A white, strawberry-blonde toddler sits in a plastic toy red car beneath a Christmas Tree.

baking gender from scratch

There was a period of time in my life –– specifically, prior to my first contact with trans-supportive physical environments –– when I regarded gender creativity as such with suspicion. This was true even and especially once I myself was trans. I could not understand people my age and older whose genders were not so much documentable features of themselves but rather glitter-covered, purposefully obstructive, and necessarily defiant and even antagonistic toward gender-conformity and its observers. It was around this time that I found the blog Raising My Rainbow. Several years later, I found the blog of Martie Sirois, the mother of a gender-nonconforming child and all-around effective accomplice to trans people at large.

I read her blog with fascination, often fantasizing about what my life would have been like, had I been raised explicitly outside the gender binary. Of course, looking back today I realize that the hegemonic position of the gender binary means that merely having parents who disagreed with wouldn’t free me from its clutches. But back then, I didn’t know what “hegemony” meant and still held the entry-level view that there were two discrete things, “sex” (which is “real”) and “gender” (which is socially constructed), and that one was beholden to sex but could discover new possibilities with gender. The fact that I held this view –– as many did in 2013 and 2014 –– made me even more enchanted by this mother who gave birth to a child and then chose to ignore that child’s “sex” in favor of a degree of gender freedom.

Something I find interesting about Sirois’s blog is that it does not only use “gender creative child” but also “gender creative life” –– perhaps a swing at those medico-social systems that claim desperately that transness in kids is temporary; disregardable. Semantics notwithstanding, though, these were resources through which I could scroll for hours –– especially Raising My Rainbow, which existed back when, despite my emergent identity, I knew next to nothing about transness and was looking for answers.

Since then, I’ve simultaneously become more academic in my transness and more creative (although it should be noted that those two attributes neither must nor should be in opposition to each other). As the jargon I use to discuss my transness becomes more comfortable in my mouth, so do “creative” statements that my prior self would have dismissed as meaningless. For example, I remember telling my therapist last year, “My gender is vengeance.” There’s no way to articulate what precisely that statement means for me, but it’s a felt reality and I’m learning to speak it. Even in spaces in which being transgender was not deemed morally wrong, being trans is seen as just as concrete and “unfun” as being cis is: merely a fact of life rather than a creative pursuit. As we know, gender is never “merely” a fact of life: it’s a mark, an action, a material position, a transgression, a recognition, and so much else. Why not an act of creativity, while we’re at it?

As we know, gender is never “merely” a fact of life: it’s a mark, an action, a material position, a transgression, a recognition, and so much else. Why not an act of creativity, while we’re at it?

Much of what young-trans-me feared about gender-as-creation, I think, was the accompanying knowledge that gender was a weapon dealt to us that we can not shrug off under present conditions, however intensely I and others might identify with genderlessness. We can’t choose to wholly disidentify with gender, or live in a parallel universe to it: our options for living gender on a daily basis range from complacence to deviance, but no matter what we are in the belly of the beast. When I first learned about being nonbinary, I thought I had found some enlightened “middle road” wherein I wouldn’t be subject to gender’s vice-grip. In order to stay “respectable” and away from gender, then, I would have to be politely and quietly trans. If I was too, dare I say, “flamboyant,” my cover would be blown and I would be a girl once more. But no: I was still in the belly, still subject to cissexism, still misgendered, still forever seen as doing-girl-wrong, doing-boy-wrong, and never as doing [whatever this is]-right.

As I’ve grown and studied the myriad ways in which we dance and die with gender, I’ve come to realize what all marginalized people (hopefully) come to realize: that being respectable won’t soften the violence of oppression. All it might do is transfer that violence onto people more visibly de(v/f)iant than oneself, and even then, no one is left marked yet unscathed. It would be a contradictory statement; a contradictory way of being. If I saw something wrong with utter gender insanity in myself and others –– and I mean that with wholehearted solidarity and respect –– then I was simply seeing something wrong with the bogusness of gender itself, and was choosing to project my hatred of gender onto those who clearly resist it, including me.

I realized that this was a topic I wanted to discuss earlier this afternoon, when I was texting my friend, Leo. He’s been on testosterone for about two months now, and we were discussing are vastly different relationships with and uses of the hormone. While he injects a “standard” dose of T and views T as necessary for his survival in the way I view my mastectomy, I have periodically used and not used a low dose of T, in gel form. Although I’m coming to feel it as more of a natural and good part of my life, for a long time I felt little at all about it. I began with one pump of the gel, then two. I stopped for a time, went back on. In Amsterdam, I stopped using it entirely for several months, and then began again near the end of my trip, using three pumps a night instead of two so I could use up the bottle and not have to carry it home with me. Gender-creative. Hormone-creative.

There is something intoxicating about looking at that T every night and thinking, “I can do whatever I want with this.” I never have to use it again. I can ask for an increase in my prescription if I want it. I can stop using it for a year and begin using it again next year (this particular bottle expires in 2020, after all). Whatever choice I make won’t make me “more” or “less” of whatever gender-word I decide to align myself with, and my authenticity doesn’t ride upon my use or non-use of certain aspects of medical transition. Instead of feeling as I did in middle school art class –– forced under penalty of failure to make whatever drawing or painting Mrs. – decided I must make –– I feel today more like I’m writing in my journal and doodling in the margins. Gender creativity never exists outside its social context, much as we wish it did, but to create one’s gender-body-self by doodling rather than by following classroom rules is liberating nonetheless.

Gender creativity never exists outside its social context, much as we wish it did, but to create one’s gender-body-self by doodling rather than by following classroom rules is liberating nonetheless.

