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.

Sunday, 25 September 2016

Gender Failure.

I recently joined a non-binary book club (FB group) and the first book selected (democratically) for reading and discussion was ‘Gender Failure’ by Rae Spoon and Ivan E. Coyote (Arsenal Pulp Press 2014). I'd already read this – being a big fan of Ivan's work – so it was a case of rereading for me and this time making notes.

I like the title for a start, which follows that of the authors' toured show. In a more positive mood – or world – I might be up for Kate Bornstein's notion of ‘Gender Outlaw’ (her book is about to be reissued too btw), but currently the more diffident ‘Gender Failure’ suits me better.

Gender failure, in the authors' terms, refers primarily to the gender binary; both as in failing at and being failed by:

Rae (p242): “I am a gender failure. I failed at the gender binary, unable to find a place in being either a man or a woman with which I felt comfortable. But ultimately I believe that it's the binary that fails to leave room for most people to write their own gender stories.

Rae (p217): “Throughout the interactions I've had over the past ten years, I've learned that the gender binary is more of a comedy skit than a fact. People read each other, assign identifiers, and then play out a script accordingly. A lot of the time these interactions are absurd, playing themselves out on the ground and thirty thousand feet in the air in the same ways.

Ivan (p247): “Sometimes it exhausts me, all the head shaking and stumbling around to navigate and negotiate the two-ring circus that is this gender binary, walking pronoun tightropes and balancing between my safety and someone else's comfort.

But also, failing at being trans:

Ivan (p247): “You are free to call me trans and I am proud to lift this name up and hold it, right there in the sun, and you would not be wrong, but this still feels like I am borrowing a word from someone else, that it is not all the way mine, really, and my friend who lent it to me might need it back, or they might need it more than me”.

Rae (p200): “The invisibility of not even being considered trans at all by some members of the trans community because I had not changed my body with hormones or surgery.

Rae (p105): “I opened my mouth to respond, but then shut it. I didn't know where to begin to express how invisible I felt.

The sense of not being trans in the right way, or feeling you're not trans enough, or even at all, is certainly something I understand – as well as identifying within border territories:

Ivan (p234): “I had already spent years feeling like I was perched with one foot on a trans-shaped rowboat and the other foot resting on a butch dock, balancing myself and my language and words and work in the space between them.

Having to a large extent theorized myself out of a trans identity, putting most of my weight on the (femme) dock, I'm still reluctant to untie the painter and let the (trans) boat float away without me. Then again, I might just follow Rae's advice and retire from gender altogether:

Rae (p250/1): “I would highly recommend retiring from gender to anyone who is feeling like the spectrum or the binary doesn't fit. Many people look at me strangely when I tell them, but the decreased pressure of having to perform a gender makes up for all the misunderstandings.

The refusal to participate is a valid response. Don't gender, it only encourages them. Or something.

Throughout the book, the authors, in alternate chapters, write about their own lives and related topics – Ivan includes a couple of essays: on TDOR (‘Listing My Sisters’) and problems in public toilets (‘The Facilities’) – or just tell stories, with gender itself being one of them:

Rae (p239-242): “More and more, I have thought of my gender as a story I tell myself. (...) After all that has changed for me, I'm more inclined to leave the narrative open for myself than I have in the past. Now that I define my gender and sexuality as stories I tell and agree upon, I want to leave room for future possibilities that I have not been presented with yet.

There are many fine words, much fine writing here. I've copied out numerous passages for my own reference, and may quote from one or two more in later posts. In the meantime:

Rae (p19): “There should be as many books like this as there are people constrained by the gender binary, and I hope in my lifetime to read as many of them as possible.

Yes, indeed. And me, too :)

Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Femme vs. feminine.

Femme means different things to different people. To see how different, check out this What We Mean When We Say “Femme” round table at Autostraddle. As facilitator Cecelia writes at the start: “We live in a world where it is totally possible to claim the same word as someone else and completely disagree on what the word means.” And they certainly do.

But as I've said before, femme is notoriously difficult to define. (I've given five separate expositions so far in this blog – all linked in a comment here). For me, femme is sort of femininity, but also sort of not. It annoys me when people use the word "femme" as synonymous with "feminine", because it isn't. Not least because feminine comes with a load of heteronormative (and patriarchal) baggage, which femme critically circumvents.

Welsh femme Georgina Jones has recently written about the differences between femme and feminine in Bustle:

— Many folks outside of the queer scene don't fully understand what femme means or recognize its distinct differences from feminine;
— To put it simply, "femme" is a descriptor for a queer person who presents and acts in a traditionally feminine manner;
— All femmes hit upon two key aesthetic and identity-related traits: being feminine and falling somewhere on the LGBTQ spectrum;
— Intentionality (quoting Evan Urquhart here) is the key to distinguishing a femme identity from a traditionally feminine one;
— Femme isn't about acting feminine or "girly" in the ways mainstream society generally feels that female-presenting people "should" act;
— Ultimately, "femme" is about breaking binaries. It's about subverting cultural expectations. It's about being more than one thing. It's about queerness.

