*I figured I’d get out of my normal routine and write about something completely different.
I just watched a few episodes of The Orville. I must say, I don’t get the furor over it. I mean, it was okay, but it’s not a Star Trek substitute. In fact, it can never be more than a form of nostalgic fan service to a bygone era of television and science fiction. The Orville looks like 90’s Star Trek, even down to the colour scheme—minus the forest green medical uniforms. The interior of the ship looks like a Hyatt circa 1983, which is what the Enterprise D came off as, a space conference centre. While the outside of the ship looks more like Galaxy Quest, or to be honest, a sex toy—that also goes for the shuttlecraft.
The show’s structure is very episodic, and feels nostalgic, but limited. Sure, the episode about the social media planet has cultural relevance, which is very Star Trek. But the humour is incongruous. Where Galaxy Quest worked because it was fully satirical, The Orville attempts to have a real message and also be irreverent, it doesn’t work—in my humble opinion. Aside from the humour, I don’t think the episodic nature of the show is the most relevant way to tell stories in 2017. Star Trek managed to tackle serious sociocultural issues within an episodic framework, but it didn’t achieve this because of its episodic nature, that was merely the structure of cable TV in the 60’s-90’s—I know, Enterprise was an early 00’s effort, but it very much adhered to the old template, at least until season three.
Honestly, if Star Trek Discovery had gone this route, then it would be an unworthy, and unsatisfying modern successor to Star Trek. I mean, everyone was excited to see what Star Trek could do in this new “golden era” of American television. And let’s not forget, some of the best Star Trek was the serialized story arcs, I’m looking at you DS9. I feel like The Orville is giving jilted fans a whiff of nostalgia to quell their dislike of the new, that is Star Trek Discovery (Disco).
I’ll admit, the first two episodes of Disco were ill-conceived. I liked the energy and aesthetic, but they were not well executed, written, or necessary. The show got good when it moved to its primary crew and the eponymous ship. I also realize that there are some funky changes, like the look, but we went through this with Enterprise. “How can a show set in the past look more advanced?” Well, it’s called production technology and budget. And then someone always says, it could have looked retro, look at Stranger Things. True, but there are a lot more people who appreciate a general 80’s cultural throwback then say a homage to an underfunded 60’s sci-fi show. Star Trek was always supposed to look like the future. I remember my parents laughing in the 90’s about how futuristic the original series once looked. The same is true now for all of the other iterations. And so what if they bend canon, canon can be stupid and full of holes. I can’t stand the retconning done in Enterprise, I prefer good stories over some illusion of continuity—I mean, I don’t want them to blow up Vulcan, that would be crazy. And a serialized series gives us the chance to tell new stories, and that’s what Star Trek needs, newness.
The Orville is a good salve for all those Trekkies who will never embrace the new series, probably because that’s what Trekkies do. I’ve been a diehard Star Trek fan since I was a kid, out of the womb. Mom and dad joked that they rented VHS tapes of the original series while my mother was pregnant with me and they binge-watched them over a weekend. Apparently, that’s why I’m a fan. I grew up on TNG and all the rest. And yet, I’ve never identified with the Trekky community—Trekker, whatever. I get my news on Trekmovie.com and occasionally I look through the comments section. The sheer level of griping and fighting over minor opinions feels grossly unnecessary, even in this modern age of internet echochamberism. Trekkies bitch about everything, and not constructively. For a show that models openmindedness and humanism, I’ve never come across a community more quick to be closed off and judgmental. But I digress.
If you want to watch The Orville, and I’m not saying it’s bad, do it. But stop the articles and comments about how it’s better than Disco, it’s not, it’s different, and that’s what Star Trek needs. I was so burnt out on Star Trek when Enterprise went off the air. I liked the Kelvinverse, but these movies were to action focused. I’m ready for this new vision. Is it perfect, no! But we don’t know where it’s going yet. But it’s good, it makes me eager for Monday mornings when it’s released on Netflix, and that’s all I need right now to distract me from the big vat of shit me live in. And if I think about the 23rd century, the look and technology of Disco get me there in a way that the original series never can—or even TNG era. For me, watching Kirk and crew feels more like a low budget theatrical production now. And that’s fine, I love it. But I wouldn’t consciously want my new Star Trek to look like that.
