On Digital Space and Transnormativity

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I’m trying to get involved in stuff here in the Netherlands. It’s hard. The Dutch seem private, and you know, 30’s—our tribes are set. Thus, I still have a large digital presence. There’s Facebook which shows me what my friends are eating, or which beach they’re laying on on the far side of the earth.  Similarly useless seems to be all the discussion boards or community spaces that just seem to bring out the worst in people. Trolling, bad behaviour, a lack of general ability to formulate ideas, what’s the point? We connect to people who reflect our own basic ideas about the world, and when we aren’t masturbating into a mirror, then we are screaming at each other. I really dislike that the following idea aligns to the alt-right, and I think that they are totally misusing it, but we really can’t seem to hear the antithesis of ourselves in public/digital spaces. The alt-right means by this that PC culture is allergic to opinions that are not their own, which there is some truth in; but, what they want is space to vent their hate speech, which is not really the kind of two-sided dialogue they are pretending to seek. Honestly, both sides can’t stomach hearing the other. The alt-right is just beating their drum harder about it at the moment. Essentially I see the internet as a means for us to shutdown, to engage in our own confirmation biases, and generally forget civility—both sides of the political spectrum aren’t immune to this.

Reddit has been really important to me. It’s not free of trolling, in fact, I’ve had some thrown at me, nothing bad. But if I tow the line and don’t go against the grain I can eek out some answers. But I can’t get beyond the feeling that it’s not really a community. People generally do well to respond to people in crisis, but beyond that, there are two other post types that get a lot of attention: sensational posts such as “do you still like pegging after HRT,” or images. I’m okay with the first, who doesn’t want to read about being fucked in the ass? It’s so much less messy to read about…I’m concerned about the other type of post, images. While I get a thrill from likes in r/transpassing or whatever, I’ve been thinking about something someone said in passing recently. I think they were talking about a ftm friend who is transitioning in their late 30’s and that they found it so unhealthy to be in online trans spaces—we were discussing blogs as a form to convey trans narratives. I must say, I agree.

If you look at Tumblr or r/transtimelines or r/transpassing, the people who get the likes are the people who most adhere to heteronormative beauty ideals. Which is fine, I want to look like a cis female too! But it’s a problem when we only celebrate these kinds of trans narratives. I think this article about Playboy is a good example of a bad trend. Ines Rau is now Play Boy’s first trans playmate. Oh goodie. Also, I think Caroline Cossey owns that crown, or did she not get it because of lexical evolution: “transsexual” v “transgender.” Anyway, I saw this on Reddit this morning and almost everyone said something good about it. I almost said something against it but didn’t because I could imagine the responses I’d get. But people are seriously excited about this. So why is this a bad thing? And who cares if hot trans boys and girls get lots of likes.

Well, these are examples of trans upholding the status quo, the heteronormative gender hierarchy, i.e. the patriarchy. This is transnormativity. Despite Hefner being lauded with regards to his LGBT activism, he was a misogynist. And no, I am not being moralistic with regards to polyamorous relationships. Hefner exploited women. He paid 500 dollars for Monroe’s nudes, which she sold earlier for 50 bucks to help pay some bills. She died from a drug overdose and he built an empire on her images, which she never saw a penny from. That’s exploitation. So why are we celebrating this system?

At the end of the day, I have to wonder about the internet—this thing that I’ve seen grow with me through my life (I was six when it launched publicly). Does it make us smarter? It radically enhances our access to information, but without the critical thinking skills to shift through the shit, what good is that? Does it not just reinforce our biases? I always look up where a source is coming from so I can try to understand its political biases. I try to teach my students this. To what avail? I don’t know. Just as my teenage students are susceptible to the negative impact of social media and repetitive images of what they “should” look like, do, like, be, etc., the internet similarly enforces negative and restrictive conceptualization of trans, gender non-conforming and  non-binary folks. Sandy Stone in her seminal “Posttranssexual Manifesto” called for “trans people” to take control of their own narratives because they had radically anti-normative capabilities. The internet has so much potential for this (it occasionally achieves it), but like so many other potentialities of the internet, I doubt its efficacy. The internet also has radical potential to reassert dominant narratives. And I fear this is the internet we have, unless you’re willing to dig below the surface.

