Sunday, October 19, 2014

Friendsbea* [WARNING: mature content]

I recently downloaded a dating app called Friendsy on my phone with the hopes of finding romance.  The app does not allow you to fill out any sort of profile, only upload up to six photographs and answer several demographic questions.  The first question, of course, asks for your gender, but they strangely (1) only give two options instead of a, say, fill-in-the-blank, and (2) don't even provide actual gender categories, electing sexual ones instead: male or female.

I begrudgingly selected female although I do not identify as either, but since at least that way people would be closer to understanding who I am.  In other similar dating apps/websites, I make sure to publicly identify as trans where I can, to avoid the hassle that this app has very quickly provided me.

Last evening, I began speaking with one handsome young gentleman a couple years my junior.  The conversation began normally, nicely, and eventually got to the point where I had to have the dreaded reveal.

The following is an almost direct transcription (edited slightly for typos and clarity) of the conversation from the moment I claimed my identity.  It is a perfect example of how never to speak to trans people.  If any of you notice any similarities between his diction and how you have spoken about these issues (either directly to transgender people or not), please note that he never once exercised kindness nor political correctness.  I will refer to him as A (for asshole, obviously) and myself as B (also obviously).

B: Friendsy does not have a very ample understanding of gender so I put female because it's closer to true but I identify as transgender

B: Which a stupid amount of people have problems with

A: Wait wait so you're a dude

B: No

B: And that is a prime example of how not to speak to trans ppl

B: I am a lady

B: I use feminine pronouns

B: My ID documents all say female

B: Referring to me as a dude is injurious to my dignity

A: Idk

A: I'm from Texas we don't have that

B: Yes

B: Yes you do

B: Please stop treating me like another species

B: I am a human being

B: I am not a that

B: If you're done insulting me I think I'll go

A: Will you chill when you say transgender I think that you are a male turned female

B: Ok that's the problem

B: You're goin off what you think

B: Instead of what I'm telling you

B: It's my life

B: I'm the expert

A: So what's the deal

A: Are you a girl

A: Or a boy turned girl

B: Neither

B: You're being simplistic and reductive

B: Take a gender studies class

B: I am not here to teach you

B: I'm here to find a date or a fuck buddy or something

B: Not explain myself to ignorant people

B: You're more than welcome to read my blog

B: Which is a proper venue for educating yourself on these issues

B: transposingpearls.blogspot.com

B: But be a fucking decent human being next time around

A: What the fuck do you mean

A: If you're a boy fucking tell me

A: I can't hook up/ go on a date with a dude

A: If it's not heterosexual I can't deal

B: Did I say I was a boy? Did I say I was a dude?

B: No

A: Idk you said transgender

B: I said very plainly I am a transgender lady

B: LADY

A: Do you mean bi sexual

A: I can do THAT

B: You are now systematically insulting me

A: Jesus lady

A: You are sensitive

B: No

B: You're just incredibly rude

A: Am not

A: Come over and we can hash this out

B: Why the fuck would I ever want to meet up with you now?

B: I'm sorry I don't fit into your nice little packaged idea of sexuality

A: Sorry for checking to see if you were a girl

B: Not interested

A: You said transgender

B: I am not a boy

B: I am not a girl

B: I am not male

B: I am not female

B: I am feminine

B: I am transfeminine

B: I am a lady

B: I am a translady

B: You may refer to me as she

B: Happy?

A: Okay so you were born a girl and just are bisexual

B: No

B: You are not listening

B: Your narrow-mindedness is frankly astonishing

B: Have I even mentioned my sexuality? No

B: Where do you get bisexual from?

A: Okay give me the plain Jane version

B: I just did

A: What is transgender I'm so confused

B: Transgender refers to many people with many identities

A: What were you born as

B: I was born a baby

A: Male or female

B: Why does it matter

A: Umm one makes me gay the other doesn't

B: If you have sex with a lady

B: How does that make you gay?

B: Also

B: What's wrong with being gay anyway

B: Plain Jane version

B: I am a queer, Christian, transgender, white, creative, redheaded poet, activist, playwright, and lady

B: I am able bodied and middle class

B: I am a younger sibling

B: I like to run and bicycle

B: My parents are married

B: My biggest fear is losing my memory

B: And my body is none of your fucking business

A: Well move the fuck around

B: Honey I was just answering your question

B: I moved the fuck around 20 minutes ago

B: I really hope you do check out my blog

B: xo

A: Fuck outta here

Although I obviously could have treated him with more respect and fewer expletives, I was also blown away by the fact that each time I thought I had made a solidly clear point he only retreated further into nonsense.