There are groups of trans people who sincerely believe in (boring!) essentialist ideas about transness: these are the types who will spout “born in the wrong body” narratives and insist that everyone else must relate to those narratives, too. Some will go so far as to side with leading medico-psychiatric bodies (and siding with institutions in power is generally not a good sign) that transness (more precisely, dysphoria) is a disease which physical transition must “cure.” The very nature of these statements, which young-me came to internalize and current-me is unlearning, flies in the face of creativity. It traps you in precisely the same way that cisness traps you: by many of these logics, if I am not a woman, I never was and never will be, and thus must be a man. And to qualify as a trans man, I must go along with preconceived notions of manhood, and any evidence of vestigial femininity can and will be used against me as I transition.

If this sounds familiar, it’s because this is the same trap into which people of all genders, including cisgender people, fall. This is not only me, the nonbinary person whose increasing creativity is allowing them to reclaim femininities that I (was) denied in myself. This is the cis woman who questions her womanhood because she can’t give birth to children (notably, a struggle which many cis and trans women both share). These are men of all relationships to manhood who find themselves unable to access their emotions beneath the logics of patriarchy. It feels as though we as a society are trying, albeit unsuccessfully, to liberate ourselves from gender doctrine.* This requires a shared understanding of gender-creativity, as well as people willing to fuck (up) gender merely as a way of exposing its ridiculousness. Exposing gender requires being ridiculous ourselves. It requires gendering ourselves as vengeance, as punk, as a flower, as a piece of art or music, etc. It requires us to be glittery, obnoxious, boa-wearing queers…or whatever equivalent is desired.

To refuse the possibilities offered by gender creativity, as I did years ago, would be to forgo the frankness and wonder I projected onto the gender creative children a large part of me longed to be. I kept up with that blog so as to live vicariously through someone who was less afraid of making fun of gender than I was; who was more used to laying its issues bare. My time at Catholic school may not have made me a Catholic, but it did make me an agnostic who loves rules, and reading these blogs gave me an escape from the rules around gender non/-conformity that I felt I had to follow in order to gain respect.

When we understand that gender isn’t something we can simply dismiss or fold up and put away –– however rightfully we might hate it –– we might find a way of weaponizing gender against its own interests like the creative, colorful, and brilliant people we are. But first we need to find the child in ourselves and view (trans)gender norms with fresh eyes, letting go of the social expectations we so desperately cling to.

 


*Which is impossible while still using gender as a system of social management and classification, but that’s a different post.

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the distinct odor of 1837 hall, and other recent things

I have heard several people comment recently on how quickly June is going by, and I agree –– May seemed interminable, and at first June was just an extension of that month. Now we’re nearing July, the middle of summer, and the last month-and-a-half feel like a blur in hindsight. When people ask me what I’m up to this summer, I will first mention my internship and next mention my Chinese work; then, perhaps, I’ll mention something vague about “reading and writing for myself”.

That phrase, “reading and writing for myself” feels so weak, so feeble. In reality, sometimes it can be. But it’s one of the things I love most about the summer; about all breaks from school, really. For the rest of the summer –– in fact, even beyond the rest of the summer –– I’m considering writing updates on what I’ve been reading. Let me know if you like that idea! I’ll begin today: I’m working on Humankind by Timothy Morton. Although its subtitle is “Solidarity with nonhuman people” it is, in fact, not a vegan polemic! Imagine! It has more to do with philosophy; corellationism* versus object-oriented ontology (OOOh!)** and how those different ways of considering materials in spacetime might allow us to consider the agency of nonhumans. There’s a lot to it and it’s pretty slow going compared to how I usually read, but it’s really an enchanting book.

I’m also working on The Archaeology of Knowledge by Foucault. It’s amazing how much easier it is to get through an otherwise-dense work now that I already have some basic knowledge of Foucault’s ideas at large. I don’t think I’d be enjoying it, and certainly I would not be able to read it as casually as I am, without having read and written about his work (and the work of his intellectual disciples, i.e. almost every theorist alive today, whether they agree with him or not).

Fiction-wise, I’m working on a fantasy novel called Uprooted by Naomi Novik. It gave me Beauty and the Beast vibes at the beginning — and in the bad, stop-doing-things-for-this-abusive-man type of way –– but it’s been surprising me pleasantly since I’ve gotten over that initial hump. I’m reading, in small chunks, various other books, too. But I’ll keep my book talk to these three for now, because the number of things I read concurrently is embarrassing.

On the subject of writing, or more precisely, curating and editing, I’m continually finding myself excited each time I see a new person express their interest in the “What’s Your Story?” zine I’m putting together. However, with each event or zine I do, I find myself more concerned with the….ironically enough, accessibility, of this work. When it comes to the logistics of the materials I provide, I have not heard any complaints about inaccessibility. But socially, I fear that my projects are not accessible by many disabled students who would otherwise be qualified to/interested in submit/ting. We live in a culture in which disability is only discussed in relation to its cure and/or its burdensomeness, and almost always through a medical lens. This is what makes self-narrativization so important for us; it gives us a way to “speak back” at those who attempt to speak for us.

Speaking back is important when any disabled person does it, but I’ve noticed in “What’s Your Story?” that the same people –– and the same types of people –– tend to be the ones contributing every time. Those who represent my project, including myself, represent the sorts of people who “represent” MHC at large: white domestic students, either cisgender women (mostly) or transmasculine people (closer to the fringes). I’m considering the possibilities that might allow me to solicit a more diverse body of work from a primarily-MHC demographic. This must be done without tokenization or pressure, but at the same time, must be done with more energy than I’ve previously been using (considering that my recent efforts at including more voices have had such limited effectiveness). If anyone has curated before and had similar struggles, please message me! Also, of course, if you’ve never submitted to WYS before and are interested, please get in touch by August!

