Saturday, December 31, 2011

My 2011


  • Received a $10K promotion at my job that enabled me to do some badly needed saving and buying for my family.

  • Quit my job for another that pays slightly more than the one I just left, allowing me to do more badly needing saving and buying for my family.

  • Managed to work thru and completely extinguish (i hope!) 3 triggers that had been dogging me.  (a) I am no longer freaked out when I see people running across the street. (b) I can finally sleep thru the night with the windows slightly open. (c) I can wear skirts and dresses again without feeling like I'm about to be molested. 

  • My chronic pain levels are being much better managed by a simple change in wardrobe--the aforementioned skirts and dresses.

  • The husband-unit bought us a car -- which has cut down on transportation costs for ME tremendously, even as it has increased his own expenses enormously. 

  • Did I mention the extra money and savings??? For meeee?


  • My sex drive has plummeted from nearly nonexistent to negative -0.   Honestly with all the upheaval this year, both positive and negative, I feel out of control, I feel constantly vulnerable, I feel like I'm 5 years old ALL THE TIME and so anything beyond cheek kissing and hand holding makes my body scream "What are you doing??  What is that???  Stop it I'm telling!"

  • My somehow even lower sex drive has begun to affect the husband-unit's self esteem now. And yet I am powerless to change my own response.

  • The stress of this years upheavals made it easier for me to gain yet another 20 lbs.  Which seems to go in equal parts to my boobs, butt and gut.  Mind you I have nothing against LOOKING fat, I find that I much more comfortable with my looks when I am thick rather than thin, but the physical discomfort of BEING fat is really starting to wear me down.  For reals, I'd like to make it to work the kitchen without getting winded.

  • My continued loathing of being around people when I'm not working discourages me from meaningful exercise.  Even something as simple as taking a walk around the block is a turn off when I think of having to look at another person I don't have to or worse, having them see me.  Plus my usual paranoia that I'm too fat and slow to run or fight now if somebody tries anything. 

  • I am slowly getting the idea that, in spite of the obviously large number of gay people who work there,  the homophobic/heterosexist culture at my new job is not changeable given the harsh restrictions on employee time and ability to socialize beyond our immediate cubicle neighbors.  The transphobic/cissexist culture, you can't even fathom, but let's just say, there isn't so much even a speculation that trans people exist.  Which is great for stealth, but really bad for providing any meaningful services for the trans people we encounter as part of our jobs. 


  • My hair in the morning. 

Seriously. You can't begin to imagine.  While I have no desire to return to relaxers and long laborious hours each morning trying to get my 'do right, there is clearly alot more i SHOULD be doing to take care of what I've got. 

You think I'm kidding?  One night I gave my face RUGBURN from sleeping on my own hair!! 

Fortunately this sort of thing is fixable.  And in 2012 I've vowed to do exactly that.

Goodbye 2011!  You were a kind benefactor and a worthy foe!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

To be out or not to be out- not even a question!

So I just completed the 4th week of my new employment with my new employer and I must say, I am astounded by new discoveries I've made about myself in such a short time.   For example, did you know I was socially inept?? Like a huge honking bore?? I had no idea!  In my life I've spent at least a solid decade schmoozing and seducing persons for a living, most of the time for my own survival.  I had thought myself very charming!  But somehow I failed to notice that the Alias Jane Laplain who is no longer terrified of losing cis male approval or the sympathies of whitefolk, has no idea how else to talk to people!!

The last few years of introspection and careful examination of all my -isms, traumas, and triggers has brought about lifesaving changes for me.  Whereas I existed in a perpetual mode of survival and self-protection, I can say without reservation I am actually growing as a person now. 

And yes, it scares the shit out of me.

To wit: my new employer is Huge with a capital H.  As in thousands of employees huge and 100's of locations thru out the country.  My particular campus features many (perhaps mostly?) black women in positions of authority. 

Now I've been a black woman all on my own for quite a while. In the circles I've travelled, I'd gotten used to being the only one, or one of the few in the room.   I'd gotten used to having to suppress a large amount of my own cultural self expression in order to "fit in" with my (usually white) peers.  However, my only prior personal experiences with being around this many black women was in college, back when I was openly and 'infamously' transitioning to female to nearly everyone's horror and LOUDLY expressed disapproval.  And then years later, while escorting in Houston, I began to hang out with a number of other escorts and other sex workers, most of us black most of them cis, and as sympatico as we felt with each other, none of us could really risk acting like our actual selves for too long, for fear of alienating our key client base (ie. rich white guys).

All of this is a long way of saying I've never had a job where I could be openly black before!!  Where my cultural blackness and womanhood were a common ground with my peers!!

Add to this that I spotted at least two other trans women (one of them also black!).   I know we are working stealth tho, and I know they know about me because we've all eyeballed each other in that "yes, I know, me too" way that only trans people who are living/working stealth would know.   It happens in a glance.  But oddly enough,   there wasn't the usual anxiety of"please please please stay away from me lest you out me" vibe that usually accompanies the glance.  Just a mutual understanding that "yes, this is a safer space for us in particular, and we intend to keep it that way."

Of course I could be delusional and making up all sorts of shared experiences in my mind.  But I don't think so.  What I do think is that this job is going to be a huge growth experience for me and there will be growing pains to accompany them.  I still feel  awkward hanging around a bunch of people, especially cis people, trying not to be too obviously different and yet not completely suppressing my actual personality for their benefit.  

Scratch that, I am learning that I have no idea what my actual personality is like in public terms (as opposed to the carefully constructed masks I usually wear to get along); I am struggling to express myself in ways that are authentic while still preserving my privacy around being trans.

I hadn't intended to write a post about this but I tried to explain all of this to an old friend of mine, a militant activist type who is openly queer (but NOT trans). He doesn't really understand why anybody LGBT would want to work in a place where they could't be openly LGBT.

There are many people like my friend and I certainly share alot of his concerns. But there are too many   who say that every queer person should be out to everyone as a living example of the queers who live amongst the normals, and if you aren't out then you are a coward, a selfish co-conspirator with an oppressive state yadda yadda...  Or maybe they say nothing so extreme but deep down you can tell they pity all us poor closeted fools....

These folks tend to fall under a few types.

1. The Professional Queer:  one of the shockingly few queer persons in the world who have been able to make a living directly from their queerness.  They do lots of public speaking, get paid to show up and talk about being L, or G or T (I've honestly never seen a professional B before!  Suggestions?). Perhaps they write a column or a famous blog, sold a few books about being LGBT.  Not every professional queer believes in being 100% out  and not every professional queer  is militant (in fact most professional queers are pretty pro status quo, for the most part, hrmmm)  but the ones who DO insist It Gets Better are usually fairly high profile, culturally white middle class,  having long ago lost touch (if they ever had it to begin with) with what people who are not all these things actually go thru everyday.

2. The Hypocrite:  The person who thinks that because they are so vocal about the importance of being out in their blog or in their support group or their social circle that it gives them the right to badmouth people who aren't out for any reasons other than they live in a small conservative town where they would be lynched on sight (the only "acceptable" reason to be closeted about one's queerness, natch).  They even show their real pictures online!! See how out they are??  Meanwhile they aren't all that out themselves  at large beyond one or both of their parents and a few friends.  They "don't try to hide it" tho!  And that's what counts!

3. The Queer Theorist:  This is someone who has other re$ources and thus no real fear of  ever having to support  themselves financially as an openly non-cis person.   They are often partners of Professional Queers. These people usually possess a great deal of passing privilege (either passing for cis, and/or passing for straight) and aren't all that readable as queer to begin with.   However they are passionately involved in all movements queer except the ones that actually affect them most, and are constantly complaining about how invisible they feel and how they wish they didn't have to constantly out themselves to other queers in order to be seen.  You can almost hear them saying  "Don't you visible freaks know how LUCKY you are?  Don't you know how much I suffer seeing what you go thru??"

4. The Youthful Idealist:  the militant queer youth who thinks zie knows the right answer to ending all oppression already (and zie might even be right),  is soooooooo fed up with the "status quo" (and who could blame zir) and  is (rightfully) disgusted by the constant and unending suffering zie's already witnessed in zir short life. And yet zie hasn't yet had the life experience one needs to be able to empathize with others real life choices, especially not with persons with whom they disagree politically.  Zie hasn't yet seen the limits of what their own outrage can do for them or for anyone else.  But they will, honey.. they will. 

These of course are gross generalizations I've observed in my time, composites if you will of various character types.  And please don't think I stand in sneering judgment of them.  In fact I'm probably best considered a Hypocrite type myself. But trust me I have been nearly all of the types mentioned above at some point, and in combinations... I meant well, and I tried.. but I didn't know, I just didn't know.

