Come out for queerness in epic proportions this weekend in Chicago at Queerpocalypse! Two nights, two shows featuring performances of spoken word, comedy, dance, drag, burlesque, and more! I’ll be the one with pink hair, in case you can’t spot me.
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.
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.
If you’re in the Baltimore area come out for the many shows, workshops, and fabulousnesses of The International Drag King Extravaganza XXII, Gender Justice! If you’re looking for me, I’ll be the blur of pink and sparkles running around doing four shows, three workshops, and a ton of organizing stuff. Its gonna be a super hardcore blast and you should come!
Come out if you’re in the Columbus/Ohio/8 hour drive area for the show!
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.
This past weekend was Femme 2010, the biannual Femme Conference put on by the fantastic Femme Collective. The Femme “community” is like any other where it is in actuality many similar communities grouped together under one umbrella. I am always excited for Femme Con and this year I was optimistic about making more femme friends and also meeting more femme guys, which were few and far between last time (2008 in Chicago). But the longer the conference went on the longer I was alone.
Early in the conference I met a transguy, a femme ally, who confided in me about a woman purposely making negative comments about “masculine energy” taking up space in the conference, insinuating that non-female people were not welcome. I wasn’t surprised, but I assured him that was not the opinion of the general populace of the conference. I have always admired the Femme Collective’s hard work to expand the femme umbrella’s reach, but what do we do when oppression is coming from under the umbrella in addition to outside of it?
Invisibility. Many queer femme women feel invisible because the world doesn’t understand/believe that feminine women can also be queer nor do people often recognize the subversive political action that goes with being a femme woman. Femme transwomen who, among many things, are often refused access to women spaces and have severe issues of safety. Whether it is misogyny in its most traditional ‘women are demons’ sense or in more complex spheres where somehow cute shoes equal complying with the patriarchy – femme women have a lot of shit to deal with. That said I would like to point out that not all femmes are women, and femme women are not the only ones who have to deal with shit.
“Come In Ladies!” The signs were all over the conference, but what about us femmes who aren’t ladies? Can’t we come in or are boys not allowed? I heard whispers: “Men shouldn’t be here” “What’s with all the butch looking people?” and “This is a femme only space” essentially telling me not only am I not a femme, I am also unwelcome. I was really perturbed by the 1970s-esque pro-vagina sentiment that was overtaking everything. Yes, pro-vagina is awesome but vagina does not always equal woman, and woman does not always equal femme. What about those who don’t have a vagina (or a specific a type of vagina), or have one but don’t identify with it? As the weekend progressed I found myself getting nervous. I was worried people didn’t want me there or wouldn’t be interested in my workshop or in my performance (which was in an all women line-up). I felt alone, desperate for people to talk to. I went to a workshop for guy and genderqueer femmes but the whole thing was over run with female femmes processing their loves and issues (some very problematic) about transguy femmes; which I found particularly ironic because it was the only workshop dedicated to non-female femmes but it was dominated by females – but “male energy” is what’s stealing all the conference space. There were multiple testimonies of how femme transguys presented competition for community, status, and even sex partners. This dialogue made me too angry to constructively comment. It was a typical bubble-world testimony of coastal queers thinking the entire world is their liberal city, where apparently transqueers are running wild en masse. I’ve never found it easy to find my own folks, in fact out here in the Midwest the closest feminine (not femme, just feminine) transguy is a nine hour drive away and I only met him last year. Yeah, us femme guys are a real invasion. Claim your radical status and sex partners now before its too late!
Not only am I invisible but I’m getting fucked over by my own communities. Folks like me, we’re the Fucked-Over Femmes. We have to deal with similar oppressions to female femmes but we aren’t allowed to bond and unite over it because we are male or masculine. How much male privilege you think is allowed someone like me? Not a fuckin lot, if I’m even read as male at all. Femininity is considered equal to woman, and not being a woman I am frequently denied the identity of femme, even by those who know me well. Instead I am habitually told how ‘gay’ I am, which I don’t mind because I am queer, but the use of gay here is incorrect and it says something about unconscious gendering. Someone may lovingly say “JAC, you’re so gay'” because I’m wearing a poofy skirt but they don’t say it when I’m restoring a bike. I’m the same person but I’m not expressing the same “gayness” AKA male femininity. Pushing against masculinity is hard; coping with scrutiny from other guys for not being ‘man enough,’ even pitied for getting delt the femme hand in life. I am continually asked why I transitioned at all if I was just going to be like a girl. I do not deserve to pass as well or get the right pronoun because I don’t exude the hypermasculinity that would make me worthy of it and if I am at all bothered by this it is my own fault for not being a “normal guy.”
I love my femme communities and I will continually work hard for them. And I know for a fact that the general community of Femme Con is awesome and strives for inclusiveness, but – and you know there is always a ‘but’ on this blog – different types of femmes have many different oppressions to battle and no one is harder than another. In general we are all up against the same shit: You get cat-called, I get called fag. You’re afraid, I’m afraid. Our big similarities outweigh the tiny differences. I may be a Fucked-Over Femme, but not any more or less than any other femme. You may feel invisible, but no more or less than I am. What is more frustrating that seeing your community when it refuses to see you? We all feel invisible, we are all getting fucked over, we all need to fight together. We all are undervalued and stereotyped because, as Kate Bornstein so eloquently said in her keynote, “sexy is evil and cute is dumb.” How are we supposed to rise above the oppressions put on us when we are still counting people out, or counting people as less-than? (sound familiar?) Kate talked about how no femme is truly invisible, but femmes are still being fucked over, sometimes by each other. We need to stop the legitimacy wars and start doing what we do best, fighting for justice and looking fabulous while we do it.
If you’re in the Oakland Area, come out TONIGHT for a fantastic Femme Show!
And come see me and other awesome femmes doing cool stuff all weekend at Femme 2010!
And MWGQ will also be presenting several workshops at the the next day at the 3rd Annual TransOhio Transgender & Ally Symposium OSU Student Union!