Saturday, February 28, 2015

My Other Familbea*

[This essay was commissioned by Victory Gardens Theater for their inaugural College Night for the world premiere of the play Samsara by Lauren Yee.]

Among other words, and after a long and gradual process, I finally came to describe myself as “transgender” on Thursday, October third, two thousand and thirteen, at about four in the morning, in the bedroom that I occupied in my host mother’s apartment in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

In the morning I wrote the first draft of a cheeky and heartfelt blog post titled “Letter to Everyone, or: Because Coming Out Was Just So Much Fun The First Time,” and sent it to five of my closest friends.

By Saturday, October nineteenth, two thousand and thirteen, I had published what was by that point the third draft of the letter on my study abroad blog, and there have been over one thousand hits on the post since then.

I had not really known anyone with me in Buenos Aires for longer than two and a half months.

“Wasn’t it hard,” many people asked me later, “coming out so far from home?”

“I needed the distance,” I always replied, “to get some perspective.”

I told my parents over Skype.  They are good parents, and although I was nervous to tell them because how could you not be, I did not expect them to take the news badly.  They did not. My mother had actually, as she later and frequently informed me, suspected it for some time.

When they two months later arrived in Buenos Aires, my brother and I were just returning from a trip we had taken to Ushuaia, and took a taxi from the airport to the apartment they were renting.  I could see them waiting on the other side of the front glass door in the vestibule with tile floors that had yellowed with age.  The strangest part was being able to see them through that glass and for the couple of seconds it took us to open the door, not being immediately able to throw myself into the arms in which I had grown up and loved—those few, awkward seconds compounded a century in my chest, and when finally at the tick of a new year the door opened, I hugged them, and they held me, closely.

* * *

A lot has happened since then.  We went home, I changed all of my legal documents to Bea Cordelia, and also to female, although that isn’t how I identify, but legal documents don’t have boxes for how I identify, I had a lot of sex with a lot of strangers because a large part of me still thought I was worth nothing, I clenched my jaw when a lot of strangers—other ones, presumably—looked at me funny or said cruel things as I walked or biked or existed by, I considered the prospect of suicide.

“If you ever need anything,” my mom said always, “you can always talk to us.”

“I know,” I replied always, “but that I will not always do.”

And it was true—my relationship to her and to my dad and to everyone, really, had changed, by virtue of me having done so myself.  See, when you publicly embrace a part of yourself that you before had always hated and hid, and that thing is called “transgender,” there are a couple of things that happen:

  1. It is as if your exposed and stripped-bare flesh is up for others’ knives and worse, their eyes, always.
  2. You feel the most beautiful when you do not feel the most ugly.  The former might happen anywhere, such as the first time it does, in a pizzeria, of all places, still in Buenos Aires, when a trans man tells you you are linda, and although you don’t quite believe him or even find him attractive, you consider going home with him right then and there.  The latter, that ugliness, rears itself with frequency, a natural consequence of having your exposed and stripped-bare flesh up for others’ knives and worse, their eyes, always, which also leads to
  3. With this now largely increased chance of dying by violence, and still yet needing to go on living, you become bold out of necessity (has anyone ever before backpacked alone through the Alps with a passport ostensibly dissimilar to their body? has anyone ever before allowed themselves to fall in love with this now largely decreased chance of ever being loved in return, even only if briefly, even if just for the dark duration of the night when finally we sweated into each other like the waterfalls at Iguazú, the mist cascading upward into the light?)
My parents cannot understand these things.  Or rather, I write about these things, like now, for you, and share it with them, and they read, or listen, like now, for you, and empathize, a lot, but empathy is not understanding, is not I hear the things that you are saying and remember the times when also I felt those things, is not because we share the same blood, and class, and race, and religion, and many of the same memories, and television references, I could also have warned you that one day you would feel those things, is a family in that moment not.

* * *

My other family is scattered, and not mostly just throughout Michigan, like this one.  No, my other family lives in Buenos Aires, and Berlin, they were born in Madrid, they have since moved to New York, they once flew to Thailand just to have surgery.  Many have tried to die, and some of them succeeded.

* * *

On one of my last days in Berlin last summer, where I had been for six weeks conducting research and with which I had quickly become enamored, I went to a fundraiser party for a trans man’s top surgery.  I didn’t know the fellow in question, but I went with a new and close friend—another trans man, Martín, from Madrid, who was still thirty-nine, and excessively cute, but taken, and on whose bed I nevertheless for a couple nights slept in my restless bed-surfing around the city (before I knew of his girlfriend I had in a panic requested advice from a friend back home on what to do with a clitoris in the event that he still had one and also that we would get that far).

We biked to the location.  It was a Friday night, I think, September twelfth, two thousand and fourteen, and we arrived around eleven.  The place was located just north of a bunch of clubs along the Spree—that fairly commercial, popular district between Freidrichshain and Neukölln, and one that immediately fell away into silence when we turned left down a dark alley.  We chained our bikes to a chain-link fence and approached the massive wooden gate that guarded the celebration.  It was pay what you can, and since I was low on flow in the last few days before my return home to Chicago, Martín helped me out.  We went inside.

The party took place inside a deceptively large and fabulously painted trailer that was sitting in the backyard of something, but somehow I never really saw what.  There was a separate building—a house? a shack?—whose singular bathroom we All used for peeing, regardless of anything.  The weather wore warmly on that night, and many people sat smoking outside on lawn chairs and wooden benches, beneath trees decoratively adorned with colored, lovely lights.  Nothing existed in the world beyond this backyard.

Inside the trailer, over a hundred variously identified and presenting queer and trans people got drunk and danced, reveling in one man’s chest that soon would be no more.  Our two hosts for the evening—dressed in matching dinosaur onesies—held a raffle for an odd collection of objects in between performances of poetry, dancing, and striptease.  Other volunteers worked the cash bar, and a potluck of food people had brought offered itself to anyone who wanted it.  Eventually, several DJs took over for the night, and with that we grew raucous, embracing a full-fledged debauchery.  The temperature in the trailer rose proportionally to our joy and abandon.  Most people started to shed their clothing, dancing in their underwear if even that.  The trans guy hosting the party walked around topless selling tequila shots, letting people lick salt off his terminal breasts.  Happiness abounded.

I wanted to hook up with one of the dinosaur hosts: he had a lean and hairy body, firm and alluring as he gyrated to the music.  I myself had taken off my top, now gyrating in a bra and skirt.  At any college or house party back home, or at any club back in Buenos Aires, leaving alone would have felt like losing the battle, like one more night of sleeping alone and impossibly worthless, but when the sexy dinosaur host didn’t give me any vibes back I just kept dancing with the rest of my family as the beat bumped on, sweating into each other like the waterfalls at Iguazú, the mist cascading upward into the light.

