Feeling Change: Trans in Ohio

This past weekend was the 4th Annual TransOhio Transgender and Ally Symposium, the only trans focused event of its kind in Ohio, and one of few, if not the only one, in the Midwest. This was my first year on the conference project as a TransOhio board member and I’m very pleased with what we were able to accomplish. We have a long way to go, but we’re getting there in a good way! I totally used my board position to aid in bringing amazing activist/performer/educator (and a my dear friend) Ignacio Rivera as the keynote. Through their keynote address they delivered exactly what our community needed to hear; the importance of hard work, dedication, inclusion, and intersectionality.

Image: 3 Conference organizers posing and smiling with Keynote Ignacio Rivera.  Sarah (brown hair, glasses, blue sweater), Ignacio Rivera, (PoC genderqueer in white half sleeve shirt and glasses) Shane (bearded, glasses, grey shirt), JAC (pink hair, blue shirt, glasses), and Melissa (longer brown hair, striped blouse, holding a black laptop)

Community. I got a surprisingly large amount of it over the weekend. Every year I associate this symposium with community, yes, but more so with what may possibly be my longest work days of the year. This time around I didn’t feel the work so much. I mean, I felt it; I was presenting in almost every block of the 3 day conference plus producing and performing in Fabulously Fluid!. But this year it seemed like a more active, lively, and loving experience.

[Image: Midwest Genderqueer -gq transguy w pink hair, standing with hand on hip, head down slighting holding a microphone. dressed in gold metallic booty shorts, black bra, a gold metallic necktie which sits underneath the bra and has a black fascinator hat on his head.] Photo by Thomas Menningen 

At the show, now finishing it’s 3rd year running, I was moved by the performers. The first year of Fabulously Fluid! I advertised to performers that it as a genderfuck show, but the majority of the numbers weren’t especially ‘gender’ themed. This year was quite different with nearly all performances using elements of gender, politics, and/or personal empowerment. Everyone around me was working hard and sending love and support; talking about the importance of being there, being present and active in this fight in whatever way they could. I continually  found myself loosing composure – maybe because by the show I was emotionally and physically drained from the day, maybe it was because these last several months have been more lonely and hellish than usual and the contrast of support was a shock, or maybe its because I was able to take a minute, look out, and see the community that I’m so often struggling to build and to find.

It’s not easy to be Midwestern and Trans* and I’ll admit it, sometimes I feel pretty downtrodden.  The “straight” community either doesn’t believe we exist or is determined to pretend that we don’t and local “gay” communities, many feel the same way OR are still misunderstanding us either through well intentioned exclusion or oblivious oppression. It’s a 24/7 push against a wall that never gives, and every time you think one brick might be giving way, another collapses on top of it to reinforce the structure of invisibility, disempowerment, and rejection. The understanding that there is more to ‘queer’ than homosexuality, more to community than white, middle class; more the gender than boy or girl; more to accessibility than putting up a poster; more to activism than simply stating that things are getting better. Our community is isolated, separated, and scared – but the most important thing is that it is there. It is there and for the first time people are actually seeing it. I think that the “change” that has been incubating and forming is finally growing big enough to recognize. In my Gender Identity Disorder Removal workshop, I had almost twenty providers listening, nodding, and understanding the plight of the trans* community. In my genderqueer caucus I heard people, younger and older, bonding over the same feelings and learning from their different experiences. Even at home here in Cincinnati, the project I’ve been working to get off the ground for three years is finally taking some sort of shape and providing more to the community. Out of nowhere people are starting to talk, and as I watch the mixing of different generations’ and communities’ language, ideas, and experiences I’m thinking that this is bigger than what any of us can see right now. Is the solution to oppression, exclusion, and miseducation around the corner? I’m too jaded to be optimistic, but I’m always willing to be hopeful.

I like to think that I have gotten used to oppression – I need to think that in order to feel strong enough to fight back. It is easier to take a blow, especially one from your own people, when you see it coming. But being accustomed is not the same as accepting it. I will not accept being assigned a ‘less than’ value; I will not accept moving forward while leaving others behind; I will not accept rejection from a community I know I am a part of, and that includes the community of trans*, queer, Cincinnati, Ohio, the Midwest, the USA, the globe. It isn’t going to be easy, and a lot of it isn’t going to be enjoyable. Of all the things I love about my work and my communities, there is a lot that I really struggle with to where I think I’m going to either crumble or burst. Gotta keep your eye on the prize. Sometimes the right thing to do is not what we like to do or what we want to do. We have to do it anyway. What will carry us through this pain and suffering is not anger and it is not love; it is perseverance. It is dedication to something bigger than you or me; the idea that something better than this is possible. I don’t expect to see the golden changing of all of this in my lifetime, but I’m going to do whatever I can to make sure that those who come after me will.

Our Growing Trans Community, Our Community Growing Up

This weekend was a fabulously busy. It was my 2nd year at the Philly Trans Health Conference (PTHC), first time as a board member. I presented six times, volunteered, and had tons of meeting, both for fancy business and friendly love. My thoughts about the conference circle around a sense of growing community, and our past and future. This was stirred particularly by my seeing friends from early on in my coming out, people who I haven’t seen in years, reawakening memories of first finding community, that desperation to not be alone, and the joy of connecting with someone who was like me.

