Monday, October 26, 2009

from Trans Liberation by Feinberg

Chapter 1. We are all works in progress.

The sight of the pink-blue gender-coded infant outfits may grate on your nerves. Or you may be a woman or a man who feels at home in those categories. Trans liberation defends you both.
Each person should have the right to choose between pink or blue tinted gender categories, as well as all the other hues of the palette. At this moment in time, that right is denied to us...
I'll give you a graphic example. From December 1995-December 1996 I was dying of endocarditis--a bacterial infection that lodges and proliferates in the valves of the heart. A simple blood culture would have immediately exposed the root cause of my raging fevers. Eight weeks of round the clock intravenous antibiotic drips would have eradicated every last seedling of bacterium in the canals of my heart. Yet I experienced such hatred from some health practitioners that I very nearly died.
I remember late one night in December my lover and I arrived at a hospital emergency room during a snowstorm. My fever was 104 degrees and rising. My blood pressure was pounding dangerously high. The staff immediately hooked me up to monitors and worked to bring down my fever. The doctor in charge began physically examining me. When he determined that my anatomy was female, he flashed me a mean-spirited smirk. While keeping his eyes fixed on me, he approached one of the nurses, seated at a desk, and began rubbing her neck and shoulders. He talked to her about sex for a few minutes. After his pointed demonstration of "normal sexuality," he told me to get dressed and then he stormed out of the room. Still delirious, I struggled to put on my clothes and make sense of what was happening.
The doctor returned after I was dressed. He ordered me to leave the hospital and never return. I refused. I told him I wouldn't leave until he could tell me why my fever was so high. He said, "You have a fever because you are a very troubled person."
This doctor's prejudices, directed at me during a moment of catastrophic illness, could have killed me. The death certificate would have read: Endocarditis. By all rights, it should have read: Bigotry.
As my partner and I sat bundled up in a cold car outside the emergency room, still reverberating from the doctor's hatred, I thought about how many people have been turned away from medical care when they were desperately ill--some because an apartheid "whites only" sign hung over the emergency room entrance, or some because their visible Kaposi's sarcoma lesions kept personnel far from their beds. I remembered how a blemish that wouldn't heal drove my mother to visit her doctor repeatedly during the 1950s. I recalled the doctor finally wrote a prescription for Valium because he decided she was a hysterical woman. When my mother finally got to specialists, they told her the cancer had already reached her brain.
Bigotry exacts its toll in flesh and blood. And left unchecked and unchallenged, prejudices create a poisonous climate for us all. Each of us has a stake in the demand that every human being has a right to a job, to shelter, to health care, to dignity, to respect.
I am very grateful to have this chance to open up a conversation with you about why it is so vital to also defend the right of individuals to express and define their sex and gender, and to control their own bodies. For me, it's a life-and-death question. But I also believe that this discussion will have great meaning for you. All your life you've heard such dogma about what it means to be a "real" woman or a "real" man. And chances are you've choked on some of it. You've balked at the idea that being a real woman means having to be thin as a rail, emotionally nurturing, and an airhead when it comes to balancing her checkbook. You know in your guts that being a man has nothing to do with rippling muscles, innate courage, or knowing how to handle a chainsaw.These are really caricatures. Yet these images have been drilled into us through popular culture and education over the years. And subtler, equally insidious messages lurk in the interstices of these grosser concepts. These ideas of what is a "real" woman or man should be straightjacket the freedom of individual self-expression. These gender messages play on and on in a continuous loop in our brains, like commercials that can't be muted...
We are a movement of masculine females and feminine males, cross-dressers, transsexual mean and women, intersexuals born on the anatomical sweep between male and female, gender-blenders, many other sex and gender-variant people, and our significant others. All told, we expand understanding of how many ways there are to be a human being.
Our lives are proof that sex and gender are much more complex than a delivery room doctor's glance at genitals can determine, more variegated than pink or blue birth caps. We are oppressed for not fitting those narrow social norms. We are fighting back.
Our struggle will also help expose some of the harmful myths about what it means to be a woman or a man that have compartmentalized and distorted your life, as well as mine. Trans liberation has meaning for you--no matter how you define or express your sex or your gender.
If you are a trans person, you face horrendous social punishment--from institutionalization, to gang rape, from beatings to denial of child visitation. This oppression is faced, in varying degrees, by all who march under the banner of trans liberation. This brutalization and degradation strips us of what we could achieve with our individual lifetimes.
And if you do not identify as transgender or transsexual or intersexual, your life is diminished by our oppression as well. your own choices as a man or a woman are sharply curtailed. Your individual journey to express yourself is shunted into one of two deeply carved ruts, and the social baggage you are handed is already packed.
So the defense of each individual's right to control their own body, and to explore the path of self-expression, enhances your own freedom to discover more about yourself and your potentialities. This movement will give you more room to breathe--to be yourself. To discover on a deeper level what it means to be your self.
