Happy Valentine’s Day

Alive.

A regular on the MHB boards recently posted that she was turning 50 and remembered, and re-posted, this piece from when she was turning 44:

February 12, 2010: I’m 44 today and I want to die.
Today is my 44th birthday, Yippyfuckinyahoo.

I am sad, big time.
I am disappointed, hugely,
I have no one to blame but myself.

Here’s the deal:
Two days ago I found myself driving stupid again, how stupid, lets just say that the speedometer was pegged. I didn’t care, I didn’t care if I got a ticket or arrested, I didn’t care if I wrecked, I didn’t care, I found myself trying to stop thinking about being a woman, about the pain in my head, the depression that is setting in heavy and hard.

Shit! I couldn’t even scare that voice in my head into shutting the fuck up.

I didn’t talk to my wife about it when I got home. I did my Anatomy & Physiology Lab Report and baked my birthday cake, went to bed. Yesterday morning I promised myself I would be good, I won’t be stupid, I will go to work and get through my day. I was also looking forward to my A & P class as I always do. But as I drove, alone with my thoughts the worse it got and the stupider I became. I thought about calling my wife just to talk with her, just to hear her voice but I didn’t call, she was at work and she doesn’t need this shit – especially there. I got to work OK.
Yesterday, they cut my salary by 15%, then it became a real shitty day.

I was already having a real bad day, upset and sad from Trans-stuff that’s been building up and bothering me, Then my day got so much worse since I now really cant afford any more treatments to my face and that’s been helping to ease the hurt in my head, not feeling prickly. My sessions with my therapist are now on hold because I don’t know if we can pay our bills let alone therapist fees that are not covered by insurance because I have “life style choice issues” So after a bit of recuperation I took a late lunch as I had to run a few errands, I needed to pick up a few items for my birthday cake.

A short time later I found myself in Michael’s searching the cake decorating racks for rice paper for my cake. If you don’t know what a Michael’s is, they are a chain of arts and craft supply stores. I searched the first cake decorating aisle, and then the next, no luck. I went back to the first aisle in case I overlooked something to search again. There standing the middle of that short, narrow aisle was a middle aged woman with medium length black wavy hair in jeans and a black leather jacket looking at the wedding cake accessories. Being me, and the fact that the aisle was so small we couldn’t help but trip over each other in our quests I asked, “So are you’re planning on making a wedding cake?”
“Oh No, If I only could, I have a birthday cake to make for my Dad he is going to be ninety.” she replied with a kind and inquisitive smile.

With that I began a ten-minute conversation with some stranger regarding cakes, parents, kids and some such stuff. And for 10 minutes I was Paula, I didn’t look like a Paula and I could see her confusion in her eyes at first, I think she was taken aback a bit at first by this man who she was having a perfectly normal woman to woman conversation with. I have seen that look before when I slip, whether at the office, at school, or any place else for that matter, I have seen the stunned look of confusion before. It occurs when my gender appearance and my personality clash. It’s a questioning look of surprise and curiosity at the same time. We exchanged introductions, pleasantries, good lucks and good byes as we went our separate ways. Her name was Connie and her dad still plays tennis twice a week at seven o-clock in the morning.

So there I was in Michael’s having this perfectly normal conversation between two women and for ten minutes everything was right in the world. There was no noise in my head; there I was standing in this arts and crafts store with a feeling of peaceful contentment like I haven’t felt before even if for a few fleeting moments. After I left the store and made my way out to my ride, I barely made it behind the wheel when the tears started flowing down my cheeks, the sobbing started, Paul was back and so was the noise.

After class and getting home late, I dropped my books and coat at the door and gave my wife a deep and long hug, I was still feeling down, I was glad to be home and I so needed the hug. Then it came; she pushed me back to look into my eyes with her hands firmly at my elbows.

“You know you have to stop this! You have to put all this out of your mind and carry on, for us, the boys and for me, sometimes you have to just put it out of your mind and forget about it. All this blogging, support groups and friends you talk to keep reminding you, they keep telling you things and you are effected by it all.” Its time to forget about it and carry on with your life.”

I was shocked! Here I was in pain and quite obviously down and blue and she tells me that I am choosing to drive myself crazy. She went on to say maybe its time for you to “Man up”

No. I thought, its time to woman up, I can’t carry on like this and pretending to be a man is killing me. Here I am on my birthday at 44 and I want to die, I want to end this noise in my head, I am tired of battling, I am tired of the fight between my heart and my head. I know that with transition I will loose m wife, I will loose my youngest son. So choosing between stopping the hurt in my head and the family I love is a decision I cannot make. I am hurting. I need to take the steps, I need to transition but I cant.

I have email sitting in my drafts folder for my therapist asking for an appointment and outlining specifics that I’d like to discuss and yes it includes what I have to do next, beginning HRT, beginning the process. I have to hit send and it’s the hardest choice I’ll ever have to make. Transition or my family or not choose either and die. Option number three is quite inviting however an easy way out it seems to be I cannot follow through with it. I will not harm myself, I will not do that to my family. I will NOT and I cant carry on any longer like this.

Its my 44th birthday today and I want to die.

Six years later:

I’m 50 today and I’m Alive!!

