Break The Cycle

On the long list of “things I probably would have gotten done if I’d had my shit together in my college years”, I came up three credits short of both Linguistics and German minors. It was equal parts poor planning, not wanting to read The Metamorphosis again irrelevant of what language it was in, and, like I said, not having my shit together. Still, I did take quite a few classes and learn much about the structure of language and the act of speaking another language even if my German is terrible (as wonderful as Latin is, it’s not great for that). Some might say the ability to truly grasp another language comes when you are able to think in it. I get that argument, but I’m not sure I agree with it. Language is like learning any other skill. It’s repetition. It’s rote responses. I say danke, you say bitte. It’s not being able to think in it, it’s not having to think about speaking it. After all, it’s rare when I stop when speaking English unless I’m searching for the precise word, phrase, or memory. Hopefully I think about what I say, but I don’t really think about what I say if that distinction makes sense. I just say it.

Yet we all spend a lot of time learning rules we already know. Some of this has to do with writing, an inherently different act than speaking. Some of this has to do with the fact the English I speak is not the same as the English you speak and what we learn in school or at work is a standard dialect. Where I say y’all frequently in casual settings, I’d never write a work email with it. It wouldn’t be appropriate. It’s debatable what is and isn’t appropriate. Literally, to use a contentious example. That gets back to the difference between descriptive (looking at how we actually do it) versus prescriptive (telling people the right way to do it, though right can change over time) linguistics. Even with our native tongues, we all need occasional reminders when using the standard dialect (Standard American English if you live in the US like me) because none of us speak the standard dialect as our true native tongue. Further still, just because we know the rules does not mean we can describe them. You know what a gerund is, and you know how to use it properly, even if you don’t consciously know what a gerund is.

Gender operates under strikingly similar parameters. We unconsciously learn how to perform gender, and it’s definitely something we learn. We definitely get prescriptive reminders, but there are tacit reminders everywhere. One of the greatest aspects of being trans is it forces you to interrogate your relationship with gender. Much of what I found challenging the first couple years was rewriting a lot of those unconscious actions and ways of thinking. I may have always been female, but I definitely grew up learning what it meant to be a boy and to be expected to be a man in our society even as I struggled with that dissonance. I had to learn what it meant to be a woman in a much less superficial way than what I had picked up over the years. After seven years, it’s unconscious. I think about how I perform gender, but I don’t really think about it. I still spend much more time interrogating my relationship with gender than some might by virtue of the fact that I’m constantly reminded of it. But that’s okay. I try to consciously perform gender by doing the aspects that matter to me and challenging the bullshit that comes up along the way and hopefully that unconsciously manifests itself in how I live my life.

What would be great to see is more people thinking about gender in this manner. Or more to the point, more people thinking about gender as something we perform, something we do. After all, if it’s natural for a man or woman to act certain ways, why do men and women raised in different societies perform gender differently?  Or have wildly divergent expectations of what it means to be a man or woman? Those might be general concepts, but many societies have come up with multifarious ways to express what being a man or woman, or perhaps being something else that does not fit either of those, means. It’s a cop out to say that gender is something that’s innate. Like a first language, we pick it up quickly and unconsciously learn it from everything around us. But children have to learn at some point. We aren’t inherently born with gender or language. We learn from previous generations and pass it on as teachers. It’s a cycle.

So what can we do to help break that cycle as it relates to gender? Why do adults freak out when they learn that trans children are at schools when you rarely see complaints from the students themselves in these stories? Is it because the parents are shielding the students? It’s not uncommon to see someone saying “my child told me about it and felt uncomfortable”, but why do we never hear from those children? I don’t think that’s a coincidence. I think the students start to learn to condemn trans identities when they see the adult condemn trans identities. There’s nothing innate about hating someone for being trans. Trans identities aren’t something to be condemned. But that’s not what most people learn. That’s why it’s always sad to see another school district pass rules discriminating against trans people on flimsy criteria based on their own fears and ignorance. Because that’s where children learn that from. And they become the adults that enforce and teach those rules in the future.

That’s why it’s important for cis people to interrogate their relationship with gender as well. Plenty do. It is one way of looking at feminism, after all. But if your feminism excludes trans realities, it’s no feminism at all. Not that I think all people seek to exclude trans realities necessarily; they just haven’t interrogated the systemic way we learn transphobia in our society. I don’t honestly think a lot of people I interact with try to be transphobic. If I’m the first person openly trans person they’ve met, then it’s possibly the first time they’ve been forced to interrogate those unconscious, learned behaviors and ideas. But if only 9% or so (at least last time I looked, that was the number being bandied about) of people consciously know a trans person, what about the other 91%? What’s their reason to learn? What’s their impetus? I refuse to believe that people can’t learn to treat trans people with respect and dignity as people since they have to learn otherwise. I refuse to believe that we can’t get to a world where trans people aren’t demonized, or called unnatural, or at least we can’t get to a world where viewing trans people in that manner isn’t rightly condemned as something naïve, ridiculous, and unfounded. I doubt that it will happen in my lifetime not because I am pessimistic but because this isn’t the kind of work that takes a lifetime. It’s the kind of work that takes lifetimes. It’s the kind of work we all need to do. Gender may be something we unconsciously learn, but it’s something we all need to consciously challenge. And it’s something we all benefit from. Other peoples’ genders need to be something we unconsciously respect, not something we consciously police. It gonna take time. So let’s get going.

