Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Border Territories.

A few months ago I wrote about feeling increasingly non-binary. That was largely because "male" has never felt quite right to me, and it was feeling increasingly not right, too binary. So I got off that train. But now I'm sitting in the station and the tannoy is announcing that two trains are about to leave: all stations to "male" and "non-binary". HURRY UP PLEASE IT'S TIME. Aaarrgh.

It seems a bit daft to say this but "non-binary" is now feeling too binary too. The fact that "non-binary" is a definite thing sets up another (problematic) binary between "non-binary" and "binary" and insists that I choose between them. I don't want to. Although "male" feels restrictive, discarding it in favour of "non-binary" feels restrictive too. I don't want to choose. I want to catch both trains. Or, perhaps, catch a different one to the border territories, from Platform 9¾.

Actually, most of my supposed "core identities" are like that. My Twitter profile includes the words “on the nebulous border between cis and trans”. In other words, both cis and trans, and neither. On the border.

Similarly, I've often declared my sexuality to be Kinsey 1½. Because neither 1 nor 2 (on the Kinsey scale) has ever felt quite right either.

Straight, but not quite.
Bisexual, but not quite.
Male, but not quite.
Trans, but not quite.
Cis, but not quite.
Non-binary, but not quite.

On the borders.

Minnie Bruce Pratt has written powerfully about outsider spaces, border territories:

I see you and me and her on the edge of town, a place out of my view when I was growing up, like the Quarters or the Milltown, but this another kind of gathering. It is a world of those the world casts out, calls freaks, the women-men of the sideshow at the circus, seen as tawdry, pitiful, hidden, wasted, walking their path of reeking sawdust between the tents. Except the people there have lovers, marriages, children, poor-paying jobs. They have marigolds in pots, they play the harmonica, they write books. You live there, and now I live there too, with those who know they are both man and woman, those who have transmuted one to the other, those who insist they are neither. Outside the pegged tents people stand and peer in at us, no words for us, though just by stepping over the ropes they could join us. I could cross back into that staring crowd and be without question a woman amusing herself, Sunday afternoon at the carnival. But I would rather stay here and talk to you in this in-between place, sitting with a friend, our food spread out, savory, spicy, on the table before us.

That in-between place sounds nice. I think I'll stay there too.

Tuesday, 12 April 2016


In her post last Friday, ‘The right to bare arms’ (a nice title, reminiscent of Sex and the City's ‘A Woman's Right to Shoes’), Lynn Jones writes about her decision to stop shaving her arms, in case her son, “Wee Man”, should perhaps notice and ask why. On such small concessions and compromises are our lives built. Fortunately, this is not one I have to make myself. My arms are generally hair-free, along with (most of) the rest of me.

I've mentioned before that “my body issues are relatively minor” – and so they are; but body hair accounts for most of them. Body hair depresses me, yet removing it is tedious and time-consuming (on average 20 minutes a day) and requires at least a modicum of energy. Inevitably, when I'm in the dumps, I don't much feel like bothering, but then the unrestrained growth adds to my malaise and perpetuates it. If you see me with obvious body hair, chances are I'm in a slump.

Shaving with an electric razor with maximum ease, I've found, requires it to be done every two days. After three or four days the foil struggles to pick up the ends, making the whole thing more of an ordeal. And if it's got that far, my supply of spoons will probably be at a low ebb too. It's always better if I can keep on top of it.

At the moment I'm clean shaven (apart from my back, which I can't reach – but I can't see it either, so it doesn't matter so much). Being clean shaven both looks better (in my opinion) and feels better. Legs feel nicer. Torso too, especially under silk. Arms can sometimes itch with the wrong clothes, but I prefer how they look hairless – and my hands. (I like my hands anyway.) As for pit hair... in the words of MSgt. Ernest G. Bilko: “Ugh! Yechh! Ugh! Did you ever see anything so unsanitary?”

I hesitate to call this distaste for hair “gender dysphoria”, since it's hardly anything when compared with other trans people's dysphoria. All the same, when I see my body with hair, it just seems wrong. That hair shouldn't be there. It needs to be gone.

Going back to Lynn's post again... No, no one has ever said anything about my shaven arms, either. Do they not notice? Are people too polite to comment on personal grooming? I guess the only way I'd discover the answer to those questions is by asking them, but I probably won't do that. Instead, I'll continue to fight the (futile) fight against body hair by stealth, quietly keeping my own kind of dysphoria – dysphairia – at bay.

Friday, 18 March 2016

Cakes and icing.

I'm currently rereading the 2002 anthology ‘Genderqueer’ (editors: Joan Nestle, Clare Howell, Riki Wilchins; subtitle: ‘Voices from beyond the sexual binary’). Early on, in one of her own essays, Wilchins highlights the absence of sexuality from a lot of (trans)gender discourse:

Most remarkable in gender's evolution as an issue has been the widely accepted separation of gender and sexual orientation, even among transgender activists. But is desire really distinct from gender? (...) [W]atch any butch with big biceps, tight jeans, and a lit Camel walk into the local gay bar. Or a butch queen at a gym spending hour upon hour pumping and primping so he's buff enough to catch the eye of that cute new number with the tight butt, long eyelashes, and rippled abs.

