Trans 101

This is the final post. -N

The circumstances under which I first began blogging were very different than the circumstances under which I’m now leaving.

I began being invited to speak about trans and LGBTQ issues in a cis-dominated space. My role was, more or less explicitly, to simply be a trans voice in that space. The readership was cis, and didn’t understand much about those things.

And I was pretty new to all of it myself. I’d only been purposefully living as a woman for a few months. [Read more…]

Acknowledgments, Thanks Yous, and Goodbyes

This isn’t the final post either – N.

UPDATE: also, goddamnit, I am so so sorry, but I don’t think final post is going to be finished by midnight. Not unless I rush through it, and I really don’t want to fuck it up. -sigh- Tomorrow morning then, everyone. Goodnight.

Soooo…

Adding to an already weird week and a delayed conclusion here, I got ALL kinds of messed up sick yesterday (was barely able to eat solid food), and didn’t get much writing done. So I wasn’t able to finish up the posts I’d had planned for Saturday. One of those just went up (“How Do I Know If I’m Trans?”), but the other two aren’t quite ready, yet. They’re the second part to the “Privileges and Decoys” two-parter I started earlier this week, and a long-delayed conclusion to (and sort of refinement of) the Fourth Wave series.
If I have time, I’ll try to put those up today, but I’m not sure that’s very likely? I want to make sure I get the Final Post finished, and I don’t want it to look sloppy and rushed in parts.

(It’ll be finished tonight, hopefully before midnight)

If I can’t get the two Series-Concluding ones up today, though, I’ll make sure to have them accessible to you at some later time. This blog itself is going to stay active for a couple more weeks anyway, so people have time to read the newer posts, save things, read the archives, whatever. So maybe I’ll just pop them up later? But still, today is the SNR “Finale”, and I’ll be saying goodybe to this as my “priority” project. I know I’ve been slacking on it like crazy, but still… the idea that this was what I was “supposed” to be working on, even when I felt not really invested in it, was still acting like a bit of a weight on my shoulders and holding me back from getting properly invested in the other projects I’ve been wanting to do.

Like, every time I felt enthusiastic and ready to get some work done on something, this little voice in my head kept telling me that I should put that energy here instead. And that would end up being demoralizing, and making me feel bad about how little I’d been doing, and I’d feel like I’d let you all down and stuff… and then, yeah, no more enthusiasm.

So I have to move on. I’m sorry!

Before I do, I want to thank and acknowledge everyone who’s helped me out…

First of all, I owe a debt to Rebecca Watson and Amy Roth, through whom I first started blogging when they asked me to join Skepchick, and to Ed Brayton, PZ Myers and Freethought Blogs in general, who were kind enough to take me on and give me this space after I left Skepchick and Queereka. In particular, Ian Cromwell and Greg Laden were an enormous help in finding myself a home here.

I am, of course, leaving here on good terms, having been more than happy to have been a part of this particular corner of the web. It was a joy and pleasure to know my colleagues here. Greta Christina, Miri, Stephanie Zvan, Jason Thibeault, Brianne Bilyeau, Jenn McCreight, Dana Hunter… they’ve all been great to work with and chat with and everything. Zinnia Jones also deserves a special shout-out in that she helped me out a bunch way back when I was first starting out, and first trying to cope with the general weirdness of being a transgender “internet celebrity” (however minor) and being as such in the atheist/skeptic blogosphere in particular.

