Archive for April, 2014

Echoes Of The Past

Every morning when I walk down to the bus stop, I can see the spires of Golden Gate poking out above the Presidio (unless it’s foggy like it was this morning). Every day when I leave work and walk down California I can see the Bay Bridge in the distance. They still fascinate me, but instead of being these rare and wondrous sights only seen in vacation or in photos, they are just quotidian features of my life. Amazing quotidian features but quotidian nonetheless. It rarely rains (at least because of the drought); it never snows (unless you’ve got a time machine back to 1976). Still, I know it sounds crazy to say that I miss winter. Even if I only had to deal with it for five days this year. I miss the fact that the lakes sound like giant bowls of Rice Krispies when it warms up, the snap, crackle, and pop of spring arriving. I miss the haphazard nature of Minnehaha melting. I just really miss Minnesota. I probably always will. I wonder if I made the right decision to move to Baghdad by the Bay, whether I should have held out for the Rose City or just hitched my wagon further to Wells Fargo in the Twin Cities with that counteroffer. I’ve already been to Portland twice since I moved here, and back to Minnesota twice as well, and will see at least Minnesota one more time before the year is out (and probably Portland just because, you know?). And I love getting to each place. But each trip also reinforces something. There’s just something undeniable about being able to say to someone “I live in San Francisco”. Even if my id still doesn’t reflect that, my payroll taxes definitely do. No, I still haven’t found a better croissant than the one at Tartine, but I do live two blocks from a great poppyseed roll, and it’s just a straight shot across Golden Gate to get an unbelievable corn blueberry muffin from Arizmendi. I have spent more time at Aquarius, though not as much as I’d like, though I did get back there for Record Store Day. And with my recent trip to see Mogwai at the Regency, I can scratch another venue off the big list, though, given how close the Indy is, I’m surprised I don’t get the more. But what can I say? Living here has taught me I’m more of a Rickshaw Stop/Chapel kind of girl.

The past year has been amazing, of that there is no doubt. It was all the things I thought it would be a year ago, exciting, terrifying, exhilarating. Sad, lonely, hard, wondrous, beautiful, agonizing, amazing. I could go on. San Francisco is a multitude of contradictions, from its agonizingly frustrating mass transit (here’s to you, Muni) to the fact that Karl the Fog makes sure no two sunsets ever quite look the same. My job has not quite gone as planned, taking me a bit longer than I would have hoped to get down, but I have settled into it. I am still good at it, and I do still like what I do, and I realize though it seemed so distant just a few short months ago, I’m suddenly one of the experienced people sitting in that cube on California Street. Perhaps it has just slowed down. Now, instead of the questions regarding why I’m looking elsewhere (though let’s be honest, most everyone here has a plan B, or in my case, a plan P), the question is why I came here. And the answer is, how could I not? Whether it’s yarn-bombed benches at the Ferry Building or the Bring Your Own Big Wheels races, there’s still a quirkiness to this city that hasn’t gone away as much as you might think it’s been gentrified out from what you might read, or hell, what we all say. Not that anyone who lives in the Bay Area is particularly surprised that anyone would move here. Everyone who’s here already knows, if you can make it work, why wouldn’t you?

There is, of course, the question of what making it work means. But if I can make it work here, can’t I probably make it anywhere? Isn’t that what I came to prove? Hasn’t that driven the decisions that I’ve made professionally? Wasn’t this always a goal, a dream, now a reality as I sit watching sparks fly off the overhead wire ever so occasionally lighting up my bedroom some nights? I spent so long potentially preparing for this, and then so long just trying to acclimate, now I finally feeling like I’m settling. There’s nothing more to sell on eBay; there’s no more paperwork regarding the receipts for moving expenses and I just don’t need to look at the HUD-1 of the sale of my condo any more, or any HUD-1 for that matter. Though I do still occasionally see one in a professional capacity, and my knowledge of Minnesota and home mortgages still comes up from time to time.

A year ago, I was running around trying to soak up as much as I could while simultaneously getting ready to move. I was plotting a course that would take me through National Parks I could have spent days and weeks in, figuring out exactly how much would fit in a RAV-4, and seeing just how many more shows I could squeeze in at the various venues of the Twin Cities between pastries and beers with friends. I still don’t remember my last show at the Mainroom before I left (must not have been that memorable), but that didn’t stop me from making it back for Neutral Milk Hotel. Though they had a certain majesty at the Fox in Oakland as well. Two different shows, in two different places, with a sea of different people. The faces are starting to become somewhat more familiar here at each venue, and I know the door staff and bartenders, but it’s still and always true that none of them are the Entry. Though my Entry hoodie remains an excellent conversation starter.