I ran a trans performance plenary with the amazing performers Bryn Kelly, Katastrophe, Athens Boys Choir, The Notorius OMG, Leah b. of Gender Edge, Ignacio Rivera, and AJ Bryce. As we all spoke, points of similarity kept arising; we all started out alone, isolated from anyone else like us. We never planned to be this visible, we were searching for ourselves, and ended up finding more than we ever thought. And in searching for myself, I selfishly loaded the conference with femme stuff this year. I brought the issue to the board, stressing the importance of femme inclusion, and before I knew it I was titled the Femme Program Coordinator – something PTHC has never had before. Honestly, I questioned myself  like “but, wait, I’m not what most people think of when they think femme… should I be in charge” but then I realized that not only was there no one else, and it was me or nothing, that also the fact that I am not the “mainstream” vision of what femme is might be a good reason for me to take it on. Time to break the mold and get the wheels of change moving! There were so many folks like me there, it was like looking in a mirror – a much more fabulous and well dressed mirror. And when the inevitable happened, and non-trans female femmes raised their eyebrows saying “wait, you are the one in charge a femme programming….?” I brushed it off and smiled to myself, because the femme workshop they attending would not have been there if it wasn’t for me. If they didn’t think I was femme enough, then they could get out of my workshops- and there were several. Through the supportive conference  leadership I was able to take PTHC from having one femme workshop (that had only been in programming for two of the ten years of the conference) to seven workshops focused on femmes presented by a diverse array of femmes of different identities, and all of them were packed! My femme boys workshop had almost 160 people in it which was intense but wonderful, and gave me ideas for new programming next year.  I also did a workshop with my mentor and friend, Moonhawk River Stone about gender identity disorder removal which was a success, and we have new plans for the next year, and how we aren’t willing to wait anymore on what we’ve been nervously dragging our feet on. Our community is getting too big, too strong to sit under this oppression any longer. Ignacio Rivera and I did a fun sexual liberation workshop for the young folks in the youth programming track. It was incredible to hear 16 year olds talking about the gender binary and privilege. It made me wonder where I would be if I had known about that stuff when I was their age, and it blows my mind thinking what they may accomplish by the time they are my age. Speaking of age, I also got a ton of baby time this weekend, getting to play with S. Bear Bergman’s son, while totally blowing off other stuff that was not as important as crawling around the carpet with a 16 month old. I wonder what things will be like in the trans community when that baby grows up…

My other big task of the conference planning was I directed and performed in the new show, “Blender! Trans Performance Showcase.” This was the first time a performance showcase has been a part of the Philly Trans Health Conference and it couldn’t have gone over better. I wanted to do a show because I wanted to promote trans and queer performance, and also to stress the importance of including art in our work as activists. Our community’s art is our community’s culture, and if we don’t support it, who will? This show was great. It was honestly the most hectic, disastrous, stressful show I’ve ever organized but it was also one of the most exciting because we were forging a new space. In the end, all the hard work was worth it. All the performers were fantastically talented doing spoken word, music, dance, and drag. We bonded together, ready to create something for our people, and to show our people what we had created. The fabulous Liberty City Kings Drag and Burlesque troupe were life-savers in helping me run the stage, and the audience was happy and excited giving the night such a positive energy. It was a great way to wrap up the weekend and I’m looking forward to running the event next year!

Video from the performance, which loops in perfectly with this blog topic.  I call it “GenderBent Kids” partly after the name of the song the dance is set to, “Kids” by MGMT. Its a little reflection on myself growing up, enjoying both femme and masculine cultural expressions, but continually feeling the need to choose between one or the other under the imposed narrative of social authority promoting the gender binary. Like most of my favorite pieces, it came together from a last minute idea that hit me like a hurricane like “OMG this would be awesome” and there it was. This is the first run of it so I’m looking forward to beefing up the dancing a little bit more and maybe making it a little more complex.

This conference was just a good example of where I want our community to be going. This conference is the biggest trans focused conference in the world, and it just turned 10 years old. Seems fitting we are on a good path of growth, which could not have happened without the amazing folks working on the project. We weren’t without issues this weekend, not without people being hurtful and oppressive, or without pain, but we worked through it. We were together with our elders and our youth, forging a community that was accountable, responsible, active, understanding, and loving.  Hell, even Chaz Bono got an earful of community folks asking him about his behavior and holding him accountable – more on that later. Our community is growing, and we’re getting stronger. We gotta keep this up.

WTF Chaz Bono? Empowerment or Oppression? Pick one.

I really don’t want to be like every other trans/queer blog who has Chaz on the brain, but this really deserved attention. During an interview with David Letterman on Wednesday Chaz outwardly spoke out against gender identity disorder. As I mentioned in my last entry, I have some strong reservations about Chaz  Bono’s points on gender politics and constructs of normalcy.  Still, Chaz’s comment may very well be the first dissenting reference to gender identity disorder in pop culture ever. That is a big fucking deal. Was it as thorough as I would like, course not, but the fact that he put the idea that GID is a problem out into millions is a huge step. I think it would have been good to expand a little about his stigma comment surrounding mental “illness” – but the fact that he and Letterman said “stigma” and not the ableist “we’re not crazy” argument is promising. He does give a lot of promotion to therapy, which to me, without further explanation of why therapy can be useful to some but maybe not others, seems to send mixed signals to an uninformed audience, but it could of been worse.