When at last I biked home, I did so happily, and at a reasonable hour (Martín would sleep until four the following day and vomit considerably).  It was the first time, I think, and still the only, that I truly experienced what all those early years the Knoffs at Stone House somewhere in Michigan had always failed to produce: an actual family reunion.

* * *

In June I will graduate from college.  Having always lived in Chicago (the last four years, albeit, in Evanston, which does not count, but is still much too close), I would like to move.  Maybe out West, maybe out East.  Somewhere by the water would be nice.  And somewhere too, where my family already waits for me, bending and thumping into the infinite night, decoratively adorned with a colored, lovely light—the kind that blots out the rest, the kind that your parents gave you before they eventually could not, the kind that feels like coming home.

* * *

On Tuesday, September sixteenth, two thousand and fourteen, my mom turned fifty-three years old, and picked up the daughter she never expected to have from O’Hare International Airport, and took her out to lunch.  They had Italian, and my mom listened to the daughter she never expected to have ramble exhaustedly on about the Italian she had only a couple weeks ago had in Italy itself, and although there was still a document or two to change to Bea Cordelia, and also to female, and although in just a couple of hours a woman would say horrible things to her loudly, at a crosswalk, and although Worth was still an elusive (but less so) door she could in a century never fully open, my mom loved her, comprehensively, even in the places she could not comprehend.

Monday, February 9, 2015

The Queendom of Heaven, or: That I Bea*lieve

The best way I can describe it is that it was the same physiological response I’ve felt when posed with a physical threat.  The time that man on the U-Bahn in Berlin leered unendingly?  Or back home in Evanston when the harrassers’ comments did not stop? Fight or flight.  I knew this feeling well: heart pounding, palms damp, my life itself in danger.

Maybe it was the long accumulation of so much fear and the sickness of its normalcy, or maybe it was the knowing that despite the physiological response I would in fact come out of this one without any physical scratches, but when the straight, cisgender man—a fellow student—in my African-American Studies/Gender & Sexuality Studies course announced in class that the Christian church did not have space for queer folk, something in me snapped.

“I take that as a personal attack,” I spoke, loudly. “I’m Christian and I’m queer.  My mom is a pastor.  I grew up in the church. Where is there space for me?”

He looked down and referred me to several verses. “The Bible says that homosexuality—”

“But I’m not homosexual.”

“Okay, queerness,” he amended, “is wrong.”

I did not bother to teach him that homosexual and queer were terms that came into being some thousands of years after the document to which he referred, so who was he to condemn people whose identities did not exist when the very rhetoric that he used to crucify them was written?

“Well then what are LGBTQ people who share a belief in God and want a place to worship supposed to do?” I asked him, fixating my gaze unyieldingly on a face that I was rapidly seeing with hatred.

At this point he had still not made eye contact with me for even a second at a time.

“That’s not what Christianity is,” he said.

I did not bother to correct him:

I did not bother to tell him our Gods are clearly not the same:

I did not bother to tell him my God saved my life on two occasions—once when my love broke open when I realized I was gay, and once when my life broke open when I realized I was trans:

I did not bother to tell him that my faith was that which pulled me back from the first time I faced the uncovered prospect of suicide:

I did not bother to tell him that my God is forever etched into my ribs in black ink, just below the scar from my nearest encounter with death:

I did not bother to tell him that the times I have loved the wrong person I always loved him well, and it was good:

I did not bother to tell him the set of morals, values, and wisdoms that firmly guide the difficult path I trek were those which my God taught me:

I did not bother to tell him that I am not going to Hell.

Other students backed me up, of course.  One classmate asked me if I felt safe at the last church where my mom worked and I told her that I didn’t, honestly, and she said, rightly, that that was a failure on behalf of that church.  Another classmate and I explained the belittling tendency of “acceptance,” and why “affirmation” uplifted the people in question instead, resisting assimilation.

I looked the hurtful man in the eye after the conversation had reverted back toward the comfortably academic, but he did not return my gaze for more than a second.

I left livid at his failed attempt to rob my life of that which has sustained it, and the certainty that he and others like him—many of whom are in my own denomination, which still officially denies my spirit a seat in the pew—will only continue to attempt such thievery from the Queendom of Heaven.

But I also left determined, grounded in the confirmation that I know better than he for whom such sustenance God intends, and that I am one of them, and will continue to preach our claim to Hir graces until the day I ascend to Heaven myself.

For truly I tell you, not even the false prophets who under the right circumstances would stone us will keep us from the promise of such light, of such glory, manifested, unironically, in the image of a rainbow.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Evbea*thing I Have

I knew I still needed to cry, but this wasn’t the time, not just yet.

“Everything you have, you see,” I said, my reflection saying the same thing back at me.

“Everything you have, you see.”

* * *

Last weekend a friend of mine—trans too—shared with me the most traumatic experience of their life, a horrific act of violence and violation enacted in order to communicate to this person that transgender was not a possibility, was not valid, was incorrect, and, moreover, was fixable through the use of such violence and violation.  They are still and slowly recovering from the attack, and suffered, suddenly, when I and no one else was with them late into that night, a flashback.

It is difficult to name the feeling of watching a dear friend lose a clear sense of reality and instead relive an absolute reduction to nothingness.  There was no one to call, you see, due to the wee hour of morning and the lack of substantially supportive people in their life.  All I can say is you do what you can to pull them out of it, gently, you be patient, don’t panic, and if the friend in question (or as in this case, you too) is trans, you do not call 9-1-1, because they will probably not respect your friend (or as in this case, you too) and only exacerbate the problem instead.

If you are terrified, you are probably doing it right.

We spoke about the episode the following day, and made plans for an appropriate course of action, but this blog post is not about my friend, nor could I even attempt to do their story justice.

This blog post is about the fact that I am no longer afraid.

* * *

Over the following couple of days, I went about my routine under the immensity of absence. I had been mulling over and back over the interaction with my friend and its implications continually, and felt heavy with the slow and ugly realization that there really isn’t nearly as much support out there for people like me.  I must have known this before, of course, and ignored it. But when a crisis arose that threw into relief the well from which I might draw whenever I might need to seek salvation, my bucket came up empty, and thirst abounded.

The fact that I, someone untrained in mental health, was the sole person available to someone who needed professional care in a moment of emergency is despicable.  I’m mad at the health care system for thinking that we’re sick, I’m mad at the government for making everything so goddamn difficult, I’m mad at my cisgender friends who read my blog and say they support me but don’t behave any differently in their daily lives to make our society safer for trans people, I’m mad at our society, I’m mad at everyone walking around blind to the pain that cuts me always, I’m mad at myself.  I’m mad that I’m trans in a world that won’t let me.  I’m mad that most of the time, more than anything I just want to be held by a man who loves me.  I’m mad that that’s easier for most of everyone else.  I’m mad that coming out feels like a commitment to a lifetime of celibacy.  I’m mad that I’m always so fucking alone.