The impetus should not be on us as transgender individuals to have to explain and defend our existence in every space of our lives.  The necessity is exhausting.  I am personally working on establishing an overall less defensive mindset, because it frequently prevents me from enjoying my life to the fullest. Unfortunately, interactions like this make that harder.

Relevant musings:

  • In what world could cisgender people actively educate themselves on trans identities and issues?
  • white people on identities and issues of people of color? 
  • straight people on queer people? 
  • men on women? 
  • the wealthy on the impoverished? 
  • the able-bodied on the disabled? 
  • Christians on everyone else?

But even more concerning:

  • Since when do privileged people of any kind like to acknowledge the things that have helped them in life over others?
  • Since when do we thank the circumstances into which we were born as opposed to our own supposed intellect, or talent, or shrewdness?

I am at an impasse.  It seems to me the solution to the problem is one that can never naturally come about in this society.  It seems to run contrary to the ways capitalism has taught us to think, and short of proposing anarchy, I am at a loss for answers.

All I can ask is please.  Please educate yourselves.  Please remember where you came from and where those around you came from.  Remember and be cognizant of what is necessarily different and seek and what is the same.  Embrace them both.  It is not a loud revolution that I suggest; it does not trumpet from the ramparts with exploding cannons; it is quiet; it is simple; it is the slow accumulation of doing the right thing; it is human.

For now, I have undermined the heterosexist regime that is Friendsy by adding a photo to my profile of the following phrase:

I am transfeminine
and not interested
in your ignorance

Monday, October 13, 2014

On the Occasion of My One-Year Transiversary, Pt. IV: Bea*hold

One year ago today I stood on the top of a hill somewhere deep in the Andes and wept.  I wept because I had actually considered the possibility that maybe the way my life was meant to be lived was worthless, or at least impossible, and I wept because I had hope that maybe I was wrong.

If I could go back in time and give advice or encouragement to me one year ago, I don't know that I would.  I think me now is hell of a lot stronger and more resourceful for having to relearn how to live without much in the way of examples.  If I could go back in time and give advice or encouragement to me one year ago, I don't know that I could.  Me one year ago looks different and talks different and doesn't know nearly so much.  She hasn't written hundreds of pages of poems and essays and plays because she hasn't experienced the hurt and the joy that will demand them to be written.  She hasn't yet lived.  She hasn't yet learned how to be.

And as I look ahead now towards another year forward, I realize with a dawning certainty that even me now has a long way to go, that she has no idea where life will take her anymore.  The compass has cracked; the road maps have gone up in flames. There are goals I have, of course, like going to Madrid with a Fulbright Fellowship or doing advocacy work and playwriting in Washington, D.C.  Getting married someday in a beautiful dress.  Having kids.  Growing old even though I can't even imagine what that looks like anymore.  Making a difference.  Living happy.

A year ago on another continent, a moment passed in which none of these dreams existed.  October 14th didn't exist.  Just right then.  And to think about the sheer amount of shit (good and bad and hard and lovely) that has happened since then only makes me surer to be wonderfully unsure about the rest.  My five-year plan is a solid, achievable one that I believe will fulfill me, but so were past plans and look at what happened to them.

I guess what I'm saying is to plan for the future while by living in the present.  Be open to the things that scare you.

It's worked out pretty damn well for me thus far.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

On the Occasion of My One-Year Transiversary, Pt. III: The Long Lament of Unbea*longing

/ /

I left Jujuy on a bus on the evening of Tuesday, October the 15th, and arrived back in Buenos Aires, exhausted, a full twenty-four hours later, on Wednesday, October the 16th.

I took a taxi to my host mom's apartment.  As the driver swiftly weaved through the streets of Retiro, Recoleta, and Palermo, I marveled at the city where I had by that time lived for two and a half months.  It was familiar, of course, yet in so seemed strange: I felt as though I had been gone much longer than just eight days and the change I experienced in that small time made the old city seem new once more.

