pushcart nominations and more!

With only two weeks left of the semester, it feels like the perfect time to write an update.

Within the last couple weeks, I received news that I had been nominated two different times for the Pushcart Prize, once by Gimmick Press and once by Sweet Tree Review. I’m so excited to represent small literary magazines/presses in particular. I’m aware, of course, that it’s not a particularly high honor unless one actually makes the shortlist or wins. I’m currently thinking about how to balance feeling good about my nominations with the knowledge that they don’t mean much by themselves in the long run. I’m not yet sure how this balance is to be achieved; despite my nonbinary gender and nonbinary philosophical bent, I’m very much a black-and-white person.

Speaking of growth, I want to briefly sing the praises of another class I’m taking, called Narrative Medicine: How Writing Can Heal. Not only has my writing –– especially my ‘personal essay’ writing –– improved technically since I started the class, but that class also gave me a more concrete toolkit for addressing life experiences I have yet to narrativize for myself. All history is narrative, and, in a sense, fiction; what is “legitimate history” is more a question of whose narrative gains dominance, rather than adherence to an arbitrary standard of objectivity. Objectivity is used all too often to mask what’s really a white supremacist, patriarchal, abled, etc. point of view. It’s used as the only way to advance a highly specific way of perceiving reality as the singular truth. More people are realizing the dangers of such hegemonic perspectives that are wildly discordant with the material lives of subjugated groups of people –– for example, the dismissal of sexual assault survivors’ stories in favor of the perpetrators’.

Narrative Medicine has given me the opportunity to write a final paper on Virginia Woolf’s essay On Being Ill, which I’ve talked incessantly about to many people close to me (because that’s what happens when I discover something I’m into). For anyone who, like me, was taken by Woolf’s biting critique of the medico-psychiatric system and its abuse and neglect toward patients in Mrs. DallowayOn Being Ill is a must-read. My edition has an introduction from Hermione Lee, who shares that Woolf was actually sick in bed while writing the essay. This in and of itself helps prove one of her main theses: that conceiving of The Writer as rational, cerebral, and divorced from the messiness of the body is limiting and inaccurate. I weave my own personal experience into my analysis of the text, which is reflective of the feminist turn in literary analysis which began decades ago. I argue that Woolf did it too –– albeit in the 1920s and 30s –– and her bold discussion of trauma, disability, patriarchy, and hegemonic “rationalism” paved the way for more identifiable feminist criticism.

In other word-news, last week, I also got the opportunity to read a short story aloud at a small open mic at MHC. It was a lot scarier than I thought it would be, as I’m not usually so afraid of speaking in front of people. I had a small identity crisis following that experience: who am I if I can’t even get up and speak confidently in front of an audience the way that I used to? I’m still not sure where the sudden barrage of anxiety that day came from, all I know is that I was shaking so hard as I read that I thought I was going to fall over. I’m still thinking hard about why the sudden change in my public speaking self-confidence occurred. Let me know if you have any insight. Regardless, I’m really glad I did it, as many of my friends and classmates, as well as professors, were there, and they all gave me positive feedback. That always feels good. I’m thankful for having chosen to take creative writing as a class this semester, as that class was the reason I learned about the open mic, and the reason for much of my recent growth as a writer in general.

In the last week-and-a-half before break, it feels like everyone is trying to squeeze in as many events as possible. This is partially also because Hanukkah is happening this week and I’ve been trying to go to the various celebrations our Jewish Student Union has been hosting. Several days ago, on the first night of Hanukkah, I learned to play dreidel, which was great fun! Tonight I hope to listen to some Klezmer music; I’ve loved it since an online friend of mine introduced me to The Klezmatics. I’m looking forward to hopefully listening to some Klezmer live!

Lastly, I’d like to update you regarding the progress I’ve made on my “project” which I’m refusing to call a “novel” (even saying the word “novel” makes me cringe). I’m at a little over 30,000 words / 100-ish pages. I’ve implemented a writing strategy that’s been effective for me before, namely to write at least a little of that project every day, even if it’s only one line. I wrote a novella when I was fifteen and used this strategy to keep up with it, and happily, I think I’m soon going to surpass the length of that work in writing this new, more sophisticated project. Every day, I fear that yesterday’s idea was my last good one, and this whole project is going to go down the drain, but so far, I’ve been able to continue. Scary as it is, I think this constant state of insecurity is also important in that it’s humbling.