To the people dear to me: I have not forgotten you.  I do not mean to diminish the life-saving effects (not even remotely an understatement) your relationships have had on me.  But most of you are not trans yourselves, and cannot bear this burden in the way that I must, and for those of you who are, I love you, and am infinitely grateful for your respective presences in my life, but this still feels like an army of one most days, and that isn’t your fault, it just is.

To my cisgender friends who read this blog and say you support me but don’t behave any differently in your daily lives to make our society safer for trans people: start.  Stop invisibilizing us in the words that you use.  Stop framing everything as only man or woman, male or female, gay or straight.  I do not fit into any of those categories, and you give permission for people to attempt to beat the trans out of me when you do.

Maybe what has been hardest is recognizing that I have to hold myself to astronomical standards of accountability, because a lot of the time, there isn’t anyone else to do it.  The part of me not ready to finish growing up still yearns to turn to someone older and wiser to do the things that I cannot.  But in many ways, I am that person now, and I’d better step up.

* * *

When I got home from work today I turned on the faucet to take a shower.  I looked at myself in the mirror.  I wanted to mourn what was no more: the expectation that justice will come, that someone will always be there when needed.  

For a long time—since coming out that fateful October, even—I have assumed that because I knew how things should be, that I could expect such things, and have lived in a continual state of deep disappointment.  

But that’s not how the world works, and that’s not how I can keep living.  The time has come to say goodbye to ever expecting equality, and to usher in an age of living better, and of working for better without waiting for it, and for being the person for others that society that will not provide, and of not taking any bullshit when it comes.  It is an era of resilience, and it begins within.

“Everything you have, you see,” I said.

* * *

I’ve written before that going to bed for me is like conceding defeat.  It marks one more day that I’ve failed to find someone to hold me, to fight some of the battle with me so that I don’t always have to myself, to kiss me, to stay.

Over the last couple nights it’s felt different.  No longer is it an admittance of failure, a reason to watch TV until I fall asleep with my laptop still flashing so I never have to think.  Now, it feels like the acceptance of a challenge, a small triumph, like standing up. Now, I feel the strength of my back.  It pulses with light.  Now, I go to bed alone and happy, knowing that one more day is done, and that I have won it, with the help (for some things, for the things they cannot help with) of no one.  I do not fear.

And when my body decides that it is finally time to weep, I will call you, and ask you to come over, and I will empty myself into your arms like a well, for this is a thing you can help with, and I will give it to you.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

“What ARE you?”: A Rudimentary Encyclobea*dia

It has happened more often than I’d like for the following to happen:

BEA: Well, no, I mean, I don’t identify as a man or a woman or as male or female or any of that.

IGNORANT ASSHOLE: Well what are you then?

BEA: I identify as a human being, you ignorant asshole.  You ask me who I am, not what.  And not that you deserve to know, but I identify as a queer translady.  Transfeminine also describes me.

IGNORANT ASSHOLE: [insert derogatory term here].

Obviously, not all people who are ignorant are assholes.  As my dad helpfully pointed out to me recently, I myself was not exposed to a lot of the politically correct trans rhetoric before coming out as such.   And as the length of this post will indicate, there’s a lot of rhetoric to know (and this is by NO means an exhaustive list of terms).

So, in the interest of sharing knowledge and eliminating (let’s be honest, reducing) ignorance, here is an alphabetical introduction to a lot of trans-related vocabulary that I have come across over the last year and a half.

You may notice that certain words you have heard that are sometimes used to name trans people are absent from this list, and it is quite possible that those words are slurs or have other negative connotations.   I purposely excluded any such words from this list so as to curtail their circulation as much as possible. Additionally, while physical transition can manifest itself in any number of medical procedures, I have only listed a few of the most important ones here, so as to curtail the objectification of trans bodies that so often preoccupies itself with the particulars of what a trans body consisted of, consists of, and will consist of.

DISCLAIMER: The following encyclopedia is written with the help of trustworthy trans resources on the Internet as well as two savvy trans friends of mine: Tristan Powell and Darien Wendell. I write this encyclopedia of trans terms as a transgender individual who dedicates herself to trans advocacy and studies these issues extensively.  That said, and as will become apparent, this collection is largely refracted through my personal experiences and I do not wish to universalize my specific experience, nor speak as an absolute authority on themes and identities that I do not own.  I welcome suggestions for edits in the comment section.

NOTE: Italicized words are defined terms.

Let’s begin.  May you never misspeak again.

