i wanted to share this out of a few recent conversations about transmisogyny, culturally produced norms around bodies, and community accountability.
Image of a zine page that reads:
(in typewriter ink) i’ve been out for a while at this point and i’m mostly living my life how i want to, you know, except that i’m poor as hell, don’t have access to healthcare, can’t get a job in my field because of transphobic interviewers, and get harassed and attacked on the street every time i leave the house… but, you know, mostly or whatever… anyway, i had recently fallen for some trans guy. He was shy and prudish and worked all the time, so it took us a while to gte around to fucking. And i respected his boundaries and waited, but i was so ready when he was, goddamn. When his soft lips pressed against mine as he climbed on top of me, i sighed, at least partly out of relief. i hadn’t been fucked for months. i’d recently gotten out of a terrible relationship, and as much as most queer folks pretend to be down, it’s surprisingly difficult to find someone willing to fuck a trans* woman, and that’s just real. So when my then-boy was finally into it, it was a thing.But as his hand slid down my body he gently whispered, “i’ve never done this before,” by which he meant touched a cock.
(large and in marker) what the fuck?!
(in typewriter ink) This keyed into my trauma and sense of self-shit that was produced by a culture that tells me that i have a monstrous and disgusting body that noone should ever want to touch. i shrieked, cried, then crawled to the edge of my bed and huddled into a tiny ball. Seriously, why say that? Why not tell me ten minutes earlier? Why not process that shit with any fucking body else? Fuck! Now i’m curled up, triggered, hating my body, when i should be all fucking blissed out getting fucked.
i had a sense that dominant culture produced my internalized transphobic hatred of my cock and my need for surgery. But it also produced a fear of bodies with cocks in feminist and queer circles that worked to solidify my need for surgery. My people helped me hate my body. i live with that reality every day.
(page ends with a ripped scrap of paper)
Check in in a month or two and hopefully the zine will be all printed and ready to send out to folks!
with heart and teeth,
It’s been thirty days since my surgery. i’m sitting at my kitchen table. It’s the middle of the night. My partner is asleep. i’m crying; it’s not a sob, but a long steady cry. The blue lampshade reflects a clay tone off the exposed brick wall. i couldn’t sleep because i’m having phantom pains. My cock stings and shoots electric edges, yet i know that i don’t have one.
For 26 years i have wanted to alter my body, and now that i have, i am trying to find ways to make peace with it. Integration. Re-mapping cells. Knowing, not just in my brain but in my bones that i have a cunt. Knowing that even though i wanted (and did) this, i didn’t need it to be valid.
None of these things are coming easily. At least, none are coming easily in all moments. Most moments are fine, even golden, smooth sailing, but the ones that aren’t are the undertow that tears ships apart. As i gasp sharply and let out a slow, breathy exhale meant to stop my shaking, i turn to thoughts about language: the site of my not infrequent salvation-by-imagination.
How can i possibly claim my body when the phrase itself is distancing? “My body” is possessive. It belongs to me… yet somehow it is supposed to be me. Is this not incongruence? There is, to my knowledge, no phrase that is meant to reference “my body” without discursively separating me from the contours of myself as a physical object. i become merely a vapor, an idea distanced from corporeal form.
Perhaps this stems from some sort of bullshit enlightenment thinking, where men were described as being higher forms and women were more embodied (as were poor/working folks, black folks, etc.); perhaps “my body” is supposed to create a clean cleave between a spiritual self and a, somehow imperfect, physical self. Perhaps this imagined etymology is wrong. Perhaps “my body” has a totally different beginning.
Thankfully i am more concerned with its ends. This idea that i am somehow separate from my body is not only deeply troubling, it creates a discursive barrier to any new understanding of self. i yearn to perceive myself “as a body,” to feel connected to it. i want to feel “my body,” see out from “my body,” hear within “my body,” be “my body,” not own “my body.” Yet, if language constructs understanding, i can do no such thing. The closest that i can come is to understand myself as being against, or in opposition to, this dominant formation. Any other alternative is obscured by my socio-linguistic position.
My relationship to language has, in defining “my body,” trapped me from my body, or at least from any understanding of it that would be currently useful. As i try to imagine myself discussing “my body,” even if only in my mind, i stumble for lack of words.
i can awkwardly bumble about “embodiment,” which is fantastic but only allows me to discuss “my body” acting as or for. It is still not its own entity. It doesn’t have its own agency and if i am to understand myself “as a body” then i need to imagine myself with agency. i could talk about “corporeality,” but i am still left without agency in that i would be speaking of a state. The grammar is just not there.
