Thursday, 26 June 2014

Laurie Penny and the ‘TTP’.

Briefly: ‘TTP’ refers to the ‘Transgender Tipping Point’, posited in a cover story about Laverne Cox in the US Time magazine, which led to various (worthless) responses from various people, which feminist journalist Laurie Penny addresses (indirectly) in a blogpost for the New Statesman.
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There is an ingrained distrust in the trans community of "experts", arising from long and problematic experience. Of non-trans people holding forth about trans matters. Explaining, "discussing", pathologizing, dismissing... So, whenever someone speaks or writes about trans, the first thing I want to know is not the basis of their "objective expertise" but where they're coming from trans-wise, what gives their words any validity. Laurie Penny answers this towards the end of her piece:

“Explaining why this is so significant is hard for me, because I’m about as close as you can get to the trans rights movement without being trans yourself. I’ve been associated with trans activism for years, and while I don’t know what it’s like to be harassed, threatened or abandoned for being transsexual, most of my close friends do.”

Okay, fair enough. Not trans, but standing with. An ally, being supportive. Using her media platform to rally her (presumably) mostly non-trans audience. To say "I stand over here". That's great. Thanks :)

What Laurie isn't doing (in my opinion) is setting herself up as an expert. She isn't offering a definitive account of the varied and multifaceted nature of trans realities. Indeed, she flounders a bit here: “If gender identity is fluid - if anyone can change their gender identity, decide to live as a man, a woman, or something else entirely, as it suits them” – taken at face value, that doesn't get very close for me at all. But I'd read it as her trying to say that gender and sex are complicated; that they don't constitute a discrete and correlating binary; that gender (as well as being an oppressive system) is personal; that... gender is a big ball of wibbly-wobbly gendery-wendery... stuff. Which her continuing sentence clarifies: “- then we have to question every assumption about gender and sex role we've had drummed into us”. Okay, right, fine. In other words: “Don't assume you already know all about sex and gender. You don't. Shut up and listen.”

So what is her piece actually about? I think, this:

It's a riposte to recent tedious drivel (in the same outlet and elsewhere). It's a loyal standing by friends. It's a demand for trans rights as simple social justice. It's a question: which side are you on? It's a declaration: change is coming, change is already here. As Bob Dylan sang: “Your old road is rapidly agin’. Please get out of the new one if you can’t lend your hand. For the times they are a-changin’.”

“The time is coming when everyone who believes in equality and social justice must decide where they stand on the issue of trans rights - whether that be the right to equal opportunities at work, or simply the right to walk down the street dressed in a way that makes you comfortable. Those are rights that the feminist and gay liberation movements have fought for for generations, and those who have made gains have a responsibility to stand up for those who have yet to be accepted. If we believe in social justice, we must support the trans community as it makes its way proudly into the mainstream.”

For which Laurie has had people in the community attacking her on Twitter.

*facepalm*

As Roz Kaveney tweeted: “Dear my community, I think you're being wrong-headed. Everyone is putting more energy into bashing an ally than in defending her from attack”. Or more tersely: “Yep. Here's an ally. Heave a brick.”

To which I'd just add: We can't expect people to get everything right. Hell, we don't even agree with each other half the time. But when someone – like Laurie – is adding a friendly, supportive voice to our own struggles, can we please not try to make them wish they hadn't?!

Saturday, 31 May 2014

Matt Kailey.

As you may already have heard, there's been some very sad news this month: American trans activist, educator, author, blogger, and all-round good guy, Matt Kailey has died.

I didn't know Matt personally, only his writing, which was lucid, honest, incisive, reflective, compassionate, warm-hearted, and inspiring. I have two of his books – ‘Just Add Hormones: An Insider's Guide to the Transsexual Experience’ (a definitive work, particularly from the trans male perspective) and ‘Teeny Weenies and Other Short Subjects’ (a more recent collection of autobiographical essays) – and would recommend either of them, not least because they're very well-written and entertaining, as well as being thought-provoking and informative.

