Archive for March, 2014

Auctorial

For the first time in a long time, I did something I haven’t done. I wrote. Which you’re probably thinking is a bit ridiculous, as I’ve posted many many things over the years, but when I say I wrote, I mean creatively. I mean I spent the time to think about the construction of how 20,000 or so words go together, what I was trying to say, and I spent quite a bit of time hammering out the little details that you will probably never notice unless you live in Minneapolis or Burbank or Santa Barbara, but details that are nonetheless true. All those places are real, and hopefully all those descriptions do them justice, though, in reality, nothing does Tony’s justice quite like having a few drinks and a vegan sausage at it. If you’re in Burbank sometime, I highly suggest you add it to your to-do list. But if you haven’t been there and experienced its wonders, well, hopefully you could still picture it based on the work. And I need those details. I thrive on those details. Or at least this story, or novella (having trouble deciding which at this length), did. The settings are all part of what propels it, after all.

No different than most, I’m a magpie when I write, and I use anything and everything to build my nest. If some people see a bit of themselves in that story, well, it’s not too surprising, but none of those people are directly any specific individuals, but the cobbled together bits of stories and ideas and my own creations. Each character is removed just enough to be their own unique self. None of those characters are new to me, and all of them appeared at one time or another in a series of short stories I wrote in 2006. I have spent a lot of time with them. I know a lot more about them than I may ever share. That is the interesting aspect to creative writing, how you know a character as a creator as opposed to a reader. Those sorts of aspects of creating stories are bits I haven’t really wanted to delve into in a long time. I’ve spent a long time trying to tell my own story finally as opposed to other peoples’; I won’t say finally transitioning inhibited my creativity. It didn’t. I just channeled it in a different direction. So it’s nice to revisit that aspect of myself, spend some time in the auctorial voice as opposed to the personal voice that I’ve mostly been using for the past 7 years. It really has been that long since I’ve even written a story, let alone tried to do anything with one, which is amazing to think about, considering how integral that kind of creative writing was to me for a while.

Now I’ve got something, and I’m trying to figure out what to do with it. I don’t really care that much to go through the hoops of trying to get it published in a small publication somewhere. Sure, it’s rewarding in the sense that you can say “I was published in [x]” but at the end of the day, it’s a months-long process with very little reward most of the time, and I’m not really looking to have something just so I can say that. It’s building blocks, of course, but everyone thinks they’ve got something great. It’s the creative ego. I think you have to look at it that way, you have to feel like you’ve got something valuable to share. Otherwise, why are you doing it in the first place? I just want to share something I’ve created and I think there are better outlets than throwing it up here. Plus, if you really think you’re going to read something that long in a space like this…um, more power to you, but there are better formatted places to put something like that. These days, it’s so easy to at least self-publish electronically. I have no delusions of grandeur, but I also don’t think it’s too egotistical to ask for $.99 for something that I spent a lot of time working on. Of course, going through something like Amazon has its own set of fun and unique issues, like trying to figure out a cover (have I got drinks/meal/etc for you if that’s your thing…), and getting it edited into that format. I’m still hoping to hear from one or two other people that I shared it with so far to get a bit more feedback, though I’ve already received some valuable feedback and cleaned up a lot of the little mistakes and junk that littered the initial draft.

So I think that’s the route I’ll try. I’ve already put in all the time (though there’s still more to do). And of course I’d love it if you read it. That’s the point of sharing it. Again, it’s managing expectations. I don’t exactly expect anything I push out there to do much more than pay for the meals and beer I owe to the people who helped me get the story to this point. In my head, that’s a best case scenario. Anything beyond that…well, I’ll take it, but I’ve just gotta be honest with myself. So stay tuned. Hopefully I’ll have it together before too long, but I’ve still got some work to do. The story is done. The other half of the work? That’s just begining. Like I said, if you have a burning passion for cover design, have I got a drink for you. Or copy-editing. I hope to have it cleaned up pretty soon and have some more details, then you can share them, and in a happy blissful world it blows up and everyone lives happily ever after. Right? Not so much…in the meantime, I’ve still got a couple things to sort, but it just feels good to have made something again. It reminds me that I should keep doing that.

Keep On Keeping On

There were a lot of great moments last night at the Janet Mock event at the SF LGBT center, but my favorite occurred when she was talking about how great it was to see so many trans people there and someone in the crowd shouted “Don’t out me!”, something that actually was funny in that context. So much of humor is context, after all, but in that moment, in a room with a lot of out trans individuals, it was something that we could laugh at, a line that we’ve probably all thought or said in far different circumstances that are definitely not funny. And it sort of captured the spirit of the event, which was equal parts celebration of our sense of community, both here and beyond, a conversation, and an affirmation. It was a reminder that all of our journeys are different, but many of our struggles are the same, a reminder that there are a lot of different ways to make a difference and that all trans lives matter, a reminder that things may be better now but there is still so much work to do.

Me? It was a great opportunity to sit back and listen, to hear some other stories, to learn about those different journeys and the struggles that go along with them. It was nice to remember that I am not so alone. I get that is obviously not true. I see plenty of trans individuals doing great things all the time on the internet, I read about it, but in my day-to-day? Not so much. Which is on me in the sense that I haven’t exactly been engaging myself in any sort of community lately, trans or otherwise. But I’ve always been something of a solitary soul, far more influenced by being an only child than being trans if you ask me.

I left feeling quite buoyed, and I know that feeling won’t last, because any of those feelings like that don’t last forever. But it was a good reminder that even if it doesn’t feel like much, as Janet said, it’s imperative that we keep telling our own stories. The more, the better. Any sort of media is great for sharing, but big media, what we think of as media, television, movies, etc, it conflates stories, it looks for common narratives, it makes disparate people with totally different journeys sound the same. When the reality is that’s never the case. Those stories are, at best, one person’s story, and any of us find things that resonate with us in those stories, and things that don’t. It was good to remember that, as well, that what I see around me is someone else’s expression of that journey to be their authentic self, and that’s a great thing to see; that doesn’t necessarily mean it truly resonates with me in totality, but why should it? I’m on my own journey to express my authentic self and that’s gonna look a little different than the next person’s. Even if it’s just in my own little space carving it out, that’s important too. What we need are as many reflections of that journey as possible. Some days it feels like it’s impossible to really truly create the world you want to live in. Then you look back and you realize you are living in it.

What happens with the stuff we create, that’s a bit out of our control. I’ve always felt that way as a creative person, anything you make, once you put it out into the world, it’s everyone else’s, whoever finds it, at least. But we do need to keep creating, to keep telling our stories, to keep living our lives on our terms. Hopefully it finds its way to the people who need it; hopefully it’s a reminder that there’s always more to do, more for everyone to keep working toward. The hardest part of being trans and coming to terms with that for me was realizing that my life was not just happening around me like I felt it was, that I had some agency in all of this. And someone else might nod their head at that while another person doesn’t get that at all, or at least doesn’t feel like that has the same kind of meaning to them. But I didn’t really see anything that said anything about any journeys when I was a teenager. I didn’t know transgender existed, and I certainly didn’t know anyone who openly identified as such. So it’s important to keep getting stories out there. Even if only a few people take something away from it, find motivation in it, whatever that may be, then it’s worth it. Of course it’s a lot more work than just writing about it, or expressing it in whatever way you see fit. But keep detailing your triumphs and struggles, the amazing and the quotidian, whatever it is that marks your trans journey. That’s a large part of what I took away from last night, to keep fighting for what we deserve, to keep sharing who we authentically are, to keep on keeping on. For me, writing has always been a huge part of that, processing, thinking about life via these strings of words, trying to put them together in a particularly meaningful context. It’s my story to tell, damn it. So I’m going to keep doing that.

