transphobia must be named

i’ve been to several rallies and protests over the past few weeks, and at many of these events speakers will do the thing where they list the various systems of oppression that we are up against in order to rally folks against them.

now, first off, doing this thing is crucial, but also always sort of frustrating. these lists are never and will never be exhaustive or wholly inclusive; someone is always left out. and, there’s something odd about segmenting out each of these systems of oppression that are so deeply interwoven and overlapping with one another. language is sometimes more limiting than helpful.

that said, when we do this thing, i am finding that often gay people and homophobia are mentioned explicitly while trans people and transphobia, trans women and transmisogyny rarely are.

so what i need folks to realize is that, while trans folks are allied with LGBQ+ folks (at least in theory) and while many of us are also LGBQ+, we face distinct forms of discrimination, distinct micro aggressions, and distinct formations of hatred and institutional violence.

we are being explicitly targeted over and above the anti-LGBTQ discrimination that is also being put into place. and, the majority of that targeting is intended to make the world an even more hostile place for trans women.

and, i think people are under the impression that if you say you support gay people or you’re against homophobia that you’ve also made a statement for trans people. but, you haven’t.

transmisogyny. must. be. named.
transphobia. must. be. named.

when i go to a rally like the one in washington square park this evening, i always find myself doing this same thought experiment. when shit goes even further south for trans people than it already has, how many of these people will show up for us?

and, tonight i thought in turn about the trans flag that flew over the #nodapl protest the night before. i thought about the intersections of trans life with the lives of so many other communities. i thought about our long history of empathy, of grit, of resistance, and of resolve in the face of myriad forms of oppression.

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Why As a Trans Person, I’m Swiping Left on Tinder’s New Gender Options

edited to add: a trans femme person took the time out to critique the fact that i have written this piece from my position; that of a white transmasculine person. i am not somebody who was directly impacted by tinder’s old policies, and the stakes for someone like myself are much lower. for trans femme people who use the app, for those who use it for purposes other than just dating, the change will be materially helpful. i still hold on to the hope that they might actually do something to help the trans community, but i can recognize that some people feel that this change was enough.

When I moved to Brooklyn from Boston in 2012, I was still healing from chest surgery. The move symbolized a fresh start for me in a body that finally felt in alignment with my gender identity. For the first time in my life, I had control over when, how, and if I told people I was transgender. I punctuated this shift by changing my OkCupid profile from bisexual female to bisexual male.

I have never identified as either male or bisexual, but at the time those categorizations felt like the line of best fit. When OkCupid expanded it’s gender and sexuality options in November 2014, I felt like I could finally be seen by other users as my true self. Navigating the interface with my non-binary, trans identity and my queer sexuality boldly displayed made it easier for people who are interested in folks like me to seek me out and vice versa.

But, the tradeoff has been a sense of feeling, at times, too visible. Messages trickle in asking inappropriate questions about my body, questioning my sexuality, condescending to my “bravery,” using the wrong pronouns and words to describe my body. Worse, this intimate information is now just a few clicks away for anyone within a small radius of me. Could the man who called me f****t outside the grocery store find me? Or the neighbors who spewed hateful transphobic vitriol at me when they glimpsed my naked body through the window?

Being visible as a trans person often feels like a catch-22.

Nearly two years later (and woefully behind the curve), popular dating app Tinder announced last week that it too would expand its gender options to include 37 identities. Tinder’s rigid, binary gender and sexuality options have made the app tricky to navigate for myself and other trans and gender non-conforming people.

And, Tinder has been a platform where being visible as trans has meant facing harassment and discrimination. Trans users have long reported being blocked from the app after other users flagged them simply for being trans. Tinder CEO Sean Rad cites learning about this discrimination (only six months ago) as the impetus for the change, and has assured trans users that moderators will operate under new guidelines to prevent trans people from being unfairly blocked.

While Tinder’s new gender options feel like a step in the right direction, something about the announcement is keeping me from installing the app.

Maybe it’s the implementation? While Tinder has at least nominally surrendered the gender binary for a more expansive spectrum, the app still requires users to select whether they wish to appear in searches for “men” or “women.” It seems the folks at Tinder just can’t fathom an app without a rigid binary algorithm to structure it or where some folks might want to choose both or neither.

And, the change in the app won’t magically change everyone’s understanding of gender. People who have never been exposed to terms like “genderqueer,” “non-binary,” and even “cisgender” will likely now feel even more emboldened to demand emotional labor from those of us who identify with or are knowledgeable about these terms. Had Tinder coupled this shift with an educational campaign, I might be more inclined to trust their “good” intentions. Such education, in a long term way, might even prevent the transphobia that has kept trans people from safely using the app.

Or, maybe it’s the timing? Tinder’s announcement strategically aligned with Trans Week of Awareness, an event that expanded out from the nearly two decades old annual Trans Day of Remembrance, a day when we mourn the loss of transgender people who have been killed during the year.

Often violence against transgender people comes as a result of hyper-visibility, of the backlash that results from being read, seen, or outed as transgender. Trans women, particularly trans women of color, bear the brunt of this hyper-visibility, which often occurs in the context of flirtation and intimate or sexual situations.

Take, for example, the 2013 murder of a black trans woman, Islan Nettles in New York City. Nettles was beaten to death by a man who flirted with her when he saw her walk by, but became enraged when he realized she was not cisgender. The societal misgendering of trans women combined with the denigration of men who are attracted to them too often results in brutal, even fatal violence. Attendees of 2013’s Trans Day of Remembrance events worldwide read Islan Nettles’ name.

