Monday, September 15, 2014

Bea*lin II(iv): The rolling hills of Poland

The rolling hills of Poland
shine green and ever golden
in the softly setting light of the lucid Sun.

Were I a farmer tilling
and my husband wheat stalks milling
the sky would burn with stars when we were done.

The dark falls always quicker
and the smoke streets’ smog grows thicker
every year we waste in the concrete block we live.

Should we one day so toil
that our sweat makes mud of soil
I should thank those suns for us their burning give.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Bea*lin II(iii): Border

The trees at the border of Germany and Poland are tall and lean, like birch. Their shafts in the slanted sunlight of afternoon look spectacular. I wonder if this is where battles were fought. The rivers here run muddy but maybe once they ran with blood. Did my grandfather see these trees?

I was told before I came on this trip that I would not need to worry, that all of the countries to which I would be traveling agreed on something that other countries agreed on back in Schengen in 1985 and I would not need to worry about passing so much like the person in my document (I look like her, I am her, but for certain traveling purposes—like passing through Poland the conservative, where a gay friend of mine was recently chased down the street for being so—she hides beneath men’s clothes and a face wiped clean of makeup).

Nevertheless, the tall and lean birch trees held back for a second at the border of Germany and Poland and our bus followed suit, as two armed guards boarded to check our documents.

My heart beat fast like wolves. I breathed and sent up a quick prayer. They made their way down the aisle towards me.  As I handed him my passport, I looked at the guard with the certainty that I am a woman, or something similar. Thank God this sweatshirt is baggy, I thought.

Something was wrong with girl’s document across from me, and the guards joined together to discuss it while the one still held mine open in his hand. Words were exchanged in a language I do not speak. They left and went outside back to their car. The girl followed them, as did my passport.

I watched calmly from the window while my insides exploded panicking: why did they take mine what’s wrong with it are they leaving could they tell do they know could I go to jail here are there laws like that fuck why didn’t I look this up fuck what do I do fuck my bra’s in my backpack stored underneath fuck do I put on makeup fuck

I checked my face in my phone camera and decided not to. You look femme and fine au naturale, I weakly reassured myself. I realized they had taken everyone’s passports and were now scanning them through some little device. I breathed easier.

One of the guards gave the stack back to a bus worker. He passed them back out based on the photos alone.

He had gotten down to the last one, and I glimpsed the red and white stripes of the US flag inside it. I had still not received mine. The bus worker passed me. He seemed to be returning to the guards to ask them whose it was but they left again before he could.

He looked out over all the passengers with an embarrassed smileThis usually never happens, he seemed to sayuntil I kindly waved to him. Almost laughing at the foolish mistake, he handed it back to me. I said nothing for fear of him hearing my low voice. I smiled back, forgivingly, disarmingly, the way that all fugitives must.  I wonder if this is where battles were fought.

Clouds have passed overhead, and the trees look different now.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Bea*lin II(ii): Takeoff

There is a feeling that always dissolves downward inside me whenever I embark a new adventure alone.  It is like reaching the top of something quite tall and peering over the precipice.  It is like knowing that an irreversible journey has begun and everything from here on out will happen only by my own ability.  It is scary; it is good.

One year and one month ago today, I had never left the United States of America.  I had never even left Chicagoland for more than a week at a time.  From the thousands of books that I read as a kid, I dreamt of seeing London, Venice, the moon, but without much hope of getting there.  My family has always lived comfortably, but not so much that we ever would have flown overseas; we always stayed in the Continental 48, and mostly we only ever drove.

And now, taking the long bus to Krakow, I am grateful for the often interminable road trips to Michigan and sometimes farther; although I will always marvel at the clouds from above whenever I find myself flying skyward once more, there is a beauty to seeing the ground from itself: it is the way people were meant to see it, I think, and for this reason I don't mind the extra time en route.

Ten months and ten days ago today, I turned twenty-one.  It was the first full day of a week-long trip to the Andes, and I had only known that I was transgender for less than a week.  As I took the long bus to San Miguel de Túcuman the night before, I felt the same dissolving downward as I headed toward the mountains, not only for the sights but also for the life that awaited.

How strange and also fortunate to be going places I've only ever seen in books and in dreams!  How odd and also wonderful to have grown up as I did, somehow now a person who looks nothing like she did, but who wears her former forms somewhere beneath her skin like trees!  How sweet and also perfect to be on this bus to Krakow, to Salzburg, to Bled and even Venice!

