Trans Lives as a Corny TV Show

agender, cissexism, coming out, dehumanization, gender fluid, genderqueer, media, media justice, misgendering, trans representation, transgender, transphobia, TV

TRIGGER WARNING: We don’t live in a world with accurate media representation of trans people. If our invisibility and/or abysmal media representation triggers you, this piece may not be fab to read. Also, mention of misgendering and discriminatory transitions in schools/workplaces.

Wouldn’t it be kind of rad if a TV show portrayed trans lives, coming out and being out and living trans lives, in a suspense/drama style? It would have to happen in an alternate universe, where enough people cared enough about trans lives to want to consume the challenges we face in a popcorn-crunching, candy-gnashing thriller manner, complete with suspenseful music. Let’s be real, our lives are ripe for consuming and processing conflict and strife, overcoming challenges, and all the other stuff of slightly tacky TV.

I mean, it wouldn’t have to be tacky TV, but that’s how I’m imagining it right now… This could be a break scene in between a suspenseful moment of a person who has been birth-named after announcing their real name:

[SCENE: A darkened room. Two figures enter the room in dark trench coats, with large-brimmed black hats over their eyes, and sunglasses. They lean towards each other slightly and use low voices.]

Person 1: How’s the name change procedure going in Workplace A?

Person 2: The usual. She just got birth-named.

Person 1: It’s time to bring on the special forces.

Person 2: No, let’s start with the Initial Surge Plan—education.

Person 1: Well, be quick about it. Lives are on the line. In School J, we’re already taking executive action.

Person 2: I know what’s at stake. Godspeed.

Person 1: Godspeed to you, too.

The whole show would be interspersed with lush, close-up, dramatic scenes of basic trans lives and challenges. I’m sure a lot of it would be related to trans oppression, but I think I would particularly enjoy this show if it also talked about the daily struggle to make coffee in the morning, cook eggs with your sweetie, floss your teeth, tie your shoes, and get off of the computer in a timely enough manner to get to bed.

[SCENE: Back in the darkened room.]

Person 1: Bed at midnight again?

Person 2: I know, and zie has to get up at 5am.

Person 1: What kind of state are trans lives coming to?

I mean, for real, sometimes that stuff is a daily struggle. I was talking with my mom earlier today, who just doesn’t get a lot of this. She was trying to tell me to have a more positive attitude about the discrimination I’m facing, because my attitude is the one thing I can change. I told her that for many trans people, getting through the day is an accomplishment. She did come around a bit then and congratulated me on getting through my day.

Of course, trans representation in the media is often on cheesy TV shows, but it certainly is not usually as humanizing or sympathetic. Or it doesn’t portray us as alive or happy for very long. We need a show on our own terms, a show that displays all of these things, complete with cheesy music and a tinny intro tune. The range of our lives, on a weekly corny TV drama.

Or not. But at least I would be laughing in the back of the theater.

When the Dust Starts to Settle

agender, cissexism, coming out, dehumanization, dysphoria, gender fluid, genderqueer, misgendering, non-binary, transgender

TRIGGER WARNING: hopelessness around being trans (and hopefulness too), trying to make yourself be a gender you aren’t

I’m baaack! Last week I left my laptop charger in another state, so I didn’t have a computer on me. So so many blog post ideas have come and gone since then. I’m going to write tonight something very straightforward:

Hold on to hope. There will be a time, maybe more a moment, maybe an era, when you are settled in to who you are. There has been for me. Now I feel like it’s me that’s living in my body. I can look inside my ribcage and feel myself inside my heart, instead of walls imprisoning… what is it that had been inside? The shrunken, light-deprived prune of myself, kept locked and guarded from my mind. There will be a time, wild as it seems, when all of that self has grown and taken up nutrients and soil and it is full, in full bloom.

Yes, it is an uphill battle, many days, most days. Yes, there will be times it all feels like too much. But, as you settle into yourself, you will realize that you are living the life you never imagined possible. You are living life as yourself, even when you see so few others like you in your daily world. You are alive and surviving, sometimes thriving. No one said you could do that, not for the longest time, but here you are, living. I think, here I am, living my regular genderqueer life, and for a few minutes there, life felt normal. Life felt regular. We are told that we are so abnormal that this is never a possibility–but it is.

