“If you see my dad / tell Him my brothers / all gone mad / they’re beatin’ on each other.”

“If you see my dad / tell Him my brothers / all gone mad / they’re beatin’ on each other.”

To recap:

In the past two weeks alone, over a hundred queer and trans black and brown people were shot in Orlando’s Pulse night club, a man with a small arsenal was apprehended on his way to LA’s Pride eventBritish Labour MP Jo Cox was brutally assassinated outside a library,  a teacher’s strike in Oaxaca turned deadly as police murdered and injured dozens, the UK voted to leave the European Union, spurred on largely by anti-immigrant sentiment, and nearly 90 documented racist hate crimes have taken place in Brexit’s wake. It seems every day the news gets worse and worse, a kind of intersectional trauma weaving through each incident, with folks of color, queers, and religious minorities being hit the hardest. It feels as though whatever has made us human, whatever evolutionary advantages we have grown through cooperation and shared experience is unraveling at its very seams. We are becoming something else, or we are merely showing the world what has been there all along, simmering barely below the surface. It’s difficult not to think in hyperbolic terms in hyper-violent times.

It’s hard to know how to feel. I spent the weekend of the Pulse shooting at the Philadelphia Trans Health Conference, and that Monday night I attended a vigil whereupon I exchanged heartbroken words with a few familiar black, trans folk — the same I had accompanied to the con all weekend.

It could have been them, I thought. It could have been us.

I’m not black or Latinx. I’m not trans feminine. I’m not Muslim. I do not directly share identity with those who are so often the targets of hate in the Western world. While it’s possible that someone could have decided to take out their disgust of transgender people on the attendees of the PTHC, they didn’t. It’s not entirely genuine to say, “it could have been me,” yet it does feel fair to say that it very well could have been people I know and love. I once spent a few months living near Orlando, and I was relieved when an ex of mine checked in as safe on facebook. It wasn’t close, per se, but it was just too close for comfort.

At the vigil, folks wrote affirming messages in Spanish to the victims, their kin. My heart aches for those I won’t ever know, for those so unlike myself in many ways, and so much alike in others. But does it matter?

Do we need to BE Orlando to grieve for them? Isn’t it okay to just be sad, to just be angry, without having to be one of them? Is it the inability to accept difference that leads to this kind of thing in the first place? I know the sentiment comes from a good place. We want to be family, and we want to come together. We want to hold them all in our hearts, to be one queer family, one human family, even though we may never hold their hands or take them to our beds. This mourning feels disingenuous especially amid the backdrop of racism that has forced black and brown activists from Pride events, and has instead pushed police to the forefront. I firmly believe this is a time for white and light skinned queer and trans people like myself to take this Pride month, as it draws to a close, to reflect on the ways in which we benefit from anti-black, anti-Latinx, and anti-Muslim sentiment, and to show up for those who aren’t just like us.

None of this is to say that I feel particularly safe, even shielded by my own relative privilege. When I walk the streets alone, in my tan skin, tipping off only the status of “other,” and never my “true” ethnic background, in this body read as female just as often as male, I don’t ever take my own safety for granted. I refuse to distrust my neighbors, and I smile as I pass them, whether or not they have a smile for me in return. It becomes tricky, navigating this world which feels increasingly hostile, even as I know it is harder still for some of my friends.

These past few weeks have been trying times, to say the least. We’re all figuring out how to care for ourselves and show up for one another the best week can. While it’s important to be critical, and I know I have been even in this post, perhaps it’s just as important to be gentle with each other. If you’re feeling anything like I am right now, I know you’re on the constant lookout for “what next?” with every cautious refresh of your social media feeds and each addition to your inbox. I want us all to make it. Even when the victims don’t look like me, I mourn their loss, and feel a tug in my heartstrings for their surviving families. With every video I see of white people doing heinous things to POC and immigrants, I feel the need to disown and condemn the whiteness within myself. I am disgusted by my white kin while simultaneously knowing I am not safe from them; I am both potential victim and victimizer, and each headline puts me at war with myself.

These are complex pieces to put together, and none of us have all the answers. It feels like the world had turned inside out, and unfortunately it’s all far from over.

Let’s all try to be there for one another. If not us, then who?


