I think acknowledging some privilege is an important place to start with this blog post. Though I am by no means economically well-endowed at the moment—rather precarious, actually. I am from more than modest means; and, I am doing an MA, so that’s a pretty big privilege. I am white, and then there is that other privilege that needs to be said, like a big pink elephant dick in the corner, male privilege. Look, my hackles go right up when the trans women male privilege issue comes up. We are treated like a monolith, when in fact, like most women, we are each individually beneficiaries of different privileges. Many trans women don’t get straight up male privilege, many do. Though I for one think that the repression of my gender and life long struggle with mental illness tends to balance out my books. But I can definitely spot my own male privilege in hindsight. People took me more seriously, and I didn’t fear getting harmed when I left the house—quite the opposite. Now I live in double fear as both a woman and a trans person. But, from this privilege reversal comes one of the most valuable experiences in this entire transition process. I can now empathize with the other, the altern. No matter how “woke” I may have tried to be in the past, I couldn’t understand what it was like to be on the opposite side of the privilege line. It’s much less difficult to imagine the other when I am myself othered.
Though my female self is relatively new in its externalisation, it is quickly catching up to the realities of misogyny and transmisogyny. Thus, I can imagine what it is like to be otherly altern. I fear violence and marginalization. I know that my issues are relatively tame compared to people of colour, other trans people, immigrants, refugees, and people with disabilities. And despite this, I face a lack of legal recognition of my gender, an inability to move freely without harassment, economic uncertainty—despite a high level of education—and fear of harm. Only now do I know how impossible it was before to comprehend how much the card can be stacked against you, how far from the hegemonic norm of het-cis-pat-white capitalists you can be. The privileged imagine that extending civil rights to marginalized/minority groups is the end of the conversation: presto, equal. Not the case. There are other layers of issues to face, systemic racism, ableism, homo/transphobia, different levels of access to resources like education and healthcare, higher rates of incarceration. The list is long.
My point. A friend, well-educated, queer, white, male, cisgender, is promoting Jordan Peterson related news on his social media accounts. If you don’t know who JP is, it’s okay, my mother didn’t either; look him up, you’ll likely puke if your the kind of person who reads a blog like this. My friend and I have known each other since Grade 2 or 3. We have always been “competitive.” That’s not the correct word, at least not unilaterally. He is brilliant, and we have a deep connection that transcends time, space, and quite a bit of young adult “angst.” He’s always been conservative, but smart enough to display it only subversively. He lives in Toronto, and writes for a bunch of big Canadian media outlets. His father is a conservative post-war European immigrant. His mom once told me that she feared for her sons, she didn’t worry about her daughters because, “this world is good to girls but so hard on boys?” WTF? I recently fell into the trap of engaging her in conversation of Facebook, I think she may have inferred that SJWs are like Nazis rallying for the take down of the Jews, as in white Canadians. I’m not sure, it was a messed up and unclear statement—also historically inaccurate on multiple levels. Look, I’m pretty liberal, I think Marx is a valuable economic critic, I hate neoliberalism, and generally think our Western, colonial, patriarchal, heterosexual, Christian civilization is going to hell—the kind of person who enrols in a gender studies MA (fully realizing the neoliberal framework of the academy). But I am also not thin skinned. I actually tried to stomach listening to Peterson talk. It was hard, I didn’t get through much. But I do think we are losing our ability to engage in discourse, the alt-right as much as anyone. So I tried. But I am at a loss for how to deal with this friend: can friendship transcend deep ideological divides?
I’ve slowly excised other conservatives from my social media. At first being slow to do so, wanting to not delete contacts from a reactionary position. After all, people are entitled to their opinions. But then I think, why are you airing this stuff out on Facebook. I’d like to be more political on the FB, but for me it’s just not the place to exercise my queer agenda. It’s tacky to post shit about how much you hate Trudeau, or what you think about the new minimum wage increase at Tim Hortons. And of course, I have more sympathy for people who subscribe to my politics. I love my mother-in-law-to-be’s tireless crusade against her dumb Brexit family members. But this is my best friend, someone’s who’s demonstrably a smarter person than me. Someone who supports me and knows what it’s like to come out. (Also, it’s not tacky for him to plug his media work on social media as it is part of his professional practice).