When I first started on this journey, I thought I’d never even fully hold myself, have my own full self in my heart and mind and body. It would flit in for a moment and feel like the sweetest settling in, the sweetest relaxation–then it would go. I can’t be that, I have to always force myself to be whatever they’ve said I am, whatever I’ve said I am, for so long. With the whole world whipping harsh wind on my real true self, it is easy to forget what was like, when I was hiding my gender from myself. But that is what I was for so long–a shadow. This is why I am carving a ledge for myself each day: this way, I am me.

Coming out is such a tumultuous time that it feels like life will never be regular again. But after that earthquake, grass begins to grow up from the broken earth. My world and shifted surroundings start to make sense. And this time, I find my feet in a way that I never did before–I am wearing boots that fit me now.

This is possible. This is real. Many days are hard for me. Many days are days when I can’t imagine my life being bearable for the afternoon, let alone next week or next year. But the days when life feels normal, life feels calm–those are gifts. They are gifts that, in my fear when first realizing who I was, I thought I would never have again. Hear this, please–yes, life is fucking hard, in general, let alone when you’re trans. But there can be days like this. There will be days like this. Some days you’ll be able to look around you and see your life as normal again.

I know that not everyone’s coming out story is the same, and that others’ oppressions affect this in different ways. This may not be true for everyone. But I can say that if you stay true to the course your gender lays out for you, it will eventually get smoother. Being yourself is often worth the struggle.

Hold onto those days, even if they haven’t yet come. Hold them close to your heart as you break down the walls that have held your true self in for so many years. Hold it close in your cells as you nurture them with the you that you have deprived them of for so long. They are honey in the bitter black coffee of the world.

Moving Into My Gender

cissexism, coming out, dehumanization, dysphoria, gender fluid, genderqueer, misgendering, non-binary, pronouns, transgender, transition

TRIGGER WARNING: misgendering, dysphoria, trying to make yourself be the gender assigned at birth

When I first accepted that I was not a girl, I took a whole bunch of online quizzes, mostly for fun, just to see what would come up when I asked a random internet survey about my gender. One “gender expert” survey asked what my assigned sex was, and my result was, basically, “You seem sorta androgynous, but we think you’re a girl.” I was devastated. Were they right? I knew not to trust some creepy people that also were asking about autogynephilia (or, for that matter, anyone who claimed with any kind of seriousness that they could tell me my gender, whether they were linking it to my sexuality or not), but some part of me was doubtful–maybe I was wrong; maybe I really was a girl.

That night, after turning off my computer, I tried to fit myself back into the gender that had never worked for me. I could just move back into “woman–” I could already feel the familiar contortions so easily. I just had to squeeze into it, in the room of my gender, the room I held in my ribcage near my heart. As a “woman,” I felt metal beams constricting my breathing, before I even got inside that room. It’s OK, though, I could be a woman. All I needed to do was just make myself a cup of tea and curl up in that armchair, in my “girl” room. It all felt tight, tight–just thinking about it felt tight, and I hadn’t even walked inside of this wrong girl-self yet. But I was resigned to feeling the same as always.

When I walked into the room of my gender, though, I was amazed. I hadn’t been back inside recently, and the place was bare. Lackluster boards made up the floor. A faded curtain waved in the breeze through an open window, which shone on a mug with a dried-out tea stain in the bottom, sitting on a bookshelf cleared of books. There was little or no other furniture. One or two books lay scattered, maybe a pen. I realized I had cleared out of “woman” fast.

Feeling what is right for me has been a process. I have been slowly moving into myself, moving into my gender, in a much brighter, fuller room. It is a relief to be free of those metal beams and a room that I had never realized was so drab for me. I hadn’t even noticed I’d sped out of there at the first sign that I could.

Part of this moving has been internal, and part of it has been about others’ affirmations. Some of it has been a search for the right words for myself, and then having others try it on. This is perhaps my favorite way of moving.