I didn't know the price of being out as young and unprepared as I was, would mean years (YEARS) of  homelessness, abject unemployability, humiliating compromise for my own survival, and constant public harassment or fear of it.   I didn't know the choice limits, the legally sanctioned harassments, that would force me into circumstances where I'd be left wide open for horrors both physical and psychological from which I am still struggling to recover years (YEARS) later.  

Do I regret my life?  No.  Would I change anything if I could go back?  I don't know but probably, YES and a hell of alot.   I think alot about the course my life has taken over the last 20 years, and I always come back to this:   My peers at the time may or may have not learned deep life lessons from meeting their very first real life tranny.. but I DID NOT BENEFIT FROM BEING THEIR TEACHABLE MOMENT IN THE SLIGHTEST.

You got that?  I am saying I don't yet see what was in it for ME.  And what's in it for ME is a damn good question for anybody to ask themselves, ESPECIALLY for someone facing any oppression.

So I will never apologize for intending to directly benefit from my own existence. Sorreh!!

None of this is to say I will never be out again.  Or that I won't eventually at some point be outed and have to face those consequences.  It's not as if I am knocking myself out to hide being trans anymore.  But that's part of my social adjustment.. learning to not hide without being a hypocrite who thinks they aren't hiding even as they go out of their way, consciously or unconsciously, to appear to be someone who has nothing to hide.  (So far I'm still very much a Hypocrite.  *sigh*...)

 If it should turn out I had a real opportunity to become one of those Professional Queers I was talking about, I'd seriously consider it.  I have always thought I'd be able to help others with a higher profile life than I've led, I do wish to be able to speak openly about ALL the issues that concern my life eventually.  But then again the longer I live, the more enamored I become of living an unremarkable life that meant everything to me and nothing much to the world.   At any rate, I will never again live my life at the expense of my own ability to survive in an oppressive system I have no option of leaving.

So, where do I go from here?  I haven't a clue but I guess I'm about to find out and I get the feeling this new gig is starting me down that road.

Stay tuned.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Trans-on-Trans Relationships: Perks and Bennies Galore!

I think it's high time I posted something positive on this blog.  And I can't think of anything more positive going on in my life than my relationship with Mr. Laplain. 

A huge part of what makes me feel so satisfied in our relationship is the fact that we are both trans.  Funny how cissexism works; I honestly had never considered this kind of relationship for myself until I met him... I had scarcely even heard of such a thing, except in an "urban legend" sort of way... as in: "OMG wouldn't it be like so weeeeeeeeird/cool/strange if an MTF and FTM hooked up!  Like... that would be all kinds of reality tv LOL!"

I knew intellectually that this sort of union must have happened before, but in my personal experience trans women and trans men hung out on a strictly platonic basis... that is if  they were even speaking to each other at all.

So I came to the relationship with Mr. Laplain with alot of boneheaded transphobic ideas about trans men's bodies and lives at first (OMG what do you guys look like down there? I mean... does it work? Can i see it? etc...) .  He didn't seem to have nearly as many hang ups as I did, but I wasn't his first trans woman either.

But I got over my transphobic discomfort PDQ.  If nothing else in life I attempt to practice what I preach, and I am always preaching how obnoxious  it is for people to obsess over my trans-gendered body as if it is sooooo very different from Basic Human Physiology.   (No it's not thanks. It's not anything that couldn't happen to you if you were willing to take the appropriate hormonal and surgical regimen.  If you're really that curious.... get your own!!)

So after purging all the WOW ITS A REAL LIVE TRANNIE DUDE cooties of  internalized cissexism,  all that was left over was ....relief.  Relief that here was somebody who i didn't have to explain the whole trans thing to.  Somebody who would respect my physical boundaries and triggers without question, without having to explain or negotiate why I wasn't ready to go further without having to hear some obnoxious affirmation of how "nothing will make me think less of you as a woman" blah blah, as if that is the only reason I'm ever shy about anything.  

And he automatically knows not to do these things not because he knows so many trans people and learned from trial and error, not because he prefers the company of trans women because they are so much more xyz than real women, not because his sibling/cousin/bestfriend/parent used to be a __fill in the blank here__ so he feels especially sensitive to all things trans, but because he already understands being trans from the jump, thanks!! 

Meaning, he understands transness from his own personal experience rather than from his observing my life  and/or others' lives from some sympathetic but cis-privileged pedastal on high. 

For the first time in my life I felt like I could stand on equal footing with a man in a romantic relationship and not feel shame, self-consciousness, the crushing weight of my trans history as baggage.  I no longer felt the tug of anxiety that he would eventually get tired of the "whole trans thing" and leave.  (Well of course he can leave me, but he can't leave trans.  Oh what a concept!  To be vulnerable purely on the merits and faults of one's own personality, rather than on one's being a stigmatized freak!!!)

So over the last few years of our relationship here are some things I've observed from a trans on trans perspective.

Equal Footing : I can't emphasize the importance of this one enough.   Mr Laplain is white, I am black.  We both struggle with physical and neurological disabilities that at times seem to compete with each other's limitations in a spiteful way.  He grew up very poor, I grew up middle class and our arguments about money especially reflect that.  But all of these areas of experiential disconnect pale in comparison to our shared understanding of what it's like to grow up in this country as trans, what it's like navigating an openly and viciously cissexist society. 

We had both dated primarily cis partners beforehand (I had exclusively dated cis) and together we often  say how much easier it is to talk to each other about things, to just BE around each other, without feeling like we have to apologize for or otherwise explain ourselves around the whole trans aspect of our lives.  It is a remarkable relief.

For me, this is the first time I've ever felt I was in a relationship where I was not at a significant social and legal disadvantage to my partner. 

Meeting Each Other's Family:  The idea of having to tell or if to tell or how to tell my partner's family and close friends was always a huge obstacle for me in relationships.  There seemed to be no way to "protect" my partner and thus not expose him to potential ridicule, ostracism, rejection... all those lovely things that go hand in hand with being trans or being near somebody who is.   There is no OMG would his parents freak if they knew about me?  There is no The folks at his job can never find out!!  There is no worry that he'll be forced to choose between his best friends and me once they know the truth... the horrible horrible truth.

The funny thing is, we haven't evem officially told each other's families about each other's being trans yet!!   Specifically because the dire implications aren't a factor in this relationship, we've been able to approach it on a "needs to know" basis.  And so far, very few people have needed to know.   It's amazing to have this level of mutual respect for privacy as well as for openness in regards to being trans.

For me, I know my mother will know immediately upon meeting Mr. Laplain (she hasn't met him in person yet).  She has out of this world gaydar and T-dar, she claims from having worked in radiology for 30 years, whatever that means.  She is already suspicious of his voice ("he sounds like a short guy, Janie... how tall is he??")  But she is much too proper and ladylike to ask him outright.   One of these days when I finally take him back home with me, she will look him up and down, shake his hand politely and then discreetly summon me into another room to ask the question.  I'll say, yes of course he's trans, and she'll blush and stammer "oh, I see" and that will be the end of it.

I have no idea what his mother will say about me.  But considering she raised him as an ardent feminist and anti-racist PFLAG mom who demands respect for all people, I'm sure I can manage whatever well meaning stumbles may happen along the way.   After all she eventually accepted him as her son... Why not me as a daughter in law?

Dealing with Doctors/Hospitals/Administrators:  Having a partner who understands the documentary pitfalls of being trans, knows how to anticipate when to speak up about being trans and when to keep quiet about it, having that person on your team to serve as proactive backup for when some schmuck inevitably tries to out you on some form or to some department in a thoughtless way....  I can't tell you how much it helps.   Whenever things like this would happen in front of my cis friends or partners all I could feel is embarrassment, shame, exposure...  Even when my friends were 100000% sympathetic and ready to advocate for me whenever some asshat demanded to see proof of ID or a letter from my surgeon or shrink for something completely unrelated to my gender, I couldn't help but rather they weren't around to witness my humiliation .    But having Mr. Laplain on my side, and me on his... I know we're together in this.  I know he is fighting the system for his own protection every bit as much as mine, and vice versa.

Legal Marriage:  This is the freakiest thing of all.  We are eligible to be married under any circumstances, whether or not the laws of whatever state we live in respect our trans status.  I mean seriously, what could they say.  We were eligible from birth but not now?  On what basis could they legally object?  We would be very interested to see if they'd even try to stop us.

