Archive for February, 2014

It Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time

I am watching some much-needed rain fall. It’s put a bit of a damper on my plans to get around the city a bit more on bike or run some errands as I have nothing against being wet, but it’s no way to spend the whole day and I don’t want what I buy getting wet. I realize now I have never adequately processed rain in San Francisco, that I am ill-prepared for it, though I did at least have the foresight to keep the fenders on the bike. It wasn’t so bad last night, as a capstone to the evening, zipping through The Wiggle at 1:30 am when no one else was out as it poured. My jeans and shoes were even dry this morning (though not my poor hoodie). As an end of evening affair, it was appreciated. It also hadn’t rained all day even though they kept saying it would. As anyone else has probably (oft) uttered, it seemed like a good idea at the time. This morning, as a way of starting the day? Well, it fits my mood. But no, I’ll probably just hang my bike up for the day and let it dry out. And I suppose it gives me a chance to use those Uber credits I received from Noise Pop.

I doubt I’ll ever be a regular user of such a service. It’s just not where I would choose to spend my money. $2 bus ride (though, really, prepaid monthly pretax work benefit) versus a $12 Uber fare versus me getting my ass on my bike and riding for 20 minutes to the Mission? These days, the bike is winning, which is probably best. I am happy to be reasserting my lost identity as a cyclist. I still haven’t embraced the concept of riding to work here (you go ride in the Financial District at 9 am and tell me how you feel about it), and biking still isn’t gonna get me to the airport most of the time (though, again, I’d love to try that one time), so transit is still important to me, but it’s good to find something that I lost for a while. Even as it’s intermittently rained this week, it’s been great to be out. Besides, the rain will be gone soon enough.

There are, of course, plenty of other reasons to not care about something like Uber all that much. Personally, I don’t exactly like getting in the back of a stranger’s car and being called sir. It’s a challenge to my whole idea of challenging others, of putting the burden of their misgendering back on them. Because how comfortable would you feel doing that in the back of a stranger’s car like that? I’ve settled for something of a middle ground, asserting their incorrectness while trying to not putting it in the form of a question. It’s a reminder that there are a lot of scenarios that I didn’t anticipate, that I have a long way to go before I can really coolly and calmly deflect back what I am receiving. This is my personal issue, of course, though I am sure lots of people experience lots of uncomfortable moments in the back of those cars for a variety of reasons who can empathize. To paraphrase a friend, cab drivers aren’t exactly on the forefront of openmindedness.

None of this is touching on many of the higher level concerns of disruption and the sharing economy and all those other tech buzzwords, of who these services truly benefit and serve, of the disparate impact created by people hiring out their cars and homes for the right price. So far I have had two good experiences with Airbnb and several mediocre experiences with Uber, Lyft, and their ilk. I am by no means a power user; but what happens the first time I’m turned away from a room or a ride because I am trans? Can I prove that? What is my recourse if something like that occurs with this new sharing economy? Considering how little recourse there is in a lot of places with the much better regulated businesses of the world, there’s a part of me that’s terrified about these kinds of business models. If everything just took care of itself, then we would need desperately needed anti-discrimination laws.

I do believe it’s a fact that we can make better uses of our resources as a society. One needs to do little more than look at miles and miles of paved over suburbs for little more than parking that is rarely anywhere close to full. And I don’t believe the people who start companies like this are evil and malicious. They are trying to find a different way of doing things, and that’s a noble impulse. But who do these new businesses truly serve, and who is still left behind? What happens when the actual impact of the business is wildly off the mark, when it’s disparately impacting so many in negative ways? I am sure someone may have uttered it seemed like a good idea at the time. Not that ceasing to be is a good option. I am not going to argue that every Uber rider is suddenly going to get on Muni or start riding if that’s not there. Some would taxi, or drive, or walk, etc. Everyone who stays in Airbnb isn’t necessarily going to spill into the nearest hotel instead. There aren’t neat causal relationships like that. But these kinds of services are having affects on the cities and communities they operate in, and it’s not all sunshine and lollipops. There are a lot of concerns regarding the impact services like these have on the real cost of living. Of course the drivers and hosts are making money too. But again, who’s really making the money? It’s not like Airbnb is known for their penchant for paying taxes, either. These services are here and do not seem to be going away; how are we living with them and making them better?

I am not a fan of boycotts. I am not saying I am never going to use any of these services ever again. But I do have a responsibility to think about how I ethically interact with the world around me. That comes in the simplest forms: how I make my money and how I spend it. Some might question the company I work for, for example, or not feel comfortable doing business with them, or wonder why the hell I’d work there. For me, I don’t feel like I have been involved in anything that’s been terrible. And I really feel like they honor the T when they say LGBT, which feels so, so rare. Very few entities that utter that acronym (or its variants) truly deserve to say it. Or at least truly want to represent all of it. But my perspective is invariably different, and influenced, because of the fact that I have been there seven years. I am not saying people have an obligation to learn about every little aspect of the world they interact with, because that sounds paralyzing to be honest. But I do myself a disservice if I ignore what I’ve read, the experiences I’ve had with the services I use. It’s worth looking past the veneer of convenience and cost to find out why those elements exist. And it’s ultimately worth questioning, once again, who is truly served by these services? Even if Muni sucks, I am glad to pay in. They need all the help they can get to be better, and I feel like (hopefully some day) having effective mass transit is a lot better than paying into a private car service. I am glad to be a statistic and a voice for the next biking survey here in San Francisco, to count toward ridership for future projects or help address why I don’t bike to work right now. I feel like money for better transit and biking projects benefits a lot of people. I feel like paying into those aspects of my society is just a great benefit. A crippling rent for your place is hard enough without car payments and paid parking on top. People deserve other options. Some people don’t have any other options. They didn’t choose to be carless; they just can’t afford to own one. And the people who need those services? They probably aren’t zipping around 7×7 in ZipCar or taking Uber to a show tonight. I am not saying people shouldn’t have those options. I am just asking you to once again consider the following: who has those options?

