trans(and/or?)butch

Anyone I’ve spoken to for an extended period of time this semester probably knows that this semester, I’m engaged in an independent study. Too complicated (or perhaps I’m just too long-winded!) for a quick and comprehensive elevator pitch, I usually say that I’m thinking about “butch (and/or) trans (and/or) masculine relationality, historically and today.” But that doesn’t quite describe the truth of what I’ve been thinking about since just before break, and what I’m spending so many hours on today. Truthfully, I’m trying to figure out (and live inside the discomfort of) the politics of cross-genre personhood, specifically in regard to transbutchness.

Because this project includes a strong autobio/ethnographic component, I will be focusing on those assigned (“diagnosed”, really) female at birth who cross sexgendered expectations at some point in their respective lives. Some of these people are marked as / self-define as butches, butch women, dykes, bulldykes, stone butches, passing women, passing butches, genderqueer people, nonbinary women, studs, nonbinary studs, nonbinary people, bois, nonbinary lesbians, nonbinary butches, genderqueer butches, nonbinary transmasculine people, genderfluid lesbians, genderless lesbians, transmasculine people, trans men, third gender people, genderqueer trans men….and I could go on! The rub is that words are inherently incapable of capturing the true complexity of our respective experiences, and also attempt (in vain!) to tie our respective experiences to static definitions. The same logics that declare “they” not a singular pronoun are weaponized here: namely, in the advancement of the myth that language (and identity) is inflexibly static, that the dictionary is some sort of divine ordinance instead of an object created and re-created by humans.

Within this independent study, I feel I must also address the thorny, often-abused topics of detransition, or the “cessation” of transition (which are difficult to quantify, too). With the rise in accessibility of medical transition for many people, including children, I would expect no less than a fetishisitic gravitation toward the idea of transition regret on the part of transphobes, particularly transmisogynists. After all, what better way to argue against the bodily autonomy of a marginalized group than to weaponize the existence of those who used their autonomy to make a choice they don’t like?

I am not going to bother linking all the fearmongering articles here, they’re not worth the extra clicks. What I am going to mention here (and in whatever comes out of this study) are the curious ways in which most people do and do not analyze (de)/transition. Instead of understanding detransition as further evidence of the mutability of gender and its dependence on social and sexual relationships, they instead use detransition as an excuse to double down on their essentialist project: to reinscribe the assumption that being “truly trans” is rare and must be gatekept for fear of enabling a supposedly-irresponsible choice. If “true transness” is as rare as these people want it to be, then violent systems of gender normativity can remain in place, and those few exceptions to it may be confined to reproducing gender stereotypes even as they transition. Those whose genders are liminal are painted as indecisive, juvenile, and fundamentally incomplete.*

Butches are then wholesale grouped into the “woman” category, and transness and butchness/womanhood are understood as mutually exclusive. Thus, butch transition is often blocked, and when allowed, the potential womanhood of butches is erased. Transmasculine people are expected to completely defect from womanhood without regard to what could be years or decades of involvement with communities of LGBTQ+ women; if they do not defect to the proper degree, they will risk not receiving a diagnosis of gender dysphoria, thus blocking insurance coverage for transition as well as social approval of their identity. This is what it means to be medically illegible.

“I don’t feel like a man trapped in a woman’s body, I just feel trapped.”

– Leslie Feinberg, Stone Butch Blues.**

If we open up the space between cis and trans –– if such a space exists outside the eyes of the medico-legal systems that govern the true-trans person –– what possibilities can we find? And, can we find a way to steal gender non-conformity back from this current push to medicalization?

Right now, a large swath of the people against the medicalization of TGNC life are simply transphobes who believe that the medicalization of transness is part of some massive plot to “take away the butches” from lesbian communities. They demand to know where all the “masculine women” are going, with the proliferation of identities outside womanhood. Some even see dysphoria as an experience so tied up in what it means to live as a woman under patriarchy, that the question of transition would seem to be moot: if women live in bodies that are constantly under attack, how is one to suggest medical alteration as a solution?

Truthfully, I don’t think this “debate” is all that worth having, because all arguments rely on the assumption that there is some “deep-down” truth of our identities that existed prior to social relations. Unlike many of the poststructuralists, I’m not saying there must be no essence, or that our selves must be solely the result of discourses. I’m saying that either way, we’re never going to know the difference, and that efforts to find a deep-down biological reason for identity and behavior is virtually always in service of those in power. 