This one is especially close to my heart because my first marriage to a cis man was not legal.  The end of that relationship found me on the street and homeless with nothing but what I could carry, and no matter how often he had claimed me as his wife on his taxes, no matter how many places we were known as a married couple, no matter after six years of cohabitation, forcing me out of our home with nothing was perfectly legal when it suited him.  I had vowed never even to consider marrying anyone else ever again... why in the world would I ever enter into a situation where my partner had ALL the legal rights and I had none of them?

Of course I never considered marrying a trans man.

The reason Mr. Laplain and I  haven't  legally married however is tied to his disability. Right now he is the middle of switching from State Disability to Federal Disability.  Our getting married would not only have disrupted this long arduous process, it would likely have rendered him unable to receive medical coverage whatsoever, if  these agencies were allowed to consider my income.  He has, unfortunately, a very expensive and chronic illness that requires spendy medications and frequent visits with specialists and hospital stays.  There is no way I could afford to pay for his treatment AND support us both in a gainful way, even with the best insurance.  There is also the question of my own chronic medical needs and how I'd like one day to address them.  Not being married has been the only way for us to afford being together... ironically.

But the point is.. we could do it.  At any time.  And no state or federal law would  dare stop us!  (mind you this only applies because we were assigned as legal "opposites" from birth.. this isn't an advantage of us both being trans so much as taking advantage of a cissexist loophole).

I'm sure theres alot more here and I may come back later and fill in more.  It was important for me to at least get this out there in print. It's something I've been saying offline for quite some time, and certainly something I've yet to see online.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

"Born As" is Cissexist BS, Rant 2

If you missed my first Rant please click here

Rant 2:  Legal Names and Former Legal Names.

Just a bit of background before I begin.   Ive been looking for new employment ever since a few weeks after getting a huge promotion at my old job; I had realized that I had been promoted under sketchy circumstances.  As the months wore on I became more and more convinced that my working relationship with my boss was toxic, abusive, and flat out unbearable.

In August  I gave 4 weeks notice on a wing and a prayer. The gamble paid off as  I was only recently offered a position with another company I had applied  with much earlier in the summer.   This new job begins next week.

(An aside, this is why I've been so long in posting.  My energies have been nearly completely consumed in securing gainful new employment!)

Part of the "final preparations" for coming on board with the new company includes a background check.  Specifically, this check require new hires to list any and all former legal names we were ever known by.

This is almost ALWAYS a risky proposition for all us post-transition trans women.  It is particularly vexing for those of us who are DECADES post transition.  At one point does one finally get to STOP answering to the identity our well-meaning but totally ill-informed parents chose for us at birth?

The individual risk of real consequence to me here is minimal.  I live in Seattle, a city which explicitly protects gender identity in EEOC laws.  I've already been offered the position and if it were suddenly rescinded my new employers would have to prove to me they did so for reasons other than my legally changed gender status.  No employer, large or small, wants to incur the legal costs of defending themselves against EEOC violations if they can avoid it, not even in employment-at-will states such as Washington.

This new employer is HUGE... mind you.  So huge that the HR department conducting this check is nowhere near the actual location where I will be working.  The chances of "overlap" between persons who will learn my full legal history into my office is minimal and this is a small comfort.

That said, that's not the frigging point!! I just don't understand why I must be continuously associated with, and consequently OUTED by, a name I haven't used legally for nearly 15 years now? At one point does it finally end.

In spite of all the indicators that this won't amount to much in the longrun, I still feel I need to be ready to play the same games I had to play back when I was teenager growing up in the early 90's.  The "Oh I'm sorry did you think I was a boy? How weird of you!"  Game.   
I had to play this game alot in situations where my legal name preceded me or was unavoidable.  For instance at the DMV.   Saddled then with my father's name, an obviously masculine name with the definitely masculine Jr attached.... I had been forced to accept a Male designation on my first license.  Even getting the license in the first place was a study in institutionalized homophobia and transphobia.  But that's another story. A couple of years later and fully in transition, I had worked up the courage to try and change that M to an F, even if I had to keep that awful Jr. name.
One day I walked right up to the doddery old white man working the DMV branch and the farthest end of town where nobody would ever know me I could find and I gave an oscar worthy performance for all its subtlety and nonchalance: 

"Excuse me, Sir... I need to fix something on my license.  I realize I was named after my Dad and all, but..."  pointing to the Sex: M on my license, my eyes batting for all they were worth.

I was so RELIEVED that he didn't miss a beat.  " OH nooooo.  I'm so sorry about that Young Lady... I can imagine how that happened tho.  Junior, eh?"

"Yep... They reeeeeally wanted a boy! LOL  I think it took them a few years to finally give up on that one..."

"You poor thing.  Not a big deal, darlin', mistakes happen."

"Oh good. I brought my birth certificate with me just in case."  I really had. And I was bluffing my ass off since it listed me as Male in all fucking caps, not exactly persuasive evidence.

"That won't be necessary, hon, I can see you really are a girl."
And that was that!  I had broken State Law perhaps,  but in doing so I had made my life ALOT easier.

But Oh that fucking NAME still worked to undo every scrap of progress I made.

Keep in mind even at this time my so-called "passability" was far from a given.  My youth, feminine voice, and lack of significant facial hair made it so I passed most of the time, but by no means 100 percent of the time.   It appears I just happened to find and "fool" (gawd how I hate that phrase) the right person in that DMV on that particular day.  Any other day it was pretty much hit and miss; it was another few years before people completely stopped staring and pointing and wondering at me in public. Until this point I was constantly braced for the possibility of confrontation, especially when mention of my birth name was unavoidable.

I wasn't able to change my name legally for years after this point, but I began to build an official gender history of "F" from that point on.  About half the time I could get away with saying "I was named after my dad, long story" as if there were nothing more to the story.  But eventually the seeds of doubt were planted and would begin to flower... leading to my inevitable being outed.

This means that in dealing with potential employers, bank workers, loan officers who might otherwise have taken me for just another female were it not for the huge fucking hint my former legal name gave them up front I was (and sometimes still am) constantly dancing around "the question."  

An example:  Getting my very first bank account was an unnecessary ordeal what with the bank teller calling me Sir the entire time.  He did this clearly out of spite because up until the point I had to show him my ID he had been extremely courteous and even flirtatious.   While filling out the necessary forms at his desk, he flat out refused to consider my using anything except my FULL legal name on all fields, including the cursed Jr. title.... as if to spite me.  

"I'm sorry SIR, but we are legally obligated to go by what's on your driver's license. I'm sure you understand..." the sneer in his voice was almost visible.

Then when filling out the Sex in his ID I was finally able to call his bluff.  "If you insist, SIR, on going faithfully by what's on  my license then you will notice that there is an F in the Sex field.  Please change it.  NOW."

The look on his face was of outrage and total surprise, as if I had just pulled some master chess move he couldn't counter.  He VERY bitchily complied at this point and typed F into the field.  But you could see the wheels turning in his head the whole time, trying desperately to figure out how to challenge this, how to expose me to the world.  ALL FOR DARING TO OPEN A CHECKING ACCOUNT!

Keep also in mind this exchange happened in full view of all patrons of the bank, who appeared to be very amused by the show.

Keep also in mind that because of my legal name, even after I finally legally changed it, I was all but unemployable in my home state thanks to the almighty background check.  It wasn't until I was 30 fucking years old, when I first moved to Seattle, that I was able to find and KEEP my first real life day job.   In an actual office. With *gasp* normal everyday people for an actual living wage!!  I had triple majored in college, graduated with two separate BA degrees, and dropped out of my Master's program a few credits shy of completion.  I was more than qualified to work, is my point.  But the hostility I found in the job market was overwhelming....  the gender incongruity of my former legal name being a HUGE factor in attracting said hositlity.

So yeah... I have a HUGE effing problem with being forced to list my former name under any circumstance. It has never served me except as an obstacle.  I mean why bother changing it legally when its always going to show up as an alias anyway?   While I am very grateful that Seattle happens not to care one way or another.. I am very angry that I feel confined to living and working here.  

Dont' get me wrong I love Seattle, it's home, I don't wish to leave it.  But I shouldn't feel I have little choice in the matter just because I prefer to keep my past in the past while the world and it's institutions demand I remain accountable to legal and social decisions made for me, about me,  but never BY me. 

How is this acceptable in a free country I ask thee?

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

"Born as" is cissexist BS, Rant 1

A brief but sincere plea.

People, cis people, trans people, non-trans people of all stripes.  PLEASE stop saying "born as" when referring to the name one's parents gave at birth.  Even if it's your OWN name.

Saying things like "Jane Laplain, who was born Guy Butcherson Laplain III in the 1970's, now lives in the pacific northwest blah blah"    is fundamentally cissexist.