After dinner I retreated to my bedroom to Skype with my parents, and two days later, again with my brother.  They all received the news well and without too much surprise; I had kept them all relatively abreast of my own observations and progressions toward the queer and feminine, and now everything had simply culminated at the end of its natural trajectory.

I published the third and final draft of the letter on my blog on Saturday, October the 19th, on my way to a trans* depathologization conference, and nearly a thousand people have read it since then.

At about five in the morning on Sunday, November the 10th, I returned home after a long night of dancing after La Marcha de Orgullo, wearing a dress.  I had not done this before.  Although she had been fairly supportive until this point, especially for someone who was really out of touch with this side of life (I frequently had to remind her of what the LGBT acronym consisted), my host mother forbade me ever do it again, for the sake of her reputation with her neighbors.  When I explained to her that it was degrading to my humanity to “just wait three more weeks,” as she had suggested, she did not budge.  I arranged to move to another host family's house for my remaining time and told her in frank language the ways in which she hurt me.  A crack appeared in the vase in my chest.  We never said goodbye.

On Monday, December the 2nd, my older brother Andrew landed in Argentina, followed by my parents on Friday, December the 6th.  I had not seen them in four months.  It was comfortable in its bickering familiarity; it was awkward in that the name they had used for decades had shifted, and the pronouns had amassed an s.  They came to learn, slowly.

I flew home to Chicago on Monday, December the 23rd and arrived on Christmas Eve.  It had been in the 90s in Buenos Aires, which didn't exactly lend itself to the seasonal spirit.  I owned two dresses and only foundation for makeup.  I was shaving every day.  I was excited to return back to my college campus and re-meet all my friends, as it were.  The winter awaited.  On New Years' Eve, I saw the first of my friends, wearing what was now my third dress.  They were happy to see me, they treated me normally, but I felt out of place amongst them, these people that loved but did not look like me.  I missed my trans family back in Buenos Aires.

Throughout the third coldest Chicago winter ever and the slow thaw that followed, amidst excelling at classes and actively involving myself in extracurricular activities, the vase in my chest kept cracking: I played a ciswoman and a transwoman in the very same play and loved it, but the relationship experience I drew on for those characters was already getting dusty, because the only boy who expressed an interest in me since coming out as trans quickly and without explanation retreated into hatred; I met Laverne Cox and dozens of other wonderful trans people at the Trans 100 and felt empowered and beautiful and part of something bigger and I went home to an empty apartment that couldn't tell me how to feel anything but alone and so I went online until I found someone who could come over at four in the morning and tell me for me; I told my story for a documentary and in doing so felt cathartic, until I returned into the world and its instances of street harassment, and thereafter considered suicide; I fought and I fell; I pulled myself up with the love of my family—both blood and forged—and the recognition that it would only be by pulling up and continuing to fight that living would happen at all from now on.

Other things that happened: CeCe McDonald was finally released from prison; a trans actor actually portrays a trans character on television, and I'm not talking about Laverne Cox; Laverne Cox was featured on the cover of TIME Magazine and Martine Rothblatt was featured in NYMag; Tiq Milan got married and it was real fucking cute; Obama signed ENDA, which did not only affect gay people, like many publications claimedAustralia, India, and Denmark passed more progressive legislation in regards to trans folk, following the examples of South Africa, the UK, Spain, New Zealand, Argentina, Germany, and South Korea; a 15-year-old transgender girl was stabbed in the back for riding a train while trans.  Alejandra Leos, 41, was shot outside her home and misidentified by Memphis police as a man.  Her killer was apprehended.  Tiffany Edwards was shot to death outside Cincinatti and subsequently misgendered in local newspapers, as was Cemia Dove, 20, stabbed to death near Cleveland and left in a pond to rot a year before.  Cemia's killer has been found; Tiffany's killer turned himself in while pleading the infamous trans panic.  Zoraida Reyes, 28, Anaheim, unknown cause of death, unknown killer.  Kandy Hall, 40, Baltimore, massive trauma, unknown killer.  Yaz'min Shancez, 31, Fort Myers, burned (either alive or after having been murdered via other means), unknown killer.  Mia Henderson, Baltimore, unknown killer.