I’ve also had some amazing trans-feminist colleagues and friends who have informed my work to a tremendous degree, and who helped my thoughts and ideas grow as I worked here. SO MUCH of “my” posts and the concepts I’ve developed here can ONLY honestly be described as collaborative and born out of discourse with all these awesome people I’ve known. Erica Inchoate and Monika London were great close collaborators and friends who had at least some role in almost everything I did here. Conversations with Wm-Caylee Hogg, Ariel Silvera, Imogen Binnie, Ami Angelwings, Christianne Benedict, Lisa Milibank, Susan Derson, Nicholas Kiddle, Jen Richards, Emily Aviva Kapor, Savannah ‘Lefty T Girl’, Sarah Brown, JTR, Amy Winter, Mym, Toranse, Zoe Brain, Roz Kevany, Sadie Vashti, Andy Semler, Lydia Neon, Katherine Lorraine, Xanthe, Patience Newbury and Emily Aiofe Somers also all lent a great deal to various ideas I developed or wrote about, and sometimes just acted as inspirations or reminded me what (and who) I was fighting for. In that regard, I’d also love to thank Janet Mock, who is an amazing, awe-inspiring and consistently just-plain-inspiring woman, who in addition to all her great advocacy work is also someone who know that this is something we need to work together on, and who believes in the work of her sisters and takes time to let us know that she does.

There are tons and tons and tons more badass trans people I’ve gotten to know through my work here, or through the internet trans-feminist discourse in general who I’d LOVE to give shout-outs to as well, but there’s so many of you! So I mostly tried to restrict the above to people who’ve directly impacted my work here in some way. It’s not a “favourite people” list (there’s a couple with whom I’m no longer on good terms), it’s just a people to whom I owe a debt for this blog list.

Of course it wasn’t JUST trans people who were important to the growth and development of my ideas, my writing and my activism. I also have been blessed to know lots of amazing cis allies who’ve been wonderful to have around: Elizabeth ‘Quirk’ Goodman, Carolyn Hogg, Aiofe O’Rierdan, Hannah Wright, Sarah Moglia, ‘Jadehawk’, Maggie Mayhem, April Gardner, Angela Wells, Jessica Luther, Grace from ‘Are Women Human?’, ‘Feminist Whore’, Sophie Hirschfeld, Emily Dietle, Heina Dadabhoy, Liz Henry… these people are all great. And I’d like to thank Gail Simone for being an amazing writer and advocate for diversity in comics (and advocate in general!), for taking the time and energy to genuinely invest herself in making sure she really understands the kinds of experiences and lives she writes about, and for being so kind and generous, and listening to, this particular silly fan-girl and the details of my silly life.

And there are also lots of trans-feminists who I haven’t really had the privilege of knowing, or sometimes just not knowing terribly well, but who nonetheless have inspired or affected me and my work in some regard: Reina July, Drew DeVeaux, Monica Roberts, Julia Serano, Annika, Morgan M. Page, Morgan McCormick, and Paris Lees come to mind, but there are definitely many, many more.

Also a thank you to Autumn Sandeen for the consistent support and promotion of my work!

I also, of course, owe a great deal to the ENTIRE tradition of feminism, trans-feminism, and queer advocacy that preceded me. So I’d also like to thank everyone still fighting that fight.

I’d like to thank the people who’ve brought me out to conventions and conferences, and had me around to give talks or panels, and helped get me around town or offered me a place to sleep or just helped out with travel expenses and things… Chana Messinger, Ania Bula, Kate Donovan, Andrew Tripp, Seanna Watson, Teresa Jusino, Angela Wang, Jules Klassen, Bill Ligertwood, Fred Bremmer… there’s some people who’s names I’ve forgotten, but you’re all great. Thank you!

My fans and readers and supporters and commenters and followers have also been fantastic. Truly, I appreciate you all, and your comments and insights and criticisms and support have been invaluable in helping me grow along with this project, and keep me going. I absolutely wish I could name all of you, but of course I can’t. There’s just waayyy too many of you! Yes, there are a whole bunch of you in particular who do come to mind and stand out and who’ve been particularly awesome to know, but I feel it would be unfair to name just a few of you while leaving others unnamed. I’m sorry! But if you have the feeling that you’re one of the people I’d like to thank, you can probably feel pretty confident that that’s the case!

