April 30, 2013

the fallacy of scarcity

Just so you know, the theory of resource restriction on the basis of scarcity is that of my good friend Caylee, and I recommend you read their blog. Thus, they get the credit for planting the seeds of what this blog post is about, but the thoughts based on this observation are mine.

I’ve spent a lot of time trying to figure out the logic of the transfundamentalist, and some recent events in my life have led me to attempt to pursue why some people who reject transfundamentalism in the trans community still perpetuate a creation of artificial scarcity in the trans community, especially when it comes to medical access and access to transcentric social space that is open to trans women. Artificial scarcity is what leads us to the threat of movies being put in the “Disney Vault” and rendered unavailable for the better part of a decade, a wonderful trick to boost DVD sales, or the frenzied flurry of activity that surrounds a sandwich known as the “McRib”, a formed pork patty which honestly tastes like pickles on wet cardboard to me.

Artificial scarcity may work fine with shredded processed pork or with the crime against animated deer known as Bambi II, but it just plum doesn’t belong in a situation where peoples’ lives are at stake.  Caylee, also someone who escaped fundamentalist Christianity, has remarked that much of this logic descends from Prosperity Gospel-type ideas, a particular strain of fundamentalist Christian thinking which proclaims that following faith will lead one to prosperity and health.  I grew up Mormon, which has a different take on the Prosperity Gospel theology but espouses most of the same things. It’s an ideal that unquestioning devotion will get you everything you want in life, often recreated in secular New Age twaddle like The Secret, which proclaims that thinking positive thoughts about money will make you have money by some unseen force. I’m thinking positive thoughts that the Mega Millions numbers tonight will be the ones on my ticket, but I know the odds of being mauled by a polar bear in Long Beach, California are slightly higher than the odds of my becoming a Mega Zillionaire. I know that no amount of thinking happy thoughts will bring me things; think happy thoughts because they’re authentic, think happy thoughts if you’re an optimist (and in places I don’t like to admit, I am one), or think happy thoughts because you’re happy. But don’t let the discourse become that any bad thing that happens to someone comes from “negativity” because people who are kept out may naturally feel negatively about those situations.

I’ll be the first person to tell you that treating people poorly won’t get you anywhere, and that having a truly negative attitude toward others based on your own fears really poisons things, often without your even realizing it. When you go up to a cashier at the supermarket screaming and yelling, I can guarantee you that transaction will go poorly. However, the enforcement of this scarcity may leave people in a position where negative thought comes into the situation. I’ll give you an example: grousing about not knowing other trans women in my city has led to three suggestions, namely that I should just suck it up and brave the awful support group because maybe it’ll be better this time, ask your friends to introduce you to other trans women (when you’re the only trans woman all your friends know…that’s not gonna work), or “create your own space”, which is kinda hard when nobody knows who you are and besides in the next breath the condescending “but there already is space…” always comes next.

Sure, there’s space. But the reason the support group is so hostile, the reason its capo is so vicious, is that the fallacy of scarcity is being enforced. If they let the “defective” people in, there’s no way that they can enforce this scarcity, and I, dear reader, am “defective” in the minds of these folks. Because in their gospel I am not worthy of being allowed, even if I’m willing to pay the $5 “mandatory donation”, and not willing to put up with what they may see as hazing but what really has an effect on a girl (sorry, calling me “it” is a real sore point), I am an outlier, a non-believer, a heretic.  Caylee is right: this is the prosperity gospel indeed.

But why do we accept this scarcity? Why do we choose not to be proactive about creating safe medical access for all trans women in the informed consent model for hormones and healthcare in a safe, shame-free environment when you go to the doctor for non-trans-related maladies? Why does our community refuse to share safe medical resource information with others where such resources exist?  Why do we give credibility to the idea that there’s one safe commons for trans women and that any unknown is inherently dangerous and bad? I could put an ad on Craigslist for a get-together over coffee one day a month for trans women, and I have serious doubts that it would ever get past people wanting to know who the hell I was. Yes, much of this is because there are any number of people with predatory interests, some cis and some trans, who believe that trans women represent a group of people who are easy to abuse and victimize. I’m pretty sure that this, too, is actually a product of the idea that scarcity means that we end up being vulnerable to these people. We have cults of personality who do destructive things within the community and go truly unchecked because of their “importance”, and they are able to gain frightening amounts of influence because they believe in their need to be the proverbial big fish in a small pond.

We need to stop accepting that this pond has to be small, and part of that is realizing that trans women come in all narratives, colors, shapes, looks, and sizes. You don’t have to be a transfundamentalist to enforce transfundamentalist rhetoric, and part of that is the desire to enforce this scarcity that permeates our community. The idea that this scarcity is necessary is actually something present in, for example, the rampant fatphobia in the “trans community”. When someone makes statements about fat people which imply we don’t deserve dignity or a wholesome diet, they’re actively pushing out fat people. When someone makes gross statements about people who are really skinny and shames their bodies, when half the skinny people I know would pretty much give anything under the sun to gain twenty pounds, they’re engaging in body-shaming and making generalizations about their bodies, too. And yes, the latter is a real problem, too. See also shaming people for choosing not to have facial surgery…and then shaming people who do who didn’t have it in a manner that satisfies someone else’s desire. These boundaries, this territorial spraying, is absolutely the behavior of people who believe that there is a very limited space which they must protect.

Now, I’m not saying you have to welcome in people who behave in disrespectful or problematic manners. Anne Lawrence, for example, should be excluded from our spaces because she’s a fucking rapist. (tw: rape, medical abuse)  There need to be some boundaries, but boundaries should be based on real actions and not fear. Personally, I’m pretty sure some of my problem is that I’m disabled and it’s really easy to throw around demonizing rhetoric about disabled people based on completely false rhetoric. For example, the idea that disabled people are violent, a stereotype that just isn’t true. In fact, a disabled person is fifty percent more likely to be a victim of violent crime than an able-bodied person. (It’s higher than 50% for women, by the way.)  Oh, and while we’re at it, we’re far more likely to be victims of crime than perpetrators. Yet the unexplained and severe phobia of disability permeates the “trans community”. Why is this? I feel that we are considered to be a safe group to target and exclude because we don’t fit the transfundamentalist vision of perfection and we often literally cannot. You’re still going to be able to tell I’m disabled from looking at me, and there’s no amount of surgery that can change that, nor do I have any desire to have it.  And guess what? In fundamentalist religion, we are held up as being both “inspiration” and subhuman wretches at the same time. In fiction, we are plot devices, from Helen Burns in Jane Eyre to Beth March in Little Women. We exist in public often treated by people like a living, breathing zoo exhibit. But if our actions aren’t problematic, why keep us out?

Well, it’s best explained by the difference between what happens when a child asks me what’s wrong with my face and an adult does the same thing. When a child does it, it’s out of curiosity, not understanding the situation and needing more information.  When an adult does it, it might well be out of curiosity, and when they take the honest answer and walk away or learn from it, great. But the sneering, angry “what’s wrong with your face” or “what happened to you” that comes from some mouths is never innocent, and it’s important to recognize that, because these people are playing into the idea of scarcity, too. My presence in their world confuses them because a “defective” is in their space, and I will tell you that I hear that tone far more often when doing things that indicate I have some responsibility in society, like minding children or doing public-facing work. Maybe someone who looks ‘normal’ should be doing that instead.

In other words, I know that the “trans community” is merely parroting patriarchal values and standards in enforcing scarcity, and that we’ve given people a free pass for unquestioningly upholding these patriarchal values as a way of devaluing people the patriarchy doesn’t like. It’s time to stop letting this be an excuse, though…being a footsoldier for the patriarchy after you’ve had it, repeatedly, pointed out to you what you’re doing means you’re accepting those patriarchal values or you’re too scared to question them, and either way you’re hurting people on behalf of the patriarchy. If we can transcend gender and birth assignment, why can’t we transcend the idea that some people are disposable? The people the “trans community” considers disposable are largely members of other minorities, generally racial minorities, but things like disability play into this also. We believe we have to enforce this scarcity with no proof that it has any benefit other than “things must be kept from those people.”

I’m one of those people. I refuse to believe that I must be denied a place at the table because of race, class, disability, and the mortal sin of being a size 22. When one enforces this artificial and completely unnecessary scarcity or act in complicity with it, it’s saying I am lesser, and that, dear readers, is what we call “fucked up” where I come from.

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April 18, 2013

trans activism as it stands: where do we go from here?

I’ve had one hell of a case of writer’s block for about the past three weeks. I’ve got about five half-finished blog entries where I just lost interest and decided to go in another direction, and I think that’s because there’s something nacent going on in the world of trans activism: I think we’ve gotten about as far as we can on the Internet.