Tinder doesn’t seem to understand this dark side of visibility that has frequently made trans people vulnerable to violence, especially in the context of flirtation, sex, and dating. To piggyback off of an event that demonstrates the dangerous effects of trans visibility feels disingenuous; it’s a major oversight at best.

And, visibility for trans people has become even more of a concern under the impending Trump regime. Right now, many of us are rushing to change our legal documents to erase any accessible record of our trans histories. We are stockpiling hormones and seeking out necessary medical care before the inevitable end of the Affordable Care Act, both for our comfort and for the safety that being read as our correct gender affords.

How out we can safely be in real life and online is a conversation I am now having regularly with many of my friends. Even before the election, many reports cited an increase in anti-transgender violence and transphobic legislation (like North Carolina’s HB2) that coincided with the rise in visibility for transgender people in popular media.

With this transphobic backlash even further emboldened by the Trump regime, it’s hard to know if being publicly out might just be the thing that gets us beaten or worse. Again, trans women, particularly women of color are long accustomed to having these conversations, much more than myself as a white transmasculine person. But, while the impact on us will undoubtedly be uneven, this sense of fear and uncertainty is ubiquitous among the trans community.

Or, maybe it’s the fact this seems like yet another hollow gesture from a company with tremendous social and financial capital? Sure, trans and gender non-conforming people may feel less alienated by the app, and for a moment cis people might even think about their relationships to their own and others’ identities.

But, how is Tinder actually supporting the trans community, especially those most vulnerable to violence? Are we once again just a cog in the corporate feel-good advertising machine?

When a company uses a marginalized group for their advertising and when their “allies” praise such empty rhetoric as the important work, we call it “performative allyship,” wherein one publicly displays support for members of a given community without actually helping them survive and thrive. While trans folks will negotiate our safety as we navigate the swiping frenzy that is Tinder, supposed cisgender supporters will feel as though they’ve earned precious ally points for backing the newly trans-friendly app.

All of this is not to say that Tinder shouldn’t have made this overdue change; it’s going to be affirming for a lot of people and hopefully will mitigate the issues trans people have thus far faced on the app. (As for trolls and ignorant people asking insensitive questions, that remains to be seen.)

What feels important is that Tinder actually shows up for the trans community, especially those made most vulnerable by their visibility. This could look like funneling a chunk of its profits into grassroots trans organizations. It could like doing ongoing education and outreach with its transgender and cisgender users alike. It could look like genuine transparency and strict policies around how they deal with with transphobic users.

Right now and even when this pseudo-progressive PR campaign is over, it’s important that Tinder puts its money and efforts where its mouth is. Until they prove they’re invested in a sustained commitment to trans justice, this trans person will keep on swiping left.

being/longing (notes from the cock)

I dream of faggot communing (utopia) and it’s so close. I am an unabashed slut. I am like you; there is always an exception, a ‘but…’
In the cock the lights are red and the walls are black. Murals in Tom of Finland style reflect back, thick cocks and mustaches. 
First is the Italian by the bar with his cock out. He has been swapping boys all night and it’s my turn. I stroke him but he’s drunk and soft. He pulls me in and my button’s undone. 
Don’t touch me. Do. It’s a dance I’m accustomed to.
He’s on to someone else and I wonder if it’s because I’m cunted until I’m bent over ass out calling for a drink which makes him think, somehow, I am unclaimed land. He grabs my ass down my pants, a searching finger but fuck that and this time I’m stronger and this time I know my worth. I extract his hand. I take back command.
And I know I belong here but I don’t. Sitting on the toilet in an unlocked bathroom and I wonder.
What is it to be an anomaly? What is it to feel hunger?
Outside the cock I am sucking down a cigarette, hoping the cute gogo boy will come share some quiet with me. We are interrupted; small talk is never free.
This interloper is from San Francisco. He is telling me all about his straight couple friends who come here every Friday night. It’s not for the music, I say. Looking for a third right? 
A scoff; he wants to know if I ever slept with a woman. My ass reads gold.
“Let me blow your mind.” Should I be so bold?
The gogo boy and I are still making eyes. And why won’t this guy just go back inside? 
“I’m trans. And yes.”
He is incredulous. He doesn’t believe me. 
“If you’re trans then I’m married. And straight.”
This sense of belonging shatters so quickly and I just want a place where I am alive; myself. Where my body doesn’t matter or better, matters and is held. Where there’s no tension between trans and faggot and they just meld.
I kiss the gogo boy goodnight and sorry but I have to go. I don’t know if I belong here. I don’t know if I’m wrong or it’s here.
And what it comes down to is a difference; being and longing. Easy presence with my body or a yearning for something perpetually at a distance.

what the term queer means to me (unedited version)

http://www.trans.cafe/posts/2016/8/15/what-the-term-queer-means-to-me

What My Queer Identity Means to Me as a Non-Binary Trans Person

Queer theorist and activist Eve Sedgwick defined the term queer as, “the open mesh of possibilities, gaps, overlaps, dissonances and resonances, lapses and excesses of meaning when the constituent elements of anyone’s gender, of anyone’s sexuality aren’t made (or can’t be made) to signify monolithically.” It may be clumsy to start a discussion of queer identity with a definition, as queerness is meant precisely to elude definition. Take this entry, then, as merely a signpost.

In coming to know and recognize myself as a queer person, theory like Sedgwick’s has proved tremendously helpful. While my seemingly idyllic women’s college was fairly progressive on matters of gender and sexuality, there was a certain amount of monosexism (the belief that all people can only be attracted to one gender) and gender essentialism that I struggled to reconcile. I had a persistent feeling of disorientation, of difference. Queer theory helped me to understand that my interest in women didn’t necessarily have to limit my scope of attraction, that my desire to transition didn’t necessarily have to limit my gender identity and expression. I found that the interaction of my non-normative experiences of sexuality and gender, while challenging to navigate, could also be a beautiful site of possibility and exploration. This was liberating.