Today this body of mine has spent 50 years on the top side of the grass but I have only been alive for the last 5 or so. I often think of that conversation with Connie and often wonder if she still has her Dad. That moment was a hint that this body was possessed by a female soul and spirit I just had to do the hard work to make life as a woman possible.

I AM SO GRATEFUL I DID NOT DRIVE MY DURANGO HEADLONG INTO A DUMPTRUCK.

For anyone suffering in a body they wouldn’t choose and considering that final option listen to me, DON’T DO IT! Life has a way of turning itself around with enough effort and determination it can happen.

Yeah that moment 6 years ago was super painful leaving me with this empty hollow feeling. Today I am beyond living, I am alive, so much so that some days I just bounce and laugh for no reason other than shear happiness. No way could I even imaging it when I was at my lowest point in life.

Yes I am a lucky one, I have a family that loves me a paying job in career I love, but life is far from perfect. I want to be loved as in fall head-over-heels-in-love. My wife and I are now just housemates, that is the price I paid to live my life alive. It sucks watching her suffer for the loss of her husband and her childhood dream smashed to pieces. Our marriage is over everywhere but on paper. Yet we still punish ourselves by remaining under the same roof solely out of financial reasons and old habit. When People ask me out on a date I say thank you but I am in a monogamous uncoupled relationship. Sadly true.

Life is still good, I have a long way to go for life to be great but I am making headway. I know know now that, after many hours between my ears, I need to be fully female. At 50 time is suddenly running short, I have more years behind me that I do in front of me. I was reminded of this when My AARP card came in the mail on Monday, “Gee thanks for the reminder”. I feel like I need to hurry to get to where I want to be transition-wise to experience as much life as I have left fully female but I feel stuck. Yes, even with the heavy maintenance that is required I want to have a female body to match the spirit within. But life is getting in the way and there seems to be a daily drudgery keeping from realizing my much desired female form.

Today I am happy and alive yet still not female. I am going to share my 50th birthday with my boys, their SOs, my folks and wife. Nothing special is planned just pizza, wings etc and a cake that I baked. Of all the gifts I am sure to receive there is only one thing I want and wont come wrapped in a box.

Stay alive.

Two Good Things

Here are two good things that are now/newly available:

The documentary about Kate Bornstein, Kate Bornstein is a Queer & Pleasant Danger, is now available for purchase by high schools and universities. (I did an interview with her for this blog back in 2006.)

The second is that Julia Serano’s Whipping Girl garnered a second edition, for which she wrote a new preface, and garnered a new cover (gone with the pink one!). I did an interview with her back in 2007 when it first came out, if you want to check that out.

 

Bryn Kelly Memorial: Feb 6

Bryn Kelly, Feb 7 1980 – Jan 13 2016

Her memorial is tonight at St John the Divine in NYC – the day before what should have been her 36th birthday.

Rest in awesomeness, Bryn.

For Bryn

I have not written about Bryn’s death because it knocked the stuffing out of me. We were not close friends, by any means; we knew each other the way two people who do trans work and live in Brooklyn know each other; she hung out with people we know, she dated someone we know, she was at things we went to.

But she was 10 years younger than us, part of a younger set of trans people we met through theatre and writing and activism; I used to say there was something in the water in our part of Brooklyn because it was as if everyone we knew was trans or dating someone who was.

And there is something about being a decade older than a lovely, bright, spiky, vivacious young person that makes you hope that their struggle will not be as hard, that they will find a way to make a good living and find love with someone who respects them, or, if they don’t, that they will find ways to make art that will allow them to feel loved and respected; that they will have friends to drink with and dress up with and at least have great sex with. But mostly, that they will live to be old, at least as old as you are, so that together you might end up at a party and look at the people a decade younger and wish together that their lives might not be as hard, that they will find a way to make a good living…

Bryn had both an old soul and a young, young heart. She was beautiful – the kind of beautiful you tried not to stare at – and she wore her beauty as if it was nothing important. I know it had to be because of the work she did – hair and makeup for others – and she seemed the same about her writing. My memory of her was that she had a “this old thing?” ready for any compliment paid her.

Then you read this, this big hearted, funny, sexy, deeply loving piece that she wrote to her fellow trans women, and you wonder how in the world we will get along without her voice:

“I love your profound insecurity. I love you even when you lash out at the world, at your loves, and at yourself. I love you when you’re hurting. I love the myriad forms your pain takes. I love how funny you can be when you’re ripping someone to shreds with your tongue. I love that when you observe something hilarious that no one else has noticed, because you’re so good at noticing the ridiculous. I email my love to you when you stop talking to anyone for three days. I love your wild and volatile sexuality. I love your quiet and conscious affection. I love your emotional acumen and your emotional black spots that you could drive a truck through. I love female energy, whatever the hell that is, all I know is that you got it. I love getting all our bodies and ourselves over the nitty gritty stuff that our bodies go through, and the ingenious methods we invent to access care. I love how we are each other’s best therapists and worst enemies. I love it when you embarrass me. I love it when you inspire me. I love it when you make me laugh. I love it when you read me the filth. I love it when you make yourself vulnerable. I love it when we feel safe with each other.” 

(You can watch her read this piece at the 33:27 mark of this video.)