  • Agender (adj.): Not experiencing any gender (not to be conflated with asexual, for gender and sexuality stand independently of each other).  See gender and sexuality below. 
  • Androgynous (adj.): [Delightfully] ambiguous in terms of gender.   Ignorant assholes (see above) might enact violence—see below—upon androgynous people for not being immediately able to discern their sex (REMINDER: gender and sex also stand independently of each other).  See gender and sex below.
  • Bigender (adj.): Experiencing two genders (hint: there are infinite).  Bigender people might present with different genders from one day to the next.   It would be a good idea to ask a bigender friend what pronouns they prefer at any given point in time—see pronouns and self-identify below. 
  • Binary (n.): A system consisting of two parts.  How our society would have us over-simplistically understand gender and sex.  Causes invisibilization and violence.  See Judith Butler.
  • Cisgender (adj.): Identifying with the gender one was assigned at birth. (e.g. If your birth certificate says female, and you self-identify as a girl or woman and use the pronouns she/her/hers, it is likely that you are a cisgender person.) The term was created as oppositional to transgender in order to render cisgender people as Other in the same way that transgender people experience constantly (see transgender and Other below).  Critics of the word have argued that it creates yet another binary, when such modes of thinking are exactly what stir up so much trouble in the first place.   Cisgender people enjoy more privilege than transgender people do: the Western world is divided into male and female (presumed also to always be men and women, respectively), so they do not have to anticipate problems going to the bathroom or filling out a job application.  See privilege below. 
  • Clock (v.) (slang): To indicate via perception—even subconsciously—that you know that a person is trans. (e.g. Recently, crossing a parking lot, a cis woman clocked me, looking at me with a distrusting and hateful gaze on account of the dissonance she perceived between my gender and my sex.) Be wary of doing this.  You may not realize that you are.  The next time you see someone who looks “different” in any way, think, Diversity! Yay!”  and continue moving forward. 
  • Closet (n.) (slang): The proverbial site of an undisclosed gender and/or sexual identity. It only exists because we keep raising our fucking kids to think they must be straight and cis or else.  NOTE FROM TRISTAN: “Lourdes Hunter… said that she doesn’t ‘come out,’ she ‘lets people in.’  It means that the space of our identity is privileged and that it is a privilege to be invited into that story, not that we have to divulge something to society unnecessarily.”
  • Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-V) (n.): The book that is primarily used by the American Psychiatric Association in determining diagnoses.  In this most recent edition that came out in 2013—the DSM-IV having come out in 2000—“Gender Identity Disorder” was changed to “Gender Dysphoria” (see dysphoria below).  Proponents of classifying trans identities as a mental disorder argue that it is necessary in order for health insurance to cover transition-related procedures, which can quickly get costly without the help of health insurance. Opponents of the diagnosis argue that it only further pathologizes trans people as mentally ill and thus untrustworthy and/or unfit (e.g. Russia recently declared that trans people are unfit to drive).  See transition and pathologization below. 
  • Drag (n.): A cultural practice and form of entertainment in which performers dress, dance, and lip-synch as another gender.  Drag is entirely different from trans identities and people, traditionally playing with highly stereotyped forms of dress and movement.  This does NOT mean that trans people cannot make for excellent performers in their own right (hi). 
  • Dysphoria (n.): The unsettling dissonance between perception and necessity.  Normally used in reference to trans people whose external bodies are shaped differently than the bodies they see while sleeping (see transition below), but can also refer to the slowly accumulating fear I feel as the night wears on, where my non-normative existence poses an increasing incitement, for some, to violence.
  • Eunuch (n.): A man who has been castrated. Eunuchs prominently feature in numerous ancient cultures in a wide variety of roles, serving as everything from singers to soldiers to slaves. NOTE: A eunuch is not the same as a trans woman.  Never use that word (nor the word “castrate,” for that matter,) in reference to trans women.  Apart from the fact that not all trans women undergo a vaginoplasty, especially non-op people like me, the two terms mean vastly different things by the sheer nature of their cultural contexts. 
  • Femininities (n.): The infinite ways to present as feminine.  Available to someone of any gender or sex.
  • Fetish (n.): A strong, persistent sexual desire for a specific object or activity.  CLARIFICATION: Being trans is NOT a fetish. There are many people who fetishize (to make a fetish out of) trans people, which is a dehumanizing practice.  We, the Trans, neither comprise an object, commodity, nor conduit for your getting off.  Goodbye. 
  • Female (adj.): Someone who identifies as female, regardless of their gender, genitalia, secondary sex characteristics, or chromosomes.
  • FTM (adj. or n.): Female-to-Male; a person who was assigned female at birth who now identifies as male. Some prefer the term MTM, because they have always been male, regardless of what their birth certificate stated. 
  • Gender (n.): A social identity and form of presentation and behavior—man and woman are the two most frequent—highly correlated with the biological determinations we call sex, although the correlation renders certain people invisible—see invisibilization below.   NOTE: male and female are sexual categories, referring to biology; man and woman are gender categories, referring to society. 
  • Genderfluid (adj.): Fluctuating between genders
  • Genderqueer (adj.): [from it’s pronounced METROsexual] “(1) A blanket term used to describe people whose gender falls outside of the gender binary; (2) a person who identifies as both a man and a woman, or as neither a man nor a woman; often used in exchange with ‘transgender.’” 
  • Gender Non-Conforming (GNC) (adj.): Describes people who do display non-normative gender presentations. GNC people might use alternative pronouns, dress androgynously, or embrace a more queer aesthetic. 
  • Genitalia (n.): Reproductive body parts like a vagina or penis.  Like different cisgender people, different transgender people have different genitalia from each other.  Due to the correlation of gender and sex, however, many people assume one’s genitalia based on external appearance, although that might well not be the case for a transgender person. Unless you are romantically and/or sexually involved with a transgender person, someone else’s genitalia is not your business.  Do not ask after it.  It is rude. Instead, ask yourself, “Why am I driven to ask this question?  What is it about the corporeal unknown that frightens me so?”  See transphobia
  • Hijra (n.): A population of people in South Asia who are typically assigned male at birth—although some are intersex—and adopt feminine gender identities (see intersex below).  The identity hijra comes out of Hinduism, and is entwined with certain cultural practices, like performing at weddings.  Despite social recognition, hijra still face enormous amounts of discrimination, unfortunately, although India recently added a third gender option on its legal documentation.  Many hijra work in sex work, as is common with similar identities internationally, including trans women in the U.S.  That said, hijra are NOT easily understood as the “Eastern” equivalent of trans women.  See underground economy.
  • Homosexuality (n.): Unrelated. 
  • Hormones (n.): [from Wikipedia] “A class of signaling molecules produced by glands in multicellular organisms that are transported by the circulatory system to target distant organs to regulate physiology and behavior.”  The two most well-known hormones are called estrogen and testosterone.  Many—but not all—trans women take medical dosages of the former and many—but not all—trans men take medical dosages of the latter in order to produce a body in which they can feel more comfortable.  Estrogen can cause trans women to have softer, more glowing skin, whereas testosterone can cause trans men to develop body hair and to lower their voice in pitch.  NOTE FROM TRISTAN: “I also like to use the phrase ‘develop secondary sex characteristics of the appropriate gender.’”
  • Human being (n.): Who I am and who all of you are, dear readers. 
  • Internalization (n.): The sinking in and settling down and making a home of ugly opinions and terrifying truths. (e.g. After hearing enough stories of trans women being murdered, I am often disproportionately afraid of quotidian occurrences, like public transportation.) (e.g. After hearing enough stories of trans women being murdered, I often struggle to remember that I have worth as a human being.) See transphobia and violence below. 
  • Intersectionality (n.): [from Wikipedia] “The study of intersections between forms or systems of oppression, domination or discrimination.”  So if you’re not only black but also trans, life is probably going to be infinitely more complicated to navigate than if you were white and trans or black and cis. See privilege below. 
  • Intersex (adj.): Possessing indeterminate reproductive organs and/or genetics at birth.  There are many corporeal configurations that fall under the category of intersex, but the identity as a whole destabilizes the idea that sex is only limited to male and female.  Since most intersex people are raised as one of the two hegemonic genders, many later discover that they feel more comfortable under a different gender, and experience a social shift akin to that that trans people also experience.  Additionally, the trans and intersex movements share political goals, like either having more sex categories on legal documentation or abolishing those categories altogether.  See ze/hir/hirs below. 
  • Invisibilization (n.): The cultural process by which populations of people are systematically overlooked. This happens to trans people all the time, as well as other minorities.  If you doubt the truth of this statement, name ten transgender celebrities off the top of your head. 
  • Judith Butler (human being): A theorist and gender celebrity (but not transgender; did you really think I was going to give you one that easily?) who largely paved the way for transgender theory and studies. Her early writings are notoriously dense, but brilliant.  She suggested that gender is something that society not only constructs, but also reiterates through the systematic enforcement and practice of gender roles and presentations, thus deferring transcenders of this “exclusionary matrix”—i.e. trans people—to the status of “abject beings.” 
  • Kathoey (n.): A Thai gender category.  Like hijra, kathoey are not easily understood as an “Eastern” equivalent of trans women, despite sharing a male assignment at birth and a more feminine gender presentation.  Many kathoey consider the identity its own gender entirely (remember how there are infinite genders?), distinct from effeminate men or trans women. Like hijra, many kathoey work in sex work.  See underground economy.
  • Life expectancy (n.): The projected lifetime of a specific population or subpopulation.  Various sources determine the average life expectancy for trans women to be somewhere around 30 years of age, far less than half the average life expectancy of cis men or cis women in the United States.  NOTE: I am 22. 
  • Love (and Lack thereof): See fetish. (Love is out there, even for trans people, of course, and this definition is undoubtedly shaded with the jaded perspective of one who has gone on two dates in the last fifteen-and-a-half months since coming out as transgender and encountering many awful and ignorant assholes on dating sites and apps.  But here is proof of more.
