Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Trans Like Me.

Now that the part-euphoria part-relief of the UK election result has abated somewhat, I've been able to get back to what I was doing before, which was reading – and then re-reading – CN Lester's just published Trans Like Me: A Journey for All of Us (Virago 2017). The word “re-reading” is significant there: I never read a book straight through and then, having finished it, pick it up and read it again. But I did that with this one.

Because Trans Like Me is a major event in trans literature in the UK. Not quite a polemic, it's nevertheless a political book, addressing trans issues, defending trans realities, demanding trans rights. As far as I know, there's been nothing quite like it here before. We've had numerous trans memoirs, such as those by Jan Morris, Julia Grant, Mark Rees, Alex Drummond, and (most recently) Juliet Jacques; but not a book where personal honesty is an adjunct to the politics, used for illustration and emphasis. For that we've had to rely on authors and activists from the US and Canada. (Note that most of Juliet Jacques’ “Top 10 transgender books” were from North America; and most of my favourites listed here were too.) Not any longer.

In their book, CN deals with all the pressing issues, explaining, revealing, persuading, rebutting:
  • misrepresentation and hostility in the press;
  • trans celebrity, with particular reference to Caitlyn Jenner;
  • trans language, finding words for ourselves that make us visible;
  • why we can't be talked out of being trans (an excerpt on this subject appeared at The Pool);
  • binary sex and gender, and dysphoria as proprioceptive discordance;
  • trans children and trans youth, gender-affirmative therapy, puberty blockers and so forth;
  • the difficulties in having a mental illness while being trans;
  • the importance of family support and reciprocal peer support;
  • intimate relationships, desirability vs. objectification;
  • the realness of trans identities, inclusion in gendered spaces;
  • trans history and how it is often misportrayed, with a serious critique of The Danish Girl;
  • non-binary identities, their history and (lack of) recognition;
  • the T in LGBT, why we belong together and should stick together;
  • trans feminisms, intersectionality, and why trans realities are (obviously) not anti-feminist;
  • the future, the “trans tipping point”, where we might be heading, and what we might achieve.

I'm just giving basic outlines of the chapters there; CN includes much, much more along the way, and if they've missed something out, I can't think what it might be right now. I can't find much of anything to disagree with either, whereas there was plenty that had me nodding and smiling to myself...

After a year of reading absolutely everything I could find about being queer, I started noticing the breadcrumb trail left in the margins, in the footnotes. Alison Bechdel, author of Dykes to Watch Out For, was a godsend: the background detail of her comic strip often included the names of influential LGBT works and authors. I discovered Kate Bornstein, and ordered a copy of My Gender Workbook from America. I felt as nervous as if I had ordered porn through the mail.

Yes, I can relate to all of that – “reading absolutely everything” for sure (see here again); I have all of Alison Bechdel's DTWOF books; and I felt similarly nervous taking a copy of Kate Bornstein's Gender Outlaw up to the counter at Mushroom.

I am so thankful to all the people who have helped me to unlearn the defence of believing my particular truth to be universal. They taught me to really listen to other people, and to accept the limits of my own knowledge. I have never really liked putting my self into words. Listening taught me that the labels that confined me could liberate others. That the right answer for one person could become the wrong answer for another, and that all we could do was lend support in our shared individuality.

Absolutely; or as Patrick Califia put it: “The best we can do is speak our own truth, make it safe for others to speak theirs, and respect our differences” (which I use as my signature on most trans forums, and last quoted here in the post ‘Speaking our own truth’).

There is the tendency for some cis people to believe that being trans is about fixing some kind of defect, that we have to alter our ‘transgendered’ selves in order to slot back into place into a gendered society bound about by struggle and by rules. For myself, I think it could be the other way round.

That a gendered society, bound about by struggle and rules, needs to fix itself rather than require us to try and fit into it? Yes, indeed.

When I was much younger I wanted, like many idealists, to create a manifesto: a document both clear and concise, and, of course, universal in its application. With hindsight, it is clear that there can be no such manifesto of trans rights, of trans justice – unless it were to be one without an end, in which anyone could write.

One without an end, in which anyone could write... That's so sweet :)

Those are a few snippets that resonated with me and are therefore fairly random; but they're indicative of CN's style, which is both intimate and incisive, drawing on their many years as an out non-binary trans person and campaigner for trans and queer rights.

