a question of outness.

November 5, 2011

well, hi, there. it’s been awhile.

the subject of queer identity has been on my mind for awhile, and i just remembered this blog this morning. it seems like a good time for an entry and some processing. since the last time i wrote, i’ve found myself more involved in a local queer scene. i was really excited to find it at first, but the more involved i get, the more it grates on my nerves and feels kind of bad to me.

i should clarify here that i’m not out as trans really anymore. well. i am to valued friends and family of course, but although i’ve recently found a lot of new friends, they don’t know about my trans history. at least, not as far as i know. these are people who are queer in varying forms, people for whom queer identity is an essential component of their lives and work, people who i have been craving to know for awhile now. but somehow it just isn’t working for me, at least not in the way that i thought i wanted it to.

when i transitioned, i thought i wanted to be relatively stealth, for my trans history to be just that…a history. part of my past experience but not all that relevant to my present. and for awhile, this worked for me. i really enjoyed being able to blend into the scenery, to have that sort of invisibility cloak to pull on when i needed it. definitely this was a welcome shift from the days when i couldn’t even walk down the street without being leered at, or use the bathroom in public without sneaking around…those days when i avoided busy times at the store because i felt like a sitting duck while standing in line, or when i felt like i had to buy a month worth of groceries at once so i wouldn’t have to ride the bus any more than i had to.

but, and maybe it’s just because of who i find myself around these days, sometimes i kind of miss that visibility. maybe. i can’t deny that my queer/gender-variant visibility worked like a social lubricant for me, helping me to find my people and weed out the idiots. it allowed me to speak my mind, to put my kinks out there, to be comfortable, to be seen, to find love. and maybe if i opened up that part of my life again, maybe those things would come back to me and fill out my life in new and awesome ways. maybe the time is here to integrate the past and present.

then i remember why i chose to put that stuff on the back burner….remembering non-trans queer people who felt like they were entitled to prod at and appropriate my identity, who made assumptions about my life based on the pretentious queer theory books they read in their college classes, who dropped my name and gender to make themselves look more queer and radical. i remember feeling like i had to identify a certain way in order to be acceptably queer and edgy. and so then i think, why would i want to go back to that, since it’s really just trading one set of rules and constraints for another? would i be happier? would i have more friends? would it get me laid more? would it make me cooler?

what it really boils down to is this: if there’s one thing i have been consistently good at, across all areas of my life, it’s quietly doing things on my own terms and finding my own path. making cool out of my own uncool. maybe it’s time to integrate and step into the next version of my whole self.

 

when i was a lesbian, i was never a lesbian, i was a dyke. i was kind of on the freaky side, and i embraced it like an old friend. i gave myself unfortunate haircuts in the kitchen, wore shirts with lewd dykey slogans, and if anyone said anything, i laughed it off. even in high school, i was part geek and part alternative kid weirdo, so i was used to wearing weird glasses and intentionally-ugly clothes. i didn’t care what people thought. i knew who i was, and who i wanted to be, and if people didn’t like it, then i felt fortunate that they had weeded themselves out of my social circle for me.

one of the ironic things about transition is how so much of the language about it revolves around “becoming your true self” and whatnot, but in a lot of ways, it feels like having the rug ripped out from under who you think your true self is, and having to look for it again. before i transitioned physically, i had all these ideas about the kind of guy i wanted to be, but contrary to what pop culture would have you think, you don’t just go to sleep one night as a girl, and wake up as a guy the next day. it’s all a process.

there’s that awful, awful period at the beginning of medical transition where your body is finally changing, but you still aren’t sure how others are reading you, whether they know, whether you can trust your body not to betray you in the men’s room, or at the bank, or in the grocery store…when you meet new people and you’re not sure if they know you’re trans, or if they think you’re not, and the whole process is so fresh that it still feels a little like you’re pulling the wool over their eyes, and yet it would also be very easy for them to figure it out. that whole time is so hard. it’s so emotionally taxing, and there’s so much worry about acting right, dressing right, moving and speaking right, so that nobody will figure it out.

eventually, that phase goes away as you grow into your body and your new social role, but it’s a lot harder to drop that brutal self-scrutiny than it is to grow facial hair or get your voice to drop. the one thing i didn’t anticipate, when i was busy thinking about how i couldn’t wait to be this gentle feminist guy with non-traditional male hobbies, was that transition on its own already causes a transman to call into question his own masculinity. gentle feminist guys are already questioned on their masculinity, regardless of what body they were born into.