Other Ways Of Living

Do you spend every day on? By that, I mean, paying full attention to everything around you? It’s not really a way of living I’d suggest. For as much of an introvert as I am, for as much as I enjoy a good day in by myself, I dislike feeling that is the only way I can turn off. It’s not, of course. A great show can truly accomplish the same. I have always said I judge a show by how often I pull out my phone, and while that’s a bit too convenient, it’s largely true. Make me forget that there’s anything else with your music and I will do just that. It’s an amazing feeling, one that perhaps you’ve had at a show or at least hopefully had at some point. It’s one of the reasons I keep going back to Rickshaw Stop and The Chapel and The Fillmore and Brick & Mortar just like I did with the Entry and the Mainroom and the Turf and Triple Rock before them. It’s quite a feeling, to forget even about yourself.

Because otherwise, I am always thinking about myself. Hopefully not too selfishly. Just in the sense that my experience with being trans involves always being on. Before I came out, it was a matter of constantly policing my own gender performance, to avoid leaving any clues, how I should act, etc. Now I am far less concerned about those sorts of thoughts, but I am still always paying attention. I see the long stare on the bus when you think I don’t catch it, I hear the muttering and I am always listening as people stumble over pronouns as they inevitably do because they apparently think they know my gender better than I do. There are darker thoughts to pay attention to as well, the thought that I am largely viewed as an expendable member of society by a lot of people, if I am even viewed as a member at all. And that violence is always just on the edge, something to always be aware of, even if you are fortunate enough trans woman to not run into it.

It’s a dark set of thoughts to constantly carry, and it’s no way to live, always being on. Sometimes the weight is too much to bear. Don’t get me wrong, I am not going to do more than curl up on the couch, play some records, and shut out the world when I have those times, when I don’t want to deal with it. Not seeing anyone is the surest way to avoid those thoughts. But I never question the numbers when someone talks about how many trans individuals have tried to kill themselves. I question a society where individuals treat us the way they do for no good reasons other than fear and hatred, malice and ignorance. I question a society that makes everything more difficult for those same reasons. I question a society that is full of narratives that are outright lies, that cannot seem to separate sexual orientation and gender identity because some genetic lottery came up “the proper way” for them, a society that treats a plurality of identities like mistakes instead of diversity. But I never question the hard circumstances of being trans, or the fact that even making it, you still carry all of that with you, that there is always something you end up fighting just because. Do you know what it’s like to think thoughts like that all the time?

It’s about finding a space where you can forget and just be you. For some people, they find that in a person, though I’ve never had that experience. And it’s never been sitting down and writing; I find that a great way to work out my thoughts, but not the best way to forget. It’s the opposite. It’s probably a product of the fact that I am always on. For me, it’s always been in that crowd as the band just makes beautiful music. It’s about forgetting everything else. Whether it was the first time I saw MONO and felt their sound literally wash over me or Pearl Jam’s first show after Roskilde when they did “It’s Okay” or seeing The Good Life absolutely slay me both times with “Inmates” or Keep Shelly In Athens covering “Just Like Honey” like there were 4,500 people there instead of 45, I am always in search of that moment where nothing else matters. I love music, but I also need music. It used to be the only way I ever really felt much, or at least let myself feel much. It still does the trick, but I’d like to think that I am a bit more emotive these days and I have found other ways of living. But it’s still almost the only thing I’ve found that truly makes me forget. There’s something powerful about that. Tonight it’s Papercuts turn to try and distract me from all those thoughts, though I know at the bar, it’s still likely that I’ll get misgendered for all the trouble of ordering a beer, or when I talk with someone else at the show, the same experience is likely. But when the music washes over the room, it can make me forget. Some nights it doesn’t do the trick, because the band just isn’t that great live, or because I am just too stuck in my own head, or because of both. But if you ever wonder why I go out so much, it’s because, even if it’s hard to find, I am always looking for that moment. I probably always will be. There are other ways to live. But as is the case with everything else about who I am, I can’t imagine what those are.

I Can’t Believe What You’re Saying

Let’s start with a brief linguistics lesson: Let’s pick a name at random. For example, here’s how you pronounce Jane (the following is in the International Phonetic Alphabet, but you knew that, right?). The name starts with the combination of the voiced affricative /dʒ/ followed by a front unrounded upper mid vowel sound that you think of as an A even though Standard American English has 12 vowels actually. It’s articulated as /eɪ/. At this point, Jane is capped off with an alveolar nasal /n/. Even though it’s rendered with an E at the end in most cases and sometimes with a Y after the A (and likely other variants I am not familiar with) those letters say more about English’s habit of holding onto random letters for no current vocal reason (though from a historical sense, they provide information, all you naysayers who hate that apparent nonsensical spelling), the additional letters have no impact on the pronunciation of the word. The final result looks something like this:


Let’s pick another name at random, say…James. It starts with the same voiced affricative followed by the unrounded upper mid. Instead of the alveolar nasal, though, it’s a bilabial nasal /m/, a sound that’s essentially pushed out with the lips. It’s then capped off with the voiced alveolar fricative /z/. I know, you’re saying, but there’s an S at the end, but that’s not an S. English is funny like that. This ends up yielding a final linguistic result like this:


The two names start the same, then each have a related, though different, phoneme until James ends with a sounds that’s present nowhere in Jane, which should be a strong signifier that they are different names since one has a sound that is not present in the other.

You have, I hope, realized that this is not a random example. My life is a linguistic lab every day. Whether it’s in the beer garden at Zeitgeist or the bar at The Chapel or ordering at Papalote, I am frequently countered when I provide my name with an interrogative “James?”. And I’ve never really understood it. The two names, though simple in construction, have enough differences that it seems like it should not be much of an issue. And while I understand that these are sometimes loud places and people might not have heard me due to the volume, I have never particularly understood why someone cannot say “I didn’t catch your name” instead of “James?”. There’s nothing wrong with not hearing something because it is loud in a place and you just can’t quite make out what someone says, but there are a lot of opportunities in terms of how you can choose to respond. Though perhaps there’s a judgment behind phrasing the question that way, too, it definitely does not carry any of the gendered baggage of taking a guess at a name and missing with something well off-base.