WHy?  The construction of the phrase erases the entire process of choosing and assigning a name to the newborn person, and privileges this very deliberate social decision made by parents/guardians as something that just "happened" naturally as a consequence of birth.  As if I slid out of the womb with a nametag on my lapel.  Um NO.

Nobody is BORN with a particular name.  That name is given.  Assigned. Decided. Imposed by others.  This is not to say that this is an essentially bad thing to do.  It is to say that the name one is given at birth is no less artificial, and no more authentic than the name one chooses for one's self later on in life.  The original name on one's birth certificate does not deserve greater deference.  In fact when it comes to the name one chooses for one's self, in the spirit of self-identification, so called "birthnames" should hold much LESS clout.   Who knows you better?  Somebody who decided your entire identity after knowing you all of a few hours when you were completely unable to communicate your personality and wishes?  Or... yourSELF after a decade or so of living every single day as yourSELF?  Hrmmmm... i wonder....

I was named "Junior" after I was born by the way.  And I didn't have any name at all for 3 whole  days after my birth.  Chiefly  because my mother had had an allergic reaction to her epidural and almost died, so there was that drama to deal with first.  But basically it went like this.  My dad wanted to name me Adrien Etiens, which was a family name.  My mother, fearing that was WAY too girly and foo-foo sounding for her American SON (she was SO afraid to have a daughter, so relieved to find out she hadn't, this is another long story), wanted to name me something like Stonewall Jackson or King Rocco or something way over the top butch.

For months during the pregnancy, or so I was told, my parents-to-be went back and forth on names, arguing violently and nearly splitting up a couple of times. But after nearly dropping dead in the delivery room, mother finally settled for just naming me Junior,  ending the argument on "neutral" ground.

Either name would have likely dramatically impacted my social experiences growing up, particularly given my hardwired trans nature.  I probably wouldn't have all minded being known as an Adrien, so much. I definitely DID mind being known as a Junior, but I probably lucked out not being a Rocco or something uber masculine like that. 

I digress.  Names are not "born" they are given.  Given by persons who, however loving their intentions, definitely have their own vision and own agenda for the new person they are giving a life to.   This needs to be acknowledged in this culture.  It hardly ever is except when the name given flies in the face of mainstream tastes.   (For example, the common public criticism of African-American parents who give their children African-American "sounding" names... or whenever a baby name chosen is considered too "quirky" or offbeat.  Then suddenly THESE parents are being reckless and not considering the impact on the child's future.  But only under these circumstances do we question the motives of the parents.. otherwise, naming your kid a conventional sounding name is perfectly "normal" and without ulterior motive...)

At any rate  I wish cis people and trans people alike would stop using "born as" when discussing trans people's histories,  as it only elevates the name given at birth to the level of an  "objective truth" which cannot be questioned.  And as a result casts the self-chosen name as less authentic, less "real."   BS, I SAY.


Sunday, July 10, 2011

Making Excuses, Part 2: The Otherside of Intersectionality

Due to declining health, I've been unable to keep up a regular pace with this blog.  Alack and Alas. 

I've been unable to keep up even an adequate pace with my normal routine, consisting only of going to work, and coming home.  Now I'm facing making a big decision about leaving my fabulously well paying job for something far less demanding (and less well paying). 

I have an interview for one such job tomorrow morning.  I'm upset that I don't think I'll be feeling any better for it.  Hopefully I won't have to look the way I feel.  My goal is to at least not look like a dying aquatic mammal. That's been my impression every time I've gone to the mirror in the last two months. Yeah yeah, I know ---  internalized fat hatred, disableism.... bite me.  Just for the moment.  My ability to sustain this household is on the line here and I'm going to muster every last privilege I can to continue doing so.  :p

Which brings me to one of the many post topics I'd started and never finished.  The Otherside of Intersectionality, the one far less discussed in anti-oppression blogs, is the intersection of privileges.  This matrix of social advantages is used by all, not merely to maintain our own (always) precarious status in the hierarchy of bodies/identities/lives... but in order to avoid descending (perpetually) therein. 

The intersection of privileges is why we have the phenomenon of Co-Dependent Bigotry, and of Kyriarchy, it is why we have LGBT Conservatives who insist that being gay is only a small, merely incidental piece of their lives and that national security and taxation matters MUCH More,  it is why we have an a Western LGBT movement that by and large erases anyone who is not a gay white upper class male.

The intersection of privileges is why we have black people who support the Tea Party, why some immigrants who came to the USA as children would violently enforce border patrol against illegal immigrants, why transsexual women with tremendous amounts of passing privilege, and access to resources for surgery would viciously oppose public association with any and all trans people who do not.   

I point these things out not in judgment, but in acknowledgement of my own similar response in certain situations.   All of the examples above represent different strategies for survival in a hostile environment.  It would be one thing if the consequence of losing privilege was simply not having that privilege.  But its not.  The consequence of losing privilege is an increase in personal suffering.  It's why discussion about privilege is so difficult to begin with.  To be accused of having privilege feels like an accusation that one has not struggled to be where on is.  

The fact is, EVERYBODY is constantly struggling to maintain and/or advance their own position in the hierarchy.  Because doing so results in LESS suffering.  And suffering SUCKS.  Consequently there is no single body in the hierarchy of bodies that does NOT suffer to exist.  Even the whitest, richest, cis-est, straightest, most able-bodied christian man is struggling and suffering to exist.  The main question for those who resist oppression  is not "who has it hardest or easiest?"    But  "at whose expense is one group's own suffering made less?"

Even tho it is in our longterm best interests to resist the oppression of the least advantaged of our own targeted group, we often choose instead to maximize our social advantages over our disadvantages, whether its our ability to "pass" for mainstream members of the dominant group, or class status or financial resources, or the personal approval of a select few powerful dominants, we use any and all of these to counterbalance our own vulnerability as members of the targeted group... and we do it at the expense of the "least" of that group each time.

But identifying the problem is only one part of it.  I can say all of the above, but tomorrow I'm still going to do my best to "pass" for a cis, non-disabled middle class woman who appears thinner than she actually is.  I'm still going to try to neutralize the reality of my blackness by possibly straightening my hair, thus amping up the overall "racially-diluting" effect of my light skin.   Thus sending a subliminal message to my would be employers that I may be black but I'm one of the "okay" ones.

I'm going to do all of this so I can continue to support myself and my Significant Other in the lifestyle we've become accustomed.  But really I'm doing it because if I don't,  I and my S.O. may very well end up on the street in a few months without any kind of job, right along with the "least" of our brothers.  You dig?

So what is the REAL solution to all of the above?  And tell me a solution I can achieve in my lifetime.  You'll forgive me for not being willing to dedicate my own life as well as the lifetimes of my (hypothetical) children and grandchildren for a better world that may never happen 100 years from now, especially when a worse world definitely will happen 100 days from now if I don't all that I just said I would.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

This week in -isms

For a while I've been meaning to keep a journal of the isms I encounter on a regular basis.  Not the isms that I encounter in media or news blogs or anything, but the everyday casual isms that real life people let fly in meat space.   So this week I attempted to make an effort listen for and wrie down the ones I encountered on my way to and from work. 

To make it easier and less obvious to do, I kept a log in my cell phone by just texting myself.   However, with Mr. Laplain's birthday and having to cover for a couple of missed shifts at work,  I kept forgetting to pay attention and so I don't have as many as I thought I would. 

Again keep in mind I ever only go two places anyway.... to the bus (or taxi queue) to work.  And to the bus (or taxi queue) back home.  I live in the "nice" part of downtown in my city,  and work near a pretty swanky area... which skews the demographics of the people I encounter a bit. 

This week I mostly took the bus.   I am fully reminded as to why I hate taking the bus.


"...and I don't think they should be teaching the Quran in schools anyway.  It's bad enough they can't teach the Bible anymore, but now they want to force all this Muslim stuff on us."
-Overheard at the bus stop waiting to go to work.  Gray haired white man talking to somebody on his cell.  He was gripping the phone so hard I could see his knuckles going white.

"I'm glad they hired the Asian Guy.  We need to keep our competitve edge if we're going to keep up."
- Guy from the IT dept at work.  Like seriously.  He said this.

"So bring  that  one black girl you went with then?"
"What black girl?"
"The one I saw you with at REI"
"Purvi??  She's Indian!! She isn't black! Gross!"
"Oh man, sorry.  I thought she was black.  But bring her along yeah..."
"Naw man, she's got a boyfriend."
-Two teenaged looking White guys. Overheard while waiting outside the bus stop after work.