What Chaz did was, for all intents and purposes, give a brief trans 101 on national television – and it actually wasn’t a horrible train wreck. He even referenced queerness within trans communities, another rarely talked about issue. There is also a very brief discussion about trans positioning within LGB communities where Chaz states its “the best fit we have” which is neither here nor there. For me its a great fit, maybe not for others. From there he continues to point out what I think is the most important thing there is to know about homophobia/transphobia which is that it all stems from societal discomfort with gender non-conformity. So get your scrap books out; This is one of those extremely rare occasions when Midwest GenderQueer is actually being somewhat optimistic about something. But as the Letterman interview went on, that optimism was found to be short lived and I came back to reality.

Of course, no interview with a trans person is complete without digging into the nitty gritty details of a the SEX CHANGE. In a previous post I referenced Chaz presenting alternate concepts on what trans folks may want for surgery, something the completely counteracts in the Letterman interview supporting the idea that top surgery was “essential” to a transmasculine transition. Well fuck, guess I got it all wrong. Better get the knife out or else change my label quick! This comes back to the spokesperson issue. If you want to tell your story that’s great, tell it, but don’t try to transcribe what all trans people think, say, want, and/or do – granted this time around he was generally good at making “I” statements… just not good enough. I’ve seen a lot of comments among trans folk saying that Chaz talks about his transition too much.  I don’t think its possible for a person to productively express themselves too – art can not be created if we limit ourselves and neither can social change. Sometimes some of us need to be vulnerable in order to get the message out there, and we all find our ways to do that. It’s great that Chaz is empowered in discussing his physical transition and the details of his sex life. Some may argue that someone’s gotta do it, and I’ll be the first to admit that it is not going to be me. I put myself out there in a lot of ways, and I’m continuing to push my comfort levels for the sake of visibility, but I have my limits. I’ll gladly tell trans folks almost everything about myself and my experiences because trans folk need to know; its relevant to their lives. Non-trans folk don’t need to know the details of my transition story because there isn’t anything they can do with it other than be entertained. What my body looks like, why it looks like this, and what I do with it sexually are not teaching aids and I have found I can easily provide in depth trans education without invading my privacy. That’s what makes me uncomfortable here. I expect Chaz’s reasons for focusing on his transition is 1) he’s excited about it and 2) he wants to promote visibility and understanding. That said, I also think he’s good at marketing, very good. I worry that all this media attention is just more trans exploitation where we are the freak show for all the normies who don’t give a damn about our rights, they just like how fascinating we are. And speaking of fascinating things, I’m starting to think that Chaz is incapable of talking about his transition outside of a sexist paradigm. While discussing his “male personality” he states: “I can be insensitive and be a guy in that way…” to which Letterman responds “Amen, brother.” as the bump fists.  Really? What the fuck? In addition to misogyny, Chaz is oppressing his own male/masculine community by stereotyping us as emotionally dense oafs. He states that because of T he is capable of being an “asshole” and “pigheaded” because apparently he was never an asshole before T. How many trans folks have fought hell and high water trying to convince a loved one that hormones was not going to turn us into another person?? (Fuck you, L Word) Like I said before, that’s not T dude, that’s your messed up, sexist idiocy! And if you’re an asshole now, you’ve probably always been one.

Letterman also talked about his own ignorance in reference to when his show aired a transphobic skit earlier this season. It wasn’t quite an apology, but it’s always good when people own up to their shit. Of course that was shortly followed by him making a transphobic joke about Cher possibly being trans, stating “was there anything about her I should know about?” Of course the audience laughed heartily. How is this happening? Here you have some awesome stuff to make you think that Chaz Bono might turn our media image around, and then he goes and acts like an uneducated, sexist moron. Should I be happy with the fact that it could be worse? I think that when empowerment is eaten with oppression, oppression has too strong of a taste to drown out. So props to for GID refusals and activist messaging but don’t get too cocky, Chaz. I’m still waiting on you to up your feminism, queer up your politics, and get a fucking clue.

 

Chaz Bono & Trans in the Media: Hero or Zero?

Every community has its celebrities, and the hot ticket of the trans world right now seems to be Chaz Bono. I remember when Chaz came out, his requests for privacy, and the subsequent media hot mess that followed it. Since then Chaz has opened himself to the world with his book, his film, and community efforts like a trans focused discussion forum. All of this is awesome; visibility and community building is what we need, but what is the world doing with it?