Riki's point is that sexuality itself is gendered and that it's a mistake to exclude it from discussions about gender. We tend to do this, I suppose, because we fear what other people will then assume: that our gender issues are really just about sex. Which they're not. My own gender issues may be very much intertwined with my sexuality, but that doesn't mean they're driven by it. I first wrote about this in one of my earliest posts; I might put things differently now (not being quite the same person I was five years ago), but the basic premise still holds for me.

That's the main reason I was drawn towards butch/femme as a (personal) theoretical paradigm: because of its inherent incorporation of sexuality – naturally so, because of its historical roots in (an aspect of) lesbian sexuality. Explaining how this works, on the other hand, can be quite difficult. Are there any femme lesbians (with butch partners) who have not been asked: “If masculinity is what you want, why don't you just date a man?”

[definition: side eye – a facial expression expressing one's criticism, disapproval, animosity, or scorn of varying levels of intensity towards another person.]

Then I remember the cake analogy:

Imagine a plate full of cakes: coffee cakes and chocolate cakes; some with coffee icing, some with chocolate icing. Most people like icing, but like the icing to match the cake: coffee cakes with coffee icing, chocolate cakes with chocolate icing. Whereas others of us prefer things a bit more mixed up, such as: chocolate cakes with coffee icing.

“Urrgh! How can you? Why would you want a chocolate cake with coffee icing? If you want coffee icing, why don't you just get a coffee cake?”

“I don't want a coffee cake. I want a chocolate cake with coffee icing. I don't want a coffee cake with coffee icing because there's no chocolate; and I don't want a chocolate cake with chocolate icing because there's no coffee. I want a chocolate cake with coffee icing. I want to bite through the bitter coffee and reach the rich chocolate underneath. And I want it that way round. Sometimes I want the icing with extra coffee, so much coffee that the flavour sinks deep into the chocolate. Mmmm, cake.”

“Yuk! Chocolate cake with coffee icing is just wrong!”

“Well, I like it, so there.”

“I guess there's no accounting for taste.”

“No need to get worked up about it either.”

“Not really, no – it's only cake.”

It's only sex.

As it happens some people prefer their cakes with no icing. (There's no accounting for taste.) But please note that a cake with no icing is different from an iced cake with the icing scraped off.

If you don't like the icing, don't buy the fucking cake.

Monday, 8 February 2016

Fifth Anniversary.

So I missed my anniversary again (yesterday) and with no excuse this time. I spent most of it watching telly; in particular, multiple episodes of Deep Space Nine (which is being rerun on CBS Action). DSN isn't really that good – and I'm fed up that (soft butch) Major Kira has now been "feminized" – but I'm watching it anyway. Worf has joined the cast, which is a definite plus; and the episode where Quark, Rom and Nog were the Roswell aliens was very entertaining.

Looking back at 2015/16: Post count was down to the bare minimum of 12 (one per calendar month) and seven of those were posted on the 30th or 31st. But I am still here. ‘In vision (3)’ continues to be the most viewed post. Monthly page views fluctuate above and below 2000. Total views are approaching the milestone of 100,000 (96,764 as I write this). The highest referrers are T-Central (up to first), Reddit and Google.

My favourite posts are probably: ‘Normativity’ – a grumble at the overwhelming gender tedium of popular culture; and ‘Speaking our own truth’ – or “my truth is not necessarily your truth, nor vice versa”.

Apart from that, I can't think of anything to say about last year. Instead, here are some gorgeous frocks (from, respectively, Alexander McQueen, Georgina Chapman & Keren Craig, Sarah Burton, and Luly Yang):

Sunday, 31 January 2016

Representation matters.

“I want every single person who doesn't think representation matters to look at queer folk mourning Bowie and try to believe those words.”
– Wolferfly (on Twitter).

Yes, representation matters. To be able to see ourselves, or someone like ourselves, reflected in the wider culture gives us (an often crucial) permission to be ourselves. See, it's okay to be this way.

But David Bowie wasn't that person for me. In the early 70s I was still at junior school and Bowie's gender transgression hardly registered. I don't think I even noticed that he was wearing "girls' clothes" and stuff, and it probably wouldn't have mattered if I had. That wasn't how I wanted to wear girls' clothes. I wanted to wear them like a girl, not a young genderqueer boy (even if I'd had words for anything like that). So, to me, Bowie was just another wildly dressed star of glam rock; and of those bands the pictures on my wall were of Slade, T. Rex, and The Sweet, not Bowie. (I do now have Aladdin Sane from back then, but it was bought long after, and mainly because of Mike Garson's piano on the title track.)