In unrelated news, I’m pleased to report that I have finally been able to (somewhat literally) reap the benefits of my family’s having signed up for a farm share for this summer. Recent days have been awash with strawberries (that I picked myself!); fresh tomatoes, spinach, romaine, herbs, and more. We’ve never been enrolled in a CSA before and only have the smallest share offered, but I recommend it already.

And as for the most recent happenings in my life: About two hours ago I arrived home from an overnight stay with my friend Chloe at Mount Holyoke, where she’s working this summer. I had a great time and so deeply appreciate friends like her, with whom I can talk and talk and talk, and we can entertain ourselves by talking for hours and not get bored. 1837, the hall in which all people spending the summer at MHC are staying is the only hall I have ever stayed in at Mount Holyoke and the only hall I plan to stay in; walking (back) into the hall was such a comforting experience. Even the smell of old food and unpicked-up garbage quintessential to each floor’s kitchenette made me feel as though I had never left.

It was very nice to have a change of scenery for a little while –– to be away from my laptop, to read and write in a new space around someone I don’t usually room with. Next week is already the beginning of July. For now, I’m going to spend a bit of time missing Mount Holyoke since I just got a taste of it, but I’m also excited to keep on with my normal summer activities, potentially add new ones, and have air-conditioning in my room.


*Correlationism: When I (a human subject) see the laptop, the laptop comes into being. We can never know that it exists any other way.

**OOO (speculative realism): the laptop is itself more than I (a mere human subject) can ever think it to be, and exists whether I think it or not.

what is *really* required to prevent suicide

Content Warning: though abstract and not graphic, this is a post about suicide. Proceed with caution. 

I fantasize about cutting the root of our feelings of ruthlessness and despair at the moment that they begin. This is not something I –– nor anyone else alone –– can possibly do without a radical, cultural shift to bolster it. I see your good-Samaritanism in the face of two high-profile suicides by much-loved figures, and I raise to you this question: why are you so ready, even delighted, to post the requisite hotline numbers, to say “seek [professional] help,” to say “you can talk to me” as though a conversation alone will lead to supposed recovery from thoughts of suicide. Each of these acts make non-suicidal people feel a semblance of control over the lives they see are in free-fall, when the true sources of these cases more often lie in larger structures, whose complicity goes unaddressed.

This adoption of the personal responsibility to save suicidal people by those around them is well-intentioned. However, it can, and often does, result for the suicidal person in encounters with the police, (ensuing) institutionalization, and intrusive surveillance practices. There are many things to be said about this under-discussed and frequently-excused form of ableism and institutional violence, namely that it is regarded as the only way to “deal with” The Suicidal Person. But that is not what I want to discuss right now.

Instead, I would like to address the concerning thread that runs through everyday reactions to publicized suicides, suicide awareness, and situations in which someone is perceived as “at risk”. This thread is the assumption that personal, individual interventions are sufficient in supporting people in crisis. The thought here is: if we normalize talking about suicide, and telling our friends and loved ones when we are struggling, we will solve what is obviously a/n inter/national crisis which takes the lives of many every year. Although I have no doubt that these individual interventions save lives, they do nothing to unstick the root(s) of suicidal ideation in society at large. Ignorance of these roots does a disservice to those who experience suicidal thoughts, to those who have or will commit suicide, and to humanity at large; the latter in its refusal to acknowledge that there is no “type” of person who experiences these thoughts but instead a type of social and material conditions that can lead to the desire to kill oneself.

Sometimes I get tired of my own anti-capitalist screeds, but I’m even more tired of the havoc that capitalism wreaks on all of our lives, and especially the lives of the (multiply-)marginalized. A primary goal of capitalism is to erase (and to consume and commodify) the personal identities of those who work under it. As such, if I work in retail, I am no longer Sarah-who-works-in-retail, I am a Sales-Associate. Those sorts of labels affix themselves to us, so much so that questions such as “what do you do?” do not provoke hobbies or leisure activities as responses, but instead, almost uniformly, information on where (or if) we work for a wage. If you are a student, you will likely also feel this regarding your educational life; as such, a low grade or missed academic opportunity has the potential to obliterate your self worth. By grafting our occupations onto the space where our composite selves used to be, we internalize any slight against us at school or work (a firing, a lay-off, a low wage or grade, a poor review) as a slight against us as people. When it comes to work, this is even more destructive, as these slights can result in abject poverty and its associated risks.

By grafting our occupations onto the space where our composite selves used to be, we internalize any slight against us at school or work (a firing, a lay-off, a low wage or grade, a poor review) as a slight against us as people.

Given these conditions, feelings of worthlessness, emptiness, hopelessness, and other -nesses come as little surprise. Some, including other psychosocially disabled people, lament the way in which “everyone” is claiming “depression and anxiety” these days. These complaints also seem to locate depression and anxiety in certain, pre-marked bodies and not in others, again obfuscating the root causes of these experiences. Under neoliberal capitalism, the loss of one’s self and purpose (especially in the face of poverty and unemployment) and the constant, debilitating anxiety of ever-mounting debt and implicit knowledge that one will never do or be enough is near-guaranteed. The same can be said, sometimes, for thoughts of ending one’s own life: too often, our lives under this system of slow violence do not feel worth living. As such, the problems associated with suicide; with the depression and anxiety that “everyone” supposedly has these days; are not going to be solved by psychiatry and its pathologizing, individualizing, money-making ways. Nor is it going to be solved by individual responses to individual cases, although these individual responses may be helpful on a small scale.

