Mini-documentary about getting my name legally changed in rural Ohio: May, 2010.
I’ve never been a book person. Reading has never come easy to me, resulting in my rarely reading anything. Sure, I read signs and emails and 142 character tweets, but my brain refuses to give up my 7 year old mentality of if a book doesn’t have pictures, I’m not interested. And though I have never been a book person, I am an insatiable learner. My inability (or refusal) to read has caused a lot of problems with this, starting with bad grades as a kid and then escalating to a much more frustrating fate. It puts me at risk of being left out of my communities. Most of our breakthrough thinkers and epiphany-enduing personal stories are only found in, you guessed it, books. So what’s a dyslexic femme boy to do? Just gotta suck it up and read some shit, or better yet get a cute queer to read aloud to you Jane Austen style while you recline on a sofa with an undeserved sense of accomplishment.
I know, I know, I’m amazingly smart, but I wasn’t always this awesome. Before I was clever enough to enlist a cute reader I had to laboriously read books to myself. One of my early labors of love, and possibly the first ‘gender’ text that ever spoke to me, was Kate Bornstein’s Gender Outlaw – not because of its theoretical or activist implications, but because of Kate’s poetic gender-fuck-you, “Its my life, I do what I want” mentality. The book may not have changed my life, but it made me feel like I wasn’t alone – something I surely already knew but had never been proven to me until then – and that changed my life.
Kate and S. Bear Bergman just edited a new book: Gender Outlaw: The Next Generation and once again I am being taught things I thought I already knew, or maybe just needed to be re-told. The book opens with a heart-warming conversation between Kate and Bear. It is like hiding behind the kitchen door while your parents talk about you, but instead of your parents in a traditional sense, its your trans-queer family and instead of talking about you specifically, its your community. And what is “community” but a broader reflection of ourselves, what we’ve done, and what we need to do? (And what else do parents talk about but what you did and what you need to do?) And though community in a sense is about us, community isn’t one thing or type of person because every community is made up of countless other communities. Its a group of intersectional identities bound together by a common identity or experience and this forms some intangible matrix that we exist in and our existence makes it visible. Now, I could make Kate and Bear very happy by expanding this borderline sci-fi reference into a full sci-fi metaphor but I am not cool (or un-cool) enough to know how (sorry darlings <3) so I’m going to talk about paintings instead. A Monet painting. Its made of millions of different sized, shaped, and shaded strokes create something recognizable. Someone may only see the greater image without seeing the individual strokes that form it, and some strokes may be more visible than others, but there are no true lines, no way to define where one shape starts and another ends or which has more impact on the finished work of art. It all depends on who’s looking and what they are looking for. That is why this anthology is so relevant to our community now. It is a collection of various strokes and swabs from the greater work of our community so that we may get a better idea of what we’re looking at when we stare into that mass of color on canvas.
Recently, I have been especially frustrated with the barely moving, politically stunted and socially constricted suffocation that is my Midwestern hometown’s “gay” community. This book reminded me that I’m not out of my wits, not just in reference to my genderfucked femme trans-radical queerness. It also focuses on socio-political state of our community through its presentation of multifaceted political consciousnesses of privilege, language, power, race, class, and accessibility. It discusses who we are in our differences and similarities, what we are doing now, and what we need to do to better the future. Sometimes the only push we need to keep going is to see that we are not the only one who is fighting, who is living a life like ours while also working to enable others to do so in their own right. I can’t tell you this book will change your life, but it may remind you that you’re not alone. And if you’re like me, and not a book person, they got us covered. The book has pictures.
This past weekend friend and I drove up to Massachusetts for the wedding of two friends, a lesbian wedding in a castle to be exact. At the wedding I was filled with joyous bewilderment – sort of like when you see something so amazing that you can’t even believe you’re seeing it. That’s what its like when I look at the bridal couple because they are both such good people. It also made me think of something I don’t think about much; romantic love. It made me wonder what are the fucking chances that this ‘love’ this ‘partnering’ can even happen, what are the odds? This was reinforced by the mood of the wedding which was more than just a happy wedding. It was clear we were celebrating a victory, the victory of these two people overcoming a society that did not want them together and be just that; together.