Now I assume to some degree this is an issue of phonology, if the unconscious assumptions that make phonology work can be fairly applied here. After all, based on the totality of evidence accrued over the years from many, many people, a lot of people have trouble accepting that I possibly said Jane. And while I never thought much about the gendered composition of phonology in college when I was in linguistics classes, it obviously exists. Names, of course, are gendered, but there is other language that we unconsciously gender as well. There are ways of speaking that are more typically male or female when it comes to word choice, phrasing, etc. But setting that aside, I get more proof that phonology is definitely gendered almost any time I go out, meet new people, and they say back to me after introducing myself, “James?” There’s obviously something more hiding there. People process the first two phonemes, can’t believe I said the third, and go through the trouble of adding a fourth. Honestly, from a purely linguistic standpoint, it’s impressive. It’s the brain doing what it’s supposed to do to process language.

Now the question comes down to what you choose to do with that information in that brain of yours, how you choose to challenge the assumptions you have learned to make, and how that affects the words that come out of your mouth. This is a split-second affair, our brains calculating so much so quickly. I get it. And I get that mistakes will occur. I know I still make them too, and I have to constantly challenge myself in that regard. What I don’t get is why people are frequently so bad at either admitting they don’t know and starting from a more neutral location, e.g., asking without a gendered assumption, or why they can’t take all these other gendered cues and put them together? Do you know a lot of guys that carry purses? A purse doesn’t have to be an inherently feminine object, of course, but in our society it is. Nor do you have to carry a purse to signify that you are a woman. I know plenty of women who don’t, and there are times where I don’t too. It has, though, picked up a gendered cue. I’m not saying that it’s right or wrong. I’m just putting it out there as something that is true. It’s a totality of cues that we add up when we make these assumptions, voice, dress, manners, accouterments, etc. There are, of course, reasons to not overly rely on those cues, or at least be careful, as there are plenty of people who have presentation that we might make gendered assumptions about that does not match their chosen gender identity. And I don’t know if we can truly stop our brains from gathering that information, nor would I advocate that. But I do think we can challenge our brains in terms of how we process that information, and what we think it means, and how that affects what comes out of our mouths.

It’s a simple action to call someone what they prefer to be called. It is the simplest form of respect you can pay to any individual, irrelevant of gender, to not fuck up someone’s name. When people provide a name that is the simplest opportunity to learn how to respect that person. If you’re trans like me, it can, of course, become more complicated when ideas like pronouns become involved. Trust me, I know plenty of people who have no problem calling me Jane but still trip when a third person is introduced into the conversation and pronouns suddenly come into use. And though I realize that most peoples’ tones and intents are not aggressive when they question what I said when we are introduced, they still are insulting. It is the first opportunity to respect someone in a conversation, and when they open like that, the very first thing they’ve done is disrespect me. How introductions go can set the tone for the rest of the conversation, if there even is one after that. There are many reasons that people can say what they say, and I’ve personally tried to take a more measured approach recently, to probe that, instead of going straight to anger (or at least straight to displaying anger though it is frequently there, smoldering). But it shouldn’t be too much to expect a basic modicum of respect from people. It’s just not that hard.

I get that people are trying to get it right when they ask, that they are trying to respect me in most cases even if they don’t realize how they are doing the opposite at that moment. Though it always stings, I am more interested in working past that, in getting to a point where I can turn it around and ask them why they just did what they did in regard to making some assumptions about me. It’s hard. It’s really, really hard to not shut down. All I wanted to do last night was finish my beer and leave in that moment. I feel like that all the time. But that’s rarely how I act. I am not going to accomplish much hiding in my apartment, after all. And though I frequently do work past that point, I rarely forget that opening moment, of what it says about how people perceive me. I try not to use that as the only judge of a person, of course. That would be overly shallow. But it still is something that I remember. Perhaps I am reading too much into this, perhaps I am overreacting, but I do not think that’s the case. I’d challenge you to think about why asking for people to trust a basic fact of who I am is overreacting if you feel that way. People can feel free to question me on many of the things I say, they should. There are plenty of times when I’m wrong. But if there’s one thing I know, one thing that pretty much everything I own finally says, one thing thing that I constantly have to fight to get society to recognize far harder than many people, it’s that my name is Jane.

The Way Forward

One of the aspects of being trans that I never would have believed if you’d told me all those years ago are some of the conversations I have. While I certainly subscribe to the fact that no one should have to be the advocate for themselves (unless they want to be of course), I also have a strong strain of “If not me, then who?” running through my veins. I may be an unreliable narrator at times, but I’d like to think that I am the best unreliable narrator for myself and my life. At times, that probably actually isn’t true, but I’d still like to think that. And we all have that unique opportunity to tell our own tales; that’s just not what everyone would choose to do with their time. Again, there’s nothing wrong with that. I just can’t imagine that I’d want it any other way. In my previous role with Wells, people used to ask me questions they surely could have Googled, but I always relished the challenge of providing that answer, of being that resource. It’s just as much a part of who I am as being trans is.

It’s why I’ve never particularly shirked from conversations about my experience with what being trans means to me, and what it means on the whole, at least as I understand it. I like being that resource for my friends. I like humanizing what being trans is all about, at least in one instance. I like sharing that one person’s experience is not everyone’s and that perhaps one should be careful going forward regarding that. And yes, I have heard some things that make me shake my head. Though I’ve rarely heard anything from my friends that truly angered me. Puzzled me? Sure. But angered?

