You me and Buddha
what else you could do
You thought a girl is just this….
What is she
Beauty and the Beast
The line drawings by Living Smile Vidya are from a feminist trans perspective and self reflexively evoke her relationship with her body. Most of the drawings are grotesque, yet comical. The internal is externalized and vice versa. For instance, in her piece, ‘The Beast in Me’, the thorns/ tendrils push from the inside, till the lines between internal and external get blurred. The imagined or imaginary body is posited against the real to poignantly evoke a trans narrative. The womb that is not a womb, expels and contains at the same time. The prominent eye in the drawing stares back at the onlooker , as if to challenge the dehumanizing stares that we are subjected to. The dichotomies of good/evil, internal/external, imagine/real, woman/man is what she tries to challenge through her work.
Feminism is a core part of her work. She challenges the ubiquitous control of women by dominant masculinity and patriarchy in her piece ‘Controlled’. In ‘Female Power’ , the Rapunzel–like locks of the woman metamorphosizes into the barks of a tree that are entwined like braids. This woman, unlike Rapunzel is not waiting for a prince to rescue or release her. She is the omnipotent life giver who can destroy with her gnarled fingers just as she nourishes life. ‘What Else Could You do’, sharply critiques the entrapment and harassment women face in patriarchal society. ‘ You thought a girl was just this’ critiques the patriarchal, sexual violence by men who point their fingers/dicks at women thinking she is only a receiver for sexual acts/violence. A critique of women who are seen only as reproductive machines to be used for production of more labour force/ patriarchy is presented here. In “Passage to Genderland’, the physical transition of a trans person is likened to the transformation of a caterpillar to a butterfly.
The body is the site of struggle in all these feminist trans perspectives and a reclamation of the same is crucial to trans people, to live with dignity and self respect. Smiley is a follower of Thanthai Periyar and believes in the annihilation of caste, gender and other inequalities and her work , whether it is theatre or art, is a reflection of her militant politics.
(Trans)gender and caste: lived experience –
Transphobia as a form of Brahminism
This is the transcript of a conversation between dalit transgender feminist writer and theater artist Living Smile Vidya, who lives and works in Chennai, with her transgender brothers Kaveri Karthik and Gee Ameena Suleiman from Bangalore. This conversation took place on a late night after 11 pm in the basti where Kaveri and Gee live, following a day-long discussion between the transgender men and intergenders and lesbian community of Bangalore with a group of visiting dalit activists and intellectuals from Tamil Nadu. After the other women in the basti left the common space on the footpath and went to sleep, the following conversation unfolded:
Kaveri: “Can you tell us a little bit about gender and caste dynamics in your own life while growing up?
Living Smile Vidya: Actually, though we settled in Chennai, we belong to the Arundhati caste in Andhra Pradesh and migrated from there a few generations ago. Our caste is the lowest of the dalits because occupationally we did manual scavenging. So, my mother would have a job everyday doing street cleaning as a government worker, and then do domestic work on the side, in several houses for a couple days of the week each. 50% of her earnings would go to her husband. She had to do both house work in our own house as well as work in many jobs outside to make ends meet. My father was an alcoholic and his income contribution to the family was only 40%. But since he had physical control over her income also, I would have to get my school fees from him, though it was actually my mother’s earnings. My father would drink and physically and verbally abuse my mother and the rest of us. The whole colony knew about this because the houses are close by and small. In big houses belonging to savarnas also, women suffer but that cannot be seen or heard by us because it happens in the privacy of the thick walls of their house. But at least you can hear dalit women shouting back, threatening to hit their drunk husbands etc when these fights happen in our colonies which most of the modest, “good wives” of upper/middle caste families cannot even imagine doing.
Kaveri: What has your experience of caste been when you were young?
Living Smile Vidya: “Food in urban areas for my mother who worked as a domestic worker would be served in a simple leaf. So that she doesn’t eat in their vessels.”
Gee: “But she can clean the vessels for them and then she can touch them, right”?
Living Smile Vidya: “Yes, That is not seen as touching by a dalit. Because then, who will do all their household work? My relatives in the rural areas were coolie workers (manual laborers) and for them, the owners pour the coffee from a great height into coconut shells. This also would be done only outside their houses so that nothing spills on the floor. If there are washed clothes in these houses, we can’t push them aside, can only move around them or bend under them to walk so as to not touch them. Sometimes, when visiting, I would walk from 1 dalit compound to the other which was separated by savarna colony. To go between houses you had to walk all the way around to avoid these house compounds and their lands, because they would yell if you walk near their property. Even in urban areas you find that dalit colonies will be pushed to the outskirts of the city but the major portion of the work in the cities is done by them. Untouchability is practiced in urban areas also, but the forms are less direct sometimes than in rural areas.
Gee: “I have heard that earlier in Kerala, even the shadow of dalits should not fall in the way of the upper castes. Dalits had to move backwards wiping their footprints if an upper caste had to walk the same path.
Living Smile Vidya: “Yes and before my time even the mundaani of women [upper cloth across chest] would have to be removed when upper castes came across you on the path. There was a big protest that happened over this issue in Tamil Nadu – ThoL seelai porattum – and then this practice stopped before my generation.
Kaveri: Yes, a friend Gangatharan told me about this ThoL seelai porattum, this struggle which he said started among Nadars Travancore against the practice of OBC women being forced to not cover their chests in the presence of the savarnas. There were also severe atrocities against dalit and obc women such as assault and mutilation of their breasts which this protest struggled against, as it spread around Kerala and Tamil Nadu.
Kaveri: Did your experience being raised as a child who was considered male by the family and brought up as a boy, but identifying and later living as a woman give you a heightened sense of the privileges given to men over women? For example, the first time I wore men’s clothes and walked down the street, I realized ways in which I was oppressed as a woman that were invisible to me when the world looked at me and saw a woman. I realized suddenly I could actually look around at eye level, without lewd stares from men or disapproving stares from older people – and I realized the social pressure on women to look at the ground as they walked – something I knew in the back of my head but hadn’t realized the full extent of until I dressed in men’s clothes and was liberated from it. It sharpened my feminism. In a similar way for you, seeing both male privilege from society and identifying with women and later living as a woman and facing the dangers of being a woman and a Trans person, can you talk about the way this journey has shaped your understanding of gender oppression?
Living Smile Vidya: I was a woman in my heart as a child, even as I was being given male privilege. I hated it because I dearly loved my sisters and mothers [my biological mother as well as stepmother]. I identified with them and was so angry that my sisters didn’t get the same things as me. I was mistaken to be male and couldn’t yet articulate that I was a girl and so I was educated much more than my sisters. I still always believed my older sister was very smart, smarter than me, and her life would be very different now if she had been educated. She is doing the same work as my mother only because she was born a biological woman and similar to my mother is the backbone of the household. But from the beginning I was able to influence my stepmother to be different and so her daughter – my sister, is now studying final year B.C.A. This makes me very happy as despite being female born, she has joined the first generation of our family getting educated along with me.
In the beginning, I was thinking, I should act in a way that everyone will recognize that I am a woman. I was very shy, like the way people expect girls to be. I would dress very modestly, etc. Even then, as a child I would dream of myself as a saree wearing, sword yielding, woman. Like of the kind that Bharatiyar described in his writings. Bharatiyaar was a Brahminical feminist, but still, at that time, I wanted to be like that. Bharatiyar was like the Tagore of Tamil literature, a great writer, poet, musician, well-versed in many languages, and a radical thinker, part of the independence struggle and very strongly against caste and gender oppression. We read Bharatiyar at school and college, but having read so much of his work, I can still feel some remnants of his Brahminism – for example, he fought caste by performing the upanayanam, the sacred thread ceremony, on a young dalit boy to “convert” him into a Brahmin, instead of fighting Brahminism altogether. Similarly his vision of a woman was as an embodiment of Shakti, and at first I wanted to be this kind of woman.
Later I realized that since all women get oppressed under patriarchy, and trans women and dalit women through the combined might of patriarchy with casteism and transphobia, I might as well have a loud mouth and be assertive than take everything silently – to be a strong but silent woman was not enough. I decided that I do not want to be modest and soft spoken to please others or to fit the ideal of a “good woman”.
Kaveri: How did your Sex Reassignment Surgery a few years ago change your feelings on this? Many transgender people have spoken of their struggle against the gender they are brought up in, and many transgender women are agonized by the pressure on the one hand to behave in a way that is clearly socially recognized as female, while feeling outraged at the way women are treated and expected to behave – basically the double pressures that come from transphobia due to being perceived as a transgender, and male chauvinism from being perceived as women. Some have said that only after their sex reassignment surgery when their bodies were universally recognized as female in the public realm, the pressure to assert their femininity decreases and they can react to the oppression of being a woman. What was your experience?
Living Smile Vidya: Before my nirvana [sex change operation] I was definitely anxious to prove my femininity. I had a lot of these thoughts about the injustice of the oppression against women and transgenders but I was struggling from day to day to just get enough food to eat, to eat as little as possible so I could save anything extra I made from begging. I couldn’t be active on fighting for anything but survival. After my nirvana, I felt physically like a woman and then, it became easier for me to survive and to start to question my own model of femininity. With age also, my understanding of these things improved and I began to question femininity and masculinity and fixed gendered roles and behaviours more strongly.
Kaveri: Can you compare caste discrimination and transgender discrimination, for example with respect to being forced into some occupations like manual scavenging for dalit communities or begging and sex work for transgenders. How similar or different are they and what has your experience of this been?
Living Smile Vidya: Transgender discrimination is more severe, I feel, than dalit experience in urban areas. On the one hand, transgenders can only get homes in dalit bastis as these are the only places where we can get any acceptance – but we usually have to pay higher rent than others. It hurts a bit when dalits discriminate, even though they discriminate less than savarnas – as it feels like my own people shouldn’t discriminate against me at all due to our shared understanding of oppression as dalit. It is paradoxical for me to face added social disadvantage as a transgender. I feel like oppressed groups should try to understand each other’s pain and work together.
Hijras or tirunangais as we prefer to be called in Tamil Nadu, at least have a community traditionally with an entire system of support [though at times, even the guru-chela system is oppressive and exploitative]. We can go to shops and ask for money. Female to male trans people on the other hand, also known as tirunambi, can’t ask for money in public and do not have this traditional community.
I feel like transgenders who are working class have no dignity of labour because socially they are allowed to only beg or do sex work. But some dalit groups have taken back dignity of labour by assertions from within the community. Like daily wage labourers in agriculture can at least assert that they are making food with their own hands for the whole country to eat or artisans can claim the status of artists, but not transgenders yet. We are reduced to the status of just beggars or sex workers. This is similar to what some dalit groups have faced as manual scavengers. This occupational fixity in both dalit and transgender communities, is done by closing off alternative options. Thus, manual scavenging becomes an occupation enforced on dalits through the exclusion of access to other jobs; in a similar way begging and sex work are forced occupations for transgenders through exclusion from other jobs. But in spite of this, we retain some of our dignity in the face of this exclusion.