The gender binary spins media inevitably puts on trans folk really irks me; especially when some of it comes from/is adopted by our own trans communities. When trans folk are discussed in media we see the same phrases over and over; “used to be,” “trapped,” “wrong,” “mistake,” “turn in to/become,” “new life.” And can I take a moment and ask: Does anyone say they had a sex change anymore? Even with elders in our community I’d say its at least 1-5 minority uses that expression. And yet no trans news story goes without talking about getting a “sex change” because it translates to a non-trans audience, and we all know that when we’re talking about trans issues it’s the non-trans people who matter most. I’m noticing a one trick trend in the media right now leaning towards a normalization of trans identity. Good thing right? But what does normal mean and what does it require? A big theme in the normalizing of trans is what gender identity disorder loves to call “cross gender interests” – or in familiar terms, “I only liked boy things” or “I always liked girl things.” Chaz Bono is a poster boy for this, mentioning it in every interview I’ve read or seen. Yes, interest in toys/stuff that is not culturally aligned to your assigned gender and sex is a reality for lots of trans folk, but for just as many trans folks it is not (I personally I liked both). AND it also many non-trans folks have the same “cross gender” interests, but they aren’t trans (herein lies the #1 issue with diagnosing gender identity disorder in children). Still, whether its in medical books or in magazines, this is promoted to be a requirement for trans identity. Is anyone else sick of the overused and hyper promoted stereotype that all trans people are heteronormatively aligned to whatever is “opposite” of their assigned gender and sex? All trans experiences vary. Many trans folk are more gender normative or binary in their experience and many are not. Both are valid, all are trans. The issue isn’t with gender normalcy existing, it is that if we focus only on gender normative folks we are not showing the whole picture, which means that someone is undoubtedly going to be overlooked. The impact of promoting the stereotype of gendered interests, therefore reinforcing gender binary standards for identity and behavior, lies in that once again we are creating hierarchal value systems based on normalcy while placing unrealistic expectations on humanity. That hurts everyone, binary or not, trans or not.

I have to give some props to Chaz Bono; in his interview on Oprah, while talking about how much easier his life is now that he has male privilege, did acknowledge that people should not have to be gender normative to be accepted and recognized in society. He also speaks about his experiences as “traditionally male” versus just one type of male for all of us. In a recent New York Times interview, Chaz speaks about how he doesn’t feel the need to get bottom surgery which, whether he meant it or not, challenges the stereotype that all trans people are desperate for gender confirming surgeries. He also addresses that trans identities are not mentally disordering, which is good, but then he continues to say how being trans is a “mix up” and a “birth defect…” which is bad. If he can’t recognize the 1) ableist connotations and 2) transphobic undertones to that language, he needs a wake up call. And speaking of wake up calls, he needs one about misogyny. He blatantly talks about how he believes in “biological differences” in men and women because T made him dislike small talk and has lost a lot of his “tolerance for women.” That’s not T, dude, that’s your misogyny! Lots of people get irritable for a couple months when they first start T, so if something kinda annoyed you before T, those first few months it might make you super annoyed or worse. Chaz probably just never liked certain things and now his “tolerance” is gone cause he’s got hormonal mood swings. He’s claiming its some “biological differences” in men and women, when really it’s his sexist stereotypes. Feministing gives Chaz the benefit of the doubt, assuming they were taken out of context via a known to be transphobic interviewer. But he wasn’t taken out of context when he repeats himself almost word for word on Oprah. Dudes got some demons over there, and none of them are feminists. Thanks for making all of us transguys on T look like macho jerks, Chaz, but at least it bought to a ticket as a socially acceptable “normal” guy.

Our culture’s allegiance to the gender binary and gender normative behavior expectations is not the avenue in which we, the trans community, are going to gain rights and recognition. How can we expect to make spaces where we are allowed to be different if we continue to allow and even encourage outside sources, like the media, to label our community via the very system of binary gender that oppresses us? If you’re gonna be on TV talking about trans issues you need to recognize that like it or not,  you are a spokesperson for our community. Most of us don’t get mass media attention, so if you are getting it you better get it fucking right. As far as trans representatives go, I think Chaz Bono is working hard to promote a positive image for trans identities, but if I were him, not only would I brush up on my social justice and feminism, I would be saying “Look, Oprah, Look New York Times, I have standards on how my community is discussed and you need to respect that. This is the language you should be using, and let me make sure to clarify these points I’m making about MY experience versus the entire community I’m representing.” And if they cut it out, edit it, or just don’t do what is asked, you can publicize how oppressive the language used to discuss our community is. You have that airtime so use it. No excuses, our people don’t have time for that.

 

Queer Blog States We Can “Live Without Queer People of Color”

Last night, in the period of a few hours, the blog Queering posted a series of comments about people of color’s inclusion and, at one point, actively supported racially exclusionary language. It started when an anonymous reader asked if the vintage style, erotic-themed queer photo blog had interest in posting pictures of queer people of color:

Not the best first answer, but at worst, its nothing more than bratty. I do find it weird that queer people of color is in “quotes.” Likely the blogger, like so many others, had simply never heard this internationally used community descriptor before and perhaps needed to put it in quotes to… legitimize it…? Soon after, Queering stated their lack of people of color postings was not because they were “a racist or a discriminator” they just didn’t “have much any contact with ‘black culture’ whatsoever…” A familiar, and surely well intended explanation. Honestly, I don’t know how no “contact” with people of color means you wouldn’t, at some point, post a pretty picture of one… Another reader suggested that vintage/style photos of queer people of color are hard to find. I was lucky to find a handful in my search. I googled a “gay [people of color group] vintage erotica photo” and only found a couple hundred results in various styles commonly seen in Queering’s (white) photo posts.