Photo credit: the author

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“I’d meet a good girl / but I’d make a terrible boy”

“I’d meet a good girl / but I’d make a terrible boy”

(I’d meet a good boy / but I’d make a terrible girl)

CW: Gender dysphoria, depression, suicidality


 

I remember once upon a time, long before I knew being trans or genderqueer was a possibility… I couldn’t conceive of what exactly, only that something was amiss. I never knew its name. It was always there under the surface, a quiet and improbable voice whispering an indecipherable code. I loved femininity. I was thrilled when my mom took me to the Estée Lauder counter to get a makeover and my first real “grown up” makeup kit. I loved my high femme existence, replete with heels, skirts, corsets, and lace. But it always felt… false. Something in me doubted the “naturalness” of this identity.

It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy it, or that I don’t enjoy these things now, but it always felt like a put-on. Smoke and mirrors. A form of drag…

As a very young child I wanted to be one of the boys. I wanted to skateboard and pretended not to be squeamish when my step brother and his friends would play with tadpole guts. But I didn’t want to be a boy, so much as be seen as one of the boys.

The inability to ever articulate these feelings fully was at turns confusing and maddening. I realized I was shuffled into the “girl” category, but I had no idea how to do girl. Other girls my age seemed to get it, to understand some crucial piece of the puzzle I simply failed to grasp. They liked boys the right way… They wanted to sit in boys’ laps, and not have them sit in their laps. They wanted to be rescued by the boys, not be their body guards. They liked the boys who bullied the sissies, and I developed crush after crush on gay boy after gay boy. (This, by the way, has never changed. To this day the most appealing AMAB folks are those who read as femme of center – my sweetie supports this by gifting me with books about Brian Molko and signed 8″x10″s of Kevin Barnes.) It wasn’t until I started sharing my fantasies that I realized something was very different about the way I felt desire; but it didn’t stop there.

Somewhere between being bigger and heavier than my peers and feeling uncertain in a body being increasingly read as female made me excruciatingly self conscious. I vividly remember hating gym class for a whole host of reasons… In my school district in the early 2000’s, there was no room to be queer and bad at sports. You had to pick one or the other, and I failed on both counts.

And you certainly couldn’t be queer in the locker room. I would sequester myself to an unseen corner of the girls’ room and change, both for my own good and that of my classmates. I didn’t want them to worry I was checking them out, and I absolutely didn’t want them to catch even a scant glimpse of any inch of my bare skin.

This didn’t ever dissuade me from embracing my sexuality, however. Even if my straight counterparts hated me, I found refuge in the bodies of the fellow queers with whom I shared some of the most tender and immensely fucked up explorations. I hurt others and found myself hurt, but along the way I put a few pieces together.

I stopped calling myself bisexual at some point and adopted “pansexual.” After a sweet (and patient) fuckbuddy of mine explained why she reclaimed the word “queer” for political reasons, I realized sex was more than just for pleasure, but was a form of activism in and of itself. Being branded deviant now meant I had community and a sense of belonging, and something to fight for, whereas before it had made me miserable.

So I had some things figured out… I liked women, men, and after joining various dating sites and meeting trans and intersex people, I realized I could very easily be attracted to and love anyone, irrespective of their gender or genital configuration. In a perhaps ironic twist of fate, it was my friendships and romantic interactions with trans women that led me to realize that there was something other than mere attracting stirring within me, but a sense of self-recognition.

A decade after having heard the word “genderqueer” for the first time, I realized I could apply the label to myself. I had felt for so long that I wasn’t allowed somehow, because I enjoyed being femme. Just by knowing other people with an experience similar enough, I was given the permission I believed I needed to become a more authentic version of myself. Yet it would still be a number of years before I would meet anyone trans or non-binary who was AFAB – and certainly very few who had retained a positive relationship with their femininity… Given a shitty blueprint, I attempted to “butch up,” but that form of drag felt just as false as all the others. A fun costume to adopt sometimes, perhaps, but ultimately not the right fit.

As I think back on the times when only a dim bulb of my gender otherness began to be visible, I wonder if the dysphoria would have killed me, or if I could have persevered as a closeted “cis” person. For many trans people, the pain is unbearable, and they feel the only remedy is to end their lives. While I’ve experienced depression and hurt, and I’ve even had suicidal thoughts that have plagued me for months, in the back of my mind there’s a far louder “yeah, right” that chimes in, and reminds me that checking out now would mean missing out on the cool shit coming around the bend. (There it is – the secret to my unflappable optimism. I’m forever stuck in FOMO limbo.) While it wouldn’t be a comfortable or healthy existence, I doubt I would actually die.

