Archive for June, 2014

A Certain Trigger

If there were words or phrases you could remove from the lexicon, what would they be? What words bother you? Do they just bother you, or are they actually offensive? What words do you use that bother other people? What words do you continue to use that may be offensive to other people? There are examples we can all think of that are straight up offensive. The debate around Washington’s NFL franchise is front and center, of course. If you’re trans like me, it’s hard not to notice there’s been quite a bit of debate about what words people should or shouldn’t use, about the what language is perhaps appropriate in-group, and what is not appropriate for you to use if you don’t identify as trans. Perhaps you haven’t noticed. That’s just an aspect of language, that we may not notice, and that it’s not necessarily willful. Personally, I don’t think the problem is that we misuse language. We all end up making mistakes, not knowing root meanings, and none of us are ever fully aware of how someone else might take something that appears benign to us. I think the issue comes up when someone or something brings it to our attention and we willfully continue to do what we please without respect to the concerns that people bring up. Not for a good reason. Just because it would inconvenience us. Or because we don’t want to. Sometimes we do exactly mean those words, which I think is something of a different case, but that is another discussion. But on the occasions that we don’t? What is the cost to us to pick a different word? Frequently, not much. Of course, there’s a certain amount of habit to the language any of us use, so there’s a certain amount of effort we all have to put in initially, but like anything, after putting in that initial effort, that habit is changed. If you think about it, the cost is really not that high. All that anyone’s asking for is a little effort from anyone else. How much is your effort worth, especially once it’s brought to your attention?

I always think about these kinds of questions, But I have been thinking about them in particular because my employer recently put together a bulletin called Transitioning in the Workplace. It’s a noble effort, and it was definitely nice to see they codified the process a bit since I transitioned on the job, though it remains largely the same several years later. They certainly get a fair amount right in the sense of what actions one might have to take in a workplace when transitioning on the job. But at the same time, I also couldn’t shake the feeling no trans individuals read it prior to them putting it out there. I cannot say that with certainty. I haven’t been able to figure that out, really, though I suppose I could ask. Someone could have. But I have a hard time believing that. Because I have a hard time believing that a trans individual wouldn’t have a similar reaction to some of the phrasing and word choice used, such as birth sex for example.

I get it, if you’re not trans, you probably haven’t thought about a phrase like that. So let’s talk about the implications behind a phrase like that. It really grates on my soul, so it’s definitely worth a minute. There are a lot of ways that you can convey the same kind of information you are trying to say with that that are a lot more trans positive. Like assigned sex, or if you are feeling particularly verbose, assigned sex at birth. Hell, I am not even sure you really have to say it at all in most contexts. Because here’s the thing. As I noted on a similar topic recently, people sure seem to put a lot of stock in a quick binary decision that a doctor makes without any input from the person it affects the most. And that’s all it really is. No one ever asked me about how I perceived my gender, my own experience with it, what I thought of being assigned male at birth. And the fact that we put so much weight on those designations is a problem. It’s obviously a problem for trans individuals. The first thing we do to any new person brought into the world is foist gender (and all of its expectations) upon them. What’s the rush? So you know what color clothes to buy? Why set out to create a life of gendered expectations for someone else? That is a problem for cis people too, you know? But hey, I still get that when someone is trying to use a phrase like birth sex, they are trying to convey an idea about that assigned sex. And look, I get that for most people, that’s not a big deal because the idea of birth sex aligns within acceptable boundaries of your personal perception of your own gender. But how much work is it for you to not use a phrase like that? You could not say it at all because it’s probably not truly necessary to whatever you’re trying to say. If you find you must use it, you can substitute one word and you’re not just saying something that still says the same thing, you are saying something that’s more trans positive, something that’s going to mean a lot to a small group of people who are just trying to get you to realize that the meaning behind what you’re saying is really much more fraught than you probably realize. How hard is that? I don’t think most of us are going out of our way to be assholes with our word choice most of the time. At least I’d like to hope not.

There were other instances that were frustratingly binary that didn’t need to be. And hey, I get that too, that’s something I’ve been challenging myself to be better about as well. Because even though I’m trans, I still identify as binary, and I’m still comfortable with that. But just because I am doesn’t meant that everyone is. So why not try to make little word choices that can have a big impact for people who do identify as non-binary? Why not avoid saying a transition is about moving from male to female or vice versa? Why not just say to respect someone’s pronoun choices without indicating just the binary options? Because that’s not everyone’s experience. Some people identify outside of the binary. It’s not that hard to be more positive in that sense if you just take a second to think about the language you use. We frequently use gender (or misgender individuals as I experience often enough) in situations where it’s not all that necessary. And I understand the linguistic components behind some degree of that, of how gendered our language is not in a grammatical sense, but in a pure usage sense. Those associations have all come from somewhere, though. There’s nothing inherently gendered about a lot of the words we use other than the associations that have built up over their history. The good thing is that those associations can change, that we may be able to move away from that, that we will hopefully continue to find language that has less negative connotations.