but when you’re trying to get used to living in a whole new gender (and this does take some getting used to, no matter how strongly you knew) and trying to figure out how to be who you are in this new gender, it’s a whole crisis unto itself. especially when, in the quest to be read as a male without the benefit of hormones and surgery, you sometimes have to give up a little of yourself. this same dilemma is also true of leaving college to join the professional world, and when you hit them both at once, it’s doubly hard.

i feel like i know who i am, and who i want to be, and that those two things are generally in alignment with one another. but then there are other times when i find these messages about being an ideal man seeping into my head, and i find myself clicking links on hotmail like, “washboard abs in 20 seconds a day!” or feeling like, if only i bought a fixed gear bike/a mac/whatever, then i would magically become this new and awesome person who would get dates and never have to be alone if i didn’t want to.

but when did i start caring about this shit? these things have found their way into my head, and it scares and amazes me. i spent years as a radical dyke and a riot grrl writing zines and fighting all those messages about consumerism and materialism, but they managed to hunt me down and attack anyway. it’s so embarrassing, because i can instantly recognize them as bullshit, so why do i even tolerate them at all?

maybe this is just bad timing with the infamous saturn return. or maybe i’m just feeling momentarily mopey. maybe other elements of my life need a change to catch up with my body. maybe in my quest to “find myself” (or to chip away the extra stuff that got built up from transition and all the other crud that amassed along the way, i need to go forward, instead of looking back and trying to pick things up where i left off.

maybe i need to stop fighting myself so hard, especially now that i don’t have to anymore.

i didn’t mean this blog to turn into a never-ending diatribe about queer politics. oops.

tonight i went to the coffee shop, as is my usual routine, and i buried myself in a copy of howard cruse’s grahpic novel stuck rubber baby that i picked up at the library today. it’s fucking great, and if you haven’t read it, read it. it’s not at all what i was expecting; it is way better. and in a roundabout way, this entry is inspired by my absorption into the first half of it.

when i came out at 14, i escaped into a literary world that was very queer…it was stone butch blues, dykes to watch out for, hothead paisan. it was about fuck men, fuck straight people, and dyke power. i wore dog collars, spiked my hair, and railed against the mainstream “we’re just like you” lgb (the t was not there in those days) movement.

and then after several years of that, and after moving slowly from dyke to butch to genderqueer to transman, and being one of the first to do that in my particular circle,i felt like maybe i was tired of being so conspicuous. i decided that i wanted to go about my business and quietly transition into being the gentle, quiet, feminist, queer-friendly lefty boy that felt like who i really was… and i wanted to be all of those things in the context of being a man, not a genderqueer or The Tranny.

lately i have been feeling like i’m awakening from this hibernation, or returning from exile or something. i feel myself turning back slightly…or maybe just taking the curve back around, having been someplace new.

i am remembering that there are things that matter to me beyond the reaches of my own body and social circle, and i am looking around for them again and realizing that not much has changed since i left this place. the “we are just like you” mentality is still firmly in place.

when i speak nostalgically about the queer community i took a hiatus from, it was never about that. my queer community was zinesters, punks, leather kids, fags and dykes and queens and butches. not the hrc black tie folks, but the misfits. and i’m still not sure where i fit into all of that, or even if i still can and want to, but i know that when i long for it, it is that that i want. diversity. action. passion. and maybe this is just me romanticizing things, but maybe it’s still there.

i think the current gay marriage movement is a perfect example of what irks me about the state of lgb(token!) politics. don’t get me wrong. if straight couples have it, then certainly queer ones should too. and maybe it’s just that i am too bitter and single to see things very clearly, but i see marriage as a box. currently, a box that only has room for heterosexual couples and their kids. so they want to make this box bigger, big enough to include queer couples and their kids too. but making the box bigger doesn’t change the fact that it’s a box, and the whole point of a box is to keep some things in and the rest out.

we, as a queer “community,” should by now understand that families come in all different varieties. some consist of two parents and some kids. but sometimes they are more than that. sometimes they are a group of older adults with no romantic attachments, looking after each other through the aging process. sometimes they’re a close-knit group of roommates. sometimes they’re siblings, or a single person with a handful of grandchildren, or whatever else they can be. sometimes they have blood to tie them together, and sometimes they are chosen out of necessity and out of love. “non-traditional families” are more than just having two moms or two dads.