  • Male (adj.): Someone who identifies as male, regardless of their gender, genitalia, secondary sex characteristics, or chromosomes.
  • Man (n.): Someone who identifies as a man, regardless of their genitalia or sex.
  • Masculinities (n.): The infinite ways to present as masculine.  Available to someone of any gender or sex.
  • MTF: Male-to-Female; a person who was assigned male at birth who now identifies as female.  Some prefer the term FTF, because they have always been female, regardless of what their birth certificate stated. 
  • Non-op (adj.): Short for non-operative.  Many transsexual people identify as pre-op or post-op, relative to whether or not they have completed their medical transition, but some trans people do not undergo surgeries or hormone therapy, and they remain just as trans as those who do. 
  • Normal (adj.): [from Google definitions] Conforming to a standard; usual, typical, or expected. 
  • Normative (and non-normative) (adj.): What you should call things that society deems “normal” so as not to imply that non-normative people, identities, behaviors, etc. are somehow “alien,” or, to quote Butler again, “abject.”  See queer below. 
  • Original plumbing (n.) (slang): The unchanged genitalia of a trans man.
  • Other (n.): That which is else.
  • Other (v.): To make someone or something Other, to demarcate them or it as different from the norm. (e.g. The horrid cis woman in the parking lot othered me when she clocked me.) 
  • Pangender (adj.): Experiencing many genders
  • Pass (v.) For a trans person to traverse a public space in their correct gender and/or sexual identity and be perceived as such. (e.g. When traveling last summer with a female passport, I made an extra effort to pass as a cis female at the airport so as not to be mistrusted.) 
  • Pathologization (n.): The vast and reiterative process by which many institutions—chiefly the medical system and the law—posit people such as myself as mentally ill, and, by extension, untrustworthy in airports.  Ironically, bearing the immense weight of pathologization only drives me closer toward insanity. 
  • Phalloplasty (n.): A surgery some trans men undergo to construct a penis out of their original genitalia
  • Privilege (n.): The sum of increased opportunities, rights, advantages, and immunities that any given person might enjoy over another.  White people have more privilege than black people because they do not have to worry so much about the ways they are perceived.  Cis people have more privilege than trans people because our society mostly structures itself in favor of a two-sex, two-gender system where delineations between sides are clearly and violently marked.  Everyone has some kind of privilege.  Check yours. 
  • Pronouns (n.): The gendered shortcut-words by which people refer to themselves in language.  Most people use either she/her/hers or he/him/his, but many trans people use many different pronouns that more accurately capture them in language.  See self-identify, they/them/theirs and ze/hir/hirs below. 
  • Queer (adj.): Anything and everything non-heteronormative.  It can be used to describe gender expressions, such as in the gender identity genderqueer, as well as non-normative sexual identities.  It has more recently transformed from a slur to a site of theory and political activism. Wonderfully nonspecific, it resists easy delineation between differences. 
  • Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love & So Much More (book): Black trans woman Janet Mock’s hailed memoir.  She is one the most prominent—and visible—trans activist/advocates today (look, I gave you one celebrity).  An excerpt: “Sometimes people try to destroy you, precisely because they recognize your power—not because they don’t see it, but because they see it and they don’t want it to exist.”  See transphobia and violence below. 
  • Self-identify (v.): To determine one’s own identity on one’s own terms.  Why it is necessary to ask someone for the pronouns and other identifying language they use.  Generally imperative. 
  • Sex (n.1): An activity that can be quite fun and emotionally enriching when done responsibly. 
  • Sex (n.2): A certain biological status, identified most frequently in our culture as male, female, or intersex. A made-up way to divide people.  See x-chromosome.
  • Sexuality (n.): See homosexuality
  • Suicide (n.): Too common.  Look up Leelah Alcorn.
  • Top surgery (n.) (slang): A double mastectomy.  A common procedure for trans men as part of their transition
  • They/them/theirs (pn.): Either a plural pronoun set or a singular, gender-neutral pronoun set. If you do not know a person’s preferred pronouns and cannot immediately ask them, it’s a good idea to start with they/them/theirs so as not to presume. 
  • Trans man (n.): A man who is trans.  A lot of people ask me when I use this term (and the following one) what that means they were born as, to which I respond, “I just told you he’s a man” and/or “Why does it matter?”  NOTE: Not all trans men are masculine, nor are all trans men sexually interested in women, trans or cis.
  • Trans woman (n.): A woman who is trans. NOTE: Not all trans women are feminine, nor are all trans women sexually interested in men, trans or cis.
  • Trans (adj.): Describes anyone on the very diverse transgender spectrum, also sometimes called the transgender umbrella. You may also see “trans*” in reference to all trans people, although I do not include the asterisk here because many gender non-conforming people decried its addition, as if they were not included beneath the trans umbrella before the asterisk.  Indeed, some people circulate the unfortunate rhetoric of being “trans enough,” as if it were only by physically transitioning that one truly proves their trans identity.  Turns out, all trans people and all their trans bodies are just as trans as all the other trans people and all their trans bodies. Trans! 
  • Transfeminine (adj.): Describes people male-assigned at birth who identify as more feminine than masculine.  Usually in reference to non-binary people who lean more that way.  This word can also describe MTF transsexual women and trans women, but it does not always (e.g. Butch trans women would probably not identify as transfeminine). 
  • Transgender (adj.): NOT identifying with the gender and/or sex one was assigned at birth.  NOTE: NOT A NOUN. WE ARE NOT REDUCIBLE TO OUR GENDER.  See intersectionality above. Additionally, if you wish to refer transgender-related issues or identities or studies, say that.  Some people mistakenly speak about “transgender” as if it were an entity in and of itself.  NOTE: NOT “TRANSGENDERED.”  Ask yourself: do you have many “gayed” friends?  Many “Latinoed” friends? No. We are transgender.  Period. 
  • Transition (v.): To journey from a birth-assigned gender and/or sex to the correct one(s).  Typically used in reference for a series of medical procedures that can include any combination of surgeries (e.g. top surgery; also see phalloplasty and vaginoplasty), hormone usage (see hormones), and more.  Can also be used for non-medical physical transitions, such as maintaining body hair in a new way (i.e. shaving or not, growing it out or cutting it), or the social transition of using a different name, different pronouns, dressing differently, etc.  Just like how you shouldn’t ask about someone’s genitalia, you shouldn’t ask about someone’s transition.  It is a personal, physical/mental/emotional/psychological health concern of their own and not yours.  They will tell you about it if they so choose. 
  • Transition (n.): The process of transitioning. 
  • Transmasculine (adj.): Describes people female-assigned at birth who identify as more masculine than feminine. Usually in reference to non-binary people who lean more that way.  This word can describe FTM transsexual men and trans men, but it does not always (Femme trans men would probably not identify as transmasculine). 
  • Transmisogynoir (n.): Prejudice and discrimination against trans women and transfeminine people of color.
  • Transmisogyny (n.): Prejudice and discrimination against trans women and transfeminine people.
  • Transphobia (n.): Fear of transgender people and the truth we carry.  Often manifests itself in violence
  • Transsexual (adj.): NOT identifying with the sex one was assigned at birth.  Transsexual people usually physically transition.  Generally speaking, transsexual is to transgender as square is to rectangle. 
  • Trigender (adj.): Experiencing three genders.
  • Underground economy (n.): Illicit work, such as drug sales or sex work.  Due to transphobia and the discrimination it creates, many trans people are left to engage in such fields of work in order to survive.
  • Underrepresentation (n.): The reason why I had to write this encyclopedia and even this blog. 
  • Vaginoplasty (n.): A surgery some trans women undergo to construct a vagina out of their original genitalia
  • Violence (n.): The reason why I’m scared to take the train at night.  Also what happens when you use the wrong pronouns.  Disproportionately affects trans women of color.  Thankfully, certain badass organizations like the Trans Women of Color Collective are uplifting our trans sisters of color. 
  • Winkte (n.): In some Native American cultures, such as the Lakota, they operate around a three-gender system: man, woman, and winkte (other tribes call this third gender berdache).  Like hijra and like kathoey, winkte are not easily reducible to Western notions of gender and sexuality.  But to borrow some Western language to contextualize the identity, winkte are male assigned at birth and live more like women, but remain their own category. They marry men, which says nothing about the sexuality of either the man or the winkte as it would in Western society.  In fact, winkte are revered in Lakota culture as possessing higher spiritual powers, serving as a sort of intermediary between men and women.  How strange, is it not, to conceive of a culture in which someone outside of the principal two genders could not only be accepted for it, but actually held above?
  • Woman (n.): Someone who identifies as a woman, regardless of their genitalia or sex
  • X-chromosome (n.): Along with the Y-chromosome, one of the two biological sex-determining chromosomes.  Intersex, female, and male individuals all possess at least one X-chromosome. You might say, instead of worrying about how many X’s someone has or if there’s a Y in that person’s karyotype or so forth, we might just preoccupy ourselves with the indisputable fact that we all share one X in common, us bewildered creatures ever scratching for something substantial and settling for something simpler and seemingly more sensible instead, us people, us who all started out as female fetuses once anyway, us ways of being, us human beings; you might say we might just look at what is the same, sometimes. 
  • Yellow (n.): A primary color with comparatively long wavelengths.  Widely considered to be gender-neutral.  The color of my pants as I type this. 
  • Ze/hir/hirs (pn.): A gender-neutral pronoun set instead of the perhaps more common they/them/theirs.  SPECULATION: Perhaps if we all just cared about the fact that we all had an X-chromosome in common, and we all just used the same pronouns, like ze/hir/hirs, maybe, and we didn’t predicate our existence in the world on gender and sex so much as we might on the fact that we’re all human fucking beings, then maybe we wouldn’t see each other so differently, so violently, as binaries and the fear of Something Greater would ever and always have us, and then maybe when you met someone, on the street or in a home, despite any differences you physically perceive or will discover in the ensuing relationship that forms blossoming, yielding love, even, maybe, you would not ask them what they are as they stand there before you, full of history, life, and hope, but who.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Forever Bea*