Queer theory has continued to guide me through multiple upheavals in my own identity. However, through my studies and through my political evolution, I have learned more about the history of the term queer, about the precise political moment from which this identity which is not one emerged. Queerness is not merely a theoretical lens or radical (anti)identity; it comes loaded with a rich political history that we would do well to call back to the surface.

It is hard to pinpoint the precise moment when people began reclaiming the term queer, a word which had once been a harmful slur. However, it’s widespread use finds its beginnings during the direct-action HIV/AIDS movement whose most vocal and visible arm was ACT UP (the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power).

The movement formed as a response to government inaction in the face of the fatal and growing threat of the spread of HIV. While HIV affected gay men at much higher rates than women, many understood the lack of response from the government and from the nation as a whole to be a result of systemic homophobia which threatened the lives and well-being of all gender and sexual deviants. In recognizing this fact, the movement brought together a diverse group of people who had suffered from experiences of homophobia. Lesbians with a long history of political activism became movement leaders and respected caretakers, a fact which undid much of the painful fracturing that had devastated the earlier gay liberation movement.

ACT UP formed unprecedented coalitions between queer and trans people, white people and people of color, men and women, IV drug users, incarcerated people, and the poor and working classes. The result was events like the Storm the NIH protest, where men (gay and otherwise) rallied behind women and other minorities calling for a change to the definition of HIV/AIDS that would include symptoms specific to women, and an end to the sexism that had limited the definition in the first place. The politics and the actions that developed from these allegiances, while far from perfect, were an incredible example of the power of intersectional activism.

Despite the heaviness of ACT UP’s mission, the spaces carved by the movement were full of fun, pleasure, and, of course, sex. One of the unique qualities of this movement was that in bringing such a diverse collective of people together in a space that was both erotically charged and where people felt they had nothing left to lose, people felt newly able to explore unique sexual identities and experiences. To be more blunt, everyone was having sex with everyone in a way that challenged previously rigid notions of gender and sexuality. It was from this actual practice that queer identity took shape. It was the politics and the practice that informed the theory, not the other way around.

****

Recently, I found myself in a heated argument with another transmasculine person about our respective identities and politics. What became clear throughout the argument was that he and several of his supporters, wanted to create a sharp division between himself as a binary trans person and myself as, to use his words, one of the “queers.”

But, the history of LGBT politics is also a history of divisiveness, of deviants and marginalized people being thrown under the bus. As iconic Puerto Rican trans activist Sylvia Rivera noted in her legendary speech at the 1973 Christopher Street Liberation Day, the gay liberation movement was quick to give up on people of color, trans people, incarcerated people, and sex workers, many of whom had fueled the movement in the first place, in favor of a white, cis, middle class agenda. It is only recently that trans people have been acknowledged by this same mainstream LGBT movement. As recently as 2007, the HRC willfully supported a non trans-inclusive employment non-discrimination bill, an event which was merely the culmination of that organization’s long history of transphobic policy.

The recent increase in inclusion and representation has certainly seemed like progress. But, the gains of those who have a more normative or binary gender and sexuality, particularly those who are white, middle class, monogamous and heterosexual, have all too often come at the expense of further marginalizing the deviants, the queers who are critical of, resist, or fail to meet these same norms.

Ultimately, it is not an identification with queerness specifically that is important; many scholars and activists have critiqued and revised the implicit whiteness of queer theory (including Jose Muñoz and Jasbir Puar among others), and the limits of the word queer as a product of the (white, Western) English language. What is crucial to me, and I hope to others as well, is the ethos and the possibility that a queered politics and a queered world view can extend.

It is only through an expansive and inclusive political praxis, one that views issues of race, gender, sexuality, ability, and class as interwoven and interconnected, a praxis much like that from which the queer movement was born, that we can unleash truly revolutionary political power, and create a world where everyone has the opportunity to safely self-determine who they are and how they want to live. And, that’s the kind of queerness I want to live, to be.

apocalypse dreams

in dreams: the sky lit up in hues of night vision green like news footage of rounds upon rounds of bombs being dropped on iraq. or the plane buzzed just overhead, hit the ground and burst into black, billowing clouds of smoke. each time i was the only one left, completely alone and forced to figure out how to cope in the aftermath, this strange new world. there was no sense left, only why?

people often ask me how i knew i was trans. or how long i’ve known. or did i know when i was just a kid. but, knowledge implies fixity, knowing suggests consciousness. i want to banish this question. “how long have i not known?”, i want to say, and leave it at that. it makes for a better story, one that weaves its way around a gaping hole, the very absence of a concept so fundamental to the plot.

second grade: boys v. girls war and where exactly do i stand? i have just started going to church. they chased me into a little white dress, drew an oil cross on my forehead, surrounded me with baptism babies but i am seven, a sore thumb. i straddle the line in the playground gravel; i am trying to make peace.

i’d like to think i knew when that little boy i loved and me pissed together in his bathroom and tried to figure out if we were different. i’d like to think i knew when mom flipped on the daytime talk shows and we’d watch sex change freaks reveal truth as identity and fight with their fists and lose their wigs. i wish i had known that as i made a sharp turn into my twenties she’d point the finger of those words ‘sex change’ at my newly boy-bound body like someone holy shouting ‘shame, shame.‘ and when i reimagine it i grew straight from that awkward little tomboy in oversize shirts to a person who knows their body is a place of comfort. but, tomboys don’t mean a thing about gender, they all said. even freud said so, he said little girls grow out of wanting to be boys when they grow up to be straight women. i chased myself into that blue prom dress. i batted my little lashes and tucked a flower into my long red hair.