I’ll try to post again around my birthday, which is in exactly two weeks. I’ll be 20! If all goes according to plan, I’ll be able to go to Barnes and Noble that day, my favorite activity. Talk to you soon!


ETA: I didn’t have the spoons to attend the Klezmer concert, but did spend some quality time supervising the menorahs until they burnt out and then having dinner with friends.


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.

Sarah, wearing shorts and a t-shirt, stands bent over in the lower right of the frame. Sarah is also wearing a purse and a baseball cap. They pet a sheep in its open stall with one hand.

in a shocking display of productivity

This is a post in two distinct and pretty disingenuous parts. I had a flash of writing-desire on Thursday when I made myself as busy as humanly possible for most of the day, and another flash tonight, the night I publish these two halves. I’m calling this a roundup in the hopes that that will explain/excuse that the halves of this post have nothing to do with each other.

Part I: Thursday.

Anxiety woke me this morning at 6:30, and this anxiety I wouldn’t trade for the world! I recently visited and stayed with my dear partner, Kayla. Of all of those days, Wednesday was the only one in which I got out of bed and dressed before 11:00. All else was put on hold and I’m glad I could focus on my time with them and their family. Prior to that, I had been bearing down hard on my personal writing and the thankless lit. mag submission process, as well as tasks relating to my internship. As the days went by, and especially while at Kayla’s, a thought lingered in my head: Are you spending enough time on Chinese?

I stopped going to Chinese language tutoring last month and I’m glad I stopped, I felt and still feel comfortable self-studying for two months before going back in the fall. But without weekly appointments in which I had to review the past lesson’s homework, Chinese somewhat fell by the wayside as I put my energies into writing and internship work. This morning, that realization kind of fell on my head: I woke up after less than five hours of sleep by an alarm bell screeching “STUDY!” in my head. I briefly tried to bargain with it; it was 6:30 in the summer, after all; but I came to the conclusion I always come to with these things: the best solution to something acutely anxiety-provoking is just to do it.

So I did it. I got up, I made coffee, I reviewed my character writing and vocabulary, I listened/watched a Chinese drama while I made a new Quizlet study set. I was feeling so good after doing this for a couple hours that I hung up clothes in my closet, photographed items to sell on Depop, and did a couple hours of work for my internship –– all before noon! As I write the first draft of this blog post, it’s 2:09 pm, and I’m feeling good; not nearly as tired as I was expecting, and I still have many hours left in the day before I usually go to bed.

What else did I do today? I listened to a LibriVox recording (and LibriVox is very cool, by the way: it has a selection of public-domain books read aloud by volunteers, and available to stream or download. This obviously isn’t sponsored; I really doubt LibriVox has that kind of money, nor I that kind of internet presence) of Mr. Spaceship by Phillip K. Dick. PKD is best known for “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” (or, as a movie, “Blade Runner”). Although the term “cyborg” wasn’t coined until 1960, he more or less turned an old man –– presumably also disabled –– into a cyborg, by combining its intelligence with the “body” of a spaceship. This spaceship later comes to represent the collective “body” of not only humanity but all living things, and I think it’s a wonderful meditation on the discursive possibilities available for disabled/hybrid/chimeric bodies as we talk about the future of…everything we know, love, and hope for. It really turns that whole idea of “disability as antithetical to futurity”* on its head. I mean, what’s more futuristic than making your body a spaceship?

Part II: Saturday.

I was so, so energized on Thursday, and as I mentioned then, it’s those times when I feel at my best and at my most confident. Since then, things have gone back to normal, and I’ve been sleeping in (and sleeping much better, now that I’ve returned to a study/work schedule). I don’t think I’m cut out for vacations as such, but that’s another thought to wring my hands over in a different post.