"Well, he's certainly qualified  for the job but I'm worried that he seemed a bit ...moody."
"Yes,  I got a pretty negative vibe from him too.  But do you think he was sensitive to the low office morale in general, tho?
"Yes, Jane he did seem a little bit effeminate, didn't he?"
- VP interjecting while the C.O.O and I discussed the most recent applicant we had  just interviewed.


"Ken that was totally Lame, dude."
"Yeah dude way lame."
"Like Christopher Reeves, Lame."
"LOL Like The March of Dimes Lame!"
-Group of 20somethings Overheard on the bus going back home.

"I don't know what her problem is, she's bipolar or something but that's no excuse for being a bitch..."
-Some white woman walking into a restaurant  while in converation with her brown skinned female friend.


"I can't stand that fat fuck!"
-Some white guy coming out of the same restaurant, talking on his cell.


It bothered me that I was way more sensitive to the racist things I'd overheard than I was to anything else.  I kept dwelling on those things long after they happened, even tho everything listed above was objectionable. 

It bothers me because I want everyone to feel the same amount of outrage I do about racism, cissexism and homophobia and transphobia in particular.  I want them to feel an emotional connection to the slight.  But the disableist comments didn't impact me in the same way.  In fact it took me a second to remember I should write them down. So how can I expect everyone to have an emotional connection to MY oppressions, regardless of whether or not they experience them too, when I can't reciprocate?

Another thing I  learned this week is that "Lame" really IS a slam against the disabled.  I had once been of the opinion that the word had lost its original meaning and shouldn't be considered a slur... that nobody uses it to indicate an inability to walk anymore.  But these taunts clearly demand that interpretation.   OOPS. Well... no longer will I just let that word slide unchallenged.

I will try this experiment again this week.  Again I was really disorganized this week and kept forgetting to tune in to my environment.  I'd be lying to say that I'm looking forward to hearing even more BS like this tho.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

fish are jumpin

You'd think I'd have figured these things out by now, but I only just today realized how triggering the summer time is for me.   All the extra sunshine, the heat, and the indoors humidity and the fucking houseflies that get in the house and never leave... all this brings me right back kicking and screaming to childhood summers spent in Oklahoma. 

And I realize my stomach is tight and tense and I have a feeling of foreboding.  I feel fat and heavy and weak.  I feel hyper aware of all the ways my body isn't fitting me right, is weighing me down, restricting me to where I couldn't run even if I were being chased.  I expect to be chased. Hunted. I expect to hear the screech of tires when I walk outside and somebody calling me and my granddaddy's whole family names. I expect gunfire.

I begin to feel like an animal of prey.   I sniff the air around me in search of  the scent that means danger, the foreign smells of a man in my house, for instance,  my daddy in my mama's house,  my granddaddy in my granny's, any man in my aunties... anywhere only us girls get to stay and be left the hell alone... except whenever the menfolk decide they want to pay a visit between drinking, gambling and breaking the law but no we are too damned polite to say no, not in my house, not here

Instead I pick up the random scent of the garbage rotting in the kitchen. I always forget to take out the garbage, it was the one thing the menfolk were supposed to do but never did and  so subconciously I leave it there waiting for a man to do what I know he won't... because at least the disappointment is familiar (oh the irony!).  I go to the bathroom and expect to see the toilet lid up, marking MY home  and sanctuary as THEIR territory, and I expect to smell that pungent piss smell men seem to leave behind them everywhere they go.   And then I am afraid to see what I might see, smell what I might smell.  If I smell piss  in there wouldn't it be because I'm the one who made that pissy smell?   What then does that make me?  So I  hold my breath and I strip naked and I shower and shower and shower...

Getting clean doesn't help.  Taking the trash out doesn't help.  No matter what, I jump at the slightest noises I want to be held but not touched, so I settle for being left alone and above all I am cranky for no damn good reason I can think of. At night I turn the fan on full blast, trying to blast the summer sweat off my body and I lay face down in the mattress and get this deep bone feeling that I'm scared and I want my mommy .....

I hate the motherfucking summer heat.  I hate beautiful sunshiney days and blue skies.  And when I say hate I mean that. I hate it in my soul.  I hate it so much it physically hurts me.  I've always blamed it on my eye condition (keratoconus) and how it predisposes me to be extremely photosensitive.  But now I see how little that has to do with it. 

It's amazing what the body remembers long after the mind has gone.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Racism, Co-Racism and why I hate the word prejudice

By now most people in the anti-oppression blogiverse have heard about the Satoshi Kanazawa Study that black women are "objectively" the least physically attractive of all human beings.

I feel little need to tread ground other better blogfolk have already trod before me (with much more precision than I ever could).  Bottomline, Kanazawa's "study" was execrable, and Psychology Today's editors behaved in a wildly irresponsible manner for publishing it. 

Renee, at the brilliant and engaging blog Womanist Musings, wrote a great post about Psychology Today's lack of accountability in posting the so-called study.  While I agreed wholeheartedly with her take, I differed with her on whether or not Kanazawa's actions could be considered racist, actions which she referred to as "prejudicial."

Here was our exchange: 


Renee I disagree with not labeling Kanazawa and his actions as racist. True, only White people are uniquely positioned to plug in to a system of White Supremacy and fully benefit from that, but I would think anyone who actively supports and furthers the aims of White Supremacy , including its specific hierachy of racialized bodies (black ones at the bottom), is indeed being racist regardless of their own actual race. If you actively assist the dominant body in its dominance then you are accountabile for your own part in helping maintain the dominant group's supremacy.


If the definition of racism is prejudice plus power then a person of colour cannot be racist because they do not have the power to actualize whatever prejudicial feelings they may have on a systemic level. This separation is absolutely necessary because without it we have no real understanding of the way that Whiteness operates. This however does negate responsibility on the part of poc who choose to further White supremacy through prejudicial actions. I specifically chose not to address Satoshi Kanazawa claims because I believe that they are based on junk science.

Without an understanding of power it is easy to become distracted and believe that the actions of POC like Satoshi Kanazawa have the same effect as racism from White people. Even though Satoshi Kanazawa as an individual is responsible, it is the institution of Whiteness that created the bigotry upon which his conclusions were based. Ultimately racism begins and ends with Whiteness.
I will consider this. But ultimately I have a big problem wrapping my head around the idea that there can be such a thing as benefiting at the expense of another without being fully accountable for one's own part in upholding the very system that created the original benefit. Or that one' holding up of that system can be classified as less harmful if one also happens to be a target of that same system.

However I definitely agree that white supremacist prejudce does not and cannot have the same effect coming from a POC as it does from a white person. I will make every effort to consider what youre saying because I respect your opinion and work.

And I've been thinking about this ever since.  The conclusions I've come to (so far) lead me to believe that anti-racist language (and anti-oppression language in general) is in need of more explicit terminology to deal with the phenomenon of marginalized individuals/groups who actively support their own marginalization and the marginalization of others.
We already have the concept of internalized racism, of course  But that doesn't adequately explain why a POC of one ethnicity would go out of their way to uphold racist and white supremacist stereotypes  about another group.  We also have the term Kyriarchy, which I find handy in alot of anti-oppression discourse, but is so widely applicable to just about every single person as to be diluted in its emotional impact when articulating the power dynamics of supremacist structures.
So far the only term I can think of that, for me, fully describes the harmful impact of Kanazawa's Study and the Supremacist agenda behind it is Co-Racism.  Or perhaps Co-dependent Racism.  or even Co-signed Racism.

(As far as I know I made these up.  I'm not married to them, just to the idea that we need more words to discuss the spectrum of how racism can influence a POC's actions and beliefs. I did google the terms first and I didn't find anything.  I also looked up definitions of codependency and found alot of applicability to race, in terms of specific POC relationships with Whiteness).
Describing as "prejudicial" Kanazawa's blatant advocacy of clearly white supremacist/black subordinant stereotypes  simply because he is a MOC advocating these stereotypes  just doesn't cut it for me.  "Prejudicial" abstracts the offense.   Calling what he did mere prejudice potentially softens the graphic reality that kind of toxic thinking does to black women as a whole.
Co-Racism could perhaps describe what's going on more clearly without linguistically removing focus from the racist root of the phenomenon in the first place.  
As  I told Renee, I definitely DO agree that the impact of a POC's racial prejudice and a White person's racial prejudice are NOT equivalent.    A white person's upholding of racial prejudice functions entirely to their own (perceived) social benefit and uplift in a white supremacist super-structure.    A POC can never fully benefit from doing the same thing in the same context.
But that isn't to say there IS no (perceived) social benefit for a POC to do so.  Particularly when that POC does not belong to the lowest racial caste in the overall racial super-structure (hello again, Kyriarchy).
Furthermore there has always been the phenomenon of "selling out"... sucking up to those with the most power to cause you harm is just one of many common  strategies for survival across civilizations.  But survival at the deliberate expense of another MUST be viewed critically in a civilized society.  It must be called out loudly, unambiguously, and in no uncertain terms.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying Renee's post in any way minimizes Kanazawa's Fail and the potential damage his study could do and already has done.  Just the opposite in fact, as she always fiercely call these kinds of things out in her blog.   I just don't believe that "prejudicial" gives enough weight as a descriptor of his actions and motives in this case.