track practice, 11th grade: my feet pound the pavement of the country road back to the high school. i dodge roadkill, fur and blood imprinted on the shoulder. overhead six military planes fly low buzzing the trees, circling back and forth unrelenting. i quiver in fear. later someone will tell me it was “reconnaissance training” and i will wonder what strange thing they could possibly be looking for in this bumfuck rural town. for now i’m sure i’ll die this way.

post-9/11 america is a nation structured by anxiety (though hasn’t it always been this way?). xenophobic racial anxieties exploded into a hearty reinvestment in white supremacy and white imperialism. those same anxieties demanded the reinforcement of gender and sexual norms, even among what had once been considered the deviant gay minority. we marry under red, white, and blue; we marry for the sake of the nation. my transition from the looseness of childhood androgyny into the enforced femininity of adolescence finds its nexus at precisely the moment when four crashed planes reminded us of our fallibility, our vulnerability to penetration. this is not a coincidence. being a good american meant being a good girl. being a good girl meant repressing and channeling the discomfort i felt around my gender identity into a fear of planes and bombs and global warfare; it was, coincidentally or not, a different kind of envisioning of apocalypse.

19: i have these dreams most every night now. curled in bed in a lover’s arms, she knows nothing; she doesn’t hear the bomb ticking every time i get undressed. i call out of work sick, i watch the flames lick my skin. what follows is the hospital. what follows is medicine and endless talking and is this a disease? mom asks why i cut my hair short and she’s crying, crying. alarm clock has woken me up again, he’s pacing the hallway back and forth and karen’s in the next bed over fast asleep; tomorrow she will steal the flowers they bought for me. paper bedding and thin sheets, thick blood between my legs and a shower without a lock. i feel sick when i get dressed; doesn’t everyone feel sick when they get dressed?

my bound chest becomes the central point of surveillance. an awkward arch, like a question mark that asks if you are not legible how can i see you at all? or if you are not legible can i see too much of you? my decision to transition cannot be chalked up to self-knowledge, even now. it was a response, reactionary.

needles and scalpels, meat and bones, and the marrow of what it means to change. because the hospital is also the place of possibility, the necessary condition for the shift that leaves me bearded and breastless. what do they mean by science and medicine? liquids and quick fixes that respond to the circumstances we’ve created. the surgeon pulls back my paper gown, makes a map for himself in purple marker across my chest, inflicting violence with tight precision. i enter the battlefield, counting backwards from 100, and when i wake the bloodshed is over. all that’s left to do is heal.

i share space and infrastructure now with the hollow that once held the twin towers, with the phallic structure a giant middle finger pointed towards the rest of the world that flies under the moniker of freedom. but, i live liberation and things are almost different now because i learned how to scream from my belly. to scream no to empirical evidence. to scream yes to the end of the west, to clouds and smoke and coming out of the dust alone. an embrace of the apocalypse dream, i have done away with meaning, meaning i refuse. break it down, destroy it, tear it apart. i am all impulse and gesture, i am instinct in the long pause, the accumulation of moments, the groping along, the crisis of the everyday.

on consent in trans and gay community (full version)

an edited version of this piece can be found at
http://www.trans.cafe/posts/2016/7/18/we-need-to-talk-about-consent-in-the-trans-gay-community

It is the story of every survivor who speaks out about their history of sexual violence, and you know that it is true.

That you will start to wonder if you should have kept your mouth shut. That you will be gaslit, and you will start to wonder if it really happened. That you will start to wonder if you’re just a bad person, and you deserved it. That you will start to wonder if you are a ghost.

****

Two weeks ago at a party designed for trans men and cis men to meet and cruise with one another, a cis man sexually assaulted me and crossed my boundaries of consent. This is not new to me or to many of the transmaculine folks that I love and am in community with; I am a repeat survivor of sexual assault, and while I have hopes for a different world, I expect this wasn’t the last time. At the time of the incident, I was confused about what had happened, and I felt unsure how to respond beyond just powering through. The following day the memory resurfaced in the middle of my shift at work, sending me into a spiral. I was deeply triggered. My breath grew shallow and anxiety flooded my nerves.

After processing with a good friend who had been at the party that night, I realized that I needed to take further action not only for my own safety, but for the safety of all of the other trans and queer folks in my community. I decided to speak up. So, I sent a message to the party producer, a white trans man, explaining what had happened and asking for two things: first, that the person who assaulted me be banned from future events, and second, that we start a conversation about how to make the event a safer and more consensual space in the future. To me, these felt like two small and simple ways to remedy the situation, to aid in my own healing, and to work towards building the queer cruising space I’ve long dreamed of.

The party producer responded by telling me that I should have told someone right when it happened so that they could have called the police. Like many trans, queer, and feminist folks, I am critical of the police, and I am aware that trans people and survivors of sexual assault in particular have often been mistreated, harassed, and not believed by the police. In addition, the person who assaulted me is a person of color. The police have escalated their murders of unarmed POC, especially black folks, in the past few weeks; getting the police involved would mean risking someone’s life. My aim was to seek accountability within the community, and hopefully spark more dialogue about how to make our spaces safer. Instead, I was victim blamed and told that it would be a liability for the event producers to mention anything about consent at the party or on the event page.

So, I decided to go public. I posted about our interactions and the event producer’s responses on social media in order to spread the word about what had happened to me and to let my community know that the event is not safe for trans and POC folks. In the flame war that ensued, I had a trans man call my non-binary identity into question with vitriolic and hateful words because I have a beard and am on testosterone. I had a person I haven’t spoken to in over ten years drag up stories about interactions from our childhood. I had plenty of folks who didn’t believe me, and others who said i should just get over the incident because it wasn’t that bad.