Considering those extracts in reverse order:

— I certainly like the notion of femme as breaking binaries and subverting cultural expectations; and similarly Elizabeth Marston's formulation of femme as rogue femininity.
— No indeed, it isn't. At least, not necessarily. Individual femmes might do this, sometimes, or appear to do this, if they want, albeit not for the obvious “mainstream” reasons.
— Is intentionality the key? Yes, I think so. Femme is knowing what you're doing, as someone once said. And consequently, I think femme has to be claimed; it has to be a conscious identity.
— Do you have to be queer to be femme? Yes, you probably do, at least in some sort of way, though I might include queer heterosexuality in there.
— But act in a traditionally feminine manner? I'm not so sure about this one. It's a bit too strictly formulated for me. I don't think I do anything like that very much. My femme is far more covert.
— That's certainly true. Then again, I'm not sure everyone in my own queer community fully understands this either. Maybe you have to be femme to get femme. Even if we don't agree what femme actually is...

Okay, I'm not sure where I'm going with this now. This was supposed to be about femme vs. feminine, wasn't it. It seems thinking about femme has caught me in a feedback loop, and it's getting late. So I'll finish by quoting Laura Luna Placencia again:

Femme means whatever you want it to mean for yourself and however you want it to look like if that gender feels like home to you.

Right :)

But in that case a femme can define their femmeness as being feminine, if they want to, can't they.

Damn.

I'm going to bed.

Thursday, 4 August 2016

Nottinghamshire Pride 2016.

Sunday, 31 July 2016 is when I intended to post this post, but computer problems have meant I've not been able to get online until today. So here it is, belatedly, now:
___________________________________________________

Another year, another Pride...

Okay, it was only my second, so I can't get too blasé about Pride just yet.

This year I was near the front, in the midst of people from QT Notts, NTH, and BiTopia, marching behind, and in solidarity with, QTIPOC Notts – and that for numerous reasons, as outlined on this banner...



...including, but not limited to, solidarity with our own in the LGBT community:
— queer people at the intersection of multiple oppressions, based on race, religion, sex, gender, sexuality, etc.
— trans women of colour, who were on the front lines at the Stonewall Riots that kick-started this whole thing; and who are statistically most at risk of hate crimes and murder.
— the queer latinx community targeted in Orlando, for whom the march stopped halfway for a minute's silence.

Although all that strikes a (necessary) sombre note, more than anything Pride is a celebration. Latin rhythms led the parade, beat out by drummers from the Nottingham School of Samba (I wouldn't mind doing that; I used to be a drummer). And there was dancing and chanting – “we're here, we're queer, we'll never disappear”, and whistles and more drums and more percussion, and banners and flags and balloons and streamers, and all kinds of rainbows. I now possess a fabulous rainbow feather boa (a rainboa?) courtesy of a kind woman along the way.

And there was an even stronger trans presence, it seemed, than last year. Chameleons and Invasion were again out in force, their huge banner leading the main body of the march behind the fire engine. And there were trans flags everywhere – including a trans flag sponge cake on the Chams stall. Yum :)

5000 people turned out, so the media said – as in this piece for ITV News, complete with pictures.

And here's another one – me from behind with a “Bi erasure” placard:



“Stop that! We exist!” Yes, indeed.
___________________________________________________

Acronym guide for the uninitiated:
QTIPOC - Queer, Trans & Intersex People of Colour
QT Notts - Queer Together Notts
NTH - Notts Trans Hub
LGBT - Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender

Friday, 3 June 2016

Not writing.

Two years (or so) ago I wrote about ‘Writing’; or, more accurately, about having finished writing something (always the best part of writing, I find) and sent it off: my submission to Queer Feminine Affinities.

QFA does seem to be going ahead now. There was a related ‘Queer(ing) Femininities’ workshop at Goldsmiths college in London last week (check the tweet stream for more on this); and the further "call for papers" at Feral Feminisms deadlines at the end of June. After that, I guess the editors (Alexa and Vikki) will put it all together, though it'll probably be quite a while yet before QFA finally appears – for one thing, that was CFP #8 and the published issues of FF have only reached #5 so far.

In the meantime I've been offered the chance to contribute to two other planned anthologies: one on crossdreaming and stuff; and another about “living life with a non-binary gender”, focusing on “relatable storytelling from a personal standpoint”. But I'm finding it hard. I've had the second proposal for several months and still have the figurative blank sheet in front of me. Because, what is there for me to say, at least that I haven't already said? My gender "issues" (such as they are) are mostly internal, and my actual life is arranged so that they hardly impact on me at all. Working from home, sitting at the computer (editing and suchlike), I have no work-related problems; while in the wider world, outside the front door, my gender is read as male, with all its associated advantages. My gender expression, while somewhat femme, is not so outré that it causes me any trouble. In fact, people mostly just say nice things.

For instance, this is about as femme as anything I wear:



To my eyes that coat is pretty damn femme – one of my friends told me outright that it was “effeminate” (which of course made me happy) – and it does get serious stares sometimes, as if whoever can't quite believe it. Purple suede, furry cuffs and trim, cut short at the waist, it's clearly not a "man's coat". All the same, it is still just a coat. It's not a skirt. It's not a pretty frock. Nobody is sufficiently disturbed by it to give me grief; and I'm certainly not going to complain about that.

On the other hand, it does all mean that there's nothing much for me to say. I can't write about the difficulties day to day of living life with a non-normative gender, because I don't really have any. (There's privilege for you and then some.) No interesting, amusing, moving, inspiring, or even ordinary tales to tell. Nada.

So I'm stuck. Not writing.

Any suggestions? :/

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.