to me, this whole marriage campaign seems like the perfect opportunity to step up and say, “hey, maybe people shouldn’t get special privileges just for being in a couple! maybe we need to enact legislation that protects all kinds of families, and not just ones that look like the traditional model, regardless of the gender of the participants!” but instead of tearing down the walls of a box that keeps so many people out, they’re just trying to find ways to squeeze more kinds of people into it. again, i say this not to downplay the need for gay and lesbian couples to have these kinds of protections for their families; if straight people have it, then of course they should too. but why should these privileges be limited only to people who are in committed relationships with a romantic partner? why are we still, in 2008, after everything this “community” has been through, still saying which kinds of families and people are okay, and which kinds aren’t? and for fuck’s sake, why are we trying to pass legislation that does that for us?

and maybe the whole, “but is america ready for it?” question comes into play too, but that fucking question has let people off the hook so many times. i have already seen the lgb movement throw trans people under the bus because america is not ready to let transsexuals have jobs, and i am fucking sick of that pathetic excuse. “america” (whatever that is supposed to refer to) is never going to be ready; hell, it’s still not “ready” for progress that happened decades ago.

but hey, what do i know?

and because six gazillion articles on thomas beattie aren’t enough.

after the publication of that infamous article in the advocate, it seemed like you couldn’t open up a magazine or newspaper, or turn on the tv, or go to any trans discussion site on the internet without hearing about “the pregnant man,” aka thomas beattie, a transitioned ftm who decided to get pregnant. suddenly, every time i turned around, someone was asking if i heard about it, and what did i think, and could i get pregnant, you know, if i wanted? ftm discussion boards the whole internet over were slammed with flame wars about it…”is he even really a transsexual? what the fuck is he doing having a baby? and why does he have to sell it to the media? they already think we’re a freak show, why fan the flames?”

then there were the comments by readers who had been “duped” into reading a story about a pregnant man, only to find out, “it’s just a woman who thinks she’s a man who’s having a baby…where’s the story there?” and of course, angry mothers who were upset that the one last bastion of womanhood, childbirth, had been infiltrated by men….well, kind of.

it’s enough to make a guy’s head spin, and i’m getting a little motion sick here.

when i was a college dyke, one of the many 1″ buttons on my messenger bag of issues was reproductive freedom. like every good college feminist, i was pro-choice, even though i was a dyke who never really wanted to have kids (and was in fact annoyed that dykes always seemed to stand up for choice, but the heterosexual women (who arguably have the most stake in the pro-choice movement) never seemed to support queer issues with the same fervor….see, it’s all a circle). but i went to meetings and protests and conferences on reproductive freedom, where i learned that it’s not just about abortion, but about forced sterilization, and whatever else it’s about.

so isn’t this just another part of that? if someone has a functioning uterus and wants to use it to make a baby, who the hell is anyone to tell them they can’t do that? (all discussions of overpopulation and adoption aside, of course). and whether that person with a functioning uterus is a woman, or a trans man, well, it shouldn’t matter. the only reason pregnancy is a “woman thing” is because, until recently, the only people with a uterus were women.

but despite what the media, and thomas beattie (in his poorly-thought-out quest for his 15 minutes) would have you believe, he is not the first one to do this…just the first one to sell it to the media.

and because of this, we have been treated to months of commentary on it from well-spoken trans people, to complete dipshits. the particulars of my body and the bodies of other ftms have been bandied about in the popular media, spoken about by fucking academics who think that reading and writing and being a drag king qualifies them to talk about our genitals to the new york times (fuck you, judith halberstam) like we’re these fucking exotic unicorn creatures, instead of actual human people with lives. because of this, we’ve all been treated to a million reminders that most people, even those in our supposed lgb “community” that we’re not really men, that we’ve just adopted this elaborate costume in order to fool people, and what’s the big deal about a pregnant guy anyway, because isn’t he really just a woman who mutilated herself?

but while beattie’s actions have had and will have repercussions on the entire trans community, i hope that his baby turns out okay, and that none of the shit he has stirred up in the pursuit of fame and fortune comes back to bite his family in the ass.

pride season is upon us once again….the activities, the panel discussions, the concerts, and of course the big parade and festival. and as usual, it leaves me wondering where i fit into all this.

even when i was a lesbian, i existed on the fringes of the queer community. as an out teenager, i had no tangible community of humans (rather, a lot of books and, for a brief while, the internet). i expected that college would be a festival of the queers, gayness at every turn, and a huge community of friends who would love me for who i was, and who would all be just as queer and lefty and active as me. and we would love all queer people, and they would love us back, and my life would be a virtual parade of cute girlfriends, surrounded by a group of perfect misfit queers, and we would all celebrate pride every year like our own personal christmas. finally, i would have the vast social circle i thought i wanted. finally, i would fit someplace.

