A river surrounded on both sides by bare trees. The water becomes foamy in the places that hit rocks of several sizes, scattered liberally throughout the water.

In transit

As I write this, I sit in the Philadelphia airport, one that’s become very familiar to me over the last couple years –– I fly through here almost every time I go to Virginia to visit my partner, Ell. Despite initially having ––

–– I just saw a guy drop his whole container of noodles all over this gate’s carpet. We briefly exchanged a heartbroken look. Now I’m back. ––

–– bad associations with this airport (as a child I got stuck here with my grandparents for something like 8 or 9 hours on our way back from Disney World, due to a storm; we almost had to sleep here that night; I feel I can now, finally, appreciate it. The airport, that is, not the 9 hour layover.

The only upside to that layover was the fact that it was at that airport’s bookstore that I first got Diary of a Wimpy Kid, which I read faithfully for several volumes and which certainly helped keep me busy at the time. I must have been about eight and the first book was new and being advertised everywhere. I had never read a “graphic novel” before and didn’t end up reading any others for a long time after. I got back into them after being required to read Persepolis as a sophomore in high school, which I think is a fairly common experience*. On this flight from Norfolk to Philadelphia, I also read a graphic novel, called Kiss Number 8. I won it as an ARC from Goodreads (I know, people actually win those giveaways! I was shocked too). It was good; from a publisher whose works I generally like, and –– though it had problems –– was a really honest exploration of intergenerational grappling with LGBTQ identity. Some elements of the family-drama aspect were resolved in frustrating ways, or left unresolved and unaddressed by the end of the story, but it was a fast and enjoyable read.

A midafternoon image of the sea. Trees are on the horizon, white clouds are in the sky. The sunlight reflects off of the water, before which is a walked-on beach.

Warmth! It exists!

As for the trip itself: I had a wonderful time, as always, in Virginia. We visited Ell’s friends, spent some time in the mountains, went to the shore and to a gorgeous park whose center was a lake. The lake, Ell said, reminded them of a “New England summer camp,” and they were right, even though they’d only ever been to New England twice before (both times to visit me, and not to camp!). The weather was outstanding. Yesterday as we walked on the trail, I felt my back getting sweaty! I wore shorts and a t-shirt. It was about 75º at the hottest part of the day. It was a shock to my body after such a bitter winter, but much appreciated. I’m not looking forward to putting my winter coat back on once I’m back in CT/MA.

Additionally, while in the mountains, I finally broke through something of a creative (poetic?) block. It’s something about sitting on the mossy rocks in the middle of a foaming river that really lets my mind stop clenching around every word I think, trying to force something pretty out. I’ve been sitting and ruminating and forcing myself to write too much, but I feel terrible when I don’t –– there’s really no good way to resolve this. Of course, I’ve been opening my poems, tweaking them, and closing them all along; I’ve been writing at least a tiny bit of my longer project every day. I’ve been giving myself the opportunity to add something important to my creative body. But it really took a period of time away from school, away from the same old seat in the same old dining hall, for something I was at least semi-satisfied with to come out of my head. I can’t promise myself I’ll actually put this reflection to use in my life moving forward, but I’m glad I’m recording it here.

IMG_4886Speaking of projects, this past week has had me feeling weird about not writing much for my independent study on transbutchness. But just today, I had an interesting experience; airports are a really fascinating (and terrifying!) study in interpellation; for me, relating to gender specifically.

I had just said goodbye to Ell and was about to walk through the body scanner at security, when the agent operating the machine asked me “what [I] wanted to be scanned as.” I had to ask for clarification. She cleared her throat and said, somewhat uncomfortably, “there’s a pink option and a blue option.” Fascinating that, throughout that entire interaction, no one even said the words, “gender”, “sex”, “male”, “female”, “man”, “woman”, etc! Sexgender, when ambiguous, is something too taboo to name but too ubiquitous not to reference endlessly in institutional spaces. All that time, what they really wanted to know was whether I had a penis or a vagina. Which they would have then needed to emphasize as the question, “male or female?” and then further with “man or woman?” and then, because they took it a step further, “the pink option or the blue option?”

