Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Pharmacist Baffler.

I've blogged about Andrew O'Neill before: firstly in ‘Genderpunk’, and then as part of ‘In vision (3)’. This time it's to recommend his two-part show on Radio Four about gender and sexuality, which is currently up online here. The first episode (broadcast on December 16th) has “15 days left to listen” (at time of writing), so don't wait too long before checking it out if you're going to. Maybe he or someone will bang it up on YouTube later, or maybe they won't; who knows.

In episode one, “comedian and transvestite Andrew O'Neill gives his thoughts on gender identity”; in episode two, “comedian Andrew O'Neill delves into sexual identity and homophobia”. Yes, it's comedy – or more exactly, serious topics addressed via the medium of comedy, with a few random instances thrown in of being silly (which never hurts).

The first episode was the most pertinent to me (and this blog). It's primarily about transvestism (aka pharmacist baffling) with Andrew talking/joking about language, definitions, difference, dysphoria, gender expectations, repression, secrecy, finding yourself, fear of rejection, coming out, finding a way to be yourself, and so forth. Since my way to be myself is similar to his – though far less “brazen” – a lot of what Andrew says about himself goes for me too. So I smiled and chuckled and laughed out loud when what he said was "funny because it's true"; or was funny because obliquely true, as he approached a topic from an unexpected angle; or was just funny.

Sorry, no quotes here to make you laugh. Comedy routines are best heard afresh, rather than second-hand, or after being read. And it may well be copyrighted anyway. So you must go and listen to it yourself if you want to. As another recommendation, Grayson Perry tweeted: “great prog Andrew, hilarious and not just because I recognised every single experience! Well done!” And, yes, it is all Eddie Izzard's fault.

A couple of things did jar with me a little, though, as an engaged and critical listener (i.e. as another transvestite):

Andrew seems to be rather down on our “female persona” siblings. Maybe that's a false impression caused by lack of time, in trying to get as many points across as meaningfully (and as funnily) as possible. You can hardly convey the countless nuances of transvestite (never mind trans) identities in a half-hour comedy slot. All the same, I'd argue that cross-dressing in a "female" way, trying to create a female appearance, is not necessarily sexually motivated, nor the manifestation of immature ideas of femininity. It may indicate a bigender – or, indeed, binary transgender – identity for a start; but often it's more an accommodation than anything else. The urge to present as a feminine woman, rather than a man in a dress, can't be so easily dismissed; and while it may require some complicity, that's not the same as (self-)deception. Moreover, femininity has more cultural – and hence more personal – resonance when presented in female form, which makes it more effective expressed like that, especially if it's by necessity occasional.

In the second show, I noticed an inconsistency – between “transvestites are no more likely to be gay than the rest of the population” (i.e. might be gay) and, later, “the sexuality of transvestism is an overdriven heterosexuality” (i.e. not the slightest bit gay). The second of those made me shake my head: “No, not my sexuality.” But it's always difficult, when talking largely about your own experience, not to extrapolate and generalize from that. So I'll let this one go and just scribble a note in the margin: “#NotAllTransvestites”.

Sunday, 30 November 2014

Leslie Feinberg.

Leslie Feinberg, who identified as an anti-racist white, working-class, secular Jewish, transgender, lesbian, female, revolutionary communist, died on November 15. She succumbed to complications from multiple tick-borne co-infections, including Lyme disease, babeisiosis, and protomyxzoa rheumatica, after decades of illness. She died at home in Syracuse, NY, with her partner and spouse of 22 years, Minnie Bruce Pratt, at her side. Her last words were: “Remember me as a revolutionary communist.”

— from an obituary by Minnie Bruce Pratt, written at Leslie's bedside, and submitted to The Advocate. You can read the whole thing here. (Don't get hung up on the pronouns. Les accepted any pronoun used respectfully. I'll be using the gender neutral sie/hir here.)

Tributes to Les, to hir life and work, have been appearing all over, from just about everyone. My favourites are by Ivan Coyote and Sasha Goldberg, along with Sinclair Sexsmith's piece ‘Long Live the Butch’ and Kiki DeLovely's ‘Love Letter to Minnie Bruce Pratt’.

My own introduction to Les's writing was Transgender Warriors – “hir prideful book” as I called it, naming Les as one of my Inspirations in 2011 – and so it is. An autobiographical memoir of hir own journey, of hir own investigations into trans – into pan-historical, pan-cultural trans and other gender-variant identities – its slow diffusion of pride is very powerful. The book effectively says: we're not alone; we're not an aberration; we're here; we've always been here; we're everywhere and everywhen – get used to it. (Okay, the class politics which pervade the text won't be to everyone's taste, but you can always ignore those if you feel you must.)