What frustrates me the most, though, is that the response seemed tepid at best. I know the pace of change is not what I want it to be at times. And I certainly understand how the bureaucracy of a big company works. I didn’t expect to see an updated copy the day after I sent an email. But the response I received was much more of a “we’re not there yet”. And I refuse to accept that. We’re never going to get there if we don’t take steps forward. I know that all the received so far was one trans woman’s voice on it. How many voices will it take to affect change? I know that the answer is probably more than one. I can see it in so many other issues I follow. It really takes a chorus, not a single voice. And I am not so naive as to think that my single voice will change that, on its own, right now. Though really, why can’t it?. I’d rather not get too caught up in how things should be as opposed to how they are. I’d rather work on trying to get to a place where they are how they should be. I’ve said my piece, and hopefully opened a dialogue, not just written a few emails, but it’s hard to say at this point. And now? Now it’s the next step. Keep grinding those gears, keep working on issues like that, keep pointing out areas that are frustratingly not trans positive when it’s really easy to make them that way with really simple actions, keep working on those little changes help lead to bigger ones, keep hoping that incrementally, we are getting there. Keep doing something. Are there bigger issues that face trans people? Of course. But this is a little change that is right in front of me. It’s a chance to be that single voice that starts the chorus. Or find the other isolated voices and bring them together. On the whole, my experience as a trans employee at Wells Fargo has been overwhelmingly positive, from the way my managers initially responded to the celerity of dealing with name changes in the system to the quality of insurance I’ve received over the years to just how I have been treated as a person. I do think that on the whole, this is a company that wants to do right. But there’s still a lot more to do, and we can still make that better. It’s a different challenge to affect change in people who think they are doing enough, who think they are effective allies already. In that sense, I remain a little wary. Because if you can’t see a certain trigger for trans individuals in the word choice of something that ostensibly is targeted to a trans audience, then I do wonder about that kind of awareness. Birth sex is by no means a slur, but it’s not a really great phrase either especially with that target audience in mind. And though it’s always the hope that people will do a better job of educating themselves prior (myself included), look, I get it, that doesn’t always happen. We all make mistakes. I don’t believe there was any malicious intent behind the word choice in this example. Irrelevant of that, I have brought it to their attention. Now I wonder, what are we going to say going forward? Let’s find out.

The Summer Of Yes

My sense of San Francisco geography was not as finely honed when I signed my lease last August. And though it certainly isn’t dependent on geography I think I knew it then. Or at least I had an inkling. A week after Outside Lands, I set foot in Inner Richmond for the second time (I never did write about the otherworldly nature of it the first time…maybe some day), and though I did not know literally just how close the Polo Grounds were, I figuratively sensed just how close they were as I looked over at Golden Gate Park across Fulton. The next day when I got the phone call offering me the apartment, when so much uncertainty dissipated, I think that was my first indication. I won’t say Outside Lands changed my life; I will say this lease did, though. But I had a pretty great time at Outside Lands and I was already pretty committed to buying a pre-sale ticket. With where I live now, it’s either that or get the hell out of San Francisco. There is really no in between. And so when the tickets went on sale, before even a single band was announced, it was an easy decision. I bought the ticket. I even had them mail me one so I could put it in my box of nostalgia one day. And do I ever plan to use it.

Perhaps it was when my friend kept saying, our wedding will be in September, remember to save the date. Who am I to say no to a trip to Minnesota? Virginia might be where I was born, but Minnesota is where I am from. It feels like home. I even said it was good to be home last time I was there, reflexively. It’s just how I think of it. In slightly over a year, I have already managed to find my way back for just about three calendar weeks. Moving to California may have been the right decision, but getting back to Minnesota always is too. So I knew that I would need to keep some space open for a week in September. Gradually, I toyed with the idea of tacking on a weekend in Iowa, to see some old haunts, to see some old friends, to make some new ones. Those Pissed Off Japanese Minnow Farmers aren’t drinking themselves, after all. And so soon my Minnesota trip became a split bill between the two Midwestern states that have influenced so much of who I am between the people and the places, two places that I love so much. When the save-the-date finally showed up, I already had the week leading up to the wedding blocked off on my calendar.

I had talked for a long time about going to Pitchfork, but had somehow never made the 400 mile trek when it was just an easy weekend. Or at least a weekend where I could probably round up a few people. Like many past plans, it was stuck firmly in that hazy “someday” range. But when they announced the lineup this year, I knew I couldn’t say no to Slowdive, that I would eternally regret it if I didn’t see their first reunion gig in the US. The rest was just gravy after that. I bought the ticket without hesitating, without any clear idea of where I would stay or how I would get there. Hell, I am still hammering out the details. I think I knew then, but it did not have a name. There is a lot of power in a name. Then, it was just another thing to do, not yet part of a bigger, cohesive vision.

When The Replacements finally announced their first hometown reunion show, I knew I had to figure out a way to be in the Twin Cities then. The chance to see them with one of my best friends from college in one of my favorite places ever (not Midway, per se, just the Twin Cities)? There was just no way I was gonna to miss that. Unfortunately, though it may seem like it based on the way I am talking, I do not have unlimited PTO. I thought about it for a minute, trying to figure out whether to axe the Iowa part of the trip and push it back a week since the wedding is the weekend before. But then I thought, why not work from Minnesota for a week? A conversation with my boss later, the problem had solved itself. The flexibility to work in a multitude of places is one of the aspects that drew me to my current work role. Not only could I make the show, I’d get an extra week in Minnesota. That was impossible to say no to. Sure, I have to work. But so does everyone else. There will still be plenty of time for fun. If I’d thought about, I would have known in that moment. I was probably too distracted by the thought of 17 days in the Midwest to be honest.