In their 2010 book, Missed Her, Ivan Coyote writes about growing up in isolation. Many (most) of us whose formative years were pre-internet surely know about that. Certainly, I knew no one like me, and had no one to look to either. What I mostly recall is a progression of ridicule and shame:

  • Frank Spencer in Betty's nightdress in Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em – cue audience laughter as the credits roll. (I just wanted to wear it.)
  • Monty Python's ‘Lingerie Shop’ sketch – which is all about shame: it's an elaborate excuse to be in that shop.
  • Norman Bates as his mother in Psycho – cross-dresser as murderous psychotic with a mother fixation.
  • Pink Floyd's Arnold Layne – more disparagement; it's not the same.
  • Anthony Storr's book Sexual Deviation – part of the Pelican series ‘Studies in Social Pathology’... and that's all I have to say about that.
  • Corporal Klinger in M.A.S.H. – played for laughs; it's his attempt to gain a psychiatric discharge.
  • Jeffrey Tambor as Judge Alan Wachtel in Hill Street Blues – another joke character, supposedly accessing his "female" side.
  • Cross-dressers in a seedy underground club in an Oscar Wilde TV serial – nothing positive to see here, move on.
  • Cross-dressing boy in a TV drama (by Alan Bleasdale?) set in Liverpool – it was just a phase.
  • Margaret Thatcher's male cabinet dancing in lingerie in Spitting Image – okay, I laughed at that one too.
  • Tim Curry in the Rocky Horror Picture Show – so outrageously positive I couldn't see it as such until much later.

When you're growing up – if that ever stops – such relentless negativity bears down heavily upon the imagination, but it doesn't crush it entirely. (Metaphor: a plant shut in a dark shed still tries to grow.) And in the absence of standard iconography, we find our own. I had:

  • Teddy Robinson and his “best purple dress”. (What Joan G. Robinson was exploring here, I'm not sure; perhaps nothing, though it seems quite radical in retrospect.)
  • Robin the Boy Wonder, whose outfit was very femme – that yellow cape; those matching green pants, gloves and pixie boots.
  • Jo Grant in The Green Death, which was the beginning of my fondness for furry coats. (I now have six.)
  • Alice in Wonderland, as played by a boy in a play at school. That could have been me; instead, I had a small undistinguished part as the dormouse.
  • Barbara Good in The Last Posh Frock, yelling at Tom about there being men, women and Barbaras; missing the point, I saw myself as a Barbara. (Watching it again, the real point is Barbara's thwarted need to express her femininity, and of course I can relate to that too.)

It's interesting what we remember, what affected us, who influenced us, and why. We all (or at least most of us) need someone. Representation matters.

As it happens, David Bowie wasn't a very significant figure in my life. But send me back to the 1970s and he probably would be.

Thursday, 31 December 2015


New Year's Eve is traditionally the day we look both forward and back, isn't it. I'm looking forward to... losing weight. I want to be closer to 12 stone than 15 stone. I want all my clothes that don't fit to fit me again. So, today I'm assiduously eating all the goodies in the house so that they won't be there to tempt me tomorrow. That's how this dieting stuff is done, right? Time for another Eccles Cake and a bag of crisps.

Looking back transwise: 2015 saw the welcome arrival of Notts Trans Hub, which has been good for me – as was Pride in its way. I've also contributed en passant to a couple of online magazine-type thingies: to an article on genderqueer in Slate, and to Prancing Through Life last month – though not as yet to Queer Feminine Affinities...

I don't know whether QFA will ever surface now. There was a suggestion it might appear in collaboration with the Canadian queer feminist journal Feral Feminisms, but there's been no mention of it on the actual FF site, and I've not heard from either of the QFA editors since last March, so perhaps it's all gone for a Burton. If nothing materializes by next Spring, I'll probably post my own piece up here, on its second anniversary (21st April), say.

It seems almost like something from the past anyway. The notion of straight male femme (its title) is still very important to me, but mostly as a political stance – as an assertion of gender freedom for straight cis men – than one that is entirely applicable to me personally (despite the piece itself getting very personal in places).

Femme – yes, that's still fine.
Straight – hmmm, can I just say it's complicated; bisexual is better, though not quite right either.
Male – *sigh*. Well, if you really insist, then "yes"; and it's "yes" for political reasons (as I've just said); but (as I also said earlier) I'm feeling increasingly non-binary nowadays.

How would I describe non-binary? Jack Monroe wrote a nice piece in the New Statesman, relating their own journey and coming out. But for me it's more like this:

It's curling up in a warm bed on a cold winter's morning.
It's lying on the settee under a cosy blanket watching rubbishy telly.
It's a hot bath with bubbles, a book, and a mug of coffee.
It's reading a book I've already read twelve times before.
It's pulling on a pair of stretch jeans after I've just shaved my legs.
It's wearing furry coats and only ever receiving compliments.
It's a world in which no one ever calls me “sir”.
It's... comfortable.
And... a relief.

“They, them, their” pronouns from now on, please – for the time being at least. I'm not really sure whether I've changed trains, whether I'm on the same train but a different track, whether I've got off permanently at station non-binary, or am just having a little rest here.

So, it seems 2016 is starting with uncertainty – and to tell the truth, that feels perfectly okay.

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 :)