imagine my surprise when, instead of the queer utopia i had envisioned, i found dyke drama, alcohol-soaked bar nights, gay male misogyny, and a campus activist group that only had a good showing at the beginning of the quarter, when the seasoned homos came to scope out the fresh meat, and then left with the cutest people…who, of course, didn’t come back until it was time to pick off the next crop of hip queers. i discovered that there was one way to be a dyke, and it was more about gelled and highlighted androgynous haircuts, bandanas on the head, cargo pants, and bud light than it was about feminism, punk rock, community, or activism. and even though i was skinny and white and androgynous enough to get eye contact in bars, i still listened to the wrong music and had the wrong major, i wore the wrong shoes, the wrong accessories, and had the wrong politics, so i was still on the edges.

it was basically middle school with beer.

needless to say, my first pride festival was not the happy rainbow occasion that i had envisioned. by that time, i had fallen in with a small group of radical separatist dykes who were just as disgruntled with bud light’s sponsorship of the festivities as i was, and together we meandered along with the parade. amidst the gyrating gay boys and the dykes on bikes, there was the anarchist black bloc, marching in protest of bud light, and they were the only part of the parade that spoke to me.

i went to pride every year after that, and every year it was different. by the next time, i think i had come out as trans, and was again on the sidelines…an afterthought because that’s what lesbians are to the mainstream queer community, and invisible because i still looked like one. but i went because it was a community obligation, because that’s just what you do. yet every year, i grew more and more disgruntled. first it was bud light, then it was the lack of trans visibility, then it was the rampant capitalism. it was the guy who called me a girl, even when i told him i was a transman. “yeah, but you’re still a girl, right?” it was the banks and starbucks and chipotle marching in the parade. it was the “donation” taken at the gate. it was discovering that pride, like everything, is about how much money you spend and how you look without a shirt on, and if you can’t measure up there, then nobody wants you in their community.

it was being in a crowd of people who were supposed to support me and my issues by default, and then hearing the ignorant comments and feeling like i might as well have just been at home, or not even exist at all.

after all, transsexuals are the ones who make pride look ridiculous on the news! forget the fact that a transwoman helped kick off the stonewall riots that we celebrate with pride (the what???), and forget that that t got stuck on the end of lgb for a reason. forget that trans people were instrumental in the recent gay marriages in california. trans people are drag queen freaks who don’t fit in, and are not wanted, and are not honored at pride, because we are either completely unfuckable, or an exotic little (s)excursion to be had once and then talked about forever or used as a badge of hipness. *

and even without that baggage, do i even need or want to fit in at pride? where is the place for the ex-radical dyke-turned-man? am i there as an ally? as someone clinging desperately to a past in which, while i felt invisible and relegated to the fringes, i was at least interesting? am i there because hot guys in leather catch my eye just as much as nerdy girls do? and if i am, so what? i will always lose in a meat market world, and anyway, do i really need to have it pounded into my head one more time that men without dicks are of no use to gay men, and are invisible to women (even those whose concept of “queer” includes being able to like me)?

……..

somehow, every year, i forget all of this bitterness. in a year’s time, the wounds have scabbed over.

i tell myself, this will be the year that i fit in at pride, now that i look like any regular guy. i will run into lots of long-lost friends who will immediately recognize me and want to spend all their time with me. i will feel like my presence matters and is desired, and everyone will realize that trans people are a valuable part of the community, and they will know how to respect us. i will be seen and loved for who i am, and i will find my place in the community.

and inevitably, i end up disappointed. but maybe this year, i can at least go with some good friends, and i can at least try hard to have some fun and not to dig at my wounds.

.

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* this entry assumes that one feels that trans people should even be included under the lgb umbrella, which many transsexual people do not. i do not mean to imply that all transsexual people should want to be a part of the lgb community. i do, however, want the lgb community to start walking their talk, which includes making the “t” part of the acronym feel welcome, included, and valuable. what other trans people choose to do with that is, of course, determined by each individual’s identity and comfort level.

fag.