“Writing is still revolutionary; writing is still about changing the world,” Dorothy Allison once said – and everyone “who tells the truth about their life becomes part of that process”. With Trans Like Me, CN Lester has written “a book about what it is to be trans” today, and what it might or could be tomorrow. They've written a book to change the world.

Monday, 17 April 2017

More on Clothes.

Talking of looking at other people's clothes, I'm currently re-watching the complete run of Sherlock Holmes on DVDs. The Granada version, that is, starring Jeremy Brett, who is the best ever Holmes, no question about it. Followed perhaps by Basil Rathbone. (Nuts to Benedict Cumberbatch.)

Anyway, as a sort of period drama, or a period detective series at least, it's all in appropriate period costume. The men are all in their period suits and waistcoats; while the women are all in their period dresses with huge skirts. I know which I prefer. Okay, the bodices might sometimes be a bit tight, and the period corsetry is probably uncomfortable. But just for the look of them, I have to ask myself: why would anyone of whatever gender want to wear these suits rather than these dresses?





Pictured there from the top with Holmes and two different Watsons are: Mary Morstan, Violet Hunter, and Lady Hilda Trelawney Hope. Well, yes, Holmes is quite dapper too. But never mind that...

More generally, seeing as I have no urgent desire to dress up in Victorian or Edwardian costume, I'd also ask (rhetorically): why would anyone actually choose to wear clothes off the men's racks, when they could wear clothes off the women's racks? When the latter are so much more colourful, so much more varied and more interesting in every way. (Yes, I can think of several reasons too, including trans-related ones, but never mind that either...)

The constant gendering of stuff is silly. As Grandma Walton once said: work is work. And as she almost certainly wouldn't have said: clothes are clothes. Which brings me to something I wrote back in 2011:

“Pretty clothes de-gendered are now just pretty clothes. Pretty clothes re-gendered are now just men's clothes (literally: clothes worn by men). Using this logic (which, I have to say, is not originally mine) we are not cross-dressers, whatever anyone else might think. We are just men wearing clothes that society has arbitrarily designated as female.”

I was pleased by those assertions, despite not being totally convinced then of their correctness. Six years on, they strike me as utterly banal. Clothes are clothes, and I'm coming round to the viewpoint that people (especially men) who limit themselves to their "designated" clothes are just plain weird.

And, incidentally, I have a new coat:

Sunday, 26 March 2017

Creepy Behaviour.

A couple of years ago, I posted about a survey conducted by Laurie Penny into men's attitudes to Sex, Gender and Feminism. One of the questions – and my answer to it – was as follows:

How has sex affected the way you feel about yourself as a man? Have you ever worried about being 'creepy'? — It hasn't. But the “creepy” question is quite pertinent. As a transvestite, I'm very interested in clothing and in how clothes fit bodies, so I look at how people are dressed quite a lot. This seems to make some people uneasy, presumably because they think the "male gaze" is inevitably sexual. So men think I'm cruising them, and women think I'm mentally undressing them or generally being creepy. As I answered in one of your earlier surveys, what I need is a big sign that says: “I'm looking at your clothes not your body. No, really!”

Right. But since it has never worried me enough, and since I'm such a considerate person, I've very generously given myself a free pass to keep on looking. Or I did, until a regrettable incident last weekend. This was at a family gathering, a meal in a Manchester pub/restaurant with my nephews and nieces (and their significant others), to celebrate my mother's, their gran's, 81st birthday...

My youngest niece has recently dyed her hair turquoise. It always delights me as a “gender unconventional” person (to use Julia Serano's formulation) to see anything even slightly out of the ordinary in another person's appearance, and turquoise hair certainly meets that criterion. So, when we were all saying goodbyes, I took the opportunity to try and compliment my niece on her hair, and touched it casually at the same time. Yes, there's an immediate facepalm for a start, and it gets worse. Receiving no response I waved my hand in front of her face to attract her attention, until she quietly said “Stop it!”.