I will say one last thing, not that anyone will ever read this, I did initially take issue with Disco being a prequel. But, having recently watched some of Voyager—my least favourite series, but one of the only ones, other than Enterprise, I haven’t rewatched to death—I kinda get the placement of the show. By the time the USS Voyager returns from the Delta Quadrant, the technology is just too magically advanced. Where is the tension? We saw in episode seven of Disco a crew member in a wheelchair. There are still stakes in this show, bad things can happen, you can’t be saved in sickbay. There is a fragility to the ship and a wildness to space, this feels gone in TNG era shows. In fact, the only way to make humans seem less than godlike is to juxtapose them with beings like Q. Anyway, there it is. I fully endorse Disco. I even liked the disco party.
While watching the viral explosion of #metoo I caught myself reflecting on my own experience with sexual assault as a child. I won’t get into the details, nor do I want to, but of course, I wouldn’t have dared add the hashtag to my social media feed. #metoo attempts to highlight the systemic violence done by patriarchy to women—sorry bro, that’s not you because a girl slapped your ass. And boys do face sexual violence and assault, but those issues need to find their own space. This space was for women (white women) and the daily violence and harassment they face. I felt like being molested as a kid didn’t fit this bill, as shitty as it was.
Nevertheless, I couldn’t help but reflect upon a common feminist criticism of trans women, that we don’t have female experiences. I came to this criticism because had I felt like my assault was attached to my sense of womanhood, others wouldn’t see it that way. I encountered this sentiment again in a New York Times article reaction to Jenner’s coming outings 2015 while I was researching for a paper. It’s the same issue at stake in the more recent Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie scandal (which Jenny wrote about here). What non-trans feminists take issue with is that experiences are important, and people like Jenner, and by extension me, have privileges that other women don’t, thus lacking certain experiences. But I don’t like this argument, as much as I fear being viewed through its lens—and I know its a common lens for viewing.
First of all, this places women and their identity into a matrix of oppression. Yes, women,—we—are oppressed, but we are oppressed for different reasons, and to different degrees. Certainly, this cannot be the defining principle of womanhood? If it were true, black women would be more “woman” than white women, hell, all women would be more “woman” than white women. If you were to look at statistics, then trans women would actually be the most victimized, at least, trans women of colour. But I am not playing that card because I’ve not been victimized in that way, and I think womanhood is not tied to this narrative—at least not exclusively.
I would like to point out, again, though, that just like cis women, trans women’s lives are not monoliths. Cox pointed this out in all of her glory after Adichie had her little spew fest in the spring. This is especially true today, when there are so many trans people coming out at such young ages. These kids can suffer from all sorts of oppressive sociatal factors in addition to misogyny: transphobia, homophobia, transmisogyny, etc.
I would further like to problematize this narrative with my own. I lived for 30 years as male, at least publicly. Not only did I receive male privilege, I hailed from an economically privileged family in an incredibly privileged society. For most of my early years, Canada was the UN’s top place to live in the world, and it’s never fallen far from the top five to ten (though apparently this year we are tied with the US, WTF?). Must have been great, right? But, I knew about my gender variance from a young age, to some degree. How did this repression affect me psychologically? I’ve spent years, my whole life, suffering from mental health issues (there is likely some kind of correlation here). Similarly, as I was perceived as effeminate, I was teased in school and elsewhere for being gay (the wrong gay, but still).