I wish there had been something, anything, I could have done or anyone could have done to keep her with us.

Please, my beautiful trans peeps, grow old so that I can run into you at a party and we can look at the younger people in the room and hope against hope that their lives will not be so hard, so full of struggle, that they will find a way… Mostly I want to run into you at a party and wish, with you, that all the beautiful fucked up young people will live to grow old and join us in wishing that next bright generation a bright, smart, glamorous, sexy kind of peace.

Love to you Bryn. You took a piece of this skeptical, disappointed heart with you, and I’m sure you had no idea how many of us loved you. & Love to all of you who knew her well, who knew far better than me what kind of light we have lost. Please take care of each other, and please never ever think twice about reaching out to me if you need to.

Her memorial is on February 6th at Saint John the Divine at 7:30PM. I so wish I could be there. I am hoping those of us who can’t be there might spend the day reading her work, alone or to others, but if you haven’t, make sure you read her Other Balms, Other Gileads.

Guest Author Peter Jacobs on Bowie

My friend Peter Jacobs wrote this cool piece about Bowie. I thought I’d share it for anyone interested.

Six days ago, something happened that I never even considered, not once. Never, ever even thought about it. Something so sudden and so unexpected that it felt as though the moon had just cracked into pieces and floated into the Sun, while we all stared in awe, open-mouthed, gawking, and feeling very small and vulnerable indeed.

David Bowie, the incredible, amazing, inspirational, creative, ground-breaking David Bowie, died.

The Timeless had finally run out of Time.

If you knew of, but didn’t love, admire, and respect David Bowie, now might be the right time to reconsider. If you barely or never heard of him, discover him now. You won’t regret it.

If you did love him, you could probably express nearly everything I’m about to say, a million times better. I can only do what I can do, which might not be much, but I’m certainly going to try.

I owe it to him.

Bowie had an incalculable influence on me. He has been present in the general background radiation of my life for as long as I can remember, pretty much. I was just a kid in the 70s, Bowie’s greatest decade. I wasn’t old enough to fully appreciate that body of work at the time, but I’ve never stopped absorbing, re-experiencing and re-interpreting it ever since. Of course, he’s done excellent work since then as well, including his most recent music, right up to his very last, released just two days before he passed. Yet the 70s albums hold a special significance for many, myself included (so those of you considering diving into his oeuvre for the first time and are wondering where to start, start there).

It’s daunting to even begin to describe the difference Bowie made, and for that reason, I promised myself I would keep this as succinct as possible. Let’s see if I stick to that promise.

I have an uncle who was of the perfect age and inclination to be captivated by the arresting shock of Ziggy Stardust, in 1972.   The Starman himself invigorated a generation of misfit kids who didn’t even know they were waiting for something, they just recognized when that something had arrived.  By the time I came along, that initial fervor had subsided, perhaps, but my uncle was still a fan, and Bowie was still putting out fantastic music, all of which was at my fingertips.

My uncle didn’t just passively allow me to paw through his collection; he deliberately exposed me to it. Thank goodness. He’d show me albums, put them on, answer my questions, play my requests. I have memories of pouring over my uncle’s records and being endlessly enthralled by the covers, the lyrics, the sounds, the feelings, the inexplicability of it all. There were a lot of albums, but my attention always came back to David Bowie.

The earliest I can ever remember experiencing “edginess” was with Bowie. He was so unlike anything or anybody else I had ever encountered that he was scary. Just genuinely, challengingly scary. Not in a RUN AWAY kind of way, rather, What is going on here? Is something happening to him? Is he crazy? What makes him act like that? Why does he move like that? Where is this coming from? Why do I feel so strange?? Even the way the camera moved in his videos, the angles of the shots, even that was strange.

Remember, I was just a little kid, perhaps seven, eight. But I’d like to think, I believe he’d have had a similar effect on me even if I’d been twenty-five, at the time.

He was scary in a way that made you want more. Scary in a way that made you want to figure it all out, although you realized you might never figure it out. He truly seemed alien, so different, not from here. Not from anywhere I knew, that was for sure.

Bowie affected you in so many ways, provoking the same odd, unusual sensations whether you were listening to his music, looking at his picture, or watching him in a video. So complete, so whole, so thorough an entity he seemed, you ceased to be aware he was performing. He was just being.

It was nearly impossible to believe that anybody even remotely like that could exist. But he did exist! He existed with a vengeance, with a vibrancy, vitality, and passion unmatched by virtually anyone.

I found that, ever since then, since those early days, consciously or otherwise I would forevermore compare other musicians I encountered to that template of David Bowie. It wasn’t necessarily direct, specific, imitative, point-by-point comparison, such as “Does he sound like Bowie? Does she also remind me of a space alien?” Rather, it was more “Is this great? Original? Challenging? Creative, resonant, vivid, complete?” Does it drive me to discover more, see more, feel more, want more, expect more? Does this force me to reconsider what is possible, and frighten me a little in the process?

At the age of twelve, I was introduced to new wave and punk. We called it new wave then, or new music, college radio, I think the term “alternative” was even sometimes used all the way back then. It was like finding affirmation, confirmation. It was absolutely a life-changing experience. There was a spirit of fun, adventure, excitement, creativity, and playfulness that other contemporary radio stations utterly lacked, and yes, I had been searching. Searching with no idea whatsoever if I’d ever find what I was looking for, not even entirely aware what I was looking for. I wanted music that moved me, in mind as much or more as in body. Only later did I fully realize I was looking for something more than just music.