“Wait, can I quote you on that for the blog post I’m gonna write about all of this?”

“Sure,” she says, laughing.

“Thanks,” I reply.  I repeat that which she said.

“It’s a scary thing…when trans women get self-esteem.”

* * *

Last Saturday, my older brother took me to a tattoo parlor.  As first a birthday gift and then a Christmas one, he promised me two of the permanent ink-depictions, and I couldn’t have been more excited.

I had been planning on getting a few tattoos ever since crushing on a boy last year who had several himself.  Once he had inadvertently planted this idea in me (before inadvertently breaking my heart), I began to think:

What is most important to me?

How do I want to present myself in public?

Who am I, really?

And what thing or things will continue to answer 
these three questions for the rest of my life?

After all, perfectionist-overthinker that I am, whatever I would eventually decide on would be there forever, right, so I better make damn sure I know what I’m doing.

It didn’t take long to figure out.

* * *

When we got to the parlor we met my tattoo artist, a larger, bearded, heavily inked man with mismatched gauges named Miguel.  I showed him the sentence on the left side of my ribs and the image I wanted on the underside of my left forearm.  He disappeared into the back to print the stencil versions of the designs and get set up, before my bringing my brother and me back with him.

We started with the rib-sentence so as to get the more painful one out of the way first.

Half an hour later, it was done:

German for “What you have beaten, to God will it bear you!”, it is the final line of text the choir sings in my favorite symphony, situated intentionally beneath a meaningful scar.

I caught my breath and drank some water while Miguel bandaged it up.  He put the second stencil on.

“No, not quite,” I advised, seeing it on my body. “I want the circle a little smaller, and like, to make sure the arrows are even.”

He disappeared again to go tweak the design and my brother went next door to get a cup of coffee.  I looked at the blue lines on my arm.   Time passed.

Miguel put the second, corrected stencil on my arm.  I liked it more.  I looked at it in the mirror.  I looked in the mirror more.

“What don’t you like about it?” he asked.

“Nothing! I really like this one,” I assured him. “Something just…I’m starting to have second thoughts, which is weird, ‘cause like, I’ve wanted this one for months.”

“Don’t get it if you’re not 100% sure,” he warned me.

And with that my brother drove us home, the stencil still on my arm, with the understanding that I would return the following day to finish it once I had sat with the decision for a little while longer.  I suppressed the urge to apologize to my brother, knowing I hadn’t done anything wrong.  But I still felt guilty, somehow; I could already sense that the something that inhibited me getting it was a something with which I would soon have to reckon.

“I already know who I need to call,” I told him.

* * *

At a brunch recently with about thirty women, all of whom I believe were cisgender, we aired out our grievances from 2014.  I felt self-conscious, only trans person that I’m pretty sure I was, and when I finally mustered the courage to share, encouraged by my friend next to me who nudged me during a lull, I began, “2014 was the first year of fully living as myself.”  In the grievances that followed, I never once uttered the word “trans,” assuming that they all knew from seeing and hearing me and so why should I have to speak it out loud as well?