I’m Not Most People

Though it doesn’t come up much outside of work, I know a thing or two about fraud. While I don’t directly deal with it in my day-to-day at present, I spent four years investigating potential mortgage fraud, and along the way, I collected my Certified Fraud Examiner credential. Merriam-Webster defines it something like this:

1 a : deceit, trickery; specifically : intentional perversion of truth in order to induce another to part with something of value or to surrender a legal right
b : an act of deceiving or misrepresenting : trick
2 a : a person who is not what he or she pretends to be : impostor; also : one who defrauds : cheat
b : one that is not what it seems or is represented to be

Professionally speaking, I spend most of my time dealing with the first definition. Manipulated documents, falsified employment, that sort of thing. In my personal life, I spend most of my time being accused of the second definition.

A lot of people position trans individuals as the other, ersatz, somehow fraudulent. Sometimes it’s malicious, but it don’t believe that to be the case with most of the people I interact with regularly. It’s just how we try to organize the world we move through. There’s a lot to be said in terms of how we unconsciously think of anyone who is positioned against society’s norms (which itself is a construct). We all do it in a variety of ways. I’m sure you can think of a few. That’s a structural element that lurks behind any form of discrimination. I’m no expert, by any means, I’m just trying to live my life in a more conscious manner in that regard, to catch myself when I do it. Because it’s difficult to try and make things better if we don’t interrogate what we position as normal, whatever normal means.

To take a recent example, the latest spin on bathroom bills are these bounty bills that have come across in Texas, Florida, and Kentucky. Media Matters put together a piece that can largely remain unchanged even though it’s a year old. There’s just no evidence allowing trans individuals to use bathrooms makes them unsafe for cis people, as various efforts claim over and over. But these bills are still driven by playing on underlying fears of who exactly trans people are. They position trans women as rapists, perverts, and all manner of nefarious individuals who are out to do everything other than what anyone who’s going to the bathroom does: go to the bathroom. They largely ignore trans men and non-binary individuals, a different problem and one that some trans men have been able to exploit to turn the tables on the “protecting women and children” line of logic.

The Florida bill made its second pass with some updates; basically, if you have identification that corresponds to your gender, you’re okay. So if I were in Florida, I’d be fine. Or at least I’d have the identification to prove it. While I’m pretty comfortable with who I am, I’m certainly not the most passable trans woman to walk this earth, and there’s not much that’s going to change that. So I imagine that I’d have to pull out that ID pretty often in a system like that. And in a system like that I imagine I’d still run into trouble. I’m not a big fan of having to show papers to go to the bathroom.

I know on the surface it seems reasonable to most people to require ID. Not that it is, but that you can make a seemingly logical argument. This is essentially the same argument made when requiring ID to allow people to vote under the auspices of voter fraud (another thing that just doesn’t happen). But I still don’t have a California driver’s license because I have to jump through a few more hoops to get that done and have it show female like my Minnesota license does. And for that privilege, it’s going to cost me another $500 or so. Which most people don’t have to contemplate when they go to get their licenses. That’s a reality for trans folks though. There are less costly options. I am fortunate that I am able to change my birth certificate. But I still have to pay for it. I still need to get a court order and send everything to the Commonwealth of Virginia and wait however long it takes. I still need to do something a lot of people will never have to do that they don’t really understand the punitive costs of. All of which helps me realize there are probably more people like me in different regards who have different punitive measures they have to meet for identification to placate the whims of a normative society. Trans people have to pay a bunch of money to get stuff like that changed, if they even can, and most of the rules are based on genitalia for no good reason. Because as a society we put a lot on what one doctor said one time instead of years of personal agency, and our laws reflect that. For most people those two things align and it’s never an issue. I’m not most people.

So how can you help? Stop perpetuating the unsubstantiated belief that trans people are deceitful or fraudulent. That’d be a great start. Interrogate how you might position them differently than cis people. Hell, just listening to trans people with an open mind when they talk about their experiences is a radical action. It shouldn’t be. But it is. It really is a radical action to believe other peoples’ experiences and take what they say to heart. That goes well beyond trans folk, of course. Learning to extend that belief to all marginalized people is a big thing. White guys if you think I’m picking on you, get over it. Everyone pretty much already believes what you say and you have all sorts of platforms to say it. Laws like these rely on common beliefs that people don’t interrogate. Proposing laws like that, that’s a step backwards. There are already enough hurdles for trans folk in our society; why make new ones? Because it doesn’t affect you? Because you’re afraid? How do you think I feel when I go a lot of places?