In addition to continuing all the aforementioned activities for the next month before school starts, I’m contending with two relatively-significant changes in my life: one recent and chosen; the other a bit older and unchosen. First, the chosen change: I made a new group for “What’s Your Story?” (WYS) that is open for all (not just Mount Holyoke students) to join. I think I’ve been putting off doing this because it’s a terrifying reminder that I only have two years left until I graduate from Mount Holyoke. Although the future of my studies looks exciting, Mount Holyoke is the first community in which I’ve felt the degree of security that I do. I don’t think WYS would have been the same had it started anywhere else, with anyone else; because of this, I’m feeling all of these anxieties around the character of the group/event changing once it’s open to more people.

Although this is the only logical way to move forward with WYS (assuming I don’t want to abandon it come 2020, which I don’t think I will) I’m feeling this sense of nostalgia; this urge to cling to “the good old days” of WYS that are actually still happening. Nostalgic feelings are strange like that: the real pleasure (?) that comes from them isn’t in the actual thing you miss, it’s the way you dress up the thing you miss until missing it feels good on its own. WYS has always been a healthy combination of stressful and rewarding for me, and there is no reason for me to think that it will be any different once a new set of voices are ready to be featured in it. As more and more of the initial members graduate, I’m already wading into the new WYS talent pool, and it clearly hasn’t disappointed.

On a technical level, Facebook doesn’t make it easy to change a group. I couldn’t figure out if or how I could make the original WYS a group that was “outside Mount Holyoke,” so I had to start a new group from scratch. Fresh starts are great and even necessary at this point, especially as I have a better knowledge of how to make the group as accessible and as smooth as possible now than I did when this was new to me. As for the zine I’m editing, I’m still soliciting submissions, but I’m also planning to host discussion/creative meetings early this fall as ways for people to brainstorm responses to my prompt on disability and spacetime. We can be so much more generative when we’re together, plus, WYS group meetings are always a highlight of my semester.

Speaking of being generative together, there is the unchosen change. I’m going to have to switch therapists, as mine has taken a new job. My next session with her will be my last. I have never felt attached to a therapist before, and it is very much a privilege (although it shouldn’t be) that my current one is good enough to warrant that kind of attachment from me. She’s been with me through a lot, and has turned from a mere tool to get me access to transition, to a resource and semi-mentor for me in several parts of my life. I know that my experiences with her, especially as I’m a lesbian and trans person as well as psychosocially disabled, are rare. I have received nothing but support and respect from her. I fear that she is as much of a unicorn in her field as the most cynical part of my brain says she is –– and with the state of psychiatry as it is, even the “rational”  part of my brain has no reason to be optimistic.

Given the progress I have made in critical metacognition around my life, thoughts, and feelings, as well as the amazing steps I have taken in my transition, I am so glad this person has been part of my life, even though she’s moving onto something new now. No matter what happens with the next therapist –– as with the next iteration(s) of WYS –– I’m always going to have the amazing things I’ve learned already and the things I can remember forever. In the meantime, I have plenty to keep me busy until I move back to Mount Holyoke on September 1st. And once the semester begins, I’ll have significantly less time to make blog posts in which I wallow in my nostalgic confusion and fear of change (although I will still refuse to get up at 6:30).

* Read more on this in Feminist, Queer, Crip by Alison Kafer.

the distinct odor of 1837 hall, and other recent things

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

A panoramic view of NEMO's rooftop. To the left of the image, people stand in the distance, looking out at the clear blue sky, and harbor/city buildings below us. Moving toward the right, red flowers, then pink, then orange and yellow sit in rows, and people sitting in the distance and enjoying the weather become visible.

to summer-ize

Note: It looks like I’ve properly alt-texted the header image, but let me know if the caption/alt-text description isn’t working for you. In that case, I’ll fix it as soon as possible.

Lately, I have been doing “summer things,” although it’s not exactly summer. I’ve been turning on my music or podcasts and sincerely enjoying my walks to nearby cafés, meeting with friends to talk and work together. Several days ago, a friend and I sat and people-(and dog-) watched in a park I had never before visited. Notably, that day, I was also the object of others’ people-watching: I was asked in Dutch* if I was a “boy or a girl” by a bench-sitting, middle-aged man, whose eyes took me in with a squinting suspicion. (I made no reply, instead staring for a moment in bewilderment at the multilingual cissexism I had just experienced and then continuing on my way). Yesterday, a day even better than that one because it was just a little cooler and breezier, I went with two friends to a children’s science museum in Amsterdam called the NEMO. I valiantly resisted the urge to buy a book (overpriced compared to what it would sell for at a bookstore) and a t-shirt (unnecessary and touristy) from the gift shop. Obligatory shoutout to Natalie and Nora for helping me resist my consumerist temptations and being proud of me for doing so.