Don’t get me wrong, the Internet is a valuable tool for everything from playing MMORPGs to sending pictures of cats to each other. It’s a vastly powerful information delivery tool…and I’m sounding like a bad 1990s AOL commercial at this point. But the Internet can only go so far, and I’m beginning to think we’ve hit Peak Internet Activism within the trans community. Unfortunately, much as the world lacks a plan for Peak Oil, we haven’t got a plan for Peak Internet Activism. We have tremendous barriers to organizing, and in many cases we are precluded from basic participation within the larger trans community in many locales for a number of reasons, from transfundamentalists controlling space  to the fact that it’s still kind of dangerous to be a trans woman, especially a trans woman of color.  So we have barriers to entry into activism that are somewhat high, and these barriers end up keeping us out and because we don’t organize, things don’t change. Add in that we don’t have organized activist groups in many places or that you have to know someone in the group already (a friend of mine remarked that this is “fucking Friendster”) and this presents an additional barrier.

See, internet-based activism, much as the old guard has slagged and mocked it (while maintaining an Internet presence themselves) has been a way that dissenting, different, and otherwise excluded voices have had a way to speak up. My being disabled, fat, or not that pretty has no real bearing on my ability to engage in discourse and dialogue online, but it keeps me out of traditional trans spaces that are open to trans women. So it’s especially hard for me to have to consider that internet-based activism has run its course, as it gave me my first platform to speak to other trans women and identify myself as such.  Hell, I get mocked and put down as an “Internet Activist”…on the Internet. (The irony, it burns.) This past weekend, I did a panel where I sat in front of a room with a moderate number of strangers and identified myself as a trans woman. I’ve never done that before, and believe you me, I was completely terrified. I spent the entire bus ride over in silence kind of staring off into space and battling to stay in control, to stay in charge of my thoughts and emotions in hopes that I would be able to overcome the urge to jump off the bus at the next stop and run as fast as I could. And yet, it was pretty liberating once I said it. Because someone had invited me to speak, and because it was space for queers of color in general, I didn’t have to worry about the kind of thing that tends to happen to someone who is “other” within the trans community. I didn’t get interrupted, yelled at, or told that I’m an ugly man.

Trouble is, this was a once-a-year event, 180 miles away. It was a bubble, no more no less. And then I went back home, as I always do, and it was right back to my only outlet being, you guessed it, the Internet. Now, I did pwn some n00bz in Arathi Basin and there were certainly cat videos, but mostly I sat in front of a blinking cursor trying to get my thoughts down on something: growing up trans in the LDS Church (promise you that’s coming…eventually) and I ended up Googling on the pressing issue of Jack in the Box “tacos” for a solid 20 minutes. (The filling is beef and soy. You’re welcome.) The problem with the Internet is that we’re using it to discuss things, but we’re not using it to create spaces in the real world where we can actually accomplish things. We’re often railing against the lack of these spaces, though, because so many of us who are perpetually outside want to no longer be outside. I don’t want to be outside anymore.

Now, I know that there are some reasons people can’t participate in real-world spaces. For example, you might live in a town with 54 people in it in Wyoming. You might not be able to be out at work. You might have a disability that affects your ability to participate, though spaces should always take care to be accessible and yes…that’s more than just wheelchair access. You might not play well with others. And that’s fine and that should be taken into account. Just like Peak Oil doesn’t mean no more oil, Peak Internet Activism means we need to reserve the social space provided by this type of activism for people in these situations. We need to center voices who don’t have access to a commons, who don’t have access to activism.

But what I’m not sure about is how to make this possible. Sometimes I have a lot of questions and no answers, it’s just part of Being Erica, as my life has been defined by questions I can’t find answers to, and oftentimes when I do find answers, they’re either horrible or just lead to more questions. But this isn’t about me, even if I’m egotistically using myself as an example: we need real talk about how to create organized change for the trans community. We need to create an actual community and not just a “community.” We need to stop the casual and active racism that pervades our discourse and we need to accept that trans women come in all sizes, shapes, colors, and narratives. No narrative is less or more valid. No sexual orientation is more or less valid. And goddammit, failing to meet Caucasian heterocentric beauty standards doesn’t make you less of a woman, no matter what Jennifer Usher (aka “Just Jennifer”, which you Google at your own risk!) says.

We’re making great strides in terms of rights and visibility, and the rising tide is lifting some boats. Trans women of color are still openly considered disposable by much of the community, but that has more to do with how race and color affect media in general in North America. And recently the truly awesome Trans 100 project dropped a list of real people and what they’re doing in our communities…you’ll note how there are a lot of communities absent, because there’s still no access to community for many if not most trans women in a lot of places. But what we need is what we’re constantly demanding of the rest of the LBGT community: unity. I’m not silly enough to think we agree on everything, or facile enough to believe there won’t always be tyrants within our midst, but we ned to establish goals and work to demand them. We need to work to spread access to accurate identification, to outlaw discrimination both in fact and by policy, and to be outraged about every one of us killed every time it happens, not one day a year. We need to uplift those who fight for all trans women, like Janet MockCecilia Chung, Mia Tu Mutch, or Trudy Jackson (too awesome to be contained by a website) and talk about these folks. And how about trans guys who have our back all the time like Dr. Kortney Ryan Ziegler or Shannon Minter while we’re at it?

We’re making progress, people. We’re creating change even with the constraints we have! Do you realize how far-fetched it would have been had you found me in high school and told me that someday I’d be telling strangers I was trans? I would have stuck my chewing gum in your hair.  You can say what you will about the Trans 100, but it’s an instrument of visibility, acceptance, hope, and love…and at least 80 out of 100 of those people are people leading the community forward.   But you know how we can really move forward? Quit policing who is and isn’t allowed in “the community.” If you can be respectful of others and you’re trans, you belong in the community. If you want to keep cutting others down at the legs, you can stick to your angry little island. I’m sure “Just” Jennifer Usher and her 54 sock puppets would love the company.

I just wish I could wave a magic wand and make this happen, and it breaks my heart that none of us can as things stand. So for now, I’m going to go get four of those awful not-exactly-taco things ($1.98 for a full stomach, the poor girl’s best friend), spend 30 minutes wandering around either Wikipedia or Azeroth aimlessly, and go to sleep. And maybe, just maybe, you can tell me where do we go from here

February 10, 2013

Once upon a time…

trigger warning for sexual violence, physical violence, and self-harm. please consider this warning appropriate to all links in this entry. thank you!

Once upon a time, i was a miserable boy-thing from the wrong end of some assy state. I believed my life would never amount to a thing and that i would be dead in the next year.

Once upon a time, i slashed my wrists. Pretty good, actually. I went to the “mental facility” for youth that covered the whole state. It was shortly after a “medical professional” had committed some ugly and horrible violence against me. It wouldn’t be the first time i was raped, and sadly it wouldn’t be the last. He broke part of my face, which is why i’m asymmetrical.

Once upon a time, i told a therapist what was wrong with me and expected that she would humilate me, lock me away forever, or try to torture it out of me. I didn’t know where those fears came from, but i know damn well now.

Once upon a time, that therapist cocked her head sideways, looked at me, and told me there was nothing weird about that at all. And i was sure, SURE i was being tricked. And i was sure, SURE i was Making A Horrible Mistake, i was sure that i’d be locked away forever, where perverts and deviants were.

Once upon a time, she went to the psychiatrist who oversaw the place to attempt to intervene with my “family member”, my less-than-stellar mother, and explain what was wrong with Little pre-Erica. Her supervising shrink, a stern white man with an eternal frown, explained it to her that “You will have a corpse, or you accept having a daughter.”  It sounds almost ridiculous, it sounds almost preposterous. Once upon a time, i was ashamed of how this sounded. I bent the details to avoid it because it sounded so preposterous. Once upon a time, i believed i had to make my narrative sound right, which diminishes infinitely that once upon a time, that man was the first person to point at me and call me “she” and “her”.

Once upon a time, i started writing a journal. That quote above was the first words i wrote. Along with that “Dear Diary: My name is “Erica (lastname).” Shame how that didn’t work out, but maybe i am no Erica after all. Once upon a time i was…but you’ll see this is no story of once upon a time at all.

Once upon a time, i believed this to be a curse, i believed this to be something i deserved, i believed this to be a horrible flaw in my being. I believed this to be what would forever make me lesser. I believed this to make me a deviant and a pervert.