What happened to me was not merely a touch, but an intention, an attempt to forcibly penetrate my body. How do you describe this to someone in detail? How do you do so without requiring yourself to share intimate details of your prior trauma? What language can we use to jar people from this idea that touch, words, dynamics that aren’t exactly physically violent can still do and enact harm, can produce a culture where rape is considered acceptable?

****

I have been thinking a lot about why so many of the trans men involved in the party, all of whom are white, have had such an averse reaction to my decision to be vocal about my assault and, I think it boils down to two things.

First, is a desire to assimilate with cis men at any and all costs. As trans folks, we are often fed narratives about who we should aspire to be from a cisnormative and cissexist world. We are made to believe that we are lesser or that we are sick if we don’t align neatly with strict, dichotomous gender roles; and, even that we are lesser simply because we are trans. In the gay male community, which is predominantly made up of cis men, the impulse to assimilate feels heightened. Add to that the gay male community’s denigration of femininity and celebration of white cis masculinity, and you have a toxic combination. I have been in this position, this mindset, as have many of my friends. I have so longed to fit into gay culture that I’ve compromised myself just for acceptance. This very attitude breeds a sense of desperation that has, ironically enough, landed me in situations where I’ve encountered some of my worst experiences of assault, of willful non-consensual behavior, of misgendering, and of discrimination.

Additionally, one of the ways rape culture has been perpetuated is through dissemination of this idea that consent check-ins ruin the mood or are unsexy. The kind of consent check-ins I have with folks are quick and simple: “Is it okay if I do x” or “how are you feeling?” I have never felt that someone asking whether they can touch me makes an encounter less hot; if anything, I’m probably more attracted to that person for their compassion. From all of my experiences, it seems that gay male culture is simply obsessed with holding on to backwards ideas about consent and safe spaces. Just today a person called me a “tourist” in gay male culture who is trying to ruin everyone’s fun with my “sex-negative radical feminism.” Gay cis men (and the trans men who put them on a pedestal) aren’t having these conversations the way queer and trans folks, including cis men, are having them in my community. I think the party producers are afraid they might alienate gay men by bringing up consent to which my response is: why would we want those people in our spaces anyway?

Second, there are incredibly high stakes to taking down rape culture in our society. Rape and sexual assault are endemic to patriarchy; rape and rape culture are structural violences that enact and enforce patriarchy, while simultaneously being informed by it. White cis men benefit from this system more than any other group of people. But, trans men rape, too. And, trans men also benefit from patriarchy. Aligning with rape culture is yet another way of assimilating with cis men, another backwards attempt to fit in with a white, cisnormative, patriarchal ideology that is actively doing unspeakable harm to our queer, trans and GNC, and POC community members.

Masculine folks, cis or trans, feel the need to hold on to attitudes about consent, because their privilege is contingent on this world where certain people can violate other peoples’ bodies with impunity. It is an unspoken code; if we don’t say anything about this, if we treat it as though it’s not important, then we can continue to uphold this behavior as a necessary component of the system that we benefit from. What is troubling, is that this tactic also silences male and masculine spectrum survivors of sexual assault. Folks feel they cannot speak up without fear of being considered traitors to patriarchy. As though that would be a bad thing.

This is a concern that extends beyond gender and sexuality into notions of ownership writ large. The violence of attempting to violate someone’s body sexually grows from the same roots as white capitalism and imperialism. It grows from the idea that some people are less human and less worthy of respect and dignity than others. Or, worse yet, that they are property to be owned, used, and discarded.

****

I came forward with my story because I want to live, to enact, and to build the world I dream of. This is the lesson I have learned from so many utopian thinkers, prison abolitionists, and queer anarchists. Through telling my story, it came out that another transmasculine person had been harassed by the same man who assaulted me that night. I’m deeply saddened that they were also made to feel unsafe, and while I didn’t need any further justification for my actions, knowing that I made someone else feel less alone has given me the strength to continue this fight. I am not here to wait until things get better while folks continue to get harmed. I am not here to make change for the future or for the next generation. I am here to be present in this world and to make this world better through my daily practices, my words, and the way I navigate spaces and interpersonal relationships. I am here to do the work.

If you want to stand with me, if you want to build this world think about your own practices of consent. Ask before you touch someone always but especially in sexual situations. With everyone, trans and gender non-conforming folks in particular, think about asking what parts of their body are and aren’t okay to touch and what language they use around their body. If you are a party producer, consider putting a note on your event page or a sign at your event teaching folks about consent and letting them know they will be held accountable for any actions that violate another person’s boundaries. If you are a survivor, think about ways we can call for accountability that don’t involve going to the police.

We can build this world, and the overwhelming upswell of folks who have supported me, stood by me, and fought on my behalf let me know that we are already doing so, right here and right now.

aftermath

content warning for discussion of sexual assault



it is the height of summer now. the whole world is heating up quick, flush with green, and i can feel brooklyn shudder. we are busted up and breaking, on the verge of being reduced to ground. nothing feels right here. each day is a deluge.

****

aftermath is derived from an old germanic term. it means the grass that grows after the initial crop of hay is harvested. it marks the life, weak yet aspirational, that subtends the wreckage of reaping. at some point we must have realized that pulling plants from the ground was its own sort of violence and that the flora that survives the devastation is never quite the same. that’s when we forgot what aftermath really meant, when it became what it is now.

we humans are good at tearing even fallow ground to pieces.

