“We are acidents waiting to happen…”

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I had this post planned in a narrative form as I sat anxiously in the doctor’s office maniacally sprawled forward on the waiting room table. But now the weight of the inevitable bad news makes that approach seem silly. I haven’t wrote much lately. I wanted so badly to reflect well on 2017. And then I felt guilty about saying anything bad, considering all the supposedly great things about my life. And yet, I think that this sentiment is a form of participating in the oppression Olympics. I felt as if someone would point to me and say, “But you’re white, live in Europe (by choice), and had male privilege, you can’t complain.” As if being trans and feeling suicidal for five months was somehow not bad enough. Actually, when considering time, if we are talking about school time, that is a year stretching between September to June, then a large part of my 2017 was still pretty great (after all I was a teacher and am a student). But that back half of the year has really shaken me.

In the first place, I’ve been dispossessed by half of my family, no big deal I suppose, I was already halfway there on that one side. Still, it seemed like a negative but almost obligatory trans trope. Next, and much more damaging, I’ve been similarly dispossessed by my own government and the one I am currently living in. As I do not directly fit under either’s jurisdiction, I am made undesirable, my timeline is halted, there will be no legal recognition for me. Now some people don’t seem to see why this would be so traumatic, but if you don’t get it I’m in no state to describe it here. But the real kicker has been my mandatory switch to the estradiol patch.

It’s been two months now, at least, and my estradiol levels have plummeted from high into the female range for over a year to well into the normal male range. I’m not sure how I’m supposed to deal with this other shit when I don’t even have my body. I’m now a failed techno-scientific monster. Something bodily not male or female. This blow to my corporeal reality is just…ineffable shit. I tried to explain this to my doctor and all I managed were dammed tears and some jibberish about trans suicide statistic happening mostly while one waits for adequate healthcare. I’m done with hinting and pointing at this, that is really how I feel: suicidal—or close, desperate and scared. Because the reality is that there are people who care for me, but anyone/thingthing here standing for medical/government bureaucracy— that can move me forward doesn’t care about my life. I am nothing. The timelines these things create for trans lives to unfold upon are hopelessly long and challenging, I’m not even walking on the line at the moment.

So here is a narrative. As I stood staring into the flickering butane flame—tinged orange with impurities from the stovetop—my hand faltered in its reach for the knife. I could remember the feeling of hot steel melting flesh, the acrid smell, and joy of control and mastery over my pain. But this time something was different. I was scared, scared this wouldn’t end with the pale-flesh scare of a burn shaped in a word or a double-tapered line, but something more. I didn’t want to show off my pain but rather destroy it.

There is nothing wrong with trans people. There is something wrong about the ever-present state of precarity that we’re made to live in. To some, a post like this might seem emotional and attention seeking. But I feel like I can further help people understand what it feels like to be trans—at least from my subjective viewpoint—in real time as I crash and burn.

“There’s always a siren/ Singing you to shipwreck.”

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Someone asked me…

Someone asked me if I had transitioned for my MA. What the fuck? Yes, I transitioned as a project for my gender studies courses. Fuck. And you know, I’ve been asked this before.

😦

15 Months HRT

I’ve not done this in awhile. Honestly, it’s my butt that keeps changing, not my face. I added an equally hipster image from pre-transition. Even though my face hasn’t significantly changed after 12 months, I think the contrast is evident in the comparison.

 

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Dachau: New Year’s Day 2018

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As is customary, I fell asleep well before 12 am on New Year’s Eve. As is also customary, I was awoken before 12 by firecrackers. The Bavarians outdoing even the Romans in their zeal for cheap and loud fireworks. The pyrotechnic war lasted a good hour and then revived itself for the odd foray intermittently through the small hours of the morning​. I awoke with my usual ambivalence towards the new year: could it really already be 2018? Oh well, I thought.