There have been hard days here, I won’t lie. Days where I cry and wonder whether or not this was a smart decision, whatever that means. Days where I cry because I miss all that I left behind, just like I knew I would when I was leaving. I can’t imagine I’ll ever feel any different about Minnesota, about all my wonderful friends there, about the many things I left incomplete there that never will be finished now. But that has been true of all the stops along the way, and even if I live here the rest of my life, it’ll be true of here as well. It’s simply true of life. But I’ll always be Minnesotan at heart, always miss it, and always know that it has informed who I am the most, as an adult, as my authentic self. It’ll always be the place I legally changed my name, and emotionally accepted who I truly am. Perhaps that is in large part why it will always be special to me. But perhaps it’s just the wonder of Minnesota, really, a beautiful place with a lot of beautiful people that I miss daily. Though I still get my share of Minnesotans here, as we find each other, and it’s great to reconnect with old friends, like the week I saw three different good friends from high school simply virtue of being in the one place that seems to make that possible. For as great as Minnesota is, almost no one goes there unless they have a reason; it’s their loss. Minnesota is reason enough. But I live in California now.

So San Francisco, help me celebrate what will soon be a year out here. Come to Inner Sunset and grab a drink with me at Social Kitchen, or we can meet halfway in the Haight for Toronado if you prefer. Let’s finally play some games. Let’s get a float from Humphrey Slocombe or watch the City Lights at the Ferry Building. Hell, let’s catch a Giants game one of these days, even if it costs too much. Come with me to a show one of these days, I swear you’ll enjoy it. Or just hang out in Golden Gate. And Minnesotans, come visit. I know you’ve got a great state, but I’ve got a hell of a city to show off to you. Give me a reason to get back to Zeitgeist, or to cross the Bay and hit up Beer Revolution. If not there, well, there’s always some good Burmese to grab, or a Mission burrito, or really pretty much anything here. Just bring good walking shoes with you, and don’t be afraid to get them a little dirty when we go up to Mount Davidson. It’s always muddy up that way in the summer anyway, it seems. Whatever it is, let’s do it. Who knows when we’ll get the chance again, or how long I’ll be here. I’m not planning on leaving, but you never really know where life takes you. So let’s get out there and do something.

And if you can’t make it from Minnesota, don’t worry, I’ll be seeing you again soon.

Open Spaces

To say that I am not all that excited about Record Store Day (RSD) would be an understatement. Maybe a couple years ago. But at this point, my feelings on the affair are much more complex. The whole idea of it definitely makes me ambivalent. You don’t need another piece on that, though. I believe it’s a fairly reasonable stance to not necessarily be all gung ho for deliberately underprinted records by major labels that are overpriced. One needs look no further than several of the releases I purchased last year (I’m talking to you, Relationship of Command). But false scarcity is scarcity nonetheless. Then there’s the fact that it’s a high risk model for the stores, who absorb a lot of the costs up front for this and have no real control over what they end up (beyond broad genre as far as I can tell). The converse of all of this is of course it gets people in the doors, and there are a lot of things that people want, as evidenced by the money I’ve spent each RSD the past four years? I’ve had fun waiting in lines, talking with people who are equally passionate about music and vinyl and collecting. At least this year, I can’t complain it was cold. Plus, it is a tangible way to support good labels who are doing cool things, even if trying to find that Father/Daughter comp felt a little like tilting at windmills. No, I do not need an Aerosmith reissue (I even like early Aerosmith), but picking up releases from labels that I think are doing good things, labels like Doomtree and Mannequin as the case was this year, I can get behind that. Picking up things that were long overdue on vinyl like Empire Records, even if it’s from a major? I can get behind that, even as the prices sometimes make me shake my head. Besides, I’m always glad to support my local shops, whether that was places like Eclipse and the Fetus years past or Aquarius and Amoeba this year. Local record stores are a treasure, and I can show that I value that by picking up tings there periodically, even as I’ve become much more of a show/direct from label kind of person over the past couple years since that’s one of the most direct ways I can think of to help the bands that I appreciate and support. So no, I didn’t have an alarm set, but I did end up waking up early enough to hop on my bike and get to the Mission where the line for Aquarius was robust but not too long.