Arguing for a relational understanding of (trans)gender, one that is not fixed and inborn, is something trans people aren’t always safe enough to do. I recognize that. In her groundbreaking 2007 book Whipping Girl, Julia Serrano made arguments for “subconscious sex” that may or may not be in line with one’s body as a reason for transness. Needless to say, I was repelled by this argument upon reading it today, but not only was it written over a decade ago (a thousand “trans studies years”) but it was also written subsequent to Serrano’s agonizing journey through the medical industrial complex. If arguments for the existence of “brain sex” are what some trans people need to tell their families in order to ensure their own safety, the choice to do so seems clear. Similarly, if Serrano needed to publish this idea in 2007, prior to the wholesale entrance of trans discourse (or even gay discourse!) into the mainstream, in the hopes of cis readers treating her with some semblance of respect, I understand.

All this said, it is now 2019, and because of the way I live my life, my own existence relies on a more complex view of gender/sexuality. For me, they are inherently connected. I have asked myself many times, “why am I not a man?” after all, one of the most vile arguments that transphobic women make is that trans men are transitioning as some bid for “male privilege,” as though they are “selling out.” Wouldn’t it be easier for me to “just be a man”? I mean, I’ve transitioned medically in multiple ways, and am interested in women. If the idea of butch flight is real, if people exposed to gender-multiplicity today are going to abandon butchness and quite literally sell out “to the man,” shouldn’t I?

To be perfectly honest, I’m repelled at the idea of myself being a man. It’s not so much a repulsion at being called “he,” although that is certainly not the correct pronoun for me at the moment. It’s not even a repulsion at being “read” as a man, because, though uncomfortable, it is psychologically preferable than being read as a woman. It is that the idea of being (acting as?) a man is completely incongruous with the way I live my life. It simply isn’t the way I want to enter any of my relationships, especially romantic ones. Had I had different life experiences, perhaps I would feel differently –– I don’t feel like there is something inherent in my subconscious that gives me the particular gender feelings I have. I just have a litany of gender options in front of me and have the experience and information to make the decision(s) that is/are best for me, and right now, being genderless and a butch lesbian is right for me: I am not interested in loving women as a man and womanhood is incompatible with my psychosocial reality. Maybe this will change. Maybe it will never change.

Overall, I want to fight the notion that, when identities mutate, replace each other, are taken on and rejected by different people, this renders some “right” and “progressive” or “wrong” and “defunct”. This goes for societal differences (butchness is not somehow less progressive than transness, of course, and it’s not like the two are mutually exclusive anyway). Similarly, butch isn’t “trans man lite” and someone who was once a butch and was later a man, or vice versa, is not necessarily growing closer and closer to their “real” identity but rather making valuable, courageous, informed decisions based on their constantly changing lives and relationships.

So, if you’re wondering what I’m doing in this independent study….hopefully that clarifies things somewhat!


*Bearing obvious, purposeful resemblance to biphobic rhetorics.

**Stone Butch Blues  is free for download at the link.

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re-addressing re(-)solutions

I. More meditations on the “abroad” & acclimations to the non-norm.

I had been looking forward to marking this blog’s first birthday, which actually occurred almost a week ago now. I thought I would go back to that first post and find several of the resolutions I thought I remembered posting, and perhaps make this post an update on how well I accomplished, or did not accomplish, the goals I set for myself a year ago. Imagine my surprise as I read that first post and found no talk of resolutions, apart from my vague, fear-filled hopes that my time abroad would not be so painful to me that I would regret it. After searching through several pages of this blog, I found the post I thought I had remembered posting in January. I had posted it in May.

This is telling –– in many ways, if feels as though 2018 was two different years: the “year” I was in Amsterdam and the “year” I was home. It’s hard to believe that a third of my 2018 occurred overseas, that it’s been less than a year since I went abroad. My mind (like many others’) has a habit of making situations temporarily “natural” and “bearable,” even if I look back afterward and think that I could not have conceptualized myself going through it. The situations I’m referring to aren’t even “bad” ones, per se: when I sit at my desk now, I struggle to imagine waking up, walking through a city whose signs were all in Dutch to the office where I had classes, making coffee for our student cohort, etc.