Usually, New Year’s Day agenda included the desperate search for food in a foreign land and listening to that U2 song, you know the one. Today we had something more reflective planned. We made our way to the S train station at Isador in Munich. We just missed the S4 and had to wait for 15 minutes. I picked at a pretzel—a newly found indulgence, the ones here are so soft. The train came and we sat in silence as we sped through the suburbs of Munich, heading north through unremarkable scenery. When we arrived at Dachau station the most remarkable feature was a McDonald’s conspicuously inhabiting the small station: an unusual commercial anomaly for such a small platform. Perhaps it was there to capitalise on the tourism. We’d not planned to come on New Year’s, but we were certainly not alone. Dozens of people clamoured onto a bus in front of the McDonald’s under the sign reading, “Bus for concentration camp.” I felt uncomfortable and mildly profane.

The feeling intensified as we approached the camp. Crammed into the double section bus—the accordion type—I was watching our approach on Google Maps. Staring through the throng of camp visitors I could see we were driving past new builds backing on to the site. Who’d want to live here? I thought out loud. Forgivingly the memorial site was free, bucking the surrounding capitalist veneer. You could rent an audio guide, but I felt intuitively that the site would be evocative enough.

We headed towards the entryway of Dachau Camp. An outline of rail tracks remains, a grizzly reminder of the souls made to trudge from train to damnation. The entryway was unremarkable. A small wrought iron gate spanned a narrow passage, a door forged in the iron bore the infamous words, “Arbeit Macht Frei.” We passed through, Dante evoked more by the bleakness, than any grand fiery portal: “Into that secret place he led me on.” But here the sighs and moans of lamentation no longer “resounded through the air.” A throng of audio guide totting visitors went to the right, the main processing building, so we naturally went left.

The inside of Dachau was large and expansive. The area still fenced and lined by escape-proof earthen defences. Guard towers stood empty and forlorn, eternally on watch. Two thin rows of reconstructed barracks were erected opposite the main processing building, but behind them stretching towards the back of the camp were the foundations of the former “residences.” They numbered in the dozens, symmetrically laid out on either side of a long boulevard. The foundations were full of gravel like earth pilled on a fresh grave. The whole assemblage had a muted grey dourness about it—like a zen garden gone horribly wrong. As we passed each gravel box the perfect linearity of it was oppressive, everything was systematic, rectilinear, mechanical. This grim efficiency of design carried over to the ovens. A central room with multiple crematorial vessels, flanked by loading docks and corpse holding rooms, to one side, a de-robbing station, followed by a gas chamber and then the fiery hall.

I couldn’t help but feel this proof of the emptiness of our progress narratives, of our culture’s fetishism of technology, bureaucracy, and logic. Here is where the reified West met its final end, in the gas chambers and perfectly laid out killing facilities. In fact, Dachau, despite killing tens of thousands of people, didn’t even earn the moniker “extermination camp.” That label was reserved for something even more unstomachable.

We walked through the forest holding the ashes of the unknown masses, the forest was tranquil and made me feel even more displaced. I cried at one of the grave markers. On the way out, a tourist dragged her massive suitcase down one of the gravel roads, as if to highlight the fact that unlike the original residence of the camp, she could leave whenever she wanted. We followed suit and left shortly after.

I think everyone should go and see the slate grey grave beds where 45 000 people were incarcerated, feel the churning of your insides as you realise you just walked through a gas chamber, or look at the cold ashes still under the cremation beds. Without such a visitation then the camp’s imperative, scrolled on many solemn monuments, “Never again,” will go unheeded.