To retain dignity we have to think these jobs are normal. Manual scavenging and begging just becomes like a practice. Children are mentally prepared by society to think it is normal. In school when they would ask, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” We dalits wouldn’t say doctor, engineer, but our boys would say for example, “I will work in a cracker factory”. Girls would smile and not respond. Dalits are socially conditioned to internalise that they are meant to do only some jobs and don’t dream to do anything else or get the access to education and alternative jobs. Transgenders also when they first realize that they are trans women, they immediately think they will have to beg, because they see transgenders only in one place – begging on the street. So, by repetition historically and by not providing alternative options, these jobs become fixed. Amongst dalits with reservation, some changes have happened in the sense that access to educational facilities have opened up a bit but numerous other ways are used to torture us till we drop out or commit suicide or fail. Even in reservations, it is not the lowest of the dalits like us who benefit, but the more elite. This is somewhat like the savarna transgenders who have NGO funding claiming to represent the community and getting all the benefits. This kind of representational politics gives a false picture of progress of these communities from this funding model.
Kaveri: Is transgender a kind of caste? The Backward Classes Commission under C.S Dwarakanath has recommended that transgenders be included as OBCs for reservation. What do you think about this?
Living Smile Vidya: We need reservation on the basis of gender, not caste. But it has to be more complex. But I definitely do not want to be OBC. And you will understand why as a dalit, I do not want to come under the OBC category of all things! Putting transgenders under an oppressed caste category erases the caste privileges that savarna transgenders have. It is better for us to have caste and gender based reservation so that dalit women and dalit transgenders get representation. Otherwise reservation will only benefit savarna transgenders and dalit men.
Kaveri: Is there caste within the transgender community? Do people lose caste as they enter hijra system?
Living Smile Vidya: There is not so much caste in the hijra community because everyone’s names are changed. As you enter the hijra community, you lose location, language, last name. A few members of the transgender community who are dalit have figured out I am dalit and have secretly told only me because they knew I’m dalit. They have also told me not to talk about eating beef so that no one in the transgender community figures out I am dalit. Some castes though are very proud, such as Thevars and Pillaimars, who are always proudly asserting their caste. I have seen some kothis and hijras and say things like, “I might be a transgender like you, but I am a Thevar in the village”.
Even I have once pretended to be Thevar when I was confronted by an auto driver for smoking and it was a dangerous situation. I was taking his auto late at night. I saw the picture of a Thevar leader Muthuramalingam Thevar in the auto, so I put on a Madurai accent and pretended to be a Thevar girl to save my skin. He was so impressed he asked if could ask my father for my hand in marriage! [Laughs]. There I was, a dalit, transgender woman passing off as an upper caste biological woman to save my skin and getting a marriage proposal at 2 A.M!
Gee: When you go for a jamaat or some such ceremony in the hijra community, if you even touch a senior hijra’s saree accidentally, you have to pay a fine. Of course this is not a caste practice as it happens if any hijra touches any senior hijra’s clothes, but do you think this practice has come from caste untouchability?
Living Smile Vidya: It is like class, it’s showing respect. It’s not outlawed, but punished with a fine. Since we get no respect outside the community, the elder tirunangais say they have made some rules within like this to get respect with increasing seniority. When I was a younger kothi, I would respect all these traditions but then I found them oppressive and too hierarchical. It is like how victims in some respects become oppressors when they get the opportunity or power. I don’t know where this particular association of not touching means respect comes from. You may be right in guessing that it comes from caste practice.
Gee: “Can you talk a bit about how migration plays a crucial role in our search for freedom whether it is as a dalit or as a transperson. For example, I read in Omprakash Valmiki’s autobiography how he says that when he migrated from his village, he could “pass” as a non dalit. Similarly, we know that all of us as transpeople, move out of our native towns to find freedom and also “pass” more as women or men”.
Kaveri: As someone who could pass as a non-dalit, non-trans woman, how you tell other transpeople or dalits that you are one of them. How do you “out” yourself to them?
Living Smile Vidya: One’s recognition as dalit or transgender within the village gets removed by migration, but some of the markers still remain. Outing oneself as transgender really depends on how you talk, how you walk. I “pass” most of the time in public as a woman. So, if I want to tell another kothi/hijra that I am also a trans woman, I use our own kothi language to give myself away as one of them. As to outing oneself as dalit, the markers are where you live, how you speak- the dialect, last name etc.
From my experience, it is only non dalits who ask what your caste is. Dalits always know their brothers or sisters when they see us. When I want to find out if someone is a dalit comrade, I just ask a common dalit friend. But mostly, when we speak about dalit issues, we can tell if they are dalit or not. Because of sub castes and feeling of superiority, I am sometimes scared of outing myself as belonging to the arundhathiyar caste [manual scavenging]. There is some discrimination even between different types of dalits. The adi dravida castes are considered superior to us and so even at home, my parents never allowed me to learn my mother tongue, Telugu, because they were afraid that the general public would figure out and discriminate extra against me. But because living spaces are so segregated on the basis of caste, it is easy to know who the dalits are in the village. Among the dalits, the Telugu speakers would be clearly identified as the so-called lowest dalit castes. I never hide from other dalits the fact that I am also a dalit, even if I don’t reveal my sub caste. Similarly, I never hide to other trans women that I am also one of them.
Kaveri: What do you tell your dalit comrades when you attempt to unify the transgender and dalit struggles?
Living Smile Vidya: I try to explain that they have also been made to feel less human by savarna castes, in a way similar to how society treats tirunangais. I ask them why they can’t understand our pain when they have had similar experiences individually and historically. When they ask me, “Why do transgenders beg and not work? You will get more respect if you just work like other people”. I say, “Why don’t dalits become bankers, doctors, engineers. Why are they still stuck in the same jobs after all these years? Is it because we dalits are not capable? Or because we are lazy and don’t want those jobs? Actually it is because of lack of opportunity and discrimination. The same goes for transgenders. If you offer transgenders jobs, they will stop begging and work hard and live with dignity like others in society. Begging itself is very hard work”. Dalit comrades need to fight patriarchy and transphobia along with casteism.
Transphobia is a type of brahminism. It gives us no other option but to do “dirty” jobs like sex work and begging and then calls us “dirty”, just like caste system did with dalits. When I draw parallels like that, my dalit comrades understand better and work with me.
Kaveri: What do you think about unifying the oppressed peoples’ struggles?
Living Smile Vidya: If I give a talk on, transgender issues, I tell people they have to join with our struggle if they believe in social justice. I always talk about working together, along with women’s struggle. But I know that most so called feminists think that I am a man in woman’s clothing. They would treat me as if I am not quite a woman. The general public accepts me as a transgender quite readily so why do activists take longer? Some of these feminists will wear fabindia clothes and their gold and think women must be modest. They talk as if the strongest and most satisfying thing in the world is to give birth and take care of their children. As a trans woman, though the fact that I cannot have biological children, is used against me to make me feel less like a “real” woman, I sometimes feel grateful that I have been spared being thought of just as a baby producing machine! They also are very patronizing about caste and can talk progressively but will have a dalit woman making tea and serving them at their meetings instead of also including her and learning from her experiences. Dalit movements also have to be worked with internally, so that their perspective on gender broadens. In another way, savarna feminists should broaden their perspective to include trans women and also work really hard to lose their caste bias. But ultimately we have to understand that we are all people under attack whether the enemies are Brahmanism and caste, gender oppression, patriarchy, NGOs, the State, capitalism, multinational companies, Western neo imperialism etc. We must all unify to fight an effective struggle against these monsters.
 Savarna is used to refer to people born into castes that are considered to be “upper” as opposed to “lower”. Historically these castes have exploited the “lower castes”/dalits economically, sexually, socially and politically.
 An assortment of sub castes in Tamil Nadu that are categorized as Other Backward Classes [OBC]
 Now called Trivandrum or Thiruvananthapuram located in the state of Kerala. The Kingdom of Travancore at its peak comprised most of modern day southern Kerala, Kanyakumari district, and the southernmost parts of Tamil Nadu.
 The Central Government of India classifies some of its citizens based on their social condition as Scheduled Caste (SC), Scheduled Tribe (ST), and Other Backward Class (OBC). There is at present some affirmative action for improving the social and economic condition of OBCs. For example, the OBCs are entitled to 27% reservations in public sector employment and higher education. In the constitution, OBCs are described as “socially and educationally backward classes”, and the government is enjoined to ensure their social and educational development. The dalits/ Scheduled castes have a contentious relationship with OBCs as the graded system of caste hierarchy places SCs below the OBCs in the hierarchy but the OBCs also benefit from affirmative action. In the recent past, atrocities on dalit communities have been perpetrated by OBCs as a possible effect of the newly found upward mobility amongst dalits which hurts the caste pride of OBCs.
 Bachelor of Computer Applications
 Refers to the ceremony of doing puja and tying the “sacred thread” of caste purity on a Brahmin boy. Here, instead of rejecting it altogether as Brahmanical, Bharatiyar tries to invert it by performing it for a dalit boy. Smiley is critical of this act of attempted subversion.
 Guru- chela system is one in which the senior hijra adopts a young hijra as her daughter and becomes her mother. Traditionally, the young hijra has to serve her mother like a dutiful daughter , give her half her earnings and look after her house. In return for which her mother will give her protection and also facilitate her sex change if it is to be done traditionally and outside the medical system. Though hierarchical in nature, it is a culturally created system of alternative familial relations and support.
 For the first time in India, the Karnataka State Backward Classes Commission recommended inclusion of transgender community in the OBC list under the name “Mangalamukhi” and inclusion of children of sex workers and HIV positive people under the name “Sankula”. C S Dwarakanath was the Chairman of the Commission. Though the recommendations were given over one and a half years back, none of the recommendations have been implemented yet.
 Thevar (Derived from Sanskrit Devar) means God. In the early days, Kings were portrayed as god and called as Devar. Devar is not a caste name but a surname used by Mukkulathors, a dominant caste in Tamilnadu.
 Kothis are female indentified trans people who may or may not choose to undergo sex change operations/ dress in what is considered to be women’s clothing. Kothis can join the hijra system but respect for post-op transwomen is greater in most hijra communities.
 Hijra derived from Persian word “ezra” meaning “wanderer”, is a term used for transgender women in India. Most hijras are post-op and live in hijra houses. Hijras used to serve in the courts of the Mughal emperors as attendants of the queen. Culturally and religiously they have some amount of sanction as people fear the curse of a hijra on a new born baby and she blesses the child in return for money. Hijras also dance at weddings for which they are paid. Apart from this, begging and sex work are the main occupations and they face a lot of phobia, discrimination and violence from their families and society at large.
 A jamaat is the legal system developed by hijra communities to resolve conflicts and to mete out punishment to wrong doers. Senior hijra Gurus are the decision makers in these functions and there are strict codes of conduct that hijras should follow when attending jamaat.