I am told the Alps are incomparable.
For now, everything is forest.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Bea*lin II(i): The Voyage

Dear Readers,

I'm sure you've all been eagerly anticipating the day we'd finally reach Volume II of trans*posing pearls presents: Bea*lin.

Today is that day.

Tomorrow I embark on a 22-day voyage through four countries (you may remember me mentioning some fears about the trip).  I begin with an eight-and-a-half hour train to Krakow, principally to visit Auschwitz, followed by five days in Austria and five more in Slovenia, spent chiefly in small Alpine towns, and ending with a whirlwind 9-day tour of Italy before flying back home to finish up the last bit of my research (only two interviews to go!) and finally, to quote Christopher Isherwood, say Goodbye to Berlin.

Everything I write in this time for trans*posing pearls will comprise Volume II of Bea*lin. For those of you more faithful readers who remember the EL NOROESTE series of Argentina llamando detailing my trip to the Andes—those emotional, incredible eight days through the mountains just after admitting to myself that I am trans—I wrote all the posts in my journal and typed them later.  Which is to say, you may expect a hiatus in the next three weeks, as I will not be bringing my laptop on my travels.  But do not fear: you can take the opportunity to catch up on some old posts, and the stories and photographs I will bring back from the pilgrimage will more than merit the time spent waiting.

And a pilgrimage is exactly how I see it: originally I had planned to walk a week of the famed Camino de Santiago in Spain before deciding to create my own route through cities and towns I find meaningful to me.  Being in Berlin has given me the opportunity to reacquaint myself with my spiritual side, which the daily pressures of life and the daily fears of discrimination tend to overpower.  The increased solitude of my lifestyle here in Berlin has brought that side back to the forefront once more, and I eagerly anticipate the chance over the next three weeks to reorient some of the priorities that have been lost along the way.

So wish me well, as I certainly do all of you, and I'll see you in twenty-three days!

Check your privilege & xo,

P.S. Book-wise, I am only bringing the Lonely Planet guide to Italy and Jeffrey Eugenides' Middlesex.  And if you already clicked the EL NOROESTE link up there, you'll recognize the connection:
Qué apropiado, pienso, para viajar en este tiempo de mi vida. Me siento como los abuelos en Middlesex por Jeffrey Eugenides, una hermana y un hermano que aprenden cómo estar casados en el barco desde Turquía hasta Nueva York. O quizás su nieto, nacido con genitales indeterminados y crecido como niña hasta la edad de catorce, cuando decide a abandonar su hogar, a su familia, su ciudad mientras se convierte en un hombre para la primera vez. El viaje físico refleja el viaje interno, y qué apropiado, entonces, que me voy a los Andes.
But this time instead of the Andes, I go to the Alps.
Life really does happen in circles.
But we have always changed by the time we come back.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Bea*yond Transphobia: Letter to Gavin McInnes and All the Haters

Dear Gavin McInnes and All the Haters,

I have just read your provocative article on Thought Catalog and decided it would be nice to respond to your assessment of several trans* related issues here on my blog.  Before I begin, I would like to note that (1) the only reason I provide a link to your article is so that people might learn about such issues by contrast, since you have provided an excellent non-example of how many things work, and (2) I am exercising an extreme amount of self-control in attempt to be civil and to not devolve into an unproductive Internet battle of ideas.  You are welcome; you certainly don't deserve civility.

Your article fails to note many important factors of trans* livelihood and I think that you and All the Haters would benefit from a little education:

  1. It is imprecise to refer to MTF genital reassignment surgery as "a guy having his penis removed" for several reasons.  One, the person in question is not, in fact, a guy, but rather a woman or a transwoman or a transsexual (or transexual, if you're a follower of Riki Wilchins) woman, or something else along these lines.  In the future, remember that it is best to let people self-identify. Continuing to refer to someone using an identity they do not share when they have already endured many years of living uncomfortably in such an identity is not permissible.  Doing so belittles and insults an incredibly courageous and noble process of self-actualization in the face of infinite adversity.  Furthermore, on a technical note, in the surgery of which you write, surgeons do not remove the penis; they reconfigure it, preserving much of the tissue, in order to create an essential body part with which the patient actually identifies.
  2. Drag queens and trans* identities are not the same thing.  Drag queens use gender non-conformity in performance at designated times. Trans* people live in their gender identities. They are neither for performances not brief in duration.
  3. Not all trans* women want, as you so crudely put it (correcting the pronoun error), "to feel a penis go in and out of [her] vagina."  Some trans* women identify as lesbian, and have no sexual interest in men.  Other trans* women do have sexual interest in men.  Other trans* women are asexual.  Other trans* women do not have the desire to have genital reassignment surgery in the first place.  Some of these women prefer being the insertive partner in sexual relations; others do not.  Stated simply, trans* women are just as sexually diverse as the rest of the population.  Human sexuality is a spectrum, and as trans* women are, despite your reductive approach, human, we share the same diverse range of sexual interests.  Kindly respect that.
  4. "Tranny" is offensive.  Never use it again.
  5. Actually, you seem to rely heavily on a broad range of offensive language to further dehumanize the medical processes by which trans* people alter their bodies. Would you use "tits," "cunts," and "cooch" so freely if you were referring to cisgender people?  My hypothesis is no. Please give trans* people the respect and dignity we deserve.
  6. On a similar note, I don't even know where to begin with your description of the product of phalloplasties as "weird cheese-blintz looking things."  Unless you're comfortable describing your own penis in this way, I would recommend not doing the same to others.  The Golden Rule, and whatnot.
  7. I have a feeling trans* activist and writer Janet Mock never said that she grew up as a "black chick."  I have heard her say in interviews that she was not born a boy, even though she was raised with the expectations to be one, but rather born as a baby, who when old enough to recognize her own agency determined for herself that she was, in fact, a woman.  Identifying a person as remarkable as Janet Mock (or anyone, for that matter) with such a crass colloquialism is rude and I appreciate your abstaining from doing so in the future.
  8. The way in which you flippantly speak about the high rates of drug usage and suicide is inexcusable.  That our population—and particularly the sub-population of trans* women of color—experiences a much lower average life expectancy is an unfortunate fact, and an unsurprising one when you examine the overwhelming impossibility that faces us at every turn: the systems of education, work, health, and law do not often understand gender non-conformity and transgender identities as legitimate, nor does the majority of society, frequently resulting in verbal, physical, and sexual violence.  Sadly, such difficulty pushes many people to drug usage and suicide.  However, your outlandish assertions that we never live to old age and that when we die, no one notices because no one knows us is false.  I have met many lovely trans* people over the age of 40 and I have wept for a trans* friend who passed too soon.
  9. We are not "crazy."  We are not "mentally ill gays."  Some of us do suffer from dysphoria and for this reason we pursue medical options like hormones and surgeries.  I have interviewed many people who have taken these measures to reduce their dysphoric sense of body image and who have been drastically happier after doing so.
  10. As your definition of a man appears to be the intimate knowledge of TurfBuilder and "how cement works," I am saddened to discover that you have three children.  Your prejudices clearly indicate to me that anyone primarily under your care and influence will suffer from a warped understanding of gender and humanity.
  11. Again, hormones and surgeries, as well as other treatments to realize one's gender identity, are legitimate and healthy options for many people, not "mutilations."  Is it a mutilation when a ciswoman enlarges her breasts?  Or a cisman his penis?  Or is it only a mutilation if the change goes contrary to the assigned sex at birth?
  12. Finally, I don't dispute that being a woman or a man can be, as you say, awesome, just so long as the people identifying themselves with those words are given the space and the respect and the dignity to do so, whatever the current or past status of their genitals.  I would also like to add to this celebration of gender that it is equally awesome to live between or outside the woman/man binary.
I wish you a swift and healthy recovery from the extremist bigotry and ignorance that has at present befallen you and All the Haters.

In the meantime, check your fucking privilege.

all my best,
bea cordelia

Friday, August 8, 2014

Bea*lin I(viii): The Life of a Gender Secret Agent, or: Travelin' Thru

[DISCLAIMER: I use the term "Gender Secret Agent" with permission from the lovely Tristan Powell.]

Last night I officially decided that upon my return to Chicago I will enroll myself in self-defense classes.  I have grown sick with worry and fear, walking down the street, waiting to be attacked, with my only potential retaliation being my longish nails and a hefty scream.