I feel like white people, the neo-conservative, not exclusively male, former middle-class of the North Americas—I still have a dim handle on Europeans, but they seem to have their own baggage—suffer from a form of Stockholm syndrome. The system is so clearly rigged. We have watched, in my three decades, an inconceivable amount of wealth stolen in an overt display of plutocracy. Wage growth has stagnated from the 70s on. We have less collective bargaining, social welfare, and healthcare—depending where you live. The environment has been mortgaged for a doomed future—and here we may be truly fucked. We suck. This is obvious. But many people have this fealty to the system. Capitalism, unfettered growth (that’s cancer). Does it have to be bad, probably not. I have to dream that Sweden works. That’s what all the Europeans say anyway—go there for PhD funding. But us North American scum, we can’t believe that the system that saw us ascendant in the world—and then take it all away—could be the cause of our plight. Canadians are less enamoured with the myth of social mobility than Americans—I think, there’s no American Dream. But there’s a strong wafting of alt-right rot coming from Canada.
Look, I get it, shit’s tough. My dad made four times as much as I did—in my previous career, not as a grad student—in the 1980s with no education. I’m working on my third degree—god let me get it. That opportunity doesn’t exist the same way today. I am sure there is a more sophisticated economic explanation then merely shouting “neoliberalism,” but come on, it’s the best I can do, I’m struggling to understand post structuralism, I don’t need to specialize too much. But so many people, like my friend, they know where the problem is, and it’s not neoliberalism. It’s SWJs, immigrants, Islam, queers, and those fucking genderists, with their obfuscation of the “natural” binary. Their demand—our demand—for equality, to be free and have a chance at life, the universe, and everything, is denying their free speech. Bullshit. Free speech isn’t hate speech, and everyone had to fight for their rights: people of colour, women, and queers alike. Tolerance can’t be an unlimited concept—that’s chaos.
I wish the prescription was as simple as a regime of opposite sex hormone treatment for everyone, but I suspect that’s not the solution for most people. They’d probably end up as bitter members of the opposite sex with mega dysphoria. Still, I wish there was a transformational means to understand what it’s like to exist outside of Western hegemony; the same clarity I now have about misogyny. As a trans person there’s a jackboot on my/our face—it’s pressure is differential, but it still binds us together in common cause. There is a boot on their (noramative Western subjects under globalization) faces too, but it’s like a croc worn by a baby. Sure, shit is hard, but the problem is deregulated global markets, the gig economy, corporations dodging their tax responsibility, offshore accounts, the rise of the precariat class, racism, and the specter of colonialism. It’s neocolonial capitalist theft, unregulated capital markets, the idea of infinite GDP growth in a materially finite world, climate change, anthropocentrism, and a disregard for anything other than flashy gadgets and next quarter profits. It’s a lack of empathy. It’s not trans people, immigrants, ingenious people, refugees, feminists, queers, or anyone else asking to be treated as a human being. I don’t want assimilation, normalization, or capitulation to neoliberal ideals of white het-pat individualism. I want a queer revolution. Our kaleidoscopic cornucopia of fabulous colour and antinormativity provides an alternative praxis. Infinite diversity in infinite combination. We demand the head of Peterson, Trump, May, Putin, and all of the others. We are legion and by morning we shall inherit the earth.
What had chronologically taken place between Mina and I, in a time span of not much more than a month, emotionally and psychologically felt like years. Suddenly the summer was upon us. We were to spend the summer apart, and the idea was, if we still felt the same way when we returned in August, we would officially start dating and begin the process of telling others (including our ex’s).
Although Mina was trekking through the Himalayas (with my ex) and I was in Europe, apart from a 10 day stretch when they had no wifi, we were in fairly continuous contact via Kakao Talk (the Korean version of WhatsApp), and if Mina really lucked out on a wifi connection, via skype. We traded pictures, romantic sentiments, discussed ideas of gender and sexuality, explored our own sexuality together, helped each other write and even (once) managed to fight via the wonders of modern technology. I immersed myself in teenage transgender fiction, trans theory and scoured second-hand stores for clothes for Mina (on her encouragement, I also bought a vibrator for the first time). Although it hadn’t yet been articulated, I was pretty certain by August that we had already crossed the invisible dating threshold.