Because I happen to prefer the color blue and because I didn’t want to give them the satisfaction of girling me against my will, I said, “Um…I’ll go blue.” She had not expected that answer. I had not expected it from my mouth. She signaled to the male agent to pat my arms down after my body was scanned initially. He put up a polite fight, looking at me anxiously, trying to flag down the female agent, the machine’s operator, who was now onto the next person in line. She said, of me, “she said blue.” The man said to me, “Ma’am???” as if he was hoping for me to deny it. I just stood there, waiting for him to pat my arms and let me put my shoes back on. Finally, with a look of resignation, he beckoned me to him and said, “I’m going to pat down your arms, alright?” I said, “Sure.” He did, and after less than ten seconds, I was out. But *writer voice* I had been out long before then, hadn’t I?

With that, I’m going to wrap up this post and get it on the blog before my laptop’s battery gets too low. Thanks for reading even after my (somewhat, I guess?) prolonged absence. 44 minutes until boarding begins!

*Either with that or with Maus, the latter of which I did not have to read for school but have still read and much appreciate.



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.

Recommended Reading: Beard hacks, finasteride hell, and 5 other things ‘trans masc’ folks might not know about.

This is an awesome perspective w/r/t doing transmasculinity. People don’t talk nearly enough about the physical challenges of top surgery, and instead focus on the pain and dysphoria of the “before” and the peace and ease of the “after”.

In conjunction with this, Finch does a great job of outlining the multiplicity of dysphoric experiences we may have as a way of rebutting truscum gender/diagnostic essentialisms. There is no pure, “prior” experience of dysphoria against which all other trans peoples’ feelings should be measured…instead, start thinking of dysphoria as a way to put words to your understanding of your body in the world as a tgnc person. There’s no “true trans” or “fake trans”, there’s just each one of us, and the limited language with which we need to (unfortunately) justify our lived experiences.

Let's Queer Things Up!

Every so often — especially in transitioning — I’ll have one of those “why didn’t someone tell me this sooner?” moments. Because we’re in the age of information, I think a lot of folks in the transgender community just assume we already have the information we need.

But in actuality? Many of us don’t.

I’ve found that when I share some of what’s surprised me, there’s always a decent number of trans people who are also hearing it for the first time. While transition is a process of discovery, I can’t help but feel that life would be a hell of a lot easier if we did a better job of sharing what we’ve learned with others.

This article, then, is a mishmash of some of the clever, enlightening, or flat-out surprising things that I would’ve appreciated being told at the beginning of my transition.

As someone who is genderqueer…

View original post 2,635 more words

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.

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.

hey, you!

I’ll be flying home exactly one month from today. At the moment, of course, I’m glad to be here and not there –– after all, it’s been in the 60ºs F in Amsterdam these past few days, whereas I hear it’s down in the 40ºs F back home. Spring is here; I’ve traded classes for independent research; I can sleep in and make my own schedule. I’ve explored several cafés, and as I sit in one now, podcast on, laptop out and iced coffee next to me, I feel a little like I’m in Thirsty Mind. If I squint. And if I ignore that, unlike an American café, the one I’m currently sitting in would be happy to serve me a completely legal glass of wine.

Most of this month will be devoted to my independent research project, with a significant portion of the remaining time going into my own reading and writing (and hopefully catching up on rapidly-building store of unaddressed social media notifications). Either way, I am looking forward to –– and already enjoying! –– my present situation of increased anonymity. All of a sudden, I’m not (always) the foolish American tourist, staring bug-eyed at my surroundings: this area, at least, has become a familiar neighborhood. I’m not a member of an obnoxious, English-speaking mass of college students following behind an apologetic pair of guides. I’m not the top-left corner of every assignment I type and submit, I’m not a hand raised in class, I’m not the object of someone’s address if I don’t want to be. It’s a great relief not to be trapped in the same rooms in the same office space on the same street, five days a week. Frankly, it’s liberating not to be spoken to so much.

I’m not sure how to cleanly segue from those opening paragraphs to my central topic, so I’ll just lead in with an anecdote. In one of our group’s last Dutch classes, the professor mistakenly called me “Charlie.” I looked at him for a moment after he said that, and in that moment he smacked his face and said, “Sarah!” The whole room laughed, including me. It was actually a pretty mundane experience: I forget or mix up peoples’ names all the time, and am especially understanding when others do it because I’m awful at remembering names. But the experience of having been accidentally called a name significantly more androgynous than my own was significant in that it was guilt-inducingly titillating. The laughter quieted and I asked a couple of times to the group at large, to no concrete response: “Charlie? Do I look like a Charlie? Do I look like someone whose name is Charlie? Does it suit me?”

