Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Prancing Through Life.

PTL is a site for which people write on their cultural interests, life stories and viewpoints. We place an emphasis on the personal and encourage people to write about the things they love and/or take issue with. Why walk through life, when you can prance?

Or from their About page:

— If you ever prance as you wander down the street, we salute you. The power of prancing should never be underestimated or taken for granted.
— Sometimes we wonder what the world would be like if unicorns were real.

And again: “Why walk through life, when you can prance?”

The notion of prancing through life makes me smile. Just the word “prance” itself... {reaches for the dictionary} ...to caper or dance along; to move with an exaggeratedly springing gait; to swagger; to parade ostentatiously; (plus some other stuff to do with horses). It's positive, prideful, happy, yet with a definite "sod you" quality to it. Hey, I'm prancin' here.

Season five of PTL launched at the beginning of November (in association with All About Trans) and features an ongoing set of trans-related and other pieces. It's a notably inclusive collection, incorporating voices that are often marginalized, in particular black and non-binary. Some items are new, some are republished from other sources (including one by me: a slightly revised version of Reading My Way Into Femme from this blog).

A few of my favourites so far...

Juno Roche: Trans Lives - #gendercation.
Jacq Applebee: The Loneliness of a Black Non-Binary Soul - #blackonblack.
Sawyer DeVuyst: Mine — on “an ever-growing series of daily fine art self-portraits”.
Melanie Christie: Break Free - #stillshot — on Ruby Rose's short film, which you can watch via YouTube.

But especially...

Travis Alabanza: Wide - #poetscorner — a poem, which you can listen to them read via Soundcloud.

maybe tomorrow,
when asked if I'm a boy or a girl,
I won't have to decide.

Wouldn't that be nice :)

Friday, 30 October 2015

So, what is femme? (5)

— Laura Luna Placencia, from the Los Angeles Femmes of Color Collective, in a joint interview with ColorLines news website.

An expanded (and edited) version was later posted on the Collective's tumblr page, where Laura Luna also offers this:

I am deeply inspired by the following quote by Jewel Gomez when asked to define femme: “I see femme as someone who is interested in living a life of adornment and affectation. It’s not a role but an identity, as in something embedded inside that manifests externally in many different ways.”

I'm not entirely certain what Jewelle means by “affectation” there, but the rest rings true for sure :)

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

“Do you wear women's clothes at home?”

A pertinent question indeed.

It was my eldest nephew's wedding last weekend, and famous relative was there as well. I got to tell him how glad I was that he'd spoken out on trans issues recently, and we talked about this a little, which was nice. I can't remember exactly what was said – I'd had quite a bit to drink by then – but I know it involved me stumbling for words when it came to how this relates to me personally.

Explaining this stuff is so difficult.

I think I said I was “part of the trans community”, but that leaves so much unsaid. What exactly is the trans community? And how am I part of it? What does “trans” even mean? There are as many answers as there are trans people. I once asked Roz Kaveney what "trans" was really "crossing" and she replied: “into sex/gender/sexuality liminality” – which I just love, not least because there's a whole world of meaning behind that too.

Anyway, when we reached the question, I responded with something like: “These are women's clothes”, indicating what I was wearing; “all my clothes are off the women's racks”. But later that didn't feel like a proper answer, because it didn't meet the thought behind the question.

So, now... “Do you wear women's clothes at home?”

Yes, I do. I wear women's clothes all the time. But not “as a woman”, if it's clear what I mean by that? If that's what was being asked?

At the wedding I was about as smart as I ever get: white(ish) posh jeans, brown sort-of-suede shirt, the usual furry coat. (Okay, trainers spoiled the look somewhat, but ankle boots would probably have been pushing it.) And all of these were women's clothes. The Oxford Blue faux leather coat even says “for Women” inside – just in case anyone should buy it "by mistake".

And I wear women's clothes because I prefer them – for all sorts of reasons. One of which is that they allow me to express something essential in me that needs to be expressed. Something for which I mostly use the words femme and genderqueer (which themselves take some explaining.)

But not female. My third ever post (4½ years ago), ‘Not woman, but femme’ still stands. More or less.

Actually, rather than male (or female), I'm feeling increasingly non-binary nowadays. But perhaps that's another post for another time.

Monday, 31 August 2015

Manchester Pride 2015.