Hir book of collected speeches and essays, Trans Liberation: Beyond Pink or Blue, is important too, not least (from my perspective) for hir speech to the 9th annual ‘Texas T-Party’, in which sie makes the connection between LGB and the specific T of (heterosexual) cross-dressers and (our) partners, asking in conclusion: “Have we reached the moment in history when this dialogue between our communities can begin?” That was back in 1997 and the question is still moot.

And then there's Stone Butch Blues, which was (and is) a hugely significant book for me. As I related in another post from 2011, it was largely through imagining myself as a mirrored version of the book's main character, Jess, that I began to understand myself as femme. Reading the various tributes, it seems many people have found themselves, their communities, their own and/or their lovers’ identities in Stone Butch Blues, which won Stonewall Book and Lambda Literary Awards in 1994. It's currently out of print, but the sort-of sequel, Drag King Dreams, is still available (“sort-of” because it isn't really a sequel; it just feels like one).

And now Les is gone :(

Dorothy Allison once wrote: “Writing is still revolutionary, writing is still about changing the world.” Through hir courageous writing and activism, Leslie Feinberg helped change the world for the better.

Thanks for everything, Les.

Leslie Feinberg 1949-2014

I'm not at odds with the fact that I was born female-bodied. Nor do I identify as an intermediate sex. I simply do not fit the prevalent Western concepts of what a woman or a man "should" look like. And that reality has dramatically directed the course of my life.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Stop Our Silences.

Signal boost for a worthy campaign, explained by CN Lester as follows:

The majority of young people who don't fit traditional gender norms are bullied. Bullied in the street, bullied at home, bullied at school – by pupils and teachers.

Gendered Intelligence is a groundbreaking British organization that provides support for gender non-conforming young people – no matter how they identify. Through young people's groups, school training, research and campaigning, they're already making a huge difference to the lives of hundreds of young people.

November 17th-23rd is National Anti-Bullying week here in the UK, and Gendered Intelligence have launched the Stop Our Silence campaign to raise awareness of gender-based bullying, to raise funds to run youth groups, and to show solidarity with all young people who are being silenced because of who they are.

There are two really easy ways that you can help.

1. Friday 21st of November – let's flood Twitter with selfies.

We're so often told that people like us don't exist – that we shouldn't exist – that there's nobody else like us out there. So let's break our silences and celebrate who we are.

Trans, cis, not sure, somewhere in between – everyone is welcome to lend their support. Just take a selfie holding a message:

“I was silent because...”
“They silenced me with...”
“I will never be silent again because...”
“Let's end the silence around gender-based bullying.”

Tweet with the hashtag #StopOurSilence to @GIYouthgroup and we'll keep the images rolling.

2. Stay silent for 24 hours – or sponsor a silence.

Gendered Intelligence members, family and friends are going silent to raise funds – even a small donation makes a hell of a difference. Or do your own sponsored silence? If only 100 people managed to get another 100 people to donate £1 each, GI would have £10,000 to fund their work.

On a personal note РI was badly bullied through school for being queer and trans Рit happens so often it's almost a clich̩. But it doesn't have to be like that Рand Gendered Intelligence are working their arses off to change things.

So lend a hand?

Okay :)

Despite the fact that I don't really like selfies very much. I find them banal, use hide functions on other people's selfies almost automatically, and have never posted one here. But this is a selfie for a cause, so I'll be temporarily suppressing my natural negativity this Friday. Yes, that's this Friday. Get busy cru.

Now I just have to think up some text. Something beginning “I was silent because...” seems appropriate. Because I didn't suffer gender-based bullying at school. Not outward bullying from other people anyway. And that's because I was so completely silent about this stuff.

I've written about my own silence before – see the (rather pathetic) posts ‘Stealth’ (prompted by something CN once tweeted) and ‘14th August 2012’; the answer “Coming Out” in ‘Eight Questions’; and the somewhat happier ‘Second Anniversary’. No, I'm not a particularly good role model for not being silent. I'm still quite silent. Stay silent for 24 hours? Piece of piss ;) . But I don't feel as oppressed by my own silence now.

On the other hand, would I rather not (in hindsight) have been quite so silent as a young gender-variant person? Would I rather today's young people not feel the same need to be silent? Do I wish that no young person (or indeed anybody) suffers... in silence, or because of their silence, or because they're not silent. How many yesses is that? I've lost count.

NB. If you don't use Twitter or social media, selfies can be sent direct to Gender Intelligence.