Matt's ‘Tranifesto’ blog (one of the first I ever linked to) reached its 5-year anniversary in April – at which point he re-categorized everything (all 611 posts) to make it even more accessible, and then decided to take a break, writing: “Tranifesto is not dying, and neither am I (I hope, but there are never any guarantees – I will let you know, though, if I’m given any warning).” He wasn't. Matt died, unexpectedly, of heart failure, in his sleep, on the night of 17th/18th May. Hopefully, Tranifesto, and its significant “Ask Matt” section, will be maintained as a valuable resource.

Numerous tributes to Matt can be found online, including these by: Jacob Anderson-Minshall , Denise Kodi, Kyle Jones, and Monica Roberts.

As each one of them makes clear, Matt will be very much missed.


Matt Kailey 1955-2014

The only record of my life on earth as a transsexual man will be in what I leave behind. But I don't remember being born and I'm not going to remember dying, so the thing that really matters is what I did with the life I was given in between those two events.

Monday, 21 April 2014

Writing.

I sent my submission to Queer Feminine Affinities off today. It's longer than the longest piece I've ever posted on this blog: ‘Sissies, Trannies, and Jeffreys’ was 2025 words. This one is half as long again and took months of reading and an indeterminate time writing – two rough, "working" drafts; 250 copied-out passages of various lengths (from 17 books), reduced to 143 usable quotes arranged by theme; three full, printed drafts (the first 4118 words) each then edited; and finally, the submitted draft (3098 words) containing 57 stripped-down quotes. (My thanks to Lynn Jones for reading it through and providing thorough and helpful feedback.)

I just hope the editors won't mind the 98 extra words (above the stated maximum of 3000) too much, and that the manuscript won't suffer this fate: “If they said maximum, assume they mean it and will bin it if wordcount any higher” (as one friend tweeted me). Deleting over 1000 words was hard enough; I got stuck on the last 98. But trying to bring the word count down was very useful. A set maximum forces you to be rigorous (ruthless, even) and tightens up your writing considerably. In this age of blockbuster novels, there's a whole load of flabby writing around. Ursula Le Guin can say more in 150 pages than most (genre-equivalent) authors can say in 600 or 700. Perhaps authors should be set limits: this many pages and not one page more or it goes in the bin!

As for my piece, maybe I'll get to post it on here, maybe not. Certainly, if it's rejected. In the meantime, here are three (of the 250) passages copied out in my research. I posted these on the Angels forum to see whether anyone could relate to them. (Answer: Yes.) They're all from ‘The Femme Mystique’ (ed. Lesléa Newman; Alyson Publications, Boston 1995). Parts of two of them made the draft sent in.

Mmmm-hmmm, she can hold her breath longer than anyone I know, this other me. This inside girl who won't insist on being called Woman. Just when I think she's gone for good she comes back with a vengeance, and each time reasserts herself with a little more self-assurance. Looking me in the eye and saying, “I'm not going to put up with your being disgusted with me and embarrassed by me. You might as well love me, because I'm not going to leave you.”
— A.J. Potter, in ‘French Fries and Fingernail Polish’ (p183).

Being femme means that I enjoy expressing myself sometimes in ways our society considers feminine. On occasions I'll wear dresses, makeup, and heels, and have fun with my femininity. Other times I grow tired of making myself up and instead enjoy jeans, sweatshirts, and sneakers. Even though these latter times tend to outnumber the former, I am still femme. So then what does being femme mean? To me it means both accepting and rejecting society's definition of femininity, questioning the parts that don't fit and rejoicing in the parts that do. It means choosing how I want to be and who I am, and knowing that the choice is mine alone. It means I can be as feminine as I want, but that I don't have to be.
— Christy Cramer, in ‘Being Femme’ (p275/276).