After class, my friend asked me if I was “okay” and I was surprised at the question. Given that I hadn’t been misgendered (not in that instance, anyway) or deadnamed (I’m Sarah and always have been) I was confused as to why I wouldn’t have been okay. I’m not going to try to parrot the whole conversation we had (one that I hope continues, Mia, if you’re reading this!) but I did tell them this: “I mean, maybe if he would have called me a…a ‘girl name,’ (you know) I might have been hurt, but, you know…”

You know? I know. I know that, instead of speaking directly about gender and womanhood and once-girlhood and Sarahness*, I make so many euphemisms that I barely understand myself. Truthfully, whenever I am identified, I’m placed in the shadow of my name (and also with the girlhood I used to live). Sarah isn’t one of those “girly things” I can escape with hormones or surgery or a shaved head or boys’ clothes. I remember frustratedly covering up my name tag at my place of work last summer, not because my name itself caused me pain but rather because I did not want to be marked as a woman when I would otherwise have been seen as ambiguous.

And then there are the pressures and expectations placed upon me precisely because I move through trans and gender-nonconforming spaces. This has increased in the past year, since I began an on-and-off relationship with varying dosages of testosterone and since I began seriously pursuing a bilateral mastectomy with ultimate success. When I am insistently asked for my preferred name, I feel a sense of violation that it’s hard to articulate in words. It is as if I am being told that I could be trans, if only it weren’t for that pesky, girly name. What do they expect, “Sam”? It seems the most convenient. When I was in fourth grade, I distinctly remember having a conversation with my then-friend about what our names would be “if we were boys.” Her name was easily masculinizable. Mine was not. We both found that irritating.

Irritating, too, is having to think fast in the minutes before top surgery. I get up to pee one last time. A nurse asks, “Sarah? Have you thought about your new name yet?” I say, heart pounding, “Not yet.” I mean: I have been waiting so fucking long to get these things sawed off of my chest and you had better not see through this boldfaced lie and deny it to me now.

Unlike the breasts, my name is still attached to me, and I quite like it there. What I don’t like is, as I previously mentioned, the marking that comes with it. It is a reality that, under patriarchy, women are marked; men are the genderless “blank slate.” This is why we have both “astronauts” and “woman astronauts.” However, this marking is why I stubbornly cling to “Sarah” and don’t intend to quit. Charlie is a name that I think suits me (better than “Sam” does, anyway) and maybe I’ll even try it out at a Starbucks or two, plunging my chin deep into my high-buttoned flannel, widening my stance. Pulling the dude-ish affect. But to me, my name is a reverent acknowledgement of the womxn** who are both my personal and my political priority. It’s a token of my appreciation to my parents, who have named and nicknamed and loved me with “(Sar)ah”. When I say the name, the word, Sarah, I feel like the sun finding its place in the center of some landscape painting. I have never felt so attached to my name than I have since I “came out” as “openly” trans, whatever that means.

I’ll admit that I went through a brief identity crisis in the days following the Charlie incident –– do I want strangers to call me Charlie? Do I want to change my name altogether? Names are unique identifiers, as important to the people doing the addressing as those being addressed. Others’ investment in my supposed womanhood when I’m “Sarah” and in the supposed necessity of some name change when I’m “Trans Person” illustrate just how much more important my name is to everyone other than myself. If, at this moment, I were to relinquish my autonomy and take up “Sam” or “Charlie,” I would be violating my own personal desires and convictions. I might be (mis)interpellated as a Sarah-woman or as a non-Sarah-non-woman, but these are and will remain false ascriptions that are a result of an oppressive system of gender. My choices are not simply “be a girl with a girl name” or “be a trans with a trans name.”  After all, that’s a binary. We all know binaries are rigid and oppressive. C’mon, we’ve been over this!

Unfortunately, I’m not going to spew those preceding paragraphs at every person who makes some name-related false assumption about me. Plus, there is so much more I have yet to unpack regarding my name, gender, and personal identity that couldn’t possibly fit into one or many blog post(s). Luckily, this month, I can be a researcher. I might be anonymizing my subjects, but I am also becoming a bit more anonymous: suddenly, I’m a person behind a laptop, and not always a name on a roster or a person introducing themself to a stranger. I’m still here and I’m still Sarah, but this will hopefully be a month of increased alone-time, my last Amsterdam-hurrah, when I can be trans Sarah without contestation.

*Instead of that phrase, I initially wanted to write “this sort of thing” and then I came to my senses.

**Non-men? People of an oppressed class under patriarchy? The nebulously-gendered contingent of people who get nervous going out at night? There’s no good term to refer to the group of people I’m trying to refer to, but those who do fall into that category tend to know they (we) belong to it.