 Valmiki, a leading Hindi Dalit writer and author of the celebrated autobiography Joothan (1997) has published three collection of poetry – Sadiyon Ka Santaap(1989) Bas! Bahut Ho Chuka (1997), and Ab Aur Nahin (2009); and two collections of short stories – Salaam (2000),and Ghuspethiye (2004). He has also written Dalit Saahity Ka Saundaryshaastr (2001), and a history of the Valmiki community, Safai Devata (2009).
 A chain of ethnic, “Indian” clothes worn by most well to do civil society activists and feminists.
Living Smile Vidya, was born to Veerammal R on 25th March 1982 ,in Trichy, Tamil Nadu. She identifies as a dalit transwoman artist. She is a professional theatre actor and has worked with more than nine renowned directors in theatre. She has worked in Tamil and Malayalam movies as assistant Director. Living Smiley Vidya has written her critically acclaimed autobiography “I am Vidya” which has been translated into English, Malyalam, Marathi and Kannada. She started doing line drawings in 2010 and has received no formal training in arts.
Little Samo Bunny
but you’re only the undertaker
because entertainment media is the fanciest graveyard.
they need to shut up because people
are killing to be buried here.
you bury your queers because you love them
it’s not like you bury them because you’re fucking frightened
it’s not like you murder your darlings because you are terrified
they’ll conspire with your readers and plot the death of the author.
maybe you bury your queers as to grant no one any incentive
lest your actors be unshackled from your offered arcadia
lest they go mad and film their own unlicensed pornographies
that violate your copyrights of your queers buried between your frames.
and when you bury your queers between the pages
blame the bigotry of your editor
who will blame the bigotry of the publishers
who will blame an irate imaginary audience
and all of you will blame an indifferent imaginary public.
introspection is too close to breaking into graves
so just bury the queers down there
with the skeleton service.
the skeleton service is all i know
it pours me my drinks
we speak about the myth of mirrors
we speak about stripping ourselves down to the bones
(you unbury us when you need shambling contradictions
you unbury us to craft villains and frankensteins)
first they are saints and then they are exhumed for parts.
you bury mad men
the way you bury martyrs
we turn to dust and
dust buries the invisible.
you don’t have to suffer guilt
you’re only the undertaker
there’s a reason you don’t check for a pulse first.
(if all else fails bury them in ennui
bury them in uninspiration
bury them fettered to a story so insipid
no one answers the chimes in the graveyard shift)
i’m tired of graverobbing in the deserts of your narratives
i’m tired of unearthing tombs that tell me everything
you think i should know:
that i am irrelevant
Ashwin Shakti is an artist and poet. He lives in Chennai India. Check out his work at www.auctoricide.com
intergenerational time travel interview:
trans masculine-femme brown bears on healing justice
with raju rage and mîran n.
This interview is also published with “Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung” http://migration-boell.de/web/diversity/48_3638.asp
This kitchen table discussion between two trans masculine-femme brown bears (of colour) models healing justice through non-academic personal/political narratives. This interview uses imaginative time travel dialogue as a tool for empowerment. Mîran and Raju talk to each other and their younger selves to create a transformative discussion about what it means to be us: trans people of colour in a world full of struggle and survival. This project embodies healing justice as a way through oppression, for our current and younger trans of colour selves.
Raju: I really like this idea of doing this actually-at-a-kitchen-table informal interview as a form of empowerment and healing. I had originally been suggested a similar idea by my therapist and was reluctant to do it in front of someone without the life experience to understand what it means to be trans and a survivor. But with you, I can’t think of a better person to do this with and I think the time is also right for this.
Mîran: First of all, I want to thank our friend Jin Haritaworn for connecting us with this publishing opportunity. I was having dinner with you, Raju, and told you about my spoken-word-piece- -which-is-still-not-done-and-god-knows-when-will-be, where I, as my adult self today, write a letter to my younger self. My therapist also suggested I work with my inner child, but I don’t know if I, as a queer, trans, working class, fat poc with health struggles, want to talk about such intimate things with my white, abled-bodied, upper class therapist. I’m glad we realized this was something we are both interested in and want to work on together.
Raju: Yeah, that makes sense. So often we don’t have places to really voice how we feel because we are told we are ‘crazy’, paranoid or too angry, so we just end up shutting up and sometimes even shut down. It can start to feel stressful and uncomfortable to discuss the oppressions of being brown and trans, and so I like how this organically happened. I guess we have, from our many conversations before, shared our very similar backgrounds and upbringing, and so it makes sense that this would work for us as something that we would both find empowering and have both thought about. I see our conversations as a community collective therapy already anyway, and feel safe to discuss this with you. I feel it would be a great exercise for each of us personally, and hopefully, something that other (trans/ gender nonconforming) people of colour of all ages could also get something from? I hope so. Plus, I like time travelling. 😉
Mîran: Speaking of silence and paranoia, I think paranoia often protects us. Since as queer/trans of colour people, we don’t have many spaces in which we can safely exist, or just relax and be ourselves. We have to make compromises every day, just to survive. That’s why I think it’s important to see this interview as a space to share something that we would normally not be able to share, because we don’t have the privilege to find each other easily, because we don’t live on the same continent, borders separate us, we don’t have the finances and many other reasons… Lets begin!
Younger Mîran interviews Raju:
Mîran: So I would like to start with my younger self asking you questions about me today.
Younger Mîran: How do I look?
Raju: You are handsome, Mîran [adult Mîran laughs out], you always have good hair and you talk about it ALOT,haha, but you have the best hat collection even though you don’t need it. Over time I have seen you become more comfortable with yourself.
Younger Mîran: Why do you call me Mîran? Do I have long or short hair?
Raju: Your hair is short. Right now you shaved it and its growing out, but when it is a bit longer it looks really really good. Your name is Mîran because you chose that name for yourself. I also chose my own name and it’s different from my younger name.
Younger Mîran: That’s so cool! I always wanted short hair but my mother never allowed it. She said I wouldn’t look like a girl anymore. But I never really cared about looking like a girl or a boy. I don’t understand what she is talking about. And I like the name Mîran!
Raju: When I was younger I felt similar to you. I had shorter hair but never in the style I wanted it, and my parents always encouraged me to style it and make it feminine, especially as I got older, but I did have it short. When I was 18, I left home and I cut it real short and felt so good! When you are 20 you will also do that, you will shave your head, too!
Younger Mîran: I will? Wow!!! And where do I live?
Raju: You live in Berlin.
Younger Mîran: What?! Berlin? Really?
Raju: YES! And you live on your own in your own apartment. It’s really nice and I have stayed there sometimes. There are pictures of you there that I have seen.
Younger Mîran: I’m cute, right? 🙂 Wow, my own place. I can’t believe that. I thought that I will always live in Remscheid, study here, and probably marry someone.
Raju: Well you have lived in Berlin for a few years.
Younger Mîran: Really?!! Wow! …but, Raju, can I tell you something? But don’t tell my parents.
Raju: Of course.
Younger Mîran: Sometimes I don’t feel comfortable in my body or I imagine myself differently. Yesterday, I was playing soccer with boys and it was really warm out, so I unbuttoned my shirt like them and they yelled at me. I think I like air on my chest but I also wanna cover it sometimes. Also I like longer hair and I wanna put make up on, but not all the time. It’s confusing.
Raju: I felt similar when I was growing up. I also played with boys when I was younger, but I knew I was different in some way and also confused about that. I was sure about being masculine, but knew I was born female. I felt comfortable being masculine and didn’t even really question it, but friends and family had an issue with it. I felt that I wanted to be in a male body if I could choose that, but knew I wasn’t, and I wasn’t like the other ‘tomboy’ girls who still wanted to be girls. I also liked being feminine when I was younger but wanted to be able to decide and choose and do it when and how I wanted to. So, I liked to be masculine and feminine but it took a while to realise that was ok. I think your gender will always affect other people, and other people always want you to be what they want you to be, and see what they want to see. The main thing is being comfortable in yourself. That’s easy to say sometimes and in reality it is difficult when people make fun of you and tell you that you should look and act a certain way, and when there is also racism on top of that. I think those people are also struggling with their own gender. It may make it easier to realise that?
Younger Mîran: Thank you for saying that, Raju. I think that is the answer to my problem. I don’t have a problem with how I look or what I wear. Other people make me feel uncomfortable.
Raju: So Mîran, how old are you? Who are your role models that you look up to? Do you have any?
Younger Mîran: I am 12. My idols are Leyla Zana and Freddy Mercury. My uncle says we like Leyla Zana because she wants to free our people. I like how she talks, she has shorter hair and she is very strong. I like Freddy Mercury because my uncle listens to his music, and I like the makeup! And the outfits! Sometimes I wish I could wear leggings and tighter things but my mother tells me I’m too fat and it doesn’t look good on me. She also says that we are migrants and attract attention anyway, so we should keep a low profile. Also, I like Prince, too.
Raju: People think it is important to fit in and not stand out. I think it is more important to be yourself. The role models you mention are also some of my role models too! And none of them seem to fit in to me, they all stand out and are very powerful people. Freddie Mercury is queer and also a person of colour and not many people realise that. He has struggled with his identity, and then Prince always gets called gay because he is feminine and he just carries on being himself. Sometimes it’s hard to be yourself because in some cases that may make it harder for you to survive. That might be why your parents say these things to you. It is hard for immigrants to survive. I was also an immigrant so I know how it feels. Tell me more about Leyla Zana as I don’t know who she is.
Younger Mîran: Leyla Zana is a Kurdish freedom fighter. She is very important and I think she is very strong. She was in prison a lot and she spoke Kurdish in the Turkish parliament, even though it was illegal, , but she doesn’t give up. And I like her hair.
Raju: Leyla Zana sounds like a very good role model. Some people are bold and daring and have the strength to fight. Sometimes you don’t always have that and that is also okay because it is a struggle. The older version of you is such a fighter!
Younger Mîran: Really?! So, what am I doing? I always wanted to be an artist.
Raju: You are doing many things. As I said, you are definitely a fighter. You stand up for your community and fight for their political issues. You are involved in a lot of anti-racist organising with other queer and trans people of colour. Do you know what queer and trans are? You and I work together on projects, too. Oh, and I forgot to say you are a dancer!
Younger Mîran: I think I understand. Queer and trans are people like you are and what I wanna be? A dancer? Wow, I hate dancing! But actually I like it but I never dare to. But sounds good! And what are people of colour?
Raju: Being of colour and using that term is empowering for us. It means we identify our selves instead of letting people tell us that we are scum and not worth anything just because we are not white and don’t look like we were born here in Europe. It is a very political term. Not everyone uses this term and may use other words to describe themselves in a similar way, but many people do. It makes us feel good about ourselves and means we discover things about ourselves that we may otherwise not.
Younger Mîran: And of colour is probably people like us? Things are unfair for us. So the other students in my class are not of colour.