Okay. Being socially rather inept, slow to pick up on other people's feelings, and otherwise just plain stupid, it was only later I realized that my niece hadn't responded because I had totally creeped her out. Shit. (Sorry, Libby.) Since then, and since “creepy uncle” is not the sort of reputation I want, I've been re-evaluating my general behaviour and have come up with two resolutions (so far):

1. Do not touch people's hair without asking first. Or even at all. Jeez. This shouldn't require a resolution at all. In any case, as I said in the same survey: “I'm not big on physical contact or even physical closeness. I have a rather wide sense of personal space and don't usually like that being invaded.” In other words, I don't like being casually touched by anyone either. No. Stop it!

2. Do not stare at people no matter what your reason might be. You haven't got a big explanatory sign, have you, so they're not going to know your supposedly "valid" reason, are they. You dickhead. (A reason that might well creep them out even more.) And if you look someone up and down, they're probably going to think you're checking them out. And if your eyes go down from a woman's face, she's probably going to think you're staring at her tits. Facepalm again. This is pretty obvious stuff, isn't it. How I've managed to go through life without being beaten up on a regular basis, I'm not sure.

Well, anyway, the first of those resolutions is easily accomplished; as I say, no touching is my default position. The second one I'm finding a bit more difficult. From the survey again: “I rarely find normatively gendered people (i.e. most people) attractive”. Which is true. But I do like to look at what they're wearing. Sigh.

But there's now a more pressing question: Is that worth being thought creepy by my family over? No, it isn't. It definitely isn't.

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Trans Space Notts.

In this, my sixth anniversary post – tarantara! tarantara! – I was going to write about being “Not Trans Enough” which I've been feeling quite a lot lately.

As in: What exactly does “trans” mean? What am I in fact trans-ing, given that I'm not moving from one gender to another and don't believe that cultural notions of binary gender (which I do trans) are anything other than arbitrary, oppressive and false.

But such a post would have been rather depressing. So I went down to the Trans Space Notts meeting and said I was feeling “Not Trans Enough” there instead. And that turned out much better.

TSN is my regular trans group, which meets once a month in Nottingham city centre. It's also – as I very much like – a structured, facilitated meeting, which means there are group leaders (facilitators) who sort of plan what we're going to talk about, and who are there if anyone needs help with anything on a personal level.

We generally start off with the chairs in a big circle, and go round the group (sixteen of us this time) for “introductions”: names, pronouns, and a short something we might want to say about whatever. We subsequently break into smaller groups to discuss whatever in a more intimate, less formal setting, before coming back together again towards the end.

For instance, re introductions: “I'm Jonathan, they pronouns; I identify as genderqueer and femme, and recently I've been feeling Not Trans Enough, so the (suggested) topic What is Trans? is quite relevant to me right now.”

My concern was answered straight away by an affirmation that the group didn't consider anyone to be Not Trans Enough, and that our trans experiences all vary and are all valid. Which I knew already “on paper” as it were. But feelings is still feelings, so it was reassuring to have someone say that out loud, and in a group context, where most people (not including me) seem to be (or have been) involved with the Gender Identity Clinic to some extent.

This evening we split into three groups to discuss, variously, and vaguely: Fear of Surgery; Coming Out; and What is Trans? (that is, to each of us personally, rather than a debate about definitions). I joined the “What is Trans” group, where I mostly listened while other people spoke – I hardly ever say much, and even then not very articulately; I much prefer written language to spoken – about gender fluidity, non-binary identities, fluctuating ideas of gender, and so forth, all of which I could relate to and made me feel like less of a border-dwelling outsider.

I didn't actually resolve the issue of being Not Trans Enough, in the sense that I'm not sure how trans I am at all a lot of the time, and my profile still reads “on the nebulous border between cis and trans”. But, and more importantly, I resolved my feelings to the extent that it no longer seemed really to matter.

I also bought a knitted bobble hat in trans flag colours, and someone said they liked my jumper. So I was glad I went. Even if the shoes I was wearing were inappropriate for the weather and my socks got wet.

Anyways...

After blogging for six years, I was coming to the conclusion I didn't have much else to say here. Indeed, I'm mostly blogging about chess these days. But if – as I learned from my TSN subgroup – queer disability theorists describe their lives as a journey without any particular destination, that must mean there's never nothing left to say.

So here's to another six years :)

Saturday, 31 December 2016

Reading S. Bear Bergman.

So that was 2016. Brexit, MSM, PLP, Trump. As my pinned tweet says: “ffs”. This time last year I wrote that “it seems 2016 is starting with uncertainty”. This year it seems 2017 is just going to be fucking chaos. Dystopian, corrupt, neo-fascistic chaos.