Once upon a time, i had to jump through ridiculous hoops to be able to get basic affirmation of who i was and what i was. Though the folks where i came from were understanding, the “gender therapist” who was the only option who’d see me in my area considered me something between an annoyance and a dress-up doll. He groped me more than once, pissed that i didn’t have “real breasts” and that i was doing my darndest when you’re forty inches around and flat as a board. He reminded me, constantly, of all the things i wasn’t. He used my dread pronoun “it.” He ridiculed my hair, he told me ugly girls need to know how to wear makeup, he mocked how i sat.  He had an almost prurient interest in if i liked the boys and if i had told them my HORRIBLE SECRET. See, once upon a time, you had to be heterosexual, or lying about it, to survive the Standards Of Care. It wasn’t that long ago and i wasn’t exactly in some backwater town, either.

Once upon a time, i cleared his approval. I still hate all the hoops i jumped through and the fact that i played Little Princess Doll-Thing to get his approval. Once upon a time, i thought i’d never forgive myself for lying to him so i could be a Real Transsexual. I’m getting over that, slowly.

Once upon a time, i bought the rhetoric of being a Real Transsexual. I bought that self-loathing and hurting other trans women was acceptable. I am responsible for coming up, with some assistance, with one of the ephitets that gets hurled at trans women by other trans women now and then. I’m so, so, so, so, so sorry. Once upon a time, i believed that i had to do things like that. Once upon a time, i thought my invisibility in the cisarchy made me a better person than ‘those transsexuals’. Again, so, so, so, so, so sorry. Once upon a time, i believed that the age i transitioned at gave me some moral superiority…something i obviously now know to be bullshit, it’s just a goddamn number, it just tilts the number of years i got to be the right gender in my favor, and that’s a blessing, but it doesn’t make anyone better or worse, no matter what that number is. Once upon a time, i let myself be what transfundamentalists wanted, and like every story with a hapless girl who’s someone’s pawn, i didn’t end up with Princess Charming, i ended up being an evil stepsister. Once upon a time, i saw no shame in that. Now, i see it’s nothing but shame, internalized and externalized.

Once upon a time, i spent the next two decades of my life in a never-ending chain of self-loathing, being medicated into a stupor by people who “knew better” and promised “horrible consequences” if i stopped. I made small advances and believed them to be huge victories. I went with the flow. I was what other people wanted me to be. I was Erica-by-committee.

Once upon a time, i believed that Erica-by-committee was all i could be. I believed it was all i ever deserved to be. People felt sorry for Erica-by-committee. People pitied the pathetic little ball of horrors untold and unsaid, until i got angry and lashed out or freaked out. Once upon a time, those horrors lived right under my skin, plain as day to anyone who could see, but i would never talk of them. Better to be an asshole to someone than show your weakness, right? Or so i thought, once upon a time.

So to that deeply unwise boy-thing which slashed their wrists once upon a time on this, the 10th of February,  i wish i could go back and tell you that Erica-by-committee is not something to be, i wish i could figure out how to have screamed without using a scissors, i wish i could i wish i could. I wish i hadn’t been such an angry, afraid mess because of how other trans women treated me.  I wish i had stopped running from myself and stopped the dread psychmed cocktail sooner. I wish, i wish, i wish. We wish because it’s raging against something we can’t change, but we wish because it distracts us from what we actually *do* need to change. Once upon a time, i needed a committee, i needed other people to tell me who i was. Once upon a time, i wasn’t even a person, i was just a massive pile of self-defense that lashed out at good people and let toxic, awful people into my life, further alienating the good people. It’s a shame, but that too is once upon a time.  I mean, the upshot to all this is that i did kill that miserable little boy-thing. I got to be all the things i got to be since then, both good and bad, both beautiful and horrible.

But once upon a time is just once upon a time. It’s a term from fairy stories to teach little boys to be tough and to lull little girls into complacency. Our lives must be so much more than once upon a time. I must be so much more than once upon a time. Because once upon a time is how you live in the past, how you give dominion and control to others, how you never take responsibility for your own life.   Because when you live in ‘once upon a time’, your time is never now.

Besides, i want to make my own Happily Erica After on my own terms…er, i mean…Happily Ever After. I hope you’ll make your own, too…and maybe give Princess Charming my number?

February 6, 2013

disability and the trans woman: we belong in “the community” too

The “trans community” is highly dependent on access to the commons for inclusion. Like it or not, the internet really doesn’t do much in terms of bringing us together because invariably trying to step from the internet into reality leads to “who the hell are you?” unless you’re one of the 5-7 “community leaders” who are more critical and central voices. For the record, i am fine not being a particularly critical or central voice, nor do i have any desire to be “more important” or anything like that. At the same time, however, the internet does let voices traditionally silenced in and excluded by the “trans community” speak, as it’s access to a different commons.

 

February 2, 2013

we deserve better: on learning to love each other as trans women

i don’t always get along with my whole family. my brother is headstrong, my little sister is foolish. my siblings by choice, well…we’re siblings. i don’t always know how to fix my little sister-by-choice’s wounds as much as i want to help, and sometimes i flat out piss off my big sister-by-choice. i don’t always get on with my grandmother, who is still inwardly disappointed that i am not Erica the Proper Pioneer Girl ready to inherit their farm and a Wenger bonnet or two, but she covers it so well. but what unites us is love, because after all we’re family. at the end of the day, we love each other, even if sometimes we bloody well dislike each other.

similarly, as much as i am constantly tearing my hair out about how to deal with stressing the need for pan-African unity and solutions that work for all of us, at the end of the day, we are able to get to similar places on the page about what we need. Africans in the US are a really diverse bunch…some people came here 10 years ago, some folks (like me) had forebears who came here stuffed into ships. obviously, the US is a better place to be Black than some will have you think if you consider that i know people clamoring to come here from relatively peaceful places like Botswana and Mozambique…it’s not perfect, but i still kind of foolishly believe in the idea that this is a place the huddled masses can come, or even the not-so-huddled masses, as much as that’s been screwed up since 2001, especially for racial miniorities. we have learned, whether fresh off the DC-10 or if we’ve been here since slavery, how to get along to further our goals. is it perfect? no. do we disagree? absolutely. but when we deal with the Caucasian-kyriarchical structure we live on, we know how to speak with one voice for what we need. we know how to talk about what affects our neighborhoods, what we want to make our children’s lives better, and what we desire from a government which systemically tries to fail us.

in fact, this works in the disability rights movement, another movement that i’m part of. it works in the Latin@ and Native/First Nations rights/respect movements, which i see as an outsider that i support. it used to work in the gay rights movement up to a point, but the HRC and the monomaniacal obsession with making marriage available to same-gender couples ended up slowly destroying queer unity…and i say this as a supporter of universal marriage, by the by. the idea of advancing queer rights generally fell by the wayside and now we have a fractured and damaged queer rights movement where a small number of rich cis white gay men (and a few token lesbians) are all the HRC really cares about. now, in the vacuum of the HRC’s departure from leadership on queer rights, many state queer rights organizations, like Basic Rights Oregon and Equality Florida, have taken leadership positions in advocating for all queers, including trans people. is it a perfect alliance? lord, no. but when the cis queers have our back, our outcomes turn out much better.

i’ve spoken about my unpleasant and painful journey to self-acceptance far too much. i’ve talked about the fact that regrettably i used to be a transfundamentalist, and honestly i feel such great shame and horror in talking about it that it troubles me to go down this trail again. transfundamentalism destroys your ability to ever cooperate with other trans people, especially other trans women, and it wrecked at least a couple of friendships where i behaved like an asshole and where i wish i could have a second chance that i’m never going to get. it’s a destructive force because it’s inherently designed to get us to hurt each other because we’re supposed to. i feel like a horrible person that i went along with this shit, but i really believed this was going to be the price of my freedom. i wish there were any way i could apologize to the people who my bullshit hurt, but perhaps unsurprisingly they’re not willing to accept apologies. i am nevertheless very sorry, because my conscience will never be clean regardless of if those apologies are accepted or not. transfundamentalism is inherently destructive and practicing it makes you a hurtful person. like most things that make you an asshole, though, transfundamentalism is a choice.  just like people choose to be racist or choose to be homophobic, it’s a choice in every respect to be a patriarchy-enforcing transfundamentalist.

see, tranfundamentalism serves a false master: the idea that you are better than *those people* based on a few narrow criteria. what those criteria are seem to randomly change, whether it be physical beauty, genital surgery, facial surgery, social class, or one of literally scores of other things that can be used to proclaim some trans people “real” and some trans people “fake.” at first, when pronounced insufficient by other trans women because i’m not pretty, because i’m disabled, and because i’m not femme, i took this as an affront. but that’s the thing, folks: it’s not an affront to you, you’re just the person on the wrong end of the rifle here. everything transfundamentalism enforces is a false meritocracy based on adhering to certain things that don’t even necessarily have anything to do with cisnormativity but have everything to do with trying to enforce a preordained idea of how you’re supposed to behave. i have talked way too much about growing up Mormon, but the things i was expected to adhere to as a Mormon girl are remarkably similar to the rigamarole expected of trans women. dress in a specific manner. act in a specific way. do not cross authority or there will be consequences. sexuality is dirty at best and forbidden at worst. in fact, the hoops you’re expected to jump through are a veritable “Krabat’s deal” where you can’t really actually complete the contract without sacrificing people to unknown forces, “for the good of the rest of us.”