As I was sitting at work the day before leaving for a long weekend in Denver for a cousin’s wedding, a friend reached out to see what I was doing in four weeks. Not much, I noted, only one definite show on my calendar, light for me. Did I want to do a roadtrip to Minnesota? Of course I did! What’s a couple days of PTO in getting a chance to go back, see some friends, see a Mainroom show, and get a suitcase full of Surly, Summit, Schell’s, and Grainbelt? I looked at the calendar, consulted with my boss, and booked the days off, even scheduling a work day in Minneapolis. But I had to pack for Denver. I could figure out the details on that trip later. Though it was in late May, in retrospect that was the true starting point to all of this. I just didn’t realize the totality then.

All along, I said that the other US fest I could see Slowdive at was FYF. I went a few years back and had a blast. Not too expensive, in a city I love, and well-curated? It’s hard to say no to it now that I am on the West Coast. That is one of the reasons I like San Francisco, easy access to Portland and L.A. Plus it gives me a good excuse to pop down to L.A. and see so many great friends if I can find the time. Without thinking about how I would get there or where I would stay, I picked up a ticket. It’s still up in the air. But like my last Minneapolis trip, I knew the details would take care of themselves. They always do. Well, they don’t always. But they have been recently. It’s like I am on a hot streak. It won’t last forever, but I am definitely gonna ride it out. I knew then, but it was still inchoate, unnamed. There was definitely something about this summer.

It wasn’t until another friend asked me what I was doing around July 4th until I truly realized what this summer is. I didn’t even consider turning down a chance to do some still shapeless yet to be determined activities in middle of California. I just started looking up car rentals and campsites, I messaged other friends and began layering on those minimal plans. Creating something out of nothing, I suppose you could say. I just figured out how to put it together. And I figured out what this summer is in that moment. This? This is the Summer of Yes.

This is not the summer of if, but when, not could, but will. Instead of worrying about all the things I might do, I am trying to figure out all the things I am doing. I will definitely pay for it. I saw a tweet recently that said something to the effect of the following: As an adult I do what I want; I pay for it later. And I will. I already am, already have, every time I look at my credit card balance and my remaining PTO. I have been building to this summer for 33 years. I am fortunate enough to be able to take these shots, to just have one overly ambitious summer, to just worry about later…well, later. I most definitely appreciate that. I know not everyone gets those chances. For a long time, I didn’t think I would either. There are so many aspects to the next few months that are totally up in the air. Am I trying to figure them out? Sure. Am I worried? Not really. But who knows when I will get these kinds of chances again? It is impossible for any of us to say with complete certainty where our lives are heading. I have to take these shots, at least one time. It is an ethos that led me to San Francisco, and it is an ethos that will take me away from it so much this summer. I am lucky to have these opportunities to do the things I want to, and I should honor that by doing just that. I am simultaneously hopefully doing other things in my life that are trying to make that hopefully make it so others down the road get that chance, too…but they don’t fit so easily into the ethos, so let’s talk about them another time. And though I doubt anything else big will crop up, never fear, the Summer of Yes applies here as well. I still have to get to the El Rio and drink on their patio, I still need to get to Oakland a bit more, and there are always shows here to see. I still plan to see each and every one of you at Phono Del Sol because it’s the best fun you can have in this city for $25. For once it doesn’t feel like a lie when I say things are taking care of themselves; and they aren’t, not really. I am just making them happen. Whether that’s buying a cactus this weekend or some cheese curds at the State Fair come August. I know come fall and winter there will be a bit of a pullback, but there are less shows then, less events. And I won’t have the time to get to most of it anyway. It is a gamble, something may come up that I really want to do, and I have no idea how to make that happen. But that could be said of most things in life. I can only work with what’s right on front of me. Trust me, that’s plenty enough right now. But when I get the chance? I’ll take it. It’s the Summer of Yes, don’t you know?

Receiver

1.

Yesterday I finally got around to hanging some posters that have been sitting under the bed for several months, projects for another day whose day finally came. I did what anyone might in the modern age, I took pictures of my pictures, posting them on Facebook and Instagram and several friends liked them. I realized that for many that is as close as they will ever get to seeing my current place, whether it’s a trick of geography or another reason. I can’t even remember the last time I had someone over that wasn’t a neighbor. I think it was September of last year, and even then it was only because of the BART strike.

This is not uncommon for me. During all of my art hanging, I was simultaneously having an online conversation about the new Green Line and and my former home of Lowertown, wondering about how many times anyone made it to either of my places there. I can count those occasions on one hand. I am no fool, and it’s not like my ego is horribly wounded or anything. I realize that this is a far more complicated thing than no one wants to go to Jane’s place. It’s about getting older, growing up, having less time, making decisions that make it more difficult like moving someplace where you don’t know that many people nearby and it’s always a hike for everyone, and many, many more things. In that sense, Lowertown doesn’t differ all that much from Inner Richmond, where all my friends are points east and south and my place is kind of a pain in the ass to get to. Of course, some of it is that I live in places that are not well-appointed, that I am most likely never going to be the best host or have the best place to get together, because I rarely go through the effort to get more than the basics. It’s rare I have more than a couch, for example. And tables? Forget about it. Again, I don’t particularly feel like these are personal indictments. They are, certainly, facets of who I am and how I choose to (or how I can or want to, etc.) live. And so it is that I live in another place where the board games collect dust but I still manage to drink all that beer that ends up in my fridge for any potential guests. I can, after all, manage on my own.