Now, some bloggers have a thicker skin than others. When I get a comment that disagrees with me (or is downright horrible), I post it, promote a discussion, eat some candy, and move on with life. Not only did Queering not post any dissenting opinions, it played the classic “its my blog and I’ll cry if I want to, everyone just hates me” card.  Queering’s response (below) was originally shorter and without the bold text, but I sent in my comments (PS which included the phrase “this is not from hate, but a place of love for our community…”) the response was updated to what is listed here. “Hate speech” was kept and they added a little shout out to me in reference to a particularly offensive post, along with an assumed female pronoun for me (nice). For a “queer” blog, there seems to be a lack of understanding basic trans/genderqueer etiquette. Maybe my username, MidwestGenderQueer, did not communicate my identity to clearly enough…

Every blogger has a right to free speech (or free choice of what to post). It’s worth mentioning that it is a common ethical blogging guideline that unless a comment is spam, violent, hateful/discriminatory, or a flame/troll, you always post it. Also, well intentioned or not, you never delete something you wrote. You cross it out and correct yourself, but you do not delete it with the goal of maintaining the permanency (and accountability) of online writers. It seems to me that Queering (somehow) didn’t see anything wrong with how they were handling things until so many people complained that they panicked – chaning language and deleting the most offensive post that proved they actively agreed with racist sentiments. But another thing they didn’t count on is that I suspected that might happen so I immediately print-screened the page, preserving it forever.

“That’s the Spirit! Lets do whatever we want and maybe all those people of color will either have to get with the program or disappear.” Its the same song and dance white people have been doing for 100s of years… but its excusable because its OUR blog, our organization, our conference, our bar, our festival, our community… Queering and many of its followers, seem more interested in not being “told what to do” than worrying about if they are being racist. I’m sure these people have good intentions, and often times non-inclusion is accidental , but that is because white folks have the privileged ability to forget about race. It is only when we are confronted with the question of inclusion that we are reminded of our behavior and scramble to make excuses for why it is not our fault.  Just because the post was deleted does not mean the mentality that originally agreed with it was. Queering actively decided to post and support a racist statement. Maybe Queering didn’t realize they were being racist, but if that is the case it really says something…

As I’ve said about 200 times on this blog, I feel that in order to accomplish equality, we can not fight amongst ourselves . We must stand together. That said, I will not stand by while one part oppresses another. I believe in standing up for my community and my community is not complete without people of color. A hit to people of color is a hit on everything our community (supposedly) stands for – pride, unity, equality, justice, access. Yes, I believe in solidarity, and it is in solidarity that we have to challenge each other in our privileges and recognize the importance of all members of our queer community.

The Not-So-New Fad: Tokenizing Transgender for Your Entertainment

Maybe its me, but recently there seems to be a larger surge of media trans-fuck-ups than usual. Myself, I am rather disconnected with pop culture. I do this on purpose because, as a general rule, I tend to hate everything mainstream because as a general rule everything mainstream is a big, hot problematic mess.

We are all painfully familiar with the old, common “joke” of a male actor dressing up to make an intended “ugly” woman for some strange comedic value focused on the jest of femininity presented and the shame of a man lowering himself to play a woman. But apparently for Saturday Night Live – a program that has in the past offered a mix of men playing women legitimately to create character as well as to create a farce – the “man in a dress” joke doesn’t go far enough. They needed to extend it to transwomen too.

This weekend’s SNL ‘Estro-Maxxx’ Sketch (obtained via GLAAD)

Am I the only one who thinks that a bunch of non-trans people dressing up like trans folk (even in jest) is a type of appropriation that should be equally as rebuked as other equally oppressive appropriations? Not only does this appalling video play on any number of oppressive stereotypes about transwomen, it also promotes cultural constructs on gendered feminine  behavior and female body expectations. What’s fascinating to me here is that the main punch line isn’t men in dresses but the presence of (intended to be} life-like breasts on a person who was originally assigned male. We have progressed past the shock value of a man in women’s clothing  and graduated to needing actual physical recreation of our apparently hilariously hormonally deformed bodies. The combination of the (arguably) most well recognized “female” secondary sex characteristic, breasts, with the constructed “male” facial hair and voice creates an extreme contrast of hyper-male and hyper-female – a fabulous freak act for the audience to gawk and wonder. And to add insult to injury, the airport scanner. I guess the writers did their homework and found an issue that really affected transfolk… OR what is more likely is that they wanted an easy way for a transwoman to be outed, and result in her being seuxalized and objectified. Are we supposed to be complimented when the security guard gets aroused by the transwoman’s revealing image? Are we supposed to appreciate the mocking normalcy placed on us here?