Of course, I didn’t fear being assaulted in the way women do, I only feared it sometimes for not fitting in. Of course, there are all sorts of other cultural messages that I was on the positive end of receiving via male privilege. But who can judge this Olympics of oppression? My life was miserable because I repressed my gender nonconformity—though apparently not always well, because I was perceived as gay, but also well enough because when I came out, there were “no signs.” Male privilege seems less shiny when it’s an instrument which surpasses your identity. Sure, I could go outside and expect not to be assaulted or harassed, but I also wasn’t free to be me, and that’s not an insignificant weight. And then there is the consuming guilt of feeling gender non-conforming, but you get the picture.
I guess what I am saying is this. Did I suffer from the same oppressive forces as cis women prior to coming out and living as one? No. Do all women share experiences of oppression? To a degree, as they relate to patriarchy—save maybe Mayim Bialik (zing). But patriarchy is also mean to gender nonconforming “boys.” And there are innumerable unseen forces which problematize who is more oppressed. All we can say is that women are oppressed in different ways: intersectionally.
I think Ms. Jenner is a great choice as the face of trans women from a neoliberal perspective. But I think she is a really awful face for trans women with regards to representing the rest of us, in all our heterogeneous experiences—just like “real” women. Ms. Jenner’s privilege is about as high as it gets, before and after transitioning. But, as a psychologically broken, not-so-late to come out trans woman, I can concede that there was probably a lot of pain under that privilege. So who are we to judge? I don’t know. I’ve not read Jenner’s bio—I’m generally not a fan—but I don’t think we can read trans people as being trans at the moment they come out, or start HRT, or get “the surgery.” Because lots of trans people never do these things. And coming out is a long process. I came out when I was 15, 22, and 30. So, my transness goes back way before I started HRT, or told the people I work with. So who knows what Jenner’s experiences were?
So what are women’s experiences? The answer is, varied. We might not all be oppressed in the same ways and to the same degrees, but that’s just being a woman.
At my new clinic in Zeist:
Laser tech (who I assuming is Afro-Dutch, she’s a woman of colour anyway):
“Your skin is not quite…white, is it?”
Me: “Uh, no… I’m not really a very good white personal in that regard.”
Laser tech: “what is in it” (“it” I presume meant my skin)?
Me: “Well, I did a DNA test hoping to find something exotic, but I’m basically Anglosaxon, Central European, with a touch of Eastern and Southern European.”
Laser tech: “hmmm, your lucky.”
Me: “Thanks, I don’t sun burn easily.”
I will not summarize my current situation here, the legal liminality I am in, because I’ve discussed it in my posts over the last month. I do want to discuss cisprivilege. “Cisprivilege” is an LGBT neologism that means what it sounds like it, it’s like white privilege, but instead of racial privilege, it’s an advantaged bequeathed to people based on their alignment to their gender assigned at birth. It’s a privilege that allows people to go through the world and not worry about being harassed because you look trans or nonbinary, to go to the toilet without worrying about your safety, or to not have your gender questioned.
Many of the issues I’ve been having are based on my lack of legal recognition of my gender. I therefore am often confronted with situations where I am automatically outed: whenever I do something official. What’s remarkable, is in describing this to some of my cis friends, they don’t get it at all. They trivialize my problems and make them out to be mere annoyances. I feel like if I were experiencing racial prejudice I would get a stronger reaction of sympathy, if not empathy. But people aren’t aware of this privilege. And they can’t imagine being without it. It’s really no different to male privilege. It’s hard to know what it is until it’s taken away. Regardless, a lack of cis privilege is not a trivial matter. At best, it can make trans people’s lives a minefield of stress and anxiety, at the worst, we can experience direct discrimination or even harm.
Here are some examples of cis privilege
I’ve been having fucked up dreams, again. I had one the other night which has felt tangibly real all week. In the dream, I was a giant green pterodactyl. I’m not sure if the following is the whole dream or just the good part. But in it, I felt my body, massive, powerful, and streamline plunge towards the ground. I fixed my massive saurian eyes on a target as I pulled back from the encroaching earth. In a rush of turf and blur my massive beak forked open and sliced off Mike Pence’s head. In the same motion, I landed on Trump. My feet, taloned and reptilian, grasped at his stomach. I can remember the gore of his stomach spilling out into my claws, hot and copious. The life drained from his beady little pig eyes, and poof, I woke up.