Listening to someone does not mean you agree with them, I’m not saying it automatically should. Personally, though, I don’t see this as a complex issue. If someone says she’s a woman, she’s a woman. Same goes for men, or people who don’t comfortably identify as either in our binary system. I don’t need paperwork or test results. That’s obviously not where a lot of people are. Thing is, I don’t think paperwork is going to make the people who try to make laws like this believe I’m a woman. They don’t want to accept that, irrelevant of what paperwork I have or what my experiences are. That’s why I see laws like this as mendacious. I don’t think they are ignorant of how difficult it is for many trans individuals to update their identification. I think they know exactly how hard it is. I see efforts like this as just another example of laws designed to legislate me out of existence. That’s my viewpoint. That’s what I’d like you to see.

The nice thing about mortgage fraud is that with the right evidence, it’s provable. If you inflate the balance of a bank statement, all it takes is a copy of the real statement to prove it. So many people want the right evidence when it comes to trans people. Trust me, people I’ve never wanted to share details of my life with have them because of the hoops I had to jump through to update all my documentation. And that’s coming from a rather loquacious trans woman regarding her experiences. That so many individuals and institutions have differing requirements for updating things like names and gender shows just how fuzzy our concept of proving it is. Which should illustrate why this is ridiculous. You can’t just provide a HUD-1 with the right numbers. And there’s no equivalent. Gender is a construct. We all experience it in a different manner. Being true to my gender is the greatest thing I’ve ever done, but it really did nothing to make my life easier. Because so many people want me to prove who I am. I just want you to believe me.

Reset

I didn’t intend to take a break from writing. In fact, I wrote a couple things, but I was having some issues connecting to the internet with my laptop at home and didn’t bother to solve it for a month, so they didn’t go anywhere. Perhaps I unconsciously decided a break was in order. Besides, it’s not like I haven’t kept myself busy, between Noise Pop and an impromptu Minnesota trip on top of trying to keep up a good exercise routine, working, etc. I certainly wasn’t sitting on my sofa thinking what should I be doing right now? There’s always something to do right now. Sometimes it’s catching the sunrise. Sometimes it’s getting out for a few miles. Sometimes it’s catching up on The Americans. Sometimes it’s just sitting on my couch spinning Cinema, Red, and Blue.

Lately, though, the room I’ve spent a lot of time in is my kitchen. While it wasn’t an explicit goal of going vegan, it has forced me try to figure out how to make the things I want to eat since they are not as easily available. That, coupled with a few timely gifts in the form of cookbooks, provided all the motivation I’ve needed to find out what works now. Not that I was much of a cook before. Perhaps it’s better that way. I think that frequently in other contexts as well. It’s hard to be disappointed with my performance when I run because I have no body of experience as a runner until the last couple years, so I have no body of performance where I had a lot of testosterone to help drive my performance. While I’m occasionally curious about how fast I could have run if I’d had the discipline I possess now when I was in my early twenties, I just don’t have that data. Then again, that kind of thinking can be self-fulfilling; I try to avoid dwelling on it too much either way. But my mind has been returning to lots of thoughts like that in recent times.

Cooking is a lot like running for me in that my mind wanders during the act, but not too freely. And in those moments, it begins to turn down different paths than the ones I’ve been on. I have something right in front of me that requires attention. It’s not really heavy lifting, though it’s obviously not as simple as one foot in front of the other, it’s still basic things when I’m in the kitchen. Chop this, measure that, mix them together, time this out. To some degree, it’s a bit of mental busy work along with the physical activity, something to clear my head because I cannot exert too much energy toward my thoughts lest I end up with burning the garlic or I miss a step and roll my ankle. And when I’m done, I find I am frequently someplace else mentally. While there’s certainly a degree of importance to thinking things through, I hope I never return to being the kind of person that dwells on things like I used to when I was younger. Perhaps you can function like that, there are, after all, different ways of living, but I cannot. Because when I get too focused in, it starts acting like feedback, and that’s not good for me. It’s that kind of thinking that paralyzed me for so long coming out, as I was too focused on trying to figure out how everything would go and not focused in enough on doing it. In a way, these activities such as running and cooking act as breakers. When it gets too much, they can help reset my mind, forcing me to spend energy on the task at hand instead of the perfect thing I should have said when someone misgendered me on BART for no reason. Because it can be easy to dwell on those sorts of things.

Whether it’s acknowledging and pondering that I sometimes feel I’m too trans for most cis people and not trans enough for most trans people as I try to figure out where I fit in or just dealing with the weight of trying to be a conscious and good citizen of San Francisco or trying to figure out all the ways I can help further support the music I love even though the world just seems to be swallowing up venues and musicians or dealing with the realities of just trying to get through each day, I have no shortage of things to think about. No doubt you can say the same, though what we ponder most likely differs. Sometimes writing serves as a way to get the thoughts out, as if I’m excising them via the written word. It’s one of the reasons I always end up back in front of a computer hammering at the keys. A few years ago, it might have been the set of keys on my piano as well. The problems will never go away, in as much as I’m always working on something. I choose to look at that as a sign that I am (hopefully) always growing and challenging myself to be better. Recently I’ve channeled the energy to be better into how I take care of myself, and perhaps the reset buttons I reach for are a reflection of that right now. Sometimes the reset button means stepping away from the keyboard. Sometimes it means stepping back.