Then again I've always hated the word prejudice.  It's never been powerful enough for my tastes.  And when you take it to "prejudicial" it's damn near poetic sounding.  To me, being prejudiced against a person sounds almost benign.  Saying something is racist snaps your attention to focus.  There really isn't any dithering about the seriousness of that charge.

Which leads me to address one common area of conceptual conflict that I'd like to clear up right now:

Some people (usually White People) like to say that Black People are 'more racist than anybody else.   You'll hear many a troll say this during discussions of Racism.  What they actually mean is that they think Black people are anti-white, unfairly mean to and critical of white people, and that they must think they are oh so special, deserving recognition just because they are Black.

In this way, White people have cleverly defused and re-written the definition of Racism over the last couple of generations or so to mean prejudice against any racial group for any reason.  This is a way of controlling the discourse around White Supremacy, protecting it  by rendering it linguistically inarticulable.

Let me be clear.   THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A BLACK RACIST- that is to say, a black person who exists with the institutional backing to see that their own needs and preferences as a member of the Black Race are met before everyone else's.  

Because THAT is what Racism is.  It's a system of economic, cultural, and social privileging of a dominant race (WHITE people folks, helloooo) over the other designated "lesser" races.   The concept of Race was invented for the express purpose of legitimizing the exploits of European Imperialists, recasting their systematic conquest of lands and indigenous peoples around the globe as part of  the so-called natural order of things.   The Race Concept was a necessary coping mechanism, a rationalization for the morally indefensible. 

Now some 500 years later we have convinced ourselves that Race is a biological reality and that phenotypic similarities across vast ethnic groups indicate an essential truth.  Globally, we are all still struggling with the psychic impact of the White Supremacy delusion called Racism.

A POC attempting to protect himself in a racist environment by adopting racist attitudes himself and then actively using  his environment's racist institutions to distance himself from other marginalized people is entirely different than a White Person attempting to exploit marginalized people in order to uplift  himself. True.
But it's not just some de-fanged imitation of Racism Proper for a POC to publish a study that "proves" his personal belief that Black Women are the least attractive of all human beings on the planet.  It may not be Racist, if that means prejudice backed by institutional power on one's own behalf, but it's at the very least CO-RACIST

For those of you who prefer analogies with your discussions of violent social policy think of it this way:    Your army  may have somehow hoarded all the firearms while  my army  is left only with sticks to fight back with, but if  I'm always using my stick to trip my troopmate so that you can get a better shot at her (cuz.... just between you and me I couldn't stand her anyway...but shhhhh)  I may as well be fighting on your team, no?

ETA:  Please note, I will not be publishing any comments to debate or discuss the findings of Kanazawa's study, etc.  My final opinion on the subject is that it's co-racist drivel fueled by anti-black stereotypes.  If however you wish to discuss the legitimacy of  co-racism as a concept, or prejudice vs racism and the language we commonly  use to deconstruct racism, please feel free to comment here.  

Jane Laplain

Saturday, May 14, 2011

woman shame

I think there's a misconception about trans women that we don't experience body shame as women, except in the sense that we fail to "measure up" to cissexual female phenotypes.   Whatever body shame we do have, the thinking goes, surely revolves around the fact that we simply aren't "woman enough" physically and so we spend every waking moment trying to obtain that "woman enough" body. Piece by piece.

It's practically unheard of that a trans woman could feel anything other than gratitude for the ways in which she actually "meets or exceeds" expectations for what women are "supposed" to look like.

In other words, we can't possibly experience plain old misogyny, sexist oppression, and the inevitable internalized shame issues that come with having a readably feminine body.

Well, we can. 

We do.

I do.

As far as "phenotypes" go, I have a fairly curvy figure.  I'm told this has everything to do with genetics.  Or  perhaps I was young enough for my body to  respond emphatically to estrogen therapy when I first started.  Or perhaps my body just had its own plans from the start.    People think that trans women exist in a perpetual state of transition, we are somehow never quite finished "acquiring" our physical womanhood, and we're always ALWAYS trying to obtain ever more feminine features, by any means necessary.  So obviously if I have a curvy body, it must be some kind of trophy for me, right?  Some kind of collector's item on the mantle of my um...gender 'hobby.'  My body couldn't possibly be real in the way a cis woman's body is real.. I couldn't possibly suffer the same consequences a cis woman with a similar body type might?  My life inside this body couldn't possibly be a real inner life.  Right?

Trans women do tend to spend alot of time fretting about the way their bodies measure up at the start of transition.  But what girl isn't preoccupied with the way her body is beginning to change into something that will eventually mark  her, forevermore, as --"Woman"--?
Because I'm trans, most people assume I've had plastic surgery to look the way I do.  False.  The only cosmetic surgery I've ever had was the one between my legs (which, as I have written about earlier, was a cosmetic and functional failure).  The rest of me... is all me.  Yes really.

I dont say this to make myself out to be superior to anyone who has had plastic surgery.  I hate it when I hear trans women bragging about how little surgery they need to pass, etc.  It's all transphobic bullshit.   Full disclosure tho, and this is very hard for me to admit, I most certainly did once think of myself as "more real" and "better" than other trans women who had had lots of cosmetic surgery in order to pass.  My body was "mostly real" theirs was "mostly constructed."  (There's a little Janice G. Raymond in us all, it would seem?)

This was during a time when my changing body was still young and callow, tho my mind was pre0colonized with cissexist standards of femaleness; In my desperate bid for survival as a woman on these terms, living in a world that clearly wanted me to fail at being a woman, I was more than willing to apply these standards to other trans girls like myself to see how I "ranked."  When I ranked "higher" I congratulated myself (if only inwardly) and tsk tsked at the misfortune of the poor girl being compared to me.   When I ranked "lower" I blamed myself and vowed to work harder on my appearance, to "improve" my presentation, my "realness."

Admitting your own privilege and fail is.. fucking hard.  I'm ashamed of the lateral transphobic oppression of others I engaged in over my lifetime.  I apologize with everything in me.  This is a post for another day.

Back to being in my body.  My body that for over two decades  has both flattered and embarrassed me with it overt femininity.  This body that came from a long proud line of full-figured, full bosomed, full buttocked black and brown women who all at different times in their lives, have worn their bodies bravely, resentfully, deliberately, cautiously. 

I wanted what I saw as that same strength, that mettle. I was eager to join the ranks of womanhood and become indestructible in the face of certain man-caused doom.  I couldn't understand why anyone would dream of discouraging me, let alone my own mother.  I didn't understand why she seemed to resent her womanhood.    As my body changed, I was soon rewarded with a too-fullness of thighs that begged apologies from my mama's lips: "It's a shame you inherited my legs. I'm sorry."   A growing bottom heaviness that furrowed her brow: "You're getting hip-py, miss piggy... better lay off the sweets."   

I was  even prepared for the ocasional bruises on my ass from being slapped and pinched by strange men in public, just ike my Auntie Lisa had all thru her teens.  I was prepared for every woman worry I had witnessed on my mother's face, my aunties face, my grandmothers' faces as they moved guardedly thru the world in their own unmistakeably brown and feminine bodies.

I was unprepared for that silent inner world of woman shame I couldn't yet know or see. The way my own body would one day leave me feeling sexually harassed just to look at myself, because it was.. just too much with the daaaayum! and the pow! sometimes.   

I was unprepared for the relentless self-consciousness about having curves, at having a "figure" that could be commented on at all....   utterly unprepared for the way "slut" would echo in my head everytime I got dressed in a mirror and I had the gall to admire me..."slut slut slut!!  who do you think you are??"

Soon, just the fact that my breasts were the size they were and my butt the size it was made me feel ...pornographic. Like I had turned into some kind of deliberate sex object. I felt silly, like somebody would think I had listened to a Sir Mix Alot album one day and thought, hey what a great idea!   I didn't think anybody could possibly take me seriously looking like this.  Because the only thing a body like this was any good for was looking at, right?