More accurately, when a word that describes you, or reveals something about you, has so many so-called “synonyms” born out of hatred, and when it raises eyebrows, or furrows them, and when it calls to mind “related” words like mental and like illness, and especially together, in that order, and when you need to hide that word from your external appearance or otherwise they might say something, or do something, or worse, and when that word makes you too scared to apply for a job, or leave your apartment, and when it leaves unpleasant pink bumps along your jawline from where last you shaved too close, and when your Tinder matches see that word on your profile and immediately unmatch you time and again and once more and you still sleep fucking alone, and when that word makes you feel like your sanity is a bomb ticking downwards, and your sanity is a bomb ticking downwards, and you are a bomb ticking downwards, and you are ticking downwards, and you are down, you start to resent that word.  You start to wish that you could bury it in the blizzard raging outside your window at 3:39PM because you still haven’t shaved which means you still haven’t left your apartment.  You start to reminisce about before, when you were unhappy, and blissfully safe in your unhappiness, and you start to wonder why so much had to change, and all on the account of that one stupid fucking word.

* * *

“So what’s up?” my trans sister says when she picks up the phone.

I explain the situation.

“So I was gonna get the second tattoo, right,” describing how it would identify me as a queer and trans individual, “and the tattoo artist put it on my arm and I was looking at it and all of a sudden I had this weird thought, you know, like ‘Why am I really doing this?’”

“Well, yeah, it’s like marking yourself with your identity.”

“Exactly!   Which I don’t know if it’s like some kind of self-punishment thing, because I would want it to feel empowering but like, I always just assume that people know that I’m trans right away, anyway, and I don’t want to like, justify getting treated differently by marking myself with that.”

“Well I think the fact that you’re even asking about self-punishment is a sign you should give it another week to think about.  You know I’m all about self-care.”

“I don’t know, like, I do really like the design and I’ve been thinking about it forever, but like, the idea of having it on there forever is like, scary, somehow.  Like the first one was no problem, because it’s on my ribs so it’s less visible, and it’s also not like controversial in any way.  But there’s something about having this on my arm forever that’s kind of terrifying.  And especially as a non-op trans person, it’s like, I have to choose it every day, you know?  Because it’s not like I’ve developing breasts or doing anything irreversible.   And it’s so weird being able to go back any time I want to.  Like over the summer when I traveled as a ‘man’ for three weeks to make it safer.”

“Right.   Which I can’t really do anymore, but yeah, totally.”

“Yeah!  And I don’t know, I guess I wish it was like that for me sometimes, because being able to choose is such a shitty power to have.   There’s like this little voice in my head who tells me, ‘No, it’s fine, we can always change the documents back to male; never mind about how enormous of a hassle it was to change them the first time.’

“You know what, I think that’s it, I think that—I think that there’s a part of me that wishes the identity won’t last forever.  You know?   Like if I’ve changed the way I identify this many times already, maybe I’ll change it again someday and I won’t have to live as a trans person anymore.”

“Yeah, no, I totally get that.  There are some days when you just need to take a break from it all because it can get to be a lot!”

“Yeah!  And it’s stupid of me to think it’ll change again someday, because like, this is who I am and who my life has been leading up to me being.  It’s not like my gender identity is just going to whoosh away somewhere else.”


“And I don’t know about you, but I can’t even imagine the future anymore.  Because it’s not like there are lots of trans people in the media to show us, ‘Oh, this is what it looks like to get a job or get married or grow old,’ so the idea of keeping that identity with me in a real, visible way for the rest of my life…like of course that’s gonna be terrifying!  It’s owning my trans identity in a vulnerable, obvious way when the ways that it’s going to interact with other people and places is still really unknown.”

“Yeah, and we can’t know what that will all look like.  We just have to do it and see, and trust that we’ll find the ways to do it. But yeah, it’s definitely hard to wear that really outwardly.  It’s a scary thing…when trans women get self-esteem.”

“Wait, can I quote you on that for the blog post I’m gonna write about all of this?”

“Sure,” she says, laughing.

“Thanks.  ‘It’s a scary thing…when trans women get self-esteem.’”

“Yeah, and I think the tattoo can be really empowering and a sign of strength and something to carry with you into that unknown future if you let it.”

“You know what, just since talking to you I already feel so much better and I’m thinking so much more clearly.  I think I will get it after all.”

“Glad I could help, babe.”

“Me too.  I love you.”

“I love you too.”

* * *

The next day I returned to the parlor—this time with my dad—and Miguel did the second tattoo.  My arm now looks like this:

Here’s to always being trans.

Here’s to hard days of street harassment and ever rising higher.

Here’s to the families that we make.

Here’s to living authentically.

Here’s to actual happiness.

Here’s to feeling good.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

On Bea*yonce

When conducting research this summer, the last question I would always ask the trans people I interviewed was

When do you feel your most beautiful?

Meaning, more tangibly, in what social context, with what people, where, wearing what outfit, at what time of day, etc., do you feel at your absolute most beautiful / attractive / gorgeous / handsome / strapping / sexy / aesthetically pleasing / whatever word you ascribe to?

Most people described a specifically queer and trans space as their answer—that in a place where their difference is normal, and they do not have to defend or explain that difference, but are rather seen much more easily by others as that which they are, and are respected for it, they feel their most beautiful.

For me, it’s dancing to Beyoncé.

* * *

I first really started getting into Beyoncé my freshman year of college, when I had a serious crush on a guy who loved Beyoncé maybe more than life itself.  It was a simple deduction: I wanted him, he wanted Beyoncé, I wanted Beyoncé too.   But although things didn’t work out with that particular gentleman (when do they ever), I nevertheless had a newfound fascination with the powerhouse musical artist, and I couldn’t stop listening.

After she dropped her eponymous album last year, I could not physically complete my exercises at the gym without listening to it.  Usually when I get entranced with a new album, I play it on repeat for a few weeks then get sick of it and return to it much later.  I didn’t want to do that with this one, too, but I couldn’t help myself; I craved it all the time.   It struck a chord in me: it made me feel sexy and empowered and angry and powerful and vulnerable and lovesick and whole.  It saw the lady I had only recently discovered (allowed) myself to be and it embraced her with its smooth and sultry sound, saying, Yes, you are she.  Even a year later now, I still listen to it all the time; it hasn’t run its course yet, and at this rate, it won’t soon.  I listen to it when I’m working out, I listen to it when I’m getting ready, I listen to it when I’m walking to class, when I’m taking the El into the city, when I’m home alone and I just need to dance.

(If you don’t share my deep love for her at this point, ask yourself, have you seen this?)

* * *

Fast forward to last night.

I am going to an old friend’s Boxing Day party.  I look good—just jeans and a cute top, so I’m actually comfortable too, which doesn’t always happen, and I made a real effort in the morning to do my makeup.  I will not know everyone at the party, and I don’t feel like explaining my pronouns to everyone, so I’m wearing a bra for the first time in weeks.  I forgot how much easier life feels when I do.