No, I've not followed up Nottinghamshire Pride by rushing round the country from parade to parade. This post is about "famous relative" who was Grand Marshal at Manchester Pride again last Saturday. Here he is looking very dashing (and quite femme):

He also gave a short interview to Gay Times, which you can read here.
One bit in particular meant a lot to me:

GT: With trans coming to the forefront of the LGBT community, do you think it’s now time for trans to become seen and celebrated even more?

IMcK: If you’re trans, it’s your life. It’s not passing fashion. What’s good is that people are taking trans people seriously and trying to understand their problems and not get in the way. Stonewall has taken trans as part of their campaign. And, I must admit, I know a couple of trans people, but I’d no idea how widespread it was.

I go to schools, and many secondary schools have a transgender pupil going through the process. But, they’re heroes to the school. Everybody knows about them. But I feel that I’m as ignorant to trans problems as people of the past were about gay problems. It was a bit of an education for me. But I wouldn’t say that it’s a passing thing as we’re all taking it on board and trying to understand it.

Ian also narrated the recent Channel 4 documentary Muslim Drag Queens, which is very much worth watching, especially if you're trans – because, in case you were uncertain on this point: drag queens are our sisters!

But wait... “a couple of trans people” – presumably one of those is me :)

And as for Ian knowing (relatively) little “about drag and trans and areas of being gay that I have not been part of” (as he said elsewhere) – well, perhaps so, but he was warmer and more open-hearted in that admission than a whole world of people who could say the same.

And I just love him for it.

Thursday, 30 July 2015

Nottinghamshire Pride 2015.

It was Nottinghamshire Pride last Saturday. “Be Colourful, Noisy and PROUD!!” they said. So I dressed appropriately in a bright red t-shirt (emblazoned with the word “femme”), off-white jeans (advertised as pink on eBay) and a furry coat (despite the sunshine). People complimented me on my coat, as they often do – it is really very furry – but even more so than usual, which was nice :)

There was a strong trans presence this year. Local groups Chameleons and Invasion marched together under a big banner and trans flag (and ran a stall as well). I was further back with Notts Trans Hub.

Confession: it was my first ever Pride march. I've never gone before, as I've never felt Pride was really for me. It's always seemed like a young person's thing, or else a corporate thing – and indeed there were plenty of both in attendance. I even missed Pride 2012, when the (now-defunct) Recreation group ran a dedicated Trans Tent with an impressive array of talent, as I went to see my sister in Manchester instead.

So why did I go to Pride 2015? Partly to march with the Hub; partly because Derek Jacobi (another “pride virgin”) went to his first Pride too this year, away in New York (as a Grand Marshal, with famous relative), and clearly enjoyed himself. So I thought I'd make the effort as well.

And I did enjoy it – the march at least: assembly on Lister Gate and Albert Street, set off slowly up Wheeler Gate and Beastmarket Hill, along Long Row and Pelham Street, round George Street, Old Lenton Street and Broad Street, and stop. There were drums and whistles and banners and rainbow flags and a fire engine. The stage was set up in Lace Market Square; but Pride's idea of entertainment is a bit too "popular" for me (if there are more than three people in the audience, chances are I won't like it), and I was feeling a bit overwhelmed by then anyway, so I came home.

Maybe next year. We'll see.

In the meantime, there's some video footage (by Robin from the Hub), uploaded on YouTube.

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Speaking our own truth.

Something we're seemingly all very good at – or very bad at – is believing (and insisting) that what is true for us singular must be true for us plural; specifically, that our understanding of ourselves, of our own sex and gender is widely, even universally, applicable.

But... “if there's one thing I've learned (...), it's this: You can't speak for anyone else on these matters. You can't tell people who they are, what they are, why they are. One, because it's rude. Two, because most of the time you'll be wrong. This is a common mistake. Having reached an understanding (usually hard won) of who we are as individuals, and being so convinced of its correctness for ourselves, we assume that it must be correct for everyone else. It isn't.”

I'm quoting myself there, by the way, from part of a casual comment to a much earlier post (in as much as anything I write here is ever casual). Of all my many words in this blog, those are the ones I keep returning to. When we figure out who we are, define our identities and relate our truths, there's often an urgency to say what we're not, and that because we've rejected a particular narrative for ourselves, that narrative is thus fallacious and bad.

All of which usually boils down to: “You're doing gender wrong.” “You're doing your gender wrong.”

Okay, I'm not exempt from that, as I admitted in the continuation: “I feel that myself all the time writing this blog. I'm so sure I'm right, I can hardly fathom why people aren't queueing up to agree with me.”