#StopOurSilence Friday edit – and here's my selfie :)

Friday, 31 October 2014


Underdressing means wearing differently-gendered clothing underneath normatively-gendered clothing. It's a common transvestite strategy. When social/cultural norms and pressures, internalized shame or embarrassment – or just specific dress codes – prevent us from wearing what we might like, there is some relief to be found in doing so under cover, as it were. That is, wearing certain underclothing concealed under other clothing – as indeed underclothes tend to be, unless you want to dress up as Superman. As an example, filmmaker Ed Wood wore (perhaps apocryphally) a bra and panties under his military uniform while serving with the US Marine Corps in the Second World War. Nice one.

Googling brings up numerous trans-related blogposts (and forum threads) on the topic of underdressing, ranging from support and advice to personal taste to kink and guilt. There's usually some sort of guilt thrown in there somewhere, some need to apologize, to qualify something somehow. We so often feel the need to do that. *Sigh*. One exception is the blog of an American crossdresser called Meg, who (admirably) isn't offering even the hint of an apology.

The oblique prompt for my own post was a fashion piece in The Guardian this week: ‘Why women are buying men's underwear’. And why are they? Some are buying it for their male nearest as always; some are buying it for themselves because, for instance, it's “so comfy”; and I'd guess, although the article doesn't consider this motivation, some women are buying it to underdress, in order to express (some sort of) masculinity (or something) in themselves, to themselves, for themselves.

Below the line, someone called ‘mikiencolor’ makes the following point: Women wear "men's" underpants: latest unisex fashion trend. Men wear "women's" underpants: crossdressing sexual fetish.

Actually, that quote makes (perhaps unintentionally) a whole load of points: about gender and sexual assumptions and stereotypes and judgments and proscriptions. *Sigh*. It makes me tired just thinking about all that, so I'll leave the comment alone as one of the very few worth reading. Here's another one I liked (from someone called ‘Hosieryformen’). Otherwise, as you'd expect, the comments are the usual pile of pants.

As someone who underdresses myself – and I'd call it that even though virtually all my clothing is technically (if not obviously) non-normatively gendered – the best passage I've ever read on underdressing comes (perhaps inevitably) from a lesbian femme. In a chapter on personal femme style in ‘The Femme's Guide to the Universe’, Shar Rednour writes:

Lingerie is like the fabulous gift wrapping between the birthday girl and a precious treasure, and baby, that treasure is you. Wearing sexy undergarments makes you sexy. It means you're ready to be sexful at the drop of a skirt. Wearing sensual next-to-you things can also remind you that you are a Queen no matter what you have to be wearing on the outside. I used to wear camisoles and lacy slips underneath these ghastly uniforms required by the hostess job I had at the Ramada Inn. Try wearing a velvet or embroidered bra under your McDonald's uniform. Or a PVC G-string under a power suit. No matter what costume we have to don to face the world, our lingerie is our armor protecting our inner Queen and keeping us sane with reminders of our true nature.

Quite so :)

And no, there's not the least hint of apology in Rednour's writing either. And I just love that. More and more, nowadays, I find, I have less and less time for useless internal bullshit.

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Butch blogs.

As a self-defined femme, I've been somewhat downhearted at the decline of femme blogging over the past few years. The femme bloggers I used to follow have nearly all packed in. Where have they gone? What are they doing instead?! Okay, there are still a few around: Bevin Branlandingham is still happily blogging away. Femme Fairy Godmother returned to the fray in September 2012. But the other blogs I link to are "occasional" at best.

Butch blogging, on the other hand, remains as lively as ever. I follow several butch bloggers and their posts are frequently the ones I relate to most. There are seven butch blogs currently listed in my blogroll, if you care to take a look. Does anyone ever look at blogrolls? Mostly I don't, I confess. And yet I keep mine very up-to-date, clearing out the dead wood, deleting the defunct and inactive links, adding new blogs I like as I discover them. Actually, I feel almost proprietorial about the blogs in my blogroll.

But even if you've never perused the list eyes right, you might have noticed some butch blogs in passing. I mentioned Sinclair Sexsmith (of Sugarbutch Chronicles) in ‘Reading’; linked to Kyle Jones (of Butchtastic) in the post about Matt Kailey; and quoted Vanessa Urquhart (who writes Tiny Butch Adventures) in the one on Andreja Pejic. The others I subscribe to at the moment are: A Boy and Her Dog; Butch On Tap; Butch Wonders; and Mainely Butch (not a typo: it's Maine the US state). And I'm always on the lookout for more.