Raju: Yes, exactly! It also means we can find each other and build community and chosen family. I wish my younger self could meet you. I’m sure we would be friends, just like our older selves, because we have a lot in common. Actually, we call each other brothers now and we really take care of each other!
Younger Mîran: I would like to be your friend, there are lots of things I would like to know about you! You sound really nice and I always wanted a brother! Sounds like I’m going to look like I imagine and I even have friends! Now I’m really less scared of the future.
Now the adult Mîran interviews the younger Raju.
Mîran: Hey Raju! Tell me, how old are you?
Younger Raju: Are you talking to me? My name isn’t Raju. But I like that name. One of my cousins is called Raju, too. I am 7.
Mîran: Oh, excuse me! I forgot to tell you that you chose the name Raju for yourself, recently. Is it ok if I call you Raju now?
Younger Raju: Wow, I like it! I didn’t know you could choose your own name. My parents called me a name that is very unusual and not many people here can pronounce it properly. They make it into an English name which I don’t like, and people don’t think I’m Indian because of it, so I like Raju.
Mîran: So, I’m Mîran and I am a friend of the adult person you are going to be in the future. Do you have any questions you want to ask me?
Younger Raju: Yes, I have so many questions!!!!! So, am I old? How old am I and what do I look like and what is my personality like and where do I live? And, and… how do I know you?
Mîran: Wow! So many questions! I will try to answer them all. So, you are 34 now and you are still based in London, but you lived in many other places like Vancouver and Berlin. Actually, you are going to fly to India very soon. Right now, you are in Berlin, and that’s how we met 4 years ago. You were part of a performance group and I met you and Jin at the same time. Jin is also a good friend of ours. By the way, you look fantastic! I want to look like you do! Right now you have shorter hair again but a couple of months ago your hair was longer. It’s wavy and curly. You are 5’5, very handsome and I have to tell you: great style! You always know how to look good and combine your clothes. You are very outgoing and yes, shy sometimes. You are one of the most sensitive people I know and helped me a lot when I was very confused about a lot of things, like gender. You told me it was okay however I want to look and who ever I want to be. Oh, and you are VERY smart and a great and important activist. AND a masterbaker!!!
Younger Raju: I am soooooo old! Wow, that is amazing. I could never imagine those things about myself! I am so shy I could never imagine being on a stage performing. I don’t like how I look now because people make fun of me and tell me that because i’m Asian, that is a bad way to look. Or, that I look like a boy and I should look more like a girl, so I feel ugly. I do like dressing up but I am confused about gender, I’m not sure I know what gender means. Do you mean being a girl or a boy? Because I want to be both!
Mîran: Well, that didn’t change! You still like to dress up! You like to play with looking masculine, feminine, etc… gender, basically means how you see yourself (in terms of being a boy or a girl) but that doesn’t mean it’s how people read you and it also doesn’t mean that you have to be a boy or a girl.
Younger Raju: Does that mean that I can be both? Because I sometimes think I am a boy and want a boy’s body but I don’t want to be exactly like the other boys I know. I also like dressing up and make up and jewelry, too, but people say that’s girls’ things.
Mîran: One of the cool things with growing up is that you have more freedom with choosing your surroundings. You, for example, found a community with queer and trans folks of colour, who respect who you are, how you look and what you think. I understand that it’s confusing right now, but later you will see that you don’t have to choose between boy or girl. You are great the way you are and the way you look. No matter what other people tell you, okay?
Younger Raju: That is good to hear. Nobody ever told me that before. I’m surprised to hear those things about myself.I’m also surprised that I’m going to India! Because my family were originally from India and I’m so curious about the place that my family is from. I was born in Kenya and only know about that place and I don’t like it here in England.
Mîran: I understand how you feel. When I was growing up I also never got to hear people say things like that. As brown people we grow up with a lot of white people telling us we are not smart enough, not pretty enough, not skinny enough, etc. These messages are also all over television. But you are so cool! I don’t know you as a younger person, but I know you today as an adult and you are pretty fantastic!
Younger Raju: Are you like me? Because I don’t imagine having friends who knew about me and my gender? And being my friend. It’s also not cool to be a brown person – are you brown, too? All the popular kids are white and you can’t wear Indian clothes or you get bullied. You have to fit in here, my parents tell me that, and I can see it is true, but I don’t fit in. Does that mean that the older me has friends who are like me?
Mîran: Let me tell you one thing, young sibling. It is SUPER COOL to be brown! We are actually pretty similar with the way we grew up. I am also trans and brown like you are. And yes, you have more friends like me! We have a big chosen family of queer/trans of colour folks who love you and admire you. Don’t worry about the popular kids! Later, they won’t be important. They won’t be relevant in your life. You are going to be so much more than just popular. If they were still lucky enough to know you, they would probably envy who you are and what you made out of your life.
Younger Raju: WOW! You can choose your family too!? Just like your name. That is so cool. I like that. I love my mother but I don’t like my father at all and I want to be like my brother because he is a boy and I want to be one, too. It’s so funny to hear that the future can be so different! It sounds so good! And to hear that you also had a similar life, because I feel so different to my friends now.
Mîran: Yes, from the things you told me over the years, we both had to and have to deal with white middle and upper class kids. They are so much more different from who we are and what we face in our lives. Also, those kids still exist today in our communities — the people who look down on us for being who we are — and it’s tricky to deal with, but don’t be scared, we have our own people, people who grew up like you and me and we support each other, laugh with each other and also cry with each other sometimes.
Younger Raju: But how did we find each other? I wish I could find you and the others now! I never thought about my gender but now I can see that it is something that bothers me a bit because I can see that other people aren’t like me and it makes me feel like I’m different in a bad way. I want to meet people like me. I want to meet you!
Mîran: The problem is that the world that we live in, separates us from each other and isolates us. But you are smart, you will break out of it, and find me! Very soon! Until then, you can read books by bell hooks, Audre Lorde, and other black feminists. Read about Stonewall (but not the whitewashed version) and try to find books about queer and trans of colour experiences. Maybe in a library… Another cool thing, later we will have the Internet (connecting all computers — computers are also cool! — and then you can get information with that! Oh, by the way, you also publish about these things!
There are other queer/trans people of colour who live close to you, that you don’t know yet.
Younger Raju: That sounds incredible!!!! This sounds like a sci-fi movie! I love sci-fi and I also love reading. All I am allowed to read right now is encyclopedias and educational books that help me learn English and fit in, but I want to read these instead. I’m not sure what they are or what they say, and I don’t know some of these words, queer and trans and the names of those writers, but it sounds amazing and I have a feeling that I will learn a lot! Thanks for telling me about them! I can’t wait to grow up now. I hate this place, it doesn’t feel safe and I want to leave! This makes me feel so much better to know there are these things out there and that my life will change.And it sounds like I am happy and I have a good life!
<time travel ends>
Mîran: Wow, I don’t know how you feel, Raju. But that was very intense! I feel like this was more effective than a lot of therapy sessions. It’s so healing to talk to a good friend/comrade, watch and listen to your younger self. I never would have guessed how much we can learn from our younger selves. I was too scared to publish the letter I am writing to the younger part of myself but this encourages me to do so! Thank you, Raju, for sharing this intimate piece with me. Again, I see how important it is that we listen to and write our own stories, witness our strengths and supports and heal ourselves and each other. I like kitchen table (this one literally!) discussions with my cutie poc (qtpoc) siblings! Thank you for guiding each other through the scary past. It makes it a little easier to look into the scary future. Like the Black scholar Ruthie Wilson Gilmore said, “We should plan to win. And we can win.”
Raju: I liked using this narrative form of self therapy as a way to unfold and reach out to our younger selves. I feel these conversations have been healing to a younger part of me, and also very much the older present me, who felt and often feels isolated. I also enjoyed time travelling with you and would love to do this again, maybe continually, with you and for myself as a way of healing from past trauma that we often forget about or bury deep when we get older and have too much to deal with still, and when our struggle takes over. I feel it is important to share those moments to gain strength and solidarity. I feel like this has been quite a journey from the kitchen table to the inner depths of our fragile, but strong surviving younger souls, that carries us into a less scary and more safe future! Thank you, Mîran, for sharing this with me, for carrying me and protecting me, and showing me now and infinitely, that there is always a way out and/or a way forward!
Raju Rage, being disciplined from a young age with learning English and studying, wants to be a writer and artist and have his work published one day (he will!). He hopes to be successful, handsome and grow up to be a superhero living in a hot country!
Mîran N. likes ice cream (going to suck in the future with lactose-intolerance), music and soccer. They hates spiders, aftershave and white beans (will never change). Mîran wants to be a famous artist.
21 + genders…… by Gopi Shankar
1. திருநங்கை– Trans-women
2. திருநம்பி- Trans-men
1. பால்நடுநர்– Androgyny
2. முழுனர்– pan-gender
3. இருனர்- Bi-gender
4. திரினர்- Tri-gender
5. பாலிலி– A-gender
6. திருனடுனர்– Neutrois
7. மறுமாறிகள்– Retransitioners
8. தோற்றபாலினத்தவர்– Appearance gendered
9. முரண்திருநர்– Transbinary
10. பிறர்பால்உடையணியும்திருநர்– Transcrossdressers
11. இருமைநகர்வு– Binary’s butch
12. எதிர்பாலிலி– Fancy
13. இருமைக்குரியோர்– Epicene
14. இடைபாலினம்– Intergender
15. மாறுபக்கஆணியல்– Transmasculine
16. மாறுபக்கபெண்ணியல்– Transfeminine
17. அரைபெண்டிர்– Demi girl
18. அரையாடவர்– Demi guy
19. நம்பிஈர்ப்பனள்– Girl fags
20. நங்கைஈர்பனன்– Guy dykes
21. பால்நகர்வோர்– Genderfluid
22. ஆணியல்பெண்– Tomboy
23. பெண்ணன்– Sissy
24. இருமையின்மைஆணியல்– Non binary Butch
25. இருமையின்மைபெண்ணியல்– Non binary femme
26. பிறர்பால்உடைஅணிபவர்– Cross Dresser
“Gender” is related to physical and emotional perception of an individual. Restricting gender in the binary categories of female and male is erroneous as we have to be aware about the existence of more than twenty categories of gender. The same is also true for the sexual orientation where the dominant public knowledge is only limited to the heterosexual orientation. Here we do not want to narrow down our emphasis on homosexuality, rather here we emphasize about Gender-variants, which transcend the binary categories. Gender and sexuality are the rights of an individual and interfering to those refers to the interference in personal freedom.
In India, thanks to the colonial legacy of shallow Victorian values, we have come to see this as a deviant behaviour or violation. Indian culture is originally abundant with legends and mythologies where heroes and heroines have chosen various genders without guilt and their choices have been accepted and respected. Ironically, today the western nations are progressive in researching and educating about gender and sexuality expressions, while we, despite our rich cultural heritage respecting and accepting gender variations and choices are lagging behind and even lacking that sensitivity.