In the summer of 2016, I set out on a remarkable journey. That journey created two documents that when read separately seem unrelated but nevertheless are intimately linked. That journey was to Mustang, an ancient kingdom bordering Tibet in northern Nepal. Proceeding my journey I had come out in a rather dramatic and whirlwind affair. This adventure had been planned much earlier, and though I was remiss to undertake it, because of my fragile health and my uncertain future, I nevertheless felt compelled.
One of my great passions in life has always been to explore. When I was a child I dreamed of all the places I would go, these places always changed, but the wanderlust was there. I’ve spent every spare moment from my teens to now trying to go to and experience as many places as possible. This desire was so powerful in me that I even forwent transitioning. Looking back more than a year now, I wonder if my travels are over. If this is the case, so be it, but still, as much as a regret waiting to transition, I cannot imagine not having fulfilled my other great desire in life. If this is the end, then my journey back to Central Asia created a tidy parentheses around the last six or seven year.
The two documents I created were two different logs, one a travel log, and the other, a transition journal—more of a coming out to myself journal. What better place to reflect on your decisions and life than when hiking in relative seclusion for ten hours a day? This wasn’t just any hike, it was high altitude and remote. What ensues is my attempt to marry these documents into one “coherent” narrative. The travel log is a series of vignettes, where the other journal entries are more stream of consciousness, seemingly divorced from the splendor of my surroundings.
*Note the numerical entries are from my travel log, and the alphabetical ones are from my trans journal.
1: My mother keeps asking if I’m excited for my vacation. At this point, no (in the air above the Gulf of Thailand).
I’m never excited anymore until I get there. Strangely, traveling just isn’t that exciting anymore, but that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy it immensely.
2: I feel bad complaining about the loss of the Kuala Lumpur low-cost terminal. However, the new one still has a transfer choke point, and now, without the ramshackle airport, it feels like we could be eating at any airport in the world.
Also, that was the worst Mcdonald’s I’ve had in a long time. Yuck.
A: Sitting in the airport lounge surrounded by what must have been 87% men, I felt very vulnerable. As I see myself more as a women, I feel more at odds with the “other” sex. I see the future potential for discomfort.
3: The sun sets high above monsoon clouds over India.
A plane full of Nepali men is always a recipe for chaos.
I love sunsets at 12 000 meters and 800 kph, when aligned perpendicularly, they go on forever.
B: I’m looking at this beautiful air hostess and it strikes me why I’ve always had such a hard time making eye contact with girls. They think I’m objectifying them, when I am merely identifying or more accurately appreciating their femininity in an envious way. And yet, lack of reciprocal understanding feels embarrassing: how can they know what I’m thinking?
4: With three miniature bottles of a surprisingly good shiraz in me, Tame Impala blaring through my earbuds, we start our descent through thunderheads into Kathmandu: summer.
C: Will I have to give this up?
5: Thamel is exactly as I left it, minus some buildings. In fact, the most striking thing is how many buildings didn’t collapse during the earthquake. However, Darbur Square and Bodhnath are not untouched, the former to a much greater degree. We spent the day wandering the dusty streets and circling a Tibetan holy site. Kathmandu is still dirty, full on, in your face, and utterly charming: the humidity and soot wash over you as cows, people, rickshaws, motorcycles, and cars vey for the same sliver of ancient roadway. Men slur the words, “do you smoke?”, or “hashish?” under their breath as you pass by doorways and alleys. Ancient edifices carved from dark black wood lean into the squares with their stupas and worn down statues of Hindu and Buddhists gods. Everywhere incense, smoke, and dust waft acrid in the thick air. The Himalaya are nowhere to be seen as large towering monsoon clouds curtain the foot hills.
Sunday we head to Pokhara.
D: Another random thought, but I realised over the last week that I am much more comfortable with the imperfections of my body if I think of myself as female. Which is odd, as there is still a sense of dysphoria. And yet, I just feel better.