If I’m Being Honest

Lately I’ve been baking a lot. Perhaps you’ve noticed. While there are plenty of places with vegan items here, there are not just great vegan bakeries at every corner in San Francisco, irrelevant of what you may believe about the city. While Arizmendi is always guaranteed to have a muffin or two as well as many great breads and focaccia and Hayes Valley Bakeworks has a great muffin and a Mexican Chocolate Snickerdoodle that you should try whether you’re vegan or not, I can’t just walk down to Cinderella and grab a blueberry brioche like I used to. I am aware of the ramifications of my decision to go vegan. I’m not complaining. Just observing. Besides, even if you have no dietary restrictions (medical or self-imposed as in my case), there are still too many places in the city to try, and chances are you have found your rhythm, the places you go to, and the things you enjoy. I have been in the process of rewriting that memory, and I find that it’s just not as easy to find a good cinnamon roll as it was before. Which has meant a lot more time in my kitchen. The results have been rewarding. It’s been figuring out how to put together many of the foods I enjoy. In addition, it’s a great distraction. I can’t afford to divert my attention lest I screw up what I’ve just put fair amount of time and money into.

But if I’m being honest, I’m looking for the distraction just as much. When I’m out on a run, at a show, catching a drink with a friend, or baking, I don’t spend too much time looking inward. Even when I do things alone. Even when I spend a lot of time thinking. I don’t know if it’s the stimuli around me, but it doesn’t really matter. When I get out of my apartment, or when I find something here that totally engages me like baking, I just don’t spend much time in my head. And I don’t really want to right now. At least in the past couple weeks, I’ve had a rough go of it. I know I can’t push myself all the time. The bike-work-bike-run-cook-bike-show-bike-sleep days sure do pass the time, but I just can’t do that to myself every single day. There is value in doing nothing at times, or at least setting aside time where life isn’t non-stop. But on those days, I don’t have time to spend too much time looking inward.

Why has that been such an issue recently? I have had a hard time figuring that out. Is it because, when I take a hard look at myself, I don’t feel like I’m doing enough in ways that matter more? That’s certainly there. But how am I measuring that impact? Perhaps a better way of stating that is to say I don’t feel like I am doing enough to make things better for other people. Which I do think is something I can put more energy toward. I have spent a lot of time making decisions and changing habits to improve my life, or at least making decisions that have had a positive impact on me in terms of taking care of myself. What am I really doing for the people around me, though? Do I just need something more tangible that I can see the results of? Like I said, I think there is some merit there. I could be doing more in that regard. Or I could at least be spending some of my energy on more focused items, volunteering at a shelter or for a phone line or a bike valet or something that I can point to and say, this is what I’m doing. There are plenty of things that I’m passionate about and yet for the most part, I tacitly support them. Or at least I passively support them at best. Perhaps, as it is for me when I am out doing something, it would be better for me to be active.

That is something I’d like to do better. But I don’t think that’s all of it. I think it’s just the weight of being trans in our society. I just spend so much energy dealing with everything that goes along with that. I may not have to jump through the hoops of gatekeepers at doctor’s offices anymore, but every bigot out there acts like a gatekeeper. Whether it’s constantly being called sir whenever I make a work phone call to being accosted in a bathroom to trying to be a resource for people even when I should probably say I don’t have the energy to engage this right now, I feel like am always on. That feeling never goes away. When I’m out on a run, when I’m at that show, I get the feeling that I’m frequently being read as male. Not because I’m cynical (well, I am, but that is neither here nor there in this case), but because I have a large body of work to prove that point. I have people staring at me when I come out of bathroom stalls, I have artists misgender me when I go to buy their record (let me tell you, not a fun experience), I have people say let the man go through to me when I’m on the trails of the city. Transphobia is so systemic that it doesn’t matter where you live. There’s no good place to be trans in a world full of transphobes. Maybe there are a few less of them here; maybe the laws are better. But that doesn’t mean it’s a good place to be trans. We have a long way to go before anywhere is a good place for trans people to live. I am cognizant that circumstances for me are better than they are for a lot of trans people. But we can do better. We have to do better. And to that end, there are certainly things I can do better.