We spent time on the museum’s rooftop (in the header image), which was covered in flowers which were organized by color and breed and sat in thick rows between stone indentations filled with running water. It was a busy day on the terrace, but (surprisingly) not a particularly loud one. Somehow I think all of the snaps of cameras and conversations and splashing and laughter of children in their bathing suits dispersed themselves into the breeze instead of occupying too much soundspace on the roof. Today I feel summer again: although the forecast predicted rain this afternoon, the weather is clear.

I’ve long associated summer weather with “home,” an association strongly influenced by what will be fifteen years of annual “summer vacations” from school. This feeling of “home” is accompanied by a particular collection of memories, including one of coming home from my last day of school to see the fan in the living room window, sitting in front of it, and being offered a plastic-tubed Italian Ice from the freezer. Arriving back to velvet’s apartment to open, breezy windows and a fresh, juicy pear or pair** of clementines feels an appropriate progression of that childhood memory.

At the moment, I feel homesick in the way that both longs for home and does not at all hate “here.”

At the moment, I feel homesick in the way that both longs for home and does not at all hate “here.” In fact, I like here –– the weather has been and continues to be beautiful; my free schedule allows me to read, write, and work on my research independently while also sleeping in and partaking in activities on my own terms. It’s great! But I find myself feeling similarly to the way I feel around this time when I’m at Mount Holyoke. I find myself calling my mother just to hear her voice, whereas in previous months, weeks would pass between our calls. I find myself dreaming about things I never thought I’d miss, like conversations with acquaintances I would rarely otherwise engage with.

I even miss the dewy walk to work I made on so many mornings last summer, past the series of uniformly ugly houses with plastic kids’ toys strewn around the front yard and above-ground pools in the back that neighbor my own. Past the largish patch of dirt and brown, dying grass on the corner, walled by wooden posts and plastic tape and marked by a sign as “private property, do not enter.” Across the street between the liquor store and the Taco Bell-KFC hybrid. I miss the very mainstays of my small-town, even “hick”-adjacent lifestyle that I am also so glad to have escaped. I miss the very people and things that I am also glad to have had distance from. I don’t think I’ve ever felt homesickness in such a positive, hopeful way before. The hopeful weather must be helping. To make yet another cheesy reference to my childhood, this is the weather I associate with running out and greeting at recess and promptly throwing off my coat, swinging for the first time of the year in only my t-shirt. This particular memory involves me wearing a specific polo shirt, with large color-blocks of alternating green and teal, with a small embroidered butterfly on the breast.

Some in my program, I think, feel discouraged and decidedly unfree because of the demands of their independent research or internship. I feel lucky and grateful that I don’t feel that way anymore, although the specter of a lengthy assignment due so soon overwhelmed me at first. This doubled as I acknowledged that this would be (and already is) the longest academic paper I’ve ever written (and also probably has the longest bibliography of anything I’ve ever written). Because of this, my first week of independent research time felt a bit like school in the depths of winter (particularly November; the completion of finals isn’t quite yet in sight and yet you’re feeling the weight of a semester’s exhaustion on your shoulders and you are simultaneously overworked and over-anticipating the inevitable assignment of more work) I spent time anxious and hunched over my laptop with tired, sore eyes and ears so very sick of hearing the same four recorded interviews I’m using in the project.