But there’s another thing that always feels a little strange on RSD. At a shop like Amoeba or the Fetus, it’s less noticeable, but at Aquarius, it was quite obvious: out of probably 40 people, there were 4 women. And I was the only one by myself. That isn’t to say that they were just dutiful girlfriends or they didn’t love vinyl too (you can’t really tell that from just looking at a line). I wonder why that is. It doesn’t seem like being an inveterate collector of vinyl is something that is gendered. Of course, it obviously is. Certainly, there have always been great and wonderful female artists and there are currently so many amazing and wonderful ones doing great things, but one needs to do little more than look at something like lists of “great guitar players” and realize there’s still a gender problem in music when there are almost no women on them. It’s not because women aren’t doing those things. I can’t think of an acceptable reason for it to be that way, though I can think of lots of reasons it is that way. Perhaps in another 10 years, those kinds of lists will be more reflective of great talents like Annie Clark and Marnie Stern. But that’s kind of a different topic, that broader context. If there’s no perceived audience, then what’s perceived need to create that space? That’s the paradox; there are not people express interest for something so it doesn’t seem like there’s a need for that space, but if there’s no safe space to express that, then how are people going to do that?

I have (and have had) a lot of hobbies that are, at least societally speaking, still heavily viewed as male even though that’s hardly the case. I play board games (well, not enough); I used to collect comics; I played Magic for a long, long time, and even worked in a shop. And one of the more interesting aspects I learned as someone who has spent many an hour in shops all over the place is it really has to do with the kind of environment the places create. It’s not that women don’t like these things; they do. Besides me, I know plenty of women who are into hobbies like that, just like I know plenty of women who like sports even though that’s a product that’s still sold to a very certain demographic for the most part. I stopped in a game shop yesterday on Divisadero, and while I didn’t do a headcount, I’m pretty sure I was the only woman in there. And there were probably about a dozen other people at the shop. Now I always wonder how I’m treated in spaces like that because, well, I spend a lot of time wondering about whether or not the people I interact with truly respect my identity as a woman (short answer: far too frequently, I don’t believe they do), but setting that aside for a moment, I still feel anomalous in those spaces as a woman, like I’m going to get the “oh that’s cute, you know what you are talking about” look of condescension at any moment. Of course I know I’m buying a good record/game/etc., and yes, it’s for me.

Which takes us back to why some of those spaces aren’t that way. I think it’s because a lot of places actively work to create better environments that don’t foster that feeling. Because I think you have to. I don’t need to deal with condescension when I go into a place to buy something, whether it’s for my taste or my gender. I’m not saying that places necessarily actively foster that. For the record, I don’t think a place like Aquarius is bad, it’s a great record shop that I will continue to support and it doesn’t make me feel uncomfortable in the slightest…though there are definitely record shops I’ve been in where that’s not the case. It was just an observation that came to me while I was in line, an observation that I can’t help but think about as someone who spends a lot of time thinking about and observing the act of gender in day-to-day life. And it is very much something you do, just like it’s something I do. For a long time, the act of gender for me was not congruent with what I felt to be an accurate expression of who I am. And while it’s certainly easier to express who I am now, while my gender is a part of who I am, it’s still also something I do. It all just lines up now.

The thing is, I always bring that with me when I go into those spaces. Whether it’s because I’m trans or just because I’m female is somewhat irrelevant. The point is, the reason it can be hard to get into hobbies like that is because you are always bringing that with you, because you truly can’t set that aside, because you’re frequently the only woman in a space, and most often the only trans person (just statistically speaking, that’s always going to be likely). I don’t want to be good at a game “for a woman”. I don’t want to have a good taste or a good record collection “for a woman”. I don’t want to see someone who shreds get called anything other than a good guitar player, irrelevant of their gender identity. We shouldn’t be grading aspects like that on any sort of scale, especially if that scale is gender. I just want to buy records. I just want to see bands. Thankfully, those are pretty easy things to do and not deal with that, though as I learned during Noise Pop, that’s not always the case. Some of my other hobbies are much much more difficult. I previously chronicled my experience with trying to find some new people to play games with here; to be fair, though, I’ve had that experience with people who play games for almost 6 years running. Perhaps it just creates a setting with a lot of pronoun use (and thus that many more moments to utterly fail to respect me and demonstrably show it). Whatever the cause, there are people who want to go into these spaces, but they don’t want to bring anything other than their love of music or games or whatever with them. And they shouldn’t have to, either.