Perhaps it’s just the totality. These are the thoughts I live with constantly. I am either trying to figure out how to do more because I am one of the lucky ones and I feel I should do more or I am living with the reality that if I’m one of the lucky ones, the world is still a pretty shitty place. Usually I’m struggling with the push and pull of those two poles. There’s always going to be something though. It took me a lot of time to come to terms with who I am. But that’s not a neat story with clean act breaks. Even when I finally came out, I still had to work for years on many issues. I am always a work in progress. I’m finally at a point where I’m comfortable with my self-image. Part of that was changing the things I could; the other part was learning to accept there are a few things that I can’t change, or at least that I can’t change directly. And that those things might not even be bad, just that I was socialized to think they are bad. Whereas six years ago I might have wondered what I could have done better to make that person not utter something gross or transphobic, now I am more confident; I don’t have to do better for anyone else. I don’t have to look a certain way to please other people. I have to look like myself. That is a way I can do better, by being me in a society that definitely does not really want me to be myself. Confident in that knowledge, though, how do I affect change? How do I make things better going forward? Just carrying that attitude certainly helps, but what more can I do? That took me years, and it didn’t magically happen. And while all that’s going on, I still struggle to deal with fear for my safety, with the loneliness, with lack of what I feel is true acceptance by even those closest to me. I don’t let those factors rule my life anymore, but I’d be a fool to ignore that they are always there and they are always something I have to engage. I get why a lot of trans folk have a hard time. There’s so much to unlearn, so much to always be aware of. It’s fucking hard.

There are some things I can’t just explain away, but some things do not require explanations. I can’t think up an answer to how I feel; this is just how I feel right now. And that’s okay. If I don’t want to spend too much time dwelling, if I don’t think that it’s doing me any good to spend too much time in my head, Minimalist Baker is just a couple clicks away, and then I’m figuring out how exactly to tweak that chocolate cake, what consistency I want out of my frosting, and sometimes I need that. Even if trans issues are always on the periphery, they can’t always be directly on my mind. They can just be too consuming, too draining to think about constantly. Perhaps I wouldn’t have to spend so much energy on them if they were on more peoples’ minds a bit more. That, however, is much more of process. There’s no simple recipe to making a better society. It’s dirty, it’s messy. The results are unpredictable at best. Though I guess the same could be said of baking much of the time.

A funny thing happened when I spent a little more time baking. I found I liked it. And that I’m actually pretty good at it. Much like I am really quite a bit better at being myself as opposed to who people think I should be. There’s always a reward in finding those things you are good at that you may have previously not known about yourself. I’d rather focus on that thought than on not focusing on anything at all. But that’s not always where I’m at. Right now, I also need the escape my kitchen provides most of the time. I am a trans woman before pretty much everything else most of the time. That is the first thing about me, even in my own mind. I’m not ashamed of who I am, but I wish it were a matter-of-fact statement, not something so obviously loaded in the minds of many. Besides, I’d rather be known not as a series of descriptors of who I am but rather what I’ve accomplished. Perhaps in the future I will be truly good at baking, perhaps I’ll have a shop of my own some day. I don’t want to be the trans woman who happens to be a good baker any more than I want to be known as the baker who happens to be a trans woman. If I’m being honest, I’d much rather just be known as a baker.

Fractions

Tomorrow is my 34th birthday. Other than it being my birthday, it is not particularly notable nor should it be. It’s just another day to most, and just another year to me. That isn’t to say I won’t enjoy myself or it will be a bad birthday it’s just to say there’s nothing too exciting about many of them after a certain point. I can already drink, and I already have lower car insurance. Other than the reflection that we’ve taken the world for another spin and hopefully things have worked out along the way and a good excuse to pull some friends together, it’s just another day.

If anything, I reflect and realize that it’s gonna be my seventh birthday where I’ve truly felt like and been myself. I never really foresaw this point in my mid-twenties when I was still struggling to find what I needed to come out, when we drank too many snifters at The Red Dragon and stumbled home most birthdays. They weren’t grand affairs. As if you can get people out during January in Minnesota. I always thought this would be the year I’d get my shit together, and finally find the strength I needed to come out as transgender and move forward with a more-realized life than the one I was living as we meandered back to that place on Franklin or Humboldt or Aldrich depending in the year. Back then, it seemed the only thing that was changing in my life was my address. So to think about those days years ago sometimes is a little strange. It feels like another lifetime ago. In a way it was. Though I don’t think that’s a province exclusive to trans people; I would say most of us were different people 10 years ago because that’s a long time and we are all always changing, even if we can’t rightly see it happening to ourselves sometimes. But the risks of transition are something I cannot rightly explain to you if you haven’t experienced them. So it is perhaps hard to understand the fears I had and what held me back so long. Obviously, I figured that out. But that really isn’t the point I am trying to make. The point is, it is easy to look back and say we were different people because we all were, but when you are trans, that difference can definitely end up looking and feeling quite tangible. That’s reinforced both internally and externally. Me? I don’t mind the reminders; it’s just sometimes odd to to reconcile who I was then with who I am now, because we’re the same person, and yet so obviously we are not.