Observations | Assumptions

On Genitals and Gender, Assumptions and Essentialism

1

“I love her smile, and her wit, and the way she looks at me…but what I love most is the slight curve of her vulva.” Said no one, ever.

Alright, it’s possible someone’s said that. There’s a lot of variation in the species, after all. But it’s not a sentiment you usually hear. I’m always amused (and annoyed and angry, but usually mostly amused) when people say things like “I’m not attracted to male genitalia” when they are talking about trans women. First, that’s making some awful assumptions about the genital construction of trans women. Second, I would go so far as to say that people aren’t attracted to genitalia. At least in the sense that we are not actively using that information to evaluate potential partners most of the time, at least prior to the initial sexual experiences we might have with them.. Which isn’t to say people are repulsed by genitalia or anything, it’s just to say that most people are attracted to a person, and then they superimpose characteristics of what they expect that genitalia to be based on their viewpoints. Which you should stop doing. Besides, what’s male genitalia anyway other than a category a lot of people cling to?

Let’s say you meet a woman at a bar. But look, there, you’ve already made an assumption, however slight it may seem to you to categorize this individual as a woman, you don’t truly know how that individual may recognize themselves. Which I don’t think is inherently problematic in the sense that we all categorize things all the time as we move through life. What we also need to do is challenge those categories, or realize how they fail, or what they do to individuals when they fail. We need to be open to the fact that irrelevant of appearances, we might not have enough information to make that determination, and we need to be open to new information as it arises. When you assign a sex at birth, and you base that off of genitalia, there are going to be doing some people disserviced by doing that. What is the cause for that? What is the precise need? It’s worth thinking about if you’ve never thought about it before. But we’ll get back to that. Now chances are, in most cases, someone that you identify as a woman also identifies as a woman. But it’s important to keep an open mind and realize that you could be wrong, to have an open mind and challenge your observations and assumptions. So let’s say you meet someone who self-identifies as a woman and get back to the example…

You get to talking with her. The criteria you are judging someone on consists of a mixture of self-determined ideas of “what you look for in someone” and what society tells you. Let’s say this someone meets your criteria for someone you consider attractive, whatever that mixture of self-informed and ascribed criteria might be. You know some things about her, but you are making lots of inferences. Perhaps she’s especially dressed up tonight for a reason you are not aware and she does not normally dress this way. Perhaps she always wears make-up except for this one time when she was running out of the house because she was late. Things like that. There’s just a lot you don’t know about a person the first time you meet them. Hell, there’s a lot about a person you don’t know the hundredth time you meet them. But let’s still look past that (though again, always be questioning those kinds of thoughts) and get to some things that you really, truly just don’t know about this person that you are chatting up at a bar. You do not know her genital configuration. That is not public information based on how she presents. You might make some assumptions about it. But here’s a simple question. Why?

People can and do have a variety of genital configurations. People can and do have sex with a variety of genital configurations. People can and do use a variety of other non-genital body parts. People can and do use a variety of other objects, too. Sex consists of multifarious acts in all sorts of wonderful configurations. It’s pretty cool that way. And I don’t see what net affect learning someone’s genital configuration has on that other than how we might go about it in the specific sense with that individual. The person you thought was attractive is still sitting right there, drink in hand, and there are still a lot of mutually pleasurable things you can do with each other if the evening heads that way. When you make an assumption about the genitals of person, you are buying into some damaging ideas about what a person should be like based on one sole characteristic. If the idea of having sex with a trans woman scares you because she might not have a vagina, then why? Why does she need to have a vagina? The lack of a vagina does not preclude sex. We generally don’t fall for peoples’ genitalia. Maybe that’s just my experience, but I don’t hear about it being the case either. If you found someone attractive before, what has truly changed?

2

Some days I grow tired of having the same discussions over and over, how reductive it is to think of genitals as gender. I grow tired of the myths I read about in the most recent article about someone being denied access to a bathroom even though last time I checked, people aren’t checking each others’ genitals in a bathroom, of how people spread malicious views of trans women as sexual predators and monsters for no reason, of how we’ll always be male irrelevant of our lived experiences, of how, even after a tragic murder, we’ll be misgendered in death as we constantly are in life. I may have been assigned male at birth, but I was never male. If you don’t see that distinction, I don’t know what to say that is going to help you get that. But here’s another effort.

Obviously, I got past a lot of those feelings and got to a point where I am now living authentically and have been for several years. Though I still ultimately pursued it and wanted it, surgery didn’t change those feelings. Time did. Self-examination and exploration of where those thoughts came from did. Refusing to let myself be defined by something like my genitals did. Challenging myself to remember that it is not others who determine who I am and my worth, but me did. I said all along that surgery was never a primary goal of mine, and even years later, that’s still true. And before we get any further, I didn’t suddenly become female after surgery. I have always been female. I pursued it because it felt like the right option for me and because (this is a big because) my insurance covered my gender-reaffirming surgery. But that doesn’t make me more or less of a woman. I’ll keep saying it until the day I die: A vagina is not a panacea. It’s not going to magically solve my problems. Certainly I feel more comfortable and am happy with the result, but it doesn’t make sex easier or better or worse, just different. It’s not going to suddenly make people who didn’t view me as a woman before view me as one. They’ll just find some new form of essentialism to judge me by (I don’t have a uterus, I’m XY (though, how do they really know?), etc.). I internalized way too many negative feelings regarding my self-worth for a long time vis a vis how I felt about myself as a trans woman because that’s what was all around me. It can be difficult to be authentic when you are surrounded by media that shows you as little more than a prostitute or a joke, people who casually toss off offensive comments playing on the worst stereotypes of gender like that’s a totally acceptable thing to do, and a world that is indifferent at best and deadly at worst the vast majority of the time. These attitudes about genital essentialism are dangerous. It’s not genitals that need to change. It goes without saying that I support any other trans individual who might also choose to have gender-affirming surgery, but I also give the same level of support to anyone who chooses not to as well. Aside from the financial implications, it’s a deeply personal decision and it’s not something that every trans person desires or wants to live authentically as who they are. People need to realize that; unfortunately, most people don’t know what to do with that kind of information, since it defies the easy categorization that we all find comforting in our lives.

To be clear, I do not believe the error lies in not knowing what to do with the information; there is so much we don’t know, after all. The error lies in our inability to admit how little we know, about ourselves, about the world around us, the error lies in our obsessive need to create a rigid taxonomy of the world when things so fluid, where there are far more options than we care to admit at times. My parents mourned the loss of a son in the weeks and months after I came out; perhaps they still do. I’m not really sure because they don’t really talk about it, at least with me. But that son only existed because we’re so bent on classifying children into either/or categories out of the womb (even before then as technology has gotten better) that someone classified me that way. We are buying into these gendered realities for children, painting rooms certain colors, buying certain clothes and certain toys before they are even born. While I get that a newborn cannot tell you their experience of gender, it isn’t all that long until a child can. So what’s the rush to categorize, to tell someone that there’s only certain ways to be because we had to check a box on a form? It does immediate harm in the sense of how we treat intersex children, and contributes to lasting harm to intersex and trans children most obviously, but it also does harm to cis children who express interests that are considered non-gender appropriate by a lot of people in society. There’s so much variance within the species, and yet many people still seem to believe that something as complex as gender is a simple his and hers affair.