When I say I relate to butch blogs, it's generally by reflection. (Or perhaps 180° rotation.) When a butch woman writes about her "masculinity" in a binary gender normative world, I feel a symmetrical kinship by mentally switching woman and masculine to man and feminine; and indeed butch to femme. There are larger community connections too; for instance, border territories between butch women and trans men are similar, in a lot of ways, to those between MTF TVs and trans women. Take this post on Butch Wonders about “the tension that sometimes exists between butches and trans men (FTMs)”. Read through that (quite excellent) piece and the parallels are just everywhere.

Another Butch Wonders post I like is this one on the importance (for some of us) of labels. Mainely Butch recently covered this subject as well (for the final time!). For me, a label – such as femme or genderqueer – is a place to stand, from whence to say “this is who I am”. And a place to stand is useful because you can both look outward from it and move away from it and look back. Otherwise you're often just floating around in a fog. (With the proviso that you're able to adapt a label to your own requirements, rather than have someone impose it – and its definition – upon you.)

And on BW again, there's this new post, asking whether “dysphoria is just a trans thing”: Can a butch feel dysphoria if she's forced to wear a dress? Can a heterosexual person feel dysphoria if she's dating someone of the same sex? Are trans people the only ones who experience dysphoria? Are they the only ones who experience "gender dysphoria"?

Equivalently, from my perspective, does a male TV feel dysphoria if he's forced to wear a suit? Given that most TVs are "part-time", the answer would seem to be “no”. Or would it? Would we rather be full-time if we didn't feel constrained by circumstance? Or in my case, being sort of full time, would I rather be more femme? Probably I would, yes, but is this dysphoria or just discomfort?

BW answers: I don't think it's gender dysphoria, exactly, but I think it's some very specific type of gender-related discomfort or dissonance. And for me, at least, it's a similar feeling as if someone calls me "sir". I think: nope, you didn't get me right. You're not seeing me as I want to be seen. I want to be seen as female, but as a certain kind of female. A non-"deviant", but specific genre of female—which, sure, incorporates a lot of elements society considers "masculine".

Maybe that's it. And for me, too, it's a similar feeling as when someone calls me "sir". I think: nope, you didn't get me right. You're not seeing me as I want to be seen. I don't want to be seen as that default male, the normative male indicated by "sir", but as a specific genre of male—which incorporates a lot of elements society considers "feminine". That not-rightness rankles with me, it grinds my gears, but to call it dysphoria seems too strong. It's not the kind of dysphoria that needs to be stopped, please, right now. Especially as my body issues are relatively minor.

I'd certainly recommend people to check out butch blogs. And there'll be more about butch equivalences in my Queer Feminine Affinities piece, if and when that appears. The editors had other commitments which have delayed the project, but they anticipated (on 5th May) “further news” in Autumn 2014. And, well, it's the Autumnal Equinox in two days time, isn't it :)

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Trans "vs." feminism. (4)

I've drafted (without posting) several obstreperous rants recently on (radical) feminism "vs." trans, because this useless quarrel just keeps on going: forty years and counting. The latest incident involved the BBC current affairs programme, Newsnight, where trans activists caused a proposed segment (purportedly about Kellie Maloney) to be dropped by refusing to participate in (what seemed likely to be) a confrontation with "gender critical" feminists. As it turns out, said feminists had also refused to take part, for the understandable reason that the arguments are too hostile and are perpetuated with even more hostility on social media. Instead, people are letting their opinions be known in a more "detached" way, via undirected messages and blog posts (as indeed I'm doing here).

For instance, two days ago Julie Bindel tweeted (disingenuously):
10:17 AM: “Total censorship now. Anyone who challenges gender essentialism is accused of being a massive transphobe”;
10:26 AM: “Truth is they refuse to debate or discuss at all”;
10:32 AM: “because the radical feminist theory that gender is a social construction to oppress women & empower men is threat 2 trans theory”.

I say “disingenuously” there because Julie's tweets are (as she certainly knows) an entirely one-sided depiction of events and only make sense if you already agree with her. From a contrary position, her words might be interpreted rather differently:

Total censorship” — an unwillingness to debate on terms which regard trans as de facto gender essentialist.

Refuse to debate or discuss” — because a converse refusal to accept trans people as experts on their own lives, or their knowledge of themselves and their own sex and gender as having validity, makes meaningful discussion impossible. (And denying people the right to describe their own lives on their own terms, implying – or straight out declaring – that they're not who they say they are, does amount to “denying their right to exist”.)

Radical feminist theory ... is [a] threat [to] trans theory” — this is only true if you believe that radical feminist theory is applicable and correct in every circumstance (which is ideological fundamentalism).