I don’t pay much attention to ‘gay marriage’ politics, and often feel aggravated how the “gay” movement has a one track mind on it, ignoring other important issues. But there are strong benefits to obtaining marriage rights. The USA has an unusually high amount of civil rights attached to a marriage license, who knows why. Maybe its our puritan roots. The fact that my two friends were able to get legally married will enable them to get everything from tax breaks to insurance to visitation rights, practical things for life. Partnering is so complicated, queer or not, when someone finds a good partner there is often that “good for you” mentality thought there, which can be really patronizing but it highlights how communally understood the difficulties of partnering are – and that’s without thinking of legal issues and shortcomings. In queer communities, on top of it being hard to find someone there is the extra stress of cultural, familial, and societal disapproval. When a couple makes it through all that, and still has more hardships to come against, you can’t help but celebrate. Like, way to kick society in the face and say “I love this person so fuck you!” I still think there are more significant needs of the communities as far as civil rights, but I’m gonna try to keep in mind that marriage is also important.
I started taking T three years ago. I knew it was something I wanted, I was positive, I was prepared, I was terrified.
Me, less than one month before starting T:
[image description: JAC – auburn hair and brown eyes, looking directly into the camera. His shoulders are bare, shirtless and leaning on a white pillow]
This is the only self-portrait shoot I did from before T until two months in. I decided not to photograph myself in any structured way. At the time, I felt enough like a science experiment without documenting myself in mug shots. I did take my measurements – everything from my chest to my wrist. I also recorded my voice. Being a singer my voice was of particular interest to me. I recorded it at every shot for a year, then every 6 months, then every year. Its fascinating listening to my voice then. I remember recording it, but only after playing it back a few times did I notice how nervous I sound and that my voice is shaking.
I remember being excited and sad when I found I was no longer a mezzo soprano, and discovering a tenor falsetto which, funny enough, made me feel really butch. I listened to my voice from a year ago and was pleased to find my voice today is a little deeper. I keep shooting for that baritone, haha, but I don’t think I’m ever gonna get it.
I really like what T has done for me. When I started T I told myself I was going to take it until I didn’t want to take it anymore. No pressure, no deadlines, no “goals” (fuck you GID). I knew there was a possibility that my health would deteriorate and if that happened I would deal with it when I came to it. So far, though it has had some not-so-desirable health effects on my disability I find that the price is worth paying. As Kate says, its about doing whatever you have to do to make your life more worth living.
Me, 3 years on T:
[image description: JAC – pink hair and brown eyes, looking directly into the camera with a slight smile.]
I’m very pleased in that I look almost exactly the same. I started taking T in order to look more like I wanted to look, to sound more like I wanted to sound, and that’s exactly what happened. I took my measurements and every one was within one inch of those I took three years ago. Its funny because my body looks very, very different from before which just shows how little change can go a long way. Before I started T I was terrified. I was terrified of my health deteriorating, terrified it would make me go crazy(ier), terrified of being denied health care, yeah that was all in there… But what scared me the most was changing into someone I couldn’t recognize, living in a body I couldn’t imagine as a me I didn’t know. Really its no different than the fear I had as a little kid, dreading getting older because I didn’t want grow up and be someone I didn’t know in a life I couldn’t imagine. Now it all seems so insignificant, now that I know myself better, know my life better. Honestly, I don’t think being trans has much to do with it, I think I’m just getting old and being genderfucked along the way. Is shit perfect? Course not. Sometimes the androgyny pulls on me so hard that I don’t know if I can stand it anymore. I dream of a voice I’ll never get in a body I’ll probably never have dressed in a metro-fashion I’m incapable of affording let alone pulling off. The reality is that yes, I want to be read as male, yes I want to pass, I hate being stared at, I hate being afraid… I hate being different. But this is who and what I am. I lived so long as a lesser version of me either trying to be more femme or more butch than I am, more of a girl or more of a guy than I am, always trying to pass as something other me. And if I’m not going to go all out now, well, what would I be waiting for? For it to get easier, for the world to get better? I don’t have time for that. I don’t think anyone does. This is the only life I have and I figure its good enough for me and if nothing else, I have really fabulous hair.