Personally, I’m wary of the narrative that transition is the only option for trans people, and that to deny transition-related care means to deny a life-saving medical intervention. While this is true for many, many people, it is not true for all of us. For some of us, chemical or surgical intervention isn’t desirable at all. For other still, we are not on the brink of death and this may not be saving our lives, but our lives are worth more than simple survival. We deserve to survive, and we also deserve to flourish. We deserve to make the most of the time we have on the planet. We deserve to be as comfortable, beautiful, and whole as we can be. In my opinion, we all deserve to be believed and treated as we need – and it is only up to us to decide what that looks like.

I definitely know I can’t “go back.” The toothpaste is officially out of the tube, and I’ve long since outed myself politically, personally, professionally. I am fully open to the idea that my gender will continue to be fluid throughout my life, and I embrace the possibilities and iterations of self to come. I know this is at least one step on my right path, and I cannot wait to see where it all goes.


 

photo credit: the author

“We think it’s getting better but nobody’s really sure.”

“We think it’s getting better but nobody’s really sure.”

Enforced sexual dimorphism in an age when we’ve all but mastered our reproductive capacity is a matter of taste and not necessity. We are no longer purely at the mercy of biology. We can plan when, how, and whether we will bear offspring via the many forms of birth control, abortion, in vitro fertilization, etc., which continue to advance and improve every day. Many of these methods are relatively cheap and readily accessible, at least in nations and regions of relative wealth. Shulamith Firestone predicted that gendered class distinctions would erode as women gained complete access to the means of reproduction, and envisioned a future in which women were completely freed from hosting new life at all. In only a few decades since her Dialectic of Sex was published, we’re closer to that reality than she probably could have dreamed.

If we were still a threatened population on the verge of extinction, needing to know whether your potential mate was the “right” kind to either receive your seed or inseminate you in as certain terms as possible might make sense, but it’s intellectually dishonest to pretend that’s where we are as a species. We’re among the most prolific mammals who’ve ever lived, and you can find us in nearly climate and region of the world. We also know that unlike many of our non-human brethren, we engage in sex for pleasure without the intention of getting pregnant every time. Many of us never have sex in a way that could ever get us pregnant, whether through acts that don’t involve the genitals meeting, (oral, manual) or with non-bodily implements (sex toys, whips, rope). Many of us don’t care much about sex, if at all, and should perhaps be the least among us to be pressured to present in a way “telling” of our biological gender.

Is it really valuable to advertise our genitals via external presentation – see “cultural genitals” – particularly in this cultural moment? I’m struck by this as I also muse on what, exactly, the qualitative difference is between the so-called “female”(vagina/vulva/clitoris, etc.) and “male” (penis/testicles, etc.) reproductive organs… From my estimation, we’re talking about the difference between .5″-6″ (on average) of erectile tissue, and perhaps the presence/absence of a “vaginal” opening. An erogenous zone is an erogenous zone, and while we might have certain preferences with regard to what we like to have done to ours or whose we do what with, when it comes down to it there’s really not a whole lot of variance. When I do talks on pegging, I discuss not only the reality that almost everyone has an anus, but I take the opportunity to show a slide of the Quigley scale which shows that, like cultural gender, our supposedly fixed biological/material gender includes many non-binary modes of being.

 

Quigley scale for (P)AIS

photo credit: http://intersexroadshow.blogspot.com/

An anthropologist from another time and place might find the importance we place on this minutiae puzzling.

As I read about the case of Jennifer Laude’s murderer, Joseph Scott Pemberton, (and think of the many, many trans people – mostly women – who have died in similar attacks) I’m struck by how plausible arguments like his have been regarded throughout the course of Western civilization. One who does not conform to a popular conception of “womanhood” or “femininity” is punished by the most severe means imaginable, and men of the establishment have nodded along in agreement. The presence of a penis, in their minds, negates all possibility of identification as woman. What is at stake, then, is the attacker’s sexuality. Despite the claim that Pemberton felt duped or raped, the real repulsion men like him feel is a self-repudiation: it is a betrayal of themselves evidenced by their own arousal. Like every other woman who is raped or beaten by men, these women become not only the victim but the supposed perpetrator of their own victimization. To spell it out plainly, Jennifer Laude and her many fallen siblings did not die because they were “found out” – they died because they turned their attacker on. It is internalized homophobia manifested in pure rage. Killing her is killing the part of himself that is suspect, the part that “fails” to be heterosexual. In a culture that demands 100% obedience to the gender binary, this is only realized for men in 100% heterosexuality. Doing sexuality wrong here is not an option.