Does it all start with closets? When I was a teenager, I would go into my mother's closet when she was out and try on her clothes. She had a strapless long-line bra with a dozen tiny hooks and eyes down the back. The cups were so stiff they stood up by themselves. I didn't need tits to fill them. Hooking myself into the bra was my favourite part of the dress-up, slowly, painstakingly fixing the look onto my body, becoming the woman to be looked at, clasping myself into my own vision of desire. Becoming the object of my own gaze, I'd slip my mother's black low-cut cocktail dress on over the bra, or her sleeveless gold lamé jumpsuit. Posing for the mirror, constructing the look that spelled sex to me.
— Wendy Frost, in ‘Queen Femme’ (p305).

I can relate to what these three women (femmes) are writing for sure.

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Reading.

"Reading" can have a different meaning in my (our) world. It goes with "being read", being perceived behind (or beneath) what you're presenting to who you "really" are. It has to do with pretence and privilege. Pretence, as in believing we're pretending, not who we say we are, not who we think we are. Privilege, as in taking your own self for granted, as "normal", and assuming the right, therefore, to define what's "real" and what's not for the rest of us, and mean it. Fuck that shit. You don't get to tell us who we are or what we're about. Only we get to do that. And you can fucking stand still for it.

But actually I didn't mean that kind of reading. (Nor the unitary authority in Berkshire.) I meant simply reading, as in reading books, articles, essays, blogposts – all towards my planned submission to Queer Feminine Affinities next month. Okay, I haven't set anything to paper yet, but it's taking shape in my mind, as to the slant I think I'm going to take. In particular, I think it has to be first person singular, not plural; "I", not "we". And as Dorothy Allison writes (quoting Bertha Harris) in ‘Skin’: “The things you hesitate to talk about, those are the things you should be writing about.” Which means I'm probably going to have to write about sexuality, and not in abstract terms. Hmmmm. I think I need to think about that some more.

Meanwhile, here are a few incidental items arising from my research:

1) Reading ‘Persistence: All Ways Butch and Femme’ directly after the anthology which inspired it – ‘The Persistent Desire’ – is quite revealing. In the nineteen years between, the world has changed. Meanings have broadened. People's identities are more complex and complicated. But then Joan Nestle always said they were anyway.

2) And this photo by Del LaGrace Volcano (in ‘Femmes of Power’) of London queer femme performer/impresario, Bird la Bird.



I just love the framing of that photograph. The red background. The red heels. The red ruffles! The powerful in-your-face femme. And (relevantly here) the piles of books which indicate it as being very queer. You can't see the titles in this small sized version, but they contain pretty much every book I've been rereading, and many many more besides.

3) And from the blogworld, this piece by queer butch, Sinclair Sexsmith: ‘Is genderqueer (or butch) a stepping stone to transitioning?’ As I commented there, I relate to this very strongly, albeit coming from the “other direction” (in the dubious binary sense). In particular, when they write:

Being seen or treated as male doesn’t feel important to me or my sense of self, at least not currently. I reserve the right to change my mind on that at any point, if and when it shifts, but that’s been true for almost fifteen years now, so I am starting to relax into thinking it will remain true for a while. Butch feels good. Genderqueer feels good. Trans feels good, but mostly as an umbrella descriptor, as a community membership. More trans-asterisk (trans*) than capital-T Trans, but either are okay.

So, is genderqueer a political identity for me? Fuck yes it is. (...) It is a radical, political act to reject the two-party binary gender system, and I like radical acts. I get off on ’em. It also feels like home in my body in a way my body never felt like home when I was dressed up more femininely, and never felt/feels like home when people refer to me by he/him pronouns.

I am heavily invested in butch as an identity all its own (...) not only politically, not only for other people, but for my own sake. I am invested in
my butch identity. Am I going to always be butch? I don’t know. Do I have secret longings to be male that are unrealized? Not currently, from the best that I know about myself, no. Do I reserve the right to decide otherwise in the future? Fuck yes.

I only speak for myself, but I, for now, am eagerly comfortable and loving the in-between of genderqueer.


Switch the genders round (male-female, butch-femme, feminine-masculine, etc) and that's pretty much me right there :)

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Third Anniversary.

Damn. My blogging anniversary – February 7th – has been and gone again without me noticing. Oh, well, never mind.