it’s time to stop. we don’t all have to get along. i’m still not gonna be besty friends with Autumn Sandeen or her “pal” Just Jennifer. i am fully and completely aware that in a world that glorifies the idea of “good and bad” in minorities that we all slip up…heck, as much as i am pretty much the stereotypical Angry Black Chick about many things, sometimes i inadvertently fail to have the back of other Black folk, often about really tiny things, but they add up. i know we can’t all get along, and i’m fine with that. but what i’m not fine with is the idea that toxic hatred of each other and the veneration of these false meritocracies are actually us destroying ourselves and each other all alike. when someone mocks the idea of informed consent access to healthcare for trans people out of their own fear that their legitimacy will be challenged, they’re doing two things: they’re actually eroding their own legitimacy by suggesting that a doctor deserves such thrall over us, but they’re also damaging other trans people out of some level of fear. the idea that some trans peoples’ deaths, generally those of trans women of color, are “acceptable losses” is part of what weakens us. the idea that there are some places trans women don’t belong, or we only belong with some conditions, hurts us all. it reinforces the idea that we aren’t good enough unless we meet arbitrary criteria, and it encourages the very conditional privilege that is a tightening garrote around all our necks when we believe we have to hurt other trans women to save ourselves.

we have pushed each other in front of the bus far more effectively than the HRC, Dan Savage, or Barney Frank. we have constantly begged for our humanity for too long, or accepted the Faustian bargain that some trans women are more equal than others. we are constantly bargaining with these kyriarchical structures which keep their boot on our throat, and that’s a fact of life. but what we need to do is achieve some amount of unity, regardless of how pretty you are or you aren’t, regardless of if you’re out at work/school or not, regardless of how big your hands are and regardless of what your eyefolds look like…we have to start to work together. we have to stop accepting the idea that we deserve to be consolation prizes because of who we are and begin to accept that backstabbing and hating really isn’t getting us anywhere and the fact that we’re expected to be complicit in hurting each other is hurting us all. you don’t have to be my friend, you don’t have to be anyone’s friend, but you do need to stand up, throw your shoulders back, and stop believing that living on your knees is getting you anywhere. because, trust me, i can tell you from experience that being that person who just backstabs and hates is an awful life once you accept that there’s something better than that. i’m tired of asking permission to exist, and i shall live on my knees no more. we need to learn to love and support each other, at least writ large, even the folks we can’t stand, if we’re going to grow stronger together.

transfundamentalism is hate; this is love. they’re both imperfect, they both have limits, and love won’t solve everything. i choose love, and i hope you will, too.

January 21, 2013

so i care about women to “score points”?

so some PTERF (patriarchal trans-exterminationist radical fauxminist) claimed that “homosexual males who want to be laydees only are feminists to score points”

whelp…if you’re gonna call me a man i guess i’m a heterosexual man…sorry, PTERFs, calling me a “man” is just funny. it holds no pain, no damage for me personally. it’s like hitting me with a chicken feather.  i know it’s supposed to wound trans women and that it’s a part of PTERF rhetoric to try to hurt us…but you can do it to me until there’s no tomorrow. i can dress in drag and call myself Mark and everyone will still call me “she” and “Marcia”…”man” ain’t gonna hurt me. so come at me with it and leave my sisters alone.

but let me set you straight about why i care about the status of women:

i care about the status of women for my blood sisters

i care about the status of women for my chosen sisters

i care about the status of women for my grandmother, my aunts, my female-identified cousins, and so on and so forth

i care about the status of women for my friends who are female-identified

i care about the status of women for my enemies who are female-identified where we hate each other because of toxic girl hate

i care about the status of women for my woman/girl-identified students

i care about the status of women for every woman on this 22 bus

i care about the status of women for my lovers, past and future

i care about the status of women for my community

i care about the status of women for little girls who still have their hopes and dreams intact without the scourge of gender programming telling them they’re lesser in their life yet.

i care about the status of women for each and every one of us in this goddamn world

i care about the status of women because the world inherently devalues relationships between women, from our friendships to our marriages and everything in between

i care about the status of women because the world inherently devalues us

and, yes, i care about the status of women for me, because i am one and i am fortunate enough that society and i agree that i am one…but i don’t give a shit about scoring points

i care about the status of women because the world still holds us to impossible standards, uses us for cheap labor, calls our bodies diseased, and calls us distaff…and we all deserve nothing less than equality, safety, and to be valued for the treasures we all are.

December 14, 2012

being what i am, there is no other Troy for me to burn

Disclaimer: i do not believe that how old you were when you transitioned, what you look like, how big or small your body parts are, the current shape of your genitals, or anything regularly used to divide trans people has any effect whatsoever on your validity. i am not special, different, awesome, or bad because of my life experiences, but i do inherently speak from and about my experiences because that’s what i know. part of that is how any departure from the standard “trans woman narrative” comes with consequences, and that inherently makes my experiences different. that said: i am not better than you and you are not better than me.

i’m gonna get one of my bigger confessions out at the beginning of this post: i was the prom queen.

i was not because i was radiantly pretty or terribly popular, but because i got all the jocks, queers, geeks, theatre types and outcasts to vote for me, all the other cliqueless girls in my school. i was an astute politician, and i knew that instead of repeating the usual pattern of those people not voting, i played up my strengths to those cliques, which i freely bounced in between. instead of ignoring the election, they voted, and they voted for me. readers, i have never worn that much makeup and had that much fake hair going on, and i think we blew half a can of Aqua Net getting it just so.  there was definitely a girdle (you know, what we had before Spanx or Yummie Tummie…) and some serious “control top” action going on with my tights. was i beautiful? well, my girlfriend thought so…but at the same time, because this is reality and not a fairy tale, i’m pretty sure i can tell you i was the fattest (size 18, yo!) and most acne-ridden prom queen in the history of my high school.  was it a joke? no, no it wasn’t, and frankly my school was respectful enough of a place that everyone at least publicly and semi-privately accepted defeat with grace. was i terrified it was a joke? you have no idea. is it still a special and cherished part of my past? yeah, actually, it is. but like other people who transitioned earlier on in life, it’s something where a lot of trans women never want to hear realities, they just want to project their fantasies on to how great they’re sure your life was. any truth being spoken to that meets with silencing, accusations of lying, or outright spite. i’m not sorry i didn’t live up to an impossible fantasy, because i was the prettiest, most radiant Erica i could have been. i mean, hell, it was the one time in my entire life that my mother called me “pretty” and didn’t attach some barbed insult to it.

reality often throws water on the coals of the overly imaginative. i don’t dispute that it’s good to have an imagination and to think about things that involve the phrase “what if”, but this sense of imagination needs to be used judiciously and never to erase the lived experiences of others. like it or not, telling someone else how they have “squandered their gift” or similar is shaming behavior designed to say that you know better than they do how they were supposed to live their lives. i have made choices i don’t regret for a second, and i have made choices that i regret immensely, but those choices were mine and mine alone to make and others don’t get to weigh in on how their plan for my life was supposed to go. if you didn’t know me when i was a fourteen-year-old ball of stress, nerves, and fear, i don’t really think you get the right to go back and retcon how my life “should have been”. it shows a lack of respect for individuality, self-determination, and the ownership of your own life. it also shows a willingness to idealize a very narrow set of experiences that erases the fact that even “early transitioners” come in all shapes and sizes. i am tall, strong, curvy, and sturdy, which might not meet your preconceived notions, but this is who i am.