I have spent a fifth of my life being who I always wanted to be, who I always have been, though I didn’t have the tools or skills or support to express to act on that for so long. And every year that fraction is going to get a little bigger. But it will only ever be a fraction. It can only ever be a fraction. It while never be whole. And while some days it frustrates me, most days it’s just a truth to acknowledge. Moreover it’s just part of what makes me fundamentally who I am. It’s a tautology of course, but there’s no sense in dwelling on what life would have been like had I managed to come out at a different age. I cannot change that fraction in any way other than going forward. What I can change is to hopefully make that fraction bigger for others by helping to create that more supportive world in whatever ways I can. Or to help other trans individuals get that fraction started at all because it just takes some of us longer to get there. It’s so obvious we need it. Whatever my remainder of days may be, that is always there, always a driving force. We will always be fractions in a world that hard-codes ideas of sex and gender before we are even out of the womb. But no fraction is insignificant.

Conquistadors

Sometimes I write poetry. I used to do it a lot. Here’s to being that person again, if only for a little while.

Conquistadors

“I want to explore,”
like I am America,
newly discovered, foreign, exotic,
waiting to be mapped, something other
than what you have always known,
a new world, a new experience.
Like a conquistador, you seek to plunder,
to lay claim that which existed
long before you knew it was there.
I fear you
or someone like you
will come someday in force
to take what you believe you’re owed,
to demand obeisance or
to put me to the sword.
How many others have there been before me?
More than I will ever know.
I shudder and press delete.

Let The Man Go Through

I am used to running around tourists. It’s one of the perils and privileges of living easy running distance from the Golden Gate Bridge, Golden Gate Park, the Presidio, and all the other wonderful things that make San Francisco the city it is. And I don’t blame anyone. When I moved here, I wondered if I would ever get used to all of it; now I wonder how you ever could. So I get why people clog the Coastal Trail on a holiday weekend, visiting or back with their families. Honestly, it’s great to see so many people out, using all these wonderful parks and trails, seeing the sights, and just generally enjoying the beauty of a pretty wonderful place on what was a crisp, but excellent day to appreciate it all.

What I don’t get is how unmindful people can be. They close a stretch of road in the park every Sunday so it’s an open street for biking, running, walking, skating, whatever. But there are people out there every weekend that don’t pay a bit of attention to the space they are moving through. They have no awareness that someone might be trying to bike by as they aimlessly weave or run past as they casually walk four abreast on a path that barely holds three. I see a lot of surprised looks whenever I run by, like its unusual that anyone else would be using that path even though seemingly everyone is out using the path. Normally I can circumnavigate with minimal fanfare. There is enough space in most places in the park that I can easily go around (though it is frequently me and other runners I see sidestepping pedestrians, not the other way around). And while I wish it weren’t like that, I still don’t have to say much, which I like. I enjoy being out there by myself in those situations, even if I am surrounded by people. Unfortunately, I hit some trails that were a bit more congested by the ocean, and I did this all around sunset which made for a busier time than I normally experience on, say, a weekday night, a more regular running time for me.

When I run I don’t normally interact with people, much more than an “excuse me” or an “on your left”. That couldn’t be helped today, though, not with how busy it was out there. Not having to substantively interact with people is one of the aspects I love most. Because every interaction with someone is just another opportunity for someone to say something like “let the man go through”, as someone did on my last run. And look, I get it, I asked Santa for boobs again this year and he still didn’t bring them. Maybe next year. More seriously, most of my workout stuff is fairly gender neutral, even if it’s all women’s clothes. I am not working out to show off my body, I wear things that are comfortable. Which for me is looser, longer stuff. While it’s cut a touch different, most of it you’d probably find just as easily in the mens’ section. But that does not mean that I am gender neutral. I am still a woman. I would like to think there are plenty of aspects of me that showcase that fact, thank you very much. Of course, I run into issues like this all the time, not just on the trails. I had a cashier call me me sir the other day and then say it was hard to tell because I was wearing a toque when I corrected her. Because obviously you never see a woman in a winter hat. People are quick to look for sources of blame and not so quick to just honestly say “I am sorry, I fucked up.” Not that I gave the person on the trail had the opportunity; I wasn’t about to stop in the middle of my run and have this conversation. And even if I did stop, it’s rarely a conversation. More of a one-sided statement to be honest. People are so rare to trust me about my gender, if their continued behavior after I call them out is any indication in many cases. I am not surprised if, as soon as I am out of earshot, they go back to misgendering me or they do so later when they are recounting stories of that annoying customer who just insisted she’s a woman.