And enormous thank yous to everyone who ever donated to the tip jar to help keep me going with my various financial needs and housing problems and stuff over the past several months. In particular I’d like to thank the amazing generosity of Natasha Routh, Jeroen Kleijer, Jake Hamby, Elena Ginzburg, Joshua Woodbury and Katie Jerpseth. You’re all fantastic and have my gratitude. There are many, many, many more of you I’d like to thank, and I sincerely hope I finally find some time to send out individual thank yous to all of you. You’re all awesome and I wish I could better convey my gratitude.

(the Tip Jar will stay open for a little while longer, as I still haven’t gotten that whole medical benefits situation sorted out and could use the help. Any little “going away” donations or that, or just to help me land on my feet and keep me going for awhile as I get my new situation sorted out would be enormously appreciated, of course. I’d also like to point out this extremely deserving fundraiser as well, for a trans woman very much in need. Trigger warning for trans-misogynistic violence and medical abuse for that link, though).

And a thank you to Abbie Spracklin for taking me out for food, or lending me a bit of money, and things like that when I needed it. Likewise a thank you to Branwen and Mikayla for the help with housing these past few months.

A HUGE thank you to my long-suffering mom, who has consistently been amazingly supportive and understanding, even in spite of her daughter wasting her life and her potential yelling about stuff on the internet.

There are so so so so many more of you I’d like to thank, but I’m worried that if I try to be any more comprehensive, I’ll never get around to actually finishing that last post!

So.. if you feel left out, please remember that chances are pretty good I do remember you, do appreciate you, and do wish you the best. :)

Oh, and a very special thank you to Cathy Brennan, for that hilarious and flattering “meme” of me.

 

 

How Do I Know If I’m Trans?

This is not the final post. – N

“How do I know if I’m trans?”

This is, by far, the most common question I’ve gotten over the last year and a half, since I began blogging. I’ve gotten it in comments, e-mails, on Facebook, over twitter…sometimes even on dates with ostensibly cis men (which is annoying as fuck, by the way. I don’t go on dates for the sake of offering people free therapy and transgender life-coaching)… it’s a hard question. I want to help. I wish I could. Sometimes I try.

It’s so individual in nature, though. Everyone has their own reasoning and own denials, own sequence of events that have led to this point and rgwie own reasons for being scared and having doubts (despite how universal fear and doubt is to being confronted with this. Like, some of those fears and doubts are pretty consistent across everyone questioning this, but everyone’s got their own individual fears and doubts too). And in terms of the person asking that question, those individual experiences and even the unique context of where they’re at (emotionally, interpersonally, psychologically) when they ask it: Everyone wants or needs to hear a different thing, and it’s not uncommon for people to get SERIOUSLY pissed if you don’t say what they approached you to hear.

And more often than not, they’re not really looking for an answer to guide them, a response on which they’ll base their actions or reassess their thinking. Most of the time, they’re looking for affirmation of a very specific answer they’ve already decided upon, and just want to hear it from someone else they perceive as having some kind of authority (how anyone has that perception about someone as messed up as me is totally beyond me, though). Most of the time within that latter set of “most of the time”, if they don’t get that affirmation they wanted, they get kinda upset.

Especially if they’ve decided that, for some reason, they can’t make this choice and you remind them that they can. No matter how supportive you try to be about that, it’s still throwing their fears and conflict back in their face (which is not to say that reassuring denial is a better option).

Sometimes, though, the question is earnest. They’re scared. They’re in doubt. It’s a huge and terrifying thing to confront, with all kinds of implications, and they can’t cope with that on their own. They want or need someone who seems to know what they’re doing, or has at least been there, to let them know it’s okay, or help them figure this out, or help guide them towards the answer that’s right for them.

Of course they want guidance and help. No one wants to face something so terrifying and huge on their own. When you’re scared, sometimes you reach out for a hand to hold. That’s not cowardly, it’s just human (which is part of why I hate when people talk about how “brave” transitioning is… you have no idea how scared most of us are or were, and talking about this imaginary courage just erases and invalidates the fear we felt, rewrites our own stories… it makes the people who ARE still scared feel that much less secure in themselves, and it gives them more reason to doubt themselves and their feelings or choices despite how completely understandable it is to be afraid when facing this, no matter how “sure” you are).