I won’t claim to exist in a vacuum where I don’t realize that culture plays a huge role in how we are socialized, and who we become. Yet I value the chances when I get to be surrounded by those who openly reject the pressure to choose a gender and settle down; those who realize that our genitals are just that, and that the rest of who we are is up to us. In my day to day life, I’m often inundated with experiences where I am gendered as either male or female, and sometimes it simply makes my day easier to go with it. At work, my gender is seldom the central focus. When I am misgendered, it’s often not in a context where it makes sense for me to correct (in dealing with a crisis situation, for instance). Sometimes, I just don’t have the energy or mental wherewithal to do it. Still, I find myself resentful. I want to be seen as a whole human being, and part of that is my non-binary gender. I want to be more than seen, but accepted and appreciated. A few of my clients share with me that they do not know whether I am AFAB or AMAB, and many of them admire this about me. I like to think that for some of them, I can serve as a kind of role model, or at least evidence that it is possible to do this non-binary gender thing as an adult.

Like Firestone, I look forward to a day when gendered class divisions are completely exploded and allow for the possibilities of complete freedom from prescribed gender roles. I hope daily for gender equality, and I extend that beyond simply women and men. I think the only way we can do this is to get away from the claims of TERFs and “gender critical” feminists, whose conservative views of biological determinism only serve to set us back as human beings. We need to be open to the possibility that many of us will betray what our genetics supposedly dictate. We need to admit that we do not know why some people are trans, or non-binary, or neutrois, or Muxes, or two-spirit, or third gender, or any of the array of genders that refute the Eurocentric woman/man dyad, but that there is nothing wrong with those who do not “appropriately” advertise their genitals. We need to allow all people to determine what parts of gendered experience make the most sense to them, and for each of us to express a gender most fitting to our own personal preferences – AND to be respected while doing it.

In short, I look forward to a day when women like Jennifer Laude are allowed to live and thrive.


Photo credit: autostraddle

“Seasons change and so did I…”

“Seasons change and so did I…”

CW: Intimate partner violence, sexual assault


You know how you do that thing where you start a blog, prep a few posts to be released in a timely fashion, then start a new job and completely run out of steam? Yeah, sorry rest-of-the-month-of-August-and-beginning-of-September.

I’m back to write about something that feels very important, something weighing heavily on my mind as this new season begins.

This time last year I was debating whether or not I should leave an abusive relationship. We tried couples therapy, we attempted to rebuild intimacy and trust, but ultimately we couldn’t make it work. My ex gave up all interest in trying to work things out, and I knew there was nowhere to go from there. Still, I was reluctant to leave the relationship. We’d been married for just shy of two years, and had moved into an apartment with friends last summer. I was in my final year of college and working on my thesis. It seemed impossible to end this relationship and pick up the slack by myself financially speaking. It all seemed too hard. Around the time I was contemplating all these hard choices, the #WhyIStayed hashtag was making the rounds, and it brought to light that situations like mine take place all over the world all of the time. Survivors of IPV feel stuck between a rock and a hard place, and finances are often a leading cause.

Completely distraught, I met with two of my mentors (to whom I will forever owe my gratitude and undying respect) and asked their advice. One gave me the kick in the ass I needed to move forward, and the other assured me my future was bright enough to stand on my own. I began the difficult process of extricating myself from this miserable relationship. As I recently wrote on the subject:

I had to face the fact that not only had my body been violated time and time again, but my belief in another person I once adored and with whom I’d planned to build a life and family had been completely eroded. I decided to get out in order to survive. Sleeping next to someone whose touch made me feel nauseated became too much to bear. I felt fraudulent, pretending to be content when instead I felt absolutely numb. It’s only more recently that I’ve been able to deal with the pain the actions of others caused me, and with complications stemming from the decisions I had to make as a result. Some of those decisions, particularly the ones where I opted to take care of and stand up for myself, resulted in estrangement from other relationships that either had to be temporarily suspended or walked away from completely. It’s been incredibly hard. The domino effect from these choices reverberates through me in countless other ways to this day. Things keep getting better, but slowly and often painstakingly.