Finding this window onto an alternate universe was nothing short of revelatory. Over time, I came to learn many if not all of my new heroes were inspired in various measures by David Bowie. Interview after interview, they all said basically the same thing: There was before, and then there was after. Bowie had changed their lives. These artists, in turn, changed mine.

Naturally, few individuals ever achieve such heights. Bowie set the bar so incredibly high that surely only someone superhuman such as he could ever come close. At the same time, no matter your shortcomings, it also made you want to try.

I will forever appreciate him for raising my standards, thereby enriching my life. It’s hard to settle for frozen fish sticks once you’ve had fresh lobster tails. Knowing there is something better, why accept the inferior? Why eat junk food when you could have nutrition?

Absorbing Bowie was like breathing pure, sweet air and feeling giddy from it, after previously and unwittingly sucking in smog. It was an overload of oxygen filtering through the brain and bloodstream, boiling away pollutants and causing an exhilarating sort of mental bends.

I do not mean to dismiss entirely the influence and inspiration of other artists, not by any means. The Beatles were in fact my very first intensely magical, mysterious music experience and I still cherish them beyond logic. When I was very little I would wake up some mornings, before anyone else in the house, just to have sole access to the turntable. I’d put on Beatles records with the volume set as low as possible so not to awaken anyone, and lie with my ear pressed against the speaker, devouring their sound and fusing it with my soul. Yet I was always aware the Beatles had already come and gone. In fact, they broke up within days of my birth. It mattered not, how fervently I desired for them to regroup. They were done. My love for the Beatles was always tinged with whatever sense of received nostalgia a seven year old could possibly feel, a longing for something just out of reach, unattainable no matter how immediate the experience was of dropping the needle on the record and listening, whenever I wanted.

Bowie, on the other hand, felt like now. Like mine. He was active, alive, intense, current. He was in the present, but was moving fast.

Looking back, almost as soon as I first felt the tremendous power of Bowie, I think I must have been seized by some kind of urgency, a form of desperation. I realized he, too, had already produced work dating back to before my existence, already passed through amazing phases that I had missed out on, and that whatever he was doing in the present would also soon slip away, out of my mental and emotional grasp. I also felt an indescribable envy that my uncle had seen him live, years before.

It seemed as if my eyes, my mind, my heart couldn’t possibly open wide enough to take in all the possibilities Bowie revealed and implied. I didn’t even have anywhere near the vocabulary, the tools, the concepts to describe what was happening inside me. I feel like I still barely do, all these decades later.

If we could say with words everything we felt, there’d be no need for music, would there?

I’m also very grateful I’m not using a manual typewriter, given the number of times I’ve already changed, deleted, edited, entirely re-written sections of this piece…. and how many more times I will before I consider it done.

It’s going to be difficult, I can tell, to decide when to consider this “done,” exactly. Five minutes after finishing, I’m sure I’ll have new thoughts, other memories, different feelings to fit in.

Of course it will be that way. That’s why I made that promise at the start, to do my very best to keep this as succinct as possible. Fortunately, I didn’t bet money on whether or not I’d keep that promise.

So let’s wrap it up then, shall we? Perhaps a simple ‘thank you’ will do.

Thank you, David Bowie. Thank you, David Jones. Thank you Thin White Duke, Ziggy, Cracked Actor, Man Who Sold the World, Lazarus…. thank you so much for everything. Too bad you didn’t turn out to be like that last namesake. I think the only person who wouldn’t have surprised me by coming back would have been you.

You didn’t turn out to be immortal like the Supermen of whom you sang. Honestly, it shakes me to my very core to know you’re actually, definitively gone.

So…in the end, you really were human after all.

Well you know what? I think that makes you even cooler.

Somehow, you’ve managed to become even more inspirational than you already were.

Look Up Here, I’m in Heaven

My wife told me this morning as she left for work & I still slept, and I fell back asleep, fell right into a dream where I was living in a tiny, crowded artists’ commune somewhere in the row houses of Pennsylvania on a steep slope where we had to hang the laundry to dry and there was this older man at the table with two different colored eyes and he made us promise we wouldn’t tell.

He is still & always will be at the table of every group of people imagining a more beautiful world.

 

 

 

 

Thanks from the weird kids, Mr. Bowie. We wouldn’t have had half a chance without you.

And these children that you spit on – as they try to change their worlds – are immune to your consultations – they’re quite aware of what they’re going through

His final video speaks volumes.

When Your Wife Becomes Your Husband

There’s a nice article by Roni Jacobson in New York magazine just now about men who stay with trans masculine partners; I was interviewed for it but it is mostly an interview with the guys of the blog Accidentally Gay.

Here are some highlights:

After Jello transitioned, did it make you think about your personal identity any differently? Do you think of yourself as gay now?

Lucky: I have a hard time thinking of myself as gay because I’ve kind of felt this way the whole time. That’s the one thing I have a hard time with with the LGBT community. I don’t know how to fit in.

Jello: You were worried people wouldn’t accept you.