So the question got asked, the comment got posted, and the e-mail or private message arrived in my inbox, over and over again:

“How do I know if I’m trans?”

I’m sorry, but the short answer is:

You don’t.

The long answer, though… [Read more…]

My Traumatic Life Story

(trigger warning for the last third, following “I wish I could have”: rape, incest, heroin, trauma)

hetero-cis-peoples-ideal-trans-person

From Super Queer Artsy Blog

 

Tell your story.

Speak your truth.

I’ve heard these phrases a lot. Trans women have heard these phrases for decades. We hear them from cis people, at a frequency up there with “have you had the surgery?”

And I don’t trust them.

When they ask us to tell our stories, we know what they mean. They want us to tell the story they want to hear, and often the story they wish to tell. They want us to confirm their expectations and understanding, and to provide them with the juicy, sensational, dark, harrowing, brave and inspiring narrative they’ve come to know, and come to understand as synonymous with what a trans woman is.

It is impossible to extricate the concepts of transgender and transsexual from the narratives we’ve built around them, and attached them to. Which has all kinds of brutal consequences. We ARE the stories and memoirs, and the genres that define them circumscribe our identities.

There’s absolutely a genre for the life story of a trans woman. The Traumatic And Inspiring Transition Memoir. [Read more…]

Homophobia, White-Supremacism and “Disco Sucks!”

The first album I ever bought on my own, with my allowance, was Mezzanine, by Massive Attack. I never really thought much of that until recently.

And the main kinds of music I really loved when I was that age, that kicked off my being into music in general, that set my love of music in motion, were industrial music, gothy-stuff, trip-hop (and the pretty broad range of electro-pop that was classified as trip-hop at the time), techno, and a little bit of punk. Needless to say, most of it was all definitely very electronic-music-oriented, with lots of drum machines and synthesizers involved. And I pretty much just straight-up forgot about that until recently.

To explain: I sort of lapsed out of music for a few years, first on account of my addiction, never having money, and all my music and electronic-gadgety-everything getting hocked or sold. And later finding out I just didn’t care as much anymore. But these past couple months, I’ve been really interested again. And finding myself particularly interested in electronic music, dance music, house, disco… things like that. Which for the most part I considered new interests.

But they weren’t really new. A lot of it is the kind of music I first ever fell in love with, and about which I kept a little candle of passion burning for a long time. [Read more…]

Privileges and Decoys: Part One

I recently had an exchange with someone remarking that using specialized terminologies like “cisgender”, “privilege” and “intersectionality” can have the consequence of creating an echo chamber. Given that the only people who will comprehend what you actually mean by these terms, she argued, you’re limiting your audience to people who already are on the same page as you.

This seemed totally not true to my experience.

Maybe as much as half of everything I write is at least partly based in deconstructing such specialized concepts, or investigating mistaken assumptions about them. To challenge or deconstructed specific ideas within specific communities, spaces or discourses, like feminism or the trans community, it helps a lot to be able to address those concepts specifically, and not have to flit about with defining them for audience’s who aren’t yet familiar. After all, an audience who isn’t familiar with the concepts of “gender dysphoria”, “detransition” or “passability” aren’t the audience I’m speaking to when addressing misconceptions about or problematic elements of those concepts.

And knowing a term does not necessarily mean you understand it. [Read more…]

Born This Way (Reprise): The New Essentialism

Okay… this is long…

So let’s start with me making some, perhaps entirely groundless, assumptions that we’re already on the same page about some stuff.

Like how the debate between a bio-essentialist “evolved behaviours” view of gender and sex, and the social-constructivist “blank slate” view of gender and sex, is a harmful false dichotomy, that presents a lose-lose choice for anyone who needs or wants actual, lived transgender experiences, in all their diversity, actually accounted for in whatever theoretical framework of gender and sex they sign on for. Or at least wants them accounted for without a lot of bizarre mental gymnastics and convoluted, flimsy theories.

Okay. Agree? Cool.