Riki Wilchins is somewhat emblematic of “old school” trans activism, but her past has run rather counter to transfundamentalism in embracing that it’s okay to be different and bringing gender theory into the debate in a trans-positive way, but Ms. Wilchins has often reinforced an us-them structure even when she’s trying to make gender theory more accessible. this is actually a general criticism of academia, and in Queer Theory, Gender Theory Ms. Wilchins’ missteps are many but they are easily overshadowed by the fact that she manages coherent explanations of gender theory that are remarkably coherent and free of jargon. because of this, i had actually pretty much reconsidered my problems with Ms. Wilchins and her past, some of which included co-opting some words that weren’t hers to use and the fact that her political ends seem to keep changing. but you know what? i can forgive that all if you made a decent, if a bit flawed, Gender 101 from a trans-positive, genderqueer-inclusive perspective. it needed to happen, and Ms. Wilchins did a great job. QT,GT had its share of errors, especially around intersex issues, but we all screw up now and then and the positive aspects of the book clearly and convincingly outweighed the negative. it was, if you ask me, Ms. Wilchins’ finest hour.

so you can imagine my surprise and disappointment at an article Ms. Wilchins wrote in the Advocate about trans women and girls who voice their gender earlier in life and follow a “hormone blocker”-based treament protocol.  she calls them “blocker babies”, which we’ll talk about later. the degree to which Ms. Wilchins idealizes a single experience that’s not here continues and exemplifies the erasure of trans people who transition earlier in life through the lens of…one thirteen-year-old girl, and focuses on things like her appearance and how boys treat her. lest you object to my terminology, as someone who lived in that gender role at that age…when you’re thirteen, you’re a “girl”. “young woman” is almost invariably patronizing, and society continues to make you out to be a “girl” well into adulthood in many cases, but maybe that’s something for another blog entry. i’m gonna level with you, Ms. Wilchins…i expected a whole hell of a lot better from you than the carnival of fail that is this piece. there’s two possibilities for this piece, that she is letting out her own issues about “what if…” in looking at a trans girl, which is not the way one really should be getting therapy, or alternately that Ms. Wilchins was using  a trans girl as a form of zoo exhibit for the Advocate‘s largely cisgay audience because that’s what they expect, or that’s how the article was edited.

either way, though, the damage is the same. whether Ms. Wilchins is treating the subject of the story like a zoo exhibit for cis people, an object of envy and othering for other trans women, or both, her language and tone alike are Deeply Problematic, to wit: “…made this blond 13-year-old into an entirely non-transgender transsexual. One whose gender, and social identity, will be always and completely female to every adult she knows or meets. With the right surgeon, she might not ever tell her husband or wife.”

well, nothing to get the ol’ hackles up like playing “transgender vs. transsexual”, a time-honored transfundamentalist practice for trying to divide groups of people based on a list of criteria that nobody seems to be able to elucidate. i would certainly expect better from Ms. Wilchins, but not only does she claim that someone’s “gender and social identity will be always and completely female to every adult she knows or meets”, there’s a bunch of fail in there. what if she chooses to be out? what if she doesn’t live the life you’re assuming she’s going to live? because believe you me, there are plenty of people who will see you as “always and completely female” after you come out to them, but there are plenty of people who won’t, no matter how “simply impossible to see her as anything but a woman” it is. we’ve been around this tree before: i am by no means pretty but i’ve never had any trouble being seen in my preferred gender role, so i understand to a point…but what difference does this really make? this delineation only hurts us and it only devalues people who don’t fit a bunch of cisnormative expectations about what a person of their gender is supposed to be. i want no part of that, and given that Ms. Wilchins speaks of rejecting such expectations, i don’t think she should be devaluing herself, either. like it or not, we’re all trans*, we share common threads, but we aren’t all the same people, and i don’t think exclusive and dividing labels should be part of our discourse.

second of all, Ms. Wilchins’ verbiage parallels a dangerous yarn  frequently spun by transfundamentalists: “completely female to every adult she knows or meets” (…i guess children don’t matter?) this is actually the worst thing in the article because it holds up the idea that your life is completely cisnormative after transition if you “do it right”. it ignores that we may have certain psychological needs, social needs, etc. post-transition and absolutely steamrolls a reality all trans people face with: we have continuing medical needs that don’t magically go away because of transition, and oftentimes there is no framework whatsoever if you lose medical access to pick it up again unless you live somewhere where there are informed consent treatment options. most of us in the US don’t live in those few major cities with IC access and there is no present safety net for people who are already on hormones if a doctor subscribes to the “WPATH standards” for who is allowed to have hormones. you can go read it, i’ll wait.  i’ve been shouted down for asking this question, but if your doctor/clinic who gives you hormones vanished tomorrow, what would you do?  i mean, i transitioned at about the age the subject of Ms. Wilchins’ article did and that didn’t magically save me from getting kicked off hormones for three years when just that happened. the scarcity of treatment options is amplified by the fact thatmost doctors are completely lacking in knowledge of trans-specific medical needs; this is why trans men aren’t getting pelvic exams  and why trans women aren’t getting their prostates (for y’all who have prostates) checked, and these both can have quite deleterious consequences.  no amount of “completely female” can protect any trans person from an inherently trans-exclusive medical system, a system that isn’t good for any of us but is specifically hostile to trans women and also insults us for reaching out to other people like us when maybe all we want is an understanding shoulder.  regardless of who you are, how cisnormative you look, or when you transition, trans people still have some specialized needs no matter what.

third of all, why are you assuming this girl wants genital surgery, Ms. Wilchins? why are you using language like “with the right surgeon” when you yourself have groused in the past about the game of ‘my surgeon is better’? i really feel like these just aren’t the words of the woman who wrote Queer Theory, Gender Theory…it sounds like Just Jennifer edited your work. i don’t really even know what to make of the implications that she might not tell her partner, as disclosure is an extremely personal and individual matter that should not be subject to discussion by anyone else. that said, i know damn well that given that everything from the legal status of a marriage to disapproval from other trans people depends on disclosure, it’s fairly likely that no matter what changes come to our world that a trans woman is probably going to be forced to disclose in a marriage whether she likes it or not. this is a product of living in a cisnormative world and culture, and what’s worse there is a significant implication on the part of Ms. Wilchins that this girl won’t experience the same kind of suffering that she did over being trans. now, Ms. Wilchins, i feel for you in that you suffered and i don’t want to disregard or diminish your pain, but the idea that our value has something to do with how much we have to fight is really troublesome. it sounds almost like the Roman Catholic ideal of betterment through suffering, and ignores that not all suffering is identical. i don’t make an endless deal of it, but i know the fact that i’ve been a girl/woman for my entire career of employment has a lot to do with why i’m in a lower social class: i got assigned pink-collar work from the get-go and am still trying to break out of pink-collar employment, which is hard even with a stack of degrees. i don’t think this makes me a better person or a worse person, but both the girl you’re talking about and i have that as part of our reality that our jobs will be and have been affected by that. does this make us better or worse? no. it just makes us different.

finally, about the whole “blocker babies” thing? it’s not a good buzzword, as it infantilizes girls and boys who are already living through the micromanagement that comes with transition, and it’s creating another class. i have a cousin who is also trans; unlike me, she was on a GnRH agonist (aka a “blocker”) and had to wait longer for hormones. the myth that blockers, which are really expensive in the US and excluded from many health plans, are the magical solution is…rather, well, inchoate.  GnRH agonists are not appropriate for intersex/ed children and teenagers with certain conditions, and especially in teenagers partway through a puberty they don’t really want, doctors often avoid blockers since “the damage is done”, what the first doctor my cousin went to told her…this is on top of the cost. at the time, my aunt’s insurance paid for GnRH agonists, but it doesn’t anymore, so my cousin would have been out of luck. also, there are a number of side effects like osteoporosis risk and they have been known to cause some unpleasant pelvic pain issues in trans men/boys on them. in other words, GnRH agonists aren’t going to work for everyone and the “blocker babies” categorization is unnecessary.

this year, i attained 35  years on earth and a few months later 22 years of getting my gender something-close-to-right. i am considered to be “other” by the trans community for my appearance, my experiences, and silly things like how i dress and not knowing enough other people who are trans so i must be an outsider, a wonderful self-fulfilling prophecy. i don’t want to be special, i don’t want to be different, i just want to be like everyone else. articles like Ms. Wilchins’, despite the best of intent, end up marginalizing those of us with different experiences even worse. the idea that people who transition after puberty will be “dinosaurs” erases people without families that will let them transition (which you should not conflate with “supportive” families), it erases people who are still going to discover they’re trans* later in life, and it erases the reality that even if you deal with your gender issues in your teens, you’re still transsexual. the “dinosaur” lament might be how you feel looking at this girl…i’d rather feel like i take great joy in a life less constrained and limited by who she is. maybe if we stopped drawing lines between us, maybe if we can learn to see what we have in common, maybe things can get better for all of us.

but the only dinosaur i see here is on the TV, since we’re watching Dinosaur Train (i’m babysitting)…and if you want to wear that sky blue dress, Ms. Wilchins, i’m right behind you…heck, you can even borrow my tiara. because being what you are, there is no other Troy for you to burn.