Under neoliberal capitalism, the loss of one’s self and purpose (especially in the face of poverty and unemployment) and the constant, debilitating anxiety of ever-mounting debt and implicit knowledge that one will never do or be enough is near-guaranteed.

There is no way to understate the danger that lies in the assumption of a “suicidal type.” The location of suicidal thoughts in only certain bodyminds implicitly blames the afflicted person for these thoughts –– that is, it assumes that these thoughts emerge from something “wrong with” that person’s brain. Think about the way the media digs desperately into the lives of those like Bourdain and Spade; they search for “signs” that may retroactively confirm that these were the types of people at risk for suicide. Regardless of what evidence toward this is or is not found, it is still an act of erasure against those who do not fit said type. Crucially, in the media today, suicidality is near-exclusively located in well-off, white Americans and Europeans. Racialized others, especially Black women, are ignored in conversations on mental health supports and needs, which can be attributed to the longstanding stereotype of Black women as strong and immune to the psychological impacts of (among other things) racialized misogyny itself**.  The disproportionate focus on individual white celebrities –– and white bodies as a whole –– as the face of the “suicide epidemic” very literally kills those bodies of color which it excludes*.

I encourage all of us to think of feelings associated with suicide not as special feelings reserved for particular, “depressed” people, but rather as emotional conditions of life lived at constant risk of violence, abuse, and financial devastation. Not only will this reframing allow us to pay especial attention to those whose experiences go undiscussed by the media in the wake of public suicides, but it will also “end the stigma” around suicide, as so many will cry on pop-media without taking steps to actually do anything about it. After all, the source of the stigma around suicide –– around disability at large –– come with the perception that they are individual afflictions which mark particular people as others; as abnormal and bad. It is only when we remove the blinders of individual pathology and understand psychological crisis as a part of our collective experience that we will begin to make steps toward healing from these tragedies. And this healing cannot start until we rethink the way we assign life-value to certain bodyminds (including our own) and which we do not, largely based on productivity and socioeconomic standing.

I propose that, as we grieve the deaths of Bourdain and Spade, we do not let conversations on suicide die so quickly. I propose that we do not halfheartedly attempt to “change the conversation on mental health” (if I hear that phrase one more time, I swear I’ll –– okay, bad joke, too soon, never mind) but rather change the structures that enable such high rates of psychosocial crisis. There will be no succinct list of risk factors nor list of hotlines or deferrals to the police or The Institution that will “cure” suicidality, because these feelings are endemic to our collective body and social conditions. For those who are experiencing thoughts of suicide, I say: don’t only seek help. Seek help and seek justice. Seek the basic rights to housing, food, water, healthcare, and human contact that you deserve but are not afforded under our present system; and seek out those who are aware that you deserve these things. It is only with the acknowledgment of this that we will make any headway against those murders committed by the ruthless hand of capitalism, with its friends, isolation and worthlessness.


*As we also know, applying our “standard” responses to suicide –– institutionalization, police, surveillance –– to suicidal people of color will in most cases prove more dangerous than they are to white people. Recognition of a plurality of suicidal experiences also requires a commitment to healing that does not involve exposure to state violence.

**See Salt’s brilliant prose-academic hybrid piece here for further information.

the story of “what’s your story?”

I mentioned here that I was considering writing the history (and even future!) of “What’s Your Story?” on this blog, both for the edification of others and also as a keepsake & reminder for myself.

I, a first-year, entered the 300-level disability studies course already sharing something in common with the professor I did not yet know: both of us were unsure as to whether I was qualified to be there at all. Luckily, the class in question was a joy to work and “prove myself” in, and became a major factor in my final decision to take up critical disability studies as an informing area of my CST focus/specific course of study and research.

Although I gradually grew more comfortable in the class as the months passed,  I grew more anxious at the looming threat of our final projects. We were heavily encouraged not merely to write a paper (the required length of which was still longer than any academic work I had written in high school) but instead to transform our classroom knowledge into an action project of some sort. I did to some of the requisite research for a paper topic, in case possible action project plans fell through (as I feared they would). I ended up writing –– for a different class –– the paper whose topic I researched, and nervously proposed “some kind of open mic, speak-out sort of thing, that I am not calling a ‘support ‘group’ therapy session.”*

I had initially come upon the idea by considering my irritation with the traditional group-therapy model: patients sit in circles to publicly confess their sins to the all-knowing professional, who then –– instead of giving them Hail Mary’s –– imposes upon them pre-determined Coping Skills as though said respective skills are a magic bullet for all people who might share a common diagnosis. The name “What’s Your Story?” emerged from a similar sense of irritation at having to divulge my (mental health) history accurately, consistently, and with gradually-increasing (not too rapidly, lest I look like a faker) degrees of self-awareness that will eventually conclude with recovery; sanity.

I have heard the phrase “what’s your story?” in myriad forms, contexts, and tones. What each shares in common is that they are coming from the mouth of someone in power. These people –– in their quest to intimately Know you, the Other –– creates the very narratives about the “causes of mental illness” and the pictures of “what insanity looks like” that they believe they are searching us to discover!**

Given this, I quickly realized I had to take my story back and share it on my own terms.

I figured that a way to radically reinvent the “story” conversation was to bring into the open –– and dare I say, “fight the stigma!” (although I always hate sounding like a highway billboard or inspirational video) around existing-as-disabled. Although I did not have much access to the knowledge and experiences of people whose disabilities are marked as “physical,” I knew the questions of “what happened?” paralleled in many ways the demands for story-disclosure with which psychosocially disabled, mentally ill, etc. people are barraged.