Not the Post I Want to be Writing

I want to begin by stating that I do not believe in wrong bodies. To explain trans embodiment as wrong embodiment implies that there are correct bodies. My body is a transsexual body and that is correct for me. However, it is more nuanced and difficult than that, as obviously, I experience/ed my body as incongruent. My body is dynamic like any other body, and it can be brought into congruence. And yet, it is true that I have felt a deep-seeded aversion to certain aspects of my embodiment. The first instance of this was my desire to menstruate (sorry Mother if you read this). This happened at puberty, and frankly, it makes sense. This is the time when male and female bodies begin to diverge. Note that this isn’t my first trans moment, a deeply felt moment of gender incongruence, rather the first time I didn’t feel good about my sexed body. No, maybe that was when I use to tuck and pretend I had a vagina when I was much younger? Well, you get the point—I hope. There are more contemporary examples, but I don’t want to talk about them.

I suppose what I am trying to say—as radically un-queer as it sounds—my gender identity and body are linked. So, despite all the shit that has come with my move, the lack of ability to change my name (and the implications of that for the future), the difficulty of navigating the Dutch medical system, I’ve at least had my body. It’s changed significantly. You might say that it feels more congruent. I, therefore, was very sceptical of the Dutch system’s imperative that I must switch to transdermal HRT (patches). But wait, that the one thing I got! But alas, regulations and such. Which brings me to today. I went to the doctor to get my first transdermal hormone level readings; I’d recently checked my levels when I ended my injections and they were hunky dory. Well, they aren’t now. My estradiol levels fell off a fucking cliff. After about an hour of crying, nay, hysterically wailing, I devolved into feeling suicidal, and then to being pissed off and feeling powerless—which I am.

So merry fucking Christmas. I get to go through the shit storm of anxiety that is the airport tomorrow while feeling like I lost the one good thing I’d gotten out of this massive upheaval of my life. And that upheaval was worth it because I changed my sense of embodiment for the better. But now, I feel like that’s been taken from me. I don’t know what to do next, but I know I need to stop running into walls. Trans people aren’t brave; I hear this often. We are just forced to wage a war, and this one feels pre-Operation Barbarossa. In a word, hopeless. Oh my god, was that a WWII reference! I’m devolving. Whimper.

 

A Night at the Gender Queer Support Group

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I went to a queer, trans, nonbinary support group yesterday and most of the attendees were nonbinary transmasculine. Lots of “they” pronouns. As the only binary trans woman—there were binary trans men—I started to think about nonbinary as a lived experience and concept while I should have been sleeping. The following is my attempt to articulate my midnight meanderings musing.

1.

I have empathy for nonbinary people as I would imagine the issue with misgendering is more difficult to navigate than it is for binary presenting trans people. Though English provides us with a neutral pronoun, our society is not readily able to see beyond the binary. I imagine in a situation where I do not pass as female—if indeed I ever do—I at least advertise the pronoun that I want to be addressed as via my obvious attempts to appear femme. But if I was transfeminine nonbinary, would I get “she” or “him”—let alone “they?” In that situation, were I not a transsexual, “he” seems more likely, as I wouldn’t have secondary sex characteristics which indicate my gender pronouns. It’s hard, even for trans people, to appropriately use “they.”

2.

I still wonder if this category, nonbinary, is a revolt against gender as a concept—a rigid and oppositional binary—rather than a gendered subjectivity. I have noticed that many non-fluid, nonbinary people still adhere to a transmasculine or transfeminine gender schema. That is to say, a gender skewed towards one end of the binary.

For myself, I understand that gender, as a binary seems to enforce upon us arbitrary, oppressive, and even nonsensical roles, associations, affectations, appearances, and behaviours. For example, people have remarked that as a child I participated in typically masculine activities. As if there is something essentially female in playing with a Barbie, or male in playing with a dinosaur—and many people think there is: studies have been done on gender with chimps and their toy selection (wtf). (Also, T-rex beats Barbie.) I still think I would still choose to play outside and use my imagination—and blow things up in video games, given the choice. These behaviours are merely manifestations of gendered socialization, which is mutable. It’s funny how we say on the surface that in some utopian egalitarian world that girls and boys wouldn’t have different toys, clothes, and colour preferences. But then, we weaponize toy selection to invalidate trans people’s genders. I digress.