December 7, 2012

my quilt, myself: body image, body policing, and our selves

trigger warning: this post contains content related to self-harm, violence, and rape and uses an ableist slur in reference. 

i don’t really find myself looking in the mirror all that often, but the other day i was talking to someone about dealing with self-abuse recovery and i idly wanted to catalog for my mind what the sources of my various scars were.  i know someone who photographed all her scars and told the stories about them, but i just wanted a personal “scar catalog” if you will. i spent a good 30 minutes, drawing a picture in my diary and coloring in where my scars were…most of my scars, it turns out, are not the ones i made, but the ones other people made for me with reasons sinister, benign, or outright depraved. it actually helped me feel a lot less bad about myself because i can’t really blame self-injury for anything worse than a couple of dime-sized nasties and a well-hidden three-inch slash. the story i told myself that most of my scars were my own fault was just that: a story.

i’ve been doing a lot better about not self-harming to the point that i don’t have to live in a house without any non-serrated blades and i don’t have to live in fear of what happens if i get to a place where i’m not somehow mentally stimulated, which is often where the troubling thoughts roll in, i lose control,  and the cutting starts. i know how to focus on other things. i still know exactly where the box cutter is, just like a recovering alcoholic knows exactly where to buy their favorite brand of whiskey…but much like the recovering alcoholic, i generally don’t feel the pull and when i start feeling it, i know how to fight it. the power over the need, the compulsion to self-harm was terrifying at first but now it increasingly feels like second nature. and i’m proud to tell you i haven’t cut in six weeks as of yesterday.

i used to joke that i was made out of spare parts. i don’t know who my “biological” father or mother are, and between a pretty significant skin graft to create genitalia and all the places i’ve been burned, cut up, and stitched up, i look like a quilt, a girl made out of the things lying around.  i have enough scars in enough weird places that i can’t go through one of those nasty TSA body scanners without ending up getting strip-searched, because some “security expert” decided that scar tissue is somehow a threat to the security of American airspace.

i feel like the threat in scar tissue is the threat of the unknown and the different. it produces revulsion from some and interest from others, and having scars in strange places is intensely interesting to someone whose job is to enforce normalcy and keep out bodies that don’t match expectations through shame, fear, and outright hate and/or incompetence…which is exactly what the TSA does. they seek to define things as “other” and humiliate and waylay them…it’s a lovely metaphor for how able-bodieds behave around disabled bodies, by pushing us into edge categories like the undefined other, a concept defined by Clapton and Fitzgerald in The History of Disability: a History of Otherness, which boils down much of the fear of disabled people to the idea that we are somehow being punished by God and that the person who declares us insufficient is just going along with the concept that because of our bodies we deserve it and that they are doing the will of society, the will of God, what have you. this is often what people who murder their disabled children cite: that God wanted us to be dead, that we somehow deserved what we had coming. my mother tried, not coincidentally on both of her disabled female children. i guess God couldn’t have wanted us dead too much or it would have worked. much like the man who raped me and told me no one would ever fuck me again once he was done burning me inside and out, i guess he was wrong, too. but in those cases, like all the others, i still live with the literal and metaphorical scars on my vessel and in my mind alike.

it leads to it being really hard to love this damaged vessel i live in. for all i am a chirpy riot grrl who believes all these things about how society shouldn’t be telling me what i’m supposed to do with my body, i’m sort of a hypocrite: i don’t look in the mirror because i’m afraid i’ll hate what i see. i struggle with appearance stuff, mostly around mundane stuff like acne but also because i sometimes fear what people perceive.  i also look radically different since i got back on hormones and quit trying to be white and i’m terrified that maybe i’m just trying to remake myself because i hate myself. and, well, i do hate myself, in that way that you hate that ex who loves you when she’s drunk but punches you when she’s sober. i have an uneasy peace with myself, and partially because i’m trying to figure out who and what Erica is, i actually have somewhat backed off that hate. i think it’s like when you know that ex is moving out sometime soon you start to feel a little bit better about her. i’m learning to be comfortable with this quilt, with its flaws, limitations, and differences… but there’s one little problem and that’s body policing.

i always feel like my body, my quilt can never be sufficient in any context where it’s known i’m trans. this is actually my dire fear about coming out more generally… i know that all the things ignored when people assume that i’m cis will suddenly be used to assail my gender. my broad, sturdy shoulders, my height, my big hands, and yes, the fact that i am not skinny will all will be thrown at me. i love my hands; they’re strong and pretty and give me an amazing ability to catch things. i love how tall i am, because growing up without exposure to other trans people gave me no complex about being tall and i was always admired and looked up to for being tall, so much so that my last year of high school, when i wasn’t the tallest girl in school anymore, i started wearing elevator shoes, a habit i continue to this day. and yeah, i love being curvy because that’s what feels right to my mind and my body is shaped in a manner once respected in women before being thin at all costs became how we were “supposed” to behave, and yeah…i like being able to carry things with the place of one hand taken by my hip, too. i don’t want another body, i just want to not be hated for the one i have. i don’t want to be degendered because my body is somehow insufficient for a trans woman when it was just fine when you thought i was cis. being trans shouldn’t mean that you have to be held to higher standards…i mean, after all, isn’t this where gatekeeping and cis people passing judgment on the worth of our lives and whether we should be allowed medical access comes from?

because once it’s known you’re trans, everything changes. people suddenly have dominion over your body and people pass judgment on the tiniest details that nobody cared about before. there are people who engage in appearance-based hate inside and outside the trans community, from Andrea James’ inexplicable habit of engaging in size/appearance-shaming to Cathy Brennan’s constant stream of sizeist/ableist/transphobic bullshit and you’ve got that last hurdle i just can’t jump: that now that i am trying to learn not to hate my body, i really don’t enjoy that it is only found to be “not good enough” and wanting when someone knows that i’m trans. all those “terrible flaws” never came up when you were assuming in error that i must be cis…i mean, seriously, the worst thing i get called in public is “retard”.  in other words, the special bonus body policing that comes both from people outside the community who hate us and people inside the community who have some interesting phobias lead to the reality that the only safe way to avoid being shamed is to let the assumption continue that i’m cis. but…i don’t want to keep pretending to be cis, but i also don’t want to be shamed when i’m trying to believe i am anything other than a monster who deserves what the world has handed her, and frankly i don’t ever want to start thinking that again because by believing that i believed i would never be worth anything better than pity. believing that didn’t make me a monster, but it made me a weak, aimless zombie who wasn’t even all that good of a person. it let my self-loathing be taken out on other people, something that i will never be able to apologize enough for. it let people think that i was ashamed of being trans when now i know i am anything but, but most of all…it let people believe they had a right to control me, and i believed that’s all i deserved. i believed i was meant to be ruled, i was meant to follow orders, and no more. that person was pitiable, but for the record…i neither want nor deserve your pity.

see, i don’t want pity, i want humanity. i want to accept that i may well be monstrous but though that monstrousness is part of me, i am not a monster. i want to live up to the promise of that scared little girl who pretty much sold her soul to be allowed to transition and was sternly told she should never tell anyone what she was (using those exact words, “what you are”) but the “man who will marry her someday.” i want to live up to the promise of that scared little girl walking across a scary bridge every day, summer and winter, so she could go to a better school where she wouldn’t be put on a failure track because she was disabled. and most of all, i don’t want to screw it up for the person i’m becoming, because at this point i’m living this life for her and not for other people or conditional and/or tentative approval that’s never coming. i am me-in-progress, wrapped in this quilt, and though this quilt isn’t perfect, this quilt is mine and it’s the only one i have.

November 27, 2012

i’m a “fake trans girl” and i hope you are too

so i’m sitting at a bar in a nondescript Pacific Northwestern city drinking a large jar of something very pink and laden with bourbon, chatting with a few friends, including Caylee (whose blog you really ought read) amongst others…and i had one of those “eureka” moments as we were discussing why the “trans community” is so inherently and openly toxic: the fear of outsiders and otherness is about as serious as it is amongst geeky folks, and the resulting fear is to keep out difference and claim that this difference is because someone isn’t “good enough.” in other words, much like the abject horror and open sexism that is the war against “fake geek girls”, a war based on a delineated and clear fear of women entering spaces like cons and gaming venues, there’s a war against “fake trans girls” here within our community. it’s based on the same baseless fears and enforced using the same ridicule and othering, and much like the war on “fake geek girls”, the war on “fake trans girls” needs to stop.