But if they can’t find that space, where do they go? That’s something we can all work to help make better. And that’s exactly what it is: work. Do the homework ahead of time to be respectful to people, create an open space, be mindful of the impact of the decisions you make, etc. If you can’t see why someone in a minority would create a safe space for a hobby or seek one, personally, I think that’s a little myopic. To say that we shouldn’t need spaces like that because everything will just magically be fair or safe or accepting is so hopelessly out-of-step with the lived experience of so many people that acutely demonstrates exactly why we need those sorts of spaces. Yes, hopefully that pressure comes from within and without, but it obviously doesn’t just happen all on its own. Some might think of the idea of an open space that something that is just there; I think it’s something that we have to work to create and constantly work to maintain, something that’s constantly pressured from all sides. And that is also perhaps something that’s on my mind whenever I go to a record shop. My decisions about what to buy on a day like today and where to buy it are also demonstrative of the kind of spaces I’m trying to help maintain and create. I can continue to support shops and labels I love and still be critical of some aspects of RSD just like I can continue to love board games but still be critical of some aspects of gaming culture. I don’t think those concepts incompatible. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some Red Temple Spirits to go listen to and some records to alphabetize.

What Does That Say About You?

This morning, I read a piece by Autumn Sandeen that touches on some of the openly transphobic language that Roseanne Barr has been trafficking in recently. It has more to do with how our perceptions change of people over time, of how they might not be what we once thought they were, the erosion of that process. I’ve seen the stuff before, I’m sure I’ll see it again. Go to the comments (I know, don’t read the comments) and you’ll see more of the same in regards to transphobic language that’s par for the course about the concerns about what trans women would do in “women’s” spaces, as if we shouldn’t be allowed and we are only there to do lewd or violent things to other women. Now I don’t know about anyone else, but every women’s room I’ve ever been in has individual stalls (though, sometimes doors are hard to come by). That’s if it’s not an individual bathroom already. And I’ve been in there to do the same thing as anyone else: perform a basic bodily function in a designated space, wash my hands, and go along with my day. That’s it. So while those comments are on the one hand laughable (because really? Really?), on the other, they are a sad reminder of how many trans people are denied basic safety doing something that everyone does because of unfounded fears. And in case you need another sad reminder, you can always read the stories of actual trans people in this situations like this one. Trans people just want to go to the bathroom like everyone else, or the locker room, or whatever space it might be that has people apoplectic. We’re not asking for extra or special rights; we’re asking for rights that many people freely enjoy that everyone should have. We’re asking for rights we shouldn’t even have to ask for, because we shouldn’t systemically be denying anyone rights.

Of course, when trans people do question absurd statements about who we are, when we do call into question these discriminatory policies, we are shrilly called so many slurs, told to shut up, threatened with violence. Which is awful if you think about it. If your response to someone saying they want to go to the bathroom in peace is to tell someone that they should just go fucking die (and maybe throw a slur in for good measure), trans people aren’t the problem. The thought process that leads you to a place where that’s a legitimate and acceptable thing to think about another human being is the problem. That’s an entrenched thought process, one that is going to take a long time to challenge. For many people, they still seem to think that those kinds of thoughts are perfectly legitimate responses. And hey, it’s a free country. You can think that, and you can say that, as long as it falls within the law. Considering the relative latitude of free speech laws in the United States, there’s quite a bit you can say that falls under that. And no, people responding or rebutting something ridiculous about trans people is not abridging your freedom of speech. Last time I checked, there sure weren’t any trans people in Congress, so your guess is as good as mine as to how they could possibly be abridging your right to say that. Of course, over the years, the laws have been modified, and there are now concepts like hate speech, but there’s still a lot of space for anyone to say what they want to say, for people to say things back to that, and on and on. That’s how it works. Responding to or criticizing dangerous, malicious thoughts…that’s not abridging anything.