May 22, 2008

i have a complicated relationship to the word “fag.”

i remember when i was in 6th grade, me as a girl with such a short haircut that i often was read as male. as a middle schooler, i felt so self-conscious about this that i could never really explore my true feelings about it, so i did what i could comfortably to do make it very clear that i was not a boy, but a girl. this was less about my own identity than it was about not wanting attention to be drawn to me by being the kid who heard the phrase “that’s a GIRL?” whispered behind my back one too many times. and of course, that was only the beginning.

to combat the gender confusion of others, i got this ridiculous pair of purple and green sweatpants that i just knew would make people realize i wasn’t a boy at all; what boy would wear purple sweatpants? and within minutes of arriving at school, the word “fag” was shot at me in passing down the hallway. clearly, this was not a good idea.

….

my own queer upbringing was done on punk rock bands and underground comics and zines, coming from people who proudly chose words like “fag” and “dyke” over “gay” and “lesbian.” they (we) were fed up with mainstream gay america and its “we’re just like you!” rhetoric, the hrc model of homosexuality. we were tired of bud light ads everywhere, and of bad club remixes that went on for hours….of twinks and “lipstick lesbians.” i was raised on tribe 8 and pansy division, on scruffy internet queers who filled websites and zines with impassioned diatribes on the reclamation of slurs, and i was nodding my head right along. there was so much more power in words like fag and dyke; they implied a lack of apology. i remember standing on top of a hill, homemade coat-hanger-and-old-t-shirt torch burning in my hand, raising it to the sky, tilting my head back, taking it into my mouth, gently closing my lips around it, chanting the lesbian avenger motto:

“we take the fire within us,

we take it and make it our own.

the fire will not consume us,

we take it and make it our own.”

this was why i loved words like fag and dyke and queer and homo: they were about taking the fire within and making it our own.

i am not so adamant about this sort of thing anymore, mainly because the word “tranny” makes my skin crawl, especially when i hear non-trans people use it, and i don’t feel like it’s fair for me to get to say fag and dyke, if they can’t say tranny. but i have different feelings about that too.

in fact, i think it’s mostly that i associate that sort of reclamation with a more radical, lefty, extreme kind of identity. trans-identity-wise, i’m pretty middle of the road. so “tranny” isn’t really me, anyway.

a lot of ftms have co-opted the word “fag,” in ways that i am not comfortable with. it gets thrown around as something like a gender identity…”I don’t identify as a man, i identify as a fag.” besides my pet peeve of the word “identify” being used in that way (why not just BE something instead of identifying as it?)(note to self: that’s another entry), many of these transguys are not even gay. pomo destruction of meaning aside, there are some words that just have to mean a certain thing.

and anyway, if we use the word “fag” to identify ourselves when we’re slightly femme, or like to look nice, or suck at sports, or enjoy cooking, then aren’t we really just doing what the nasty people are doing with it? it’s a taser used by the gender police, designed to keep men acting like men, and likewise “dyke” for women. this is women’s studies 101, so why is it that transguys (those would otherwise appear to know better) be so attached to this word?

i have to think that it has a lot to do with trying to hang onto some memento of the queer community. many of us started as dykes and then transition into being straight men, and that shift can be very difficult and lonely to make. but if you can call yourself a fag, if you can still keep the family name, then maybe you haven’t gone all that far away. the word fag is a crumpled photograph that we can carry in our pockets as we head out on a new journey.

but that doesn’t make it okay.

….

now i’m a man, and maybe it’s my obvious associations with the queer community, or the fact that i’m small and wimpy, or maybe a general fey manner, but people generally assume that i’m gay.

but does that alone entitle me to use the word “fag”? i don’t really think so. but i have also been identifying as (and definitely not actually BEING) bisexual-slash-queer again. so maybe that gives me fag rights.

once a week for three years, i have pierced my skin.

i measure my manhood in old prescription bottles lined up on the dresser,

in used needles slowly filling up an old peanut butter jar.

three years worth of piercing my skin,

over a hundred times.

it’s a routine.

my skin is rougher now.

my shoulders broad, arms thick.

stubble comes in easily,

and i don’t fret an accidental razor slip anymore.

it’ll be back tomorrow.

this is easy.

this is boring.

injection paraphernalia spread out on the back of the toilet.

this is a pinch on the surface of my skin,

bubbles in a syringe when i check for blood,

a dot of blood on a square of toilet paper.

oil coating the bottom of emptied glass vials in a row.

pierced rubber stoppers.

thick.

potent.

my shoulders have broadened.

my skin is rough.

i have a figure like my father,

and more hair on my face than my brother.

and these shots, they have changed my body,

but that is only the beginning.