When Chicago finally emerged from hibernation, I instead fled to Berlin and met and interviewed many trans people.  I felt comparatively comfortable riding the train alone at night in a dress without a bra.  A month into the trip I hung out with my flatmate and her group of friends, and realized that the reason I felt strange was that it was my first time hanging out with a group of people that were not primarily trans.  I did not feel abnormal always.

I traveled south through Eastern Europe (I have now been to a total of nine countries in my life, and all of them in the past year since coming out as trans) as a man for safety's sake, but ended up coming out to someone in each country along the way.

I came home again, excited to be somewhere again where they speak the same language I do, and was street harassed within six hours of touching down at O'Hare International Airport.  I missed my trans family back in Buenos Aires.  I missed my trans family back in Berlin.  I moved into a new apartment, one that did not have to tell me how to feel anything but alone because I now had a roommate and kitten.  I tried to surround myself with people.  School started once more.

And now that we arrived safely at Wednesday, October the 8th, one day before I turn twenty-two years old and one year after leaving on a bus for the Andes, we return to the present tense. Now, I question the utility of sitting in a class discussing poetry and Judith Butler when I think about the work I could be doing in a trans rights organization in Washington, D.C.  Now, I try to focus on my homework, on my blog and poems, on my one-lady play.  I try not to think about how long it's been since I've been kissed, or the stupid shit guys have been saying to me on dating apps lately.  Now, I try not to think about how the trans women and transfeminine people who love men are largely untouchable, because our society has not yet created a space for girls like us to be publicly loved by those men—only ever in secret, rather, and frequently involving a gun. I try not to think about how even today, over a year into living as a transgender lady, I am lucky to see someone who looks like me one day out of each month.  I try not to think about how many people do and will not even recognize me as a human being because, as Judith Butler usefully and in rarely plain language points out, we only ever enter into our own humanity with the assignment of a gender, exemplified in the doctor's infamous phrase “It's a girl!,” so for those of us who live as neither boys nor girls, but rather something that is at once both and neither, we are instead left to abjection and violence, much less feeling beautiful, beloved, and worthy, even in places where people tell us that we are.  I try to be human.  I try to remind people that I am not so different, that I hurt in the ways that they do.  I try not to hurt so much.

* * *

A couple queer/trans people have contacted me in the last few days in times of crisis.  The accumulated stress of being necessarily closeted in certain spaces—family, the workplace—had produced sensations of helplessness and degradation in them, sensations with which I am all too familiar.

When LJ first messaged me upon reading my blog they commended my bravery, then proceeded to detail several spaces in which they could not be themselves. “When we are ourselves, especially in the queer community,” they wrote, “we break rules, we break boundaries, and if we don't, we end up breaking ourselves.”

“But I'm not the only brave one,” I wrote back, and later reiterated to a second friend after they had gotten through a particularly emotionally upsetting night. “While you may not be able to tell certain people things you'd like to tell them at this specific point in your life, just remember that you've already told the most important person, and that's yourself.  So much of queer and trans identities requires a life's worth of unlearning everything we've been taught as natural and true, and then learning new things on top of it.  The ground opens up beneath us and the world is completely changed and we are completely changed in relation to it.  Family and friends and coworkers and everyone are important, of course, but for any one of us to admit that to ourselves, let alone to ANYONE else, that is already a victory.  That is already survival.  You're doing it.  I'm doing it.  Everyone who identifies anything like we do is doing it. I have faith in you and everyone else because we've already done the hard part.  The greener pasture is fucking hard sometimes but it's also fucking greener.  We've already won.”

The vase in my chest is mending.

Tomorrow I am twenty-two.

/ /

Sunday, October 5, 2014

On the Occasion of My One-Year Transiversary, Pt. II: Bea*sons I Climbed the Mountain

/ /

In the morning I ate breakfast (cereal and tostadas with dulce de leche) and wrote the first draft of my coming out letter.  I sent it to five of my closest friends and went on what was now a very poorly timed first date with an Argentine guy I met on OkCupid (it was fine, we got coffee, we never spoke again) and then to Spanish class.  I carried on through my days as if a universe wasn't creating itself from the space dust in my mind.

By the time Tuesday rolled around (and now it is October the 8th), I had revised the letter and sent it to sixteen more people. I was itching to publish it on my study abroad blog and just get it over with already, but I waited.  Something still wasn't right about the identity, and I thought I might figure it out in the Andes.