I will finish by pointing out that my posts could potentially be read as an agent of transnormativity. I hope that my international transition and my frank discussion of the nonlinear nature of it potentially breaks this mold. My partner and I have also discussed the less than heteronormative nature of our relationship and I would describe both of us as queer. I also try to convey a sense that gender is complex, stemming from environmental, biological, and cultural factors. I will aspire to be more radically queer as I navigate this strange cultural milieu I find myself wrapped in. Especially in digital spaces.

 

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Trans Geographia Update

There is an irony in the fact that in Holland and Canada no one is willing to help me change my fucking name! These are the most trans liberal states on the planet. I am currently in contact with a trans rights group here in the Netherlands. Unfortunately, despite most Dutch people speaking very passable English, their reading comprehension in English sometimes leads to misunderstanding. This group has given me information on how to change my gender, which is not what I need, what I need is my name changed, but I can’t seem to get this distinction across. I contacted a different group today.

I’ve also contacted lawyers on both sides of the pond and even kicked this shit up to Premier of Ontario. To be fair, the Registrar General’s Office did reply to me via a phone call, and the Premier responded to my email, so at least these institutions don’t appear faceless. Still, I have no resolution.

The prospect of starting my career over again is incredibly daunting. It seems almost impossible while I’m shackled to my dead name. It seems like a small thing to complain about, but I have two weeks off at the end of October and I’m looking at places I can take the train to, because that’s how scary customs at the airport is. Berlin, no problem on an airplane: 45 minutes and less than a 100 euros. On a train it costs at least twice as much and takes eight hours. Poo.

Blog Thoughts

This blog has several purposes. It’s main purpose is to catalogue an experience that is atypical with regards to trans narratives. I think it is safe to say that my story has taken on a slightly different trajectory than the classical modern Western transition. Secondly, it is an outlet for myself, as I am somewhat cut off from my greater support network and trans communities, though the latter is changing. Also, I am hoping to use it in an autoethnographic sense to explore issues of global trans mobility and the lack there of it in my thesis. It has also become a resource for trans partners, as Jenny generates a large portion of the traffic to this blog.

One thing it wasn’t meant to be was an outlet for curious coworkers and various other voyeurs. This may seem like an odd thing to state considering how public a blog is, but in reality how likely is it that someone is going to find this blog while poking about the internet? I’ve written about how I was outed through my blog and the knowledge that those same people still view my blog is unnerving. I can imagine them circulating it and gossiping. I know that I am still somewhat of a contentious issue at my old international school. I am resolved to keep blogging, if only for myself, but I can see in my stats where people are reading from. Sometimes I get the impression that some of these same interlopers are occasionally looking my way. This is problematic because some of these people didn’t treat my material with care and in/advertently did harm. But, to change my posting habits or to hide would be placing myself into bad faith. And I am never going back to that Beauvoirean hell.

12+ Months

I realize I never did the ubiquitous trans thing of posting my 12 month shot. Here you go. In response to the image, which is designed to show how my face has softened because there aren’t that many 30+ people posting, someone on the subreddit “trans timelines” asked if I was a trans man. I replied, “No, the image just doesn’t correspond to a typical temporal left to right axis.” The confusion was flattering. Also, someone asked me for a tampon on the weekend, so that’s also good. But I digress.

 

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Cutting

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I get the feeling that no one, save for my partner, really knows how miserable I feel. The pressures on me now feel like an ocean bearing down. I feel somewhere below the tent of the sun’s light descending further into the gloom. Strangely I forgot how numbing it feels, as if the thermocline of the water matches my decent into depression: cold, colder, coldest, numb. The issue with the government (see two posts ago) is really the tipping point. It’s not really about my transition, if that where the only thing I was dealing with I would be ecstatic, rather its the cavalcade of attendant factors, all grim, like the procession of a voodoo funeral in an old photograph. I’ve lost control of the situation, and I feel crushingly helpless.

