist movement or its values, but the feminist point that the reality is that patriarchal values being enforced hurts all women is very much true…and rest assured that it might not have been how some feminists meant it, but it hurts all women, no matter what our chromosomes or birth assignment is/was. when someone is saying that you should be wearing makeup, guess what? they’re probably not asking what your birth assignment was before they do so. when someone says that’s not how “ladies” behave (itself a Caucasian-Western construct of femininity), they’re unlikely to be considering if you’re trans or not, they’re policing your gender expression generally. now, guess what? plenty of women wear makeup and if you choose to do so of your own volition because you think it makes you look better, do it! if you wanna behave in a “ladylike” manner, go for it. but don’t say that someone’s value or gender is determinate on meeting those expectations, or you are working to uphold the very patriarchal values that oppress us as women generally.

the expectation of meeting a narrow narrative does not mean that people who meet that narrative are any more or less valid, and furthermore the expectation of such a narrative really shouldn’t be used in seeking validation as a trans person because the very idea that narratives are necessary to be valid is accepting the idea, as discussed above, that someone should have to seek validity as a trans person from other trans people and/or cis people. this fact, and the community’s zealous defense of its precious narrative, plays into validating both institutional and internalized transphobia. if you need a “reason” to be trans it implies that being trans in and of itself is not okay. when i came out as a dyke, it was often considered back then that you needed a “reason” to be gay and frequently very poor assumptions were made as to why, like that being a sexual assault surivor meant i couldn’t trust men, so that lack of trust must mean i’m attracted to women. though some people still traffic in this kind of hokum, it’s largely discredited because we presented a united front and said that it’s alright to be gay. who cares what the hell the reason is…some people say they’ve chosen their sexual orientation, and i personally can tell you it’s always been quite immutable for me, but either way when we ceased providing reasons or justifications people stopped using that as a way to question our sexual orientations.

finally, there’s the perception of monolithicness. you know, all trans women are exactly the same so if you’ve seen one you’ve seen us all. this is horrible, because cis people often use one bad experience with one trans person in a pathetic attempt to justify transphobia, but also bad because it implies that whomever speaks first and loudest speaks for us all…this is why it’s dangerous when institutions are run by transfundamentalists because they end up being the people who speak and often use that platform to advance the narrative as completely universal because gosh everyone they know fits this. of course she knew since she was 3, of course she is white, middle-class, and femme…and nothing changes. of course nobody bothers to point out that transfundamentalists will exclude anyone who doesn’t match their description because of their monomaniacal focus on narrative, and the perception of monolith increases. this is bad to someone who is trying to figure out their gender identity as this kind of behavior often scares them off or tells them they’re invalid, and that’s really not okay. it’s bad for those of us who don’t fit the transfundamentalist monolith because we never get a place at the table and are thus assumed to not exist, and it’s bad for cis people because they’re being fed the lie that all trans women exactly match this one narrative when we don’t and furthers the misconception discussed above that you need a “reason” to be trans. if you’re trans, you’re trans. if you’re not, you’re not, and you don’t need any more “reason” than that.

it’s time to dump the expectation that you have to have a certain narrative to be trans. it’s doing us all a disservice, people openly and readily admit that they lie to fit the narrative so as to avoid being policed by gatekeepers and transfundamentalists, and it also makes us stronger because by accepting all narratives as valid people can’t seize on individual points in your narrative in an attempt to disprove your transness. it also respects our cultural, racial, social, and personal diversity and understands that we don’t all come from the same place but we do share the common thread of being trans people.