Except that I was talking about my own gender before, not about the world at large. And my gender hardly seems as if it matters anymore.

As I said, I've been reading S. Bear Bergman, rereading S. Bear Bergman. Specifically, hir book ‘The Nearest Exit May Be Behind You’, which was the November choice for our non-binary FB book club.

It felt different reading it again. Different things stuck out, or stuck out more strongly. Have I changed since last time I read it? Or (echoing someone else's sentiments) did the book itself contribute to a change which is now being reflected back? It's hard to know for sure. Probably both. Certainly Bear's writing about borders resonates more:

I get a lot of questions, these days, about whether I'm still a butch or if I am now a transman. Truthfully, it's hard to say, a statement I make knowing full well that it just caused hundreds of readers to say, “Well, if you're not sure if you're a butch, you're not”; and further hundreds to say the same thing, but substituting “transman” into the equation. I have to say, from where I'm standing, the lines are not nearly as clear as some people would prefer them to be, and the longer I hang around at various crossroads and deltas of gender, the more I notice that nothing is clear enough to be easy. Nothing about gender, or orientation, is clear enough to police or defend without circling the wagons so tight that we're all pissing in our own front yards within six months.

Maybe that's because I've since written about borders myself. And going wider again: “circling the wagons” and “pissing in our own front yards” is a pretty fair summation of Brexit as well.

Bear favours open borders:

Perhaps the first topic related to the Border Wars I want to take up is: please stop treating gender as though it were a set menu. Gender is an à la carte arrangement, even though the macroculture rarely realizes this and doesn't usually act accordingly. We are all, I firmly believe, in charge of our own genders. We can choose to have the final say about what they do or do not include, and we can make changes to those things if we want to and decide we can afford them (afford, that is, in terms of cash, or relationships, or values, or the approval of those in our lives). But because the cultural message we're all steeped in is that gender is a fixed arrangement, even the most politically progressive among us — and I include myself in this — can forget or overlook how very variable gender can be when we want it to be.

I agree with that so much. And:

Even if the border were really that well-defined, border crossing is rather a queer specialty, ain't it?

But the sentences that stuck out the most this time were these:

Is it terrible if I say that I'm exhausted with talking about my gender? These days it's only so interesting, and only for so long, and the interesting part is over very, very fast.

I don't personally do much talking about it. But thinking... I'm tired of thinking about it. Genderqueer, femme – terms I associate with open borders – I'll stick with those. Otherwise:

“I'm gonna blow this damn candle out. I don't want nobody comin' over to my table; I got nothing to talk to anybody about.”

Monday, 21 November 2016

Lying Awake.

I wrote the following post in the early hours of Sunday morning. We often perceive our thoughts at such a time to be calm, to be objective, to be the Truth. We see things clearly then. We see things as they really are.

No. We don't.

That calmness is our bodies in shutdown mode, wanting to be asleep – please go to sleep now – with only our minds keeping us awake, our minds running free. Our thoughts then might as well be dreams. As with dreams, there is truth there, but it is not simple truth. Our minds are a swirling mess, probably ruled by the subconscious, and if we throw negative emotions into the mix... Well, they're not called the suicide hours for nothing.

My words below are from the same state of semi-wakefulness; I wrote them straight through, and have left them unedited (apart from adding one statistic and a link). There is some personal truth in them, the feelings expressed are real, or were real, or seemed real. As for anyone else... make of them what you will.
___________________________________________________

It's TDOR today, and I'm lying awake at 4:44 in the morning, feeling sorry for myself.

It's TDOR today, and I'm lying awake at 4:45 in the morning, in famous relative's beautiful home in London Docklands, feeling sorry for myself. Not feeling sorry about TDOR right now, just for myself.

I've just had a dream full of rejection, and now I'm lying awake at 4:47 in the morning. At the same time, part of my brain is playing through the scale of B on a treble recorder, starting at bottom F#, little finger right hand slightly raised, up through the complicated fingering for G#, A#, B, C#, D#, E, F#, G#, A#, B, C#, D#, E, and back down again, and repeat.