That can be entirely differently if it happens with a cashier or a random stranger on a bus, but with someone I know, with a friend, it’s an opportunity to open dialogue. It’s an opportunity to provide a way forward. I am always changing too, learning new things that change my opinions, refining how I think it’s best to put myself out there and have these kinds of conversations. There are terms that I have to look up, too. But at least with the people that are close to me, I think it’s paramount to have those conversations, to point out that it might not bother me that much, but generally it’s best to avoid dead names. Because that’s a deeply personal issue. I don’t have much of a problem with it, though let’s be honest, I don’t miss the Pearl Jam references (The Velvet Underground is good, but if you come at me with some Jane’s Addiction, you can fuck right off). And while it might not bother me that much, it provides an opportunity to have that conversation about why it does bother a lot of individuals, about why it’s an importunate question or reference, why no one really says that anymore, or about why it’s just not necessarily anybody’s business, but especially not yours.

There are plenty of valid reasons to get angry if you’re trans, because even in a fairly open society like the US, we are treated as less than people. Everything is harder for no good reason, because of basic human elements like fear, ignorance, and misunderstanding. We are seen as inherently duplicitous simply for not deigning to let you in on our life stories, or something worse if we do. Just about every aspect of being trans is a damned if you do, damned if you don’t proposition. Should I lie about who I am so I can continue to have a job and be treated like a person even though I feel terrible about it or should I be authentic and risk the loss of potentially everything, up to and including my life? That is an awful decision to make, the terrible calculus that haunts so many trans people. So yeah, I understand the anger. I certainly find myself getting angry a lot too. Anger is a great tool, a great driver of change. But it’s not the only tool. And it’s not normally mine. It’s powerful, certainly. It’s also dangerous. It can easily lead to scorched earth tactics, situations where there are nothing but losers. It’s people shouting past each other, not listening to each other. And certainly there are times where there is no understanding to be found. But I’d like to think those times are rare. Perhaps that’s just the fortune of my station in life, of the people whom I am lucky enough to call friends.

When I was younger, I frequently said I wanted to be a teacher or a professor. That is not quite how my professional life worked out. But I still have the opportunity to educate almost every day. I like being someone people look up to, I like being someone who has some answers, or someone who is at least willing to talk through the process; I have always appreciated those qualities. There are more ways to teach than in a classroom. And there are a lot of different ways to reach people. I’d rather do it over a pint or a series of e-mails than through angry sardonic tweets, though I still certainly get angry, and I’ll always be sardonic. Perhaps, like I said, it’s just a measure of my friends; they are worth the effort. That certainly cannot always be said of the random people of the world, and that in it of itself is perhaps the explanation of why I am how I am. But there’s something to be gained by being measured, too. It’s not easy. But no one said it would be. The way forward rarely is. It’s full of tough decisions. It’s full of the wrong decisions sometimes too, of ownership of that as well. And my sphere of influence is nothing special, nothing beyond my peer group. It’s not my duty to help find the way forward, to hopefully leave this world a little better than I found it. But it is a challenge. And I do love a good challenge.

Why Did You Just Misgender Me? (A Primer)

A bit about the methodology and reasoning behind the Tumblr I started, Why Did You Just Misgender Me?

Every time someone calls me sir when they called the woman in front of me miss, every time I hear someone say he or him and I know it’s directed at me without doubt, in those rare, but still confounding moments where someone actually manages to dead name me, I wonder about how to proceed. It should never happen, and yet it obviously comes up frequently, unceasingly, enough that I continue to ruminate about exactly how to deal with each and every instance afterwards. Sometimes it feels like it’s incessant, other times I can go days without running into the next person who will insult me, knowingly or unknowingly. I’ve written about how I handle those moments before, again and again and again. A lot. That’s just the last four months. But I have decided, I need to challenge myself to call people on it more. I certainly get tired of doing that, but demurring to other peoples’ inability to treat me with basic respect, not wanting to deal with it because the amount of energy it takes, because I just feel like it’s not worth it to tangle with some random stranger I’m never going to speak with again, those aren’t acceptable reasons.

For me, there’s always something rolling around in my head: why did you just misgender me? I am not going to take that answer and change anything about myself. There’s nothing to change. Or at least nothing that I want to do differently that has anything to do with the input of a random stranger. I am doing a fine job of being me, thank you very much. I just want to shine a light on those answers. I want to turn the tables. I don’t have anything to be embarrassed about, yet I’m the one who is frequently left embarrassed in those situations. Not because I have anything to be ashamed of, but trust me, it’s still not a pleasant feeling. It’s a look at just how other people view you, it’s that honest moment when they deny who you are because…I don’t know? I’ve honestly been trying to work out for a long time why that happens. So I guess I need to start asking. Of course, I am not out to humiliate people either. I want to provide brief context, but I don’t need to get a name and a photo. There’s something you can gain with a quick riposte, an unintentional honesty while someone’s guard is down. I don’t want thoughtful answers to thoughtless statements. I don’t want to give people time to try and talk their way out of it, to backpedal into apology mode or double down on being insensitive when they continue to misgender me. I want quick answers. And I really do want to know what drives that kind of behavior. Or at least how they explain it in those moments.

So I started a Tumblr to capture the other side of those situations. You’ve heard my statements on it before if you’ve talked with me, or read anything else. But what I rarely hear, what I rarely try to tease out of people is the other side. Honestly, I’d like to see what comes up if I do it. I don’t expect people to know what I’m thinking; why should I expect to be able to tell what others are thinking? And as for myself, I’d like to call people on it more. Because I am certainly never happy with any response. And no, I shouldn’t have to demand respect, or point out when people are being disrespectful about something so simple. But obviously I do. It’s not perfect. I don’t expect greatness. But I am curious. Let’s find out together.

The Doctor Will See You Now

Something is wrong with me and I can’t figure out what. It’s more than a general malaise, and it came up last week when I was in Minnesota as well, so I decided to put my insurance to good use and go see if a doctor could tell me what is what. They have hooked me up and run their tests once already, and it looks like I am in for another night of that. There are worse problems to have, I suppose. As they’ve said, the fact that they can’t seem to find any major issues is a good thing, and I tend to agree. I am just trying to not be stubborn and not pay attention to my body for once. I do pay for my insurance in case anything comes up for a reason. All in all, it’s been a relatively pleasant experience, as pleasant as this kind of trip can be.