Our gender roles represent culturally subjective ideas about how differently sexed subjects should behave. This is a construct, a way of understanding phenomena. I whole heartily agree that this is subjective and in no way should be rigid: gendered clothing, toys, activities, are all culturally, and temporarily in transition and prone to flux. Look at the history of the high heel, or the use of the colour pink as female which changes through history and across cultures. Therefore, historic, economic, and social conditions often determine these gender trends and traits. And yet, gender also is a conceptual attempt to deal with sexual morphological differences, i.e. materiality. Unfortunately, this morphology is expressed as a dimorphism, as most people do not consider the polymorphism that exists via intersexed subjects. Nevertheless, gender describes some form of material biological reality. The brain may not be sexually dimorphic, and obviously, culture and the environment play a large role in how the brain operates—plastically—but, hormones still play a role in brain functionality and at least bodily morphology. The idea that the body can be shaped by biology but the mind is only shaped by culture is to imply a Cartesian split. Things are usually, if not always, complex and interconnected. By this I mean, gender, as inflexible and abhorrent as it may seem, does try to represent something real—even if it does so insufficiently. Nevertheless, the way we choose to think about gender, even if it does describe at least a partially biological process, is largely up to us.

I think if I were 15 today I would probably identify as nonbinary, but I imagine I would still eventually arrive at a female gender identity. I don’t think that this is an inevitable realization for all femme spectrum nonbinary people or vice versa. I think had I not been a transsexual, I would be attracted to the subversion and malleability of the concept of gender implied in nonbinary subjectivity. But ultimately, for me, as a person who felt strongly aligned to the female pole to the point of being transsexual, female seems appropriate—I mean, I lamented not menstruating as a teenager, there are some strong bodily signals there. However, I think that I can achieve a similar subversion of binary thinking as long as I am honest about my history and self. There is nothing essentialist in my history or feminity, I refuse to adopt fake origin stories, or participate in wrong body narratives.

We are all caught in a web of politics, and gender politics are important to our position in society as oppressed subjects of patriarchy, sexism, racism, heterosexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, etc. Political reality reflects material reality, but not as a perfect model. The word “continent” describes a geopolitical configuration, but also a geological concept which describes features of the lithosphere, specifically features of the crust. There is no European continent, at least as a geologically distinct formation from the Eurasian tectonic plate, but there is a geopolitical concept of such. When we say continent, we suggest a sense of geography that somewhat reflects reality, but we also refer to political and cultural ideas. When we discuss gender something similar is happening. Concepts help us understand material reality, but not always perfectly, words are slippery after all. I am certainly not saying that I do not believe in nonbinary gender configurations, but I do think that gender describes something that is real and ultimately the ways we talk about it is semantic. What is important is that we are accepting of difference and opposed to the idea of rigid gender configurations. Because so few things in nature are rigid and simple.

Anxiety

 

“I should have been a pair of ragged claws
Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.”

I feel it omnipresently. It lurks in social media feeds and in the words that so easily pour from my peers’ lips. I feel it through my dissection of thoughts, worrying about the reality of one notion or another, qualifying between pathos and mere intrusive aberration. I feel like Prufrock measuring life with teaspoons. I feel anaesthetized like Eliot’s sunset.  I am mediated through multiple medical interventions, and divided across multiple psychiatric diagnoses—and defining the boundary of at least one more. I am a measured creature, insecure, and pharmacologically realized and stitched together: unnatural. I feel post modern, in one moment nothing has any meaning, but then by a single and sudden turn, traditional, as if everything is imbued by immutable realties and signifiers. I feel ennui, crushed by my lack of motivation and direction. I am a contradiction of great passions juxtaposed with barely giving a fuck. I am a sexual and gender paradox. I am monstrous, without agency, or enfranchisement. My future is bleak, by past is relative, distant, haunted, and fragmentary—just like my mind.