I hold little doubt that the writers thought that this “funny” sketch would also plays some role in trans liberation. Its trans on TV, that’s gotta be helpful, right? Seems like now days anyone who can mutter the word trans is automatically considered to be rallying for progress. Never mind what ignorant, backward crap they are spewing, they claim to be an ally so that means they have to be one, right?  Speaking of which, good o’l Lady Gaga is at it again. I continue to wonder how a woman with what seems to be good intentions and such cool outfits can fail so miserably at her claimed passion – supporting trans and queer folks…and everyone else in this case. Via her latest song: Born This Way, not only are “transgendered” people brave for coping with our shit lot of “disabilities,” so are all the other crap-life people like queers and people of color such as the “cholas” and “orients” (Cause apparently she picked up her racist slurs back in the 1800s). I can’t tell if she is implying that disabled people are a separate group that she is cheering for or if she is saying that essentially all non-white, non-straight, non-normal people are disabled because we are different. But its ok to be different, Lady Gaga says. According to her, suburban housewives AND god are on our side, which I have to admit is news to me. Its good to know that even though I’m struggling through my horrible life with all my weird identities and physical disabilities, Lady Gaga is going to get a Grammy for “standing up” for a community she knows nothing about. Good thing I have Lady Gaga to tell me that it isn’t my fault that I am an outcast with a shit life. Its God’s fault because I was born this way.

Dear Pop Culture: Leave TransFolk Alone!

Ok, so am I the only one who really would prefer it if pop culture would leave transfolks the fuck alone? I’m not saying I don’t want our folks in media, quite the opposite, I want our faces, our stories, our experiences out there; I want visibility for our people. That said, there is a difference between visibility (which I define as socialized educational promotion of our community and cause) and simple exploitation or just plain annoying stereotyping.

Pop Culture often will poke fun at or provide cameos for community leaders or performers that it respects. And if this were what was happening for transfolks, to for example have Kate Bornstein on TV, that’d be awesome. But that isn’t what happens. I am so sick of non-trans media outlets feeling that they have the right to represent us when they don’t have a clue about what they are doing. This isn’t just a trans issue, is a problem for all groups outside the privileged minority, but I’m trans so I’m gonna talk about trans stuff. The reason why transfolks (and queers) are included in media is because we are considered weird and fascinating. We’re an interesting hook. Many people take it as a compliment when, to repeat previous sentiments, Pop Culture throws us a bone with a “its better than nothing” mentality. Me, I would rather be ignored than have to deal with mainstream adaptations of my people based on what outsiders think we are.

This week, The Simpsons, an old school favorite of mine (until it stopped being funny around season 20, but I still love the old episodes) has finally got on the culture-crash band wagon and making jokes about trans folk. I have to admit that unlike last years’ Family Guy disaster, the Simpsons trans cameo was far from monstrous, but it wasn’t anything to cheer about.

via The Bilerico Project

(Note: You think its a coincidence that that one women looks like Winne from the Kinsy Sicks?) I have to admit as an activist I thought the little rally was cute, but I am left feeling confused, wondering about the intent. To me, I see a cute little community rally portrayed, with queers and other ‘queer’ groups – but I’m a radical queer and see this as my community. To others – the creators included perhaps – I’m sure that they saw one ‘freak’ community(transfolks) and then wanted to continue to highlight how weird and strange queers are by adding other “weird” things like the Furries and the “1900s style gays”.  Were they trying to make fun of Furry communities too? Possibly the Simpsons’ intent was to humanize these communities, but it isn’t clear to me. Why include Furries (who aren’t expressly ‘gay’ by the way) but not Leather? And I can’t help but laugh at the episode’s androcentric gay community with 1 lesbian (Selma).  I definitely recognized our community in this in the stereotype promoted here: that all transfolk are trying to pass inside a cultural mirror of gender conformity. And maybe its because this is a real life problem for us that I was irked to see it used by non-trans people to crack a joke for a primarily non-trans audience. Yeah, we have a hard time, thanks for laughing at our troubles – and what’s worse, not even knowing or caring how it affects us.

I definitely do not think that non-trans or non queer people can not or should not be a part of the trans movement. What I do think is that when it comes to representation, best leave it to the community OR at the very least educate yourself before doing something stupid or offensive. But Pop Culture doesn’t do that. It just throws us in because we are interesting or funny or fascinating, and that’s fucking bullshit. Am I reading too much into this mostly harmless clip? Honestly, part of me thinks I am, but the rest of me is saying that every little bit helps, or hurts. And if we don’t play watchdog for ourselves, who else is going to do it? It is not impossible for the media to get it right, for example the trans character on Degrassi (Canadian show, go figure) is widely recognized to be a good adaptation. So clearly the issue here is lack of trying. Pop Culture doesn’t care about actually representing, they just want to exploit. Surprise, surprise.  The continual usage of the trans community as an community clown or freak act plays into our dehumanization, not the other way around.

xposted: En|Gender

Queers Not Too Proud for Pop-Culture Hand-Outs

I am a proud person, but I have never really considered myself to be “proud” of being trans or genderqueer or queer or femme or disabled. However, I have always been proud of being an activist. I live in a conservative city where even the most “liberal” people are barely recognizable on any “coastal activist” scale. The general concept of community involvement is an HRC sticker on your car and getting drunk at Pride and terms like “privilege,” “ablism,” and “appropriation,” are barely in stock, and we just got them in last year. After 12 years on the activist block, I’m used to my comments about some problematic show or song being accompanied by friends’ groans and eye roles. What I’m not used to is being fed up with it.