I made posters, sent emails, created Facebook events as well as a distinct group for attendees/participants, and haphazardly coordinated the physical space in which the event would take place. I bought allergen-friendly food, created the transcript documents for peoples’ performances, and set/cleaned up the space. My professor had generously offered extra credit to any of my classmates who showed up at my event, which only slightly diminished my then-anxiety around low attendance.

The event turned out to be as successful as it was exhausting. It didn’t run as smoothly as more recent events have (obviously) nor was I brave enough to share something of my own at the time. I don’t remember precisely how long the first event lasted, but I remember it ran far longer than I had thought it would, mostly due to the group discussion that took place after the formal readings were over. It occurs to me in hindsight that this was the first time I had experienced such a well-attended, compassionate discussion on disability. I had set the parameters clearly beforehand: abled accomplices were welcome to listen & learn, and would become unwelcome upon any attempts to dominate the discussion or claim upheld expertise.

I don’t know who it was who suggested to pass around a paper, taking down emails of attendees who wanted more events like that one. If they’re reading this, they’re welcome to email me so I can give them the hug they are most certainly due come fall. The desire to speak for myself and with others like me, instead of speaking of myself and to those who erroneously claimed authority over my life experiences, was clearly shared.

So, the next semester, I planned another event. And then there was a zine. And another zine, accompanied by an event. And then there was Amsterdam, and I was very sad to have missed out on hosting what I’m sure would have been a great event with amazing people. I’m excited to move forward now that I will be back at Mount Holyoke for four more semesters.

There were a lot of unintended, useful things that came of “What’s Your Story?”: organizing experience, planning knowledge, on-the-ground knowledge of what event accessibility can look like, learning to edit aggregated content, learning to recruit contributors, learning to publicize events via word-of-mouth and social media. My resumé has thanked me 1,000 times over. This series of events has also brought me closer to innumerable peers who I may never have known well if it weren’t for “What’s Your Story?”.  Finally, having assisted in producing, and certainly seeing, the benefits of peer-based disability organizing and the sharing of feelings and knowledge as equals and not inferiors gives me a way to talk about alternatives to institutional medicine & psychiatry in the real world.

Unfortunately, there still exist the conditions that necessitate events like this. These are the conditions that lead people, when I first try to explain “What’s Your Story?” to them, to scratch their heads. The notion of unmediated wisdom coming from the mouth of a disabled person is unthinkable when the producers of knowledge we see all have Dr., or at the very least, LCSW, attached to their names. As someone who, relative to others like me, has an increased degree of autonomy over their life, I do feel a sense of responsibility to keep organizing these events simply because I’m able to. But also, every time I (re-)read a zine, attend an event, or even simply describe the event’s ethos to others (as I’m doing now) I feel a sense of pride, accomplishment, and fun. Yes, disability can be fun; we can commune to revel in each others’ brilliant imperfections (if you will) with no need, no desire for “fixing.”


* There exist far more overlapping terms that psych-professionals use to talk about professionally-mediated spaces in which disabled people come together, and almost all of these are shortened to “Group”, which tends to be used as though it’s a proper noun.

** Obviously, I was not thinking about this as a first-semester first-year, at least, not in those terms. As I reflect now, I’m able to use such concepts thanks mainly to theorist Sara Ahmed. I’m currently reading her (2000) work, “Strange Encounters,” in which she describes the way the ego’s desire for knowledge of “the strange(r)” produces the conditions that make people “strange(rs)” in the first place.

this is not (only) a post about t

This post was initially just going to be a long-winded acknowledgement of my almost-(one day early) one year anniversary of starting a low dose of testosterone. At some point between my initial conception of the idea and today, I realized that that just wouldn’t do. There exists an expectation, I think, that every event or development related to one’s transition is going to come along with some constituent sob story. But the other day, while rubbing two graduated pumps of Androgel onto my freshly-showered back, I wondered how I’d manage over 1,000 words on what this entirely mundane aspect of my daily life. There’s no sob story to speak of, apart from periodic bursts-into-tears, elicited by a body that was rusty on how to deal with puberty. Still, this particular “journey” (as it were) isn’t worth wasting over 1,000 words on.

In lieu of some undoubtedly-emotional diatribe,  replete with “progress pics” and other things which are meaningful to many other trans people but are far less significant for me; I’m going to summarize briefly my year on T before moving onto other life updates.

I received my prescription for Androgel on May 25th, 2017. I had internally debated whether or not I wanted to start T at all since I first learned of the low-dose option*. I was plagued by unfounded fears that I would rapidly grow a full beard or spontaneously drop from my natural tenor to a deep baritone. Although for some, this (gradually) comes to pass, it did not and has not happened to me. I began on only 25% of the “normal” (that is, administered to your “average FtM” who wants a “fairly speedy transition”). Several months later, I upped my dose to 50% of the (scare quotes) average, and has not changed since. I have taken several breaks –– some due to the emotional instability, weepiness, and hypersensitivity that comes in the same package as (second) puberty, and some out of necessity; I couldn’t apply the gel immediately before or following my mastectomy. The changes have been subtle, though I like what minor ones I’ve seen.

I (much like every other person on the planet, gender notwithstanding) am not sure what my hormonal future holds**. For now, I’ll carry on with my low dose of T, administered in gel form due to my longstanding fear of having some thick and oily liquid injected into my body once a month. Unlike others, my having access to hormones isn’t a life-or-death issue, and perhaps someday I’ll get tired of taking them. For now, it’s an absolute delight to shape-shift merely because I can.