Perhaps i throw grammar by the wayside. Perhaps i refer to my body as “body,” to my hand as “hand,” and so on. Perhaps i recognize the problem and forge ahead anyway, regardless if an alternative is yet in reach. Even if i do not perceive a possibility i must struggle toward one because to sit idly and not understand myself (there’s that “my” again) will not work. Hopefully in this struggle, this desperate reaching, i will come to terms, not just with the new contours of my physical self, but with an entire congruence between me and “my body.” Perhaps as i strike “my” from my understanding of “body,” it will somehow become mine again.
The past few months have been intense and overwhelming, full of joy and pain and growth and change, and i’ll get to all of that eventually. But right now, i’m trapped. i’m caught in a place where any action that i take will be fraught with consequences and where inaction, too is a choice with ramifications.
i’m in a place where i’m really working to make surgery happen in my life. My partner and i are pulling together money and credit card debt to make it happen. I feel excited and terrified, and countless other emotions all at once. It truly is an enormous thing. But right now,, this is not the point. i’d put up a link to a fundraiser site on my facebook and tumblr to try to pull in the last little bit needed to make this happen. i used a picture of me that i thought was cute; this was particularly important to me because of the ways in which a visible fundraiser would make me feel vulnerable.
Then, a day later, i got an email from an ex-partner that left me with a heavy handful of impossible options. They simply said, “you do not have my permission to use the photo i took of you at ______’s house for any reason including facebook and your surgery donation page. please remove it immediately.”
The room froze solid like cooling sugar; everything was crystalline hard. i experienced a deluge of emotions in an instant. First and foremost i felt pain—that deep shooting kind that kicks in through your chest and vibrates in the marrow of your bones. i shook. How could this person, whom i had loved and had loved me, be anything but happy for me as i approach this thing that i truly need?
Then i felt doubt. This form of doubt was one that’s become all too familiar. This was that insidious, slimy form of doubt that sticks to your skin and burns, rendering fat and sending smoke into a tear-filled, stinging nose. i wondered if their entitlement was right. Did they own this image of me? Did they still have control over me in some way?
After months of wondering whether each time they’d hurt me was somehow my fault, after being pushed to question my experiential reality time and again, here i was, hurting and doubting. My now partner noticed that something was wrong and asked what was happening. i couldn’t respond. i shook. i stuttered. i squealed because my body would not allow me to scream.
i waited to respond to the email. i needed time to think. i was awake all night having panic attacks, thinking about horrible moments in that relationship and remembering how controlling my ex had been. The next night i was at work and received another email i work at a shelter for youth experiencing homelessness, if that gives you an idea of the time of day that this email came. Again, it was entitled, disrespectful, presumed my lack of agency, and seemed to me to be a pathetic grab at power months after the end of our relationship.
Among the disgustingness was the phrase “using the photo without credit or consent to promote yourself is not okay with me at all,” wherein they equate raising money for a surgery with self-promotion. This reduces my complicated relationship with my body and desire to alter it to simple narcissism.
In the same email, they mobilized state/capitalist authority to attempt to wrest control by claiming the picture as their “intellectual property” and asserting that my use of the picture was “a violation of the law.” Regardless of the truth of the law (which after a bit of research seems really vague, dependent on copyrights that are not held, and tacitly in my favor because the image is of me), my nominally radical ex utilized a threat of state domination to achieve their ends.
Threatening state intervention in this email did not feel unlike the time they grabbed my arm to keep me from walking away from them when they screamed at me. In both instances they chose to employ force, or an explicit threat of force, to position me where they wanted me. The implied ownership of my image seemed to me to map onto their frequently acting as if they felt they owned me (and/or my body). In many ways it reminded me of them putting their hands up my skirt in public, even after i’d asked them not to. Their desires about my body and image became somehow more important than my own agency.
Other bits of the email focused on their needs and assertions. The most hurtful piece is that these attempts to control ignore the enormous fact that i’m having surgery in a month. i’m excited. i’m scared as hell. i’m doing a lot of meditating on what it will feel like to wake up with an altered body. i’m hoping that my community will come visit me when i can’t leave the house because i’m healing. i’m wondering what it will be like when my partner touches me for the first time. i’m a whole bunch of things besides worrying about the absurd needs of someone who is no longer in my life for a reason.
Now, rather than dealing with the reality of surgery being a month away — which after thinking it would be too expensive to ever be possible until very recently, is a huge gear shift and is taking a lot of emotional energy to render real — i have to think about how to respond to my ex, i have to quiver and shake in memory and disgust. i have to wonder what the most transformative response is; i have to respond because even doing nothing is a response.