Together, I believe we can forge a coalition that can fight on behalf of your oppression as well as mine. Together, we can raise each other's grievances and win the kind of significant change we all long for. But the foundation of unity is understanding. So let me begin by telling you a little bit about myself.
I am a human being who unnerves some people. As they look at me, they see a kaleidoscope of characteristics they associate with both males and females. I appear to be a tangled knot of gender contradictions. So they feverishly press the question on me: woman or man? Those are the only two words most people have as tools to shape their question.
"Which sex are you?" I understand their question. It sounds so simple. And I'd like to offer them a simple resolution. But merely answering woman or man will not bring relief to the questioner. As long as people try to bring me into focus using only those two lenses, I will always appear to be an enigma.
The truth is I'm no mystery. I'm a female who is more masculine than those prominently portrayed in mass culture. Millions of females and millions of males in this country do not fit the cramped compartments of gender that we have been taught are "natural" and "normal". For many of us, the words woman or man, ma'am or sir, she or he--in and of themselves--do not total up the sum of our identities or of our oppressions. Speaking for myself, my life only comes into focus when the word transgender is added to the equation.
Simply answering whether I was born female or male will not solve the conundrum. Before I can even begin to respond to the question of my own birth sex, I feel it's important to challenge the assumption that the answer is always as simple as either-or. I believe we need to take a critical look at the assumption that is built into the seemingly innocent question: "What a beautiful baby--is it a boy or a girl?"
The human anatomical spectrum can't be understood, let alone appreciated, as long as female or male are considered to be all that exists. "Is it a boy or a girl?" Those are the only two categories allowed on birth certificates.
But this either-or leaves no room for intersexual people, born between the poles of female and male. Human anatomy continues to burst the confines of the contemporary concept that nature delivers all babies on two unrelated conveyor belts. So are the birth certificates changed to reflect human anatomy? No, the US medical establishment hormonally molds and shapes and surgically hacks away at the exquisite complexities of intersexual infants until they neatly fit one category or the other.
A surgeon decides whether a clitoris is "too large" or a penis is "too small." That's a highly subjective decision for anyone to male about another person's body. Especially when the person making the arbitrary decision is scrubbed up for surgery! And what is the criterion for a penis being "too small"? Too small for successful heterosexual intercourse. Intersexual infants are already being tailored for their sexuality, as well as their sex. The infants have no say over what happens to their bodies. Clearly the struggle against genital mutilation must begin here, within the borders of the United States.
But the question asked of all new parents: "Is it a boy or a girl?" is not such a simple question when transsexuality is taken into account, either. Legions of out-and-proud transsexual men and women demonstrate that individuals have a deep, developed, and valid sense of their own sex that does not always correspond to the cursory decision made by a delivery room obstetrician. Nor is transsexuality a recent phenomenon. People have undergone social sex reassignment and surgical and hormonal sex changes throughout the breadth of oral and recorded human history.
Having offered this view of the complexities and limitations of birth classification, I have no hesitancy in saying I was born female. But that answer doesn't clear up the confusion that drives some people to ask me "Are you a man or a woman?" The problem is that they are trying to understand my gender expression by determining my sex--and therein lies the rub! Just as most of us grew up with only the concepts of woman and man, the terms feminine and masculine are the only two tools most people have to talk about the complexities of gender expression.
That pink-blue dogma assumes that biology steers our social destiny. We have been taught that being born female or male will determine how we will dress and walk, whether we will prefer our hair shortly cropped or long and flowing, whether we will be emotionally nurturing or repressed. According to this way of thinking, masculine females are trying to look "like men" and feminine males are trying to act "like women".
But those of us who transgress those gender assumptions also shatter their inflexibility.
So why do I sometimes describe myself as a masculine female? Isn't each of those concepts very limiting? Yes. But placing the two words together is incendiary, exploding the belief that gender expression is linked to birth sex like horse and carriage. It is the social contradiction missing from Dick-and-Jane textbook education.
I actually chafe at describing myself as masculine. For one thing, masculinity is such an expansive territory, encompassing boundaries of nationality, race, and class. Most importantly, individuals blaze their own trails across this landscape.
And it's hard for me to label the intricate matrix of my gender as simply masculine. To me, branding individual self-expression as simply feminine or masculine is like asking poets: Do you write in English or Spanish? The question leaves out the possibilities that the poetry is woven in Cantonese or Ladino, Swahili, or Arabic. The question deals only with the system of language that the poet has been taught. It ignores the words each writer hauls up, hand over hand, from a common well. The music words make when finding themselves next to each other for the first time. The silences echoing in the space between ideas. The powerful winds of passion and belief that move the poet to write.
That is why I do not hold the view that gender is simply a social construct--one of the two languages that we learn by rote from early age. To me, gender is the poetry each of us makes out of the language we are taught. When I walk through the anthology of the world, I see individuals express their gender in exquisitely complex and ever-changing ways, despite the laws of pentameter.