But freedom of speech does not equal freedom from consequence. And while many people can (and do) say all sorts of terrible things about trans people with impunity, that’s slowly changing. I used to think it would be a long time, but perhaps it’s not so long now. Perhaps I’m just feeling more hopeful because it really does seem like more spaces in society are becoming more accepting of trans individuals, even as so much work remains. And it’s imperative now that trans people do not just shut up in the face of these sorts of malicious statements and actions, that we respond, that we are heard. Our right to free speech can’t be abridged either. It’s great to be able to see so many strong responses now to any given event, something that may have been happening 10-15 years ago but was much harder to find or see so easily. There may be a lot of noise out there on the internet these days, but it’s nice to see that issues that were previously something that might not have been elevated past a local, or at best regional, level can reach so many people. The converse, of course, is that we all have to be more mindful of what we say, of how far what we say can go these days, of the impact of our words. But isn’t that something we should all aspire toward anyway? Shouldn’t we all be concerned about the effects of our words? Shouldn’t we all be interrogating those kinds of thoughts, why we might think certain statements are okay to say, why we even have them?

There’s a lot of power in language, in our conscious (or unconscious) word choices. For example, why do people frequently call any group of people guys, even if it’s all women? More on point, when we repeatedly use slurs to refer to a group of people, why are we doing that? To deny them the same humanity that we ourselves have? Language is just the imperfect translation of our thoughts to some degree, and always will be; there are times where we lack the adequate vocabulary to articulate who we are, what we feel, what we are trying to say. But most of the time, we are well aware of the impacts that our choices have, of how the words will hit, of what they mean. When people repeatedly use language that dehumanizes trans individuals, specifically trans women, that sends a message. When that’s the only message one hears, it can be pretty damaging. After all, I am not a freak, or an it, or many, many other terrible things that could and sometimes have been said to me. I feel like me. I am proud to identify as a trans woman. I am proud to say so. There’s power in that, too, in self-designation, in saying who you are, in refusing to let other people define who you are. It’s even better when other people recognize that too.

Of course, you don’t have to respond. You’re under no obligation. But we don’t have to be silent anymore. We don’t have to be invisible. We don’t have to settle for being defined by people who obviously have little to no understanding of who we are, or what struggles we face in our daily existence. I choose to write, I choose to engage my friends in conversation, I choose to say something because I want to share that experience. It’s not the definitive trans experience. It’s my trans experience. I do it because I want to respond, even if it sometimes feels like the people who need to see it the most will never see it or acknowledge it. I do it because I hope that as trans people keep doing, saying, being, more people begin to realize that we’re just that: people. And as more people realize that, I hope they begin to understand the consequences of derogatory slurs and bizarre unfounded rants about all these “special” rights that trans people are supposedly asking for. And hopefully, we stop blaming the victims and the consequences shift away from the trans people who are still being blamed just for being here (which, sadly, still seems to be a valid response). Hopefully, more people begin to realize it’s not trans people who need to change, it’s aspects like our language, what we think is acceptable to think and say about other people, our arbitrary genital essentialism that guides so many of our inadequate laws that need to change. But by all means, keep saying whatever you want. Though there are some exceptions, for the most part, that is your right. Just remember, it’s not without consequence. Dehumanizing words are always going to cause harm to the people they are uttered toward, frequently without any greater cause than accomplishing just that. But also ask yourself why you needed to say those words, what you were hoping to accomplish? If the words serve to do nothing more than denigrate another person, then what’s the point? And if that is the point, what does that say about you?

Just A Thought

Yesterday, I shared an opinion piece about cisgender actors playing transgender roles following up on a discussion that’d previously come up in relation to a similar discussion that arose in relation to one of the points in this piece on Trans Day Of Visibility earlier in the week. Basically, the discussion has arisen around a major point that a lot of trans writers make, especially in relation to Dallas Buyers Club, since that’s an impression that a lot of trans individuals have to live with and one that a lot of cis people have actually seen or are at least aware of. I didn’t really set out to write this. But since this is one of the more talked about topics I have shared, or at least a conversation I seem to keep having with my friends, let’s talk about media portrayals, the power therein, and the complications of exposure and whether it’s worth it. And it seems worthwhile to at least put that in a central location, so here you go.