And of course feeling confused, because in some respects, I had deliberately turned myself into an object.  Not for the sake of male attention, but because I didn't know how else to survive in a world dominated by men who seemed to have one of two reactions to me:  abject hatred or confused lust.   Since the former too often resulted in my ass getting kicked or threatened,  I felt that the latter at least gave me a little bit of a chance to protect myself.  Maybe.  But oh what a price I paid for that protection. The price of having a body that so loudly called attention to itself.  Attention I both craved, simply to know I existed, and feared, knowing what it would bring.  

But this body shame went much deeper than mere intent could take me.  It was a shame that seemed to pre-exist me altogether.  An embarrassment in my physical predicament that came to greet me instead of my own image in the mirror. After a lifetime of avoiding mirrors because I didn't like the body I saw there...  I learned to avoid mirrors... all over again.  I had acclimated to the white noise of woman shame that surrounded me.

The shame worked its way deeper in to my psyche, and I began to slowly believe I was "asking for it" just because of the way I looked.  And of course, too many men responded to my body in kind, and I let them.  The attention they paid me left me feeling both flattered and utterly mortified at the same time.

Even today I still cringe when I look down at my 38G's (by my last count) and think "Gross!"  Then I stop and scold myself, but it's too late.  Somehow I always feel like I did something wrong, like I went too far, growing boobs this big...  As if I'd had any control over how my body would turn out. 

But that really isn't the point.. the point is being made to feel bad about your body no matter what; because you're a woman, your body is but an absurd distraction from the business of being ... what?  Human?   You feel a bit chastised, like you should have picked more wisely.. a body that was more discreet, more modest, more...   gender neutral?  Whatever it is you should have done, look at you now! You should feel ashamed of yourself, young lady. 

And so you do.

So.  If you haven't gathered already, I struggle with hella body issues. Not all of them trans related, or disability related, or size related. Some of them are just  female related  believe it or not.   And sometimes it's all of the above.

For instance I have major ambivalence with my wanting and possibly needing breast reduction one day.  The part of me that is exhuasted from the shoulder, neck and back pain from dragging around this damn shelf just wants it all over with, especially since I deal with chronic pain elsewhere.  Then the  part of me that fought tooth and nail to be able to have breasts at all thinks I'm a fool and should just count my blessings.   The part of me that is of this woman-hating, transphobic world thinks that it's all my own damn fault...  that that's what I get for being a woman... Cuz if you didn't want the womanheat you should have stayed out of the kitchen.

And then there's the part of me that just longs to feel comfortable in my own body... someday.  It  wants to look like what I think of myself looking like whenever I picture me in my mind.  This part of me  is always shocked everytime I look in the mirror, because yes indeed I look nothing like I think I do.   Oh sure i no longer look like the wrong damn gender... but after all these years you'd think I'd bear more than just a passing resemblance to the woman I am in my mind... yanno?

And then there is the society that feels the need to dogpile on, just because I'm a woman, and/or just because I have this body.   Patriarchy privileges men with the freedom to dissect and evaluate my body  piece by piece, perpetually appraising its/my worth as a potential receptacle for their unsolicited interest.  It's an outrage to go from feeling trapped in my body to trapped BY my body.  An outrage to feel, after a lifetime, that even after working so hard to get as far away from the "wrong body" as possible, my body still leaves me open to endless commentary, hateful critique and even physical attack from MEN i don't know and don't care to.

Then again, such is life as a woman in a society that hates women.  Yes, I know, I am in alot of company.  Bring me a choir and I'll preach to it, Sister.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Contempt For Trans Men, Much?


This effed up article is proof of why a reframing of mainstream perspectives on transsexuality as a phenomenon is CRUCIAL for the survival of trans people as a community.

Note their cissexist framework from the jump:   the characterization of "transmen" as biological females and cis women/girls as  "typical girls" , how young CAFAB children who are vocal about not being girls are presented as potentially having a condition in which they are unable to be socialized properly, like some form of autism maybe, (Disableist!).

Note the correlation of young CAFAB trans kids apparently higher incidences of autistic traits being routed into causation for their very certainty that they are indeed not girls: 

“If such girls do believe they have a boy’s mind in a girl’s body, their higher than average number of autistic traits may also mean they hold their beliefs very strongly, and pursue them to the logical conclusion: opting for sex reassignment surgery in adulthood.”

Because, yanno something's gotta be responsible for the crazy idea that these "atypical girls" feel so sure they aren't girls.  They are just confused autistic spectrum females who find that they socialize better with boys, who tend to be less socially advanced to begin with.  That's it!!  (Way to undermine the agency of autistic spec persons too, by the way!!)

More and more I'm becoming militant about the use of Cis when referring to the dominant majority, i.e. those who feel comfortable in the way their bodies were first assigned a gender (which was based on their genitals) and agree either explicitly (yes, my genitals make me a man/woman and that's how it should be!)  or implicitly (thru lack of questioning how they were assigned) to take on the societal implications of that assignment.

Without that framework it is very hard to see the insidiousness of studies like these for what it is.  It starts with the premise that questioning one's gender assignment and/or asserting another gender identity than the one you were given at birth is somehow the result of a neurological disorder.  And that disorder doesn't necessarily point to the gendered hardwiring of the brain so much as that brain's inability to learn social roles properly.

Autistic Spectrum "Disorders" therefore might explain the problematic notion of why any assigned female would grow up to "believe" she  could be anything else but a female (as defined by her reproductive bits).

Before I learned the word cis, stuff like this article would bug me but I was stymied as to how to explain exactly why it was so fucked up.  Cis makes visible that which was invisible and unquestioned.  It also helps me see the Disableism that would otherwise have been a minor issue for me.  But no... because I can understand things thru a trans vs cis lens, I can see the use of disableism to reinforce cissexism for what it is.

I'm so grossed out that a trans woman is apparently on board with this disableist and cissexist study.  But trans people certainly aren't immune to buying into the paradigms of the dominant classes. 

Anyway.. UGH. 

It's stuff like this that also makes me realize that maybe I really must have a much stronger trans identity than I thought...  Because whenever me or my people are under attack from the medical gatekeepers like this, I come out swinging!  >:|

Saturday, May 7, 2011

You need to read this

This blog just changed my life today, I think.

This article at the wonderful Leaving Evidence, explains the concept of access intimacy .

I'm a bit shaken up because when I apply the concept to my own life, I clearly see how lacking my life is in ALL forms of intimacy, not just this one.  But access intimacy is something I've certainly experienced in many ways myself and never had a name for.  And I feel its a huge area of concern in my closest relationships today.

I am ashamed of the ways I fail to give the kind of access intimacy that author Mia describes.  I also am ashamed of even needing this kind of intimacy myself and the hard-heartedness I've come to have about ever having it in my life....  the ability to truly physically drop my guard with another human being and trust them not to harm me or shame me or make some kind of mistake that leaves me feeling ashamed in my own body on some level.  

I am ashamed to say I don't think I've ever done this in my life, not even once. Not even close.

I am ashamed of the way I've been acting out for the last 24 hours or so, because I am in so much pain, physically.  I am ashamed of the anger I feel that I should be able to say "I am in so much pain" and have that mean something in the way of "let me make it better."  I am ashamed that there is no way to make it better and there would be no point of anyone even saying that, and even if they did, I'm ashamed of the further rage I'd feel at their asking me because, alas, there is nothing anybody can do to make it go better any time soon, make the pain go away NOW, TODAY, TOMORROW, SOON, not maybe someday, not even me.

I am ashamed of the hostility I have towards anything that diverts my attention from the needs I can meet:  physical needs of having food, water, shelter.  Survival.   I am ashamed at the way I'm coming to see how completely I've invested in survival as a paradigm, rather than in  connection and sharing with others.

I am ashamed that I don't even know if I truly long for connection with others or not or if I just feel guilty for having people in my life who DO long for that and who I know can't get it from me but I continue to let them pine for the day I finally do give in... someday. 

I am ashamed.. but I know that this shame is only the first part.  It is the beginning of a journey I can choose to take so long as I push thru the shame to whatever it is I'm really afraid of feeling on the other side.

I am ashamed that as meaningful and as much of a breakthru this concept for access intimacy has already been for me.... I know that I'm probably not going to change the way I do things for a while, if at all.  If only because I don't see how.... and if it means taking a chance on doing things differently than the way I know for certain keeps me alive... I just don't take that chance.
But maybe.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Getting Real: Being Trans vs Having Trans Experiences

Lately I've been re-evaluating my concepts of "trans identity." 

I just read a post on the excellent blog Critique Of Popular Reason, about the use of trans and cis as adjectives rather than prefixes, which has sort of guilted me into cleaning up my use of the terms and being more meaningful in what I intend to convey when I use them. 

