Archive for March, 2015

A Version

There are always conflicting ways to look at the same events, people, and actions. Non-fiction demonstrates this phenomenon. It is simply one take of the events that happened. Since we are all informed by whatever experiences we’ve been through, we end up with different versions of events, even in the smallest way. The best non-fiction tries to distill that essence, splicing together multiple narratives into one, but it always has an overriding element: what is important to the story? That depends on the story that’s being told. We debate what is or isn’t material to a story, we insist some things are done in an objective manner, but what’s material changes from person to person, and objectivity is a nice concept, but what does it ultimately mean? As people, as societies, we decide, but these are malleable concepts that change over time. But we like narratives, we like resolution. Resolution may be different to you; it may be telling the story that you set out to tell. To one person it’s more; to the next person, it’s less. Irrelevant of the style, we all have a story to tell, and each of our lives is a version.

Beyond that, I hold conflicting views of myself, often simultaneously, and you might too. Take my body, for example. There are times where I’m really happy with it, when I manage to kick out a good time on a run, when my hair falls just right with just a touch of waviness, when I thoughtlessly put things on the high shelves in my kitchen. There are times where I feel saddled by it, when most dresses I try on are just too short or too tight, when I realize that this is the most I’m getting out of estrogen and it doesn’t feel like that much, when my makeup only serves to highlight everything that feels wrong. I am much better at managing the negative feelings now, but I will probably always deal with some level of frustration with my body. Some days I feel all of it at once. I may have reached a point where I know there’s nothing wrong with me, but I still interact with a society that rigidly enforces both a consensus and their own views on concepts like gender to my detriment. At times I’m just a man pretending to them. Sometimes I’m something else entirely. Sometimes I’m a woman but I can tell there’s an asterisk attached. Sometimes I’m just a woman. I never really know how I’m going to be treated by the people around me. It might be a good way to tell if they’re assholes or not, but it isn’t necessarily something I want to deal with any time I interact with people.

Going stealth never really felt like an option for me. I’ve said that before. I just don’t think I have a body where I could get to a point that I pass that well. And I didn’t want to, particularly. It also would have meant giving up some things that I rather like.  Like my friends. But getting to a point where there was a portion of my life where no one knows I’m trans? That would be nice. Even if I don’t talk about trans stuff at work, I have been misgendered enough by people I work with over the years to know that will never really be the case. Most of the time, I’m pretty happy being openly trans, it’d just be nice to turn off every so often if that makes sense? It’s not because there’s anything wrong with being trans, it’s just sometimes I don’t want to be called sir when I’m just going to get a cup of coffee. As much as passing is a complicated concept (because, to a degree, it’s living up to specific cis standards of how people should look that aren’t that great for trans or cis people), I understand why a lot of trans people seek to. There are certainly things I have done personally to pass better. So I don’t begrudge those who do or judge people who seek to; besides, it’s restrictive of other peoples’ autonomy to say what they should or shouldn’t do. I never desired facial feminization and I still don’t. If I did anything else from a surgical perspective, that wouldn’t be it. For some people that’s important, and it helps. And if it does for them? Cool. I’m pretty happy with my face and that hasn’t changed. Just because it’s not for me doesn’t mean it’s not for others. And who knows maybe I’d feel different if my insurance covered it or I came into some money. I just think it’s important to always ask myself if I want to do those things, but agency also matters.

It can be difficult to separate whether my attitude on passing is informed by my body and my body of experience. In fact, there’s no point in trying to separate it. Those experiences obviously and inevitably influence my viewpoint. If I wish I did pass a little better sometimes, it’s because I believe it would help alleviate some of the stress that goes along with being trans in our society. Sometimes someone says something about passing and I’m in a really frustrated mood and it feels patronizing because I don’t feel like I do as much as I might like in that moment; other times it looks like the smartest thing I’ve read on the topic and a nice viewpoint that I don’t have based on my body of experience. Sometimes it feels like both simultaneously. Most of the time I’m happy and I’m trying to seek more viewpoints and challenge myself to learn more and be open-minded. Most of the time I realize that there are a lot of valid ways to express the same general idea that there is no right way to be trans and I want to see that in as many expressions as possible. But sometimes I’m having a bad day, full of petty jealousy I wish I didn’t possess for a life that seems better superficially based on looks. I’m not proud of that feeling; that’s not who I want to be. So it’s something that I’m always working on. And perhaps someday I truly won’t feel that way, but that day is not today.

I could lie about it and tell you or myself a different version of the truth, but what’s the point in that? What good am I doing if I’m not being honest with myself? And how do I know other people aren’t feeling the same way about me? While to some degree my opinions is not just informed by what I think but the information I’m getting around me, perhaps I’m just focusing on the wrong input, or stuck on the negatives. It’s alluring to think of how one superficial element could change my life for the better, but in an interconnected system, it’s hard to know the outcomes. And it’s much easier to think about what positive things might change without bothering to forecast the negatives. That isn’t to say passing doesn’t confer some positive affects for the people who do, it’s to say I probably haven’t thought about the negatives, and they exist whether I realize it or not. It’s just a different version of events that ultimately still has a pretty similar outcome. Either way, I would still be a trans woman in a society that is still deeply uncomfortable with us even existing, let alone thriving. And I don’t just need to rely on my own version of events, I have seen and read many other versions to form a consensus. Objectively, we need to make the world a better place for all trans folks. Based on the narratives I see, based on my own experiences, there are still a lot of ways we can do that. They’re all important. So what’s this? This is just one more person’s version of the events to help support that point of view.

Break The Cycle

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m Not Most People

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reset

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

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

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

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

 
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