Once more, there have been fewer posts this year than last. If it wasn't for my resolution to post every calendar month (which I'm still just about managing), there'd probably be even less. What can I say? I need inspiration in order to write anything. And at the moment I'm busier with reading: doing research for my ‘Queer Feminine Affinities’ submission. Though I might post a picture arising from that shortly. We'll see.

Stats update (2013/14): The most viewed post is now ‘In vision (3) - male bodies, female clothes’, which currently has over 2600 views. Not sure what's bringing people to that one; possibly searches for (any of) the four models featured therein: Alex Drummond, Jasper Gregory, Andrew O'Neill, and Michael Spookshow. (Thanks again to each of them for allowing me to use their photos.) Overall monthly pageviews peaked at 2654 last February, the same month ‘In vision (3)’ was posted. The highest referring sites are now Reddit, Google and T-Central, with (new entry) Twitter following up some way behind.

My own favourite post in 2013 was the (second) one about ‘Stuff’. But I'm still waiting to unleash my “it's just stuff” diatribe...

Last night I went out in my new furry coat (£29 from ‘Daphne's Handbag’) for the first time proper. This one is especially furry and I got quite a few comments. Nothing aggressive or antagonistic – rather, complimentary (random people), amused (friends), and quizzical (drunk guy on the bus home): “Why are you wearing that?” “It's nice; it's furry.” “Can I touch it?” “Sure, if you want.” “Is it real?” “No, it's acrylic, like carpets.” [Or not. I see Wikipedia says carpets are generally made of nylon, not acrylic.] We went on like that for a little while, the woman he was with venturing that it was “sixties” and “afghan”, and me agreeing that it sort of was. And then they talked to themselves about something else and I nodded off.

Nobody said: “That's a woman's coat!” (Perhaps they all think it would be rude to say that.) So I've not been able to retort (disingenuously): “It's just a coat. Just because some dickhead has stuck a gender label on it is no reason not to wear it.” Or something like that. Basically: “It's just stuff.”

Then again, maybe it's better that no one really gives me any crap at all :)

Monday, 27 January 2014

Queer Feminine Affinities.

In April of last year, Alexa Athelstan and Vikki Chalklin sent out the following ‘Call for Submissions’:
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Queer Feminine Affinities aspires to become the first collaborative book that collects a diverse variety of written and visual materials by, on and for femme, queer, alternative and subversive feminine voices and communities emerging from within the UK.

Inspired by collections like Joan Nestle’s (1992) The Persistent Desire: A Femme Butch Reader, Chloë Brushwood Rose and Anna Camilleri’s (2003) Brazen Femme, Ulrika Dahl and Del LaGrace Volcano’s (2008) Femmes of Power, Jennifer Clare Burke’s (2009) Visible: A Femmethology, and Ivan E. Coyote and Zena Sharman’s (2011) Persistence: All Ways Butch and Femme, amongst other engagements with femme and queer femininities, Queer Feminine Affinities warmly invites written and visual materials that reflect on femme, queer and alternative femininities as an embodied lived experience, identity and imagined community. The collection is particularly interested in reflections that can contribute to, challenge and expand on the established legacies of these wonderfully rich anthologies.

Whilst the aforementioned collections originate from and discuss femme and queer feminine identities within a largely American context (aside from Ulrika Dahl and Del LaGrace Volcano’s Femmes of Power, which covers both American and European spaces), Queer Feminine Affinities aims to engage queer feminine voices and communities existing and emerging in the UK. The collection asks to what extent conceptualisations and lived realities of femme, queer, alternative and subversive femininities have travelled and translated along transnational lines of queer inheritances, and where our paths have diverged and our figurations have been reinvented to take fresh forms. Most of all, however, the collection simply aims to provide a printed space in which a diverse variety of feminine identified voices and perspectives can mingle in creative dialogue, discussing topics that are close to our queer fem(me)inine hearts!
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The deadline was subsequently extended to 17th January 2014, by which date I submitted the following proposal:
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Straight male femme: Re-envisaging heterosexual MTF transvestism as a femme identity.