Just returned from a fantastic journey to Canada for Toronto Pride. I was invited by the awesome troupe the Royal Renegades of Columbus to perform with them and our friends Ceci My Playmate and Her Dollies the at the festival. It was a ton of fun. I was the EMCEE for the majority of the show which was a special treat. There were so many young people in the audience, it was adorable. That is the best thing about Pride, seeing all the kids and young folks come out, all excited and beaming – before they get bitter and jaded like the rest of us. lol
I’ve never been one to go nuts over rainbows and Pride, but I have to admit the way Toronto handles it is an experience. It wasn’t the size alone (with was staggering) that was amazing, but more so the way the city responded to Pride. In Toronto, Pride is treated like any other holiday. Stores in the main shopping drag of the city hung rainbow flags and ‘gay’ themed store displays. Now, I realize that its all corporate consumerism, but even with that it was strange to be so… normalized. There’s little chance of any mall in Cincinnati having store after store with queer themes. People wouldn’t go to them out of protest, but in Toronto people don’t think twice. The Pride parade was also televised live in full as well as evening coverage; it was even on the weather.
Clothing store near Easton Center, downtown Toronto — Pride on Toronto’s weather
Granted, Canada is arguably one of the most liberal, queer-friendly countries in the world and Toronto is its largest, (and most liberal) city, so talking about how queer friendly it is may seem redundant. Even so, its not something this Midwestern boy is used to. I wonder if it is like San Francisco Pride,or New York, or D.C., but even there I don’t know if Pride is on the weather. I can’t even put my finger on the feelings surrounding it because its something I’ve never experienced on this scale.
I was hoping to see tons of transfolk at Pride, but sadly I didn’t. I missed the Trans March by a day, I guess after the march all the trans folk didn’t want to come out (maybe they were too tired, ba dum ching!) I saw a couple older women, but I couldn’t even spot any folks that could be either lesbians or transguys but you can’t tell. It was surprising and disappointing… I asked around, but to no avail. I’m curious as to what the trans community is like there now. All I could find out was that the guys and gals were pretty separated, and most transmasculine folks seemed to be younger and have ‘different interests’ from the women. Sound familiar? Eh, well, guess I’ll have to go back and look some more.
The visibility and normalization, if you will, of Toronto Pride left me thinking about my own recent experiences with Cincinnati Pride and the controversy of accessibility and inclusion. Toronto seemed to do a good job with family-friendly and youth-specific spaces, as well as safe spaces for various parts of our community including the disabled, trans and gqs, and POCs. There was also a pretty prominent international presence in the parade which was awesome. I am certain that all Prides have their issues, but as a literal foreigner I wasn’t savvy to them. It made me think about the attempts of sanitizing Cincy Pride, and further reiterated my feelings on the issue. From what I could tell from being present in the festival, working with volunteers, and attending events, Toronto’s way of managing Pride was very community run and community focused. There was a surprising lack of corporate ads etc with a plethora of community groups and locally run industry (even the city transportation services were in the parade). Maybe a good idea for Midwest communities would be to have community marches. The Toronto Dyke March grossed 200,000 – which I learned from the news coverage about it. Of course, a big place like Toronto has the resources and people power for such a thing which stresses how a city with low community resources can raise all the money it wants for pride, but without a supported people all you’ll end up with is a shell of a festival with low representation and even lower involvement.
As for an update on Cincinnati Pride workings, there isn’t much of one. After a brief period of motion and success the opposition seems to be stonewalling us, so we must push on and keep up the work until some sort of resolution and be accomplished. Maybe one day Cincy pride can manage something like Toronto (to scale) but we haven’t gotten there yet.