Cleaning House

How do I figure out how to say what I want to say? Every time I think of doing this, my heart literally hurts, and my stomach tightens and churns. My body has developed a characteristic response to fear--a physical manifestation of the psychological disturbance that would otherwise go unnoticed save by people who have an eye for catching those in deep mental turmoil. This fear is my pain, but that's not the only pain I have to worry about. I worry about their reaction and what this all means for my relationships with them. You see, I know that my parents would never turn me away permanently. Well, my brain knows that, but that won't stop my insides from writhing about as if the reverse were the case. But my friends...They aren't obligated to stick around. They can just as easily choose to turn away as they have chosen to stay.

And how do you even begin to explain this to people for whom the concept is entirely foreign? People make careers out of explaining this stuff and theorizing about it. This is the stuff of dissertations and other forms of scholarly discourse. People dedicate their lives to discovering adequate and accurate representations of "transgender", and I'm supposed to be able to justify this to people in a few minutes or in an email. It sounds crazy to me. You know what else is crazy? Spell-check doesn't recognize the existence of the word transgender. I think that says something.

There's an element of desperation. But I am not desperate. I am hopeful. There is an element of fear. I am afraid. I am excited. I am anxious. Nervous.
This is who I am.
It's how I feel.
Imagine waking up and looking in the mirror and feeling disfigured, even if the rest of the world thinks you look perfectly normal. Beautiful they may say to you. Maybe handsome, depending. But you feel like something is missing or something doesn't belong. You don't know what but something is definitely wrong.
My whole life, I've been in the middle. I'll always be kind of in the middle. I guess I've known for a very long time that I'm not a girl. Never was. Dressing up in high heels, eyeliner, and all that jazz for me is true drag. Sure, it's fun sometimes. But it is other. foreign. not of Myself. Woman was never an identity I could embrace, not out of disrespect for that identity but because I could never figure out a way to connect myself, not fully. And I don't really connect as fully a man either. But I have found a connection with transgender. I'm neither and more than either one. This decision is simply my way of expressing that. Maybe I shouldn't have said simply. And I know that I don't have to adhere to anyone's idea of what being a man means. I'm doing this for myself. I want this because I want to feel like my body and soul align, and I want the world to appreciate me for who I am to myself rather than for who they think I should be. I know I can do something about this. I have the tools to change things if I don't like them.
We're all so mutable, really. Girls have it easy. Excuse me, biological females. I mean, we all start out that way. Excuse me, maybe I should have said biological females who are transitioning in comparison with biological males who are transitioning. Phwew...Now that we're clear...I mean, we all start out that way. Testosterone comes in and transforms the body into one that is typically considered male.
What's the difference if it happens in the womb or right now? I've felt so incomplete, so much younger and more immature than my friends. Maybe that's just that prepubescent feeling. I've been waiting. I guess I've been secretly waiting for things to just magically occur on their own. But that just doesn't happen. Every month I run further into my shell because I just can't stand dealing with that ultimate marker of femaleness. The bleeding, swelling...It horrifies and terrifies me. I feel like I could say so much more.

Maybe you just need to ask the right questions.

I may not have all the answers worked out yet, but I have the feeling that I wouldn't be able to do that alone anyway.
I'm scared because I have no idea where this will take me. The rest of my life?
Things are going to be that much harder for me. I'm aware of it.

But I don't want to survive. I want to live.

I know I'm going to meet people out there who will never be able to accept me once they know "the truth." Truth in that sense doesn't mean very much. It's almost silly to even point out. The truth of a person is who that person has been to you. Does knowing what's down there really count enough to change that? I'm not going to go all philosophical on your ass about what constitutes truth because that'd be lame. It's crazy to think of my family's reaction too.