I was nervously excited to see her upon my return, but it very quickly felt like we had never been apart. We confirmed our official ‘dating’ status over drinks. On the one hand, I felt that there was a refreshing ease in our relationship. I think we were, and are, both very comfortable with one another. I feel very in-tune with what she is thinking and feeling, and I feel that she is in-tune with my emotions too. It’s a feeling I have had with other close female friends, and have looked for, but never quite found in a partner before. Whether that is to do with her gender or our relationship I’m not sure. Kate Bornstein talks about their being ‘a distance’ in a heterosexual relationship a ‘what the fuck are you anyway?’ feeling, compared to the ‘familiarity’ and ‘closeness’ of lesbian relationships. I definitely feel that, but whether it is really to do with gender, sexuality or our personalities is impossible to tell.
This doesn’t mean that everything has been plain sailing—far from it. Mina’s desire to start the transition process had meant we had to deal with a lot of emotionally difficult things much earlier than most new couples would. This involved a commitment to communication and honesty, which can be an incredibly energy-consuming process. If you are going to be the partner of a trans-person, or at least a trans person transitioning whilst dating, you have to have a real dedication to making the relationship work. Though, if you are willing to put in the effort it is not without benefits. One advantage is that I have the feeling, through necessity, we have pre-empted a lot of things which might not normally have come up until we had been dating for longer. This remains to be proven, but we have been continually forced to look beyond the golden-haze of early romance, and have half an eye on the threads of the future.
*Jenny’s posts are caught up to sometime a year and a half ago when I was about to start HRT. See previous posts to follow her perspective on our relationship. This is the last post in her series.
When Mina first sent me a picture of herself in makeup, my first thought was ‘of course.’ Of course, you would find that hot. Of course, you were the only person obsessed with David Bowie in your teens, passionately checking out his biography from the library, and every video from the local video store and writing A-level media assignments about him. Of course, you always found it hot when the odd guy you knew wore eyeliner. With that first picture, something just seemed to click into place.
I’d already spent some time contemplating what my relationship with Mina might mean for my sexuality. The night Mina came out to me, I found myself telling her about a huge crush I had on a female friend about seven years previously. This wasn’t something I’d thought seriously about in recent years, and I didn’t tell a soul at the time. But I hadn’t forgotten the dark winter evening when I was admiring the shadowy outline of a guy walking several meters in front of me when I suddenly realized that I wasn’t perving on an effeminate boy at all, but a tom-boyish girl; one I knew very well. The realization was both profound and terrifying. What if I told her and her feelings were reciprocal, but then it turned out she didn’t do it for me? Did I want to risk the friendship for something new and unexplainable? Was that fair to her? Was it what I wanted? I was confused and scared, so I didn’t do anything, except the occasional, in hindsight, unfair drunk flirting. Worse, she asked me directly about it once and I straight out lied. In theory, I have always told myself I would be open to new experiences and have a flexible approach to my sexuality, but in actuality, I was very much unable to do this at that time.
But whilst such reflections were now suddenly reassuring, it wasn’t only for this reason, that the question of whether I would still be attracted to Mina post-transition, had never really been of serious concern to me. I simply had a certain gut instinct it would be fine. I have never had a physical relationship with another woman, so I couldn’t know for sure, but whilst the physical aspect of this was as yet unknown to me, and did make me nervous, despite that, I have just never been that worried.
Why not? Firstly, the litany of effeminate men I have found attractive who turned out to be gay gave me an inkling that I would be ok with a certain degree of increased femininity. I have always had a type, and that type has always been a skinny indie boy, rather than a Wolverine. As a teenager, I was at a complete loss as to why my peers were fawning over the muscles of Wolf from Gladiator and Dean Cain from Superman. Stereotypical masculinity has never really done it for me, but I never saw this as a reflection on my sexuality. I still identified as heterosexual, just with a particular type. But now, for the first time, I had an investment in being attracted to the feminine; I was suddenly aware of the possibilities this opened up.