6: Today we headed to Patan—a place I’d been a century ago with Kat. Patan is somewhere between Thamel and Baktipur, this is good because it feels ancient, but lived in. Thamel is too “lived in,” and Baktipur feels like a museum.
If the first day back in Kathmandu felt full on, or as Fabrice just learned to say, “Legit,” the second day was more tranquil; we drank in the ancient atmosphere of copper plated temples and giant chariots wielding skyward towers bearing vegetable, animal, and human* offerings to the gods, dragged through the busy streets.
After our walking tour and an amazing massage , we time-lapsed in a busy square, hung out beside a temple, and I made friends with a boy who may have given me lice.
Currently I sit atop of our Newar hotel looking over the terraced rooftops of Kathmandu watching the sun slide behind monsoon clouds. Perfection.
*A ritual chariot is dragged through the street, slowly. Inside, a girl lives, she is the incarnation of a goddess. Apparently she stays in there for a long time?
E: The last few days I’ve felt very secure in my decision, even though there are so many scary uncertainties. This morning I woke up and it struck me that I was going to change my body in a serious way, how can I know that’s what I should do? And yet, why do I also feel so at peace with the decision?
I think back to when I told Kat and her words, “I think you’ve know this is what you should do for a long time.” For some reason this gives me strength. I think I have “known for a long time.” I think back to when I’ve presented as trans online which had to be at least as early as 2006. I presented as female even before that: probably 2002. So why did it take me so long? I think I was on track for this in 2010 when I broke up with Julia, but falling in love again for the first time since, well the first time with Shalon, and the excitement of starting my career travelling abroad which was the fulfilment of a life long dream, and then the impossibility of transitioning once over seas—in a relationship that was already providing me more support than I’d ever had—made this inevitable process sink back below the surface.
And yet here I am again at the end of a relationship and it’s the thing on my mind. I think that’s all the proof I need.
7: Our new taxi friend told us about the earthquake. He was at home in the countryside when his village was destroyed in 56 seconds, it sounded like he said by a landslide that leveled the whole place (I didn’t want to ask about further clarifications, the pain still palpable in his story). I’ve been impressed by here is that even though many people are desperate to raise themselves above the endemic poverty, they are still friendly and kind.
We arrived at the domestic terminal for our less than one hour flight west to Pokhara. This is where our trek into Mustang begins. We are unsure of the logistics beyond the need to show up with 500 dollars in American bills.
F: I can track this back until quite young when I think about it. Then again I was never really in touch as a little boy. Or, for that matter as a teenager, I always felt apart from my gender, especially with regards to sex.
8: My damaged central nervous system hums, shakes, vibrates, twitches, and fires electricity along damaged pathways and branches of nerve clusters, like a tree that survived a brush fire. I can do this I think as I watch my fingers dance back and forth as I hold them in the air and I feel the liquidity of my body as I try to hold it still.
At least I’m not thinking about school.
G: Opposite Gender Day in grade school (maybe Grade 3) was one of my earliest memories of wanting to dress as a girl.
9: Our little twin prop plane grabbed the air a hundred meters later than I’d thought, causing a stirring of doubt: was fifty dollars really a good deal for this ticket?
As our plane found purchase in the air, rice terraces and multi-storied brick homes shrank below us. The Kathmandu valley gave way and we could peer into the myriad valleys that stretched between the foothills of the Himalaya.
Capping the string of hills were tall, slender, monsoon clouds. The verticality of the landscape outside the window was impressive, and even though the mountains remained obscured by clouds, the clouds did their best to uphold the scale of the sheer cliffs which they concealed.
As we flew hot and sticky through the stormy air in our little discount turbo twin-prop plane, the sea of clouds began to sweep away. The Himalaya, inconceivably tall, split the clouds, their peaks and shoulders atop the contiguous layer, glistening in the sun.