While I was there, this process became so natural that half the time, I would wake up, dress, walk to the building, and be mid-way through the coffee ritual before my mind awoke to what I was doing. I grew accustomed to listening to morning news podcasts (such as The Daily, which releases at 6:00am EST) at lunchtime. I got used to my professors’ accents, their speaking to each other in a language of which I only understood snippets. This became normal. In many ways, I could not imagine being home. Then, within a day of being back home, I could not imagine being “there”. As it turned out, my doing well (however that’s measured!) abroad didn’t have as much to do with some verbal commitment to it, it had more to do with my ability to homeify / normalize a once-different environment.

With that in mind, I understand my unconscious reasoning for saying little about resolutions in the traditional sense. My time abroad necessarily took place “outside” normal life, not only in a physical way (being outside the borders of the territory that calls me its citizen) but also in a temporal and emotional way: my communication with loved ones back home lessened, I was literally “in a different time” than the life I had had; and, at least at first, it was necessary to abandon some things I took for granted (staying up late, more than a few pages of pleasure-reading per night) because I was using every spoon and more to lull my brain into the homeifying process. I needed to maintain a perfect sense of control, as if I were lowering myself into a hot pool, refusing the pull of gravity into its steaming waters, instead letting myself inch-by-inch. Acclimation. That’s the word.

II. (Get[ting] through this year) if it kills me.

This year is different from the last, as I first suggested in that post from May. I made it just five days before returning home, with the understanding that now I was moving back into a body of water whose temperature precisely matched my body’s; water I could not feel. Here I laid out my “resolutions”, not just for the year but for the next several years, or even for my whole life. I will list them now:

  • publish or be in the process of publishing a small, complete “something” (chapbook, short novel, etc.) by the time I graduate from Mount Holyoke.
  • not speak erroneously, for the sake of speaking, in class
    • & acclimate to the “waters” of silence.
  • resist the forces that compel me to try to commodify everything I wrote.

How did I do?

  • I have made immense progress on my primary, large writing project. I have done this by employing a technique that never seems to fail me when it comes to writing, studying, reading something long or dense, etc: doing a little bit every day. Even a sentence, even a page; sometimes far more. The complete book (or completed reading challenge, or whatever else) will become in time if one works every day. There is a sense of comfort in this.
    • Will it be “out” by the time I graduate? I hope so, but I think a more important goal here is that I remain relentless and do my best writing and revising work every single day, no matter what.
  • This resolution was a curious one, because I’ve simultaneously fulfilled it and not fulfilled it. I have trained myself to sit in silence when I have nothing valuable to say; to attempt to read the room and figure out when I have spoken too much and to give seconds of pause for others to gather their own thoughts.* But in no small part due to a class I took last semester, on writing & re-remembering (re-visioning**) painful memories as a mode of confrontation and reclamation, I’ve revealed more of myself to people on a personal level. I can’t say I’m happy with how the latter turned out, although this process of revealing-self was helpful in the quality of work I produced in the class. All that said, I strongly prefer being private and self-contained with the most personal element of my life.
  • If anything, this last one has gotten worse, and will likely continue to get worse as I publish more things. However, I’ve also begun saving the poems, stories, etc. that will likely never see the light of day, and accept that as a way in which I process the things I experience, and not just a means to getting more recognition as a “writer.” This is the “resolution” I fulfilled the least in the last several months, and the one that most needs to roll over into this year.

This May, after it’s truly been a whole year since I made my last resolutions post, I may (ha) post a similar one in which I outline my 2019 resolutions. It’s a bit of a strange time to post them, but given that the yoga equipment Target sets out for the first two weeks of the year promptly returns to its back-of-store shelves after two weeks, I take comfort in the fact that no one, not even our corporate overlords, take January resolutions seriously.


*and many arguments (including those made by Margaret Price in her book Mad at School: Rhetorics of Mental Disability and Academic Life) suggest that the classroom structure of rapid question-and-answer produces a participatory environment wherein students of very specific abilities thrive, while creating a positive feedback loop in which disabled students cannot participate, therefore cannot ask questions when needed, therefore fall behind on material, therefore cannot participate…etc. I tend to agree)

** I owe this idea to Adrienne Rich, as she discusses in When We Dead Awaken: Writing as Re-Vision (1972) [x] in particular here:

“Re-vision –– the act of looking back, of seeing with fresh eyes, of entering an old
text from a new critical direction-is for us more than a chapter in cultural history:
it is an act of survival. Until we can understand the assumptions in which we are
drenched we cannot know ourselves.”

roundup: classes, books, and even an event

Long time no blog. As it’s been longer-than-usual since I’ve written an update, I’m going to go right into a roundup. The fall is here; I’ve actually shivered several times in the last few days; school is finally becoming as rhythmic as sleeping or breathing, and fall break is (I know!) less than two weeks away.