This past weekend, The Black Mondays drag troupe celebrated our four year anniversary! It was a fantastic show with a great crowd. Its hard to believe its been four years since I was an awkward “Jammie JAC” in my bunny slippers, boxers, and home-made kimono robe collecting tips at the troupe’s 2nd show ever. Lol, yes, that is how I got started in drag; collecting tips in my underwear and bunny slippers. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
[image: JAC with brown hair, brown eyes bowing to an audience, partly holding open a red robe with a white tank top showing underneath and brown and white bunny slippers]
Blast from the past! Drag in Cincinnati has become such a different scene from what it was back then; back when shows were selling out the bar, and the bar next door. Practicing in tiny kitchens and boiling living rooms on the west side, or in the old dive dyke bar until 8am, watching our recorded routines huddled around the the tiny screen of a bulky 1990s camcorder – where now with my Flip camera we record practices and then watch them full screen on a computer a few minutes later. (I don’t know if you can fully appreciate how amazing that is, but trust me it is – hence I randomly put it in this post.) And JAC McFaggin’, the Euro-star who wanted so badly to be a badass king now turned genderfucking crossdresser embracing his gayness – a totally unexpected development, but I couldn’t be more pleased.
The Troupe performing at BullFishes Bar, 2006
[image: group of drag king and femme performers circled on stage, boys are in black and white, femme one in white dress singing with two in black corsets and poofy colored skirts]
I am excited to see where the next years will take us in our drag exploits. In the meantime, and speaking of technology, enjoy some fabulous videos! I unexpectedly undertook choreographing “Confessions” from Glee two weeks before the show (which I wasn’t thrilled about, and otherwise would not work with Glee material). Never heard the song, didn’t know a thing about it. We did it as a boys number and I even surprised myself at the butchness of the moves, which in the end I myself still didn’t execute butchly which was expected. Notice all the fists! Masculine! RAWR! More videos to the show can be found at The Black Monday’s YouTube Channel.
Videos under the cut!
I feel like I spend a lot of time, on here in particularly, talking about what we, the trans community, don’t have but should have, need but aren’t allowed, and want but can’t have. Today I think I’ll focus on what we do have. Yesterday Rocco and Katz (better known as Katastrophe and Athens Boys Choir) came to perform. It was really great get some time with other transguys who are around the same point on the path that I am. Honestly I think we maybe got 20 min all together talking about specific trans-ish stuff, but it didn’t matter because I like them so much, its been about two years since we last hung out. Both Rocco and Katz talk a lot about their pasts in their work, and I love how they continually reach out to the commonalities we all have. No matter where you grew up, or what your life was like, trans kids and queer kids have a rough time. We all know what its like, which raises the importance that we be there for each other.
Katz (Athens Boys Choir), me, and Rocco (Katastrophe) posing very professionally after some fun coloring time.
[image: Katz, JAC, and Rocco holding up pictures they drew. Katz has a beefcake expression and holds a picture of a ranch, JAC is smiling widely- 3 bug-eyed birds that he draws all the time, Rocco smiling widely – a frog with a long tongue.]
There is something particular to be said about chillin’ with other folks who have an identity like your own. One of my students recently came out as trans. When I first met him, I recognized him, probably because I’d seen him around campus, or so I thought. As we talked it came out that he was born in Cincinnati, and when I asked where in the city, who is family was, my brain rushed a wall. I recognized him because I used to babysit him and his sister. Last time I saw him he was about six years old, and thirteen years later, he still has the same face. I just had to hug him, and joked that he caught the ‘trans’ from me. It was an amazing experience because I had a history with him, but not a school history or a friend history, a history of caring for him, knowing him when he was a tiny baby, playing with him, teaching him, watching him get bigger and more alive every year… Now here he was, all grown up and just like me (except a lot better at sports). Today over lunch, he and I talked a little about a couple different trans-related topics, and as I talked I kept coming back to the familiar spot where I emphasize the importance of how we, trans people, rely on each other as a community. Not that other folks in other communities don’t do the same thing, but trans people have such a particularly unique experience, these complex journeys of figuring shit out in a societal structure that speaks to our out nonexistence. And we come from all communities, all backgrounds, and the complex overlapping of socio-cultural elements, sexuality and partnering, gender expression, identity, and more. No one’s got this but us, and who better to know how to handle it but us, and those who have come before us. So we don’t have a ton of history documenting us, resources to help us, laws to protect us, or even communities to love and accept us, but we’ve got each other. And as long as we hold on to each other, help each other, we can fight to get the rest of what we need, what we deserve. So if you are feeling down or isolated, just remember you’re part of something bigger, and your fight is my fight. I’ll finish off in the immortal words of Red Green, “I’m pullin’ for ya. We’re all in this together.”