Lucky: That they would call me fake-gay. And there’s still that. Sometimes we’ve had occasional weirdness.

Jello: Sometimes gay men are not that accepting. Go figure.

Where did you encounter that attitude?
Lucky: The first time was at this support group for trans people and their partners. Weirdly enough, from some of the lesbian partners of trans women. They were nice enough. No one has been outright rude.

Jello: It’s usually the frozen smile and this kind of pulling back from accepting you. I wanted to meet other trans guys. Which turns out is not easy to find. It was mostly older trans women and a couple genderqueer kids. I love the genderqueer kids. Genderqueer kids are, like, so accepting.

More accepting than the trans women and their partners?
Jello: Yes.

Lucky: Oh, yeah. Absolutely.

Jello: Older people sometimes have a really hard time with us. Most groups tend to be mostly transgender ladies. And transgender ladies, I think they need more support anyways, because society is crap and nasty to trans women. I think there was some frustration, too, like some ladies in the group had serious losses of partners, and here I come trotting in with a handsome man. Because the fact is that most partners don’t stay. And here I am. I end up winning the lotto with a dude that’s willing to be gay for me. I don’t think they wanted to invest in him because they didn’t think he was gonna stay. We were asking for resources [for people with FTM partners], and we looked and we literally could not find anything.

Lucky: Almost everyone I talk to in this community, their spouse is female. I’ve never met a guy who has stayed with a transitioning spouse. It’s all women who are staying with their partners.

China!

I’ll be out of town – out of the country, in fact – until Saturday, 12/19, and will have limited access to email, Facebook, and the rest.

 

Teaching While White

I’ve been thinking a lot about race and racism in the classroom, about microaggressions and why anti racist activism is needed now more than ever. We’ve been having more of a conversation about it at my own university, so I decided to write up a list of the kinds of things I do and think about when it comes to teaching.

This is a working document, not final, but I think it gets at a lot of the issues that trip me and others up when creating a racially inclusive classroom.

I also want to reiterate, in no uncertain terms, that these thoughts do not reflect the thoughts or policy of the university which employs me, but only represent my own personal thoughts on the topic. (There is a reason, after all, that I have not named said university.)

Thoughts on Creating an Inclusive Classroom: Focus on Race – Helen Boyd Kramer

  1. When presenting art or music or literature that is racist, there are hugely different ways to do so. Version 1: “Here’s some racist art but we’re going to focus on the brush strokes/melodies and not talk about how racist it is” is NOT going to do the trick. “Here’s some racist art and let’s talk about why it’s racist, what makes it racist, and what it means that this kind of art is still hung in museums and galleries while black artists still struggle to be taken seriously.”
  1. Talk about how you, as a teacher and scholar, negotiate whatever kinds of art may be oppressive to you personally. Ask yourself, if you’ve never thought about it: as a woman, how do I negotiate references to rape and sexism? As a gay man, how do I address homophobia in culture? As a Jewish person, how do I negotiate anti-semitism? I don’t mean in your life, but in the ways that as a person who has studied subjects wide and deep: talk to students about how you have decided to make sense of how upsetting it can be to discover these kinds of microaggressions in the work of artists you personally love, and how it’s more upsetting precisely because you love them otherwise.
  1. I use this statement on my syllabi these days:

Safe Space/Trigger Warnings: Due to the nature of the reading material, I will issue no trigger warnings about specific readings, precisely because any or all of this material may be difficult. That said, I am more than willing to excuse you if necessary, although you will have to do a make-up assignment/readings. My intention, and the intention of most gender studies courses, is to address issues that cause oppression and violence in order to empower and create change. In order to do so, it is vital that we discuss, research, and analyze these topics but that we do so from an intellectual, not an emotional, place. That said, do make time to process, make appointments with counselors, or otherwise find support if any of these topics are deeply personal and troubling.

Finally, an educational atmosphere cannot be safe space in the truest sense, but I do ask that you follow these four rules:

  • Assume the best intentions.
  • Don’t assume you’re more right than anyone else in the room.
  • Listen to learn.
  • Criticize ideas, not people.
  1. Take trauma seriously. When introducing those rules, I usually talk about how some kinds of trauma aren’t well represented; that people assume TWs are always about sexual assault when in fact articles about lynching, transphobia, gay bashing, etc., are also triggers for students. I tend to talk more personally about how, as a NYer who lived through 9/11, I have to gird myself when it comes up even in intellectual spaces – and that it’s been a decade since that happened, and yet I will be not quite right for a few days after the topic comes up when I wasn’t expecting it. Relate. Try to. Figure out a way to understand what trauma is, how it feels to the traumatized, and remember that everyone relates to trauma differently.
  1. If you’re white, assume you’re racist. I often tell my students that flat out – that the first important step for any white ally is to acknowledge that we are all raised to be racist – if not by our family of origin, by our culture. Admit out loud to students that you are aware of some of the racism you were raised with, and that you know becoming less so is a process but a good goal. You can always use Peggy McIntosh’s “Invisible Knapsack” article if you’re not sure how to go about acknowledging skin privilege: https://www.deanza.edu/faculty/lewisjulie/White%20Priviledge%20Unpacking%20the%20Invisible%20Knapsack.pdf
  1. Accept that race doesn’t exist but that racism does. Race doesn’t exist biologically, genetically, or in any other scientific way; that race is a social construction that has helped people organize and categorize other human beings, usually in a way that oppresses, enslaves, or disempowers them. If you believe there is something innately different between you and a black person, you haven’t done your reading. Check out Coates: http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2013/05/what-we-mean-when-we-say-race-is-a-social-construct/275872/
  1. If you’re white, learn something about the Four Enlargements of Whiteness, and find out if any of your own ancestry wasn’t considered white at some point. The definition of Whiteness has changed over time in the US, so much so that Irish Americans and Italian Americans, Jewish Americans, were not considered white at some points in history. This helps demonstrate that whiteness is (realness, Americanness) – a social construction. Here’s Abagond on the Fourth Englargement: https://abagond.wordpress.com/2014/06/26/the-fourth-enlargement-of-american-whiteness/ or you can check out Painter’s History of White People itself: http://www.amazon.com/History-White-People-Irvin-Painter/dp/0393339742
  1. Read a LOT more by black authors. I recommend Abagond and Black Girl Dangerous (online). Make sure you’ve read at least some of the basics of black literature / critical race theory (variable list, but I’ll add mine at the end). My short list: Malcolm X’s Speeches at Harvard, Ellison’s Invisible Man, James Baldwin’s everything and anything, Nella Larsen’s Passing and/or Quicksand, something by Toni Morrison, Teaching to Transgress by bell hooks (along with many others of hers), Said’s Orientalism, Franz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth.
  1. Be aware of stereotype threat – what it is, how it works. See Claude Steele’s original work and some of the follow-up research on it. Short version: Stereotype Threat is a situational experience for those in marginalized groups who are invested in a field of study but are reminded that they are often representing the group. That is, male students can fail individually. When female students fail, “girls are bad at math”. Whistling Vivaldi is the book, and here’s a short interview with Steele about it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=failylROnrY
  2. If a student says something racist in the classroom, or if you do, stop the discussion and take a minute to attend to it. Do not brush it off. Do not call the student out individually. I usually try to take a minute to say, “OK, did we all just hear that? I’m not sure who said it but I’m sure other white people in the room were thinking something like it, so let’s not criticize the person who did say something out loud. Instead, let’s talk about what that word/expression means and why it’s not good for any of us. After class, send an email to the class as a group and invite any students who had a hard time with what was said to an office meeting to process it a little more. Black students will often say they’re okay with white students coming to said meeting, but usually they’re not. Again, ASK. I use the line “It’s all about what you need from me, so tell me what works for you.” And DO IT. Bring it up again in the next class meeting; remind the whole class that racism is often unintentional but still very serious, and that you’re happy to spend more time discussing it privately with anyone who needs to talk more.
  1. When you’re coming to do a topic that may be difficult for some students, give counseling services a heads up, and let your students know that you have. I do this whenever we do readings on sexual assault, lynching, homophobia, transphobia. You don’t need to know if anyone sees a counselor about these issues raised in class, but they do appreciate knowing you’re aware that this material can be emotionally hard. Again, as in my “Not a Trigger Warning” statement, I remind them that while we discuss things intellectually in the classroom, there are emotional ramifications – some expected, some unexpected – that may result, and that’s normal – just not for the classroom.
  1. Don’t be scared of your black students, and don’t assume they are all the same. They come with a huge range of life experiences, world views, ways of dealing with being black in America. Never ask a black person what they think about gangs, drugs, Spike Lee, jazz, or whatever is unconsciously coded as “black” in your head. Maybe sit down and think about what things you think are “black” so that you are aware of that. Also, don’t be surprised when they love Adele or some other white performer. White people like black music, black people like white music. Tolstoy was the Tolstoy of the Zulus, after all (Coates).
  1. Simultaneously, do recognize that your student IS black. Pretending to be “post racial” or “colorblind” is wildly insulting. You are disappearing an important and significant aspect of a person by pretending you don’t “see” race or ethnicity. People are proud of where they’re from no matter where they’re from.
  1. Be okay with being ignorant. Believe me, don’t fake it. If you haven’t read anything by a person of the student’s cultural group, just SAY THAT. Most of us aren’t well versed in queer chicana art and if your student is, they’re happy to tell you what they know and love about it. Meet up with them during office hours to get recommendations. But also, read more, expose yourself to more. Remember as white people we are deprived of whole schools of art, music, literature, and history; we should feel robbed that we only know the works and world view of white people. So boring. Which goes with…
  1. Get comfortable with discomfort. It’s okay not to know things. Most people don’t. As faculty we have a tendency to know everything, or know someone who does, and to intellectualize emotional responses. But race is an uncomfortable topic for white people. Being aware of race isn’t about feeling guilty or anything like it: it’s about stepping up to make the world a little less racist, and that’s all it is. Recognizing privilege goes a long way toward that goal.
  1. Validate your students when they come to tell you something racist happened, whether it was on College Ave, in another class, or at home. Validate that they felt hurt. Telling students to toughen up, or “it could be worse” or anything like that just lets them know you’re not the one to talk to. Don’t equate your experience of oppression with theirs – “because I’m a woman I understand” but do tell them you’re sorry racism happens and that you recognize how hurtful it can be to experience.
  1. If they confront you over something you did, check with The Toe Rule – when someone tells you that you stepped on their toe, you just say sorry: you don’t explain why you did, you don’t get upset with them, you don’t ask for evidence that you did, and you don’t tell them to be nicer about it. You just apologize.
  1. Learn to appreciate the scare quote, or air quotes, to indicate words or phrases that are unacceptable or suspect to you but that authors may use otherwise. As a white person, don’t ever say the N word out loud. Just don’t. It’s not yours. My general rule of thumb is that if a word has a history of violence, and you’re not someone who would experience that violence right after hearing it, don’t use it. “Faggot” or “dyke” isn’t for straight people. The N word isn’t for white people to use. “Bitch” or “Cunt” by men. You get the idea.
  1. Don’t assume someone who doesn’t look __________ isn’t ____________. Lots of black people “look white” (whatever we mean by that) and so do multiracial students. Don’t ask African American students where their people are from because slavery means they usually don’t know. Simultaneously, asking anyone where they are from, especially where they’re “really” from, is a microaggression unless there’s a good reason for it. If anything about the way you’re asking implies “I’m white and American, but you don’t seem to be” you’re doing it wrong.
  1. Whenever you see the term “politically correct” replace it with “treating people with respect and using terminology for them and their identity that they prefer”.