All the same, I try not to disregard other people's understandings of themselves or to erase their identities: “Fortunately I have just enough self-control to write "some of us" rather than "all of us". In that way I can talk in general terms while leaving it for each individual reader to decide whether or not what I'm saying applies to them.”

And as I explained in another comment, to an even earlier post: “[W]hen I say we in this blog, I don't mean we all exactly. My inclusive we only includes you (the individual reader) if you say it does. I'm not trying to dismiss anyone's personal experience or self-knowledge, only to present a different view of the whole thing which they can take on board, or not.”

Indeed, I've learned far more from people who concentrate on expressing their own truth – their own unflinching, unapologetic, insightful truth – than from mean-spirited denial or "criticism" of other people's.

It's as Patrick Califia once wrote: “The best we can do is speak our own truth, make it safe for others to speak theirs, and respect our differences.”
If our truths, our narratives, align or intersect, then fine. If not, well, so they don't; that's fine too. We each have our own ways of responding to the extremely personal issues of sex and gender. And these are not mutually exclusive. Nor are they more or less valid for being more or less common.

The last time I used that Califia quote here, Kyle Jones (from Butchtastic) responded: “Not too many years ago, the subject area of gender seemed pretty simple, but now I know how complex the intersection between gender identity, sexual identity, physical presentation and preferences can be for each individual. Thank you for doing your part in continuing the conversation and speaking your truth.”

I feel the same way. So thank you to everyone else who continues the conversation and speaks their truth. As long as we remember that our truth is not necessarily true for anyone else.

Sunday, 31 May 2015


norm nörm, n a rule; a pattern; an authoritative standard; a type; the ordinary or most frequent value or state; an accepted standard of behaviour within a society; adj nor'mal according to rule; not deviating from the standard; regular, typical, ordinary; adj nor'mative of or relating to a norm; establishing a standard; prescriptive.
(source: The Chambers Dictionary, 1993, hard copy)

1: of, relating to, or determining norms or standards (normative tests);
2: conforming to or based on norms (normative behavior; normative judgments);
3: prescribing norms (normative rules of ethics; normative grammar).
(source: Merriam-Webster Online, based on Collegiate Dictionary, 11th Edition, 2003)

Normative (social sciences subheading)
In the social sciences, the term “normative” (...) may also relate, in a sociological context, to the role of cultural ‘norms’; the shared values or institutions that structural functionalists regard as constitutive of the social structure and social cohesion. These values and units of socialization thus act to encourage or enforce social activity and outcomes that ought to (with respect to the norms implicit in those structures) occur, while discouraging or preventing social activity that ought not occur. That is, they promote social activity that is socially valued.
(source: Wikipedia)

— is the belief that people fall into distinct and complementary genders (man and woman) with natural roles in life. It asserts that heterosexuality is the only sexual orientation or only norm, and states that sexual and marital relations are most (or only) fitting between people of opposite sexes. Consequently, a “heteronormative” view is one that involves alignment of biological sex, sexuality, gender identity and gender roles.
(source: Wikipedia)

— refers to the establishment of heterosexuality and traditional gender roles as the norm in society. In other words, it assumes that “normal” people are by default straight and everyone else is willfully deviant. This can lead to the marginalization of and prejudice against those in the LGBT community, kinky folk, or anyone else who does not identify with traditional sexual identities or gender expression. The term was coined by social critic Michael Warner in 1991.
(source: Rationalwiki)

Gender Normative
The expectation that one’s gender identity and expression fits society’s constructions and expectations of what it means to be a girl/woman or a boy/man.
(source: HRC Foundation Welcoming Schools Project)

Why am I quoting all these definitions? I suppose because I'm tired. Heteronormativity makes me tired. Gender normativity makes me tired. Gender normative people make me tired – sometimes anyway.

Okay, I can't really complain about any individual being gender normative. Indeed, I'd explicitly support the rights of a gender normative person (supposing they needed support) to be gender normative, to present how they like, to be how they like. I just wish there weren't so very many of them. Or at least that they weren't so culturally ubiquitous. So that when I turn on the television, for instance, I wouldn't only see them, and nobody but them, hyper-normative versions of them, even enforced hyper-normative versions of them (as per the recent high heels débâcle at Cannes). I don't want to see these images, these strictly binary – exaggerated binary – images of people, and nothing but these images, all day, every day, forever.

Where's the rest of us?!

But of course that's what normativity is. It's all-pervasive, self-perpetuating, monotonous; and it makes me tired.

I think I'll go lie on my bed and stare at the ceiling.