At about seven or eight that evening, I boarded an overnight bus at the Estación Retiro headed for San Miguel de Tucumán, a city in the Northwest region of Argentina.  I was headed for the Salta and Jujuy provinces, a vast and diverse desert through which the Andes run.  For the following week I was to hike and write and travel and pray, spending each night in a different town as I worked my way farther and farther up toward Paraguay.

When I awoke on the bus in the morning (Wednesday, October the 9th) it was already my twenty-first birthday.  I had left my native city and country, and now even left the new city I was calling my home.  With my new gender identity only six days old, I had embarked on an adventure through the mountains. There was no going back.  I neither saw anyone that I knew nor had a single drink of liquor that day, but I hiked to the top of a hill and screamed “SOY ELLA” down into the valley and then bought myself a few rings.

On the fifth day of the trip (October the 13th—a Sunday, fittingly), I arrived at the farthest north point in my expedition in the tiny town of Iruya, population 1,070, but that on this day held many more for an enormous and annual religious festival. Blue tarp tents filled the valley with those who had come. People were looking at me strangely the whole day, and not only for the uncommon color of my skin.  My transfemininity was already seeping outward like a glow I could not control, and so I went hiking alone.

By then I had grown weary of this impossible revelation: if my life was to change in a self-actualizing evolution, then why was I still so unhappy?  The substance that had by now circulated through the entirety of my veins and arteries and made itself a home in my body still felt everything like light, but still something like poison as well.  I felt sick constantly, scared of the shit that was surely awaiting.  I thought about how deeply discontented I had always been living as the wrong person, and I thought about much easier that was.  There was no one around, now, just me, the mountain, the Lord, and the wondering what would happen if I were to fall and no one came to look for me, if life stopped here, on the brink on something big and never stepping over.

And as I reached the top of a hill (the mountain still stretching far above me), the lingering unease dissipated with the swooping alight of another revelation, one that explained the years of chasing after men for all the wrong reasons; for trying to vomit when the food and fear of Something was all too fucking much; for trying to make myself into many things, none of which I ever was, nor could be, and hating myself when I couldn't; for being small; for being wrong; for being that which is not; for not being; for needing to stop—I stopped.

Compressing and quelling my transgender identity for twenty-one-years-minus-six-days had disastrously ruined any semblance of self-worth in my psyche, a trauma from which I am still and slowly recovering.  But as I stood there, in the sun, I finally saw that I had blamed this familiar and unknown force for so very much in my life when really, all she wanted to do was to be.  To bea.

When I came down the mountain I revised the letter one last time, scratching out entire paragraphs and adding entire new ones.  I will keep those three heavily edited papers forever.

I finished my empanadas, my bottle of Malbec.  I looked out over little Iruya at night—not so well lit now, still noisy from the religious revelers, protected above by a glittering dome of all the stars you never see in Chicago.  I went to bed.

Tomorrow I would begin my slow return southeast, toward Buenos Aires.  Toward real life, toward coming out.  Toward a life that did not end on a mountain, but rather began.  No longer on the brink.

I was already living in the something big.

/ /

Thursday, October 2, 2014

On the Occasion of My One-Year Transiversary, Pt. I: Scratches Bea*neath the Surface

One year ago today, I was lying awake in bed at about four in the morning in the small bedroom of my host mom’s apartment in Alto Palermo, Buenos Aires, Argentina—a room whose femininely floral wallpaper was in just a couple of minutes going to be quite apt.

I wasn’t doing well.

This was the third or fourth night that week I had stayed up that late. I was still heartbroken over the end of what had been a deeply fulfilling relationship with a boy who had loved the parts of me that I didn’t know could be. He had only broken up with me twenty-eight days beforehand, on my parents’ wedding anniversary, and although my best friend on my study abroad program took me to get our nails done that Friday, and although I was in Argentina, and seeing and doing things I had never seen nor done—like working with transgender sex workers and dancing the tango, for starters—and although I told him when we Skyped that Thursday that it must, in fact, be for the best, I missed him. I had started laying the plethora of my host mom’s pillows alongside me when I slept just to remember what it felt like to have a human being breathing and wanting beside me, but even so, I was running out of things to hold onto.