Of course I can’t guarantee what kind of decisions I would have made as a young child had my parents given me a choice in this regard. It’s quite likely I still would have internalized the message around me, that something was wrong with me for feeling the way I did, and that I should not be this way, and that my desire to be myself was not particularly supported by society in general because it didn’t fit what everyone expected of me. I always knew that I wasn’t like other people, and I always pushed that aside, figured out how to blend in and not draw attention to myself in regard to my experience with gender. Because that is the message that society broadcasts, loud and clear. That there is something wrong with you if you don’t fit into a certain category based a few criteria, and woe unto you if you think society made a mistake regarding that category. In most cases, it’s based on one criterion. Society is so prescriptive when it comes to gender, based on so little. Even before children develop any secondary sexual characteristics due to hormones, where the difference (or at least the assumed difference) is genitals, those messages are pushed. I don’t know if that’s changing more rapidly. It seems like it is at least changing, in the sense that there are more stories of trans children, and therefore more awareness, that families at least seem more able to process that and listen when their child says, hey, I know the doctors said that I’m this because of my genitals, but I’m not.

3

Genitalia doesn’t just change all on its own, of course; then again, neither do assumptions. That’s why it’s imperative to challenge those kinds of thoughts, to get at why one might have them, and think about whether or not they’re warranted or we’ve just absorbed a lot of what’s all around us without thinking about it. Saying someone has to have a certain genital configuration to be a certain gender, or worse yet that because they were born with something we needed to categorize just to assuage ourselves, they will always be that certain gender, is the worst form of essentialism.

Even after I came out, I had a hard time getting past those kinds of thoughts. For a while, I just avoided the entire idea of relationships, of trying to figure out how to navigate my transness. I was happy being out, but still terribly afraid of navigating the act of disclosure, of what it would say about me. I was still too worried that I had to do that. I frequently thought that no one would really like me as who I was. I was still abiding by this entire idea that people would not see me as the woman I am. And while plenty of people certainly still don’t given the kinds of interactions I have with people, lots of people do. But those aren’t the people that I’m looking for a relationship with anyway.

I internalized that genital essentialism for far too long, let that dictate how I acted, let it dictate that I somehow wasn’t going to be able to find a worthwhile relationship, and used it as an excuse even as I was starting to live this more open life. That’s precisely why it is damaging to spew that kind of nonsense. I am mad at myself for buying into so much of it for so long, thinking that I didn’t have the same worth or value in a relationship for reasons like that. That is on me for not taking the time to think about how ridiculous it is, for not educating myself, for not finding the right people. But it is also on a society that propagates the idea. That’s something that needs to change. Of course, there are still way too many reasons to be fearful of how you might get treated when you’re trans. There are still far too many trans women who are murdered because of ideas like that. And far too many people who get away with the act because we live in a society where trans panic is still a reason that a jury will believe, as if the thought of learning someone’s genital configuration or assigned sex at birth doesn’t match what you expected is an acceptable reason to kill another human being. Think about that for a second. Think about what that says about the value of a trans woman’s life. It’s not like you ever read about anyone successfully using cis panic as a successful defense for murder.

Which brings us back to something I’ve thought about a lot, too much, the concept of disclosure, the idea that it is a trans person’s place to reveal a deeply intimate detail that a cis person would never ever be expected to reveal prior to a sexual encounter. When you say I should have to disclose that I am trans, that it is my responsibility because I am the one that is trans, that is a terrible amount of presumption and privilege. By saying that I am not what you expected, you are tacitly reinforcing those damaging ideas again, that there is a right set of genitalia to have vis a vis one’s gender. Or a right gender to be at all. Or that I’m somehow this duplicitous trap existing to turn men gay or something equally unbelievable and ridiculous. I have to make the calculus of whether it’s safer to say something or not, and I usually err to the side of saying something. I’m pretty up front about being trans. And I personally don’t like the risk associated with not saying something. Wishing that risk didn’t exist (because it shouldn’t) is not the same as mitigating it. But that in it of itself does not say much about whether or not I’ve had surgery, which is not something I necessarily disclose. And while I am personally pretty up front about that, too, at least in writing, it’s important not to confuse my personal decision with how to go about something with what an entire group of people should do something or how they even want to go about the idea of what one should have to say. Why are trans people expected to have these kinds of conversations? Is it just to make you comfortable? Why aren’t others responsible for questioning their assumptions and expectations?

Most people do not seem to grasp why someone might not want to disclose or might not feel the need. But if you’ve ever seen someone’s look change after they learn that you’re trans, well, then you know what I mean. If you haven’t…I’m not quite sure how to describe it. When people try to make you feel better after you disclose being trans by saying something like “I never would have known”, there’s that tacit reinforcement again. Oh, I just thought you were a woman, not one of “those” women. It’s awful to watch that play out on someone’s face while waiting for all the importunate questions that will then follow about what is or isn’t real about you, who you were before, etc. I personally have no problem understanding why someone would not want to go through that experience every time they met someone they wanted to have sex with. Sharing something like that is not an invitation to question the validity of the person in front of you. But that’s frequently what ends up happening.

4

I didn’t make any sort of choice to be trans. I did make a choice to live authentically and be who I know I am. It’s always a work in progress. I look at some of the ideas and thoughts I had six, seven years ago and I cringe. But that’s why it’s important for me to keep talking about ideas like this, to keep reading about them, to keep writing about them, to keep challenging my own views of my experience with gender and my identity therein. So many of my ideas in regard to trans care, trans identity, and how people interact with that have shifted over the years because I keep doing that. Whereas I once thought of gatekeeping as a necessary evil (and I think the record will bear I’ve always been somewhat ambivalent about it), a means to an end, I now think of it as mostly evil, something designed to deny service to many people for no good reason, to make it more difficult when there are already so many punitive costs to being trans in our society already, something that exists to pathologize trans people. I don’t advocate tinkering with your body chemistry without the care of a doctor, but why is it so hard to find care for that through the medical system? Why are so many doctors ignorant about the basic needs and care of trans patients? Why did I need two people to sign off on my GRS, why did I need to live x years in my target gender or however they phrased it? I mean, I know I needed to do it in the sense that I was trying to get my insurance to pay for it, so I jumped through all the hoops they set out for me. But why do those hoops even exist? Who do they serve? Definitely not trans individuals.