*** Interpellation / Misinterpellation are Louis Althusser’s terms. Here’s a good (and dense) reading about them.

dangerous discourses and trans visibility

Content Note: this post contains references to misogynistic, homophobic, biphobic, transphobic and especially transmisogynistic violence of all kinds, including murder, rape, and physical abuse on these bases. There is also discussion of sex and genitalia in this article, and the mention of misogynistic language. Proceed with caution.

I’m going to talk about discursive violence and material violence. I dread these sorts of discussions, namely because I’m trans, and sensitive, and tired. I dread Trans Day of Visibility (henceforth TDoV). Last week I saw the beginning of the inevitable parade of think pieces on dead trans people, especially dead trans women of color*. Tomorrow there will be vigils. Vigils, as long as they are accompanied by action and genuine long-term remembrance and commitment to liberatory action (especially on the behalf of the well-meaning cisgender people who decide to attend), are good. Performative grief and candle-holding and a polished, solemn expression of “solidarity” that is accompanied by silence in the face of everyday transphobia, especially transmisogyny? Meaningless. Worse than meaningless; it gives the illusion of solidarity while providing nothing of substance. It makes you an empty husk of an “ally”.

I’m in a mood. I’ve been in a mood for the last eight days or so. Not only have I been battling several voices within me –– one of which wants to let me “off the hook” and assure me that I am not obligated to talk about TDoV by mere virtue of being an out trans person who writes things. But the other voices have won out, and have only been amplified since I learned of the Mount Holyoke News article “Queer Sex Event Strikes a Heteronormative Tone.” Perhaps I’m beating a dead horse; unfortunately, the existence of this article is still fairly new to me, since I’m not physically present on Mount Holyoke’s campus (specifically the MHN newsroom). Either way, I’m going to talk about the article, and about discursive violence, and about real violence. Hopefully you can “remember” the connections between those things tomorrow, in between your performative social media posts and your candlelight vigil appointments. Let’s begin.

The author, Maddy Ritter, is correct in saying that most of the “queer” sex happening at Mount Holyoke is happening between people with vulvas. There is no acknowledgement, however, of the cultures of transmisogyny that lead to so few trans women and transfeminine people coming to historically women’s colleges in the first place. Given students’ (myself included) collective negative reaction to seeing (those who appear to be) men on campus, some of this should be obvious. If we consider the imagined sacredness and purity of the womens’ college (interestingly, “historically” is often dropped here) campus, free of “scary males,” we can come again to the conclusion that this is not a safe social space to be a trans woman. What of the “pre-op” or “pre-everything” trans woman? Given the regular erasure of AFAB trans students at Mount Holyoke (sure, our “cute” little “self-identities” and pronouns can be on our orientation stickers, but c’mon! We’re all basically women, right? Right?) I can only imagine the reaction to a trans woman who did not adhere to certain idea(l)s of femininity. Not to mention, the non-out trans woman would likely not even be able to apply to Mount Holyoke or other HWCs by mere virtue of her closetedness.

Unfortunately, Ritter’s subsequent associations between “vulva-havers-who-like-other-vulvas” and “queer women” are also incorrect in their myopia. There are plenty of people at Mount Holyoke who are not part of that demographic, but I’ll use myself as an example: I’m neither “queer” nor am I a “woman”. I’m a nonbinary butch lesbian. Although I find myself exclusively attracted to womxn**, I’m not about to locate the source of my attraction to them in a body part. To do this would be objectificatory. Women are more than the sum of their (body) parts, including (and especially) the ones most commonly associated with sex.

Furthermore, Ritter asserts that she will “never need to use that skill [of putting on a condom]” that was taught at the workshop, by virtue of her gay womanhood. Her implication that condom education is somehow as heteronormative as your average high school health class is not only transmisogynistic but also far too vague, as she does not distinguish between types of condoms in her critique. A condom for a penis is not the only type of condom to exist, and it is essential that more people with vulvas speak openly about internal condom usage. She also correlates condom lessons with what she terms “the same old penis-in-vagina sex,” and with the aforementioned health classes. This ignores not only that practitioners of “the same old PIV sex” entitled to information as to safe sexual practices in queer sex workshops, but also, that human beings of all genders have anuses that can be sexually useful, and that it’s likely that if a penis is entering one’s anus, that penis should wear a condom. This is a doubly poignant point within the larger “queer community,” still reeling from a HIV/AIDS crisis that fueled increased attention to the importance of protected sex. This is the same crisis that disproportionately struck and strikes not only men who have sex with men, but also trans women. Especially those of color.