While the students of medicine, engineering, law and literature specialize to practice their own functions, what we lack is that there are no studies or synthetic discipline to study the biological, bio-ethical, legal, psychological, social dimensions of the very basic emotions concerning sexuality and gender. Though the Indian universities can offer worldwide recognized studies, we certainly lack any basic axiomatic framework pertaining to gender and sexuality, while the foreign universities have even started their own departments and research activities. The most painful condition is that even psychologists are mostly unaware of Gender-variants and their localized issues pertaining to Indian conditions.
India’s pre-colonial traditional as well as various localized folk traditions have taken a far healthier attitudes in dealing with sex-education, that may surprise many people on both sides of the fence of sex-education who want to map Indian culture with dominant Victorian male value system. Various folk deities and traditions emphasize fluid nature of gender and mythologies have stories that reinforce this idea. So a child growing up will not have a strong shock value or guilt feeling in relating to one’s own sexuality or others as gender-variants. Devi Mahatmya and Mahabharata are two such examples. Koothandavartemple festival in Tamil Nadu is another example of local folk tradition organically linked to the pan-Indian culture in dealing positively with creating awareness for and empowering gender-variants. These cultural possibilities need to be taken up and explored to create democratic social space for gender-minorities.
Hence a very comprehensive solution for this problem is the induction of social awareness starting from the school days with stories, and progressing into the high school curriculum with a biology and psychology of gender issues over the whole spectrum of gender variance. And then initiate healthy debates and open minded discussions on the issue at the college level.
However this social responsibility has been neglected by both government and social organizations for decades even after independence. Our social and political institutions still suffer from gender bias and colonial mind set of the Victorian era.
Hence we demand that efforts be made and let the governments and institutions come out with what efforts have been already done in understanding and creating an awareness about the Gender-variants issues in any field, such as law, education and medical sciences.
Generally the terms gender, sexuality and sex are taken to be the same. But they all mean different things. Sex is a biological definition and gender is the self-identity and it also means the sociocultural and behavioural perception, while sexuality refers to the sexual attraction towards a particular sex. That even within the mainstream LGBT community in India, the existence of these many genders is largely unknown.
Some forms of genders don’t even have a proper word in the dictionary and we have coined terms both in Tamil and English for a few, there are more than 20 different types of genders other than male, female and Transgender. A total positive transformation in public awareness and perception will at least take another 20 years, the government, educationists and social activists should put an effort together and the change should start from the education system. We insist that gender and sexuality education should be part of the educational system from the primary schools itself and slowly through spiral methodology enter the main syllabus in high schools and colleges with appropriate discourse value.
People are ignorant about the existence of various genders and sexuality and due to this, for over a century, women &other minority gender-variants have undergone a lot of ill-treatment and abuse. It is time to put an end to this inhuman treatment to our gender-minorities. Hence we request through this PIL that all actions that have been done so far in the field of education, culture, social awareness, medicine, research, psychology, legislation and media etc. for the empowerment of gender-minorities be brought to light, the schemes for their empowerment be brought out to public awareness so that we can take them to the gender-minorities, make them aware that the society and government respect them, make them aware of their rights and empowerment affirmation programs and also suggest improvement based on our own field study and experiences
(keep posted about this campaign here…..)
Confessions of a fucked up mind
I am promoting THE WORLD’S FIRST TRANSGENDER SITCOM. Please help support this ground breaking project so we can have a transgender created sitcom series for us all to watch. check out the FIRST EPISODE, laugh and enjoy and then simply donate some funds and/or spread the word!!!!! THIS NEEDS TO HAPPEN!
(if you know of any funders willing to fund this project with some big bucks or any media who would promote it widely then please get in touch with Raju Rage firstname.lastname@example.org)
Trembling Void Studios presents the first ever comedy series with a transgender lead role. And the first to have multiple transgender characters, all played by transgender actors rather than cis (i.e. “non-trans”) people in makeup.
“It’s a matter of representation, opportunity, and authenticity, and doing better than what we usually see.”
– Susan Chiv, Writer
Yesterday, Sü (Domaine Javier) was an upwardly-mobile software manager. Today she’s an out transsexual, unemployed and sleeping on her ex’s couch (Amy Fox) at the unfashionable bottom of the rabbit hole that is the East Vancouver Queer Underground. Thrown into a world of marginal living, social inequity, and quasi-legal employment, will she claw her way back to her old status? Or, to her horror, will she adapt and thrive? Set in a world changing between economies and genders, between death and life, The Switch: A Fantastic Transgender Comedy is delightfully strange, proudly crude and sharply political.
“It’s a vibrant portrayal of the chaotic, often absurd balancing acts that are our transgender lives.”
– Vanessa Tara, Writer
The Switch is Trembling Void’s first production. Shot in and around Vancouver, British Columbia, The Switch is a Canadian-made and run production. This bold and unprecedented comedy is guaranteed to have viewers saying, “Why isn’t it next week yet?” To get a taste of what everyone is raving about be sure to check out the trailer, debuting March 1st on Kickstarter at www.kickstarter.com/projects/tremblingvoid/the-switch-a-fantastic-transgender-comedy
We’re also launching a Kickstarter campaign on March 1st, so check our website at www.welovetheswitch.com for more details on how to help and how to get involved. Follow us online at twitter.com/kicktheswitch, and facebook.com/welovetheswitch for updates, videos, photos and other exclusive content! Our distribution plan includes multiple streams: DVDs, flash drives and direct downloads, stretching traditional delivery methods for lawsuit-free media.
Trembling Void Studios is based out of Vancouver, British Columbia where many great productions come from and thrive. Trembling Void makes entertainment that is unapologetically fun, punchy and opinionated. The company aspires to live in a future full of awesome. To that end, they make entertainment that moves us in that direction both socially and technologically.
A promotional gala will be held March 16th at Cafe Deux Soleil in East Vancouver. Check www.welovetheswitch.com for updates and more details as they come.
“We see it, and we see the joy in our lives.”
– Amy Fox, Executive Producer
Trembling Void Studios
Vancouver, British Columbia, Unceded Coast Salish Territories
Cover By Lola Love
Its been a while since the last issue so this issue is surely due….
Thanks to all the contributors….you make me come alive in your words, your pictures, your meanings and expressions:
Julio Salgado and Yosimar Reyes
Ofelia Del Corazon
Edited by Misster Raju Rage
Please send your submissions to email@example.com
POST-FEMME By Amita Swadhin
a wise friend once told me
that life is a series of coming outs.
now it’s a new year,
and i’ve made some resolutions
so, there’s something i need to tell you:
i’m. not. femme.
yeah, that’s right, you heard me.
i know, i know, there was that calendar…
but that’s so two thousand and eight.
i mean, ‘femme’ did work for me
once upon a time.
but i take it back.
i’ve changed my mind.
“i think there’s something you should know,
i think it’s time i told you so,
there’s something deep inside of me
there’s someone else i’ve got to be.
take back your picture in a frame,
take back your singing in the rain,
i just hope you understand –
sometimes the clothes do not make the [wo]man.“
time travel with me
back to 1983:
i’m five years old.
Osh Kosh overalls
dominate my wardrobe.
i get my hair cut
at a boys’ barber shop.
i buy my clothes
in the boys’ section.
spend my days climbing trees
and skinning knees,
playing Donkey Kong
bossing all the boys,
taking all their toys…
it’s true – i’m a bit fey.
but that was cool, back in the day.
then comes ’86 –
a year that lived up to its name.
my father starts lectures
that last through high school:
“girls need to cook and clean.
you have to be a good wife one day.”
my guy friends stop talking to me
so i cling to my girls,
but they’ve all turned to Barbie by then.
two years later,
i cry when i get my first training bra.
they aren’t tears of joy.
i ask my mother for a razor and makeup
the choice is clear:
fit in, or face laughter.
fast-forward to 1995 –
by then, i have mastered makeup
by then, i am over it.
all of it.
i cut off all my hair,
and it feels right.
look, i never wanted to be a boy.
but i never wanted to be a girl, either.
i wanted something better:
i wanted liberation.
i found ‘queer’
and then i found ‘femme.’
at first, it feels right:
while breaking all the rules.
there is power in being pretty
while being subversive
and i wanted it.
no one warned me that
it was a trap.
i learned the hard way.
1999: my first date with a woman
this has been a long time coming.
it’s going well until she says
“you are really confusing! and aggressive!
pulling out chairs,
trying to split the bill.
i thought you were femme!”
i am bewildered.
it’s mostly downhill from there.
i shave my head
and buy men’s clothes
and suddenly, all sorts of femmes
who have never noticed me before
wanna get my number.
the trans guy
who i’ve been talking to
“i’m not sure what you’re tryna do,
but you’ll always be femme
no matter what you wear.
i mean, look at you!”
i grow my hair again, and get a new girlfriend –
a femme in a previous love life.
“were you trying to embarrass me?”
when i wear sweats
after a 10-hour work day.
a ‘high femme’ asks
“what kind of femme wears hiking boots?!”
when she hears i’ve been walking out in the desert.
a trans man i have been dating says
“i really need to be with a sweet girl.”
as he breaks up with me.
i thought we wanted
alternatives to the cops.
so what’s with all the
when did the rules
and ‘straight girl’
start to sound so much the same?
let me be clear:
the only type of ‘femme’
i’m invested in being
is the kind that ends in I-N-I-S-T.
my gender is more layered
than the eyes can see.
and yeah, i see you
wanting to label
this dress –
so feel free.
i’m a performer.
i’m just doing me.
but i wanna know –
what are you doing
to work for liberation?
how we all gonna get free?
we have to move
beyond the binary.
Amita Swadhin is an LA-based, NYC-bred educator, activist, storyteller and shapeshifter. She is the coordinator and a cast member of Secret Survivors (a theater project she created with the award-winning NYC-based Ping Chong & Co. featuring survivors of child sexual abuse telling their stories), a performer with and co-producer of The Sugaran Tour, and co-host and co-producer of the weekly radio show Flip the Script on KPFK-LA. You can read more at www.amitaswadhin.com.
Five Tips For Queer Boys by Yosimar Reyes
This set of illustrations, is a collaboration with the amazing Julio Salgado and Yosimar Reyes.
Julio Salgado is the co-founder of DreamersAdrift.com. His activist artwork has become a staple of the DREAM Act movement. His status as an undocumented, queer artivist has fueled the contents of his illustrations, which depict key individuals and moments of the DREAM Act movement. Undocumented students and allies across the country have used Salgado’s artwork to call attention to the youth-led movement. Using the phrase “I EXIST” within his artwork, Salgado wants to use art as a way to combat words like “illegal” and “alien” that tend dehumanize undocumented immigrants. Salgado graduated from California State Universitiy, Long Beach with a degree in journalism.
From the Mountains of Guerrero, Mexico comes Yosimar Reyes, a Two-Spirit Poet/Activist Based out of San Jose,CA. His style has been described as “a brave and vulnerable voice that shines light on the issues affecting Queer Immigrant Youth and the many disenfranchised communities in the U.S and throughout the world.” Yosimar’s distinct style has managed to get him to perform form the Bay Area to New York City (always Representing East Side San Jose and his beautiful Mexico).