Something else was nagging me too. As part of the Gender Studies Concentration I was completing as part of my program I was interning with Capicüa, a local LGBT grassroots organization. There were buena gente, all of them, and truly became a family for me while I was gone. I had chosen Capicüa to work with after reading about Argentina’s Ley de identidad de género, which enables transgender Argentines to legally change their sex on all their documents instantly, for free, and with no medical and/or psychological requirements. I was intrigued by the incredibly Catholic country that had somehow passed the most progressive law for transgender citizens globally. As a Gender Studies major, as a Christian, and as someone who had recently started identifying as genderqueer (I had recently for the first time seen the option when signing an online Human Rights Campaign petition, and decided it fit more than “male” or “female”) but without really knowing what it meant (but knowing that the now two times I had done drag, something strange—a familiar and unknown force of some kind—drilled an iron pipeline straight down through my ribs into the thick of something deep, dark, and small, and I felt truly beautiful for the first time), I wanted to study these Argentine transgender people, work with them, understand how it was they came into being in a country that didn’t seem like it would let them.

About half the staff of Capicüa identified as transgender, and not one of them had done all that “stuff” I had always associated with the term: hormones, surgeries, exaggeration, abjection. They were mysteriously happy, as they were, living and working and falling in love and fucking up and starting again, like anybody else, only living in the opposite gender of the one everybody told them to be when they were growing up.

But without having changed a single biological characteristic of their bodies.

* * *

When I was a sophomore in high school, I was still having crushes on girls. I emotionally pined after one after another, without ever finding reciprocation. I tried my best—with increasing failure—to ignore those irksome hormones, those that had for years already been sending me lusting after boys, which made no sense, of course, because I only liked girls.

After church youth group one Wednesday night, a realization dawned joyously on me that I had somehow developed a crush on Sam (–uel, not –amantha) over the previous weeks. The feelings I felt for him from across the basketball court or from the beaten-up sofa adjacent to his and wishing I were closer were not solely sexual, I understood. They were more. I wanted him in a full-bodied, rom-com cuteness, happily-ever-after sort of wanting.

“I can have crushes on boys?” I thought as I waited for my dad to come pick me up. “That makes everything so much fucking easier!” I didn’t have to be torn in two directions anymore, so I followed the one that fit.

The following week, I started coming out to my friends—slowly, secretly—as bisexual, and a few months later as gay. Things would never pan out with Sam but it didn’t matter in the scheme of things. I was already someone different that I didn’t know had been possible. I was thrilled.

* * *

After a few weeks of working with Capicüa, another very similar-feeling realization began scratching beneath the surface of the iron pipeline, pleading to be joyously dawned.

But I wasn’t quite ready for it.

* * *

At 8:43PM on Wednesday, October the 2nd, 2013 (only seven hours away from where our story begins), I began talking to a friend on GChat.

“oh i guess i should tell you something,” I typed. “i'm kind of changing my name / not legally / but like / in my life”

“to what?” asked Scott.

“b.” I said, explaining how I preferred its androgynous vibe.

“b it is,” said Scott. I thanked him.

“how are you feeling Genderwise?” he asked.

I told him about recently referring to myself with gender-neutral pronouns.

“i'm feeling pretty terrified,” I wrote. “every step i take in this direction is a terrifying one and i think about how much more comfortable is being [old name] and not shaving every other day as opposed to once a week like before”

He asked me how else these changes were manifesting themselves in my daily life. I told him about my growing hair and how I was finding new things to do with it. I told him how “i've been going through my canon of poems that i've written / and slamming them to myself / when i'm alone / but in a higher octave / just to see how they change” and how I didn’t really feel gender neutral like the pronouns I had tried but not really like a woman either, so until I had figured this conundrum out a little more I didn’t want to label it.  We left it at that.

* * *

I couldn’t tell you what transpired over the course of the next seven hours, only that by four in the morning (and by now we have moved safely into Thursday, October the 3rd), when I still hadn’t gone to bed, something inside me—the iron piping, perhaps—at long last collapsed, and amidst the rushing substance now flooding throughout my frame that felt something like poison and everything like light, I said to myself,

“Well, that’s that.”

/ /

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Bea*lin II(v): Hair // Hair


I would not have come here to Krakow—which even after less than twenty-four hours, I am loving (St. Mary’s Basilica is especially breathtaking and worth the five zloty entry)—were it not for its 70km proximity to Auschwitz-Birkenau.