It's TDOR today, the Transgender Day of Remembrance, the day when we remember trans people around the world who died for being trans in a fucked up world, the victims of hate crimes, these usually the most vulnerable trans people, trans women of colour, brutally murdered. Their names are listed online, 295 of them this year, the largest percentages in the Americas, in Brazil, Mexico, and the USA. And these look set to increase as hatred is given free rein by the election of Donald Trump, as hate has increased in the UK after the nationalist and racist vote for Brexit.

It's TDOR today, and there's a vigil in Nottingham which I won't be back in time for. Instead, I'm lying awake at 4:59 in the morning thinking about it. Trying to imagine other people's pain – and failing. And that's kind of it really. I can't feel it. I feel cut off. In the bell jar. Meanwhile, the world is going to shit, people are dying, and I feel powerless, alienated from it and everyone, cut off, stuck in my own head with my own useless, selfish pain, which is next to nothing, or ought to be.

It's TDOR today, the world is going to shit, and I'm lying awake at 5:10 in the morning, feeling sorry for myself, and I can't do anything about it except write it down, then turn the light off and try and go back to sleep. And having written it down, I do feel a bit better.

It's TDOR today, I'm lying awake at 5:21 in the morning, but about to turn the light off. When I wake again in, hopefully, several hours' time, life will go on, at least for me. But not for everyone, as trans people around the world today will remember.

It's TDOR today, and suddenly I find myself crying. Who for, exactly, I can't tell.

It's TDOR today, it's 5:33 in the morning, and I'm lying awake, crying.

It's TDOR today, and I'm lying awake at 6:02 in the morning, reading S. Bear Bergman.

Monday, 31 October 2016

Halloween.

So, it's Halloween again. All Hallows' Eve. Samhain. Nos Galan Gaeaf. Hop-tu-Naa. What have you. The associated customs and rituals may have been stripped of their significance, but their echo remains in costume and games. Halloween is now a time where play and mischief are allowed, where rules are relaxed, where gender stereotypes are relaxed.

Trans people in stealth (especially those assigned male at birth) have often used Halloween as a time to be themselves (ourselves), where the apparent masque is actually the removal of a mask – if only briefly, as these quotes from an article in BuzzFeed last year make clear:

“For 364 days I wore a costume, but Halloween was the one day a year where it was remotely acceptable to explore my gender expression and identity. (...) I was presenting as myself.” – Sarah McBride.

“[T]hat one Halloween night (...) gave me permission (...) to subvert the identity assigned to me. Being welcomed by my friends, and even hit on by straight male peers, made my identity feel legitimate and accepted, even for one night.” – Benjamin Mintzer.

“For me, Halloween was Plausible Deniability Day. It was the one time I could dress as a girl and it was okay. (...) It was the chance I could wear women’s clothes as a costume, even during the day, when nobody else was wearing their costume yet. In reality, I wasn’t either.” – Hannah Simpson.

It becomes rather more complicated when cis people get involved, when cis men get involved, when cis men I know get involved. Can't you at least make an effortplease?! As Elizabeth Daley writes here: “At its worst, "dressing as a woman" on Halloween entails tossing on an ill-fitting dress and some lipstick to go pick up chicks with your frat brothers.” And: “"woman" is not generally a Halloween costume, even if you are not straight.”

But even when it's done with some care, my feelings are still mixed. Yes, I'm glad that you can play with gender a little. That you can flout the rules of gender presentation – which are TOTALLY STUPID anyway. And yes, your legs look great in those tights. I like the short skirt too. And those shoes are to die for. But...

Can I just say...?

This is not just about the clothes for me. It's about much more than that. Everything about it is so much more loaded.

(Well, okay, maybe it is for you too, I dunno. Do you want to talk about it?)

But then there's C.J., this absolute sweetheart at Raising My Rainbow, who is going to be ‘Bob The Drag Queen’ for Halloween.



Damn, I wish that had been me at age nine. *sighs wistfully*

Which reminds me: I must get round to reading Lori Duron's actual book (subtitled “Adventures in Raising a Fabulous, Gender Creative Son”) – and Julie Tarney's ‘My Son Wears Heels’ (“One Mom's Journey from Clueless to Kickass”) as well, for that matter.

When children are allowed to be who they are, on Halloween or any other day – and, in particular, out of the reaches of the numerous bellends writing for the Daily Mail – it does seem as if our future, their future, might not be so bad after all.