Hearing my right pronouns, or hearing someone call me by the right gendered words, is ice cream melting in my mouth. It is the feeling of hot chocolate pumping warmth through my veins. It is as if my whole gut was a rock warming in the sun, filling my body with solidity and lightness all at once. It is a fitting of that last puzzle piece. With the right words, I suddenly become more solid than I knew possible, and yet more ready to skip and twirl at the same time. My wholeness takes its rightful place, from my gut to my elbows. I am simultaneously as excited as a hummingbird and as unperturbed as a smooth lake.

When someone uses the right words for me, finds the right words for me, says those right words, a settling-in takes place. Leaves fall into piles and bud on branches all at once. I am real, I am real, and someone sees me. Thank God someone has finally seen me. Oh, and, here! How about this? Trying this new word–they see something I have been afraid for even myself to notice or become. But now, with a new word echoing from others, I am here at last.

It is so rare to find these right words; it feels like such a journey, especially for non-binary people. But they are there, sometimes. We make them, sometimes. We search high and low and try on everything from hither and yon. This one fit halfway, this one fit for six months and now feels tight. This gender felt OK this morning and not later, or now a few of them are here at once. That word never felt right, except for a few hours last Thursday. But sometimes a glistening Right Word comes, and we move in. We move into ourselves. Moving into ourselves is the best kind of moving there is.

Haters are Raisins (Can’t Touch This)

agender, ally, cissexism, coming out, dehumanization, gender fluid, genderqueer, non-binary, privilege, suicidal ideation, transgender

TRIGGER WARNING: discussion of suicidal ideation, transphobia

 

 

Today I had an epiphany, for a moment anyway. I realized that I am so happy to be alive in this world, and to be myself. I am so proud that I have gotten to this point and SURVIVED, and that I get up daily and work to carve out the space in the world that I need to be who I am. I am proud of my fashion and proud of taking care of myself and proud of daily speaking up or sitting down or walking around and just–being. Life is good. I am good. I am amazing for being here.

I thought, this is so much better than being dead. All this bullshit they throw at me, even that–it’s so much better than being dead.

When I realized that even the oppression I’m facing, right now–it’s so much better to be myself and to be facing this oppression than to be dead–suddenly so much of the power they were holding over me disappeared, replaced with a calm, happy sense of humor about all their bigotry.

I have gone through so much to be here, just as I am right now, and I desperately want other people to see that struggle and understand. Don’t you know what it’s like to be so ashamed of who you are that you want to die? To see no examples of your gender in the world around you, nobody saying you exist, and then to go out in the world anyway? Don’t you see that it takes so much for me just to say who I am to you, and ask you to respect it? A few months ago I couldn’t even utter those words–I am trans–to myself.

I want other people to understand that this is a matter of life and death for me. I also want them to understand what a journey it is for me to be here. Some people understand, or at least know how little they can know of an experience like this. But the people whose words usually hurt the most are the people who are stuck in themselves, the people who, it’s true, just don’t get it. They may or may not have good intentions, but they say the shittiest things. I want them to put aside all their prejudice and just realize–Don’t you get it? I’m here. I am here. That is so much huger than you can know. Show some respect, I want to say. Show some respect, I ask in my friendly, cis-person-proof body language, tone, smile. I’m being extra nice.

All of that is true. But I realized today that sometimes that line of thought and feeling is just poison. It’s poison because I persevorate on other people’s feelings and actions, wanting them to be different. And no matter how just my understanding, it doesn’t change their actions and feelings. They still are just as clueless as when I started. Willingly clueless, maybe. But clueless all the same. These haters, their hearts are raisins. Maybe at some point their lives and feelings were full and juicy, and they could fill themselves up with compassion and care for others. But now they’re shriveled up. Now they can’t let anything in, they’re so dry. And that’s just a sad spot for them to be. To refrain from applauding, celebrating, respecting someone who battles death and denial to become their full, true selves–that takes a shriveled raisin heart.

And I’m not going to preoccupy myself with shriveled raisin hearts anymore. That can be someone else’s work. Allies, that’s your work. I’m going to instead give myself the love and care I am looking for from others. I am amazing for being here and for being who I am, every day. I am amazing for asking for what I need and taking up my rightful space in the world, every day. It isn’t always easy. Others’ words and actions do get to me, they do affect me. That’s OK. I’m not saying it’s wrong or bad if these things affect me or anyone, or make life super hard sometimes.