It didn’t really bother me though. I know this seems like a lot of words for something that didn’t bother me, but it just got the wheels spinning halfway through a long run more than anything. Obviously it’s frustrating to live in a world where these kinds of disrespectful acts occur on a daily basis. And it’s shitty to say I’ve learned to live with it. But I have. I simply do not have the energy to fight every slight and slur. And many of the people who do say these sorts of things aren’t worth it. I respect the people who seem to always have that energy to always fight, but I don’t know how they do it. Just in the sense that I do not know where that wellspring of energy comes from. Yes, in an ideal world I’d always challenge people who misgender me. Fuck, if we’re wishing for an ideal world, trans folk wouldn’t go around being misgendered on a daily basis. But that world is a ways away, it seems. I’d at least like to see a world where one of the children turned to their parent after they said “let the man go through” and said “she’s not a man”. I don’t think that’s too much to ask of the person behind me in line at Target to say “Why’d you call her sir?”. That to me would be some tangible progress that I haven’t seen much of in the past seven years. No matter where I go there are always people. I have no real control over how they address me, but it sure would be great if I wasn’t the only one who said something every time. If I say anything at all. It’d be nice not to worry about whether I have the energy. We all need a hand sometimes. Who I am does matter independent of all of this. I am not looking for validation from other people. Just respect. I know I am a woman just as much as all those people don’t seem to. And nothing anyone else says changes that. All I’m asking for is a little mindfulness. Step aside when someone is running down the narrow path and you are walking two abreast. And if you don’t know what to say, you don’t have to say anything. I’d just appreciate if you’d let me through.

Never Content

Objectively speaking I have a hard time thinking of when things were going better. I take better care of myself. I have much better habits in terms of the little things, what I eat, taking my medication regularly, exercising. I have the facility to do what I want to a great degree. I have a job that pays me well that I actually do like that challenges me that also doesn’t keep me there too much. I get to see and do and experience lots of cool things and hopefully be a part of leaving things a little better than I found them. And best of all I do all of that while being myself. But lately, I have just had an increasingly hard time with it all. I still show up to work, I still go to shows, I still double-knot the trail runners before I head to the Presidio, but it feels like just that much more work to get off the couch when I get home, to get back out after sitting down, to do more than hit play on the next episode of whatever. To not feel like it is too quiet in my place and it’s too much work to find someone or something to help enliven it. To even do the quotidian things, to make sure the dishes get washed, the trash gets out and the laundry gets done. It’s hard not to look at stacks of dishes and piles of clothes and not feel like entropy always wins. Because it always does. It always will. No matter how hard we fight, in the end, it must win.

But I am not just some 18 year old who realized that for the first time. If anything the reason behind many of my decisions is that everything ends eventually. How much of that time do I want to look back on and see the half-realized individual I was for so long? Every day that fraction get smaller and smaller, but it’ll still always be a fraction of my life. That will never change. I know worth is a relative matter, but I know that being who I am and bringing all of myself to what I do in my life matters. Because that’s all I’ve really got. Many days I use that as a call to action, the motivation to try and make positive changes in my life, to get going and do whatever it is I have been putting off, whatever it is that won’t be coming around again. Most days I try to push. Lately, I feel like I am being pulled. And I can’t really figure out why.

I’m not going to lie and say being trans doesn’t impact my life negatively at times. Not because there’s anything wrong with being trans or I am unhappy with who I am but because there are people who think there’s something wrong with being trans, and unfortunately those people are still the people who make lots of decisions that impact my quality of life. But the impact in my personal life to a large degree has been positive. I feel it has made my friendships stronger and makes me more engaged personally and professionally. Still, I’ve mentioned it before, and I can’t rule out the psychic toll for being trans in our society. But I don’t really think that’s it in totality. There are still plenty of aspects to how people treat trans individuals that need to change in our society. But that is always there and doesn’t feel any more pressing than usual. I know that feeling. It’s not that feeling.

Perhaps it’s the loneliness. Then again, that’s not new, and I doubt that’s entirely it. I function pretty well alone. I don’t really hang my head and stop doing things just because I’m by myself. And when I look around, I know I do have friends here. Besides, I know that feeling well, and I know when it’s more acute. Again, that’s just something that’s there, and not even something that’s just there in my life. It’s something that’s there in lots of our lives.

No, I think it gets back to the difference between happiness and contentedness. I am happy. I lead a good life, I have been fortunate, I continue to be. But there’s always more to do. If I ever have all of my own affairs in order, so what? First, it’s doubtful that I ever will because it seems near-sighted to think life will ever be like that. I may have everything I wanted at this moment a year from now, but will that be what I want then? Second, it’s near-sighted to think only of my own life, my own affairs. Now some of what I do hopefully has an impact on that, be that little decisions like leaving another seat on the bus for someone who needs it more when I bike or making decisions about what I eat or what I use at home that perhaps have some small impact. Some of it hopefully has more direct impact beyond those rather modest sorts of measures.

But content? I doubt I’ll ever be content. There’s always something more I could be doing to try and leave the world a better place than I found it, to be a better person. And I don’t think I’ll ever be content with the person I once was. That person did things wrong; that person was ignorant of many things, some of which had consequences I no doubt did not intend. I do not want to be that person, yet I am undoubtedly still that person, and always will be. The more I learn, the more there is to learn. The more I get from the world around me, the more I have to give back. If I feel a bit worn down, perhaps counter intuitively, I feel that is a sign that I am not doing enough. Entropy may win, but that doesn’t mean we can’t make things better in time we have. Entropy may win, but we have to keep fighting it. The problem then is not that I’m fighting entropy. It’s that I’m not fighting it enough. Obviously I still manage, if I’m getting out there and doing my thing. But I can’t be content with that. Before I get distracted again, though? There’s more to do.