Ever since I first learned about the goings-on of World War II in a history class (in fourth grade?), the Holocaust has fascinated me from afar. Perhaps it was the seemingly impossible (and certainly unfathomable) bounds of human cruelty that defied any limits moralists might have previously made. Perhaps it was not the numbers themselves (although they always astounded), but rather that they concentrated themselves so strongly within only a couple of populations—the Jews, the Gypsies, the queers—and I had already at a young age developed an incredibly aversion to the unjust (also in fourth grade?, I joined the Social Justice meeting group with my father at the church where I grew up out of half a dozen other options; the free and delicious Italian beef lunches formed an incentive, of course, but I nevertheless could ever abide injustice, even though I at that time thought I was a straight, white, middle-class cisboy who still had no real firsthand experience of the atrocity).




My brother and father—accountants now, both—recalculated our ethnic origins many times throughout my childhood. The most recently deduced division is how I now explain my genealogy: eighty percent German, twenty percent Irish; it used to be O’Sullivan and they used to pronounce the K in Knoff, but all my ancestors self-Americanized when they came. I have no idea who these people were, of course—upon my birth in 1992 I had three grandparents and zero great-grandparents (and now have none of either). My parents told me a few things about their grandparents, but I don’t even know what generation back was that which first sailed through Ellis Island.

Due to this ignorance, I did not until my arrival in Berlin really consider the distinct probability that some distant relative was surely somehow involved in the long-ago (and too recent) Holocaust, as either a victim or a perpetrator or an “innocent” bystander.

More than just in terms of blood, however, I began thinking about my queer ancestry from that era—after all, Magnus Hirschfield, the Jewish physician and sexologist who is described as the first advocate of trans rights and who, albeit an over-conflation of gender and sexuality studied the community in a supportive, helpful way (look at how far we have fallen) and in fact coined the term Transvestit that would later break itself into many smaller and more specific categories, was living and working in Berlin (not far from the Reichstag itself) when the Nazis burned down the library in his Institut für Sexualwissenschaft, and subsequently and problematically lumped all the gender-bending people who had been born as “men” into the homosexual category, stuck them with a pink triangle, and shipped them off to the camps, where even the other prisoners often discriminated (read: killed) them. Compiled with the unending examples of transphobic violence today in the media, I have internalized a hell of a lot of fear and expectation.

And so when I visited first the Holocaust memorials (the large and moving one dedicated to the Murdered Jews of Europe as well as the small afterthought for the homosexuals—which of course, is limited only to the homosexuals) and then the Jewish museum in Berlin, I wept and shook and unsuccessfully attempted to comprehend what transpired. I thought about the fact that I would have among them.




The sun came down from a nearly cloudless blue summer sky as we filed off the bus to enter Auschwitz I. It reflected brilliant off the bright green grass. One could clearly see in the leftover puddles of rainwater whatever stood above it: birch trees, cumulus beauties, the barbed wire fence. Even the rust-red brick of that camp buildings on either sides of the wide dirt-and-stone avenues seemed to say, “Welcome! Rest easy! Everything here is peaceful and good.”

Not fooled by the invitation, I instead fooled myself into spotting people that I knew: a girlfriend from school, that hot straight guy that would never go for me, my ex-boyfriend, my other ex-boyfriend. It was as if my brain knew what was coming and so wanted to find a body—anybody—that might provide some comfort in the following.

The gas chambers are bare now, or exploded; someone has stripped the false showerheads from the walls. Logically I knew that many people had died here but I did not experience the attack of panic and tragedy I had expected.

Nor did I in the barracks, if you can even call them such: dismal wood flats stacked on top of each other for sleeping and slowly starving, that each bore a seldom-used chimney, even in the freezing winters.

Not even the infamous piles of shoes in which once walked feet that had since been burned and scattered in the field, not even they really shook me as I had been in Berlin at the Memorial and now anticipated again.

That which broke me—that which reached down in betwixt my ribs and snapped a cord to my throat and sent shivers coursing over the pink skin of my pre-corpse—was the hair.

In a room on the second floor of Block 4, in a glass case inset into the entire length of a long wall, weighed a magnificent mountain of hair.  It had belonged to hundreds of thousands of people who were cremated like clockwork seventy years ago.  But their hair—that which they styled nervously before first dates and watched sorrowfully recede and grey—their hair had not lost its color.