Now for other news. Yesterday I had my inaugural session with the Chinese tutor I will be seeing this summer, in order to catch up on my missed semester. It was lovely; energizing. I hadn’t realized just how much I missed Chinese while I was away, and am finding myself getting very excited about doing homework. I found myself somewhat rusty when reading aloud with the tutor, who nevertheless complemented me and thus increased my confidence. I found I needed to re-hone my listening skills: when the lesson hour began, she switched entirely to Mandarin, using the anticipated mixture of familiar and unknown words. I tried to make myself a child, over whom the words washed. I didn’t attempt to translate every single word or phrase directly. I found some of the words I had forgotten how to speak and hear enter my conscious mind, one by one, and was pleased with my decision. Learning how to string into coherency the 50% of a language you do know –– while simultaneously being barraged with the 50% you don’t –– is an under-taught skill in American foreign-language classes.

Speaking of under-taught things, I’m excited to be working on more disability / disability studies-related projects; namely, the latest planned “What’s Your Story?” (WYS) zine. If people are interested, perhaps I’ll devote one (or more) entire blog post(s) to a discussion of the inception of and intent behind WYS; there’s far too much to confine to a mere few paragraphs.

The call for submissions will be out on Facebook shortly, and at that time I will also link the associated Google Doc call for submissions, which is screen-reader friendly. The theme, chosen from a long list of potential themes with the help of my good friend Kayla, is disability and (s)pace. That is, disabled bodyminds and their interactions with spacetime. Between my research on queer space and disabled subjects, and my relatively-recent forays into the academic areas of “queer time”, “crip time”, and the fascinating, under-discussed “trauma time;”*** I’ve come to realize that a critical interrogation of the way time works is essential in studying disability.

After all, if disability has been produced via hegemonic notions of The Normal (which it has) than the supposed immaturity, slowness, stuckness, etc. that are so frequently attributed to disabled bodies have also been produced by these notions. Even the two events I mentioned earlier in the blog –– the one-year anniversary of starting T and my attempt at a return to a childlike mode of learning with Chinese –– only make sense because our collective understanding of how time and development occurs has been standardized. “Like a child” is a sufficient behavior signifier because we have all internalized certain notions of what it is to be a child. We celebrate anniversaries because we have all come to a conclusion –– or at the very least, conceded –– that 365/6 days of having done something is worthy of attention. And don’t even get me started on why we all understand what I mean by “second puberty!”

I’m excited to compile a WYS zine that will complicate sane/NT/abled conceptions of space and time…and give readers of all sorts of bodyminds the tools to expand our own understandings of the subject!

The other disability-related project I am prioritizing right now is my work as an intern with Not Dead Yet, on which I’m hoping to write periodic updates, so keep your eyes peeled! Here’s my intro blog post on their site. I feel so incredibly grateful to be interning/working for a cause I can genuinely get excited about, and for people who are good to me and with whom I share passions. I (and many, even most others) haven’t always had that experience at work. I’ve been doing writing, research, and some social-media work with them so far, and am really excited to see what I might be doing in the coming weeks.

From this, I conclude: So far, so good, summer.


*This website was my bible for several years. I still love and cherish it deeply, but after having taken much of what I need from it, I’ve put it back on the shelf (apart from that one post I wrote). I credit the site with my discovery and usage of “neutrois” in reference to myself, even though it requires extra explanation when I introduce myself to others, cis or otherwise.

**The key difference here is that trans and/or intersex people will usually acknowledge the great hormonal unknown far more readily than cis/dyadic people will.

***If you want readings and resources on any of these, feel free to email me, text me, or use the contact form on this blog. I have plenty of PDFs that I’m happy to share.

culturally not-too-shocking

When I was in middle school, I had a pen pal. I actually had several pen pals, but this particular pen pal was the only one who ever visited me in person. She was one year younger than me, Danish, fluent in four languages, and most importantly, willing to tolerate my pseudo-intellectual thirteen-year-old whining. She visited me in 2012, the summer before I started high school. I was, as usual, filled with anxiety as to our real-life meeting: I found myself more pleasant, more articulate, and more skilled at social interaction via text-based communication, than I ever was in-person*. My greatest fear, watching fliers from Copenhagen emerge from the terminal, was that this girl would take one look at me and regret coming to visit. That she would speak to me with words, not text, and any semblance of chemistry we may have had before would be erased.

And then she, jet-lagged and suitcase-toting, was there. My first observation was one of surprise; her hair was both longer and silkier than I had expected (in fact, it wasn’t until then that I realized I had any preconceptions as to her hair in the first place). We hugged on impulse and then once more, slowly, for the camera. Most of what I experienced around that encounter was anticipatory, rather than the result of actually seeing her. I felt the butterflies, made the “Welcome, Helene” sign, experienced stress at my own perceived inadequacies; once she actually arrived, at that one moment during which I had taken a break from holding my sign, I felt nothing in particular.

I was not thinking about Helene during my flight from Amsterdam to Boston; I rarely think of her now, as we lost touch several years ago. That said, she did cross my mind as I crossed the threshold from the terminal to the International Arrivals area. I realized that I was entering the very same area in which I stood six years ago, this time from a different angle. While waiting for Helene to meet us, my parents and I had maintained a cool distance from the door to the Arrivals area, which was loosely gated to avoid overcrowding. It was with a mix of embarrassment and satisfaction that I recognized my parents standing alone within gate’s limits this time, parked midway between the door through which I had come and the rest of the waiting crowd. No pictures were taken.

Helene, who stayed at my home for two weeks, experienced culture shock most explicitly during Fourth of July festivities and while eating her first-ever grilled cheese at a café in Mystic. The American habits of leaving one’s television on as background noise throughout the day and of taking daily showers both fascinated and concerned her. It’s very funny being the friend, family member, and/or guide of someone experiencing culture shock, as this experience forces one to look at the strangest aspects of their own culture as though they had not been inculcated with it from a young age. Although my peers and I were warned of the prospect of “reverse culture shock” prior to our return to the U.S., I did not experience culture shock so much as culture reminders.