The Toe Rule for Allies

I’ve been working on trans issues as a non-trans person for long, long time, and there’s really one rule that I find the most useful. Not that I’ve always managed it, but still.

Here’s the deal: when you step on someone’s toe and they say “OW, damn, you stepped on my toe!”, your response is not:

“Why was your toe there?”

“I hardly stepped on it!”

“But I didn’t mean to!”

or even

“Why are you using that tone with me?”

No, when you step on someone’s toe you say “I’m sorry.”

So when you’re called out for being a dick in whatever way – and believe me, I’ve been called out a gazillion times – you check with the toe rule. If you’re responding initially with anything but “I’m sorry, what did I do?” then you’re not responding right.

That doesn’t mean the charge is always just. It doesn’t mean you meant to step on that person’s toe, or that you did it maliciously, or that you make a habit of stepping on people’s toes. You just did, and it’s better to say sorry and sort out the rest later.

Fun Home Lecture

fun home

A few days ago I gave a lecture on Alison Bechdel’s graphic novel Fun Home for the first year students at Lawrence, and while I dme and oscaron’t have a video, I do have this audio, so if you’re interested in some of the LGBTQ history that’s tucked away in the book, or in the basics of queer theory, do give it a listen.

#TDOR List?

Has anyone seen an updated list of names for this year’s TDOR? A few people have asked, and the “official” one stops listing people in March.

Anyone?

WI Trans Bathroom Bill – Contact Your Legislators

AB 469 is back on the schedule, dammit. This is the bill that wants to undo local ordinances that will overturn local ordinances that allow trans students to use the correct bathroom.

It’s been scheduled for a hearing next Thursday, November 19th.

Sign the petition/contact your lawmakers here.

With just over a week before the hearing, please take a minute right now – and it really only takes a minute – to contact your lawmakers and let them know you oppose this harmful, unnecessary proposal.

It is our responsibility to care for and protect all Wisconsin students. Instead, this bill treats a group of young people with suspicion and fear, adding to existing and harmful stigma.

There are myriad serious issues facing our state and our communities. Our lawmakers in Madison should be focused on bills that will improve the lives of Wisconsinites.

Last week, hundreds of you took a moment to email your lawmakers; that’s a great start, but we can’t let up now.

Email your lawmakers right now, with just a few easy steps. Click here to get started.

When lawmakers meet on this bill next week, it is essential that they know where we stand – and we stand in strong opposition to this bill and any other that will lead to discrimination against the LGBT community.

Houston, We Have a Problem

An amazing non discrimination ordinance in Houston was just struck down due to a paid-for campaign that focused, once again, on fear mongering: that somehow laws that allow trans people to use public bathrooms are going to result in sexual assault (of cis women) in those bathrooms.

So let me quote Red Durkin here for some clarification:

If a man wants to get away with sexual assault in America, he doesn’t have to put on a dress and sneak into the women’s restroom. He just has to join a frat or a band or professional/semi-professional sports team or the police department or get promoted to manager at Wendy’s or own his own business or go to a bar, stand on the street corner, go into a grocery store, star in a movie or sitcom, go to school with a woman, work with a woman, go on a date with a woman, live next door to a woman, deny the charges after the fact or, generally speaking, do anything EXCEPT disguise the fact that he’s a man in America.

And, I’ll add, there is no evidence whatsoever that any man who wanted to commit sexual assault did so by wearing women’s clothes and using the ladies’ room, and none, either, that any trans woman or crossdresser or GNC person has.

Sorry, Houston. I’m sure you’ll come back bigger and better and stronger as a result. In the meantime, because trans men who have not changed gender markers on their ID are now legally required to use women’s rooms, there’s a call for them to do so.

In the meantime, public hearings on a similar law in Wisconsin have been postponed.

Dia de los Muertxs

Such a gorgeous way to mourn and celebrate those we’ve lost.