“Dear Internalized Biphobia: An Open Letter To The Ugly Beast Inside Me” by Ofelia Del Corazon
Dear internalized biphobia,
We’ve never had a healthy relationship and I am glad to say we are drifting apart. It’s been a long time since you showed when I was eleven. When I went to mass where the priest said that birth control and abortions and homosexuality were all equally bad. At that point I knew I liked boys and everyone said that was okay, but I was just starting to figure out that I liked girls too. That feeling I got when I liked a boy was the same feeling I got when I really wanted to be a girl’s friend. Like her best best friend. That’s when I started praying at night that I would wake up and my bisexuality would be gone.
But it never worked and my bisexuality, and you, biphobia remain inside me. Still though it wasn’t all bad. By the time I was thirteen I had reasoned that I was only half gay. I still had the option of squashing my squashing my feelings for other girls and I was thankful that I liked boys at all.
Thankful that I could at least, openly experience part of my sexuality… I did think boys were hella hot. Well, some of them. Often they were the girlie ones. With big pretty eyes and full mouths and long hair. The sweet shy ones who would let me do anything to them (like dress them up in my clothes) and would do anything for me, like steal hair dye and lipstick for us both or submit to being made to march around town in my thigh high stockings and lacy under things. I told my first boyfriend that I was bisexual and later he confided in me that he was bisexual too.
A few girls came out as bi when I was in high school but everyone laughed and talked about them behind their backs and I did it too. I remember my best friend said that “They do it to get attention.” That it was ‘trendy’ which was the ultimate insult among my group of outcasts and theater freaks. I wanted to tell her so badly that I was bisexual too. There was nothing fun or exciting about knowing that you were going to burn in hell for all of eternity. I was too afraid to say anything. She already refused to undress in front of me perhaps because I could never stop looking at her boobs.
I went to high school in a mostly Latino rural farming community and I had two secret girlfriends during the time. We were so secret; we were secret from each other. We would spend the night at eachothers’ houses and lie tense and quiet before becoming overwhelmed with teenage lust groping each other, humping and kissing and fucking quietly and sloppily all whilst pretending to be asleep. Which, if you’ve never tried to pretend to be asleep while fucking, it is sort of like pretending to be a zombie whilst fucking: it’s hard to do and not very sustainable. It also kind of makes you a bad fuck by default.
We didn’t hold hands or kiss in public. We just waited until it was time to sleep and then fucked in the dark then pretended like it never happened the next day.
By the time I was seventeen I was firmly convinced I was a lesbian no longer bisexual, until, I met a boy, well, actually a man on the Internet. I told him I was a lesbian and his acceptance validated my queerness for the first time. He was deeply flattered to be my grand exception. I agreed to move to southern California but only if I could date girls too.
Around the time I began to learn about feminism I realized what a misogynst assshole my boyfriend was. I moved out of our apartment the and into an environmentalist co op. I swore to all the hippies that I was a dyke although I would still bed men in secret.
I started dating a butch woman who asked me casually on our first date “When was the last time you had sex with a guy?” I felt my queerness under attack. I was threatened; it had been about two days. “Two years!” I lied, not knowing if that was long enough, my heart beat fast but I relaxed when she smiled. “Oh, cool. I’m gold star, myself.” she grinned, bragging. I pretended like I knew what that meant.
Only my roommates at the hippy co-op new my shameful bisexual secret (they saw the parade of men that came in and out of my room) and eventually they confronted my gold star girlfriend about it. “We’re poly.” She snorted. “And it’s not like she fucks every single guy that comes over!” but it was true. That’s pretty much all I was doing with guys at that time and at the end of it all I’d throw their clothes at them and growl and snarl and swear that if they ever told anyone I fucked them that they’d never get to fuck me again. It worked. My secret was safe. For a time.
One thing remains constant: I like to fuck hot people. It’s only been a few years since I have begun feeling all right about calling myself a bisexual. I’m not sorry to see you go internalized biphobia go, we’ve fought long and hard: like two lovers locked in a struggle, who get too tired to fight or just realize how much they love each other and began to fuck.
I wonder if you’ll ever be gone completely, biphobia. I wonder what it would be like to live without you.
With love and forgiveness,
Oh tower made of cloth. I was meant to be your lover. Correlational femme to your female he.
An inverse mirroring. A code toward arrangement or
orgasm. Enactment of the identity and the identity itself. This is document of the tractions. A
thrum-rosary. I read you
by transposing. You read my by capsizal. My own reactive body burgeoning. My hem line to your hemlocks. An etiquette of scorching
musculatures. Glandular and groin oriented ephemeral. Opening
what was ever waiting to be awash.
We fill a gong with our come. With our co emissions you make shapes on my forehead. Chivalry that is not a fantasy but imbued. A joy
that is dependent on depth. Like a mantra of new syllables. My torqued adam who mines me by way of shared atoms. “I will never misuse you.” This is a way to reverse callouses that prior to you have stayed. I longed for your short hair in my grip. For how we look like
else. How we feel like sweltering leaves can be felt from within.
The subversion of singular identity for the sake of
deifying one’s lover. To infiltrate me you braid my hair on the steps in the rain. Here tears are communication more than words are. Enactment as recollection
by surges in the lace wings. A stinging. We are adrift in a cave where bodies of flight engage erratic wafting. Inexorable pleasures
near a tributary that smells like pepper. Prepare me through potash. Through promises of more than
approximate. To fill the moat with ______. This grander is making us
whole by action. You read to me to bring the night closer. You float your cock inside of me and I feel us as both ephemeral and physical. As an inexhaustible length
j/j hastain is the author of several cross-genre books including long past the presence of common (Say it with Stones Press), trans-genre book libertine monk (Scrambler Press) and anti-memoir a vigorous (Black Coffee Press/ Eight Ball Press (forthcoming)). j/j has poetry, prose, reviews, articles, mini-essays and mixed genre work published in many places on line and in print.
My Statement Against Intimate Violence
It is not okay to tell your partner that no one else will love them.
It is not okay to tell your partner who is trans-masculine identified that they are not ‘man enough’.
It is not okay to say to your partner, who is transgender, who has multiple gender identities that they have a ‘multiple personality disorder’ and criticise/scrutinise their gender. It is not okay to not use incorrect pronouns with your partner to other people when they have requested you to use specific pronouns when referring to them.
It is not okay to joke/laugh about your transgender partner being read as a child/young person/underage with your friends in front of or even behind your transgender partner‘s back, even if your partner has joked about it with you personally and privately.
It is not okay to threaten your partner with harming yourself. It is not okay to threaten to and or harm yourself in front of them, on the phone or harm them in the process. This is manipulative, violent, can be triggering, especially if they are a survivor of violence themselves. It is not okay to do this when you are upset with them, when you do not get your way, when you do not feel like you have control of your partner or a situation with them or are feeling unwell.
It is not okay to say you have apologised for abusive behaviours and expect your partner to be instantly ok or forgive you for it and expect your partner not to bring up those experiences again when they are relevant and then become violent. It is especially not okay to continue these behaviours once you have apologised and promised it will not happen again.
It is not okay to be physically violent towards your partner by physical actions, screaming, inflammatory words or by grabbing them or shaking them or not letting them leave.
It is not okay to make your partner promise not to tell their/your friends/other people about their abusive violent behaviours including harming themselves when it effects their safety and well being.
It is not okay to claim that your ex-partner is making you feel unsafe in public trans/queer- community space just because they are there. It is not okay to claim that space for yourself and expect them not to be there without having consensual agreement with your ex-partner about claiming/sharing spaces. It is not okay then to behave violently and/or threaten to call security on them when they are in a public space with you.
It is not okay to play the victim and be manipulative, to lie about your behaviour, make excuses and stories, spread slandering accusations and untruths about your ex-partner so that you so you do not have to be accountable for your abusive behaviour or to cover it up. It is not okay to accuse your partner of abuse, or blame them for ‘making you unwell’ and leading you to behave in abusive ways, in order to call attention away from your own accountability.
It is not okay for witnesses and/or friends of the abuser to victim blame, turning abusers into victims by naming people accused of transphobic, abusive, or violent attitudes and behaviour as victims, heroes, important to our work (more important than the person raising the issue or victim to abuse). It is further not okay to be rude to and bad mouth the victim involved to other people without knowing fully what actually happened in the abusive relationship/situation.
Many of us suffer from mental and physical health issues. This does not excuse anyone from abusive behaviours. If you are not okay there are other ways to reach out, resolve anxiety, and being upset or conflicts, without resorting to violence, without trying to control your partner into saying and behaving in the ways that you want them to, especially when your partner is trying to support you through your health issues and have their own health issues. This behaviour is never justified or excused.
As a survivor of abuse, in any of its forms, I have the right to:
1. Name abuse in all its forms.
2. Feel angry, hurt and sad about my perpetrator(s), and any friend(s) or family who has collaborated with the violence.
3. Speak about my abuse.
4. Have a space to reﬂect on my personal history without judgment.
5. The physical and psychological care that is necessary for surviving trauma.
6. Safe relationships with family, friends, partners, lovers and service providers and safety including in public/community spaces.
7. Confront perpetrators and those who have participated in violations and abuses.
8. Take action to stop the abuse.
In writing this I do not want the following to happen from my abuser or their friends/allies:
■ Harassing, demeaning, denouncing, gossiping about, spreading rumours and lies about
or threatening to do these things to me for raising this issue of abuse.
■ Isolating or discrediting me for raising concerns and/or call for accountability
■ Questioning the legitimacy of concerns to detract from the need to be accountable
■ Accusing others of abuse in order to call attention away from own accountability
■ Denying, minimizing, victim blaming, and plain-old lying about doing any of these
things when called on it.
A note about this statement:
This statement can be utilised generally by others as a guide but this is also a personal statement about abuse that I have actually experienced from a particular person. It has taken me a long period of time to realise that I was a victim of abuse/come to terms with my abuse/speak about my abuse. It does not mean it is unfounded or untrue or can be discredited. It doesn’t mean I should’ve spoken earlier. The time is right now and I am only ready now to speak out about facing this abuse when I had been too afraid in the past of what my abuser may have done/reacted if I did so and whether it would be safe for both of us. I am not doing this to perpetuate abusive behaviour, because I want drama or conflict. I have loved the person who has been abusive to me, and have felt hurt, pain and trauma and it has taken time to heal and come to this place. There is still more healing work to do.