Someone

My life is full of great people I love and care for, but I doubt most days there will ever be someone. That feeling laces itself into the way I process my life, when I say not entirely joking I’m going to spend the rest of my life in this one-bedroom in Inner Richmond alone. It laces itself into buying single tickets to concerts and checking with little more than my calendar before I make the purchase. It laces itself into the way I act when I’m around other people, especially new people. It’s frustrating going through the motions when I know where those motions most likely lead. That may sound overly pessimistic or self-fulfilling; I try to push that line of thinking aside. But understand that as much as I enjoy meeting and interacting with new people, it’s also just another opportunity to be insulted and let down, intentional or otherwise. If I’m wary it’s because I have reason to be.

It’s something that’s frequently on my mind, but someone shared this piece that got me thinking about it again. Even as someone who’s lived in urban areas since college, someone who has never been married, someone who is much closer to being on the right side of the age divide in terms of finding more accepting people, a lot of those points resonate. While I’ve probably never used the word despair, that’s an accurate word for the feeling. I can, and still do, lead a fulfilling and full life. I have been and continue to be quite fortunate in so many other regards that it can help assuage that feeling. But I never have a plus one when I’m invited to something, and I frequently account for the odd chair at the table. I don’t see that changing any time soon either.

Being open to possibilities is great thing. Whether they are good or bad, it was something I had to figure out how to do when I came out, something I’ve tried to hold onto as an attitude since. Many trans individuals steel themselves for the inevitable losses. We celebrate when they are minimal. Think about that for a minute. The best case scenario for most trans people coming out and being themselves is hopefully we don’t lose too much. I didn’t lose my job, or my place, or my family, or most of my friends. In being myself, I’ve picked up a lot of awesome people along the way, and I definitely feel better sharing who I am with the people in my life. But instead of it just being a given that people will not be awful, it’s the hope that the fewest number possible will be. Imagine how that informs someone’s life.

If learning to be open with myself and others was a major hurdle, learning to be realistic was not. For years, I was barraged with messages that I could not possibly be a woman, whether it was because I saw no examples, what box someone checked when I was born, how I was socialized, or how I felt I would never fit in even if I managed to get over everything else. Learning to get over all of that does not equate to learning to forget it, though. I will always be tempered by those experiences. I thought for so long being myself, my whole self, was not possible. Even if I’ve since learned my definition of realistic needed some work, I’ve fostered an attitude where I’m still constantly surprised about the good things that happen. Even if so many things have gone well, I have to be aware things can all change quite quickly. So the realistic part of me still finds the idea of dating daunting. Finding a guy who is open-minded enough to see me as who I am, a woman, not a fetish, not someone trying to turn them gay or whatever other bullshit masculine philosophy they uncritically buy into, is a tough thing. That’s the baseline I’m working with. That’s before hoping that all the strange little things that happen to make a relationship happen occur. I know that’s possible, I see examples of it, but so far, I’ve been let down far more often than I’ve been picked up.

Still, I know I have to try. At least in the sense that things do not just magically happen, even if the deck is stacked. If I don’t feel like putting in too much sometimes, can you really blame me? If I spend nights alone in my apartment occasionally overwhelmed by despair? Why put in the effort on something that doesn’t feel all that likely anyway? Those feelings don’t exist in a vacuum. I have all these other great things going on in my life that take effort too. Is some of that learned societally? No doubt we are also barraged with messages supporting notions of the magic of romantic love and special someones. There are aspects worth breaking down in how we view relationships, how we treat people both in and not in them. But I think our desire for companionship and finding people who gets us runs deeper than that. Perhaps I’m a bit too cynical to uncritically accept the idea that there’s one special person out there; rather, I think that one special person is perhaps more fungible than we’re willing to admit. That doesn’t mean I don’t want to find out for myself. I want to find someone who sees me not just as who I am, but someone who sees my possibility, someone who sees the best version of me. I constantly face the feeling that I don’t deserve that, or that I’ll be lucky to find that, feelings still deeply ingrained in me. There are parts of this that I have to work on. I freely admit that. But it’s not just on me. There are wider aspects that others have to face such how society treats trans people, our rigid notions of masculinity. I can’t do this on my own. I don’t want to do this on my own. And I shouldn’t have to.

Maybe The Time Is Right

Maybe The Time Is Right

The speakers hiss as I drop the needle
onto what was once my parents’ copy of War.
Over the years, I’ve traded plastic for wax.
Though I flirted with vinyl in my youth,
it took me a while to admit I’m a woman
whose style is more LP than CD.
Maybe it’s just the time is right,
that it’s easier now, though there’s a lot
I missed out on as a teenager and
it has cost me quite a bit to make up for that.
Turns out the records my parents gave me
are just a few of the many I’ve had to replace.

 
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