It was tedious in the sense that I had to make a lot of phone calls, and I had to stay on top of my insurance company, and keep making sure everyone got everything three times it seemed just to get it to go through once. It was a constant fight. There were a lot of upfront costs that later got recouped, something that not necessarily everyone can manage. Hell, I had to take the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory twice because they somehow managed to lose my first one. I didn’t see the privilege inherent in my position at the time, was not nearly as aware of the abject poverty and unemployment that faces too many trans individuals (complicating aspects like money and insurance), and really didn’t get much in the way of diversity in terms of the people I interacted with. I did group therapy for several years, and unless my memory is failing, I don’t recall a single trans woman of color being present. Which says a lot. I get that Minnesota is not exactly teeming with diversity in a statistical sense, but when you put together the intersection of ideas like class and race, you can certainly see how something like that is not doing a good job of supporting many people who need support. And while there was a bit more diversity in regard to class, it was still white trans women with decent incomes and insurance for the most part. Then I didn’t know the difference. Now, I’d argue that kind of system is failing the people who need its support most. And I think the data bears that out. The system, as it’s designed, is basically designed for me, even as it’s evolved. That is to say, a white trans woman with a decent income and a decent job that provides insurance as well. At the time, I just didn’t get that perspective, didn’t grasp how problematic it was. I was pretty focused on me, and what I needed. But it’s about so much more than me and what I need.

The further I get from gatekeeping, the more I realize how fucked it was, how much time I had to waste to jump through someone else’s hoops, how awful and demeaning it was. Then, it was just something I knew I needed to do to get what I wanted. But there is so much privilege tied up in that for no good reason, so many rules that I had to play by that are pointless in retrospect. If I learned anything in the gatekeeping process, it was that there was still a right way to be. Even at a place where they were experienced dealing with trans individuals, there was still a certain way to be that was going to get you through, to get the paperwork to happen properly, and to get whatever you wanted. And even though we were only there because we wanted something fairly simple, a little help to live our lives more authentically, we frequently ended up saddled with so much more. I had a relatively benign experience with it all, but that’s no reason to excuse the system in place, because again, it’s about so much more than me. Even if it takes a different shape, the whole process still reeks of essentialism. Perhaps we were dealing with people who were more open-minded about something like our gender identities or what we desired to live our lives more authentically, but it still felt like there was a certain way you had to be to get those gears turning, and the system still didn’t benefit someone who didn’t neatly fit into their idea of what trans people should be like.

My language in regard to who I am is always evolving. I wish I’d had the grasp I have now when I came out. I wish I’d explained things better, or had the more precise vocabulary I had now to describe my experiences with my gender. My thoughts on the experiences they had, what they meant, that’s always changing too. Sometimes the experiences that seemed worthless are now valuable, and the experiences that seemed okay at the time look really harmful now. I realize how that I still held some pretty discriminatory ideas about the trans experience not so long ago, that my thoughts were mostly selfishly informed, that I really didn’t understand the issues that a lot of other trans women faced because I was willfully ignorant, which is sad to think about, really; I didn’t want to take advantage of all this information that’s so easy to locate these days, I didn’t take the time to make myself more aware. So all I’m asking of you is the same thing I’m asking of myself. I’m not just asking you to challenge your observations and assumptions. I’m reminding myself to constantly challenge my own. I’m not immune to making potentially harmful observations and assumptions either. I don’t want to, and I try not to, and I have to keep reminding myself of that, to remember that essentialism might work the vast majority of the time, that we have a natural impulse toward it, but when I encounter someone that challenges those sets of attributes, it’s not that person that needs to change, it’s my thoughts and ideas that need to change and grow. There is so much I don’t even understand about myself and where I fit into this world; why should I presume that I understand that about so many others? There’s always more to learn, so keep an open mind, and I’ll keep challenging myself to do the same.

Little Thoughts

Last night at The Independent, the staff at the door checked the bag of the woman in immediately in front of me. I keep my purse slung across my chest (especially when bike riding, but pretty much all the time now) and mostly behind me, and I was getting ready to slide it around so the man working the door could shine his little flashlight in and look at my bike gloves and lights and keys and wallet, but he just waved me right through. Which is fine and all. But here’s the thing: why didn’t he look in my bag? They know me at the door at Rickshaw Stop and they still do it. I wondered, just for a second, if it was possible that he didn’t notice, but you know, I had a bright orange strap across my chest, it’s not like I was hiding it. And I wondered a bit more darkly whether it was because he didn’t think I would have a purse because of how he saw me. These were just the little thoughts that skittered across my brain as I went inside, grabbed a Prohibition, and forgot about it for the duration of Forest Swords and How To Dress Well.

Now look, I can already see you’re shaking your head (well, I can’t see, it’s the Internet, but I can guess) and thinking, “Jane, that’s absolutely ridiculous. There’s a million reasons this could have happened”. And I agree there are a million reasons something like what happened last night could have happened too. But that’s just the kind of thing that people say all the time to denigrate the experiences of trans individuals. These are simply were my thoughts. Not right or wrong or anything like that, just what was going through my head while it was happening. I am not saying that any of what happened had anything to do with being misgendered or anything like that. I wasn’t particularly piqued by the experience or anything like that, I didn’t get that impression from the encounter, and I’m not a huge fan of jumping to conclusions based on one experience. There was no reason to yell at the guy or force him to search my bag just to assert my identity. That’s the apotheosis of insecurity with my identity, with who I know I am. He could have done it to a lot of other people with bags in line as well, too. It’s not like I stayed and watched. All I’m saying is that some amount of my brain spent some amount of energy on that thought (and the associated feelings), like it does far too often with far too many interactions in my life. It’s really rare that I turn that off, especially when I interact with strangers. I’ve mentioned this before. This is perhaps a clearer illustration of that principle.

But here’s the thing. I’m a big believer in Occam’s razor. And for all of the other reasons that any of these little things could happen in my life, being called sir, being asked for by the wrong name, or in this case that got my brain working, not having my bag searched, whatever, I have enough lived experience to know the simplest explanation is that most people do not see me as a woman. This is why I’ve wanted to push back more, to hear what people say, to actually see if they’ll admit to that, to try and get at what they are possibly thinking in those moments. I’m not quite there yet, or at least not reliably there. But also, I want to create that dialogue, or at least try to, because I’m not sure many people are aware of that. I do not know what any of those individuals are thinking in those moments any more than they know what I am thinking in those moments.

I recently started a project to try and hold myself more accountable for calling people on the more obvious instances because I don’t want to be that person who internalizes this stuff anymore. It does seem like the more diligent I’ve been, the less it’s come up. And even then, I’ve failed to be as diligent as I should be, as I want to be. Last Saturday was just another reminder when the guy sitting next to me asked for my name and obviously heard what he wanted to hear instead of what I said followed by the bartender calling me sir thirty seconds later. And no, it didn’t make its way to Tumblr, because I’m still having trouble pushing back sometimes. A lot of the time. Because it’s easy when I’m separated from the experience, when I can be didactic and think about all the ways that I would respond. But it’s really hard to do in that moment. And it’s hardly like anyone else bothers to say anything most of the time. There have just been instances where I was unprepared for the scope of what just happened. There have been instances that have made me consider expanding the scope. I have to constantly remind myself that it’s my right to be respected for who I am, and I have to constantly fight for that in the littlest of ways. It’s a sad way to live, always carrying thoughts and feelings like that around with you.