2.

On Friday night, after a litany of offers, I sold my extra Mountain Goats ticket to the first person who contacted me for face value. I had someone offer me $129 for it, but I have never personally had the ethic of profiting from my concert tickets so much as getting them to people and getting my money back. Not that making money off of it is wrong, just that I don’t roll like that. Some might say this is a questionable flaw considering how many other shows I could pay for with some assiduous ticket purchases and sales. But It’s just not in my character. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a friend to take that ticket, and I was reminded yet again of why I buy one ticket to every show I go to, of how, if I am lucky these days, I will run into a familiar face or two, of how I rarely plan to see anyone when I go see live music. It was strange being back in Minneapolis and just seeing all these people I know at the venues. For as much as I am becoming familiar with the people at the door and the bartenders of San Francisco, still, I mostly see people that I more recognize and less know if I see anyone at all. Of course, I know how quickly that can change, too, as I think of dear friends I miss at every show here. There is no Depot, with its wonderful staff that I miss so, and if they are here, I have yet to find the mock duck tacos. I show up, I see the band(s), and I go home. Last night it was The Notwist, and though the music was different, and the show one of the best I have seen in a while (I will remember this week for a long time to come), it was generically another experience I shared with several hundred people alone. Tonight, it’ll most likely be Cold Beat, Mane, and Pop Crimes, because if you came all the way from Winnipeg, the least I can do is show Manitobans a little love.

I could lie and say a smartphone makes this easier to do, that it enables solo concert going, but I did this before there were really effective smartphones too, with books, or bar tvs, or my own thoughts. It is not that hard to spend a few hours by yourself in a crowd. Like anything, it’s a skill, and it is a skill I have taught myself; it’s actually a skill I am widely praised about. People frequently comment that they wished they did more stuff like that by themselves. And certainly it is a skill worth developing in that regard. I rather learned it the hard way, after I realized that I no longer had any friends who to go to shows with, or at least any that I was in touch with that were in the same place as me in that moment. I found them again, of course, but there was a solid year where I didn’t see any live music. I want you to think about that for a bit, especially if you’ve known me for a while. Or don’t. Just think about it in regards to your perception of me. If anything, my image is that I am at everything. Even old friends can’t help but comment that it seems like I see even more now that I live here than I did there. I am not sure if that’s entirely true. But I am certainly someone who has a reputation for going where there is live music, for picking some pretty good shows if I do say so myself.

So for almost a year, I did nothing. While I had certainly gone to shows by myself prior to living by myself in 2008, it was a rarity. Every so often, something would come up that I just wanted to see, like Figurines, and no one else went. I can think of other isolated examples, like the first time I saw Death From Above 1979 as well. Something about the 400 Bar I guess. But most of the time, it was easy to say, hey, do you feel like going to [x] and find someone, the question was not whether to buy a ticket but rather how many to buy. And while I don’t miss the hassle of trying to make sure everyone is even in terms of money, it was nice to know that you were going to be with friends. Even if that meant sticking around to see a band you didn’t really care about or some needless socialization with people you didn’t particularly know, there was always something interesting about where those sorts of interactions could lead. Suddenly, I was without all of that. Of course, I also bristled at the thought of who I’d run into at those shows, and had to get over the fact that former best friends were now just that, former. But eventually, I did get over it. It took quite a show, and that show was The Rosebuds at the Turf, and that really got the ball rolling again. I knew no one, though I realize now that I would get to know several of the people that were there, and so one show led to the next until I had finally reached a point where it was not a question of going alone, but rather who I might see and talk to, and soon enough I was rarely going to anything alone anymore. Until I moved out here and I had to put that back to use again. I’m still waiting for it to flip back over, though in fairness, it took several years to get to that point in the Twin Cities, so it is perhaps no surprise after a year I am still waiting. Though I did run into a co-worker at the Mountain Goats show. And I have been to a few shows with friends in the past couple months. So perhaps I won’t be waiting much longer. Perhaps it’s already coming together and I just don’t realize it yet. It’s like that sometimes when you’re in the middle of it.

3.

I don’t have an official count of it all, but I’m pretty sure I’ve been to almost every park in San Francisco at this point. Or at least any one of some stature beyond a playground tucked away somewhere in Anza Vista. I have seen a couple sunsets from Grand View. I know that the best time to go to Mount Davidson is not when it is clear, but when it is foggy, ethereal, still sprinkling, always muddy, where it feels like you can cross between the worlds in the misty eucalyptus heights there or on Mount Sutro. The best sunsets are viewed somewhere along the coastal trail, whether you are up on Eagles Point, or down on Mile Rock Beach, though, at the right time, in the right moment, the Sutro Bath Ruins are the best. I have seen the quiet of Candlestick Point, nothing but fishers and wind on a bright, but always blustery day. The batteries of the Marin Headlands, looking back on Golden Gate in the most iconic of its many poses, the quiet beauty of Angel Island, the eerie twilight of Alcatraz. There really is an amazing amount to see here, and like most things in life, I’ve tried to see not only as much of it as I can for myself but also by myself. I suppose that I could spend a bit more effort and look for a hiking buddy, or try a few meet-ups and see how they go, though there are plenty of reasons I’m reluctant to do things like that, because any experience like that just as easily turns south and becomes me gritting teeth through another afternoon of being misgendered. Perhaps my sense of solitude is just as much informed by my being trans and not having the patience to deal with jackasses (whom are legion) as it is by my freedom to be able to do much by myself. It is, perhaps, the best skill any only child learns, how to entertain themselves. I do have friends out here that like to do those sorts of things as well, but unfortunately, like most people these days, their adult lives are full, hard to plan for, hard to plan around. Couple that with a healthy sense of wanderlust, my unending desire to see what’s down that street or over that hill, and I suppose it’s not so hard to see why I’ve made it much further than Golden Gate Park right outside my door.