****

it was also summer when i finally realized i had been raped.

chris was charming and fifteen years older than me. chris was the first man i’d ever slept with.

one day when the fresh, thin red scars across my chest were in the height of their healing, he invited me over to watch a movie. it seemed like a caring gesture, the kind i hadn’t seen from him yet. i told him i was still tender and sore. i told him i was still immobilized and raw and he saw an opportunity to take advantage. he plowed past my boundaries again, each time leaving a little less and a little less and a little less. he told me he missed my breasts.

i was already moving to new york, and it seemed like the only way out. on my last day in boston he told me he was moving to new york too, and we went on like this until the season changed to fall, and i finally gathered up enough strength to tell him to never come back.

it was a year later, a new and first summer in the city when a sick feeling in my stomach evolved into a revelation. i did not know how to say no; i was devastated, i was plucked clean off the stem.

and, how do i make myself grow, flourish again when i have been reduced to chaff?

****

i want to be made of stone, but i also i want to be porous.
i want to be rock, but i also want to be soil.
i want to be a volcano erupting spewing noxious gas into the atmosphere, but i also want to be a tree that grows tall and breathes life back into the lungs of the world.
these desires are hard to reconcile.

****

the world is a constant state of aftermath now. the devastation is daily, it is micro and macro, global and local, pointed and extended in time. there is no end to the wreckage, and thus no end to the grieving half-lives that supersede it.

the mass shooting is the suicide bombing is the police brutality is the ecological devastation of our planet is the hit and run is the most recent in a long line of men who have violated my body because they see me as the commons, as ground to lay claim to.

****

i end each night with a prayer for it to crumble so something fresh and vibrant and untamed can grow again. it is a prayer for the end of the aftermath.

unrepentant

50 dead, 53 injured. 50 dead, 53 injured. most if not all qtpoc.

****

it was just yesterday that a man flagged me down at the busy corner of church and flatbush to tell me about my sins, to ask me to repent. there is a rhythm to this we learn as visible queer folks; that with some regularity we will be stopped by a stranger on the street and told we are wrong. i thanked him, returned his literature, and walked on.

and, how giddily i told my friend about it later when we were grabbing a beer before the pride party. that i, out of the rushed masses of people around had been singled out by this man, my queerness and my transness worn so boldly as a flag. i must be doing something right, i said. this queen must be doing something right. we learn to laugh at these moments as a self-preservation mechanism, as a way of navigating the very average, sharp, and incessant experience of being told that you deserve to die.

this same corner is patrolled by police, under constant surveillance punctuated with pistols. i am a gentrifier here, another person that they will use to justify this violent presence. this fact does not escape me. policing breeds policing. white supremacy breeds myriad violences.

****

i learn about the shooting in the worst way. a regular, the only trump supporter i’ve met in real life, bursts into the shop. have you been following the news?

and, i know he is telling me because he thinks i’m gay, because he fails to see or consider the nuances of my identity. he launches into a screed against muslims, and i ask him to stop, please stop. i don’t know about the shooter’s religious affiliation, and i don’t care. this is trump america at work. this is north carolina america at work. this is backlash.

he leaves without buying anything. a swift punch in the gut that will leave me doubled over for the rest of the day.

****

later, i explain affective labor to my coworker. i explain that part of our job is to manage our own emotions, to behave as though we do not experience a world, a full range of emotions outside of our labor. there are consequences for displaying our stress, our hurt, our pain.

and, that part of our job is to be emotionally available to our customers. to take care of them, to absorb their emotions, to nod and smile and offer advice.

i am performing this labor and carrying this weight. nobody asks if we’re okay.

****

how can i hold this sadness and not make it about myself? how can i find the balance? grieving as a queer and trans person, recognizing my whiteness, my privilege and the ways in which this event and its aftermath were both structured by and will feed into a white supremacist agenda, an agenda of white u.s. imperialism.

am i allowed my grief?

****

i run to the woods, i retreat. the deep and vibrant greens recharge my heart, the trees restore my breath which seems to have grown shallow today.

as i run i am pure life, body, visceral. my inhalation and exhalation deepens, which might just be my body’s way of weeping.

****

at night i dream america is a sea of puckered assholes pointed towards the sky, taut, anticipatory. our destruction is ecstatic, penetrative. we take immense pleasure in the fall, in the shattering of everything we’ve built this brutal fiction around.

on family & grief

when i was in tenth grade i did a project on american womanhood. each section covered a life; my grandmother’s, my mother’s, and my own. it was a lesson in proper heterosexual reproductive futurity. it was a practice in biological linearity and good old-fashioned bootstrap american ideology. my grandmother grew up in deep, poor rural america where she stayed her whole life. she was a lunch lady and mother of five. it only sort of read like an obituary.

my own mother was the first and only of her siblings to attend a college, an eventual point of contention that would relegate her and my family to the status of black sheep, especially since, unlike her siblings, she had moved away from the family’s small radius of homes. we lived 45 minutes away in a town which, despite having only about 5,000 people, seemed like a metropolis by comparison. and, i grew up being told that if i worked hard enough i could go to a top college, get a good job, and be even more successful than my parents had been.

****

the best laid plans, right?