i’ve been called a “fake geek girl” even if not exactly in those words. this is particularly hilarious because i am not especially conventionally attractive and was just there to play Magic: The Gathering, a rather addictive tabletop turn-based card game that i used to be pretty involved in. because i relocated, i needed to find new people to play with. this became a circus of humiliation: unlike most games, i do actually know how to play M:TG, and i was actually pretty good. however, on all three stops i made, i got told various things about how they didn’t have space for any new people that night (while at least one gent was waiting to play), that the open game night announced on the store’s website was “private”, and, oh yes, that “you don’t look like you belong here.” when there’s 23 guys and you, ladypeople, and you’re the one being told you don’t look like you belong there, i think we all know what’s going on. of course i don’t look like i belong there when everyone there fits a monoculture…but that doesn’t mean i don’t belong there, goddammit. so because i had no one to play with, and nobody answered my Craigslist ad seeking people to play with, i gave up on playing Magic: The Gathering about six years ago. is this necessary and central to my life? no, no it’s not. but it reminded me that solely because of my gender, i have no place in geek space because of some unfounded fear that i was there to laugh at people…when my presence was there solely to make them taste the wrath of my blue-white deck. i’ve been cleaning up lately, and when i clean, i see my endless amount of M:TG cards and not only is it a reminder that i miss playing the game, it’s a reminder that a structural barrier got in my way of being able to enjoy something that brought me fun…because someone who didn’t even know me saw me and assumed that either i was going to laugh at them or that i would be incompetent…based on my gender.

the feminist critiques of the “fake geek girl” fabrication have been pretty scathing and deservedly so. the article i linked above from the always amazing Devin at Badass Digest is a fine example of a reasoned criticism of the misogyny behind the “FGG” designation and Susana Polo provides some constructive criticism of the trope, but there have been writers like Tara Brown who have shamelessly played into the sexist concept of the “fake geek girl” while all the same venerating almost all the elitism that makes geek circles inaccessible to those of us who come from lower classes, even once we have the cards and know the rules. there’s Joe Peacock’s fiery rage of sexism and woman-fearing that he splattered all over the CNN GeekOut blog, a particularly nasty and hostile piece which reminds most of us womenfolk that in a world run by bro-culture we’re never going to be let in even as guests, because nothing we can do is good enough. Peacock sets out one of the greatest fallacies in treehouse culture: “i deserve to be here, but I get to decide whether or not you’re good enough.” hint: you’re never going to be ‘good enough’ when the person deciding is scared to death of you, regardless of the reason. it’s me and my Magic card case wandering into the game store looking for someone to play all over again. no matter what excuse you give, the end result is that the myth of the “fake geek girl” is advanced to keep all women out of the geeky pursuits. 

so maybe i don’t know who directed Star Trek V: The Final Frontier or the reasons behind the worship of Wil Wheaton and i certainly don’t read the “right” comics though i do treasure my signed copy of Hazelnuts #0 and i can give you a nuanced and detailed critique of the comics distribution system in the US and Canada and how it helps preserve independent comic shops and keeps the chains from getting in on the action as easily as they do in many other forms of media sales. i know my credentials are going to come up short on some level, but i have a feeling that Joe Peacock’s will, too…it’s just that as a function of entry into space, his credentials aren’t questioned based on his gender.

and this is what dawned on me over that giant pink Mason jar: i’m a “fake trans girl.” i don’t have the credentials to be allowed into trans space without being questioned and called insufficient. i’m never going to be able to claim that i have legitimacy and cite how much money i’ve spent on surgery as a justification and i don’t have anyone already inside the space to vouch for me. i’m an outsider, and the guardians of trans space, generally unquestioningly enforcing transfundamentalism, believe that this space must be protected from outsiders at all costs. the possibilities are just as narrow when it comes to trans circles as it is within geek circles: you’re either scared i’m there to laugh at you or that my assertion of gender is inherently insufficient. is my femaleness inherently insufficient? well, of course it is because that’s how it is for all women. consider the levels of body policing and shaming that patriarchal culture dispenses toward even cis heterosexual white women like Romola Garai, claiming she’s “too fat” for fashion and Hollywood movie roles and airbrushing her curves away in still photography. now, Ms. Garai and i are the same height, but she’s probably about 6-12 inches smaller around than i depending on which body parts we’re discussing.  the fact that her body is shamed and hidden has everything to do with the trap all women find ourselves in…because we live squarely under the thumb of patriarchy, no woman’s body will ever be “good enough”. in other words, by dint of presenting as female, we’re all already not good enough and the transfundamentalist kapo merely enforces whatever their own biases entail to say some trans women aren’t good enough, blithely ignoring that many people they do let in don’t meet the standards they cite as “necessary to keep the group functioning.”

now, as for the thinking i’m there to laugh at you part…i don’t even know what to say there, but increasingly i fear that might be part of how transfundamentalist enforcement works. i mean, when there’s no other explanation, Occam’s Razor pretty much suggests to default to base human instinct and around trans issues that seems to always be fear.  transfindamentalists cling to a pathological need to enforce borders but there’s no real foundation for the enforcement of these borders…the differences in trans women that Ashley Love, Just Jennifer, TS-Si and their ilk rage against are completely ethereal things that cannot possibly be grounded in reality and which sound much like the “feminine essence” argument many people from the MichFest boards use to justify excluding trans women. (since MichFest “prunes” their boards to remove all trans-related discussion, i regret i can’t provide you with a link. got screenshots? send ’em to inchoaterica at gmail dot com!)  when the argument is identical from someone who says all trans women are invalid and someone like Just Jennifer who says most trans women are invalid, you start to notice that they’re chasing identical wisps into the woods of transmisogyny, and i think we all know what happens when you chase wisps into the wood. the same fate invariably befalls every traveler who is unwise enough to give chase to those mysterious lights…

heck, an open invitation to transfundamentalists to explain their position garnered no actual responses, here or on any of the various messageboards these posts end up reblogged on. so let me tell you this plain and simple, HBSers and your sort: no outsider trans person is there to laugh at you, and the suggestion that we would implies that all of us have the same base instincts in your hearts that you do in excluding. if you believe this, you surely buy that Magneto was right and that humanity is beyond saving…i guess maybe that’s the real difference between us, as i subscribe fervently to that Dumbledore was right, in that people may well be different but a common uniting cause should be enough to bring us together. We are only as strong as we are united, as weak as we are divided. Lord Voldemort’s gift for spreading discord and enmity is very great. We can fight it only by showing an equally strong bond of friendship and trust. Differences of habit and language are nothing at all if our aims are identical and our hearts are open. (from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, by J.K. Rowling)

so you’re enforcing borders that have no foundations in reality and clinging to them…i had thought that the reason was to be mean, but now i realize that transfundamentalism clings to these borders because it’s terrified of what happens if it doesn’t. in other words, the transfundamentalist lashes out first out of fear of how the outsider will treat them, ascribing the worst intent to the outsider without giving them a chance.  the Just Jennifers of the world are so scared of how other trans people  will be seen by cis folks to the point they destroy other trans people for what amounts to shits and giggles to preserve their illusionary safety  that they believe they’re “good enough” to be provided by cis people. at the heart of all these things, though, it’s all wired into fear. fear preserves monocultures and keeps the dread outsiders who don’t perfectly match your monoculture out, producing the monocultural idea of One True Way.

when you’ve never tried anything else and believe there’s One True Way, you get things like the idea that there are “fake geek girls” and “fake trans girls” alike. we can go on at length about why these standards are used to judge women and how all this does is reinforce kyriarchical-patriarchal ideas that keep us all down….but it’s time to reclaim the tar being thrown at us by people clinging desperately to their sinking lifeboats because they’re too scared to imagine a world populated by people less terrified than they. i reclaim my being a “fake geek girl” because it’s always going to be leveled at me if i try to put my nose into geek space, and i reclaim my being a “fake trans girl” because it obivates the ludicrous nature of deciding who is and isn’t a “real” transsexual based on unquantifiable, imaginary criteria which are enforced whenever someone feels like it.

so yes, i’m a “fake trans girl”…and a member of Dumbledore’s Army while we’re at it. we are only as strong as we are united. 