I am smart enough to understand that one experience does not speak to the totality of a person, how a person might grow from the experience, how they might be ignorant of the impact of what they just said or did, and how frequently those little actions can be misinterpreted. I know because I’m still on the other side of that a lot myself, trying to challenge myself to be a better person, to be more aware of what I say and the impact it has, of how something as simple as my word choice can have such a major impact on the feelings of another person around me when I barely thought about the words coming out of my mouth. So as mad as I get, as piqued as I sound, as helpless as I feel, I always try to keep that in mind. It could be a waste of my time and energy. I don’t believe one experience or interaction is enough to dismiss the totality of a person in most cases, especially if I’m only guessing as to the thoughts behind that interaction. When I see a pattern develop, that’s different, and that begets a different response entirely. Some days, I think I spend too much energy on people who aren’t worth it. For as cynical as I can be, perhaps that’s just the hopeless idealist in me, spilling so many thoughts and words about a relatively minor interaction. But it’s important to say them. It’s important for you to think about them. It’s important for me, too.

Excuse Me Miss

I have a tendency to use this space to complain about the various indignities that go along with living while trans. And while there are certainly far greater injustices than my own going on out there right now in the trans community, there are also far better people to keep you posted on that. And go, read them, follow them, like them, retweet them, get that news however you may. You should. This always has been and always will be my little space to share my little experiences. And while most of the time my life is fairly banal (I go to work, go home, try to find things that I enjoy that have meaning, and sleep like most everyone else), there are still the constant minor indignities that go along with simply being trans in our society. Though it seems to be happening a bit less recently, I’m still always vigilant for the next person who is waiting to misgender me, or use my mere existence as a joke in my presence, or just not get that it’s a very simple thing to simple treat someone with respect. I have to be. That’s the state of how things are presently. It’d be great not to expend that energy; I hope for a future where that truly is the case, whenever it may be. That day, though, is not today. Someone recently noted something about honorifics in a discussion I was a part of on Facebook. So let’s talk about honorifics for a second in the general sense, and my specific experience with them today that got me thinking about this once again.

Honorifics are the various words that we use to convey respect to people. In a truly linguistic sense, we don’t really have them, at least not in the way that a language like Japanese does. We do not make the distinction between Thee and You that your English professor might have made a big deal about in your Shakespeare classes (if you had the honor of having such a class or professor). In English, we don’t have grammatically gendered language. Take German, for example: die Katze is feminine, der Hund is masculine, but in English, they aren’t truly masculine or feminine; it has to do with how inflected languages operate, what endings and pronouns and other markers words take. In synthetic languages, that’s how it goes. That might explain why everyone keeps calling your cat she and your dog he, I can’t say for certain. Either way, they are just words. Now, they certainly have connotative means that get attached, linguistic markers, but our pronoun choice and inflected endings aren’t dictated by that because we don’t have those sorts of things. English is an analytic language after all. Of course, words still have gender attached, albeit in different ways. There aren’t linguistic markers except in the cases of words such as pronouns. So when we talk about honorifics in English, we are talking about titles, the way we address people. And in the case of those systems of words, they definitely have gendered connotations. Sir and ma’am (and the various iterations therein) are the only ones that most of us run into, though vocational titles such as Father (in the case of a priest) or Doctor are in the same class of words. They are words we use to connote a certain level of respect when we are speaking to people. Now, the last two examples are words that pertain to forms of address one must do something to attain, and while Father is certainly definitely gendered, doctor no longer is (well, it probably still is a little, but hopefully that will go away once and for all soon enough) Those titles are derived from the skills and experiences one attains, not just who someone is in relation to their gender and marital status. But when we use ones like sir and ma’am, I don’t think there’s actually a lot of respect behind them. I’d go so far as to say that people who repeatedly use gendered honorifics aren’t necessarily truly concerned with respect as much as they are concerned with the perception of respect. Perhaps a subtle difference, but a real one. There’s a difference between feigned respect and true respect, the same way there’s a difference between a feigned smile and a real one. Raising someone to always say sir or ma’am when meeting someone is raising someone to categorize everyone they meet instantaneously. That’s not training someone to be open-minded, that’s training someone to be reactionary to certain perceptions that may or may not be true. It never fails to amuse me (at least after the moment passes) how much people are trying to be respectful at least when they say something like “How may I help you today, sir?”. They aren’t being respectful. They are parroting. I have personally never found it all that difficult to be polite without resorting to words like sir and ma’am. Plenty of cispeople bristle at those sorts of terms, too, though, obviously there’s not the same sort of dissociative experience that goes along with having your gender denied for cispeople (unless someone misgenders them, of course).

My insurance company is USAA for as long as I’ve had any sort of insurance for things like automobiles and homes and rentals. And I’ve never honestly ever given much consideration to switching. I’ve always been pleased with how good their people are, how good their service is, and how well they handle what I throw at them. We always have pleasant conversations. And I’ve never once been questioned about how they should address me, though I think I’ve filled it out on their forms a time or two. I am guessing that’s where they get it from. When they ask to speak with Jane, and I say speaking, I don’t get that drawn out “sure….” that I get from so many other places. There’s no incredulity in their tone when they address me as miss. And no one ever calls me James. Even when I called to switch all the paperwork over from my old name, it was a seamless process. Anecdote is not data, of course. I don’t know if other individuals had bigger problems with the experience, and given the kinds of experiences I have, oh, say, anywhere else in life, I could easily imagine that they have. And given that I am more gender conforming than some who fall under the trans umbrella (in the sense that I identify as female, don’t have a problem with female pronouns or terms of address, etc.), it’s probably easier for the system to be more accommodating. Or at least for me to perceive it that way. I cannot speak to what the experience of what it might be for someone who does not identify with those pronouns and terms, someone who finds them to be inadequate to who they are. Hopefully we are moving in that direction that is more encompassing and addresses their needs as well. Our current system is still woefully inadequate in terms of how we think about gender and identity and how that relates to language and how it’s subtly everywhere in the language we use even if we lack gender in the grammatical sense. But like I said, this is my one little space, to talk about one little experience, or one little set of experiences. And in this case, I had another good one, like I always do when I talk with my insurance company. I certainly don’t spend all my time thinking about being trans and what that means. Most of the time, it’s hardly germane to what I’m trying to do or the experiences that I have. But when I have to pick up the phone and talk with strangers, I always think about it just a little. I never think about who I am when I call USAA. And that’s a good thing. That’s how it should be. I’ve already got something else on my mind if I’m talking with my insurance company. It’s nice to know that some people out there can respect that and deal with me like anyone else.

This Must Be The Place

Last night, at Great American Music Hall, Russian Cirlces made me cry. Totally different circumstances than last week, mind you. It’s just because their music is so beautiful, has so much emotion. It’s difficult to explain. They don’t even try to use words, so I wonder what good they are in that capacity. It’s a good reason to feel that way, a good reason to feel at all, because something is just so beautiful. Perhaps that’s not the reaction of a lot of people have. I don’t know how it couldn’t be. Of course there are moments where it’s overwhelmingly heavy, where all the people banging into each other makes just as much sense, but there’s those quiet moments that just hit you when you least expect, the building guitars, the crisp drumming, the bass slowly humming until it all builds and builds and builds into something much bigger. There are such amazing swells in those songs. All without words. Sometimes words just get in the way. Sometimes it’s hard to say what it is we have to say. Sometimes it’s just a challenge to figure out how to get something across with our limited vocabularies

After a week of decompressing not just from Noise Pop (and its amazingness) but also some of its low points, I was happy that Russian Circles was my first show in a week. I’ve been looking forward to this show since Memorial was announced, scoping tour dates and figuring they’d eventually make it here, and sure enough, they made it, albeit several months after the album finally dropped. Quirks of touring and being on the West Coast and all. I was back at Great American, which was a pretty setting for this show, the right kind of setting. I found myself strangely less annoyed at than previously had been over the last 10 months of living here. It’s a great room that has great music, I just never felt much of a connection with it. Now, of course, I am always going to have a bad memory here, but that’s no reason not to come back here. I have a lot of good memories here, too, in a few short months, Godspeed!, Julia Holter, Chelsea Wolfe all come to mind off the top of my head. Besides, what happened last week, that’s the best reason to go back there, to get it out of my head, to make my most recent memory here a band making me cry for completely different reasons. Sometimes circumstance works out like that.