If this sexual health workshop lacked lessons on the usage of dental dams and the like, that is an important critique to be noted. What could be useful, constructive criticism (both on the possible inaccuracy of the terminology used for internal/external genitalia and the possible lack of diversity in condom education) appear to be smokescreens for transmisogyny, namely through im/explicit statements of womanhood’s location in the vulva, and sex between “queer women” as inherently located in interaction between vulvas.

So, what does this have to do with violence, specifically? Material violence against trans women continues to exist not simply because humans are violent and trans women “happen” to be the targets of violence. It is because a long cultural, historical precedent of biological essentialism and the militant policing of womens’ bodies have made them a target. Much as with other standards of beauty women are expected to fulfill –– thinness, strictly-controlled sexual un/availability; pale, smooth skin enhanced by the requisite makeup regimen; “respectable and professional” clothing that still does not threaten the authority of the man –– the possession of a (hairless, “normal-looking”) vulva becomes another means by which some women can be deemed conditionally acceptable, and others can be punished. Many readers may have had the experience of being a “disobedient woman” and thus becoming a “whore” or a “[fat/ugly] bitch” or a “slut”. Sometimes, these labels come with immediate consequences, including social ostracism and physical / sexual violence. So too with women who are of marginalized sexualities, as we are all aware. There is an inherent ugliness (especially for gender-nonconforming women, especially those who are lesbians) or fakeness (toward those do not appear “queer enough”) or sexual availability (toward bisexual women in particular) projected upon those of marginalized sexualities which directly inform the degrees and types of violence these women face.

Trans women, of course, experience this, too. In a magnified way. It is not exclusive to the cis women who inevitably take center stage in discussions of lesbophobic and biphobic violence against women. In fact, many of these the “feminists” who claim to oppose violence against women paint trans women not as vulnerable to violence, but as pathologically predatory toward cisgender women. This is a stereotype that not only draws divisions between women (who could be acting in solidarity against the threat of rape and other forms of violence, most often by men) but also pushes trans women squarely into the “perpetrator” role of the perp/victim binary, and thus erases their disproportionate victimhood. In a world ruled by binaries, the assertion of the inherent “queerness” of sex between vulvas is a silent assertion of the inherent “straightness” of PIV sex.

The assertion that trans women may not be included within this category of “queer women” is a silent affirmation of the sexgender binary. The exclusion of trans women from the category of “[queer, if applicable] women” allows the continuation of a dangerous ignorance even/especially among so-called feminists, of the threats trans women (as WOMEN) face on a daily basis. It allows some supporters of anti-rape and anti-violence campaigns to ignore the social markedness of trans womens’ bodies and the subsequent higher rate of abuse directed at them, especially gender non-conforming trans women of color. In the case of a health course, it allows queer people to ignore the presence of trans women in our sexual and social communities and place less importance on both their sexual health and their experience of sexual pleasure.

As I hope I’ve indicated, violence against trans women occurs on a number of levels: there is the discursive violence of erasure, cisnormativity, and biological essentialism that appears at first to be nonviolent because it appears not in a punch or kick, but on the page of a newspaper. Then there are the murders and other acts that emerge and continue in that ideological atmosphere of erasure, cisnormativity, and biological essentialism. All expressions of ideology have consequences, and no article, no political or social position, no articulation of one’s own identity exists in a vacuum. I’d encourage all of us to remember this truth on TDoV, while we also remember (descriptions of graphic violence at the link):

Christa Leigh Steele-Knudslien.
Viccky Gutierrez.
Tonya Harvey.
Celine Walker.
Phylicia Mitchell.
Zakaria Fry.
Amia Tyrae Berryman.

And the others who remain unknown, unnamed, unclaimed. Rest in power.

Words, articles, and “mere” statements by individuals may not feel as though they have an ideological ripple effect, but they do. Remember today, tomorrow, forever that any contribution to transmisogynistic discourses reifies social forces that get real human beings isolated, abused, and sometimes murdered. Truly seeing trans women requires an understanding of these forces and a commitment to dismantling them.

* Who benefit less than white / transmasculine people from mainstream trans activism, are more frequently exposed to graphic violence against people like themselves in the media, and also tend to contribute more intellectual, physical, and emotional labor to the cause than their counterparts.

**For lack of a better encompassing term.