Of course, I did the same in the Twin Cities. I know where a lot of those bike paths go, and yes, I have rode to Victoria and Dayton and Hudson (though not all in the same day, that’d be exhausting). I know where the paths shift over from pavement to loose gravel, what the houses along Minnetonka look like right there. I never lost the sense of wonder riding by all the Victorians on Summit, as it always was a beautiful stretch, from the Mississippi River all the way back to the Mississippi River again. And though I did manage to get one longer backpacking trip in with a friend, I always found them hard enough to plan just for myself, and so much easier to execute. Less scheduling, less conflict, more that I could just do. I think about that here periodically too as I try to figure out moments that I can get longer bike rides and backpacking trips in now that I’ve knocked out most of the city, and I rarely ever go through the calculus of wondering whether I should invite anyone or plan to accommodate for more people. It’s almost as if I’ve just forgotten how to do that over the years.

This is, of course, not true. I have also done hikes with friends here, and hope that as we all settle into the changes in our lives a bit more that we will figure out how to get them in again. I would like to hope that if I can pull together some of my ideas for day trips or maybe even weekend trips to the various state and national parks that other people will be interested, as they are surely welcome to come. Though I hope people would remember not to confuse the fact that I am active with the fact that I am social. My capacity for socializing is occasionally limited, and sometimes I find the very act of dealing with people is only enervating, that I could be halfway to whatever I am doing if I just did it instead of trying to figure it out. Those kinds of moods don’t strike me all that much, but they definitely do happen. But I’m sure like anything else, it is something that will slowly fill in, that my calendar will not only be busy because of all the solo shows that I’m going to but because of gatherings with friends. Though I know there will always be times for those hikes and those bike rides by myself. Perhaps I rarely take pictures of people because I spend so much time by myself. I’d like to hope that I end up in a few more of those pictures. Until then, though, it’s time to find out what’s over that next hill, with or without you. You are welcome to come, but know that I probably will not wait either.

4.

There are times when I have a lot of trouble meeting new people. I went to a mixer on Friday for a work event, and there will always inevitably be someone who calls me the wrong name or misgenders me. My capacity to willingly deal with people like that is not always that strong. And I know that I should not write people off before even giving them a chance, but you’ll have to excuse me if I have six years of experience with knowing when it’s just not worth the trouble. That, perhaps, sounds like a shitty thing to say. I’m not trying to clock anyone. I don’t go out of my way to identify which person will most likely call me he in front of a bunch of strangers and not even notice or understand the effects of what they just did. But I have learned over the years which people are more likely to do that, though I find my capacity to be surprised is never-ending.

Trust me, it’s an awful feeling when you meet people that seem cool, people that you think you’ll get on with reasonably well, and they end up insulting the core of who you are within a minute of engaging you in conversation. Ever been talking with a guy that you think is pretty cool and attractive and have that happen? It’s a feeling I have far too much experience with. Whether it’s a simple social call out at a bar with some co-workers or a date or at a show, there’s always a reason to be guarded. It’s the converse side to why I do things alone. Sometimes it’s not that I want to; sometimes I could desperately use the company. Just not that company, not ever. Letting people in means being vulnerable, and I am certainly more open to that than I once was. But I have also learned that even when you are steely, even when you are not trying to let people in, even when your guard is up, people will hurt you. I try not to let that hang over every conversation and interaction, but I am frequently waiting for the when, not the if when it comes to someone disregarding my gender, as if they consciously know better or worse yet unconsciously don’t realize what they just did. It doesn’t matter whether it’s malicious or ignorant, it’ll hurt you just the same.

If you don’t see how a feeling like that, how that guardedness could influence whether or not I’ll go out of my way to try and socially engage with people, then I don’t know what to say. Couple that with aspects of me that have nothing to do with me being trans (like the self-sufficiency and lack of patience I learned as an only child), and perhaps it’s not so hard to see why I go to shows by myself. It’s a lot of effort for anyone to let anyone in, I know that. We all have our friends and our obligations and our lives that seem to pretty much run apace without letting other people in. It’s some amount of work to let people in, something we have to consciously attempt, that we have to engage in. The problem I have is it takes a long time for me to let that guard down; I have friends I’ve had for a long time that I still don’t feel like I can totally let that guard down with. Sometimes, I just don’t feel like expending that energy when I want to do anything, though I always have to if there is any degree of interaction with people, not just friends or acquaintances. I’m not just trying to edge into various peoples’ social circles to incorporate them into my own, I’m not just trying to find people with similar interests and tastes, I’m trying to find people who will accept me as who I am. Though I suppose we could all say that.