April has always been a favorite month of mine. As a kid, April was time for Easter candy, my mom’s birthday, and violets – my favorite flower. It brought the first signs of Spring as winds blew away Midwest winter overcasts revealing bright blue skies shining on green clover fields. April means brightness, color, sunshine, and rebirth. Sometimes I wish SAAM (Sexual Assault Awareness Month) had gone to a different month. Maybe its supposed to coincide with life and rebirth… but for me rebirth has nothing to do with the topic. I do a lot of planning and programming around sexual assault, finding ways to promote healthy relationships, education and awareness. But the day of… the work stops being for the good of the community and becomes nothing but a reminder. Not of the failings of society, the aggressions, the suffering… I think only of myself, where I’ve been, and what I have tried to forget.
I wandered the empty lecture hall waiting for no one to show up. I hit the lights and started the film, listening to the survivors stories echoing over the empty rows of chairs. Like cracking ice, I started to feel it. Push. Pull. When the movie ended there was a silence. It was my job to promote discussion, but I didn’t. I didn’t know if anyone else was a survivor, and I didn’t want to out myself in front of my co-workers. So I left the silence alone, watching the three attendees gather their things. I felt like a shell, smiling, faking, wishing people a good night. On my way home I turned the music up. At home, I fed my cats, cleaned my kitchen, and dissociated.
Queers search for each other through our ‘queer-dar’ using haircuts, gestures, and politics to find each other. It isn’t the same for survivors. I look at people, continually thinking its gonna written somewhere for my radar to read. But it isn’t written on me, and I’ve never seen it on anyone else. So we are continually silent, waiting for someone to speak up so we can find each other, passing as people who aren’t survivors, for better or worse, never being recognized and never finding each other.
My second ‘Take Back the Night’ I got the guts to speak out. I held my friends hand, said almost nothing, and hid from everyone the rest of the night. I was horrified and exposed, but it did make a change in me. You always hear about speaking out changing lives, and it actually does. I had tried to claim ‘survivor’ before, but I still felt like a victim. Speaking out changed that. It stopped being just a weight on me, it became a part of my identity for better or worse. I was no longer a prisoner to it. After that, like a flood, other survivors found me. They didn’t know where I had been exactly, but we could understand each other. Now, almost three years later, I’ve back-slid into forgetting and ignoring. Its funny, the last thing I want to do is remember but forgetting is just as bad. Its lose lose. Sometimes I can manage a reasonable balance of neither acknowledging or ignoring, but that is hard to keep it up in April.
April. Sometimes I wonder who we are helping here? Communities of the oppressed are put upon to educate the rest even when we should be focusing ourselves. Whatever the cause queers, survivors, it is all the same tune. But who else cares about this shit but people who it has effected, either directly or indirectly through a loved one. I know, I don’t want to take credit from a great many allies, but if you look at the majority of people doing this work we’ve all been through something, or multiple somethings. That’s how we know what to say, and what isn’t being said. But… When I think about it, when I do this work really all that I have in my mind is those I love, more than myself. The people I know, the stories I’ve heard. That is what makes me want to do the work. I don’t think that much about my experiences because I don’t want to… So I guess I understand the allies working for this. They feel as I do, wanting to help those they love, wanting no one to ever have to live through that pain. And for me, it is because I know that pain first hand that I want to protect those I love from it.
This post has no real point, or profound message (like my other posts do??) More than anything, I think this was a speak out post for me, to refresh my power of self, to fight against back-sliding into denial and darkness. I don’t even want to publish this, but I am going to. I am going to push myself to not be afraid. And this post is a signal to other survivors. Since we have no radar, no flag, no rainbow to find one another… if you can’t find anyone else, you can find me. Here I am, I am like you. You are not alone.