It’s never easy to leave. This is particularly true if, like me, you are female assigned at birth and perceived as masculine of center. Though I identify as femme, my identity is fluid and over the years I’ve ID’d as butch, transmasculine, and mostly trans and genderqueer. I’m perceived as male about half the time now, and that comes with innumerable privileges, but also detriments. There are many reasons why FAAB trans, genderqueer, and masculine-of-center (MOC) folks might not report their abuse or seek out help. Some cite their abuse as emasculating — this is similar to why cisgender men don’t report abuse, but when you’re trans, other aspects of your identity can come into play. As survivor Joe Ippolito writes in his article on trans men/MOC folks and IPV:

[T]he trans men/MOC people I talked to seemed, like myself and many other trans people, particularly vulnerable to such abuse because the perpetrators would often use our trans identities against us to further assert power and control over our lives. Other trans-specific abusive tactics include, according to trans advocacy group FORGE: threatening to ‘out’ someone to their employer, friends, or family members; voicing anti-trans epithets and negative stereotypes; and utilizing knowledge of police abuse geared towards trans people to further discourage targets from seeking help.

Someone newly establishing their identity as masculine can be particularly vulnerable because our society teaches us that to be victimized is to be weak, and that only women are raped or abused. Masculinity leaves no room for victimization. Even if we know better it can be tough to overcome that stigma. Some of us might even ask for help but be denied, humiliated, or otherwise invalidated in our identities in the process. We might not be believed, because no one might think a MOC person can be raped or abused. But as this fact sheet on IPV in LGBT communities states, “Abuse is NOT about size, strength, or who is ‘butch’ or more masculine. Abuse is about using control to gain power and control regardless of a person’s gender or sexual identity.” In some cases, we might even fear being further traumatized — or worse. Ky Peterson, a black trans man who defeneded himself against his rapist, has spent the last three years in jail for involuntary manslaughter.*

When you are being abused by another trans or genderqueer person, especially someone male assigned at birth, there is the added pressure to not demonize or imprison a trans woman (or someone who is perceived as such). Similarly to abuse in cisgender lesbian communities discussed in the landmark piece Suffering In a Silent Vacuum, we might feel guilt for bringing more bad press to an already maligned community. But I firmly believe that we will only heal through truth-telling and acknowledging that there is nothing shameful in being abused, and that those of us who have been through it and those of us who perpetrate violence against others have the ability to recover.

Let me be clear: I believe in accountability and rehabilitation for those who cause harm to others. I believe a community can hold folks accountable through love and good faith effort. I know people who have been earnest in their desire to get better and have committed themselves to accountability — one such person put themselves through the process of their own accord and “outs” themselves on first dates as someone who has caused harm. However, when one refuses accountability, or continues to perpetrate harm, (as I learned my ex has,) I also firmly believe in the rights of survivor/victims to warn others and keep their communities safe. The missing stair analogy works well here, and I believe keeping one another from tripping is vital. If the “stair” can’t be fixed and the person who causes harm isn’t willing to get better, we as survivor/victims have every right to call bullshit. I also believe in the rights of survivor/victims to take care of themselves at all costs. For me this meant securing a protection from abuse, filing for divorce, and limiting my exposure to toxic relationships in order to give myself the chance to heal.

I also firmly believe we own our stories. Our stories are powerful. Every time I tell mine, other people share theirs. Sometimes the most powerful thing someone can say is, “yeah, me too.”

In that spirit, I will conclude this post (which turned out to be much, much longer than I thought it would be) with something I shared elsewhere:

If you’re struggling in an abusive relationship, do what you can to save and protect yourself. You deserve to prioritize yourself. If you have to avoid certain people and situations, that’s okay. Learn to trust your gut again. In all likelihood, you’ve been avoiding listening to that tiny voice inside of you for a really long time. You aren’t alone. The more and more I talk about this stuff, the more others open up to me that they’ve been through it, too. You’re not alone. You. are. not. alone. Whenever you feel like you’re completely isolated and wading through the day to day all by yourself feels too hard, take a little piece of me, maybe the words you’re reading now, and keep it with you. You’re strong enough to do what you need. I promise.

For more information on how to get help as a trans person experiencing IPV, check out this link: http://forge-forward.org/

*To learn more about Ky’s struggle, please visit https://freeingky.wordpress.com/

Photo credit: the author

“We’re the same and we’re not, know what I’m saying? Listen…”

“We’re the same and we’re not, know what I’m saying? Listen…”

Pictures tell a thousand words.* We know because we’ve heard it so much. I can look at the picture to the left and reflect on the chill in the air of the warehouse where the photo to the left was taken. How I walked around barefoot, wary of stray glass and brick dust that clung to my bare skin. That was just over four years ago. I can look to the picture on the right and reflect on the warmth and humidity that hung in the air, and the laughter shared with my sweetie and the photographer and friends who were present that day in our back yard. That was just two weekends ago. Continue reading ““We’re the same and we’re not, know what I’m saying? Listen…””