Seven years ago I would have reacted differently. I would have let that feeling fester instead of dealing with it, getting it out, processing my thoughts and more importantly my feelings about what went down. In fairness, seven years is also a long time. I have changed a lot as a person and probably would have no matter what occurred. But I wasn’t out, and even as I was laying the groundwork, I was still deathly afraid of the whole idea of being myself, and letting the word see me. Not that I was happy with who I was or anything. Just that I could not figure out how to bridge the gap between who everyone perceived me to be and my authentic self. I internalized a lot of things then, and I took on a lot of blame that I should not have. But the idea that someone would have said something in a public setting like that like I experienced with Mark Kozelek was what kept me from coming out too. I hated the thought of things like that happening. Certainly I still experienced many of the feelings I feared that night, and I still experience them with some frequency. The difference is, I was using that thought to keep me from doing anything about living authentically and being myself. I was too scared of what might happen to instead deal with what does happen. Perhaps that distinction doesn’t make a lot of sense to you, or is hard to understand, but there’s a big difference between going into situations and dealing with whatever comes out of them versus not getting yourself into the situation in the first place because you’re scared of what might happen. Potentialities versus actualities, if you will. It took me a long time to get past that. And those things that I feared so long ago do still occur. I will never be a woman in the eyes of some people. But that’s not my problem, and I’m not going to let those kinds of people dictate how I live my life.

And even after I came out, it took me a while to shake that, to realize that I didn’t do anything to deserve the way some people acted towards me. I was happy being myself, but I was still way too willing to take the blame. If someone misgendered me, obviously it was something I needed to do better. If someone didn’t know whether to invite me to a womens only affair, well, I had to go and make everything more difficult because of who I was. I was just so happy authentically being myself that I didn’t really take time to challenge that a little more. But that happiness, that initial feeling of being out and authentic and sharing yourself with the world, it does where off. Six years later, it just gets tedious to hear people try and explain how I complicate things, or how they aren’t sure how to treat me or just didn’t think that’s what I said. Luckily, I have a group of friends for whom that largely hasn’t been an issue, a group of friends that has really grown with me, a lot of friends that I’ve known for years now who realize that I’ve always just been me, I’m just more me now. Or at least a truer representation of myself.

I am not really sure when I flipped the switch and realized how problematic that attitude was, of how much I was internalizing ideas like that, of how much I was going out of my way to make everyone else more comfortable than myself. But I some point, I began to realize, look, I am not doing anything wrong, I am just being me. If I am not hurting anyone, then really, who gives a fuck? Of course still, I wrestle with those sorts of thoughts. No matter how inured I am to the next person who will call me by the wrong name (record still goes to the person who called me Glen. Glen!), no matter how much I know it’s not my fault and it’s nothing I did, no matter how much I learned to push through that, or as I am trying to do now, push back, it always hurts a little. It’s a tangible reminder of how people see me. It is a tangible reminder when someone apologizes for leaving me on hold, but not for calling me by the incorrect name, that they don’t even see what the problem is. And no matter how inured I get, it always hurts a little. But there’s a difference between dwelling on something and processing how it felt and moving on. I still have my times where I dwell on things far longer than I probably should, but I’ve learned to push past that, and part of pushing past that is engaging those uncomfortable feelings, really taking a look at the uncomfortable moments in my life. I am pretty good at doing that with the people I directly interact with now, though it’s still difficult to figure out exactly how I want to approach the next moment I’m misgendered or someone asks me something they really shouldn’t just because I’m trans.

I got my first taste of seeing that on a scale beyond the people I directly interact with last week and I am honestly not sure how some trans women (or a lot of other people, for that matter) put up with that if that’s what fills the comments sections and Twitter feeds. Though I am guessing it’s the same skill, learning to endure, learning to inure, not because you want to or because you have to, but because you must simply to assert your right to be and your right to say what you must. Learning not to live by what other people say, and learning not to let that rule your actions. I don’t want that to happen in my life, ever again. I’m done living like that. I worried about that for far too long. And while I still feel like I have a lot of work to do to get to where I want to be, that’s internally driven. Living authentically is hard work. But I’m glad I didn’t let that experience dictate what I ended up doing last night. I’m glad I wasn’t overwhelmed by what happened, even though, at the time, it was hard to imagine going back to Great American. It had nothing to do with the place. I’ve learned that distinction by now, that separation. It was merely a setting, and I was merely there, but none of that truly influences the way others act. It still hurts, though that too will pass, I’d imagine. Last night, it was a place I was happy to be at.

Ones And Zeros

There are times I feel I’ve written the same entry endlessly, where every foray at the keyboard is just another chance to roll a boulder up the hill that will inevitably roll back down. One of these days it’s just gonna stay at the top of that hill, right? Of course, I don’t have to keep saying anything. That’s my choice. I do not have to try and be an advocate for myself or for others. But not being an advocate, at least for myself (and hopefully for others as well) doesn’t really feel like a realistic solution to me. It doesn’t make me feel any better or help me sleep at night or make me feel any less embarrassed and frustrated when the next embarrassing and frustrating moment rolls along. It’d be a privilege to not have to take the time to do this, to use that time to do other things. Hell, that’s exactly what it is. In addition to its many other guises, privilege is not having to take time out of every day to defend yourself, to explain yourself, to try and get across to people who you are, to not explain the various uphill battles you face trying to do the simplest things just because of who you are, and not have to argue whether any of that is valid even though it obviously is. I am tired of dealing with your incompetence, your denial, your inability to accept, or get things correct in the system, or actually make a malleable enough system that it’s responsive to the fact that we are not all simple binary bits that you plug into a database.

But see, therein lies the problem. I still have to get that name updated in that system. I still have to decide how to deal with the gender flag. For me, I don’t mind the F, but is that really a solution when there’s people out there who feel underserved by the either/or construction? Should I do more to try and fight that? I still have to ask myself those kinds of questions. I still have to take the time to defend myself. I still have to take the time to lay out why it’s damaging to misgender me and how that makes me feel even though I did nothing wrong. I still have to ask why you just did that. Or someone does. But as much as there might be primers on how to handle a lot of those issues (I shouldn’t really have to explain pronouns, or assumptions about sexual orientation, or any of that, and I don’t. There’s lots of good resources out there for things like this), there’s no primer that’s going to make sure that all that data floating around gets updated. It’s intractable, data, everywhere, and unforgiving, to boot. Just because I’m tired of dealing with your incompetence doesn’t mean I can’t if I ever want anything to be an authentic representation of who I am. I can stop engaging people on an individual level about the negative effects of conflating gender identity and sexual identity, or stop telling people how it feels to be looked at as other, I can stop correcting people when they use the wrong pronouns. But in a way, it’s all the same fight. It’s all the same reason that I bother to speak out in the first place. It’s because I want people to see me as a person, as who I am, and if they don’t see me that way, I want to challenge them as to exactly why it’s so hard to do that and respect me. Sure, sometimes it’s not worth the effort, and it’s frequently enervating. But I’ve had so many positive experiences by having those discussions. Engagement is, after all, a two-way street.