And how there’s more than one kind of gender-essentialism. There’s the obvious binary, bio-essentialist view, where most or all observed behavioural differences between men and women are “evolved”, and the definition of the terms “man” and “woman” is based on a simplistic “biological” distinction (penises and motive gametes and XY = male, vaginas and ova and XX = female, and everything else is either a disorder, or simply “cosmetic” and not “biological” or ‘scientific”), but a gender-essentialism is any theoretical framework that ultimately boils down to saying men are men and manhood is an inherent, essential quality of such people, and women are women and womhood is an inherent, essential quality of that category of people, and there are other kinds of gender-essentialisms.

For instance, you can have an essentialist version of the “social construct” view. And this actually pops up a lot in some of the justifications some cis feminists provide for trans-exclusionist policies or attitudes. This is where you state that socialization is the root cause of maleness or femaleness, but it nonetheless defines you, and “man” or “woman” is still an inherent, essential quality of the person, that isn’t fluid or contextual, and cannot be transcended or complicated. In this view, if you were raised and socialized as a man, that is what you are, and what you always will be, all other considerations not being relevant.

There are also theological or spiritual essentialisms, like where an Abrahamic God ordered the world into a division of gender and sex, ordains certain roles and behaviours for those sexes, and being a man or a woman is an immutable aspect of yourself that was God’s will, and any beliefs, identities or behaviours contradicting this divine order are simply mortal folly. Or where men and women are respectively two different aspects of a cosmic “balance” of complimentary “energies”, fitting into a cosmic order of other “opposites” like sun and moon, reason and emotion, order and chaos, light and darkness, aggression and passivity, science and art, Apollo and Diana, etc. Or where men and women exude male or female “energies” or “auras”, and only one or the other is capable of performing certain kinds of magic.

And lots of other gender-essentialisms. Gender-essentialism isn’t just an overly rigid, biological view in which gender is a behavioural consequence of (binary, dimorphic) sex. Gender-essentialism is any view based on the idea that being a “man” or a “woman” is an innate, inherent, essential trait of a person. Gender-essentialism needn’t even be necessarily binary.

Okay. Agree? Cool!

So… the framework of “gender identity”, where the quality of being a man or a woman is based on subjective experience of your body and sex, subjective experience of gender roles, and how you identify within them, is the best approach, and totally better than all these other frameworks, right?

Agree? Actually… not okay. Not cool. [Read more…]

Discourse And Intersectionality

Here’s the thing: nothing I write is original.

A few weeks ago, someone wrote to me on twitter asking about my failure to recognize the prior work of Monica Maldonado on the subject of radical-feminism’s relationship to trans-misogynistic violence, in my Complicity Vs. Cause post. My initial reaction was defensive. I felt like I was being accused of plagiarising a colleague and friend, and of being unaware of the way my privilege affects the degree of recognition and praise I receive for ideas that are often ignored, or reacted to with hostility, when expressed by trans women of colour, or trans-feminists who don’t class-pass, and “sound smart”, the way I do. Additionally, I had made no secret on my twitter of the intense debt the evolution of my trans-feminism and ideas owes to my friends and colleagues, many of whom are trans women of colour, non-binary trans people, or otherwise in a position of less privilege, and less mainstream “palatability”, than myself. And consequently don’t receive nearly as much recognition and respect as they deserve, in contrast to myself.

But being aware of those issues of privilege doesn’t absolve me of accountability or responsibility in relation to them, and having been explicit about how much I owe to my friends and colleagues on my twitter (which is a big jumbly mess of whatever pops into my head whenever) is not the same thing as overtly and purposefully owning up to that here, in my “official” writing. I did fuck-up.

Maybe there’s been some subconscious vanity going on. Maybe on some level, I knew that I’d be jeopardizing the recognition I receive for my writing if I directly acknowledged the manner in which my ideas develop. Maybe I, like everyone, was allowing myself to buy into the idea of the solitary intellectual, generating Great Ideas out of nowhere with which they change the world. And worse, maybe I was allowing myself to play along a little bit with the trans community’s dangerous reliance upon Community Leaders and Role Models.