Do i do nothing? Do i let them sit and wonder and hope they somehow transform?
Do i change the picture? Do i, again, relinquish my agency to this person’s demands?
Do i do a bunch of research, use my time for emotionally preparing for surgery, and respond simply with quotes of the law? Do i accept their implication that the state should somehow mediate our relationship?
Do i send them an email asking them if they want me to take it down because they are jealous, which seems clear because they unfriended my partner on facebook at the same time they sent the first email? Do i cater to their needs after leaving them because their needs took too much agency from me?
Do i send them a sweet email, as if they’d responded with respect or concern? Do i thank them for reaching out to congratulate me even though our relationship ended roughly, for acknowledging how hard and exciting this moment was, for the grace of their support? Do i hope that this will make them realize how they could have responded and elicit transformation?
Do i pick up my phone and call them? Do i tell them how fucking selfish it was for them to make me deal with this shit months after our breakup when they know that i’m in a difficult moment?
Or, do i recognize that other people may have had (or currently have) partners who engage in emotionally controlling behavior? Do i write a piece for them that acknowledges the real implications of our possibilities in difficult moments? Do i trace the narrow hallways of this experience and tap on the walls, so that people on the other side know that they are not alone?
After shivering and crying all night and living with an upset stomach the next day and then being affronted with another selfish email, i could feel steady air blow out my nose and echo off my top lip. i kissed my partner and smiled. i talked to my kid at the dinner table and laughed. i called one of my best friends and heard their grounding perspective on surgery. i felt the wholeness of my life, remembered that this situation was not worth sacrificing being present with all the love i have around me. i wrote this piece and thought about how to respond.
i think i respond by soaring. i choose to recognize that the spears that have been cast into the ground around me form a roofless cage that i can rise above. i will do what i need to do to not only survive my particular points of oppression, but to remain able to love fiercely and dance with joy.
i’m trying to compile information for a friend around collective responses to sexual assault and intimate partner violence. Any sort of community accountability model information would be appreciated. Please link and reblog, it’d be cool to make a grassroots collection of this stuff.
Before a spoken-word performance last weekend, also in Iowa City, a beautiful bit of magic happened. i showed up early with some of the organizers of the event to help them set up the space before the open mic portion of the evening kicked off.
When i walked into the space i was blown away. There was a triangle stage with two chalkboard walls coming together behind it. My jaw dropped. The infinite beauty of a blank, dusty, green wall screamed at me. Possibility.
The punk rock kid buried in my bones leapt to the surface. i begged the stage-hand for chalk. i checked in with the organizers and told them my vague plan (as it wasn’t fully formed until it happened). i climbed on stage, swinging a bucket of chalk and smiling.
“We’ve got blank walls,” i cooed, “and a bucket of fucking chalk!”
i wanted to obliterate the line between audience and performer before the show started. i wanted the room to create the space. i wanted everyone onstage before anyone shared words, hoping this would make the space feel more collective and open.
i asked everyone to come up and write something they wanted to change about the world on the stage left wall. Then, i asked them to choose one thing that they possess that they wanted to share with the world to affect change on that one thing. i walked around the space and handed each person a piece of chalk, inviting them to share with the group.
Slowly, and a bit awkwardly at first, people began to rise from their seats. Each person stood silently for a second by the first wall and shared their concerns and frustrations with our all-too troubling world. “Fatphobia, insecurity, isolation.” This was the wall to tear down.
As dust spread through the room, people moved to the second wall and let themselves shine from the dark stage. “Ferocity, patience, honest communication w/o fear.” This is our strength. This is our resistance.
About halfway through the process, i leaned to whisper into a friend’s ear, “This is fucking magic.”
And it was. The spirit that this quiet room brought was raucous, brilliant, fierce, and powerful. My spine tingled as i saw the bigness of the project of reshaping the world outweighed by the amazing things this room brought to the table. The rest of the night occurred in front of a democratic backdrop of love and fight.
(Picture reads: “OPENNESS, LAUGHTER, HONEST COMMUNICATION W/O FEAR, COMPASSION, FAMILY, LOVE, Consciousness, community, FEROCITY, Logical Morality, independence, GENEROSITY, understanding, CONFIDENCE, patience, Friendship, SELF DETERMINATION”)
Disclaimer: Like the title suggests, this is about violence, or rather harassment, and my reaction to it. Some of it may be a bit graphic. Do what you have to do to take care of yourself.