But it’s never really all that simple, is it? Because when I look at that, I think, that’s the kind of experience anyone should have. I had a nurse ask earlier if I’d rather have someone else do some basic exams, with the unstated understanding that it was because he was male and perhaps I’d be more comfortable with a female doctor or nurse. Which was considerate and all. No one should have to worry about being uncomfortable in a doctor’s exam room. Not that I particularly care. Of course, that can cut both ways and could be an insulting question about gender identity, how someone chooses to express that identity, and who in that scenario is comfortable or uncomfortable, but the sense I got from the whole encounter was you’re female and we’re just trying to take care of you. I am not gonna take him to task for that. Largely, it’s just been dispassionate clinical encounters with medical professionals, as it should be.

Of course being trans can have some implications on the discussions I have with the medical staff. When they ask what medications I take, it’s not like I leave out that I use an estrogen patch. But aside from some potential concerns with blood clotting, the discussion’s over and we are on to discussing why I take gemfibrozil. There’s no raised eyebrow regarding why I take it or anything like that, just questions about how often I take it. It’s not like anyone has asked me inappropriate or unnecessary questions about my genitalia since it has absolutely no impact on the care I am seeking. And you know, that’s nice to see. It should just be a given that when any gender-variant individual seeks medical care, though I know that’s not the case.

Going to the doctor is not a quotidian sort of affair (at least, hopefully not). But it is nice to see that so far I have not become embroiled in any unnecessary discussions or been asked any unnecessary questions by anyone I’ve seen. Of course my level of disclosure is going to be a little different with a doctor versus a lot of other people I encounter. But there are still plenty of things I should never have to say that have no effect on my care, and plenty of times I should never have to say them but still get asked them. Insurance isn’t something to be taken for granted when you’re trans, nor is a modicum of respect for who you are. Of course, anecdote is not evidence. As a society, we certainly still have a lot of work to do in terms of providing cost-effective basic medical care and respect for people, especially trans individuals. This is just my particular experience at one particular time. Given the tests keep saying so and no one is treating me like I am going to keel over, it’s likely whatever it is I am feeling will pass, that there’s nothing wrong with me. It’s nice to see that reflected in more ways than one.

Remember Me

Yesterday, I looked down at my receipt for my car rental as I was leaving MSP and what do I see but my dead name. In my experience, it’s uncommon these days (I legally changed my name four years ago), but it’s still amazing just how many places your information is and how out-of-date it can be. So I filed it away, figured it would be a fairly easy fix, and moved on with my day. It’s annoying and I am tired of doing it, but one gets inured to these sorts of things after a while. Besides, it had been a while since I’d rented from them, so at least it’d made some amount of sense why it could be there, though I didn’t really know why they had it.

When I called them in the afternoon, what followed was one of the more confounding conversations I have ever had about data integrity and what is required to change information. The woman on the phone was polite, and wonder of wonders, only misgendered me the first time (yay phones) (though, really, should it happen even once?). But she essentially said the same thing every time, about how I need to provide two forms of identification to change my name in their system, how I need to fax them that, how she can’t just update it, etc. I changed my name with plenty of places where I had less trouble, more cause, and received far more information regarding why.

I don’t like to make assumptions. I don’t want people making them of me. That is why I called to not only try and clear up the discrepancy, but find out why. I was more frustrated regarding why it was even in the system still, why it was attached to an address three addresses old, why they have data that is terribly out-of-date for me in so many ways. The only item that I could figure would directly link said old profile under my dead name and new information (that’s really not so new at this point) is my driver’s license number, which quite rightly didn’t change when I updated my license in Minnesota. Because I am still the same person. I still have that ID (because, well, see earlier), so I still have that number. And it’s one of the few shared data elements, and the only one strong enough to justify linking my dead name info to my current info. Don’t get me wrong, I have no particular problem with my old name…it just doesn’t really fit anymore, you know. Oh, and it’s no longer legally accurate. Little things. If they are so concerned with data integrity at Alamo, it didn’t show. No one tried to update my data at the point of sale. No one asked if what was even on my license is current data. They just dumped it in, moved me along, and gave me unclear instructions in regards to how to update it.
I get that they may have a mandate for data retention from law enforcement. Trust me, I am looking at data all day that is because of that. But to have no customer facing profile where I can go and update this kind of info is a little confounding. They didn’t seem particularly interested in actually ensuring that any of my data was correct or providing even a blanket useless explanation regarding why they have to keep it, or just why they choose to. They did seem interested in making my life harder for no good reason. And hey, I get it, you can’t just take someone’s word on the phone, but I couldn’t understand why they were so adamant on this. Was the woman concerned I’d do an account takeover of something that has data, but little else? What would I do with that? What is the identity theft concern here? I get what’s to be had from stealing someone’s bank account or email. But their car rental history? Just not seeing it. I have no idea how that data would be useful. I can see how it might be engineered for more data (what can’t these days?) and that’s the best I can do. Even that seems like a minimal concern. I’m pretty good with this fraud detection and prevention stuff, after all.
I also wonder if any of this would have come up had I already obtained a California license. My DL number presumably would have nothing to do with my previous data. The only present link would have been phone number, as I am pretty sure even my credit card data has changed since then. So it appears (though, again, I couldn’t determine and don’t totally know) that I would have just put in my data, gone about my business, and everything would have come up Jane. End of story. No confounding circular conversations where a woman assumes I don’t have a legally changed name and I need some help dealing with that because obviously I just don’t have the right form for Alamo. But if they can’t flip it around and see why I don’t think they should need that data in the first place when they don’t even bother to explain why they need it, then I don’t know what to say. They didn’t exactly bolster my confidence that they are concerned with accuracy or integrity. Just rules.