Possibly regrettable statement: I am fucking tired of bad politics. Yes, I know I am using a subjective qualifier and using my own ideals to measure “good” and “bad.” And I feel the need to clarify that I know “bad” politics does not equal bad people. I have always striven NOT to be the type of activist who shoves PC crap down people’s throats without taking experience or perspective into account. That method isn’t productive or inclusive. But it may be that my being too curbed has been part of the problem… maybe in my attempts not to be a total social outcast I have let my city down. Or maybe I’m just sick of my friends making fun of me for giving a damn about language and community politics. But in Cincinnati-speak, ‘giving a damn’ is more commonly called ‘over reacting’ or ‘reading too much into things.’ Under this mentality, when I see something fucked up I’m supposed to let it go, banking on someone’s good intentions. Well, good intentions don’t drive revolution and revolution is what our people need.

But not according to folks around here. According to them things are fine, inclusiveness is stupid and weak, and pop-culture is god. If you don’t agree with this you deserve ridicule and rejection. Being ‘gay’ and being a fan of a singing diva or show is nothing new, and perhaps it is this history that has fused the concept of ‘gay pride’ and pop-culture. Recently I told some friends that I personally preferred not to choreograph or perform songs from Glee because I felt hypocritical (I hate Glee) and that I felt the particular requested song, “Baby Its Cold Outside,” to be sexually coercive and problematic. In response, these folks insensitively made fun of me, both for my “PC” comments and for not liking Glee, and then told me that I needed to get over myself. Now, 1) last time I checked rape was always bad and 2) I didn’t say anything negative about the friends themselves, just the show Glee. But these two factors didn’t matter because it wasn’t the political issues that were the problem, it was me “over reacting” about Glee and being “lame” (and yeah, I commented on that word too and got shit for that as well). Apparently an insult to Glee is an attack on “gay” life as we know it, making defense of it needed by whatever means necessary, even if it means emotionally hurting another “gay” person, even if they are your friend. We get so distracted fighting for survival and jumping at scraps of privilege and recognition we don’t even notice when we put down our own to get it.

And at this point I would like to redundantly point out the difference between a personal attack and a political dialogue. Just because I don’t like something you like or agree with something you say / language you use, doesn’t mean I don’t like or respect you as a human being. And I would expect that if someone didn’t like my politics they would recognize the difference between me politically analyzing language and me being an overall terrible person who is out to destroy them and all they love, burning all their hopes of happiness away with a flaming torch of indiscriminate activist fury… but this expectation has not worked out for me as of late.

I guess the obvious reason for all this is that people don’t like to be challenged nor do they like being told that something they like could possibly be bad. Yeah, fucking up sucks. Its embarrassing, I get it. I’m make mistakes all the time! I’ve not checked my privilege, slipped on a word, laughed at a bad joke… and when I see (or am shown) my error I pull myself up, admit it, and apologize – all this without my face catching on fire or some other catastrophic result. (gasp!) Who could guess others could do the same thing, even in the Midwest? But I could be wrong. Maybe the right thing to do is to be a pop-culture drone and lazily let mainstream society spoon feed me my identity in whatever flavor it sees fit. Do people really think that defending Glee or someone like Katy Perry or Ke$ha is helping them? Should we be thankful for celebrities throwing us a bone, even if they hit us in the face with it? (Get your mind out of the sex-club. Politics now, sex later.) Aren’t queers supposed to have something called “pride?” Queer pride is supposed to be an unabashed fight  for our right to be ourselves, not latching onto cultural fads at the whims of sanitized music and TV.

I refuse to take what I am given, not because I am greedy or impatient, but because I am realistic. I know that in the real world words hurt. How did our society come to (sort of) learn that other semi-culturally recognized oppressions weren’t ok? We stopped allowing them in our media (sort of). The more we let slide the farther back we slide in the progress we are trying so hard to make. Is this what our proud people have been reduced to? Taking hand outs from celebrities who claim to care about the “gay cause” but don’t care enough to actually live their politics through their language and/or their performance? Yet when real people in our community speak out they are cast out as some sort of heretic. Am I reading too much into things? I think the problem is that too many people don’t read enough into things. If oppression were always out in front where everyone could see it there would be no question of right and wrong, but it isn’t. It hides in words, in TV shows, in songs… There is a big difference between obsessing over every tiny thing without thinking of the source’s experience(s) and recognizing the intricate layers of oppression within comments/products that promote problematic language and politics for the sake of entertainment and false belonging. I think if we were really proud of our community we would want to work hard to make it as inclusive as possible and be active in its growth, not leave it up to pop stars and TV to shape our image. Oppression comes from a lack of challenging the status quo. Yes, it is more work to think, and sometimes you don’t like what you find, but responsibility isn’t always easy or fun. And though I don’t necessarily think of myself as being “proud” to be any of my identities, I think that being able to say “I try my best with every option available to me to help my communities” enables me to be proud of who I am. Sure, I like seeing my identity recognized in media so I take the effort to find work created by queer and trans people for the sake of helping our community instead of those who use it for monetary gain or cool points. No, I can’t laze back and watch it on Fox or hear it on Clear Channel, but I’d rather have the real thing in its rarity than some money-making imitation that makes me feel good about myself at the cost of my own community’s dignity and pride.

xposted AmplifyYourVoice.com

Gender Justice or Just Us?