5.

This is all to say there are perhaps a wide confluence of factors that make me who I am, a trans woman with an endless sense of wonder and exploration who ever so occasionally wishes she found a few more people to go on those journeys with her that recognizes it’s not always that easy. Though I know that not finding people to go do something is not a good reason to not do something. If you want to do something, and you have the means, then I encourage you to figure out how to do it. Sometimes it’s not as important and therefore you won’t; sometimes it’s really just not possible. I am fortunate in that many of the things that I want to do I can do. I recognize that. I used to have a tendency to try and put things I couldn’t do a certain way, like I was always so busy or put upon or whatever. When the reality is, I’m not all that busy. There’s a lot of downtime in my life, and probably a lot in yours too. Busy is a construct. We all have finite time. And some people have greater flexibility in terms of what they can do with it based on their circumstances. I have pretty great flexibility in that regards. I live by myself; I have a decent job; I don’t have children. There are times where the reason I do not do something is simply because I do not want to, not because I have too much going on or anything like that. And there are times where I may want to do another activity going on, where I may want to go to another show or see a friend at a bar, but I have tickets to something that I have prioritized. It doesn’t make me a bad person to say sometimes that I am going to this because I’d rather do it, though it is perhaps impolitic to phrase it exactly like that. I understand why we elide; I understand the construction of busy. I understand that just because I may have time does not mean I want to use it with anyone else, and that other people feel the same way all the time.

I am a huge booster of learning to do things you want to do on your won. Shared experiences are great, don’t get me wrong. It’s awesome to catch up with friends about a show we all mutually caught. And some experiences, I couldn’t really imagine going to by myself, though that’s occasionally a construct, an idea that we have that it couldn’t possibly be that enjoyable by ourselves. People occasionally express wonder at all the things I do by myself, but I shrug. It is simply a fact of my existence, and though I am sure if I agitated a bit more I could find someone to get brunch with, someone to go to the bar with, someone to catch that next show with, I doubt if I could find someone to go to all those things. Besides there’s worse things than being alone. Though I do get frustrated by the last minute cancellations of the modern age, of the constant emails, the constant updates, the fact that solid planning seems to be harder to come by than it used to, not because we are better planners but because we can always hold out until the last minute to see if something better comes along, to try and make our various conflicting plans come together in harmony. And when you are frustrated by that, it’s good to be able to go down to the bar down the street and get a drink by yourself, to head to Eats and enjoy your pancakes by yourself, to pay another visit to Hemlock, which, come to think of it, is someplace I’ve only ever been by myself, though there are certainly always people at the bar and at the shows. If you find that you can never do that? Then perhaps it is a skill worth fostering, as that is what it is, as I said at the beginning. It’s something you learn. Eating at a restaurant or seeing a movie or going to a show by yourself feels a little weird if you are socialized to only ever do them with others, and it can take a little work to unpack that.

But if I may provide some words of caution as you set down that road: remember to still put in that effort; remember to invite people over, to send that text or that email; make that phone call you’ve been putting off; buy that extra ticket sometimes and ask. By all means continue to do the things you are passionate about; that should not be dependent on others. You will meet people who share those passions, and you will be surprised. I made some of my best friends just by going to shows by myself. But remember someone has to make that effort, even if it is just a glib tweet or a joking remark to the person next to you. Much like learning to go on your own is a skill, learning to let other people in on that is too. I would think that after 33 years I’d be better at that, but I’ve always gotta remind myself of it, that I’ve gotta try. While there’s no comparison to having the experiences, some of those stories would not be proper, would not feel right without the people who were also there. Even if I didn’t know it at the time. Was The National show in Oregon the best one I saw because it was musically the best, or because I saw it with amazing people in an amazing setting? Would the show at Berkeley have been different with the same crew? It is of course absurd to attempt to control for all factors, and it is something no one will ever be able to do. Both experiences were fantastic, each in their own way. In both cases, I just had to be open to the experience that I was going to have, not dead-set on a way it was going to be. At a certain point, it does not matter whether I am by myself in the crowd or with some of my best friends, but just that I am ready to receive. The skill then is to be open. To wherever it leads.

Half Dozen

It’s become something of a tradition to write something this week, to address, as I’ve constantly noted over the years, one of the more tangible dates of authentic living. Some years I’ve done a better job than others, but every year is always just another attempt to, and as a friend said it’s “always good to take a step back and see the long term positive trend. Especially when it doesn’t always feel positive in the short term.” Because it doesn’t always feel all that positive in the short-term, when you’re dealing with the fact that just about any social engagement you go to means you’re almost guaranteed to be misgendered by some random cishet dudebro (I know, I know, not all men…if they stop doing it, I’ll stop saying that). It’s not all that positive when we still live in a world were verbal and physical threats, violence are not just mere abstractions, but something concrete to put a spin on Huxley. Even if the vast majority of the encounters I have on a daily basis are benign, it’s the fact that they might not be that’s always just hanging there. I’ve written about it before, and I’m sure I’ll write about it again. It’s the energy that a lot of people expend for a lot of different reasons, anyone deemed different from what so many people assume to be the default even though many people don’t bother to interrogate why so many people seem to think of the default as white, male, cis, hetero. But there are always plenty of opportunities to interrogate that, as I’m sure you are aware of, and that was never really the point of this tradition.