I tried to cut myself, but the knife wasn’t right. I don’t like the sting of the blade, I prefer a deep, dull laceration, or even burn. I use to bite myself until I tore out chunks as a kid. I’ve always had a macabre air of superiority towards people with little crisscrossing white scares along their arms: I use to do that shit, and it was disfiguring—as if the magnitude of the pain was expressed in the level of disfiguration. I’ve often had to explain weird scares to people, an exercise in lying, what can one get away with? It’s not like its any of their business. They know anyways, well save for some of the more anomalous marks, like the bitting or scratching.

The knife I crave is in the bottom of some dusty drawer a world away, an artefact of childhood fetish with destruction. It’s black, garishly violent in its utility: serrated and covered by teflon for some mysterious reason. I think others would look on these proclivity as evidence of the boy that I was and somehow lost, but in hindsight it was merely a manifestation of the deep self loathing I’ve always had for myself. A desire to destroy or overcome the flesh that is wrong.

I guess I am being candid in this highly public form because mental illness is too often swept under the rug. Because being transgender isn’t a straightforward narrative. Sure, part of this issue is contingent on dysphoria, but most of it is structural, i.e. societal. There is a strange irony in the fact that this is more difficult in the “liberal” West. In Korea, I was always an alien, it was written on my identity card. Now I have no identity card, does that make me a true alien? At the end of the day I want to end this cycle of destruction, I just don’t know how. And, as I sink back into that oceanic tomb I so narrowly escaped, it seems almost impossible. If you’ve followed this blog, you’ll know I am haunted by the ocean. The jury is out on whether that ocean is generative or utterly destructive and cold.

From last week:

Hypnagogia

five days
languishing between
lurches of
REM and
alpha wave
paralysis

3am showers
blistering hot
water rashes
starring blurry eyed
at iPhone

memory
of heavy
serrated
metal, cutting
flesh, each gap
a new tearing point
the edge
of cold
black teeth

lacerations and burns
impart illusions
of pain control
powerless
in Stygian
states
yet,

the river yearns
for chthonic
offerings:

goblet
of blood
poured down
the drain.

the bell tower
counts down
Doom

Being On Top & Mind-Forged Manacles

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*Note, the following post discusses sexual issues. Read at your own peril.

I

“We can have sex but I don’t want to be on top,” Mina said a few days later. The (surprisingly short) break in our relationship had given us both time to fully realise the extent to which her gender identity affected her enjoyment of sex. How being on top, being dominant, was seamlessly analogous with being male.

I’d had sex in other positions in the past, but not often. The missionary position was generally the default setting of sexual interaction, and it suddenly shocked me that I had never even thought to question it. How much someone who considers themselves a pretty well read feminist had allowed herself to be subservient to male ideology in the bedroom for so long, without even thinking about it.

At this point in our relationship, Mina had not yet had much opportunity to present as female around me. She had sent me photos of her in make-up, but I hadn’t yet seen her present as female in person, and she was still using her male name. So, even though I knew she identified as female, I guess we had automatically fallen into the pattern of stereotypical, hetero-normative sex, and that had been one of the major reasons why Mina had felt the relationship was just too much to handle.

But that statement was the beginning of an evolving journey for us both. Having sex with Mina on top was a completely different experience. She was immediately more relaxed. Her whole body language changed, and I felt like she was experiencing genuine pleasure, in a way I hadn’t realised she wasn’t doing before.

It also changed the power dynamic. I liked the way she put her arms up, and her head back against the pillow. I liked how I suddenly felt like I had permission to look at her-that she wanted me to look at her; to see her as a women. For the first time, I was allowed a glimpse of Laura Mulvey’s ‘The Male Gaze’*, from a ‘male’ rather than an analytical point of view. For the first time sex wasn’t about having something done to me- which I may or may not enjoy depending on the moment- but something that I could actively do to her. It felt empowering.