This is the style in which I approach work: I grind out hours early into a project as if the year is starting and there’s, I don’t know, just been a snowstorm and I’m shoveling myself out of the driveway at 6:00am***. I go in with my proverbial shovel (or laptop, in this case) and work relentlessly. My engagement in the work becomes a positive feedback loop –– I become addicted to the feeling of success, the delight and crack of energy I feel at having laid out an important point, the distinct pleasure of finding an author or journal so perfect for my bibliography, so I continue to engage and that feeling grows exponentially. I liken those to the months of frigid temperatures and numb extremities I experienced in February and some of March. I was so busy and excited and exhausted at once and all of this was reinforced by the unrelenting cold. Cold temperatures themselves have a sense of inherent activity to them: they make it so I need to be vigilant, moving, and conscious in order to survive. The warming temperatures of spring allow for a sort of passivity that winter does not. Although the weather as I began my research was not as cold as it was in February, it was significantly worse than it is now. And as it has warmed, I’ve found myself less and less “busy;” more concerned with the minutiae of my research than overwhelmed by the sheer amount of content I’m expected to turn in less than three weeks from now.

I feel just a bit like I’m on vacation at this point. It’s somewhat inconvenient to feel this way at the same time that others feel least able to to vacation-y things. But at the same time, my ability to enjoy my (not-exactly) “vacation” in a more solitary way is authentic to the experiences I’ve had almost every summer prior to this. In the morning I make coffee; maybe stay in my pajamas, maybe venture to the café. Read. Write. Work on my research and answer emails. Return. Eat at a leisurely pace. Visit with friends, sometimes; run errands; take a walk. Continue to revise and write my research paper. Come back in the cool evening and, after a hot shower, engage in some combination of fiction writing and personal reading. Read the news, hoping I can stomach whatever’s going on today. This was the way my days looked last summer, peppered with work shifts and outings. Producing this creative rhythm is as fun as actually engaging in it, making early-summer days some of the most…dare I say…lekker. When I get sick of this particular rhythm, I’ll be on a plane home. When I’m sick of my home-rhythm, I’ll have the fall semester to look forward to.

There are parts of knowing I’m leaving soon that are more bitter than sweet. I feel some frustration at myself for only recently exploring some beautiful study spots close to the apartment. I can’t help but laugh as I realize that it’s now, as I look toward leaving Amsterdam, that I can finally navigate the spaces within walking distance of the apartment and those within walking distance of SIT without Google Maps. The first time I walked from the apartment to the building where we took Dutch (different from the general SIT office building) using landmarks and common sense rather than my phone was one of our last days of Dutch class. Yesterday, when I had to take the tram to Central Station in order to get to the NEMO museum, it occurred to me that this was one of the first times –– if not the first time –– that I had used the tram without feeling intense anxiety. I think that the me that wrote about unfamiliarity several months ago would have taken the present shift as an indication that I was beginning to truly feel at home here, or something equally warm and fuzzy. I’m generally comfortable here and like the city. I’m glad to be here and even more glad to be familiar enough to enjoy it. But feeling the beginnings of summer here has led me to an observation: I can be familiar with a place, I can enjoy it, I can even make myself comfortable there, but it doesn’t need to be my home.

I’m generally comfortable here and like the city. I’m glad to be here and even more glad to be familiar enough to enjoy it. But feeling the beginnings of summer here has led me to an observation: I can be familiar with a place, I can enjoy it, I can even make myself comfortable there, but it doesn’t need to be my home.

I think I wrote previously on how I (ironically) tend to fall into the trap of thinking in binaries. I’ve learned recently that one binary I put faith in was that between Home (a comforting space I knew fairly well) and Not-Home (an uncomfortable space I do not know well). I was approaching Amsterdam like the guy on the bench who openly asked me my gender.

Are you Home or Not-Home, Amsterdam? Am I allowed to feel familiar, comfortable, and homesick at the same time? Amsterdam looks back at me with the silent bewilderment and disappointed humor with which I looked at that man. So, in this between-spring-and-summer weather, in this not-quite vacation period that feels quite like it, in this space of simultaneous homesickness and pleasure; of familiarity and distance…I sit. Troubling binaries, as per usual.

*I was pretty proud of myself to have understood this, given how bad I am at Dutch in general.

**The latest story I’ve been working on involves subtle wordplay, not the har-har punny kind I use to annoy/endear myself to others, but the kind that makes good quality poetry and prose fun to read, like a puzzle of words it’s satisfying to snap in place. It’s not like I’m good at this, but I do enjoy having fun with language without immaturely nudging-and-winking every time.

***To further expose myself as a weak, sensitive noodle of a(n aspiring) writer-academic, I’ll admit this: I’ve never actually shoveled a driveway.