In the grand scheme, it’s a little thing. But what if they need to get in touch with me? Or my insurance company? Or law enforcement? Because if someone calls looking for me by my dead name, chances of that being a productive conversation are fairly minimal. Depends on who they reach or how deep the records they have go. I wouldn’t trust anyone with data that old. I am not sure how others would treat that data either. It’s just another reminder of how insidious data is in the modern age, of how we collect all this information or freely give it and how it just sticks, reminders of bygone times. Like I said, I work with data all day. I also have the responsibility of verifying it and the knowledge to understand that it is simply what is given, not what is accurate. Even assuming gender is something I try to avoid because I don’t have that information. Why worry about it? Because there’s just no need to. It honestly doesn’t affect the work I am going to do either way. And while it’s my job to make assumptions based on the data, they are just that: assumptions. There’s a lot I don’t know beyond the data. And frankly, that kind of stuff is noise. I don’t make any presumptions of innocence or guilt or wrong-doing or anything. I just look at stuff and make sure to say, yeah, maybe this is a little weird and law enforcement can do with it what they will. I get that some level of assumption making is present in almost every aspect of life, and that it’s something I need to constantly challenge myself on. What’s the underlying thought? Why do I feel this way about this activity? What kind of disparate impact could I possibly be making by just not understanding the situation due to my limited view? These are the kinds of questions that make me good at my job, hopefully. And they serve me well in my daily life too.

This isn’t even just a trans concern. There’s an added layer there, of course, the insult to injury aspect of how much society collects sex/gender data for no particularly good reason, how it treats you based on that, and how hard that is to change, how it’s two different sets of requirements, all of that fun stuff. There’s certainly a lot of disparate treatment for individuals perceived as trans. But plenty of people deal with name changes for entirely different motivations and don’t need or want to be reminded of their old names due to some out-of-date system. Society places a responsibility on people to update that data in a timely manner. But data, names, addresses, they are hiding in so many corners, collected by so many institutions. I took care of most of the important documents in my life or I’m well aware that I didn’t. I accept responsibility for that much. But thinking, oh, I should reach out to Alamo so the next time I rent a car I won’t have to through with this? Not really on my mind at the time. These institutions also have a responsibility to ensure that all of what they are collecting is handled in a respectful manner, that what they have is accurate. I recently went through my email to clean up unused accounts that were sending me junk and I was amazed just how many entities I’d provided all that data to, of how much work it is to scrub those accounts and emails. While that data was freely given, what of the data that is just collected, data like this that I must provide to rent a car?

Of course, I have a choice not to rent a car to avoid issues like this. And there are a lot worse problems to have when traveling while trans as is sadly being highlighted in Canada right now. But stuff like this also shouldn’t be hard. There’s absolutely no need for me to send my legal documentation to a company that just failed to do its job at the point of sale. I have a legal driver’s license; they failed to validate the accuracy of any of my information that I provided once when making the reservation and once when I came in to pick up the car. And now it’s my problem. That’s unfortunately how it goes when you’re trans. The burden of proof is always on you, to prove you qualify, to prove you’ve jumped through all the right hoops to satisfy yet another company. And while I appreciate, as I stated, that anyone who legally changes their name has some level of responsibility, I satisfied that. This is all extraneous. Society is a tough place if you are trans for a lot of reasons that are much much worse. If you are fortunate enough to rise above them, it’s still full of so much nonsense like this, daily occasions that test your meddle, your will to push back, your will to fight to be recognized as who you are like anyone deserves. These are things that shouldn’t be so hard. People should just do that naturally. It’s easy to give up on the seemingly little things like this. But they are never little. It’s society recognizing you as who you are, not who they think you should be. While it’s a reminder to be more careful with my data going forward, that says nothing of all the data collected in the past, that I’m still fighting, that I’ll always be fighting, that comes up at the most bizarre times. Most of the time, it’s an easy fix, and never a concern again. As it should be. When it’s not? It’s a reminder to keep fighting those little things, because they aren’t always so little, because they are that way simply because no one thought about the ramifications, because just because that’s how a system is doesn’t mean that’s how it should remain. When I go through life trying to scrub my dead name, it’s not because I want to forget it or I am ashamed or anything like that, it’s because I want to be recognized as who I am. Is it too much to ask that you remember me properly?

Searching Through The Past

It’s always an odd experience looking back on old writing. As someone who’s grown up on the cusp of the Millennials (Generation Catalano forever), there is a vast digital record that I have left behind that’s just sort of sitting out there. From the banal old days of more recap my life-style writing to the more current nature of repeated ideation and exploration of thoughts, there’s a lot that I have just dumped out there into the world and it can make for a weird fixed record of my thoughts and feelings. There’s even more sitting on burned CD-Rs and old hard drives and my Google Drive that was never meant for a wider audience, or perhaps writing that just never found it. That’s to say nothing of seven years of status updates, a much shorter scope of tweets, or whatever else is just sitting out there, forgotten. That’s on top of old notebooks, my scribbled high school journals, set lists and observations in little notebooks that formed the basis of many a McNair-Natoli or Hayes-Natoli report, poetry on scraps of paper, half-realized ideas on napkins and coasters, etc. I am always writing. I always have been. That there is now someplace I can share thoughts that are still ostensibly targeted toward an audience of one still fascinates me. And all these years later, I am still always struggling to figure out how exactly to say whatever it is I am trying to say.

I look back a lot, too. It’s always a good exercise to see what you said before, to help you realize how you may have changed. I have certainly put a lot of ideas, thoughts, and experiences to words in regard to life as a trans woman. These days, it’s the bulk of what I write about, as I continue to try and figure out what’s worth saying or what I even have to contribute. But the constant writing is also good to refine that, to help further define whatever it is I am trying to say that I cannot figure out how to say. That and constant reading help me further explore how I feel and think. I may not read a ton of books these days, but I am still a voracious reader, tracking down new ideas. A book is not the only way to find new information and ideas, after all.