****

like many queers, i have always had an odd relationship to family. we were never close to my extended family on either side and being some amalgam of whiteness, i have never had to think much about my ancestral history. but, i have always been in the habit of creating lineages and networks within which to place myself. it has been a practice not unlike sedgwick’s concept of ardent reading; searching for myself in places that aren’t quite right, finding identification/sameness even in the darkest of places.

i didn’t know i was trans when i was younger. i didn’t even know what that meant. all i knew was that by high school i had learned that if i wanted to be liked, i would have to be docile, i would have to act less intelligent, i would have to dress a certain way and behave a certain way around men. i wanted to be liked; what teenager doesn’t? but, i didn’t want to be liked for dumbing myself down, for being someone i wasn’t. i wore my intelligence, my ambition, my drive like a shield. i also cried a lot.

so, i tried to make a livable womanhood for myself. i found myself obsessed with amelia earhart; she lived on in the cultural imaginary as figure not only of strength, but of spectrality and mysticism. perhaps more importantly, she was someone who had gotten the fuck out. over my bed i hung a huge poster of rebecca lobo, the wnba star, soaring towards a slam dunk. i scoured the library for information on alice paul, the suffragette who seemed, at that time, radical compared to other political women i had learned about. i composed a constellation of strong women to guide me. absent the knowledge of my own relationship to my gender expression, i attached to models of gender transgression, non-conformity as a means of groping towards a truth i couldn’t yet make out.

****
this attachment was a means of survival. weaving myself into a narrative of white, cisgender womanhood, marked by a linear economic and social progression between generations was the only way i could imagine myself getting out, getting better, moving on.

but, it was an attachment to a fantasy that as i’ve grown older, as i’ve come into a queer and trans identity, has begun to ring hollow.

my grandmother died last week. i didn’t know her well.
my mother and i don’t speak.
and, i’m no longer a woman. i got the fancy degrees, but i am in the ongoing process of attempting to meaningfully reject narratives of what it means to be successful, a process that i have the privilege of choosing for myself as a white, masculine-perceived, able-bodied person. for the moment, it means performing relatively low-income service work, work that i have learned over the years to take great pride in.

white liberal feminism will not save me. upward mobility will not save me. heterosexual, monogamous reproductive futurity and its attendant form of social grouping, the biological family, will not save me.

and, in fact, all of these constitute, to some extent, systems of social violence.

****

queers learn fast the arbitrariness of biological family. when blood-related folks who claim to love you unconditionally reject you for your choice to live boldly outside of social norms, you realize how quickly familial love can be emptied of its significance. when you live among a supportive and caring group of folks who respect your identity, you realize that family relation is affective, agentive. it is a feeling of comfort, safety, and the spark of self-determination.

and, perhaps more troubling, is the lack of experiential overlap. i have the good fortune of having only one sibling who is also queer. but, for folks to whom i am biologically related who are cisgender and heterosexual, the way i live my life is something strange and, in some ways, uncomfortable. i have experienced harassment, discrimination, and violence that my parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins simply cannot fathom. there are things i cannot speak of easily in their presence. there are ways i cannot be myself with them. there are pangs of stress and anger when i realize that the people who were supposed to care for and support me are also members of the class that oppresses me.

****

i wrote these words following the suicide of a trans woman in my community. my grandmother had just turned 87, she was on the brink of death. i wasn’t sure how to make sense of the fact that despite my deep sense of compassion, i could not make myself feel anything about her impending death:

i didn’t know bryn well. we only met a handful of times. she put in a good word for me with a date once. and, i won’t know her better or not really because she is dead now.

and, how can i explain the fact that i have wept for someone i barely knew, but i cannot cry for a woman who has held at least some kind of presence for all of my 27 years, a woman who shares a blood tie? how can i explain my relation to these two women i barely knew, one whose death feels like the loss of a sister and one whose life feels like that of a stranger? how can i explain the shuffle of my feet as i tried to select a card for my grandmother amid the artificial affects of the greeting card aisle? a card to celebrate her upcoming year when she probably won’t make it, when she and i have taken so little interest in one another.

as transgender people and as queer people, it is only relatively recently that we’ve been swept up in the illusion that we are, at the very least, less proximate to death than we once were. but, to be queer is to hold grief, to the hold the grief of all the folks we’ve lost to violence, to hiv/aids, and, especially recently, to suicide. to be queer is to be melancholic, to consume all of the sadness of all of our ancestors, to be driven by that attachment that we can’t let go of. sometimes we cannot help but self-destruct.

****

in one sense, i’ve been raised to believe that there is a lineage of folks who are, biologically, the condition of possibility for my very existence. but, i have come to learn that what is more important is the people who create the condition of possibility for my *survival*, queer and trans folks from the past and present who have on a very real level given me life, given me the expansiveness to believe that who i want to be is not only possible but also real and viable and beautiful.

the academy, autotheory, and the argonauts

i hide in the seats on the outer circle of the u-shaped seminar table. i’m just auditing queer (affect) theory, and also a thing i’ve learned about myself and my anxiety is that i have an incredibly difficult time speaking in class. my membership in the outer circles feels befitting. i am battling a severe case of impostor syndrome, but also sitting smug in a certain sense of superiority. as i gaze around a room populated mostly with english doctoral students, i see much of the same; primarily white washed (though tastefully multicultural), gender conforming, mainstream gays praising gay marriage and speaking about non-monogamy as something racy, tantalizing/having their minds blown by the idea that something beyond them exists, straight folks who are trying to get ahead on the latest hot field in the academy.

i do not know how they really identify. and categorizing them seems precisely contradictory to the ethos of “queer” itself. queer is expansive and welcoming. we read through the list in sedgwick’s “what’s queer”, an exhaustive index that demonstrates how queer holds most all of us since the ideal of monogamous cisgender heterosexuality is something so few people actually fit neatly into.

but, sometimes i can be a petty bitch. i sit arms tightly crossed and wonder: how many of you know what being queer is really like? how many of you will walk out of here and experience the ramifications of living a life outside binaries of gender and sexuality?

i surreptitiously scroll my gmail to find a message from my department manager (who calls me by my mostly decorative legal name) asking if i would be interested in participating in a mock classroom scene in a video about the program. as if to say, be our trans face. the privilege of institutional access means sometimes playing the token, selling yourself for objectification.

in another class we discuss preciado’s testo junkie. i am nervous, shaking. it is a strange and hollow feeling to find yourself an *object* of study. i am unsure whether i can talk about my life as a trans person. my peers wax academic about hormones and transmasculinity, perform linguistic acrobatics for which they will be praised. i want to stand up and yell. i want to run. i want to out myself. because this book, for all its flaws, feels important to me.

so i do. out myself that is. i feel a sense of discomfort in the room and i’m not sure if it’s because of the revelation of my gender history or if it’s because i’ve committed the ultimate academic faux pas: attempting to interject my own experience into the sterile, rigid sphere of the academy.