I admit I've been haphazard in writing  trans woman, transwoman, cis man, cis-man  and so on. I've always realized in the back of my mind that each way of writing trans or cis represents a slightly different understanding of the terms, but I didn't think it a big deal.  Well, I do now, so the inconsistency stops today.

Here is what I've come to realize:  As much as I talk about myself being a trans woman,  I don't honestly think of my being trans as an "identity"... so much as a description of my personal history. 

I do not experience being trans in the same way I experience being black, for instance.   For me, being black is very much an identity experience based on shared cultural experiences, shared language, and shared history having been born and raised in the United States among other black people.  I am black not just because I am readable as black, not just because I was "assigned" to be black by larger society based upon my readability as black, and not just because that is how I am expected to identify my race on government documents and other demographic tracking forms.   I am also black because my mama is black, because my family is black, because I am descended from the African Diaspora, and largely, perhaps ultimately, because I was "raised" black and because I am recognizable to other black people as black. 

I do not feel quite the same way about being trans.  For me, at least for right now, I am trans only because I was born into a society based on a truly shitty premise:  that one's reproductive organs predict and define the way in which you will experience yourself, that your genitals predict and define who and what you are, who and what you must grow up to be.  I am trans because I was born into society that refuses to acknowledge the obvious fact that for many many people there is no direct correlation between their reproductive organs and the gendered bodies and the identities in which they find their most valid form of self expression.

To put  it more simply... Society does not allow for being born with a penis and NOT feeling like that has anything to do with anything... other than having been born with a penis.  That existing with a penis between your legs does not MAKE you feel like, think like, act like or identify as male...  even when that same society makes every effort to force you to do exactly that,with its armada of rewards and punishments.  (Of course the same is true of being born with a vagina and not feeling that necessarily connected to one's being a woman). 

Following this point of view, If I am to accept being trans as my identity then I must accept an identity which is based upon society imposing upon me its definition of me, externally, an identity with seemingly no other defining criteria than this particular experience of imposition.   For me, an identity has to be based on much more than being in the same crappy boat as a lot of other people.  I could define being black that way if I wanted... but I do not experience being black that way.  For me, being black is a much fuller and more complex experience than a mere description of my racial phenotype and cultural history.   I feel the same way about being a woman, as well.  There is actually much more to my being a woman than other people's perception of me and treatment of me as a woman. Or even a black woman.  

But for being trans.. at this stage of my self-awareness journey anyways,  it feels like something that is entirely about other people's perception of me as trans, a mere description of my life trajectory  having been assigned to be one gender but I vetoed and invalidated that assignment in favor of my own contrary self-knowledge and need.

I'm sure there is a much fuller experience of trans than what I list above.  Certainly there is a unifying theme of the (apparently) uncommon drive to fly in the face of society's explicit demands for conformity in favor of one's own self-knowing.  Time and again, I have experienced firsthand  that instant bond of recognition and empathy between persons which is born of people living the same oppression.  Especially, when it comes to being trans.  I have definitely experienced community among my fellow trans people...  so why do I feel so keenly that while being trans identifies my life experiences, it is not my identity?

Is it due to internalized transphobia of some sort?   I know as I read this thru and come back to add this paragraph, what I'm saying sounds an awful lot like similar protestations I've heard:   "Being gay doesn't define meeee, I'm just someone who happens to experience homosexual attractions..."  etc.   No that is not what I mean at all, I hope.

What I think I mean is that ... so MUCH of my life, even to this day,  actually revolves around accomodating the social consequences of my being trans.... but is mere oppression enough reason to take it on as an identity?

Personally, I feel I experience MUCH more blatant oppression around my trans status than I do with race. As far as life challenges go, being trans has been many times more difficult than being black and I probably think about it way more than I do race or any other zone of marginalization I live within.   But is that due to my having a more multi-dimensional understanding of  my blackness (identity, culture)  than I do my transness (burden, stigma)?  Or is it because I am loathe to acknowledge areas of privilege in my other identities (do I not experience being black as terribly oppressive  simply because I am relatively privileged as far as my blackness goes, e.g. being light skinned, being middle-class, being from the U.S. etc...?)  and wish only to attach the grand title of "identity" to areas  in my life I feel I can be more "proud" of?

 Is it a lack of self-awareness or lack of  appreciation for the complexity and positive reward of trans experience?

I'm not sure.. but these are questions that consume me on the daily.  I am determined to sort this all out.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Throwing my hat in the ring on:

I've been following the latest story making the rounds about the trans woman who was severely beaten by two cis teenage girls at McDonald's.. 

I really ought to stay out of the commentary on this one.  For me the wounds are still raw when it comes to this particular form of violence.  I already regret my comments on one blog.. tho they may not even be approved.

But I didn't want to lose the conversation so I'll repost what I had said at Women Born Transsexual in response to the following quote:

The attack is a horrible Hate Crime. I hope the video leads to the capture and successful prosecution of the perpetrators of this horrible attack and I further hope they are sentenced to many years within the Prison Industrial Complex and get to spend the rest of their lives regretting having committed this hate crime.

And it is a hate crime on several levels. It is an anti-transsexual/transgender hate crime. There is a racist element to the attack. There is a gang element to it as well.

The “Thug Culture” promoted by so much of rap music and popular culture is almost like an indoctrination program that encourages black kids to commit violent acts that will result in long prison sentences. Pop culture aimed at the youth demographic encourages both violence and a psychopathic disregard for the well-being of others.

Here was my response:

How exactly is it that you can ascribe the actions of these two teenagers to 'hip hop' music and 'thug culture? As if just by virtue of them being black they obviously MUST have been influenced but all the “gangsta” rap music that “black” people listen to.

The only apparent and obvious motives for this attack are transphobia and cissexism. The fact that the victim is (apparently) white may or may not have influenced the attack.. but only in so much as the victim’s (apparent) trans status marked her as wide open for a beating to begin with.

Excuse me while I get graphic and very personal here:

Make no mistake…. in the very earliest days of my transition I too was attacked in public on several occasions and with varying degrees of injury. I am black by the way. And I began transition at 16-17 and wasn’t deemed “passable” until I was 20. During this period I suffered extreme levels of harassment and violence that I’m still trying to recover from to this day. And my harassers varied in age, race, and class, you name it.

The very first time I was attacked in public, I was chased out of a Denny’s at 3am by a group of 5 black men and women, all college aged. They managed to rip out a couple of dreds before I jumped in my car and drove to safety.

The second time I was attacked in a mall by a mixed group of 6 black, white and hispanic men also colleged aged. They had a disposable camera they had procured for the occasion while following me and took turns holding my arms while they posed me with in the pictures and forced me to simulate sex acts for said photos. Mall security did not intervene for 20 minutes.

The third time it happened I was pushed off of a moving metro bus by three black teenaged girls because I wouldn’t answer them as to whether I was a man, a woman or “some kind of dyke.”

In all three of the above instances, it was clear they were doing this because they thought I was a “man trying to be a woman” or because I refused to clarify my gender to their satisfaction. Transphobia. Cissexism.

In all three instances, bystanders stood by and watched it happen and even cheered my attack on.

The only constant in those three examples was the youth of my attackers and the fact that I was readable as trans to my attackers.

The racism that IS driving this Baltimore story is the racist public backlash against black youth who OBVIOUSLY must be brainwashed by all their rap music to the point that they DARE to do violence to a white person.

Nevermind the fact that cissexist infrastructures will strip even the whitest body of all its privilege when that white body can be read as trans. No, let’s look to tired stereotypes about black culture and rap music to explain this horrible event.. let’s look everywhere but society’s accountability to the hierarchy of bodies that it has created.

As you can see... this incident hits really really close for me.   I wish I hadn't descended into personal anecdote in trying to make my point.. but for me I can't seem to talk about transphobic public attacks without including my own experiences. 

I just wanted to repost my comment here at my own blog because I think the issue of how Race intersects with this incident IS an important element to discuss.  But its only being discussed as if blackness itself is at fault for the attack on this woman.  The  REAL culprit... society's cissexist brainwashing of people to defend the arbitrary boundaries of assigned gender at all costs, up to and including homicide... is mostly being ignored.

If anyone is up for a sensible conversation about racism, cissexism and THIS incident, please comment here.   I wanted to create a space for  what I already saw lacking.... 

If nobody takes me up on it that's fine too.  But as a black trans woman, I just didn't feel comfortable letting white people and cis people control the discourse on this incident unchallenged.

ETA:  The victim of the beating speaks to the media.  Apparently her use of the restroom had little to nothing to do with the incident, and indeed the employees and patrons sat and watched and did nothing to intervene.