November 17, 2012

you just build to destroy…

two things are weighing heavily on my mind this morning, and as i put on another cup of tea, i think i’m going to try to write them out. i had started a post on racism within the trans community and some myths about passing that often seem linked to them, but as muses are wont to do, doing research on that to find some gallingly racist quotes led me to something else entirely…go figure.

first of all, Kiira Triea/Denise Tree/Denise Magner has passed on at age 61. there’s a number of reports out there on the Intertubes about her passing, but Kiira played some role when i first peered out of the closet in the early 00s…i had not suspected she was perpetrating a hoax until much later when i was presented with clear and complete evidence that this woman, along with her many sock puppets, lied to me along with other people i consider dear. Kiira was the kind of silver-tongued liar who had a story that constantly changed as her life went on, and though i sympathize with what probably led her to do this, her choice to use sock puppets and her willingness to use other people led to her much-deserved undoing. Ms. Magner often advanced theories toxic to trans women, from intersex primacy to the most fervent transfundamentalism i’ve ever seen. i have refrained from linking to the truly acidic content about Ms. Magner’s passing, as you can find it yourself with some work and because as bad of a person as she was/chose to be, i prefer not to speak ill of the dead. additionally, Ms. Magner died of cancer, which is pretty much the most likely thing to get you when you’re intersex/ed, something we don’t really talk about and something that underscores why all trans and/or intersex/ed and/or gender-nonconforming people need access to safe healthcare. i am very conflicted about Ms. Magner, her position as Alice Domurat Dreger’s sycophant, and the lies she told, but i confess i still cried a bit because i hoped one day maybe we’d get the whole story…because i have no doubt her real story was meaningful and maybe she’d even renounce her transfundamentalism.

but this reminds me of something, an admission i’ve long been waiting for some way to make: i used to be a transfundamentalist. i believed the line that there were good trans people and bad trans people, i believed that your worth was directly related to how well you passed, and that being trans was something to be terribly ashamed of and something you should hate yourself for. whilst i didn’t engage in controlling access to common spaces or hiding resources, i did engage in many things i’m not proud of, from mocking people online to at least twice inadvertently saying really horrible things to someone’s face about their passability, or whatever commodity i had bought into. i feel awful for all these things, and i am very sorry to have been so reprehensible. i would blame the fact that i was pretty much psych medicated into a haze…during those years of being medicated so i won’t remember stuff, [TW: rape, incest, violence] i used to be an asshole, but at the same time i know i freely chose to enforce transfundamentalism in the belief that maybe it’d buy me some safety.  my early explorations of a world beyond the trans closet after a decade-plus in it were unfortunately steeped in transfundamentalism, and i have to be accountable for that. if i hurt you, if i laughed at you, if i invalidated you, i’m sorry…and i know, sadly, i did all these things. i am ashamed, i am horrified, and i understand that i probably lost a few people out of my life who i deeply regret losing because i was a transfundamentalist.

this is why i get the transfundamentalist mindset: i really believed that maybe if i cut down my sisters at the ankles that i’d buy myself some safety and maybe i’d be thought of as less threatening than, you know, those people. while i never got into the “transgender vs. transsexual” shit, i sure did buy that my chromosomes made me better and that my age at transition meant i wasn’t affected by all those meanie-pie things Bailey, Lawrence, Zucker, and Blanchard (BLZB) said about autogynephiles…i mean, if you dealt with it before 18, it magically didn’t apply to you! oh, lord, i really believed that autogynephilia made a difference? i feel so horrible for believing this shit, but i should also talk about how i let the construction of whiteness into my life that i believed i had to follow, too.

i have spent most of my life trying to pass for white. yeah, as i’ve discussed before, i’m pretty pale, but between my features, hair, social class, family, etc…i would have to do some work to be able to maintain consistent passing as Caucasian. i once thought this, too, was something i was supposed to do. i have bought more Black Opal Body Fade Creme Maximum Strength Plus than i really want to admit, fighting the hell out of my skin as it darkened in puberty. “Apply over areas of discoloration of the body…” the label advises, and did i ever…from my nape to my feet. even in places on my arms and torso where i’m literally pretty close to see-through, i slathered myself in it. i straightened my 3B/3C (depends on the day…) curls into this dead, lifeless curtain that would hang over my face. i tried blue contact lenses for a while, colored my hair every color under the sun, and though i would rage against the white man in private, in public i found myself trying to figure out if this shit was really working. i mean, after all, i went from an ugly, misshapen sometimes-regarded-as-boy to what most of the world seems to agree is female, why not power through my race and leverage that my skin wasn’t “discolored” to my advantage?

because, well, it’s bad for you. my hair was a lifeless curtain because it broke; i grew it out once with the help of so much weave it actually stayed…kind of…straight. i tried putting it in dreadlocks when it was long…don’t dread your hair when it’s half-weave. $200 every two months to make your hair have that special “it’s relaxed!” look, carrying a flatiron with you everywhere…and that Black Opal shit…it’s a tube full of lies. see, hydroquinone will lighten your skin…a bit. it will take out those weird discolorations we get on our knees and elbows (ASHY KNEES!) but a good moisturizer will do that, too. and from a look of horror i gave my hairdresser one day in 2011 when she told me to give it up and go natural to today, i have grown to love my curls and all the weird things they do. a little fluffing, a little humectant, and boom, out the door. that thirty minutes i spent every morning in my quest for Caucasian approval? i spend it sleeping now. the funny part is that i know i am a whole hell of a lot better-looking this way…the past couple of times i straightened my hair, i gave up after two days and started wearing a hat for the rest of the week, covering the shame from hurting my precious locks. since i got back on hormones about a year ago after a three year lapse, i don’t even look like my driver’s license picture from 2010 anymore, and i think that’s a wonderful thing. that person hated herself, and whilst i don’t exactly love myself now, it’s better.

so i understand you, transfundamentalists. i used to ascribe to the impossible standards you uphold, i used to want to be in your circle and pursuing the same illusory safety that you believe you’re finding. i used to think i was better than other trans people, and now i know that i’m not. i scream about your poison because i drank so much of it. i drank Ms. Magner’s poison, from her sockpuppet “Janelle” who carefully copied my entire fucking life story to Kiira herself talking about intersex/ed rights and organizing and how we were going to make ISNA relevant again, etc etc…it never happened. like everything Ms. Magner did, like everything transfundamentalism does, like trying to be a race you’re not, it’s all poison in the end regardless of your intent.

second, i’m dealing with a lot of criticism that all my blog ever does is, well, criticize. there’s multiple examples of this not being true but i do know that much of this stuff that gets spread all over is critical. i recently discovered that the local TDoR people actually do have planning meetings, but an email about a month and a half ago to the published address for information claimed that, you guessed it, there’s no such meetings and that you can get involved through the simple universal leader of all things around here, your gender-appropriate support group. i feel badly, because i now know there’s at least one woman of color working in this structure that looks all-white from the outside, and i really don’t want to criticize other trans women of color for existing and i feel awful about, well, what i’ve had to say on the matter. but at the same time, i don’t know how to be involved since that door isn’t open to me. i am sure this is not a personal vendetta, but instead the usual bullshit about “the way things work” and “the way things have always worked.”  the TDoR people didn’t blow me off because i’m Erica, they blew me off because i’m a generic outsider.

this is the central question i have about how to stop always criticizing and start doing.  criticism is important (i mean, Statler and Waldorf are the best Muppets and not just because y’all know they’re an old gay couple…) but i think there’s got to be some development past criticism. but how do you develop past criticism when you’re outgroup? i feel like this is kind of screaming in a vacuum, and while i am deeply honored and touched that 41,000 (whoa!) of you have read this stuff, i don’t know how to take it to the next level. i don’t know how to navigate this world of closed doors, of “leadership summits” with hefty price tags i can’t afford, and of living somewhere other than the Bay Area, New York, or Chicago when it feels like all trans activism that has transcended the boundaries of closed-door secret meetings and support groups (at least in the US) is in one of those places. because activism has transcended those boundaries there, there’s more opportunity to try to work to find a place that you fit. and yes, there’s something to be said for trying to build something like that, but i can’t do it alone and that’s eternally frustrating, and until there’s some sea change moving away from the idea that the support group is what you use to vet people, well…nothing’s going to change.

but i want, i so badly want, to figure out how to start doing. and maybe, for now, criticism is all i have for that doing. and if that makes me seen as a mean person or an asshole, so be it. i freely admit i am envious of the level of access some people enjoy and some of us do not have, but i can’t think of a proactive solution to change things, and for fuck’s sake, i don’t want your pity, i want your ideas. i want to know why things that work in other places can’t work here, or in Los Angeles, or in Peoria for all i care. i want to be able to show clinics that no, trans women are not all opposed to informed consent healthcare (which the local nest of transfundamentalists  is, medical access info and being an entry point to the community is how they keep their power, keep taking grants for “trans health” and doing nothing to advocate for us…) and yeah, that we can live in a world where trans women come in all shapes, colors, sizes, forms, and types. i want to know how you stand up to tyrants, because what i see in comic books isn’t the truth and what i see in the movies sure as hell isn’t, but our society, for all its tall tales about “the King’s tyranny”, has stood up to tyrants only when it’s convenient to do so. our society encourages us to sit down, shut the fuck up, and let the tyrants have their way.

speaking truth to that might be criticism, yes, but for now the only tool i have is criticism, and that’s what i’m doing. if that’s not right for TDoR, your “organizing meetings”, or your “leadership summits”, maybe you ought think about what you’re doing in not including those of us who criticize. i know it’s making me enemies, but increasingly i just don’t give a fuck about the feelings of tyrants. now if i could only stand up to them…