This, this is about celebrating each year, about looking back at what I’ve learned, about how I’ve grown, about how my perception of trans issues has grown, to just enjoy the mere possibilities of it all. It is, after all, nice to see something that is essentially me saying, you know what, there are certainly experiences I’ve had that are not positive, and there are still a lot of ways the world is not a great place for trans people, but even in six years it feels like there have been a lot of positive changes, and for the most part, in one woman’s experience, they’ve been a fairly boring six years, at least, vis a vis being trans. I mean, they obviously haven’t, a lot of aspects of my life have changed quite a bit in the past six years, and I’ve certainly had plenty of experiences, but I don’t necessarily feel like a lot of those experiences have been demonstrably different because I’m trans. Which is a great thing to be able to say. Because it shouldn’t be a factor. And while I am certainly aware that’s not always the case and that this is just my experience, I also know that six years ago, my employer wasn’t putting together a fact sheet about transitioning in the workplace. As I’ve said, I feel like Wells has been pretty good to me, but that’s a pretty big thing to do not because it is huge or significant, but because a lot of employers out there just don’t make that. Even seeing something like that when you are at the company homepage can be a sort of comfort. It takes more than a couple pages to really truly support trans individuals in the workplace of course, but that’s a little thing that’s easy to do that so many places just don’t seem to do. And that’s why I think simple actions like that are big, tangible expressions.

I haven’t totally succeeded in becoming a more engaged trans individual, at least as much as I’d like to be. Of course, there are a lot of things that I’m passionate about that I could say the same. But I still view every day as an opportunity to potentially talk with someone, to widen that view of the world just a little bit, to humanize trans people in the sense that I am a real person standing right in front of them, sitting next to them at the bar, talking about a band with them at a show. It’s not any person’s job to talk about whatever aspects of themselves fall outside of what so many people just consider the default, in whatever way they might. But as someone who doesn’t mind being open, who doesn’t mind having that conversation, I actually like that, provided we don’t get off on the wrong foot. I don’t mind telling my story on my own terms. Besides, it’s a good reminder to shut up and listen when other people are telling their stories, to continue to learn about the ways in which I’m privileged, my blind spots that I most certainly. Many I am aware of, others I’m sure I will continue to learn about. And perhaps just challenging myself to keep telling my story, to remember to listen is a good reminder each year. There are certainly more ways I can do more, and some ways in which I am trying to do more, though they are perhaps stories for another time.

Every year is a chance to grow, a chance to keep challenging myself and the world around me. Of course, every day really is that, if you really want to get into it. But, like I quoted above, sometimes it’s good to take a step back. It’s a chance to look back and see all the good, of which there was so much, of reconnecting with old friends and finally feeling like I am fully myself around them, that they are actually getting to see me as who I’ve always been, not some ersatz version of me that I projected out into the world. It’s pretty cool to still have those moments, even six years on. It leads me to believe I’ll always have that opportunity, that life will keep bringing all of us back together in strange and wonderful ways. And, of course, I’ll continue to meet new people to share my story with. Of course, with that comes the vulnerability of opening up. That’s a good thing, being vulnerable and opening up, but it does mean that sometimes you will get hurt. And sometimes you will let things in that you’d rather not. Sometimes you’ll have those terrible moments when you least expect them.

But like most years, all I really want to say is thanks to everyone for coming along, for being there, for continuing to support me. I look forward to a day when everyone’s journey to be their authentic self is met with a shrug, and while mine was largely uneventful, we are most certainly not there yet. I’m always thankful for those of you I’ve known a long time, those of you I’ve met along the way, and I continue to wonder about those of you I’ve yet to meet who will have an impact. Being authentic is great, but doing it by myself never was an option. It’s a journey we’re all on. Six years is a long time; we’ve all grown and changed quite a bit since then. There’s still a lot of work to do, a lot that needs changing in our society to make it a better place for trans individuals. I know that I am quite fortunate, that life has unfolded for me in a way that I never thought possible when I was young. One doesn’t negate the other; I can appreciate the positives in my life and still recognize all the work yet to do. And frequently my writing is about the many grievances, the daily frustrations that I experience as a trans woman. But there are times too where it is important to step away from that, and take a wider look and say, you know what, life is pretty fucking good right now. I wouldn’t change who I am for the world because there’s nothing wrong with who I am, though I would like to change the world around me. And though the scale may not be grand, hopefully, I’ve been able to do that with the people I’ve known and the people I will continue to meet. Thanks for being open to the possibilities with me. And thanks for helping to make them possible.

Said In Passing

I’m a born explorer. It’s in my nature to see what’s nearby, what is all around me. So when I had an hour before my friend could pick me up, naturally, I went to investigate what was in the shopping center next door, to find a coffee shop or some other place I could hang out for a bit, to just see what was there. While I was walking by a Safeway, a man said a few things that any trans woman’s heard a time or two. Really it was standard fare and I don’t even remember what he initially said. Pretty basic transmisogynistic junk. Initially I decided it wasn’t worth my time to even honor that I heard it. But he just kept spouting off, so I turned around and asked him if he had a problem. It was at that point he started coming toward me and quite plainly stated the following: “I ought to beat your ass for impersonating a woman.”