After briefly outlining a few basic ideas which lie behind (my interpretation of) femme, in particular as a non-binary-specific gender and erotic identity, I propose to examine femme literature and explain how selected quotes parallel my own experience as an MTF transvestite. This is significant both to me personally and (perhaps) more generally. In the first instance, femme has enabled me to reach an understanding (extrapolated from a traditional lesbian butch/femme paradigm) of my own "feminine" identity, without reference to (for me, false) notions of femaleness. In the second, it follows the line of enquiry posited by Chloë Brushwood Rose & Anna Camilleri in their introduction to Brazen Femme: “Both of us had begun to sense the need to articulate femme as a gender experience that is never tied to biological sex. (...) What would it mean to be a femme and not a woman? What would it mean to be femme outside of a lesbian framework? What is it that femmes have in common? What makes femme different from femininity?” Given that femme is famously difficult to define (“we cannot begin with a definition; we cannot offer assurances of any kind” – Duggan & McHugh), perhaps the most meaningful response to those questions is a personal one. In that spirit, I will try to portray aspects of my own femme, as neither a woman, nor a lesbian – and, at the same time, indicate (if indirectly) how femme offers a critical theoretical model for understanding MTF transvestism.

Possible word count: 3000 (if that's the maximum)

Brief biog: Jonathan (...) is a mainly straight, queer, femme, white, English, fifty-something, male cross-dresser, who paradoxically believes that the idea of discretely gendered clothing is nonsense. He blogs about transvestism, (trans)gender and femme at malefemme.blogspot.co.uk.
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In this blog I've written about femme in both personal and general terms, but I've come to suspect that the idea of femme doesn't really resonate with people; that is, with my own (TV/CD) community. The trouble is, I think, that femme (and butch/femme) is not a very familiar concept there. Although the word "femme" itself is part of our language, it's not used in the same way. To us it just means "female" or "as female", as in the expression “en femme”. So while people may get what I've written about gender, even relate to (parts of) my own experience with gender, they don't get why this is actually femme or what this idea of femme means. And that's because MTF transvestites don't tend to go looking for ideas about gender (etc) – or an understanding of their own gender – in queer female and lesbian literature. Why would they? What do queer women's real lives have to do with straight men's lives anyway?

Quite a lot, in my opinion. The sort of books the two editors list above (as inspirations) offer critical perspectives on gender, sexuality and desire which are widely applicable. I'd recommend people to read all those books and a lot more besides. But it's unlikely they're going to, so I thought I'd make it a bit easier. Reread all the books myself. Note passages where something a writer has said is directly applicable. And then point it out, so readers can see their own experiences and feelings reflected back at them. Recognize this? Yes? Well, a lesbian femme wrote that. This is femme. This is you. Perhaps.

The reason this is important to me is because I think femme (and butch) provides the best model for understanding these aspects of gender and sexuality; separate from notions of sex, of maleness and femaleness, even of transness – although transness cannot be discounted either. To paraphrase Jack Halberstam (in ‘Female Masculinity’): Because of its reliance on notions of authenticity and the real, the category of (male) femme realness is situated on the sometimes vague boundary between transgender and femme definition. The realness of fem(me)ininity can easily tip, in other words, into the desire for a more sustained realness in a recognizably female body.

Of course the editors of Queer Feminine Affinities are under no obligation to accept my proposed piece. But I shall continue working on it and just post it here if it's not to appear elsewhere.

Whether the lesbian authors I intend to quote will appreciate their words being associated with – being appropriated by – (shall we say) straight men in frocks is another question.

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Fifty.

Not my fiftieth post (that was this one). Me. Fifty. Today.

Half a century.

It feels like that should mean something, so I'm posting about it. I'm not sure what though. It does feel a lot nearer the end than the beginning, I have to say. Likely that's because I've been in a more morbid frame of mind since my sister died (on 24th October last). Then again I might live to be 103, in which case I'm not even halfway through. Now that does seem utterly bizarre. More years than I've lived so far. What might I do with so long?

I guess it comes down to a simple choice, really. Get busy livin' – or get busy dyin'.