What I want from this statement:
I want to have a voice for what happened. I do not want to be isolated any longer. I want my abuser to take accountability for their abusive behaviour and seek support for it. I want them and their friends to stop ostracising and isolating me from my community/ies by ignoring me, being rude, giving me bad looks, bad mouthing me to other people, being violent, claiming I am making space unsafe by simply being in spaces that are important to me when there is no consensual agreement otherwise, telling me I do not belong there or am not entitled to share space. I want to feel safe in community spaces that I am entitled to be in. I do not want this abuse trauma perpetuated but ended. I want both myself and my abuser to be supported (by working through their behaviour and being accountable) in order to reach a fair agreement. I am only willing to resolve this issue of intimate violence with my ex-partner in a non-inflammatory constructive way. I am only willing to come up with a fair agreement to sharing community space with them and their friends in safe respectful ways. I do not wish to at this point to discuss this directly with my ex in question but I am willing to have a discussion with mediation with others (friends and allies or members) in the community who know us both or individually. I am seeking community support, but mainly to have a voice that has been silenced for too long.
By Misster Raju Rage (formerly known as other names)
*This statement remains anonymous. I do not wish to name and shame and make my abuser feel unsafe or persecuted. I hope that this statement will reach them and they can start to take accountability or the steps towards it*
spoken spoken word on public transport hostility by Teht Ashmani
I fantasized once (and then again, and again) about sharing these words with a tube carriage as some kind of you’re-stuck-with-me-installation-piece. But it wouldn’t have been fair to the gentler majority of passengers….
I see you,
I feel you,
Other people tell me
They see you staring.
I’m grateful for them;
The medical mercenaries would be quick to agree with their heavy iron keys
If I went to them complaining about a vague feeling of persecution.
My dear vague feeling of persecution,
Yes, you, since as you might notice if you cast your eyes around
Hardly anyone else in this carriage is staring
And maybe none as loudly as you,
What makes you think it’s alright
To make such a racket with your eyes?
Some of us are trying to be inbetween a few places,
You are the minority here.
Your intolerance and curiosity
Make you forget yourself while you wallow
In the self-obsession which you plaster
All over my body.
Sorry, but I already slipped out of that hideous garment,
Thank you very much,
I didn’t agree to this game.
Do you need some reading material
Or something else to look at?
Look at your shoes.
Look at your hands.
Realign your curiosity
Until you can find a loving question
About what you
Answering such a question
Truthfully and gently might be
Impossible: so love on yourself some more
And figure out how you got here
And where you’re going.
It has nothing to do with me besides
How you owe us some apologies
Welcome to the 4th edition of Masculinities Femininities or is that Femininities Masculinities?
Each edition changes and evolves, just like the fluidity of gender is inate, and so the title organically reflects this change. I too have changed my name since the last issue. So this issue is dedicated to change and all it brings….
‘change is a fertile soil
I plant my future‘
This issue is different in that it is more than words. It is a visual extravaganza. An expression of the creativity of gender and its multi layers and intersections.
Thanks to all the contributors, those who made it this issue and also those who didn’t but desperately wanted to but couldn’t for whatever reason. Hopefully, they will get their contributions to the next issue (start sending them in now!)
Thanks to Noa Ktana for the cover illustration.
Thanks to all those gender variants and allies who kept me going this year!
Misster Raju Rage
I was recently asked to answer the following questions for an article about gender and drag in a Finnish queer magazine Normihomolehti NHL http://www.lehtiluukku.fi.
I thought that I would share my ramblings with you as an introduction to this issue…..
– What is feminine?
– What is feminine to you?
– What is masculine?
– What is masculine to you?
Misster Raju Rage:
These are difficult questions to answer but funnily enough it is something I get asked a lot, whether directly or indirectly. People always want to know what defines gender and I struggle between giving an answer and refusing to answer, because a refusal often means they have to consider gender more fluidly and broadly rather than a fixed state that can be explained. Also they have to then figure it out themselves which means questioning (themselves and others) further than they have before which will lead them to find out more than they bargained for (I hope). That I think would be beneficial for people who just need simple answers (to complex questions for some) or who do not even question beyond what they have been told or expect answers.
People also ask this question of me to derive my gender status in order to pin it down. I am ambiguous as male or as female, even though I do not consider myself strictly either and would define myself as transgender. I will then get asked if I am MTF or FTM as people cannot decide and so I have taken to just saying I am ‘undefined’ or that ‘I don’t know or care’ when people ask me my gender. Now try saying that to strangers on the street and it can get pretty messy and unsafe at times. Try telling it to friends or people you meet in so called safe spaces and you find yourself having to explain yourself for hours. Try filling in forms and paperwork and well you get stuck and feel isolated pretty quickly.
But to answer your question I would have to say that it isn’t something I really think about in regards to myself. I have asked myself in the past and not come up with any answers besides what I’m sharing with you here. I have felt comfortable with both masculinity and femininity and uncomfortable with both at different times also. I allow myself both expressions and in different combinations depending on many different factors like environment, mood or safety. I don’t often restrict myself to how I behave or the activities that I do because of whether they are considered masculine or feminine so I’m not a good person to ask as it’s not something I ask myself or get caught up in. Also I feel very much like both are so meshed in me and not at all polarised as such and I often cannot differentiate between them. So when I drag up as my alter ego ‘Lola’ it is both an expression of my femininity and masculinity, my femme masculinity that I otherwise struggle to convey in everyday life where everyone puts their expectations of gender onto me. It is a statement of the fact that I do not see myself as a solely masculine trans guy but that I am femme even though I consider myself male and use male pronouns. I feel I look more masculine when I dress up as Lola and possess a strength that I find truly feminine and it is also a culturally Indian femininity rather than a western femininity to me which I feel more at ease with and want to express.
I have always been told that I am not feminine enough and then not masculine enough, sometimes that I am not trans enough or then not gender queer enough so the fact that I am not complying makes me (willingly and unwillingly) confused about gender and fitting into masculinity and femininity in a ‘proper’ sense. I will never meet other people’s ideals. So that realisation is that gender is not so fixed at all as it will depend on the beholders eye, beliefs, opinions and experiences as to what they consider gender to comprise of. What is masculine or feminine in my personal experience or my culture will not be in someone else’s and that is also an important consideration as it becomes a more multifaceted discussion to incorporate many factors that people may not be aware of at first and of course the more dominant cultures in a given space will get to dominate what is more acceptable with gender in definition. My family cannot fully accept that I am transgender. That I want to be considered male with masculine pronouns as they see my femininity (which I do not conceal) and they have been told and socialised in the dominant western world, including the power and influence of the medical world and the media, that masculinity must equate with certain attributes like being big, strong, tall, hairy and having a deep voice. Also that trans people are not beautiful or comfortable with their bodies, that they are self haters and freaks. But in my culture (and in many others) many men are effeminate or vary from this model and in my culture it is common for gender variation (for example with hyjras) to occur and exist. I mean if we actually look around with open eyes we can see that people comprise of many different shapes and sizes but wider society is not generally accepting of that. Instead we tell them they do not measure up or that they are inadequate and so people of all genders, even those who consider themselves cis gendered, struggle with ‘passing’ and measuring up, being man or woman enough and will go on to develop eating disorders and body image issues and personality ‘disorders’ and mental health issues because they cannot just be who they are or they struggle all their lives to try to fit into somebody else’s ideals. This affects ALL genders and not just gender non conforming people. For this reason I make a political statement to not define what is masculine or feminine as I feel that we are constantly being told and really this can only be answered personally by each and every individual person in self definition. For me being feminine is looking into my heritage of strong Indian female role models who express/ed themselves as they wanted and who were/are not afraid to show it to anyone or braved it. For me masculinity means being different to all those negative male role models I have had in my life, making a stand to be a different male identified person to them, rejecting certain aspects like misogyny and introducing others like feminism and building on others I relate strongly to like brotherhood.
THE SPIDERBOI FILES is a choose-your-own gender graphic novel in poems. Initially inspired by kari edwards’ “
each piece began as a cut-up poem, borrowing from found and overheardlanguage, which was later inked onto a panel and folded into apalm-sized zine. The project chronicles my relationship with gender and the early stages of my gender transition. One of my aims was to confuse my gender variance and trans-identification with consumer culture’s promise of providing the power to choose and create identity.
Jai Arun Ravine is the author of the chapbook IS THIS JANUARY (Corollary Press, 2010), creator of the choose-your-own-gender adventure graphic novel THE SPIDERBOI FILES and a Kundiman fellow. A trans/gender/queer, multi-disciplinary writer, dancer, visual and performing artist of mixed Thai and white American heritage, Jai received an MFA in Writing & Poetics from Naropa University and a BA in Interdisciplinary Studies from Hollins University.
For more information, visit http://jaiarunravine.wordpress.com/spiderboi
What are you honestly willing to give up?
It takes all kinds of things to keep our communities alive, truly a diversity of tactics. i recognize this, and am not going to shit on people who are trying, in their grief, in their own ways, to help, even if i think it sometimes has more to do with making adults feel better than supporting queer youth. That’s not what this is about. (Nor do i think that is what critiques of the It Gets Better campaign are all about either, but i digress). This is about my take on it, my needs, desires, hopes. They’re not mutually exclusive. And saying this doesn’t mean i want queer kids to die or don’t understand the gravity of the situation, or am somehow not taking my place and my privileges into consideration, all critiques lobbed at folks who have spoken about their concerns regarding this campaign. There are many things i don’t understand. As someone who never had computers as a kid, who did not exist in a computerized world in the 70s and 80’s, i definitely don’t understand the impacts that has today. i don’t know what it is to be a kid in school, right now. No clue. So much more i don’t understand based in my white privilege. This place of privilege and hurt and understanding and not understanding is where i’m coming from. And so very importantly, this place of being a member of the group of people who have the legal right to control what youth have access to, is where i am coming from. Let’s be honest about our place as adults in these conversations.
i don’t support or fight for marriage rights for queers, not because i want fellow queers to suffer, but because i want more people to have access to the privileges, not just a specific set of folks, such that they cease being special privileges at all. So i fight a broader fight. And i don’t want to tell youth to wait for shit to get better only once they graduate high school, i want to contribute to making it better in the here and now. i’m not suggesting anywhere here that folks who are saying “It Gets Better” are only saying that or only doing this one thing, because i’m quite sure that couldn’t be further from the truth. But personally, this is not my focus. And since we’re not competing here, but having a dialogue about our various focuses and opinions on that, let’s do just that.
Let me tell you i’m tired of this future-tripping-as-sage-advice that’s floating around of late. How about: “You ARE Strong”? Like, right now. Not 10 or 5 or 2 years from now at some magical point at which everything will apparently change. And not based in my adult, white, male-passing, North American presumptions about what strength and survival look like or how they manifest? Or better yet, how about “You Don’t HAVE to Be Strong To Be Respected and Not Assaulted”? What about “You Can Be Strong, Weak, Both, Conflicted, Confused, Sure-As-Shit, and You Will Still Have My Solidarity”?
i understand the point of the campaign is to get fewer queer kids killing themselves. But when people like (and unlike) me are going around telling kids to wait through abuse for freedom and solidarity, this has never and will never be the generalized result, IMO. What it does is tell kids that where they are at right now is a phase, a stage, and that they just need to knuckle down and take it. And you know how well many queers respond to that. The former is condescending, unfair, and not an accurate reflection of our lives, and ultimately shuts down conversation, while the latter is just plain cruel.