One of the larger discussions out of Dallas Buyers Club in the trans community has obviously been focusing on the role of Rayon, how we feel about that, and what it means going forward. That opinion piece is an example of one that I think covers a lot of that ground. Lots of people have written lots of smart pieces on it. Parker Marie Molloy touches on a lot of what’s below in this pretty great piece which has started its own firestorm…but one at a time). If you didn’t click over, here’s my distillation of a lot of those points. As I see it, there are a few intertwined discussions going on here: there is the fact that it does not appear Rayon was originally written as a trans woman and what kind of effect that has on the role; irrelevant of how one feels about the quality of acting, does the trans community really need another portrayal of trans individuals like this; what impact does a role like this have on actual trans individuals who are struggling to find their place in our society; how does a role like this influence the views of cis people who see it in terms of how they see the trans community, trans individuals, etc.; if (already minimal) opportunities to play trans roles don’t exist for trans individuals and they certainly don’t seem to be getting cis roles (at least as open trans individuals as far as I am aware) then what exactly are they supposed to do? That’s most of the discussions I’ve been having, and a lot of what I’ve been reading has been from a trans perspective, so it has been educational in the past few days to bring it back to a larger audience that is not trans and have that conversation.

One of the primary points that was made is that we should stop being so hung up on anyone’s gender. Which I agree with. But since my life is a living laboratory of just how far we are from that idea (and I’d argue most peoples’ lives, irrelevant of whether they are trans or cis, are like that), it feels easy to say and hard to figure out how to head toward. Of course it’d be great if there were trans characters in media for whom being trans was just a part of them. I mean, that’s how I feel at work, at least until the next time I pick up the phone. The fact that I’m trans has no bearing on my ability to do my job, most people respect that, and it’s really not particularly an aspect of myself I bring to my job. I rarely talk about that part of who I am at work, even though it’s obviously a huge aspect of who I am, because I rarely need to. It just has no bearing on my ability to detect money laundering. Unfortunately, finding places that are like that still feel far more like exceptions than rules for trans individuals. But it also seems like that’s still a concurrent struggle in regards to gender identity as a whole, irrelevant of whether one is cis of trans, and looks to continue to be for a long time yet to come. It certainly seems progress is being made, but there’s still so much more work to do. Of course that’s where we should be. But how are we getting there? And is something like a cis man playing a trans woman a sign of progress? To me, irrelevant of how well acted it may or may not be, no, it’s just falling back on old tropes and older problems. To me, it’s symptomatic of the fact that in 2014 there’s still a hell of a lot of progress to be made, not a sign we’ve progressed so far that anyone can do anything.

Second, there was a lot of talk of advocacy. It’s hard work. It’s a lot of work. Advocacy is not just walking through the door and being counted as present. So I don’t think just having a role and playing it for all the world to see is really something that counts as advocacy. I actively question myself in terms of how I am an advocate, and actively feel that I am not doing enough. I do not know if I really am a very good advocate, I certainly don’t feel like it sometimes, and I’m living the experiences. Now this isn’t to say that everyone has to be an advocate. But it’s a lot of work to do it, a lot more work than it is to say. I don’t say that to denigrate anyone. I say that as a reminder that advocating for any lived experience that’s not your own involves a lot of self-reflection, a lot of listening, and a lot of work to understand a perspective that you will never totally appreciate. That isn’t to say that we shouldn’t be asking questions. I appreciate the conversations I have with my friends, and their candor in terms of discussing their perspectives. I don’t say this to discourage them from having these conversations with me. I like having them. I am, of course, only a single trans perspective among many, and even if it’s frustrating at times, I do like having the conversations. These aren’t issues of right or wrong frequently, but issues of perceptions, what work needs to be done, and how to go about it. But I think the main goal, the main thing to remember, is that it’s constant. Advocacy is an ongoing process, a continual challenge. So I don’t feel like a role in one film along with some occasionally obtuse references to trans women’s challenges when accepting a few awards is really advocacy. Visibility or exposure to some degree, sure, but definitely not advocacy.