It’s all been helpful to further define who I am. And while it’s sometimes cringeworthy to see how I was thinking about trans issues as they came up in my life, what I felt I needed to say, how I thought I should deal with certain situations, how I phrased something, it’s also an important reminder that I am always learning to be more aware, more sensitive, more articulate about my experiences. There are lots of aspects to being trans that don’t necessarily bother me specifically, but it’s not just about me. So while I personally don’t get too offended talking my dead name or surgical choices or other really personal experiences, how I choose to discuss topics like that can help set a narrative that is hopefully productive, one that reminds people that those sorts of discussions are deeply personal topics that are not your right to know.

And it’s a reminder that we all change. Before, I feel like I had a habit of discussing my transness as a defense mechanism, like I was trying to get out in front of something I had no obligation to bet out in front of. That’s exactly what transitioning on the job was like. Then again 2008 was a different time and I was a different person. But that’s not because I wasn’t out yet. It’s because it was 6 years ago and we were all different people then. I had different ideas then about how to approach who I was. Now, I don’t owe anyone anything. It’s my story to tell, when and how I choose. Whereas before I may have accepted a certain idea, now I understand why I shouldn’t. Back then, I probably wouldn’t have said I’ve always been a woman. It could have been because even as I was coming out, I was still dealing with the mechanisms I’d set up to convince me not to be myself. But now I know how ridiculous that is, that this is who I’ve always been, and that there’s a part of me that’s always known that. It just took me a long time to get to a point where I was willing to be authentic and honest with myself and the world around me. When you talk about someone who is trans being born a boy or a girl and now being something different, something other, you are reinforcing a narrative. And whereas a few years ago I might have shrugged at the concept because it didn’t necessarily bother me, now I am both bothered by it and aware of how harmful that narrative is.

This, this is just another struggle to figure out how to say it right, to keep trying. Every so often, I come up with an idea that’s a keeper, a thought, a line that still guides me. Sometimes they are just clever and succinct thoughts that continue to guide me, a reminder I have more to do like a vagina is not a panacea. Other times I write and write and write, and it’s like there’s no new tale to tell. One of these days, perhaps I’ll get it right. But that implies that there is a right place to get to, a right way to say things. And I find it doubtful that truly exists. I think we are always searching for more precision, a better way to say what we have to say. Perhaps this will be fruitful in the journey later, perhaps not. Either way, this is just another record of that search.

Minnesota Bound

In which the author must confess that she feels quite different about going back a second time but she still talks a lot about what makes Minnesota so special yet again.

It takes a special kind of person to willingly go to Minnesota in February. I don’t have any blood relatives there, yet so many of the people there feel like family. But other than going to the one place that feels more religious to me than just about any other (bow at the altar of First Avenue), I didn’t really have much of an excuse other than I love the place, I love the people, and even if I never move back, I can’t imagine not going back at least once a year. Pretty much everyone I talk to here in San Francisco just looks at me like I have gone crazy when I utter sentences like “I can’t wait to go to Duluth” or “It’ll only be -13 when I get in, could be worse”. Well, not my fellow Minnesotans here. They know. There’s something wild and crazy for certain, but there are things you can only do and see in the dead of a Minnesota weather.
Be it frozen waterfalls or pond hockey championships, ice fishing or art shanties, bonfires on lakes or a good sundog, there are things you just have to be there to appreciate. And trust me, while I appreciate the fact that it will never get below freezing here, it also rarely gets above seventy too. There’s something compressed in San Francisco, this year more than ever, a lack of seasons. And as much as any good Minnesotan spends most of the winter complaining about the cold, there’s a bonding element to it all. There is something to be said for the nights that are just too cold to go out or how great twenty degrees with no wind feels after a subzero blast. And if the weather drives everyone crazy in the process, then at least everyone goes crazy together. It’s a unifying force anywhere, but especially places like Minnesota, where some days it is just that cold.

But it’s no longer a unifying force for me. I just see the status updates and tweets and laugh about it a little. Now, I pray for rain like the rest of the Bay Area, and I absentmindedly wonder when the next earthquake might be when I hear the sirens every Tuesday at noon. When I go back to Minnesota, I am just an interloper now. And unlike last trip, it won’t have the quite the overwhelming nostalgia of the first trip back. Sure, I’ll be seeing people, places, events for the first time since I left, but it won’t be everything like last time. And I am sure elements of the Cities will look totally different and foreign to me. It’s only been four months, but change happens quickly and it’s hardest to see when we’re in the middle of it. Someone in Minnesota will suggest a favorite place to grab a drink or a meal that wasn’t even there when I left. My mental maps of Minnesota and Saint Paul become more and more outdated, my mental cartography now concerned with the fastest way between Inner Richmond and Hayes Valley in a way that didn’t mean anything until six months ago. While those maps will never be totally outdated, they have the potential to become obsolete, the longer I go between updates (though hopefully they’ll always remain better than Apple maps). My last trip almost felt like something I had to get out of my system to truly accept that I do live here in San Francisco now, that (my current issues with the DMV excepted) this is now where I live. The last trip had that weird mix of hopeful nostalgia and longing. This time around, it feels much less so. There will still be elements that are inherently Minnesotan about this trip, the pleasure of seeing Low, or having a Summit or a Surly with friends. But there are also new bands to hear and new beers to try. The place hasn’t exactly sat still on account of me.

Minnesota will always be a part of me. One does not live somewhere for a decade and not build up that kind of relationship. And there will always be parts of me that belong to Minnesota, little offerings that I have left behind, freely given, never to be returned. It’s where I really learned how to live, or at least how to be truly be myself. That will never change. It’ll never just be any trip. It’ll never feel quite like a vacation. Sure, there will be time off, but it truly feels like those old trips to Virginia felt, where there’s no way I’ll see everyone and there’s always too much to do. That’s how I used to recognize that Virginia was home, or at least where I was from. But now the trips to Virginia are lazy days mostly, many people have moved on, and though I was born there, if my parents weren’t still there, I’m not certain how often I’d get back. My last two trips were both for weddings, after all. It doesn’t really feel like going home, not like going to Minnesota does these days. Where I was born is a static fact, something that will never change, and it’ll always be the Commonwealth. Where I’m from is a bit more mutable. And for a few more days, it’s time to go back and visit where I’m from.