It’s healthy, after all, to view American patriotism –– jingoism –– to the full extent of its concerning excess. This was excess I already knew of, but I was again reminded of it shortly after I deplaned. I saw more national flags –– and more propaganda imploring young travelers to join ICE or national military –– during those two hours than I had seen in over three months abroad. Going through immigration to once more enter the country was, of course, a bureaucratic nightmare, mitigated only by my whiteness and U.S. passport.

As I walked with a herd of fellow travelers toward a crowd of passport-scanning machines, we painstakingly wound through an empty maze of stanchions**. Clearly, Immigration was not content to leave such nightmarishness in the abstract. Listening to others’ complaints at the ludicrousness of taking twice as long to walk through the empty, cordoned-off area, I thought “this emblematizes perfectly the empty, illogical State (of) bureaucracy, especially as it relates to the crossing of arbitrarily-drawn borders!” (Actually, I didn’t think that at all –– I thought something more like, “How Kafkaesque, I’ll have to post it on my blog.”)

My other culture reminder was the large size and low price of beverages in the U.S. when compared to Amsterdam. When I got my much-needed cup of Dunkin’ Donuts coffee (in one of my refillable mugs, which happens to be at least twice the size of any cup of coffee I ever received in the Netherlands), I was momentarily overcome by awe. This was only compounded by the fact that I had not tasted true Dunkin’ coffee since January***. I had also briefly forgotten that Coolattas existed, and was fascinated by the new-to-me flavors.

The small fears around reverse culture shock that I had had prior to my arrival were lessened by the knowledge that, no matter how weird “home” felt, it would never feel as strange and new as Amsterdam or Morocco had, and I had navigated the latter two without the help of my family.

And there, my culture shock (culture-reminding?) ended. At the bottom of a quickly-drained, massive, refillable cup of my beloved, weak, hyper-sweet coffee. Unlike my experience six years ago, I was not plagued by fear that I would disappoint the people I was meeting at the airport (insert tired, overused joke about disappointing one’s parents here). The small fears around reverse culture shock that I had had prior to my arrival were lessened by the knowledge that, no matter how weird “home” felt, it would never feel as strange and new as Amsterdam or Morocco had, and I had navigated the latter two without the help of my family.

Upon arriving home, walking into my house with its predictable smell, furniture, cool-darkness, and kitchen ants, I experienced my greatest shock since my return: the utter normalcy of it all. This, I remembered, is what the rest of my wardrobe looks like. These are all of the books I had forgotten to ache for. This is how it feels to be in charge of my own heating and air-conditioning. This is life, not for two weeks or a semester but long-term. Disappointment and lack of chemistry were non-issues between myself and my home life. I’m not a guest; we’re stuck with each other.


*Arguably, this is still the case.

**Despite their ubiquity, I did not know that those things were called “stanchions” until I wrote this post.

***I bought exactly one cup of coffee from a Dutch Dunkin’ Donuts, which tasted disappointingly similar to what I might expect from a Starbucks –– not pleasant when I was looking for a specific taste quintessential to my home life.

revelations, revolutions, resolutions

Note: I borrowed the title for this blog post from the song, “No Light, No Light,” from Florence + The Machine’s album, Ceremonials. I use this in hot anticipation of her coming album, High as Hope. Get excited: I definitely am! Starting to listen to her music was one of the few good decisions I made while in seventh grade.

Less than one week remains of my time in Amsterdam, and about a month remains until 2018 is halfway over. With this in mind,I’ve been considering the relationship I have to [my] New Year’s Resolutions*, and, on a larger scale, my relationship with the future goals I have set for myself.

This blog post was most specifically inspired by a delightful conversation I had a couple days ago with my friend Claire, my beloved disabled comrade, student, activist, and frequent Snapchat-correspondent. She briefly visited Amsterdam from her own study abroad location, Scotland. As our conversation led to a discussion of summer plans and internship excitement, I informed her of a goal of mine that’s become more serious in the last several weeks, especially as I’ve found more time and energy to devote to writing creatively. I hadn’t before told others about this, and have scarcely told myself yet!

I would like to have a book –– a chapbook, a short novel, a little something that is probably “experimental” in form –– at least in the publishing process by the time I graduate from Mount Holyoke. A lofty goal. Goals are meaningless if they’re easy to accomplish.

I am also holding space for the possibility that my current ideas around theming and content may change completely between now and the book’s hypothetical publication; that’s simply how writing works. I’m not going to speak more on this right now (I say as I touch the nazar necklace I got in Morocco, purchased from a vendor who also sold me a beautiful postcard featuring goats in a tree). Worries about tempting fate by publicly discussing this goal aside, many who know me know I want to release my voice into the world. Although that desire will (hopefully, fingers crossed) help me toward publishing a book someday, it also fuels a separate academic struggle I’ve long experienced, and have recently begun trying to overcome.

In the fall of 2017, I found myself putting my foot in my mouth even more than usual, especially during classes. I was speaking aloud the half-formed thoughts I should have internally processed first. I also found myself having immediate emotional reactions to topics of class discussion (fine), which I would then verbalize (only occasionally fine). These were poor substitutes for legitimate, constructive instances of class participation. These “contributions” benefitted no one but myself, and even I was tiring of hearing my own voice. Between these ill-timed outbursts and the standard, academic contributions I make during class, some of which are not entirely necessary to class discussion. I have lived under the false impression that speaking more often was inherently better than not speaking, and that speaking was the only valid contribution I could make within a classroom. What’s more, I felt no need to moderate what I said and how, when, and why I said it; I presumed that if I spoke as I pleased, others could and would do the same, uninhibited by other factors. This is patently false, and to believe that every person enters a classroom –– or any discussion, for that matter –– with identical abilities, amounts of social capital, and language with which to discuss a certain topic is nonsense.