Third, what is exposure worth? One of the themes that came up as well is how exposure is a good thing. Which I mostly agree with. But I’ll fall back on a different area of expertise like I did last night to discuss this issue, music. Another friend in a totally separate discussion talked about the value of exposure when making music (or really any art) and how we shouldn’t necessarily give certain things away for free. Of course the argument being made there was that exposure doesn’t pay the rent, which is somewhat different than just the concept of visibility and awareness, but I can bring this back to something Janet Mock said when I saw her talk last week. She spoke about how she was learning to turn down some interview offers and media opportunities because not every opportunity is necessarily a good one. Some of that was informed by her experience on Piers Morgan based on her comments, but some of it was also informed by the idea of whether or not that exposure, that opportunity was worth it, whether it provided value. Given the paucity of any trans characters out there, certainly, having something counts, and perhaps I’d feel less ambivalent about it if a trans actor also got that opportunity. I can get behind the work Laverne Cox is doing, because, well, damn, she’s Laverne Cox, she’s a bad ass, both on and off screen. And I’m glad that it at least seems that a lot of people are having discussions about Rayon. But haven’t we had these conversations before? Isn’t this just the same kind of trans character that crops up time and time again, and the same sort of portrayal? Is that exposure worth it? Not if we’re still having the same conversation five years from now, still dealing with the same misconceptions, and still generally at the same place in terms of exposure. I think it’s a complicated subject. I think plenty of good can come out of something even if that something is itself not the greatest. We can’t change the past in regard to that event. What are we doing about the future? So if we are having these conversations and they lead to substantive changes, perhaps we can assign worth, or say it had value that we cannot necessarily ascribe right now. But frankly, I’d rather be spending that energy on other portrayals of trans characters, on the work of other trans individuals. Where’s that exposure? Even if this leads to it, I’m not sure that I’d ultimately say that it was a good thing as much as I’d just acknowledge that it’s a thing that happened.
Four, what are the impacts on trans people seeing these roles? As someone who’s out and has been for several years, it still has an impact, but it’s obviously different now that I’m out. What about what kinds of impacts these roles have on people who are still trying to figure out their authentic selves? I can’t really pinpoint the first trans role I saw. I honestly saw nothing like me anywhere. That’s in the Parker Marie Molloy piece as well, not seeing yourself reflected in the media. And I understand that no one truly ever sees the totality of themselves reflected in that manner, but what if every portrayal of who you are is as a joke, a prostitute, a drug addict, a dead body, a psychotic individual? It took me a long time personally to come to terms with the fact that being trans didn’t change what I liked or who I was, that there was this path that existed where I could still watch lots of hockey and see a lot of shows and play a lot of board games like I’ve always enjoyed. Furthermore, those sorts of portrayals gloss over the realities of why some trans people do end up doing sex work, or our pathologizing of sex work as a society and the effects that has on people who do it, which is a really complex subject. But setting all of that aside, I saw this certain image that was reflected back of what it means to be trans. And like I said, I get it, not everyone sees all of themselves that way, but I either felt like I was going to eternally be a punch line or had to be stealth (something that never felt realistic to me at first because of hang-ups and later because I did not like the idea of discarding my past) to make life work for so long. Where was my nuanced portrayal of trans womanhood to look up to? Nowhere that I could find. I still don’t see it now in media, though I am certainly much more aware of the places that they exist now, those stories, those woman. And those are just my experiences as a binary trans woman. What of non-binary individuals who are looking for role models in that regard, or even trans men (still racking my brains trying to come up with portrayals…still not coming up with much)?

Anyway, these are just some of my thoughts I had. I hope I did not grossly misrepresent anything, and if I did interpret something in such a fashion, please let me know. That is definitely not my intention. But it certainly got the wheels spinning. And while I wrote a lot of other words on it, in my mind last night, as I was lying in bed, I kept looping back to a single question. Perhaps it’s a bit disingenuous to ask that, but I really am curious: how would people feel about a cis man playing a cis woman? Just something to think about.

Work To Do

I haven’t had a particularly great few days at work recently. I’ve been making a lot of unforced little errors. I’ve found it tough to focus. I’ve been disproportionately annoyed at the little things like minor system changes. And I’m sure like usual, it’ll pass. Right now it just feels like everything is coming back to me with something that I missed or that everything is taking a little bit longer than it should or that every system change is a personal affront when it’s not necessarily the case. It can really vary, and usually I end up not being focused because there’s something else going on in my life that’s distracting me when I come into work. In that sense, I’m no different than anyone else. Plus, I’ve been in this corporate game long enough to know how this goes. These sorts of feelings and phases wax and wane for me just like any other person. If you’re like me doing the corporate thing, you have a job where you sort of have to turn yourself off (or at least many aspects of yourself…there’s a lot of me I don’t bring to work) when you are on the clock, or at least try to shut down all that outside noise, because there’s nothing you can particularly do about it when you are yoked to your desk anyway and it doesn’t help you move the widgets.