Besides, like I said, the data is unforgiving. But the architects of those systems that collect all that data? That’s people. It’s people that input that data. It’s people that you have to talk to whenever you want to update that data. It’s people that you have to provide additional forms for and all sorts of verification to when you want to change data that to many of those architects seems immutable, like, say, your gender flag or your name. It’s ultimately people who decided to expand your selectable options on Facebook to hopefully find something that more closely matches who you are. Those options are by no means a final definitive list. But it’s certainly a start, a more accurate representation of the diversity that is all around us, even if we are not aware. Most people aren’t going to think anything of the other box that rests right below Female and Male as selections, they are just going to move on. Or they are going to look with a bit of curiosity, perhaps, but forget that it’s even there. My employer actually even has a box where you can select whether or not your trans. Totally optional, but as someone who is proudly out, I do not see the harm in selecting it, in asserting my gender identity whenever I’m given the opportunity. Sure, it could encompass more identities, and it’s definitely not a solution for everyone, but it is a start. Someone had to make those decisions to add those sorts of selections. Those people need to be aware of why the ability to do that is important to some. Next time I’m having the conversation, next time I take the time to explain why I feel the way I feel when someone calls me sir, or why I think it’s problematic to even use gendered honorifics in the first place without really knowing what someone might prefer, who knows who I’ll be talking with? I’m not looking to change your mind. I have no power to do that. I am looking to expand your view though. It’s not a binary proposition. It’s not yes or no, male or female, one or zero. Or it’s all ones and zeros if you think about it. But think about how much binary can express if you give it the chance.

It Needs To Be Said

I’ve always kind of wondered what it’d be like if people actually read something that I wrote. I mean, I’ve been putting a variety of writing out there for a long, long time in one form or another, but basically, it’s collected dust in a little corner of the internet. I haven’t tried to get anything published in a long, long time; even when I did, let’s face it, no one reads poetry. And while I do a lot of writing for my day job, it’s nothing you’ll ever read unless you’re my boss, or at FinCEN, or some government agency, and any Suspicious Activity Report pretty much reads like the rest with varying individual details. And certainly, I know people do read what I put out there, just not that many. It’s mostly a means of communication for people that are in my life, and for myself. Sure, it’s the internet, and anyone can find it. But there’s a lot of internet, and not a lot of reason to find me most of the time in the grand scheme. I’m not important or famous or anything like that. I just write and write and write because it’s something that helps me process the world around me, because it’s a compulsion, and because I feel like even if there aren’t a lot of people making their way over here, it’s a great way for me to communicate with those that do.

So it’s a little weird to think that total strangers are actually looking at something I put here. I mean, I always write knowing that anyone could read it. And I wrote the previous entry knowing that it was of course possible. Anything I say on here is, well, out here, and once something hits the internet, it can be hard to get rid of. But that anyone would? Or not necessarily anyone, but a large subset of someones? I guess I never really consciously processed those kinds of thoughts. Sure, it’d be great to write to a larger audience, but I’d never really thought about the other aspects that go with that. For example, it’s weird to see what strangers say about you, what random assumptions they make about who you are, or what lines they easily toss off on Twitter or in an internet forum. It”s even odder to think about things I have said in a similar context over the years. It can be easy to forget in this day and age that there are people on the other side, and we have so many devices that enable us to depersonalize that communication. Everyone is just a screen name and a head shot these days, all pithy one liners and quips and abbreviated bios. And behind all of those pictures and handles and short words are people. Terrible, beautiful, complicated people. And while there are obviously some truly awful people out there, most of us are that same old mix of good and bad qualities, perfectly human qualities that we generally share with everyone else. It’s a challenge not to make assumptions about other people, not to fall into ideas about concepts like default genders when you see some comment from an entity that you really know nothing about and just assume it’s some cis dude that would say that. Because if I think that same way, how am I any better?

Sometimes it’s more of a challenge, of course? Who says something like “she had to look at this girl a bit and check out if she had boobs to know if she was female”? I suppose it’s quite an honest comment, but it also proves my point a little, you know? Besides, there’s a little more that goes into making a woman than her boobs. Just putting that out there. But I’ve seen that look before. I’ve just never heard those words articulated quite like that. But if you can’t see the reason I reacted the way I did, the reason I felt so terrible in that moment is because these are the kinds of things that people think and say about me just because I’m trans, just because I don’t conform to some supposed idea of binary gender presentation or anything like that, just because estrogen didn’t exactly work its magic on me in all the ways so that I fit into your idea of what a woman should look like, then perhaps you should look at that line again. When you’re trans, there’s still a common view that you’re fair game, that your life is somehow open to outside commentary and questioning that you never particularly asked for or desired, that it’s totally acceptable to look at people like that and say those sorts of lines. People say things to trans individuals that they wouldn’t dream of saying to lots of other people, and they don’t really think about what’s behind those thoughts or why they say them. Sometimes it’s deliberately malicious or hurtful; sometimes it’s just ignorant or poorly thought out; sometimes it rests in the uneasy ground somewhere in between those concepts. I don’t necessarily think that line is deliberately malicious, but it buys into so many concepts about how we define gender, into binary either/or constructs, in such a short space that it’s really breathtaking. At the same time, at no point in the comment was I misgendered, though. It’s a complicated mix of someone both disrespecting who I am and respecting who I am, in strange ways. So no, I don’t necessarily think a bad person said that, but you just don’t have the right to say that about someone just because you don’t understand. Of course I’m going to challenge an idea like that, and of course I’m going to talk about my experiences running into concepts like that all the time. It’s definitely hurtful. And it’s definitely worth remembering that even when you don’t intend to hurt people, you can quite easily do so when you are buying into so many ideas of what something should (or shouldn’t) be.

I wrote about one bad experience with Mark Kozelek. Some others commented elsewhere about similar bad experiences they’ve had on the receiving end of his barbs for a variety of reasons. Others volunteered that it’s just a shtick, part of his stage presence, or how he comes up with what he comes up with, part of the creative process or how he makes such beautiful music. Many didn’t seem to notice at all either way, a tossed off line among so many others that none of the reviewers I saw really remembered. Friends offered invective freely, a defense of someone they know at the expense of someone they do not. None of these are right or wrong. They are our experiences, and we are the products of those. A huge fan of his work that knows nothing about me is going to have a totally different thought process regarding my experiences than someone who has known me for years, has known the struggles I face, and couldn’t name a Sun Kil Moon song to for their life. What I wrote about is what I felt at the time. It’s not a reflection of what necessarily happened, or the totality of what happened, but a reflection of how I processed it all. Different people are going to have different perceptions of events. I’m just sharing mine because I think people should hear it, because it is so frequently buried. If you feel uncomfortable after reading about it…well, I think you should. You are entitled to your take. But none of that invalidates what I felt. I think it was a failed attempt at humor, a deeply hurtful thing to say for no good reason. Hopefully more people realize that now, even if they don’t agree. Of course I logically appreciate that not everyone in that room knew what I felt, or even realized or noticed why I felt that way. I logically knew that most likely, barely anyone registered those kinds of thoughts and they definitely didn’t register those kinds of feelings like that; that’s kind of the problem and that’s a different kind of frustration. That has more to do with a lack of empathy, an inability to see why something like that might be so hurtful to someone. And it’s hard to see what you aren’t aware of. If most people in the room weren’t aware of why something like that could be so hurtful to someone like me, than that’s the problem. That’s the gap. That’s the ground I’m always trying to cover.