My persistent internalization of the “equal, unmoderated classroom” in which I could speak uninhibited is the result of a wider cultural problem. It is influenced by the foolishmarketplace of ideas” rhetoric that some of the libertarian right-wing are so fond of spouting. Unfortunately, it is easy to internalize such notions in a social-academic climate that implicitly and explicitly glorifies free-market capitalism. I was assigning my spoken thoughts the same arbitrary value that the capitalist assigns to paper money: paper is paper, whether it “says” one or one-thousand dollars. The exchange value of paper money is wildly different from its use value: I can buy a lot with a thousand dollars, but the 1,000-dollar bill can’t really do anything by itself. Similarly, those who view academia as a mere marketplace might support the exchanging of any idea, regardless of how malformed and misinformed might be. It might be assigned a higher value because it was spoken (in my case) by a white, American, English-speaking person who is generally successful in academic settings. However, this has no bearing on how useful my (or anyone else’s) class contribution actually is.

Does this help people? I now try to ask myself before I speak up. Is my statement fueled by compassion, or do I merely want to be correct? Do I want to clarify some point for myself and others, or just hear myself speak? If the latter is true, why don’t I just write down my thought instead of uselessly sharing it? Are people listening to me because I’ve amassed a degree of social capital that forces them to, or because what I say is genuinely useful in this setting?

Are people listening to me because I’ve amassed a degree of social capital that forces them to, or because what I say is genuinely useful in this setting?

Writing more often has already helped me tremendously in learning when and how not to speak. However, I still find myself thinking actively about the aforementioned questions; silence is not second-nature to me. Last semester, in a Feminist Disability Studies class, our professor told us something that remains with me to this day: participation is not limited to speaking in class, and indeed, sometimes participation is precisely the act of letting someone else speak, especially someone who does not do so often. This idea has informed the way I have behaved in my courses while here in Amsterdam, too. I don’t have to speak.** I can listen, and if I have something to say, I can write it down. Sometimes, a point I wanted to make several minutes prior ends up being addressed; sometimes a question I hope to ask ends up answered before I have the chance to ask it. In many ways, knowing that I can –– and often should –– listen and not speak has been freeing, although it’s an immense challenge as well.

[S]ometimes participation is precisely the act of letting someone else speak, especially someone who does not do so often.

Twinning this “real life” challenge is a recently-discovered writing goal, one that’s made itself especially apparent to me in the last several weeks. Now that I’ve published some work on outside platforms, I have found myself feeling an internal pressure to make everything I write somehow publishable. It feels like that capitalistic impulse to commodify every aspect of myself has infiltrated my relationship to words: I am unsatisfied leaving a poem in my notebook, even though I know writing for its own sake is a valuable pursuit. Along with pursuing the aforementioned goal of publishing a chapbook (or something) within the next several years, I have also committed myself to writing something everyday, something which will likely remain unpublished and unpublishable. I’ll never return to the way I wrote a decade ago, “untainted” by paying markets and calls for submissions. It’d be ludicrous to pretend as though those things didn’t exist, especially given that I am still engaging with them as a writer. But there is no way for me to understand the importance of silent listening without being able to “talk” to a blank document as much as I want; there’s no way for me to remain disciplined in my commitment to a chapbook theme unless I can release errant creative energies elsewhere.

My goals require a degree of dual consciousness in order to pursue at the same time: writing and marketing something for publication, while also consciously returning to the reason that writing is something I love and not merely something that I do. I must simultaneously cultivate my ability to listen to others and hear my own silence, but also prove to some outside source that my voice is worthy of being released to the public. In placing these goals together, I hope to somewhat detach my personal growth from my growth as a “professional.” Although the concept of “work-life balance” is a false one, it is unrealistic for me to frame each verse or sentence I write as publishable work or each word I say as worthy of flinging into an creative-academic arena. The differences between “flingable” and “unflingable” thoughts are clear.

If I were to unify all of my goals into one, perhaps it would be: my goal is to weaponize my voice without wholly commodifying it. I need to work to survive, but I also need something to live for. To an extent, the notion of turning my voice into something that can be sold is part of my present and future. But my ideas also exist absent some market, and it is possible –– even liberatory! –– to sit and be contained, to allow someone else the so-called glory of being the one to broach an idea or write an important story. To return briefly to my extended metaphor about capitalism: any perceived scarcity in stories to be written, ideas to be shared and explored, and contributions to be made…these scarcities are artificial.

At the risk of sounding clichéd*** there is absolutely no limit to the ideas that can be imagined and shared. Thus, sharing them is not and should not be a competition. I am working to divorce my goal to “publish a something” (“publish a book” is still a scary phrase to say!) from the imperative to write something that is worth a dollar amount. I will publish a something that I am proud to share, because it’s something that hasn’t been said before in quite the way I’m saying it, because I want to contribute to the canon occupied by [redacted creators who will for now remain nameless so I don’t give too much away], and because I want to reveal a possibility to readers that I can’t fully explore in the realm of academia. It will be good to be compensated; to be validated by the “Industry”. But it is my hope that learning to listen at the same time as I learn to speak my ideas into a…um…book will allow me both personal and professional growth.

 


* is that a proper noun? Who knows.

** I still talk a lot. Sometimes I say useful things, and some things may have been better unsaid. It’s a work in progress.

*** I think I’ve used that phrase enough on this blog that the phrase itself has become clichéd. Whoa!