Although I’m excited to return home for a few days (mostly for the easy access to free food and coffee, as well as the opportunity to do several loads of free laundry) I’m also buzzing with excitement at my thesis/CST focus plans. More on that later, I think, once I iron out more details and increase my confidence in the subject; today’s particular bout of excitement stems from my beginning the book “Black on Both Sides” by C. Riley Snorton. A professor whom I hope will help advise me in my thesis process highly recommended it to me, and now that I’ve recently finished an “academic-style” book, space has opened up in my brain and bookshelf to begin this one. I’m particularly taken with the idea of “double-transness,” or the idea of being TGNC while also embodying a critique of the cis vs. trans “binary” (or the hegemonic idea of proper transition/transness). Have you ever met a term that, when you see or hear it, it fills you up like a pot of soup? That’s how it felt for me, sitting in the dining hall last night. Like steam was coming out of my head, in a good way. It could also have been the vegan split pea soup I had, one of my favorite staples of Superblanch cuisine. I think it was the term, though, that really satisfied me that night.

As for other classes: I adore Political Ecology. I do. It’s nice to be in a class where I have the background knowledge; the advantage: it’s nice to see a class of predominantly STEM majors learning that the humanities and social sciences can be challenging and out of one’s depth. Too often I see a dismissal of the complexity of “soft” (read: feminized) disciplines among physics, chemistry, mathematics, etc. students. At a place like Mount Holyoke, which caters specifically to the needs of students of marginalized genders, we should really know better –– but the misogynistic attitudes that privilege STEM over other fields is everywhere. That’s my roundabout way of saying that understanding Marx and Hegel, and seeing that people with other specialties have something to learn feels really damn good. Especially after an entire childhood of feeling stupid and inferior to others because math has been difficult for me.

Onto Chinese: I think this image really sums up my recent experiences with the course!

Screen Shot 2018-09-24 at 10.16.51 PM.png

“always pourin one out for the int’l students and other english language learners but especially tonight….just finished a dinky little 2-page paper for my chinese 300 class and it was fucking exhausting (and it wasn’t even complex!). but you all are out here writing 20 pg papers in your second, third, fourth, etc. language. that’s fucking brilliant and i see you.”

Truly, I’m so grateful to be taking Chinese as I’m also working and learning as a SAW mentor. I’ll probably never know what it’s like to be so heavily immersed in and required to meet certain expectations of my second language, both because I’ve never done a language immersion study abroad program, and because of u.s. imperialism and the global domination of English.

As I finish up this blog post, I’m sitting in Superblanch after having taken my skip day for a Walking for Fitness session because of the torrential rain. I hope to update this blog after the Northampton Print & Book Fair, happening this Sunday, which I’m extremely excited to attend. Last year was my first time going, and even though I was alone and had no idea what to expect, I had a wonderful time and picked up, among other things, a copy of jubilat, a screen-printed t-shirt, and a patch that now adorns one of my jackets. This year I anticipate to go with friends and now know enough to be more excited for the event –– perhaps even eyeing it as a possible space to distribute zines of my own one day!

the first couple days

Hi all, this is my very first blog post from South Hadley and I am thrilled to be back. I’ve had numerous people ask me, “wouldn’t you rather be in Amsterdam?” Although when I listened to a podcast the other day on which a Dutch person was speaking, I felt a little empty ache where Amsterdam used to be in me (or I in it), I’m happier here than I was there. No shade to Amsterdam; I just prefer routine.

I moved back in on Saturday, 9/01, a day before most of the returning students at MHC, and I’m always extremely grateful for my early move-in accommodation with AccessAbility (AAS). I’m also happy to continue my tradition of speaking openly about being registered with AAS. Perhaps it does nothing, but I’d like to think it’s a reminder to all the ~normal~ people on campus that, surprise! The Disabled Are Just Like You!  Not to mention that it’s a reminder to the other registered students that there are tons of us registered, and that it’s nothing to hide.