//

Last night, I planned to have a quiet night in writing these reflections and reading my book (and let's be honest, watching Breaking Bad).  Although my hostel sponsors a pub crawl every evening and apparently everyone was going, a few hours living hidden amongst the heteronormatives in a space I'd normally want to dance and sway my feminine, feminine hips did not sound so appealing.

Nevertheless, the introductory festivities—drinking games—were fun, and the more I made friends with the two London schoolteachers to my left, the better it all seemed.  They had also been at Auschwitz that morning.

“So are you coming yet?” Anna asked, grinning as if she already knew my response.

“I don't know,” I weakly protested.

As we walked to the first pub a few minutes and shots later, I chose to tell the two how I actually identified.

“Be careful on your trip,” my mom had warned me a few days before. “You probably don't even want to tell people what you're researching, for safety's sake.”

But the combination of adrenaline, alcohol, and the real need to be with someone ignored her advice.

“So like, normally, when I go out, I'd be wearing a dress,” I said.

“Really?” asked Kayleigh.

I explained as we walked, and although they didn't fully grasp it (they later made several inaccurate references to potential conquests: “Do you think he might be gay?”) they also made no deal of it whatsoever.

By the time we reached the third establishment of the night, the combination of adrenaline, alcohol, and the unsuppressability of myself at last expressed itself in the sway of my feminine, feminine hips as I danced.

“Hang on!” I shouted over the music, removing both hair ties from the little buns on top of my head.  I ran my fingers through the red to loosen it up and whipped my neck to the beat, my locks a diving cardinal.

Anna approached me when I had a moment paused.

“This is really cute,” she shouted, adjusting my mane. “You just need a little mousse or something.”

“Really?” I was doubtful. “It's not long enough yet.”

“Sure it is!”

And for the rest of the night, I wore my growing hair down, because it is getting long, and looking good, and femme, and because for now, the pink skin of my pre-corpse is yet flushed with blood, and I am alive.



Monday, September 22, 2014

Subea*sive Thought Project

Lately I’ve started wearing bras and makeup with more consistency in order to curb the instances of street harassment I often encounter. It has worked with limited success (not even in a harassing manner, or meaning for me to hear, a teenage boy quietly asked his two friends yesterday as I passed, “Is that a boy or a girl?”).

“Neither,” I should have said. “Both.”

What are the conditions in which I can safely walk down the street, at night, alone, in a dress, with neither makeup nor bra (my assigned sex thus evident), and sing, or be joyful, or not clutch the pepper spray in my pocket, or not fear for my life still ticking?

What if I have a day in which I only want to wear shorts and a T-shirt?

What if I don’t feel like going to the trouble of putting on makeup?

What if it’s too hot for a bra?

What if (in the daytime, when it’s safe enough) I allow my transfemininity to ring true in the eyes of others simply because it exists, and not because I paint them signs along the trail to the correct usage of pronouns with an eyeliner brush?

What if people start to see that two rounded hills in the center of one’s chest do not a woman make?

What if people start to realize that the hard plain of mine does not a man make me?

What if people start to treat gender with the nonchalance of shoe size, or hair color, or height?

What if anatomical differences didn’t separate us from access to jobs, or education, or safety?

What if people thought in terms of “What is my place in the world and how am I using it justly?” and not in terms of “Fucking slut,” or, “I wouldn't have gotten raped if I had”?

What is my place in the world and how am I using it justly?

How can I do better?

Who have I forgot today?

Who have I neglected?

Who can I remember tomorrow (to say hello to, to smile at, to hold)?

Who is different than me and thus provides a different and equally valid life experience?

What can I learn?

What if we were all accountable for our own actions?

What if all human lives were valued?

What if I make it to 100?

For now I will keep wearing bras and keep wearing makeup (mostly).  For now I will bend sometimes to the rules of the world around me, because breaking every one will quite possibly result one day in someone breaking me.  For now I will clutch the pepper spray in my pocket, for now I will try not so much to fear for my life still ticking, for now I will try to enjoy it, to sing and be joyful, to learn and to love, to exist as genuinely and as safely as I can, to change people's minds about what it means to be a woman and what it means to be a man.