But I am my own fab, wonderful self, and only I can give myself that. I used to think that that was a paltry gift, compared to the shit I face in the world for being me. But it is such a beautiful gift. Here I am, living and breathing and laughing. Sure, other people take that for granted. But I am here and I am me, and that is good. Other people’s bullshit shriveled selves–they have nothing on me and my gender. I am myself, disco dancing in my own glitter spotlight, can’t touch this, singing and humming and buzzing inside, because I am me and I am here and nobody can keep me from that. I exude myself, and I am so glad to be here.

We are not useless. We are fabulous!

ableism, accessibility, accessible movements, activism, dehumanization, disability, privilege, saneism

TRIGGER WARNING: discussion of ableism, classism, trauma in movement spaces

Just today I was talking with the person I am dating, who said, “I just wish I could do more of those things, be able to go to protests and organize and work on the things I care about.”

I know I have often felt this. I know many others feel this, this uselessness. If we do not have the energy to spend on what is often seen as activism, then we are not committed to the cause. Then we are not, actually, useful.

Supposedly.

I say, though, that the idea of people with disabilities as useless is an idea that stems straight from capitalism. Not all aspects of oppression stem simply from capitalism, but capitalism is all wrapped up in many forms of oppression. It finds different ways to control each group, to make each group expendable. In particular, we are expendable because we are useless.

But we are human beings, not dollar signs. We are human beings, not the products we put out. We have lungs and stomachs and hearts and brains, and they are churning and working and thinking, breathing and beating, making us live each day. They may not work the way we find most comfortable or efficient all the time, but they work all the same. Efficiency be damned! We are miracles!

We are most certainly not flat pieces of paper with writing on them that get passed from hand to hand in a frenzy of abstract value.

The very meaning of justice work needs to be changed. The idea of what constitutes activism or organizing needs to be changed. How many organizers have I known who organize at the cost of everything else in their lives—their own care, the care of their families, and, in a perverse way, even the care of their communities. While at a meeting, they didn’t give their friend a ride to the doctor. While at a conference, they missed helping their kid with homework. I know that for some organizers, this is their livelihood and they have to go to these events. For many people who do not have organizing jobs, they need to choose between work and caring for others as well. What I am saying is that ideas of what organizing is need to be expanded, both for paid and unpaid organizers. The movement not only needs an accessibility check–it needs a priority check. We bring more people in when they are cared for, when they are in community. Caring and creating community IS organizing work.

The agitating that organizers do is important and it can have results that make a difference in daily life. But I say that truly good results cannot happen without everyone there, and these results start with people living in a community where they care for themselves, their families, and the people around them. They care deeply. They show up. They cook food for each other. So much of this work is about improving conditions at an institutional level, and that is direly needed work. But it is not the only kind of improvement that is needed.

These movements do not include me when I cannot show up, and I may have “skipped out on the movement.” These movements do not include us when they are not accessible. What happens when we don’t make space for everyone? What happens when we are asked to show up at the courthouse to try to free someone from prison, and we do not support people with experience being incarcerated in the wholeness of their trauma? They should be heading this work, and we need to make space for that support. We also may need to wait to take to the streets while processing trauma, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t organize! What happens when the spaces we book aren’t accessible for people with mobility devices, or children, or a bus pass, or interpretation needs, or mental illness? Many people who are dealing with intense forms of oppression are just trying to survive, just putting food on their table with multiple jobs—or have no money because they can’t work. If the people most directly affected by an issue can’t show up, we know what kind of bad shit can go down. These are not the movements I want to be part of. We cannot leave anyone behind.

Let’s organize for communities of care. Organizing can look like making food for a friend when you can. I say organizing is hanging out and talking about these issues, or shooting the breeze about nothing in particular. I say organizing is slipping in these topics whenever you can. Organizing is watching mindless TV with a friend. Organizing is watching someone else’s kids—or your own. Sometimes, organizing is simply existing. Sometimes, simply existing is really hard; it’s a huge success in itself. Sometimes, organizing looks like lying in bed all day, and sometimes it looks like getting out of bed.