Back from Creating Change in Dallas! The conference was pretty small this year, maybe 2500 people. There were less young people than last year, but other than that there was a good representation of the community. I am actually pretty satisfied with the Task Force’s work in creating an inclusive, intersectional community- a rarity to come from a national organization. They have been increasingly good about having lots of stuff for trans folk, both from an accessibility and an activity standpoint and this year they added multi-lingual events and interpreters to the slew of accessibility options, which is most excellent.
I was very surprised at the number of radically minded folks this year. Often there is a surplus of pro-marriage, HRC humping agenda pushers but as the years go on they are appearing less and less at Creating Change. I overheard several conversations about the faults of the marriage movement and even dialogue about the Task Force’s name. (full name Gay and Lesbian Task Force). Mark, from QueerToday.com made an excellent post talking about the conference here. I actually don’t even recall very many cases of being called the wrong pronoun. It was a surprisingly safe space. In fact, for a trip to Texas, I made out surprisingly unscathed. Short of some awkward conversations with taxi drivers about illegal aliens and what I am “activating” about as an activist, plus multiple run-ins with airport security, I made out ok. The city was surprisingly empty, and in many places reminded me of pre-2000s East Berlin -in a bad way. Guess I expected Texas to be immune from the recession. There were also a surprisingly large number of independent businesses on the outskirts of the city. Inside the city, aside from the art museums, it was more difficult to find much independent Dallas culture. I wasn’t able to visit with my sister, who lives in Denton, which was a downer and I had several health issues that made me miss a chunk of the conference. On the whole though, I got to do a lot of great stuff while I was there. Saw some wonderful o’l friends I don’t usually get to see, always good. And I did some great networking, which again is always good. I am feeling optimistic about the work to be done in the next year. This is a crucial time for a lot for trans stuff, and its important we keep working.
Also, make sure you are keeping up with ENDA and fighting the good fight! We are coming down to the wire, March is almost here!
And now for some photos!
you knew there had to be a cowboy hat picture
[image: JAC smiling, wearing a cowboy hat]
He stood in the doorway. I could see him shaking from my desk. He sat across from my desk, avoiding eye contact. I tried to get him to speak, but before he got two words out he broke down. I didn’t need to ask. I knew who he was.
About a week before a student had come to my office looking for advice. While working at a center on campus, she met a community member who had come in looking for resources. She gave me a brief description that could be summed up to: this person had been through a lot of shit. It sadly wasn’t an unfamiliar story of a Midwestern queer, but even I have to admit that it isn’t often you run into a case this bad. Abandonment, abuse, discrimination, rape, homelessness, unemployment, isolation, infection… he had been through it all.
I listened to myself as I spoke words of encouragement I had at one point told someone else… or myself: “You’ve been strong enough to get this far, no reason you can’t keep going. There is nothing wrong with you. You have a right to live and be happy.”
I did my best lend a listening ear and set him up with some resources. The sad truth was that there was no real queer community service system for him around here… or anywhere in the state. I wish I could have done something more to help him. I should of at least shaken his hand… His eyes reminded me of another set I have never forgotten. A young genderqueer I met about a year ago in Indiana. They came up to me after a presentation with tears in their eyes and said, “This is the first time I’ve ever met anyone like me. ” I looked at them and I could swear I was looking at myself. All I could do was hug them. “I know its hard to imagine now,” I said, “but it does get better. If I made it this far, you can too.” As the words left my mouth I wondered how much farther I had come than this kid. Did I really have it all together like they thought I did?
I never heard from them. I wonder where they are now, what they are doing, if they’ve made it out ok. I don’t remember their name, only their face… the sight of my own painful past played out in someone else. I don’t think its a specific thing for the Midwest, but I do think it is part of a bigger picture. The fact that there are so many of us out there suffering when we shouldn’t have to. I wish there was some better, faster way to for all of us to know that no queer is alone in all this. Every time someone feels a pain because of their identity, someone else is having the exact same pain some 200 miles away. In that bond we can all be stronger. That bond, that connection is the reason why we have to keep working, keep fighting to make things better. It isn’t over til we are all in the clear, and no one is left behind.