****

a year ago i quit the academy or maybe the academy quit me with a thick stack of rejection letters. i met them, to my surprise, with tremendous relief. i had spared myself five more years of facing contradictions: treat theory as dogma/tend to lived experiences, theorize failure/succeed at all costs, think creatively/produce academic, disciplined work. i had failed, finally, spectacularly. no future, indeed.

****

there was a particular genre of work that i craved, i chased in the academy. testo junkie, ann cvetkovich’s depression: a public feeling, s. lochlann jain’s malignant, audre lorde’s zami. stacey young coined the term “autotheory” in her 1997 book changing the wor(l)d: discourse, politics, and the feminist movement. she argues that autotheoretical texts “differ from straightforwardly autobiographical accounts… in that they not only place personal experience within political contexts, but they also conceive of those contexts as multiple and shifting. Moreover, they investigate the ways in which what gets encoded as “personal experience” is always constructed through these multiple and shifting contexts.” autotheory is a feminist modality, a method of writing the self that shatters the academic fourth wall and asks how theory (political, academic, or otherwise) can be incorporated and intermingled with real life, not merely used as a tool to measure, describe, and define it.

this type of writing is a tool of resistance, particularly for marginalized folks in that it both refuses the exclusion of oppressed people from academic discourse about them, and it rejects the flattening out and objectification of those same groups that seems to proliferate in academic contexts. it takes emotion as its own unique and valid site of knowledge. it honors the ways in which the “multiple and shifting” contexts of real life can unravel even our seemingly strongest theories.

because, here’s the thing we often seem to forget: theories are hypothetical, relative. theories intersect with our lived experience as various points; strong theories intersect with our lives more frequently and persistently. but, they cannot be made to define our lives. real lives are slippery, unpredictable. real lives both exceed and fail theory. autotheory brings us back to a world where theory is useful tool (after all, our lives are motored by theories), but not a sort of dogmatic measuring stick of reality.

****

everyone has been telling me i have to read maggie nelson’s the argonauts since it’s 2015 release, and i’ve only just gotten around to it. it was everything i needed at this particular moment.

on a somewhat tangential note, nelson’s poetic-prose style is something i can only aspire to (re)create. a rejection of the confines of grammar and structure that keep prose in a stranglehold, a more direct and explanatory relationship to the reader than poetry. but, perhaps this isn’t exactly tangential. nelson’s rejection of both academic writing and traditional creative writing forms lends a queerness to her work at the very level of the text. she culls from what resonates with her, what feels fitting while rejecting those aspects of form that don’t serve her work. and, isn’t that just what sedgwick talked about: queers have a long history of having to pick and choose from objects of mainstream culture in order to cobble together something new, unique.

nelson does much the same with her treatment of theory throughout the book. the argonauts makes space for the mother, the reproductive body in the field of queer theory. as much as i too nodded happily and giddily read the oft-cited screed of fucks in lee edelman’s no future, the rejection of reproductive futurism lends itself to a misogynistic rejection of the mother, of motherhood in queer theory. in addition to the very obvious fact that there are queer mothers, nelson sees motherhood as a (thus far) lost opportunity for queer theorists. after all, what could be more self-shattering, to borrow from leo bersani, than the process of conceiving, carrying, and birthing another human life? of falling, of leaving the body in pieces; of splitting the psyche and then attempting to patch it back together again?

the question of theorizing motherhood, of course, has a much longer history, particularly in the field of psychoanalysis. nelson pulls from freud, lacan, and others, but inserts herself and her experience into the narrative. freud was a cisgender man, a man who essentially created motherhood as an object of study absent any personal experience of being a (queer) mother. nelson stubbornly inserts her pregnant body into these narratives, these theories. she cobbles together pieces of freud and lacan with luce irigaray, melanie klein, judith butler, and others to create a personal, workable theory of her own experience with motherhood. in doing so, she fleshes out these same theories.

but, ultimately, nelson acknowledges that even her theoretical aspiration to be the finite or the sodomitical mother, the non-procreative sexual person who embraces the maternal, the mother who reinforces her separateness from her child at the risk of the child’s rage, may fail. that’s one of the things that makes this text and other works of autotheory so powerful. they refuse the call to be prescriptive (proscriptive?), a call that makes so many academic texts feel uncomfortably definitive. there is no insistent future or past in nelson’s work, only a gentle suggestion to take care in the present, to be, to exist, to take care queerly. human evolution is, after all, a “teleology without a point.”

****

still, i wonder who gets to write these texts. people with tenure? people with established artistic and academic careers? this type of work was not acceptable in my graduate career, so i did the next best thing. i wrote (theoretically) about feelings and real people, real historical figures who i admired. i cobbled.

a year out of the academy and i am returning, inspired, to autotheory. so, i’ll be here in my little corner of the internet, attempting to do it justice.