I drive to the party with another old friend, and we gossip about her love life and my lack thereof on the way.  I tell her about a crush I have on a guy at school, and how I’m hopeful but not really expecting anything.  He hasn’t dated a translady like me before, so even if something did start to pan out, I’d be wary of just being some sort of romantic / sexual test trial.

“Straight guys are always like, I’m not into dudes, but then gay guys are always like, Sorry, I’m into dudes,” I tell her. “Which is why I’m like, Okay, y‘all need to talk to each other, ‘cause this isn’t working out for me right now.”

“Yeah,” she says. “That’s hard.”

I try not to internalize so many negative reactions to my body, I try not to build my concrete walls so impenetrably high, I try not to always assume the worst in people because it hurts less when I’m right, I tell her, but yeah.  It’s hard.

At the party neither of us really drink, but we’re loose enough people to not need liquor to have a good time.  I end up talking for a while with some guy I’ve met a couple of times like four or five years ago, when I hadn’t yet uncovered my name.  Just sort of catching up, you know, nothing out of the ordinary.  At one point I intend to go to the bathroom but he continues talking to me with an intentionality that I am not used to and so we continue talking.  I take note.

Later I am dancing with my friend.  Although we are probably the most sober we are also dancing far more than anyone. Everyone else is in the kitchen, anyway, so we have the room to ourselves to play whatever music we want.  I put on Beyoncé’s “Partition,” her favorite.  We’re really getting into it, now, just us, the throbbing bass, the wood floor, the string of blue Christmas lights, and the sweat of our flesh.  Occasionally a couple people will come dance with us for a song then inevitably return back to the kitchen.  The guy I was talking to, though, comes back repeatedly, and usually just to stand back and watch.

Regarding the overt sexuality of Beyoncé’s music and music videos, I am of the feminist opinion that as long as she’s claiming her own sexual space, on her terms, with her own agency, which she always does, then she has every right to present herself however she chooses.  Of course, some will argue that she’s positioning herself firmly within that no-good male gaze, but that doesn’t usurp her queenly powers if she’s still the one in charge, which she always is.

Dancing to her, then, I feel a similar control as the guy not so subtly watches me.  It isn’t creepy, mind; he seems interested but just too shy to dance with me, or say something.  I nearly attribute it to the fact that he is surely self-conscious about talking to a translady, but I check that thought, I unspackle that brick from my concrete walls.  He is probably just intimidated, I think, not everything is the fault of my transgender identity, rolling and popping my body to Beyoncé’s ethereal vocals in the way that my body was made.

This is it, I realize, suddenly, there, in the dining room.  My most beautiful.  The answer I got from all those trans people this summer and here is mine: appearing unequivocally as I am, in all my feminine glory, dancing, moving like water, rocking to “Rocket,” for myself and for the guy who watches me, wants me, maybe, but regardless of what happens at the end of this evening this moment is still mine, all mine, now: my proof of beauty, my retort to hatred, my undeniable existence, my explosion into light, my life.

Toward the end of the party he says goodbye and goes for a handshake.  I hug him.  He says it was nice to see me.  I agree.  I drive home with my friend, gossiping about her love life and the prospects I have on the horizon.  We make plans to have a Beyoncé workout-dance-party, soon.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Three Years of Christmas Bea*ve, Themes and Variations

It is Christmas Eve.

To me this day used to mean waking up to snow, and wrapping all the presents I still hadn’t, and loving my family, and in the evening going to the Carlsons’ for grab bag and a plentiful feast.   It meant coming home late and falling asleep in the car on the way, no longer counting how many houses and apartments sported Christmas lights with my brother (though one year we broke one thousand), finally going to bed with the promise of morning.

Last year, on Christmas Eve, I landed in Miami in the morning, where I got a voicemail from my parents that due to a false bomb threat they would not be joining me back in Chicago for an additional twelve hours.  I took a second flight back to the city where I grew up, marveling at the snow I had missed, and hailed a taxi home, where only our dog awaited.  In the evening I got drunk with my aunt and my cousins and I tried not to think about who I now was in the place I now was, and I tried not to miss my new and now faraway home.

On this Christmas Eve, therefore, it has officially been an entire year since my last step on Argentine soil, although, and as I have written about previously, the last year and a half of my life feels much more like a decade in the immensity of change that it has brought (wrought?) upon me.

Y recientemente he extrañado el país que me transformó y su ciudad principal: las avenidas, el subte, el tango, los cafés, el ritmo, los Andes, mi familia trans, sus avisos, la promesa de un nuevo comienzo sin idea de cómo lo iba a pasarme.  Quiero volver constantemente, y estar segura otra vez, afuera de la porquería que comprenden estos Estados Unidos, donde temo cada bus, cada tren, cada calle por la noche, y realmente por el día. En Argentina nos dijeron que el peor crimen que nos podría haber pasado era un robo, nada más.  Acá, tengo miedo de que alguien, en cualquier lugar, me vaya a abordar, a pegar, a matar. Las aprensiones no tienen sentido—bueno, la mayoría—pero ¿por qué no puedo vivir allí, en Buenos Aires, irónicamente llenada con el fumo de un millón de cigarillos?

It is funny, in the way without humor, how much a place where you have spent over two decades of your life—remember the summers poorly playing tennis with Christian? the music you made? the first kind-of kiss onstage and the first real one by the lake?—can suddenly feel like a cold war, waiting for the cannons to just fucking fire already.

Which is why, in this snowless Christmas season, I have had the hardest time yet getting into the spirit of it all (and most of last year’s spent in 90+ degree weather).  Even if I don’t buy into the consumerist version of this holiday that our culture economically propagates into oblivion, which I don’t, how could I, really, as a Christian, embrace this narrative of a savior in the form of a lowly baby as the bloodthirsty king hungers ominously in the background, this optimistic ideal for a new and better beginning in a time of unparalleled adversity?

I’m running out of hope.  My new and better beginning is getting older and less novel.  After the first moment of revelation in a Buenos Aires bedroom, and the second atop one of the innumerable, beautiful Andes, life continued cruelly onward. And if the state of race in this country has taught us anything, it is that progress is slow.  I do not expect to have equal rights and opportunities as a transgender person in this lifetime, however long that may be.

It is Christmas Eve.

And I would dearly like to believe in something bigger, that the blog posts that I’ve written and the poems that I’ve slammed have made a kind of difference, somehow, that the world already sees us differently—and since they couldn’t have seen us as any worse before, any kind of different must be better—that laws are changing and people too, and have been, that maybe someday soon I won’t need to feel so fucking terrified just to step outside. And I am trying to.  For the sake of this holiday season and for the sake of my personal sanity I am trying to believe in a future that looks prettier than this porquería of a present, and that isn’t so contingent on the country that I’m living in but rather the people that I’m with, and the things I can do there, and write, and change, and the degree to which one day, it will make me want to go back.