I know I'm not ready to be saying all of this. Indeed, a lot of this was meant to be said tonight in front of everyone, but I just couldn't figure out how to do it. So I failed again, in a way. I've needed to tell them for a while now. I know I've missed things, and maybe a few things are even more unclear.
I've lost a lot of sleep over this. I keep weighing my options. And the same thing keeps happening. The ultimate point I keep reaching is that I WANT THIS. I am afraid. There are innumerable and ever-present uncertainties.
Defining myself and choosing who I want to be.

I'm in class, and it's really hard to breathe. I'm getting dizzy from thinking about approaching people, and my professor's words are just flying over my head right now. I feel so far away from this classroom. My mind has been all over the place. Dealing with this is nuts. It's not the transitioning that worries me this much, although that still does to quite the extent. I'm worried about my family and friends. I wonder if anyone else in this room has any idea what the fuck is happening in my head right now. My mind's a fucking hurricane. Hazy. I don't know how much longer I can put this off, but I don't want to miss anything.

So this was the end. I wrote most of that during my last class of the day. I don't even know why I went. I had just finished taking an ASL test, and I have no idea whether I aced it or failed. I don't really even know what happened in that last class.

And how is this going to make sense to anyone who doesn't understand that gender is a continuum and that most people don't fall on either side anyway? Now that that's out there, let's say that I'm in the middle again, and maybe that makes more sense. But let's say that I want to shift to the side a little bit. Fluidity. Not just going with the flow but making your own waves. Finding your current.
So what does that make me? Like I said, I'm both and neither, but obviously that really doesn't make things easier for the everyday human being. So yeah I'm a boy. I'm a trans boy. Does that make me a straight guy? No. I was never a lesbian. Fluidity. I go both ways, as they say. So I'm a queer, as always.
What does this mean for me? What do I have to do? I guess those are also topics of interest. It's hard to tell what other people may not know, being so immersed in it myself. I imagine that's how some professors feel. They are so far into the subject already that they can't even explain the basics anymore. I try not to be that way.

So, first I'd have to see a therapist. Since a lot of people in the medical community, at least the people important enough to have a say in the publication of such texts as the DSM, believe that being trans is some kind of disease. Gender Identity Disorder. Like there's something wrong with you for liking blue over pink or wanting muscles instead of curves. Like you are a freak because you play with a toy of a different shape and color than the one that supposedly belongs to your gender. Maybe it has wheels instead of hair you can brush, but the rest is all plastic, right? Maybe it was even made in the same place. They think there must be something wrong with someone who goes to the other side of the store to buy clothes. Are they really men's clothes if a self-identified woman wears them? Does that make her sick? What about a man in a dress is so despicable to people? Simple human desire for self-expression has been medicalized so that societal norms have been incorporated into the biological definitions of maleness and femaleness. We begin to take these as facts of being human when they are nothing more than social constructions that have varied across time and place. Basically, we're being labeled as mental invalids because we don't fit in to what society thinks we should be as men and women.
So after telling my tales to this therapist and jumping through the necessary hoops,and after living full-time for a certain length of time( 6 months or so to a year, maybe shorter...maybe longer), I'll be given a letter to take to an endocrinologist saying that I understand what the treatment will and will not do. I'll be given a prescription for testosterone. I'll have to get regular checkups and heart and liver function tests. I would take T as an injection once every two weeks for the rest of my life. Some changes are reversible. Others are not. There are risks of liver and heart problems, as I alluded to, as well as risks of male pattern baldness. And did I mention that rights for trans people aren't really in existence? I could be fired at any time for being trans. I could be beaten and raped and murdered. It's a very real thing that happens all the time, even in this country that supposedly claims equality for all its citizens. I'm aware of the risks. But I'd rather live than exist. I'd rather be happy as the person I have always wanted to be than miserable trying to pretend to be the person everyone thinks I should have been.
So T...What will it do?
My vocal chords will thicken, and my voice will get deeper. Facial hair. Body hair. Increase in musculature. No more menstruation. Body fat redistribution. Oilier skin, maybe worse acne. More RBCs. More bad cholesterol. Less good cholesterol. Rougher skin. Emotional changes. Increased appetite. There are a few others...but basically, it's puberty all over again.

I know this is getting pretty long, so I'll stop here and continue in another post if you don't feel like reading anymore. The next stuff is a little different anyway.
Thanks for being patient.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

basket weaving (why not?)