And then I remember that I don’t really just write for me. I write because hopefully that helps someone realize what one trans woman’s experience is, at least; I write because maybe this is the first time they’ve even encountered that perspective; I write because it just might actually change a few perspectives every once in a while; I write because I want people to challenge their cisnormative thinking for just a bit, the same reason I read different perspectives to challenge whatever my more normative modes of thinking are. But mostly I write because I think it deserved to be said, which is why I always take the time to say something. I write because perhaps people say things like that and don’t even realize how someone might take that. Even if it is just in one tiny corner, even if almost no one will read it, you never know when it might make a difference. I write because the more someone says I’m overreacting, the more someone says that’s not what it was like at all and tries to invalidate my quite real feelings and fears because that’s not how they saw it, the more people say that’s just the way it is without challenging those kinds of thought processes, the more it needs to be said.

You Always Lose Something

I wrote most of this in the hour or so after, but I’ve lightly edited and added some thoughts for clarity. Because I was full of seething anger. It’s hard to write clearly when you feel like that. But I wanted to capture as much of that as possible.

I wish I could remember the context better. It happened less than an hour ago, and yet it’s already hard to recall. Memory works like that, though. The more you try to remember something, the more it slips away, the more the words change and become what you think you heard. The feelings, though, I remember the feelings, I will always remember the feelings. But the exact phrasing is a bit of a blur at this point. Isn’t it always though?

I showed up at Great American Music Hall a little after 7 pm. I had no volition to repeat the debacle that was Thursday, where I threw a bit of a hissy cow and feel like I did not comport myself all that well in the face of adversity. Besides, I couldn’t think of anything else I really wanted to do for the next hour, so I got there early, grabbed a Bitter American and parked up front. No tables tonight, at least, not for seating, just there as a buffer between the stage and the floor. I milled up front with the other people, early enough to get a space right up there, idly playing with my phone and drying out from the brief shower, hoping that Mark Kozelek might be out by 8:15, knowing that was unlikely.

Sun Kil Moon and Red House Painters, the named projects of Mark Kozelek, have made music that I enjoy. I like his solo stuff too, but I’ve never been hugely inspired to purchase any of his records. I am by no means a super fan. One only has so much time and money, even when one dedicates a pretty large share of her budget dedicated to music. Still, I knew I’d be remiss to pass up this opportunity. It’s part of why I got the Noise Pop badge, after all, to check out some things that I have been meaning to and have the flexibility to pull that off.

About six or seven songs in, he stopped to banter again. He’d previously covered his reasons for playing (fuck Noise Pop, it’s ten blocks from my apartment and I make $10,000) and other topics that didn’t exactly make him seem like the most endearing person. I never got that impression from his music or interviews either. This time, he decided to comment on all the guys up front. He was sitting stage right, so he started on that side, counting across, commenting on all the guys making up the front row. Until he got to me and flippantly said I don’t know or I can’t tell. I wish I could remember his exact words. I can’t even remember if I was ninth or tenth. I just remember that it happened. He’s so fortunate that he requested no audio or video of the night, that I’ll never have the exact words. And then he then continued drone on about all the dudes up front and launch into some other equally insulting talk regarding a guy wearing headphones.

What do you think you’d do in that moment? You can think you know. But how do you react in that space where you have just been so reduced, misgendered and othered in one fell swoop for cheap comic relief in front of 600 or so people? It’s easy to imagine the indignant responses that would roll off your tongue, the clever ways you might turn that situation around. But in practice, what do you do? I felt like I was going to vomit. My heart was pounding. I wanted nothing more than to disappear. And in that moment, there was nothing to say. What do you say? I am not winning that fight. There is no pithy comment that’s going to win the day right there. And as much as I try to prepare myself to calmly deflect those moments, I’ve never had it come up in a moment like that. There are many things I could have shouted. So, so many. But instead, I just smoldered for a minute until I felt like I could at least navigate through the packed crowd without doing anything stupid. I grabbed my stuff and left. I honestly don’t know how I made it through the way I felt, I was so shaky. And it had to be obvious.

I made it outside before I started crying. Not that the Tenderloin is exactly the best place to sit and have a good cry, but you know, you don’t always pick the venue. I got a couple texts. I sent a tweet. A couple staff members asked if I needed anything. A woman asked if I was alright, and commiserated, saying he was an asshole. How many people were just sitting in there still waiting for the next song? I wondered how many people will remember a moment like that later. I am not saying that I expected everyone to walk out with me. But would they even stop to think there was a person on the other end of that cheap line, a person who felt deeply embarrassed by it? Or will they just remember the songs? I know now that other people did notice, and that it is not something that’s just going to be ignored. But in that moment, I felt so alone.

Me? I did what I always do. I write. Perhaps you don’t understand why someone wouldn’t say something right away. Frankly, I just don’t trust myself in those moments. Like I said, what do you even say? I needed at least a little distance from it all. It is by far the worst moment like that I have ever experienced. I hate how those moments make me feel so worthless even though I did nothing at all to deserve it. I went through the trouble of showing up early to get up front just for that to happen. I hate how much those moments remind me of just how so many people see me, as nothing more than a punchline. I am not a curiosity; I am a person. No one deserves that feeling. I wish I could go home and do something symbolic, like destroy one of his records, but I don’t own one, and besides, that wouldn’t solve anything or really make me feel any better. I am just one woman with her experiences, and I had, to date, the most public and humiliating reminder of how hard it is to for people to simply respect that. Even when I am trying to do something simple like see music, which is what I turn towards to get away from that feeling. Where do you turn when your refuge is no longer safe? I’ve been wondering that all night now, and I probably will continue to wonder that for a long time to come.

But I did the other thing I do as well. I went to the The Chapel to see Mikal Cronin, and I hope against hope that he makes me forget for a little while. It’s the least I can hope for. I doubt he will with the state of mind I’m in. Not his fault, of course. Stacked odds. At least he probably won’t personally degrade me in front of the entire audience. I’ve seen him before and he doesn’t seem like that kind of guy. But at least for the rest of tonight, I am not going to stand by the stage and find out. You always lose something in those moments when you find yourself so reduced. Tonight, right now, it feels like I lost a lot. Mikal Cronin still played a wonderful set, and for a couple moments there, he did pull me out of my own head. But this is going to be with me for a long time, at every show; when I go to Great American next week to see Russian Circles, how can I avoid the thoughts and feelings? I am trying to focus on the positives, and there are positives based on the responses I’ve received from several individuals out there. Some days it’s just harder than others, that’s all. March 1st, 2014 was one of them.

 
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