Some may say we are useless, but they need to expand their vocabulary. We are fucking fabulous, and we are existing every day, caring for each other every day. We cannot let anyone out of our net. Let’s hold each other in all our fabulousness and need, however we can, whenever we can. This is building communities of care. This is making the change we need. This is caring for anyone who’s left behind by a capitalistic model of organizing, or just plain oppression. Let’s hold each other fiercely.

The thing about “crazy” (Part 1 of 2)

ableism, dehumanization, mental illness, saneism

TRIGGER WARNING: ableism, saneism

 

OK, so when people say the word “crazy,” they can mean a lot of things. They can mean impossible, weird, silly, inappropriate, extreme, inconceivable, bizarre, ridiculous, stupid, inadvisable, and wild, among other things. Sometimes, even, they mean “mentally ill.” But not usually. Can you imagine how that would sound?

“Hey, did you go dancing last night?”

“Yeah, totally, it was so mentally ill!”

It’s usually not the meaning people are going for.

But when people use that word, “crazy,” and don’t mean mentally ill, many different things happen. They are, of course, implying that mental illness, and/or mentally ill people, might be impossible, weird, silly, inappropriate, extreme, inconceivable, bizarre, ridiculous, stupid, inadvisable, and wild, among other things (or that they do things that have those adjectives). That in itself is otherizing, insulting, and just plain saneist.

It is comparable to using words like “lame,” “gay,” and “retarded” out of context. Of course, there are differences. But many people throw these words around, and when it is brought to their attention, they say, “Oh, but I didn’t mean it like that.” When I called my THERAPIST out on using the word “crazy” in an inappropriate context, she said something along the lines of, “I like to use that word in all its contexts, but I’ll keep it in mind that you don’t like to use it.” Any provider using this word really needs to check themselves. Everyone should check themselves, but, come on, mental health providers, you are a breed of ill repute, but even you should know better than to throw this word (and its cousins, “insane,” “mad,” and “nutty”) out there out of contexts. Your clients might IDENTIFY as crazy! I do, sometimes.

When we use the word crazy in this way, we can easily alienate people who have mental illnesses, whether or not they use that word to describe themselves. Don’t do that, folks. We already have enough alienation as it is.

There is another piece that happens, though. Not only are we ostracizing people with mental illnesses, we are also ostracizing whatever it is we call crazy. We are dividing it out, marking it as something that is not only all the other aforementioned adjectives, but also as something that is not worth listening to, is not worth our consideration, just as we mark people with mental illnesses as not worth our consideration. Craziness exists as an outcast of society. We draw a line, and on one side exists “crazy,” and on the other exists the “sane,” “civilized” world. Whenever we call anybody or anyone crazy, they are pushed over that line.

When we call things or people crazy in this insincere, inaccurate sense, then we are putting them over that line. We are putting them out of reasonable reach. We are saying that there are certain items, behaviors, or people that are not worth taking seriously.

The threat of being called crazy holds us captive in “sane” behavior all of the time. Whether it’s not admitting our true emotions, pretending to hold it together when really it’s taking a toll on us, or whether it’s simply that we want to physically move around more or in different ways than our years of schooling and societal expectation have allowed. Have you ever noticed that young children who are typically sane and neurotypical still have more leeway than sane and neurotypical adults in terms of their behavior? They can say wackier things and move their bodies around in ways that would be considered crazy for adults. There is still a line for children, but the line is different. It encompasses more. The fact that this line shifts for different age groups shows how constructed the idea of “sane” behavior is.

When we say the word “crazy,” we are limiting not only others. We are limiting ourselves. We are saying what behavior seems too fantastical or bizarre to exist in our polite society. We are not only refusing to love everyone in this world—we are, in many ways, holding back love for ourselves.

Of course, it’s much harder to hide a psychiatric or emotional disability than it is to hide the daily things that sane people are tasked with controlling for the sake of appearing more sane. “Passing” as sane is both a privilege and something that takes a deep toll. But, while it’s clearly harder for people who do experience mental illness, using the word “crazy” deeply affects us all.

Unless someone describes themselves as “crazy” as part of their identity as a person with mental illness, don’t use that language. Practice loving yourself and the world in a huge, hugging embrace. Give space for everyone just to be. Saneism takes its toll on everyone, albeit in different ways and extremes, and refraining from using “crazy” is a big place to start.