But here’s the thing. I always feel this constant pressure as an out trans woman. I can never turn that off. Any interaction with a co-worker could just lead to another frustrating moment of being misgendered on the job, especially when I’m on the phone. So I am always paying attention to interactions and wondering about the overall perceptions therein. Beyond that, I feel like it’s just always just a little bit harder to get to where I’m going, even in a relatively supportive environment like the one I have at work. I have had a series of open-minded bosses that have helped me get from where I started to where I am now professionally, but it’d be a little naïve to say that me being trans hasn’t had some impact on the potential opportunities that I’ve had so far as well. Co-workers have been a bit more of a mixed bag over the years. But on the whole, I have lauded in the past and will continue to laud my employer for their fairly admirable efforts. Wells Fargo is actually a pretty good place to work if you’re trans, and they have policies in place that I do believe reflect that. Certainly, they suffer from a lot of the same things that many aspects of our culture do when it comes to trans representation, the occasional tokenism and frequent conflation of the T within the LGBT acronym. But I believe there’s more good than bad, and there’s a part of me that feels like I should be more engaged in trying to help change some of that bad because I want to do something that makes a difference in that regard. Not because I have to. It’s certainly not my job to educate people, but I actually don’t mind doing that and I have a desire to do more. Though the corporate culture as a whole is supportive in many ways, there are a lot of individuals you deal with in a large company that didn’t necessarily get that memo. And it’s still something to be out.

I am smart enough to realize that any little slip up or mistake in my day-to-day isn’t really potentially hazardous. Nor do I believe that they are going to let me go tomorrow or anything. I know that sometimes it’s all in my head, that’s part of who I am as a pretty driven person who gets annoyed at herself for making little mistakes and uses that to keep myself working at a level that I like to work at. Still I always have to remain cognizant of the challenges. Even when you feel relatively secure, even when you know that you are fortunate to have the job you have, that a lot of other trans individuals cannot say that because of how society treats trans individuals, the precipice is always right there, yawning, waiting to swallow you. There are, of course, plenty of other reasons people feel that pressure; plenty of other individuals feel a multitude of those pressures. Perhaps they don’t process the feeling that way, but that’s how it always feels to me. And I know there are plenty of reasons I don’t feel that pressure, too, ways that I’m privileged. There’s no denying that and it would be ridiculous for me not to acknowledge that. It’s a complex affair. This is just my experience with that feeling, and how I perceive it. But it’s really not a feeling anyone should have while they are trying to move their widgets to get a paycheck, irrelevant of where it comes from.

That’s the kind of pressure you have to remember a lot of people feel all the time. You might too, one way or another. Hard work doesn’t solve the fact that I can still be fired in 32 states (I can say that now, right Maryland?) just because of who I am. But me being a hard worker (whatever that means) at my specific job? That has no bearing on it. It’s a nice esoteric sort of narrative to ascribe to why people don’t get ahead if you are too lazy to really want to talk about the fact that the system is gamed in so many ways. Perhaps having a job where I felt a different level of engagement would help, but perhaps not. I do actually like what I do, and I’m not that bad at it if I do say so myself. Someone’s gotta fight money laundering, right? I happen to be pretty good at it, too. Perhaps it’s just something that I use to drive myself, that feeling that I always have to do a little bit more, the feeling that I’ve always got to be on point. But the flip side of that feeling is I’m afraid to “ask for” what’s mine because of the consequences, that I feel if I keep working like I do, it’ll come. But it doesn’t come. In a few days, the feeling will pass again, I’ll be doing work at the level I expect of myself, and I’ll have a different feeling entirely, most likely. Like I said, it waxes and wanes. But that pressure never changes. The fear of asking for more, the rationalizing to myself that I should be happy with what I have because of the discrimination of our society, the frustration of having to dealing with people who use the wrong pronouns, fully aware how difficult it is to say something because of the setting even though that shouldn’t make a difference (but it does), the knowledge that I probably do have to do a little more to get ahead, that’s in everything I do, too. It’ll be a nice day when trans individuals not only have the jobs they deserve, but don’t have to bring that to work with them. The same could be said for any of the reasons people face systemic discrimination in our society. In the meantime, I’ve got work to do. But really? We’ve all got work to do.

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