So what did that mean? Did it mean I was a repressed lesbian? I didn’t think so. I can call to mind one other girl whom I may have found briefly attractive, a girl from my writing group in London, and once, a random girl selling lemonade at a Berlin Market. Beyond that, there really hasn’t been anyone. The only other thing I can recall is a feeling I have had more than once for women, both real and celebrity, or just thinking they are really wonderful, beautiful and amazing, but I don’t know if this is wanting somebody, or wanting to be like them; I suspect more of the second, but I think that the borderline between desire and admiration is probably also a shaky one. Regardless, I definitely have not had persistently strong feelings for women.
At the same time, Mina started to present as female around me in private more and more and I increasingly enjoyed experimenting with this. My enjoyment of Mina’s presenting as female didn’t feel like the same thing as the realization of being gay. I didn’t feel like a lesbian or even bisexual. It is possible if I had never met Mina, that I might never have stepped outside the boundaries of heterosexuality and been okay with that. But Mina made it clear that, at the very least, I found people of ambivalent gender more attractive than I found masculine men or feminine women.
There is a certain irony to the fact that I recently began working on a project that analyses trans migration. The project explores airports as sites of binary gender/sex policing and government initiatives to offer alternative gender/sex markers for gender variant people: your nonbinaries, nonconformings, gender queers, and third gender umbrella groups. My experience aligns well with the first focus of the project: airports. I am an ideal candidate to be highlighted for customs and border officer harassment as my gender/face/body does not match my passport—or body scanner. I am always highlighted and hampered by customs and security, but also sometimes the check-in gate.
The X is not something that was on my radar. Personally, I would be happy with a classic F on my bio page. But seeing as how that is not possible (see previous blog posts), I figured I’d indulge in a little experiential research. Now, I did know the X existed in some places, but I thought Canada was only considering implementing it. I found out that as of a few months ago it’s a real thing, kinda. As I had to bend over backwards to get the Canadian embassy in The Hague to even allow me to update my picture—something I have yet to submit—I figured why not go for an X. It has to be at least potentially less confusing than a current photo of me beside an M and my dead name. And it’s not pathologised, so I don’t have to pay someone to submit a form saying I’m not/am crazy, I can just indicate I’m X with a ticked box! WoW! Besides, I am not going anywhere fancy until I resolve this situation with not being able to get my F, and really, let’s face it, I’m a poor grad student—gone are my four months a year kicking it through Asia. Even if I could afford to, I’m not repeating the multiple uncomfortable border crossings I was subjected to. So I contacted the embassy; they know who I am at this point (to be honest, they’re very sweet and empathetic, unlike some government correspondences).
After less than 48 hours I got an email back. They advised me to look at a Passport Canada link they’d forwarded. There were two interesting salient pieces of information provided in a yellow text box on the gov.ca website. One, the printing computer is unable to add the X to the bio page as of yet, so the X would go under observations—which is completely useless, unless you are doing this to alleviate some deep dysphoria, but that still seems unlikely considering the original M or F would appear on the bio page. This isn’t that surprising as I’ve learned something similar happened in Nepal and it took them about five years to be able to print the passports, they use an O. I feel like we’ll be lucky if the Canadian government is so expedient, after all, red tape.
More interesting was the accompanying information framed in yellow. The government warns that once you do have an X, this is something that may get you in a spot of trouble depending on where you go—check with the embassy website. Though I never planned this serendipity, my current situation and research course are very much on the edge. This is new stuff everywhere. But, based on limited data, the X does have some serious problems, especially transiting through Middle Eastern countries, or as the Canadian government website warned, Jamacia, where Canadian love to go knock back Red Stripes in Negril. And also there are many Jamaican Canadians.
The purpose of the project I’m interning for is to be able to provide sober advice on this new government trend of issuing gender variant identifications. Though there is some diversity to the shape and process by which states offer this service, Xs and Os, diagnoses and intrinsic feelings—seriously, go Nepal—ultimatley they have a similar effect. In an attempt be more accommodating of difference, governments are unnecessarily highlighting difference in a potentially dangerous world for migrants and travellers. Let’s put it this way, a Canadian trans fem non-binary person I was discussing this with said something to the effect of, “Yeah, I’m nb, but like I pass easily with an F, so why put myself out there for trouble.” First of all, lucky bitch for getting that damn F, but also, this makes implicit sense. However, some people will want the X, simply because they are unhappy, dysphoric, or against the typical binary designations of M or F. So, why not just get rid of gender/sex on our passports?