I never like to ignore when people say things like this in passing. But that is part of the calculus that goes along with being a trans woman in modern society. I didn’t say it should be, because it definitely shouldn’t be. And I am trying to make myself challenge that a bit more, to help change that, to put it back on people who just feel they are free to say terrible things and judge trans people, as if my living authentically (which has zero impact on them) is only acceptable if it passes their standards (complete with the noxious, impossible, quite mutable idea of passing itself) of who they think I should be. But I still have to decide whether or not it is safe or prudent to say even the littlest thing, to correct when someone misgenders me even in a supposedly safe setting. There is a big difference between sending a tweet or writing about it after the fact versus in that moment. I have much more control. Though it’s still not totally safe. For more visible trans individuals, they are still subject to vile vituperation just for something as simple as writing about their daily experiences. In this instance, there was another woman standing right there who said nothing. Just stood there. Again, it’s not that surprising. It hardly ever happens that someone else says anything when someone misgenders me or says something awful unless they decide they also need to pile on and be awful as well. That wasn’t the case, at least. Still…

Now I can take care of myself. I am 6′, 2″ and I have learned thing or two about defending myself over the years. Thankfully I’ve never needed to use any of it. I wasn’t going to get in a fight with some random dude in a shopping center in my work clothes with a suitcase full of my stuff. I will defend myself. But there are times where the best defense is to just get the hell out of the situation. It’s not like I was gonna prove anything. And yes, of course I was scared and intimidated. Even if I feel I can take care if myself and the guy tried make good on his words, even if I wasn’t outnumbered, that is never the desired outcome. It’s not like it’s a safe world for trans women who defend themselves against people who do things like that. Even in self-defense, trans folks sadly end up getting mistreated by law enforcement et al., misgendered, ridiculed, and placed in dangerous environments with essentialist criteria where little is done to protect them even when they are consistently victims of violence, not the aggressors. So no, I’d rather not take my chances with that.

All of this because I got the gall to walk by. And that is what I decided to do, to keep walking. It was certainly not what I wanted to do, but for my safety it was what I needed to do. I am glad that I turned around and challenged him, though. It’s not like I got through to him in any way. There are still far too many people like that all over the place. But it became quickly apparent to me there was no ideal outcome. That is, sadly, the case quite a bit. He wasn’t going to listen. Or at least he did not seem to have any intent to. People like that deserve to be challenged when they say ignorant shit, and I did, but I didn’t really see any positive to continuing to challenge someone who was so enraged by my mere presence that he was threatening violence. Still I was shaken by the encounter and glad when he did not follow, but stood there and said more inane shit where he conflated the threat of violence with victory.

I have been fortunate in that, at least physically, nothing has really happened to me, this time or any others so far. But I wonder how long that will continue. I live with that question every day. One doesn’t have to look too hard to find countless stories of trans women assaulted, raped, murdered just for passing by, especially when they refuse to take shit from people and stand up for themselves. And yet obviously many people don’t look that hard. To many people, the quotidian fear we live with as trans is news to them. Mind you this is all coming from a trans woman with a fair amount of privilege; too many examples highlight how much worse circumstances are for trans women of color, for example. Go find their stories and read them if you don’t believe me; think about how many trans individuals don’t get the chance to share those stories because of what happened to them when they were just passing by. Remember that many trans individuals live with this kind of unwarranted commentary and threat of violence every day, even if they aren’t telling you about it. I can only directly speak to my experiences, but I have read and heard enough from other people to know this is sadly not an uncommon experience. And while I wouldn’t say the threat of violence is a daily issue for me, a) that is just one trans woman’s experience and b) it certainly comes up often enough that I have thought about it plenty.

I will always be a born explorer; I always have been. I have always been a woman too; it just took me a little longer to figure that out. It’s as much inward as outward exploration. I certainly have not seen it all, and I never will, but I don’t need to see it all to know I still live in a world full of virulently transphobic people. Besides I get reminders of that in an almost daily basis even if they aren’t personal. I constantly try to not let the fact that I am trans dim that passion to explore, to see what’s out there, but how could it not when I can’t even go see what shops are somewhere without uninvited commentary and potential violence? I am forced to think about how I move through the world in a different manner now. That’s just a fact. That forces me to think about how I explore the world too. I never used to cross the street just because I saw a group of men approaching when I am by myself. I still don’t most of the time, but I always keep that in mind, and I definitely have done it. There are still going to be situations where it is simply not safe to do or say something. There is nothing wrong with being the trans woman who retreats in those situations, of looking out for your safety because most people won’t say anything, won’t assist if anything bad happens just because of who you are. But we shouldn’t have to do that. We are not the problem. The problem is our society giving people free reign to be transphobic like that without consequence. Many see slurring and demeaning a trans individual who just walks by as perfectly acceptable behavior, something they were asking for. That is why I want to challenge people when they do things like that guy at the shopping center given the opportunity because it shouldn’t be that way. Sometimes, most times, I will still have to walk away, even after I say something. Most times, it still will be potentially dangerous even to say the littlest thing. But I have nothing to be ashamed of when I walk past anyone. And who knows? Maybe someday I will have nothing to fear either.

 
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