Last weekend i was in Iowa City doing some workshops for TransCollaborations’ Trans* week and visiting some folks i think of as family. After the events ended one evening i went to a pub with my friend and their sweetheart. We sat at a dimly lit table by a window. Despite what would follow, it was actually rather nice. We chatted about many things, learned, grew, and laughed.
But this window opened to a busy street and Iowa City on a weekend night is filled with drunken frattishness — and i am often hyper-visible even in Chicago, where there are many beautiful, visibly queer folks. Folks walked by and pounded the glass. One looked me directly in the eyes and pretended to jerk off onto the window.
i got triggered and withdrawn. i drew the curtain and slipped into the depth of my brain. My friend’s kept checking in and were amazingly supportive, but there was little to be done. Eventually, at my request, we left.
As we were walking the three blocks back to the car i watched a man (assumption) and woman (assumption), who seemed to be sweet on one another walking toward us. They were talking loudly, and the man was pushing the woman, perhaps playfully, albeit a little rough. Then the woman shouted, in a serious tone, “Just stop!”
i lost it. i yelled, something i rarely do. “Stop means stop, asshole.”
My friends shot me a fairly serious, but affirming look. They knew that i was done. Less than a block later, a group of about 8 folks started yelling at me in a way that has precipitated violence in my past. Normally, i try to meet eyes and smile, and walk past, or ignore the situation. But i was already past my limit.
i raised a single finger and glowered. i worried this might escalate the situation, but in that moment, i couldn’t give a single shit. They shouted more aggressively but, thankfully kept walking. Eventually, we made it back to the car.
My friend and i sat on their kitchen floor. Mostly, we shared silence and tea. But we processed a bit, and though i felt like bawling, only a few tears fell.
i shared with my friend that i was worried that my visibility rendered other folks unsafe. i knew that, logically, other folks violence is their own. My visibility does not justify this violence in any way. And my decision to escalate was my own, regardless of how triggered i may have been. This is on me and i’ll own that.
But, it felt as if my visibility was a threat to people i love deeply. i did not know how to reconcile this. My experiential knowledge conflicted with my logical knowledge. i still do not know how to reconcile this.
i was too busy over the weekend to take proper time to process. So, i dressed like an androgyne the next day for safety and went about my business. When i got back home and had time to sleep and to think, i knew something was not right, although i couldn’t place exactly what.
i looked in the mirror and saw what they saw. A whole mess of internalized bullshit that i’ve spent a lot of time and energy working to quash came back in a deluge. i could not see myself in the mirror. My hands and shoulders felt larger than they ever have. i wanted to scream.
i shook myself awake and dreamt of violence. i cried. i wanted to turn my skin into razorblade ribbon. Their violence became my violence. i did not know what i was.
Typically i don’t know what i am, but i am sure if this uncertainty. i faltered. i took a day off work, because i simply couldn’t go outside. i wore more clothes than the weather called for, although most of the time i do the opposite.
But, thankfully, i have so much love and support in my life. i’m consistently amazed at the beauty of my community and our capacity to hold each other’s hurt, to forgive, and to understand. i cancelled plans with a dear friend who i rarely see, and they supported that decision wholeheartedly.
The next day, i bought myself a gold sequined dress, and patterned tights. i cut my hair and painted my nails. i went out to a party with my people, and shone. Walking home with a friend, i got shouted at and honked at much more than normal. High-visibility femme faggot looks do this to me. But this time, despite my fear, i didn’t worry about who i was. It was on them again. And although i am still left with a dissonance between experience and logic, i am shaking the dust.
Some people commented on this piece on Lana Wachowski’s cultural appropriation and yellow-face. Although i haven’t seen the movie that the yellow-face claim is about (not that i don’t believe it), i absolutely agree about the white-person dreads… you know, for the record, or whatever…
In October of this year, the Human Rights Campaign awarded Lana Wachowski with their “Visibility Award.” And as problematic as that organization, or even the name of that award is, i want to interrogate the media coverage of the event. On October 24th, the Huffington Post posted an article covering the event along with a video of Lana’s acceptance speech. Adorably, this was apparently her first public speech. Unfortunately, however, the article was titled “Lana Wachowski, Transgender ‘Cloud Atlas’ Director, Reveals Painful Adolescence, Suicide Attempt.”