The Message Is The Medium

Sometimes I see a tweet skate across the timeline that seems laughably simplistic. Of course, I’ve been known to send my fair share of equally simplistic bombast out into the world too. It’s always important to consider that with a medium like that, you are getting a small amount of space to try and say a lot. Or to try and say nothing at all as the case frequently feels. Not that there should be an arbitrary judge of what is or isn’t worth tweeting. The point of the medium is that is a quick place to say anything. While occasionally forgetting that freedom of speech does not equate to freedom from consequences. Personally, the creative side of me loves the challenge. Poetry, bless its heart, is really driven by that economy if you ask me. Making words do extra work, figuring out the proper structure, the right way to say something to have the effect you want it to. This is not to say that all of Twitter is poetic. Very little of it is. This is just to say similar sorts of driving forces are in play (or the plums in the icebox were delicious, your choice). That same brevity, though, can make some things look ridiculous because there’s a bit of context missing. I always try to keep that in mind when I see something that bothers me. There’s a lot I might not know; of course, it could just be an ill-conceived statement, too. Of course, it could also just be challenging me to think about something in a different context, something I might not have considered previous to that moment. After all, I’m seeing thoughts from a mix of people I know and people I hardly know anything about. If context is important, how am I supposed to make sense of that in such as small space? It’s important to remember I’m only seeing a small facet of a much more complex person when I see what’s in that space.

One of the parts of being trans that I frequently struggle with is how to react to the constant adversity, how to best increase someone’s awareness to avoid those same pitfalls going forward, whether it’s from the angle of trying to have a conversation with someone who’s supportive who may have just said something that I feel I should say something about or it’s because I want to make it clear to the person I’m interacting with that it’s not okay that they just misgendered me. I’m more about awareness than understanding. I think the two concepts are quite a bit different. You can be aware of many things you will never understand. No doubt, like me, you are aware of many things that you will never fully understand, many of them about yourself. While we search for objective answers to some of these things, there’s just going to be those ineffable facts: you can throw all the objective explanations at it you want, but some people prefer Pepsi to Coke and vice versa. You may be aware that you prefer one to the other, but can you ever really truly explain to someone else why you do? And if we can’t explain a little insignificant thing like why we might prefer a certain kind of cola, then why is it that people should be able to truly explain something as complex as their gender (and its various facets) to someone else? If I can’t even adequately understand or explain who I am to myself, if I don’t fully grasp the complexity, then how am I supposed to explain that to someone else?

That’s why I always try to temper my thoughts. Unfiltered thoughts have great power, and sometimes the rawness is just what’s needed. But frequently they can be shaped into something more powerful, more thoughtful, more useful if given a little more thought. At least if you ask me. I’m not firebrand, though. For example, I believe it’s unproductive to think of cis people as some sort of monolithic group, the same way it’s unproductive to think of trans people as some sort of unified front. I try to remember that when I hear and read other peoples’ thoughts. We are all individuals, and there are different levels of nuance, engagement, etc. required to reach anyone. Something that causes one person to shrug may send the next person into a rage. While I always think it’ll be true that there are some people who do not want to be reached and there are some victories that can perhaps only be scored by fighting, that’s not everyone. Personally, I’d rather focus my energy on those I can reach or those I feel I can. Of course, that has limits, and there are times where you might not have a choice. Point is, there are a lot of ways to reach a lot of different people. I know, especially when I am frustrated, when I am angry, when I am disrespected, it can come across as something directed, if not at the world at large, at a specific portion of that world at large. But I’d like to think the same caveat applies in regards to how I view my own thoughts. I aim to do little more than speak for myself. Much as I hope you don’t assume that my experiences, thoughts, or actions are universal, it’s important for me to apply the same to all the other people I engage with.

I get that some forms of media are explicitly designed to conflate that sort of nuance. Part of why I started using Twitter more is it seemed like a better platform to connect with other people to at least get an idea of what those experiences and thoughts are. It’s a great platform to connect with open trans people, for example. Even if I’m not interacting with many others all that much, there’s still a lot of intriguing ideas to think about. I see lots of ideas and thoughts every day that I don’t totally agree with. But it’s a great place to encounter those thoughts. Still, Twitter isn’t exactly the kind of place you want to have a nuanced discussion of much of anything, unless you’ve got multiple parties that are willing to be patient or move that discussion elsewhere. I think there’s still something great about the connectivity of Twitter. It is, after all, a great place to start that discussion; I also think there’s a kind of brilliance behind the 140 character limit. While it’s definitely an arbitrary number at this point, it forces you to make your thoughts more concise (a friend of mine recently made a similar point about the power of sticky notes). That concision can of course lead to problems. But at the same time, it forces you to think about the importance of what you are trying to say. If you have a limited amount of space and time to make a point, how do you best accomplish that?

When I see have experiences elsewhere in my day-to-day, I try to remember the same thing. There are general ways that you can be respectful to the people around you. Not making assumptions is a great start. That’s not going to cause people to necessarily start to act that same way toward me, of course. But if people are making assumptions about me, then what’s the point of turning right around and doing the same thing? Of course, there are some plenty of people out there who hate me merely for existence because I have the temerity to be openly trans. When the reality is being openly trans shouldn’t require temerity, it should just be something about yourself that you can choose to share or keep private without any real concern or repercussions. Obviously we aren’t there. And obviously there are people who seem like they will never make it to that point of accepting trans individuals as just anyone else. But there are a lot of people in between there who are worth engaging, whether that’s online or in person.
Remember, it’s all just stuff to think about. Having an open mind should never be confused with having to change your mind. I can’t actually change anyone’s mind for them. But how I act, how I speak, how I present myself to the world and how I engage with people can help change their minds. Be it in 140 characters or, as the case is right now, many more.

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