On Sunday, while everyone else moved in, I spent an enjoyable morning at Thirsty Mind, the coffeeshop* across the street. So far, I’m feeling pretty good about meeting all my obligations this month, despite the ridiculous busyness of these next two weeks. Part of this, I think, has to do with my decision not to pursue registration in a course I originally wanted to get into: Critical Psychology. It seems perfectly suited to me, and it’s at another college in the consortium of which Mount Holyoke is a part. If I had gotten in already, I’m positive I’d keep the class, but it was full by the time I tried to register. Back then I was convinced I would do what I’ve done for several other classes: email the professor and act intelligent and put-together (which I did) and then come to the class looking extremely eager, ultimately stealing the spot of a less-eager counterpart (which I’m not doing).

I had reservations about Critical Psychology from the start, even when I was sure I wanted to be in it. The varieties of people one might find in a class like this can include Thomas Szasz-types and orthodox psych-majors who hope this class will be another place for them to study the fascinating crazies or talk authoritatively about biochemistry concepts they’ve never actually learned. I also trust very few professors to teach a class like this with fairness, compassion, and respect –– let alone a professor whose reputation I didn’t know.

Why, then, would I take a class whose material I, between lived experience and independent study, likely already know; when taking it necessitates more energy than the class’s substance likely deserves? I had no answer to this, four other classes, and several jobs. So, no Critical Psychology.

I’m extremely excited about my other classes, though. I’m taking third year Chinese this year, after initially signing up for it as a first-year, when I was woefully behind in the character-writing part of my study of Chinese. I feel a sense of pride now that I’ve dug up the textbooks I bought two years ago and cried over, now no longer insurmountable.

I am taking Political Ecology this semester, too. I spoke with a friend briefly about this; I assumed that it would be an anarchist-leaning class because of the relationship between the eco/philosophical concept of the rhizome and the spontaneous revolutionary acts that feature so heavily in some anarchist strands. My friend told me, though, that the professor of this course actually had more of a Marxist bent, so I’m hopeful that I’ll get to learn a Marxian perspective on political ecology that might help me develop my own argument and opinions for anarchism. Maybe I’ll even incorporate some of his beliefs into my own politics. I’m excited that I don’t know things. I’m excited to learn. I’m even excited to be corrected and “proven wrong.”

I’m also taking a course on Narrative Medicine, the first session of which is this evening. I’m not entirely sure what I’m getting into with this class, but it looks very promising. On a similar note, the other class that I’m taking this semester is creative writing –– like this past summer, it looks like my fall semester is going to be creative writing-heavy. Despite the amount of “creative writing” I do, I’ve never actually taken a formal class on it. Recently I’ve been craving outside perspectives on my work, and have been trying to become more comfortable with showing my work to others before it’s been published –– that is, approved by some outside “authority”. I liken this to the stress others feel about disclosing disability (or transness!) without “formal diagnosis”.

I return to the middle of this blog post after a day, as my writing time was abruptly cut short by the fact that I realized I lost my lanyard and needed to go on a wild, sweaty search for it. The search was relatively brief, because some kind stranger left it for me at the info desk in Blanchard. Later, a friend drove me to pick up my course pack and to drop me off for what I thought was my first session of Narrative Medicine: but as it turned out, I had misread the schedule. My seminar was actually only on Thursdays, not Tuesdays too: I was heartbroken when I found that out, not because I desperately wanted the class that day but because it felt like one more thing that had gone wrong on a warm and exhausting day.

I took the bus back to Mount Holyoke as the sky darkened and the air cooled, willing myself to cry as I listened to Against Me! (as I always do when I’m upset). I had dinner with my co-editor for the Mount Holyoke News, Kate, and together we went to see Christina Henriquez discuss her novel “The Book of Unknown Americans.” Between dinner and the talk, and some unexpected positivity from my friends (who always seem to know what I need, even when they had no idea at the time that I was in a bad mood!) my evening improved beyond what I could have imagined.

That leaves me here today, Wednesday, my first actual day of classes. On my agenda is not only classwork and my work-study jobs, but also my “What’s Your Story?” zine (the proof of which I finished this morning!) my wrap-up work with my internship at Not Dead Yet, and my personal creative writing pursuits, which I really hope won’t fall by the wayside as the year carries on. I think I have a good chance of continuing to work on those projects, especially because I’m taking creative writing this semester.

Thanks for reading, and I hope you’ll continue to follow along with my posts –– and that I’ll have the wherewithal to keep posting in the first place –– now that I’m back at MHC!


*Actual coffeeshop, not the Amsterdam kind.

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.

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.

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!