Suicide doesn’t even get mentioned by Lana until the end of minute 22 in the video. Not only is it not the thrust of her narrative, this minor point also overshadows some really brilliant bits of perspective. She quips about the gender binary is “not comfortable,” and her “responsibility” to her community. She talks about “loving anonymity” as an artist, which is fairly profound and unique. She has interesting thoughts on the performativity of gender and visibility that are informed by her stellar work on identity. She talks about the materiality of language. And one of my favorite quotes, “The nature of our immortal lives is in the consequence of our words and deeds. The fundaments upon all our knowledge and learning rests is the inexplicable.” Goddamnit, why is the focus suicide here?
She’s no longer allowed to be the pseudo-mysterious, intelligent paint brush behind acclaimed films, no, now she’s relegated to the one parcel of her story that is already embedded into public consciousness. We, as society, do not have a template for fierce, brilliant, beautiful, successful, poignant trans* women, but we do know how to map depression and needing to be fixed onto the image of trans* people. The Huffington Post not only did a disservice to Lana’s story, they did a disservice to all trans* folks be reifying the link to this narrative. By singling out the one aspect of her story that has been heard before and ignoring all the beautiful variance within, they take part in minimizing trans* experience down to a narrow and pathetic stereotype. We’re cast as needing to be fixed and lifted up. i think we can do better.
For whatever reason, my queerness has elicited a more-than-fair amount of violence from strangers. Whether this was physical violence or verbal violence, i’ve had a lot of opportunities to learn how to assess and react. Still, i have no good answer, no perfect go-to response.
When i was younger i was not yet the pacifist that i have become, i was ready to meet fist with spit and blood, to challenge disrespect in kind. i wanted to rain fire and toss lightning. i would not let the violence of the world go unchallenged, even if that challenge was a raspy beaten voice whispering to tear down mountains.
Every time that it seemed that this strategy was more trouble than it was worth, i reminded myself that at least the next time my attacker might think twice. It was an “i might have gotten thrown in a trashcan, but you get to explain that black eye” sort of situation. i wanted them to know that some faggots fight back.
It turned out, that it was more trouble. There’s not a horror story here, no time when i fought back and paid a heavy price. In fact, the heaviest prices were paid when i was too scared to react at all. But all that combat builds up in boots. The soles of my shoes got heavier the more i walked in them. Teeth make shit-kickers harder to bare.
Later than sooner, after knocking one arrow too many, my muscles gave out. They stretched too hard and snapped. After so much violence and uncontrollable bouts of trauma responses, i needed to try a different approach. i needed to deescalate.
But deciding is easier than doing. Every day i was still met with conflict, leaving me without the only strategy i had to deal with it. Experimentation became necessary. i exercised my radical imagination and tried on different techniques.
Eventually, “Are you a man or a woman?” no longer got the angry, “Why does it matter? Fuck you.” It simply got a smile and a “both.” But even that often left me reeling, and a couple of times running. Others’ insecurities didn’t vanish, and their responses to their insecurities didn’t get less fearful and angry.
Mantras developed. Self-care rose. Still, i occasionally fell back into old patterns. A few months ago, someone on the street said something rude about my body while i was walking with my partner. i turned, snapped, threw up a long middle finger with a glamour flash nail. My eyes turned red. i shouted. The man shouted back.
Adrenaline rushed through a broken dam and light up my entire being. i felt a surge of electric power. No shit was taken. But, like all surges, it died down and left me with the reality of the moment.
i’d escalated the violence of the situation. i’d shut this person down to understanding why what they said was hurtful. All of my anger didn’t wash away an ounce of my pain. This moment solidified my commitment to alternative response.
A few weeks after that incident i facilitated a gender conscious performance workshop for this lovely group here in Chicago called Barrel of Monkeys. We did an exercise that was loosely based on the Theater of the Oppressed, during which participants improv’ed scenes of oppression and tried to shift strategies to stem the oppression that was happening.
One of the scenes we did was of a young person getting harassed by fellow students in a really gross homophobic way. Participants first tried coming in and directly engaging with the harassers, but it was to no avail. They only got emboldened by these attempts.
Later, someone came in and said nothing. She simply stood by the person being harassed. At first, this didn’t work. But then, she did something radical, she moved herself between harasser and harassed. The oppression almost instantly stopped. Their access to their victim was cut off. They no longer got any reward for their behavior.
Obviously this scene is not the same as the types of instances i raised earlier, but i was reminded that de-escalation was far more functional of a response. i was reminded that cutting off access was key. Since then, i’ve been able to simply ignore, to keep on walking.
In those moments of hardship i knew that my existence was beautiful and that my being was resistant, and that most of the time that was enough. It took me ten years to learn this lesson, but the ten minutes in which i saw it play out in that workshop were truly revolutionary. It solidified both my commitment and my capacity to walk with peace.