All of which is in direct contradiction not only of my actual process, but what I believe trans-feminist discourse needs. What intersectional feminism needs. My collaborative, discursive process of trans-feminism isn’t chosen because I’m lazy, or leaning upon the ideas of greater minds (my friends and colleagues aren’t Solitary Intellectual Geniuses either…we share with and learn from eachother). It’s chosen because I feel it’s what trans-feminism needs to be. At least if it’s to be healthy and intersectional in nature. [Read more…]

“Ideal Bodies”

Beneath the mountains of words and ink and bile spilled over the past couple weeks over the conflict and controversy surrounding Julie Burchill and Susanne Moore’s statements in the British press, a single phrase is identifiable as the sort of keystone on which the entire mess hinges. That keystone is Moore’s petty remark about lacking a certain “ideal body shape”… that of “a Brazilian transexual”.

Lots of people have made the issue simply one of “offense” vs. “free speech”.

Lots of others have made it about the offensive nature of the term “transexual” as a noun.

Still more have discussed that this is just a bigoted, naive and lazy stereotype.

And one could also discuss the horrifying context in which the remark was made; that of Brazil having an epidemic of trans-misogynistic violence, with more trans women having been murdered there in 2012 than in the rest of the Western hemisphere combined.

That last point seems especially important and valid to me, at least far more so than “offense”, the (very obvious) dimension of stereotyping, and the question of terminology. But I’ve no desire to disrespect the deaths of the hundreds (yes, hundreds) of Brazilian trans women over the past years just for the sake of getting one-up on the TERFs. That would be crass, misleading, and unnecessary.

But what the existence of that violence, in exactly the context that generates the stereotype of the gorgeous, “ideal”, sexually irresistible trans woman, very disturbingly reveals is exactly how backwards the conceptualization of trans women’s bodies implicit to the statement is; a backwards conceptualization upon which the near entirety of the actual content of the arguments and hatred of Moore and her defenders rests. [Read more…]

Complicity Vs. Cause In Trans-Misogyny And Violence

There’s some things I’ve been trying to be better at lately. One of them is not saying “rad-fem” as a pejorative. One is not saying things that imply or suggest that “radical feminism” is interchangeable or necessarily consistent with trans-exclusionist radical feminism, or suggest that transphobia, cissexism and shitty opinions about sex work are somehow an inherent and necessary quality of radical feminism (to be honest with myself, my own feminism is pretty damn radical, even if I reject a significant number of the assumptions usually taken by those who self-describe as radical feminists). And another is trying not to worry too much about the transphobic fringes of feminism, and not participating in the self-perpetuating cycle of anxieties in our community surrounding “the rad-fems!”. They’re just not the big, terribly powerful, dangerous bogeymen we frequently imagine them to be.

TERFs certainly can be dangerous, in certain situations. But it’s extremely important to look at what the tools and weapons they use in order to cause harm actually are. On their own, they don’t wield nearly the influence the constant freak-outs on the part of trans activists would suggest about them, and they simply don’t deserve the degree of fear and anxiety we lend them. Consider the heavily controversial “Rad-Fem 2012″ conference in London (conceived partly as promotion for Sheila Jeffries’ latest work from Rutledge University Press, “The Industrial Vagina”; the title of which, btw, is a denigration of sex workers’ bodies as “industrial” and not their own, not the bodies of trans women). Months of anxiety and debate led up to the event, which ultimately turned out to be no more than a dozen or less women gathering near a tube station and going to grab coffee for a pointless little chin-wag about the evil trans women and evil sex workers “reinforcing the [blank]”. Although partly it was the efforts of trans activists that kept the conference from becoming anything more substantial, it’s nonetheless the case that the worry that the trans community expressed in the months leading up to the “conference” vastly eclipsed the actual subject of that anxiety in scale, influence, reach and the energy expended upon it. [Read more…]