While traveling, even in places that are probably (or definitely) safer than the not-so-safe Chicago, I nevertheless get disproportionately terrified.  There's a lot to be said for speaking the native language and having a general sense of public transportation.

And now, as I plan a three-week trip through four countries, I find myself second-guessing the decision (and incredibly difficult process, lest we forget) to change the gender marker on my passport.  After all, when it comes to unfamiliar cultures, I will be safer falsely presenting myself as a man so as not to incur unwanted attention.  When it comes to crossing the borders into these countries, however, I will be safer wearing a bra and makeup so that I more match my passport.  So each time I hop on a bus or train I'll get all dolled up, only to duck into a bathroom (but which one?) once I cross over and revert back to masculinity.  And what will happen when I buy my next ticket?  Or check into a hostel?  It's a strange game of gender roulette that us Gender Secret Agents must play.

* * *

In order to get through my day without inducing an ulcer, I realized this week that there's a certain amount of letting go I need to do.  Since societies and all major institutions use gender as a foundational piece of information about a person, deriving bodily and behavioral expectations, those of us who have shifted from our original positions are left to face a world that systematically misunderstands, denies, and rejects us.  And although the part of me who made PowerPoints in high school in which all corresponding text had to be of identical fonts and font sizes would like to manage (let's be honest, control) my movements and my opportunities, there is enough adversity out there to keep me from doing so.

It is a paradoxical aspiration: how do I minimize risks but still accept the possibility that something could happen, that someone could do something out of my control at any moment, that when (and how I wish I could say "if") the time comes that I must fight or flee or bite or scream, I will simply have to do my best and pray for survival?

* * *

The research I'm conducting here in Berlin, to remind you, considers trans people's sense of body image over the course of their lifetimes, specifically in relation to coming out, any medical transformations they have enacted, and a recent change to a law that has enabled people to legally change their gender without genital reassignment surgery or sterilization.  Fittingly, I have lately been framing the fight for transgender rights as the fight to feel beautiful.  Issues that trans people face are clearly infinite and infinitely more complicated than this one vector, but when you think about it, however we identify, whether we are dysphoric or not, whether we are even trans or not, we all want to be in a body that makes us feel beautiful.  And when you look at the myriad of ways that trans people succeed in doing so, it quickly becomes apparent that the body is not so fixed in gender and in shape as societies and all major institutions would have us believe.  It's too bad I can't feel beautiful while traveling through some of the most beautiful places in the world, but such is saving my life.

It is with this in mind that I respectfully require (no, not request) all of you to not look twice at someone who looks different than what you are used to seeing. Whether they are of a different gender, race, class, age, ability, whatever—they are just as human and fragile as you are. And if they look so different that you are now so drawn to glance back at them a second, third, fourth time, with unbridled curiosity or poorly concealed disdain, they are probably already aware of their difference.  It probably took them a great deal of courage to step outside their front door this morning.  You are probably not the first person to want to look at them more than once today, this hour, on this train car.  There is probably someone who they loved who could not accept them as they were.  They probably cry just at the sheer injustice of it all sometimes, when they are just brushing their teeth or making their bed.  They probably have their keys or a canister of pepper spray clutched inside their pocket just in case tonight is the long-awaited night.  There are probably days in which they couldn't muster the courage to step outside their front door that morning.  Do not make it more difficult for them than what already is.  This is a requirement.

* * *

As for me, I try to breathe.  I pray.  I sing songs that make me feel strong or maybe even at peace.  I remind myself that no one is thinking about how different I look more than I am in this moment.  I remember all the older trans people I have only recently met, in their fifties, sixties, seventies, who have already made it this far in life without getting killed and I ask myself why can't I be one of them.  I send a selfie to my friends because even on this darkened street, on this enclosed underground train with nowhere to escape, I've never looked more beautiful.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

to bea* or not to bea*

Dear Internet,

I am thrilled to announce that work on my first full-length solo performance is officially underway!

Set against a compelling (but for now secret!) narrative, this still-untitled autobiographical play combines my slam poetry and personal essays, as well as brand new material, to tell the story of one translady's search for love and self-esteem in a world that would deny her both and much much more.

I have already assembled a small team of collaborators on this project, and although the location and dates will not be determined for some time yet, I can say that the play will debut at some point over the following year.

As the process continues, I will keep you all posted on updates, fundraising efforts, and the eventual need for practice audiences (!).

Check your privilege!