(The x is there as it’s being used to degender the heavily gendered romance languages. You’ll see Latinxs a lot, too.)

Oh, Ms. Greer

I’ve been doing work with and for trans women for about 15 years now. Arguably, I have met more trans women than most people on this planet. Older transitioners, young transitioners, passing, non-passing, those who pursue medical options, those who don’t, very feminine trans women, butch trans women, trans women who had children before they transitioned, trans women who had children after transition, trans women who are partnered to men, or to women, or to neither.

And the thing I tell most audiences at the outset is this: once you know one trans person, you know one trans person, & that is all you know.

So Germaine Greer has met a few trans women and she has made a decision about all trans women, and she has decided that trans women are not women. She has also clarified that she did not say this to prohibit trans women from getting surgery or other medical treatment, and also clarified that she thinks people who chose Jenner for the cover of Glamour were motivated by misogyny.

I am going to give her the benefit of the doubt and assume she is not making such a sweeping statement based on personal and anecdotal evidence. After that, we have only biology and theory as lines of reasoning for what a woman is. Let’s start with biology.

Here is what I think: trans women are not just women. They are female. This is a hang-up on the part of many feminists who are still stuck in some world where biology is destiny (oh, the irony!). Because if ‘woman’ is a social construct, and deBeauvoir was right, we become women by living as women in the world, by facing oppression based on gender. For some women, that social conditioning starts with birth, because of a vagina and a doctor’s declaration. For others, it starts at 15, or 45, or 75.

Trans women are aware that they are female and are meant to have bodies that allow others to gender them correctly. Harry Benjamin, when he started working with trans women, noticed that we had tried many ways over many years to convince trans women they are not women and that not only hadn’t worked but it caused undue (& for him, anti-Hippocratic) suffering. But bodies, unlike brains, are changeable. So he designed a way to make it work.

Because definitions of sex are based on only a very few things: chromosomes (which we now know there is a panoply of chromosomal variation, not just XX & XY but XO and XXY, etc.) and hormone dominance. The combination of those two is what creates a sexed body, but we also know that bodies with vaginas sometimes come with XY chromosomes and vice versa. We also really have no goddamned good idea what part of the brain “tells” us our sex, and mostly, for those of us who are not trans, we never face a disruption between our bodies/glands/hormones and the way we are socialized. But trans people do. Some experience a crippling, brutal disruption. They experience gendered oppression internally and externally, as it were.

Which is all my way of saying: ‘female’, like ‘woman’, is also an unstable category. Its very definition is changing, has changed, due to what we know about bodies, chromosomes, hormones, and fetal development, and what we know about brain sex even moreso.

Which is what leads us to theory for a definition of woman. As a feminist, my compassion is with those who experience gendered oppression of whatever kind. My intersectional feminism respects that all women experience gendered oppression in different ways: for black women, for instance, gendered oppression is racialized. For poor women, gendered oppression is classed. For trans women, gendered oppression is transphobic.

I don’t know why Germaine Greer missed out on 30+ years of gender theory which allows her to posit that woman is a stable, universal, and identifiable category. I really don’t. It hasn’t been for a very long time. I also don’t know how she can be any kind of post structural feminist and not acknowledge that socialization is what makes a woman a woman – it is, in essence, what we raise females to be, and it is made of how we treat women, including their right to self determine, to have bodily autonomy, and to resist definitions of woman-ness that oppress and restrict them.

And I don’t know of a group of women right now who are more restricted or oppressed by someone else’s definition of ‘woman’ than trans women (except, of course, black women and lesbians and childfree women and post menopausal women). ‘Woman’ is, after all, a category of patriarchy’s making, and it pains me to see a feminist borrow tools from the master’s toolbox and call them liberation.

Germaine Greer is wrong. And her speech, whether she admits to it or not, carries a greater resonance – and a greater burden – because we expect such remarkable feminism and knowledge from her. She is not dismissable nor stupid, but she is still wrong. Because everything I know as a feminist is built on inclusion; ‘woman’ is an alliance, not an identity you choose; it is the sum of all of the parts of what it is to live in a patriarchy and to feel no power and a tremendous threat of violence if you don’t follow the rules. And if there is anyone in the world who is experiencing those things right now, it is trans women. She is not just upsetting people by saying what she says. She is giving those who hate trans women permission to make their lives more miserable. And there is nothing, NOTHING, feminist about asserting the rights of the oppressors over the dignity and value of the oppressed.

Her stance is not just harmful and illogical but more than anything else it seems spiteful, exclusive, and lacking in compassion. It is not my feminism, and no feminist worth her salt would exclude other women based on how good or how bad they are at being women. And she is doing exactly that. Let her fade; let her be remembered for the good work she did do when she was still keeping up with the reading and while her fire was lit for ending oppression and not causing more of it.

There is nothing to see here. Ms. Greer has left the building.

WI Book Fest – Resources

Awi book fest trio (2)s promised, a few of the resources I promised to people who came to the Love, Always reading yesterday at A Room of One’s Own.

My online group for partners of trans people: https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/engender_partners/info

Our online forum for trans people and their partners, friends, family, and allies: http://www.myhusbandbetty.com/community/index.php

You also might want to check my posts tagged resources and/or trans partners.
(Photo credit to Violet Wang)