In fact, trans feminists will readily (and do) concur with radical feminist theories on many (perhaps most) aspects of sex and gender (especially as regards women's oppression by the social construction of gender). But from a trans perspective, radical feminism is not a complete theory; it does not accurately account for all aspects of sex and gender. In particular, it's not the best framework for understanding trans. The bitter arguments we have arise because (some) radical feminists nevertheless insist on trying – the results of which, although logically consistent on their own terms, are not recognized by (most) trans people as an accurate portrayal of their own experiences and truths. When that happens, and when that has been explained to you repeatedly, it's time to reassess your theory. Sticking to it rigidly and claiming that everyone else is wrong (or must disprove your theory to your own satisfaction) is just intellectual arrogance.

And to what end? Radical feminism is neither a religion, nor a mathematical science. It's not suddenly rendered "false" because it fails in one (or more) instance(s). And it's not threatened by trans realities to any substantive degree. The only real conflict is over trans itself, where radical feminism is merely an unwelcome intruder.

So yes, we can discuss gender, gender essentialism, gender oppression, gender roles, gender stereotypes, gender systems, whatever you like. We'll probably agree anyway, which is always nice. But there's little point in debating matters trans any more because you don't listen and you have virtually nothing of worth to say. Consequently, I intend this to be my final post on the subject. I've wasted far too many spoons on it already.

Except that, seemingly out of nowhere, George Galloway has now sprung to mind. Well, there's a lot to respect about George, and he can be admirably principled when he chooses, but he can also be a bit of a dickhead; and didn't he call a group of righteously angry feminists a “cabal” too? Or was that his tosser of a mate, Tommy Sheridan? I forget.

Thursday, 31 July 2014

Andreja Pejic.

I've featured Andreja on here before – specifically in my second ‘In Vision’ post. But in that instance I used pictures of her feminine boy persona; and news came out this week that she's now transitioned. She describes her journey as follows:

I figured out who I was very early on—actually, at the age of 13, with the help of the Internet—so I knew that a transition, becoming a woman, was always something I needed to do. But it wasn’t possible at the time, and I put it off, and androgyny became a way of expressing my femininity without having to explain myself to people too much. Especially to my peers [who] couldn’t understand things like “trans” and gender identity. And then obviously the modeling thing came up, and I became this androgynous male model, and that was a big part of my growing up and my self-discovery. But I always kept in mind that, ultimately, my biggest dream was to be a girl.

Well, I'm happy for her, and pleased that she's come out as trans – but at the same time I'm a little bit sad. As Minnie Bruce Pratt wrote: “I love the contradiction between gender identification and biological sex. I love having the simultaneity, the both/and.” In Andreja's case, that apparent contradiction has now been resolved. The beautiful unmasculine boy (who it turns out she wasn't) is now a beautiful feminine woman. And her personal evocation of the possible, of what "male" can be and mean and look like, is no more.

Why this should matter to me at all is not so easy to convey. But in an (unrelated) article for Slate magazine, Vanessa Vitiello Urquhart wrote:

I think it's important to keep the boundaries of what can and can't potentially be male or female propped open as wide as possible. It's wonderful that people who feel uncomfortable with the gender they were assigned at birth are gaining strength and visibility. But, it's just as important that young people, girls and boys and genderqueers alike, can have as many examples as possible of men and women who don't conform to gender stereotypes. I like to think I'm doing my part for that by living as an aggressive, competitive, logical, and strong butch woman.

The hyperlink incorporates the words “a butch lesbian rejects a non binary identity”, but I don't view her piece that way. Rather than a rejection of non-binary identities per se, I read it as a rejection of binary correlations, an assertion of a personal non-normative binary – as well as a political act, an evocation of the possible, of what "female" can be and mean and look like.

Of course, non-binary and genderqueer can be political acts too. As I quoted queer butch Sinclair Sexsmith as saying: “It is a radical, political act to reject the two-party binary gender system, and I like radical acts. I get off on ’em.” And as I wrote on their own blog: “Yes, genderqueer is a political identity for me too.” But I went on with: “But then so is male, given that femme and feminine aren’t supposed to go with male.” It's the second part that's relevant here, and the reason why I'm going to miss "Andrej".

Ah well. Andreja has got on with her life and asserted who she needed to be – and that's infinitely more important than who I (or anybody else) might have liked her to be, which isn't important at all. And she's left us a recorded pictorial legacy of that beautiful unmasculine boy, even if it wasn't who she really was. So, thanks for that, Andreja.

And as she's posted herself: “I think we all evolve as we get older and that’s normal but I like to think that my recent transition hasn’t made me into a different individual. Same person, no difference at all just a different sex . I hope you can all understand that.

Absolutely :)