It's been months since I've written
him a letter
I can't stand to let him (not) know
maybe he just
wouldn't (under)stand (for) it
I really need to stop (this)
but so much stuff
just can't find the place
it belongs
shove it between but
we're still on the same page

letters can be flawless
and I could say
right down to the punctuation I can't do it
because it's so
so I'm going to scribble and scrawl and stall
because the time isn't
quite right never fucking is
someday I won't be able to hide
and I want it now or soon or something
and someday I'll say
everything maybe lose
but at least I'll have


I'm pretty pissed
by my inability to write
right right
I just want different
to come out of the faucet
but my knobs are broken.
steady hot stream not agreeing
I just want to cool

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


It's a word like she that cuts into me, that esh being such a harsh sound, you see. I know you think it's hard to switch, and wouldn't you know? I guess that really makes me a SON of a bitch. But just think of how tough this is for me. Do you think I'm using to being called he? And what happens when I walk into the next room of people I haven't told yet? It's like I'm the ball being passed back and forth across the net or maybe it's monkey in the middle or something, but it's just kind of dizzying. People can't be surprised by this, and I'm sorry I'm not more articulate, but you really should know by now how this all started happening. Anyone who's been paying attention knows what I'm doing, though I have to wonder about the people who see facebook and completely ignore it. I'm telling you right now if you are trying to be polite, the fact that you are not acknowledging my decision is pretty fucking rude. But I'm not trying to be mean here. I really wonder. Do some people just not get it even when it's spelled out for them in black and white? I guess it's blue and white in this case. It's just one of those things that people need to know. And I want them to know it. But seriously. Do you know how exhausting it is to have that conversation with someone? Think of how many people I'd have to tell. I understand that my coming out is something that I'll have to do over and over again until the day that I die, but can't you make it a little easier on me. I assumed that at least one person would approach me about it. And maybe people are afraid. I understand that. But don't be afraid to upset me. Don't be afraid to pry. I just don't feel like initiating 100 percent of the time. And if you really don't care that much at all about where my life is going, at least respect my decision enough by acknowledging that the decision has been made. I'm not really pointing out anyone in particular. Nobody really seems to have gotten the hint, and maybe I was too subtle about it. I don't know.
Believe it or not, I've been working on things for a while. On paper. In my head. I think I started working on this even before I knew I had an option. Most of you will have no idea about all those sleepless nights I had to go through to get where I am with this. I don't expect people to really get it. But what I do expect from people, and maybe this is way too optimistic, is a desire to understand. And I don't expect that from everyone. But I don't think it's too much to ask of my friends. I want to understand everything about them, even though I know that's pretty much impossible. But the effort is still there. That's what counts.
Telling my family is going to be the hardest part of all, and I really want my friends to be involved somehow. I am so afraid of my mother's reaction. Indeed, that's been the part over which I have lost the most sleep. I've told a few friends in the Crew, and pretty much all of my queer friends know. It's like I'm living two lives right now. I know I started this as a kind of poem, but it got a little off topic. Things have been jumbled like that lately.
I haven't written a lot here because most of it has been that kind of personal stuff I would have been afraid to post. But now I realize that I can't live like that. I can't hide who I am for the rest of my life. I'm so fucking scared of this, yet I'm unbelievably excited. This is the person I am supposed to be. I know there is nothing wrong with me, and I know that doing this is the best thing I can do for myself because I was wearing myself out trying to make myself fit into something some( body) that I'm not. I'm tired of being self-conscious. It's so draining to feel like your mind and body live in two different worlds. I couldn't stand it anymore. And I know that there are going to be a lot of people who have had these expectations for me whose dreams get royally ass-raped by my decision. And maybe there will be a few things I'll have to sacrifice in order to achieve this as well. But I'm looking at what's going to make me ultimately happy. I'm looking at what I've always wanted. I'm tired of people not being able to see past this exterior that doesn't fit me at all. It's really annoying.
I was walking to my office at the LRDC with one of my best friends this afternoon. We weren't even talking about gender at all. We were talking about exercise. "...I might as well change the one thing that I can about my life and make it exactly how I want it." Maybe that's why I've always loved exercise so much. When everything else in life sucks, you can always count on it to work the way you want it to. As long as you put in the effort, you'll get what you want. It's the fairest of all things in life. This is the same. If I'm not happy, there is something I can do about it. And why not do it now? These are the best years of my life, and I don't want to waste them pretending to fit into a category in which I clearly do not belong. This is a very positive decision for me. And there are so many new things ahead for me. I really hope you can all enjoy this with me. I know I'm going to need you guys for this. I really hope you find this.
to my friends who have become my family,
to the Crew,
and to Rox.