Like some first year art history student enamored by romanticism I felt reassured in the presence of the sublime: like that guy looking from the top of some alpine peak at the sea of clouds below.*
Was the plane approaching Pokhara too quickly?
*“Wanderer above the Sea of Fog” by Caspar David Friedrich
H: I’m enjoying my vacation and my mind is not on trans issues. I don’t need to be thinking about it every second of every day?
10: On Sunday night the sky opened and it rained, it rained all night and into the day. In the dark the building shook as thunder rolled through the valley from across the lake. Lightning forked and it rained some more.
Post script: I couldn’t sleep as my mind reeled with changes and Brexit. Could they be that stupid?
I: Last night I dreamt I looked like a woman. I can’t remember many of the details other than I woke up at one point and it was so dark I couldn’t see anything. I remember falling back asleep and resuming the dream, making a comment to someone in the dream.
I woke up feeling good.
11: We went back to Peace Eye Hotel in the southern Lake District of Pokhara. I’d stayed with them before and they easily accommodated our stay via email.
The hotel arranged our guide, Lok, he has a special relationship with Upper Mustang in order to be able to guide treks in the region (he costs 25 dollars a day).
The visa is 500 USD, and apparently that must be USD, and the Annapurna conservation area permit is 9000 rupee or approximately 90 USD (you also need five passport photos).
Also of note, during the monsoon, flights are usually cancelled to Jomsom. We are taking a bus at 1500 rupee a head. There is a private car option but it costs 300 USD or more.
That’s where we are at. It took about two days to get stuff arranged and the bus will take approximately eight hours.
12: Pokhara is hot, I’m melting. The lake is green this time, unlike in the winter when it’s a dust bowl. We rent bikes and repeat our journey around the north side of the lake, the same way we went two years previous. I burn in the sun.
Later I sit watching thunderheads climb into the blue sky in a ring around the lake between the mountains. The clouds reach a towering height and then disperse.
J: I’ve spent a lot of time reading, though not as much as J* from the sounds of it.
This morning I read people’s narratives about discovering their identities late. Though I still think I knew as a teenager, I just could never embrace it. This made me feel better. A lot of people talked about the “all my life” narrative as a thing cis people need to perpetuate.
I then read more about people’s unfolding sexuality, which I cannot fathom being a hetero trans female, yuck. I’m looking at a group of boys on our bus right now: ewww.
*As I was travelling with Fabrice, Jenny’s ex, I never used her name when writing. I think she might still be J in my phone—I know, subtle. I will also note here that we were not technically together at this point. We were on a wait and see what happens after the summer. After all, at this point I was still considering moving back to Canada in September.
13: Pokhara to Jomsom
The bus was small and full, as you’d expect. Luggage and people were thrown everywhere and the seats are too small, even for the Nepali.
The bus tore straight through Pokhara, at least almost, before bottoming out the axle in a giant pothole—or maybe it was a crater. It took forty minutes to repair the bus; a mechanic arrived with his tools by motorcycle—mostly a winch and a small sledge hammer.
Other than that we only had one tire explosion to deal with (I might add that as I write this we’re still two hours from Jomsom: fingers crossed).
The paved section of the road was suicidal and beautiful. Towering hills gave way to plunging river valleys, all stitched together by a crumbling single lane road. After a small depot town (Beni), where we ate momos so good I could go back exclusively for the purpose of consuming them again, we watched some Indian holy men (Sadhu) disembark a small bus in order to start a yatra, their beards jungly and skin the colour of hash.
Beyond this village, the road became a dirt path, literally the old trekking route. We slowly climbed into the alpine passes towards the peaks and clouds of the foothills passing waterfalls each worthy of their own national parks and yet only simple features in the more complex and beautiful whole that was the landscape we traversed.
Finally, around 2700 meters we came to a long flat river gorge. As we followed the river the landscape became dessert. Temples and Tibetan style homes dotted the beige hills surrounding the broad river plain which was filled with more pebbles than stones.
We arrived at Jonsom in time to see the sun set over Nilgeri.