*The Male Gaze is a phrased coined by Laura Mulvey in her work ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema,’ to describe how most film is shot from a male point of view and therefore sees and portrays women largely as objects

II

It’s ironic that Mina taking a more passive role enabled me to begin to truly see her as a women, whereas it simultaneously opened up the possibility for me, that as a women, I didn’t have to automatically assume the passive role. To me, the magnitude to which dominance and passivity are socially constructed to be synonymous with their retrospective genders and the degree to which I had been blindly adhering to them, whilst all along considering myself a liberated feminist, was suddenly starkly illuminated. I thought I knew so much about gender and equality, but I wasn’t practicing it in the bedroom.

I don’t know to what extent this is the case for all heterosexual women. Many women are more sex focused than I am, and perhaps have made it more of a mission to discover themselves than I have ever done, but I am sure there must be more than a few others in my position (forgive the pun). I just hadn’t really thought about it, because to be perfectly honest, I’d always found sex problematic and only occasionally enjoyable.

I enjoyed sex with my first partner, but not really with either of my first two real boyfriends. The first I got together with because it was what I thought you were supposed to do when you went to university. I was trying to be cool, casual, experimental. But I just don’t really have that in me, so instead, I ended up in a 2-year relationship with someone I was only really mildly attracted to at best. The second I was more attracted to, but not that much, and it was a similar story. I tried to have a one night stand once, but as soon as the person, who was someone I had a crush on for a long while, came back to my flat, I realised I didn’t want them to be there. I hated sex in all those instances. It made me uncomfortable. It made me want to cut myself. But I felt like I was supposed to want to do it, and I didn’t know why I didn’t, so I persevered. And sometimes I found I kind of did want to do it at the same time, and then I ended up in a dark place of weird, unexplainable self-betrayal.

Eventually, I decided that I just wasn’t really in love with either of them, and the relationships ended, but now I was starting to question whether it wasn’t really more about the presumed lack of control I felt expected to assume. Mina wanted to be in this role as she had never got to have it, as a way of validating her femininity. She found being expected to assume a dominant role as problematic as I found in reverse. I didn’t have a problem with the role per se, but I had a problem with the assumption that it automatically belonged to me.

With the realisation that we did not need to make those assumptions, came an immediate shift in our relationship dynamic. I was dating a woman. Our roles in the bedroom and otherwise were not pre-prescribed. It was like being given a sexual blank canvas and lots and lots of paint that could be mixed anyway we wanted. For me, it was like finding something that I didn’t know had been missing. Something that doesn’t have to be pre-prescribed by gender. It just took being placed outside sex and gender binaries to see it.

Trans Geographia: The Crash

Languishing in a state of medicalized liminal uncertainty; checking for emails from Dutch clinics and disasterizing; bad news comes in the night. The Ontario Registrar General, in all its exalted glory, office in downtown Toronto, distribution office in Thunder Bay—with a view of the Sleeping Giant I assume—has denied me the right to change my name. I had contacted them and was directed to send them an appeals claim of sorts. You see, while I can change my gender marker remotely, I cannot change my name without having lived there for 12 months. I am sure there is some good reason for this, likely to prevent criminals from getting away with whatever they are trying to run from, but I am not a criminal. I am, however, lacking legal subjectivity. The government, in its wisdom, is inclined to allow me to languish in another state of liminality, one potentially as dangerous as a lack of healthcare.

What is better, all of the LGBTQIA2S+++ legal aid websites are mere portals to advocacy groups who are fighting for “us,” but do not want to hear from us: the disinterested digital presence of neoliberal progressive institutions, homonationalistic, and ultimately immune to the woes of actual people.

Let’s review what this means for me. If I cannot find a way to change my name here. I will have to a) be completely unemployable without the 100% certainty of being outed as trans. As I was previously a teacher in a fancy international school, I cannot see this as being a positive check on my CV. B) It also means that I cannot travel without fear of being detained. C) I guess the government thinks dropping my life and my partner’s so we can move back to good ol’ Ontario is a viable, lucrative, and enticing option. Of course, I can then wait six months for my OHIP to kick in and then wait for another indeterminate amount of time to get trans healthcare, in which time I can what, commit suicide because my body starts to detransition? Wow, who thought that Korea would be a less complicated option for transitioning, minus the having to be closeted most of the time for work.

So fuck you Ontario. Fuck bureaucracy, and fuck invisible institutional transphobia.