This weekend was The International Drag King Community Extravaganza (IDKE). This was IDKE’s 12th year, hosted by Baltimore’s Gender Justice Coalition – a group of amazing activists, performers, and community members who did a fantastic job with this immense event. The theme this year was “Gender Justice,” which seemed fitting considering the tumultuous times we are living in. We were joined by amazing performers and activists like Tristan Taormino and my dear friends Johnny Blazes, Miss Tamale, and Kate Bornstein. IDKE’s mood held its usual empowered electricity, but underneath the excitement of the attendees and the efforts of the organizers there was something more: the fear of extinction.

IDKE’s community of drag kings, transformers, genderfuckers, burlesque dancers, and drag queens is diverse, complex, and spread out.  The dwindling economy, personal life changes, and community politics have been chipping away at IDKE’s structure leaving us to question what IDKE is, who its for, and if it can or should continue. On the outside it may seem like its a simple issue of attendance or varying politics, but after this (my first) year on the IDKE Steering Committee it is clear that our struggles are the same as every other oppressed group. We are bullied, we are broke, we are bullshitters, and we are burnt out. But what is at risk here is more than just a conference and the best drag shows you’ll ever see. It is something more intangible, but much more important.

When I first attended IDKE it had already existed for nine years. The decade celebration brought it home to its founding place, Columbus, Ohio and in arms reach of me. I drove up to help my drag mentor, Luster De La Virgion, drag pioneer and co-founder of IDKE. I was excited but terrified – expecting a long weekend of wrong pronouns and isolation, the usual drill of being mistaken for a lesbian drag king. But when I got there I found something different, something that changed my life.

I stood shyly quiet, waiting for my spot at the tech rehearsal for the big Showcase. I saw someone across the theater and I could tell he was a transguy. I disparagingly wondered if he could recognize me… there was nothing tell-tale about my appearance and my pink hair didn’t help. My lonely desperation made me feel awkward and pathetic. I gave up on the idea of talking to him.  Then, by chance I ran into him, quite literally, when we were going through the same door. We started to talk. “I’m not a drag king,” he said, “I’m trans so for me its not “drag”, but a gender performance. I’m a trans performer, a transformer…” As he spoke I was strangely overcome, like in a movie. I had never heard those words before, or I should say, I had never heard them from anyone other than me. It was like listening to myself talk, except with more eloquence, power, and confidence than I had ever thought I could embody. I will never forget that feeling, standing there in that dark, chaotic parking lot… the feeling of recognition through the ground-breaking realization that I was not alone, that it wasn’t just me. Three years later I had grown into my own as a trans performer and was doing genderfuck drag at IDKE. Afterward a stranger came up to me. “I have to tell you,” they said shyly, “You are the first person I ever met who does what I do. You made me feel like it was ok to be me and that I wasn’t a freak.” I was so moved all I could do was say thank you, pulling back tears. I had unknowingly become the beacon that I was looking for not so long ago. I told the story to my friend who was my ‘beacon’ and as we frantically drove to manage the next event our brains slowed down, remembering. “I never feel like I could be that to anyone,” I told him. He smiled and said, “That’s what I thought when you said it to me.” Years ago, before I said it to him, he had found his own beacon person. And I am sure that any day now, the person who said it to me will hear it said back to them. They’ll be that beacon for someone searching, wanting to know they are not alone.

To me, “Gender Justice” is about responsibility. We are responsible for creating a community that is visible, socially and politically conscious, and intersectionally equal. We are responsible for making our voices heard so we may inspire others find their own. We are responsible for maintaining our own space, our own community for future generations. Over the past year as IDKE dealings began to look more and more bleak, I started to think that maybe IDKE just wasn’t meeting the communities’ needs anymore, and if that was the case, we have no choice but to let it go. But I know I still needed IDKE. I look around at the small pocket of people working to keep this important community event afloat… I just can’t believe that we are the only ones who need this space. It can’t be just us. Watching attendees at the conference, it was clear to me that people where happy, but how many volunteered to work? How many answered calls for help over this past year?  Organizers work to help our community, but is the community working to help organizers? We have to do more than take. We all have something we can give, we all must do what we can. Can we really promote “Gender Justice” if we are not actively taking part every day, each in our own way, to better our communities?  The first step to accomplishing anything is having so much love and passion that we can put faith in what seems impossible -something seemingly abound in our community. But faith and passion are not enough, we have to act. We must work to turn that faith into proof that we exist. Drag is more than a show. Drag is an artistic craft; it is a creation of our community used to carve out a visible space for ourselves, a space in which we live. As Tristan Taormino said in her keynote this weekend, now more than ever we need drag to be that visible proof that it is ok to be ourselves. I say we must take culture into our own hands and mold it into something that speaks to us, that lets us we know we are not alone. That it is not just us.

Pictures of a Genderation – Gender Outlaw: The Next Generation

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.