Think about it. Airport body scanners have two settings. One for girls and one for boys, but the technology doesn’t need these. It doesn’t help locate bombs or butt diamonds. It does make some poor “lady” have to feel my penis every time I go through it. Assuredly some countries would most likely not cotton to this idea. But if countries like Canada or Australia and New Zealand, which have had the X the longest, went ahead and abolished gender markers from passports, then what would airports be able to do about it? Maybe a lot. But to my mind, it is clearly the way forward because it doesn’t harm anyone. I mean, you might not look like your photo, but unless you are me, the customs agent is probably not going to mistake your gender because you got fatter, less tanned, older, or changed your hair. There really isn’t a good reason for needing gender markers, especially as more places are using biometrics.
Not quite Y
Embrionic 90s queer
Holding a grudge
I’m your zero, a
“Don’t have a cow, man”
Trans time, that is the timeline upon which our lives unfold, are both delayed and temporally retrograde, a schismatic time simultaneously backward and forward. The medical and transexual autobiography cement this bilateral temporality. The autobiography is teleological, forward-looking until a moment of selfhood is attained—whatever that looks like. That moment is often tied to medical processes, surgery and hormones. Medically, there is a history of looking backwards and re-writing the trans subject’s own historical narrative. I was born into the “wrong body,” or for that moment when you’re invited to tea with the ladies and one’s doll preference or other seminal female memories come up: “What age did you start menstruating?” Asked the woman in the polka dot dress pouring the camomile. Similarly in trans autobiography, a genre attached to the clinic, there is a sense of one’s womanhood, or manhood, being granted to the transexual only after that transformational moment granted by the doctor and surgery—this moment is often shown in narrative through the first look in the mirror after “the operation,” or maybe as a farewell to one’s former male self—note the oppositional depiction of gender. The clinical process is full of temporal language, there is going full-time, and times for psychological assessment, waitlists, and recovery times galore. You might ask, how does one go full-time as a prerequisite for getting surgery if you’re not a woman until they cut off your dick and make a hole? Good question.
But in between the backward looking and the waiting for psychiatrists, doctors, pills, a tracheal shave, laser, laser, more laser, electrolysis, a boob job, SRS, years worth of dilating all to become an authentic woman, something must happen. Where does the trans self-emerge? Was I always trans? Is Gaga correct, am I born this way? Probably, but the locus of the self seems murky, non-normative, at sites of multiple imbricating experiences in the liminality between past and present. The very prefix trans is prepositional, of being on the other side of something, already moving away from the self that is present and now. In pushing the self to the margins of invented past and forthcoming idealised future, we lose the chimeric self that is now. The patchwork of selves through various experience, mutating gendered embodiments, technological interventions, and discovery. Trans people are not neat linear progressions from a to b, but a mess of zigzags and scribbles. We’re spirographs, just like everyone else, nonlinear, save for entropy—shits always going to break down in the end.
When does a boy become a man, at what moment? We have lots of seemingly arbitrary cultural ideas about this, and from afar there is a stark difference between baby and bearded-hipster man clad in plaid. But if we were to examine each day of that man’s life, would the moment be obvious? Is it at a specific date, when the testis drop—probably not—or at 21? Why do older adults use diminutives for younger ones, calling them by infantilising titles like “son,” to advertise that they are more adult? Is there a single moment where the man emerges from the boy? Probably not. Beyond the cultural tropes of 21, chest-hair, getting laid, beer, or getting a job, he appears at multiple cites across time, slowly, or quickly, differently each time. He emerges in the now, not in an erased and rewritten past while waiting for the future.
So, why do we expect a normalised progression of trans subjectivity to emerge across a smooth spectrum of regularised criteria at a specific future moment? Why doesn’t she/he/they appear now? And who is erased by this metric of self and time? The gender queer subject? The person who does not or cannot transition? Are they to be denied subjective recognition? And after all, those of us who do fit into the lines, are we not the exceptions? Are our timelines and experience of temporality not queerer than point a to b? I think so. The subjective I, our gendered and sexed bodies, emerge not only in the future or past, but in the present: not via a set of medical and narrative tropes, but through heterogeneous instances, interventions, developments, mutations, evolutions, failures, regressions, breakdowns, highs, lows, and interactions.