And when people like Dan Savage out trans people against their will, i’m unsure to what degree he hopes that will help trans kids stop killing themselves, but i suppose that’s too off-topic and “not getting the point” as well. i’m unsure to what degree a trans queer kid is supposed to listen to people like him and take comfort. As if kids need more adults to prove we are hypocrites. Too many folks don’t understand or accept that youth see us adults. They know our bullshit, they know our game. The internet has i’m sure only intensified this understanding for those with access to it.
But my point isn’t to pick at this and similar projects.
i’m no longer in school, so i speak from this place only and from memories of my life then. But i don’t respond well to being told to wait through pain, abuse, silencing, rage, self-deprecation, and isolation. Would you tell your sister to wait? Would you tell your friend to wait, because their partner is going into therapy and will stop being an asshole real soon, promise? Or that at some point, 6 years down the road, they will be given societal permission to leave, and then it’ll all be better? Why would i do this to a kid? Perhaps i’d do it if my story told me to, if things did indeed get better after some predetermined amount of time and i believed people all have access to the same possibilities and resources. But they didn’t and i don’t.
Instead of killing myself, i stuck around because i had the resources to stick around. i self-injured pretty intensely as a kid, and i did it in isolation, in silence, in private, in shame. It hurt me, but it kept me alive. Too few adults would ever recognize that as a legitimate survival tactic, one that i had devised on my own, one that i utilized when i could, one that kept me alive. i also drank, in private or with my parents, in my teens. Few adults would recognize that as a legitimate coping mechanism for kids. But it allowed me to numb the pain of being a survivor of abuse, and of being queer and trans without adequate words or safe space to speak to it, of being poor and newly disabled in my early teens; alcohol allowed me to numb all of that enough to go on. And it did get “better”, in terms of how i dealt with it, but not before it got worse. A lot worse. Making claims about it getting better wouldn’t have helped me. It wouldn’t have inspired or spoke to me about anything but silence; a silence that i had been busy cultivating and expanding since i was two years old. That those were the two main coping mechanisms i had spoke less about my innate ability as a kid to know what was right for me, to support and love and rally round, than it did to the sheer inability/unwillingness of adults to help me; their hypocrisy, their cluelessness.
There were things adults did that helped me. To escape and get out what was going on for me, i wrote, a lot. i wrote poetry and made up political reports. My parents, while not understanding what i was writing (most of which i never shared with them anyways), supported me in that by getting me a typewriter at a yard sale when i was like 15. i also played guitar, and while we were broke, my family supported me with that too. There was a guitar in our home, and while i often felt not good enough, the opportunity was there to play. i bought my first guitar when i was 7 years old, from a family friend for just under $50. i had been saving almost every scrap of change i could find, since i was 6, allowance ($1 a week or so), anything i could do, returning beer empties with my dad, anything, to save up to buy this guitar. The only reason i got it was because i had access to these pennies, and because my uncle asked me “how much have you managed to save?” and when i told him he said “well that’s amazing, because that’s how much i’m selling it for!” He took my change, handed me the guitar, and i learned how to play and learned how to survive. It was me, but i had the resources made available. This isn’t some tale of a kindly philanthropist helping the poor kid so they can “be all they can be” and not off themselves, this is about acknowledging the privilege of having some resources available to me. You see what i’m saying here? It wasn’t just about holding on, about my personal strength, about pulling myself up by my proverbial bootstraps.
My message to youth is not to “hold on”, “wait it out”. i want them to stick around, believe me. It breaks my fucking heart to know the reality they’re enacting. Breaks. My. Heart. But i’m not going to tell them lies. i’m not going to pretend to have answers. And i’m not going to pretend they don’t. What’s that saying? “We are the experts on our own lives”? Yeah.
i don’t want to offer hope based in one persons experiences. i want to support them finding their own hope if they want it, they’re own resiliencies, their own powers, and i want to get the fuck out of their way while they do it. i don’t want to tell kids to wait and it’ll get better. i want to be able to honestly tell them i’m doing what i can to help so that they don’t HAVE to wait. i want to tell them i don’t understand what they’re going through, but i’ve had my own shit, and am trying to understand. And i want to tell them that even in my ignorance, if i never understand, i’m going to keep doing what i can because it’s important to me that queers and trans people and fatties and gimps and folks of colour and poor kids and everyone else who has ever been fucked with, survives and thrives on their own terms. i want to go to the rallies they can’t go to yet and support the ones they can, go to the events they’re barred from based on age, to raise money to go towards projects which they have said help them. i want to, when i’m able and invited, to support but not dominate spaces which don’t bar them. i want to not speak for them, but give up some of my own space to them if they want it so they can speak and do for themselves. Yes i want them to know they’re not alone, but i don’t want to deny their lived realities that they so often are.
Instead of offering advice, i ask myself this: What am i willing to give up in order to help? Because that is surely what this is about, as it is about any hugely diverse group of people seeking liberation, voice, relief, community, understanding, love, friendship, solitude, peace of mind. As a gimp, i am under precisely zero illusion that in order to get what i need to be ok someone else will not need to give something up. They will. Society will. Whether folks wish to acknowledge it or not, that’s how this shit works. i’m not going to tell kids all they need to do is hold on. That’s not all they need, and they have been telling adults that for as long as time.
What are you honestly willing to give up?
Edited to add: i’m going to add this, because the flipside comes up a lot in the discussions around the campaign: Many supporters of this campaign are saying that this kind of messaging HAS to happen, that youth HAVE to hear these messages, and that they will add to the saving of lives. And i’m just here to say that while that may well be true for some, in my case at least it wouldn’t have. This messaging about it getting better in 5, 10 years would not have saved my life, it would have been the nail in my coffin. What kept me alive was pretending that the shit i was dealing with was only going to go on for another day, because i could only cope with one day at a time. And maybe others can stretch that out to mean over years via this campaign, and that’s great. But we’re not competing here, and other perspectives are as important as any other. The perspectives of kids who would not be saved by this campaign are important. The perspectives of those kids who would off themselves after hearing “wait 7 years, it’ll all be cool then and you can go to France” knowing full well they’re not going to France, they’re probably not even going to get out of the town, the housing project or the fucking tent they live in; those perspectives are important too. That’s where critique comes in, and in a dynamic varied community trying to make connections to “youth” who may or may not feel or be part of that community for so many reasons, that needs to be ok.
And “youth” are not a monolith. “Youth” are a hugely diverse bunch, certainly were “when i was young”, and i’m sure that’s not changed. There is no all encompassing One Message That “Youth” Need to Hear. That’s why i love all the critiques of this campaign, especially the critique from “youth”. i don’t believe Dan Savage figures this kind of thing is all it takes, but the backlash against the critiques of it are troubling to me. What’s wrong with critiquing this? What is so sacred about it that it’s above critique? Critiquing it doesn’t mean people want queers or those perceived as queer to die. It means we want more. It means we’re doing more. It means we recognize different perspectives, the complexities, and don’t want to make a monolith out of a molehill, so to speak. That’s a good thing! When people stop questioning, that’s when i really worry.
Femme on Fem
scratch up my back as breathless whispers of my masculine name,
reach closer than I can see in this charcoal sight.
I only feel heat.
My back is a canvas,
Worn and weeping for eager claws,
That match her bleeding fingertips.
An hour earlier I patiently watched her paint those nails the colour of my wounds.
her sharp strokes.
Now she is painting me.
And tearing me to pieces
Releasing me from my shell, she says, so I can be free.
but she is only toying,
I consent since she understands my forced biology (better than I think she does).
She recognises my history,
As it is also her(own)story.
you see our bodies share the same heritage.
Our ancestors have walked, ridden, sailed and flown into the unknown,
speaking in forgotten, infused tongues that we now entwine in lust.
We have also travelled through time and transcended identities in order to survive,
in the same directions but with different lines and curves.
We explore each other s contours,
Tightly tracing each other,
without breaking contact.
We have crossed many unspoken borders barbed with sharp wires, forbidden laws that cut us up.
We are in the same skin, trying desperately to escape,
whilst at the same time nourishing our beautiful coats as best as we can so that it shines like it is supposed to,
like it should,
as it would,
under the sun of ‘other’ landscapes,
where we truly belong,
but do not know anymore.
We are the same… but we are not. Two marooned islands that we call fem/me.
A mirage of flesh on flesh,
the same and yet not.
where I begin and she ends,
We do not see
We are myth
A story yet to be told.
Though we do not need words, or even pronouns here.
she senses my every impulse,
with a surgeons cutting precision,
but i know i can trust her much more with my transgendered body than any doctor.
my body cannot hide from her
under the folds of my gendered clothes.
But this is a dance of contradiction.
Subconsciously i move out of rhythm,
missing the repetitive beat on purpose.
She hears this tune too and for her own reasons refuses to move.
We are too complicated for this dance,
We move around each other,
To our own song
at times following,
taking instinctive turns
The signs are misleading,
but we know what to read,
how to move,
what to do,
what to say,
when we must.
While others guess and get the answers wrong, she knows to ask, when we do not even speak.
She moans when I let her. I groan as she begs me, she moans as I tease her, i groan as she makes me
advancing, retreating, dominating, submitting. caressing.
She is a woman and I am not.
Yet we share a common femininity.
Not when other’s assuming eyes are on us, for they see what they wish to see,
PLEASE SEND SUBMISSIONS TO MASCULINEFEMININITIES@GMAIL.COM
I’m finding it unusually difficult to write something for MF 3. Since the last two issues, (well I’ll try sum it up in a brief sentence!) my biological family have found out that I am transgender. They googled me and found ‘Masculine Femininities’, read it and partly freaked out with all the personal information and their discovery. I have felt exposed, which I guess is to be expected. I mean I wasn’t hiding anything or at least not well at all, leaving traces of myself around like dirty laundry, as they say.
So for this issue I started off writing something less personal and more objective, in order to protect myself, about the in’s and outs of perceptions of masculinity and femininity in the world around me, but I found it difficult not to mention certain personal accounts and experiences and relate it to something tangible. It’s just not my style but most of all I felt silenced… as well as bored to death, as if falling asleep in my own gender theory lecture. Not good, no!
That would be the exact opposite of what this zine is about so I immediately stopped and pressed the delete button. Well nearly, I didn’t scrap it all but I started again with a different attitude and those wise words that a good friend had recently reminded me of, by the great Audre Lord – ‘when we speak/we are afraid our words will not be heard/nor welcomed/but when we are silent/we are still afraid. So it is better to speak/remembering/we were never meant to survive.’
Yes, this is what this zine is about, hearing those voices that are often silenced. The first 2 issues have received such amazingly positive feedback that I felt I owed it to you and this 3rd issue. No pressure (ha).
So this is an ode to all those who should never be suffocated, forgotten or pushed out of the way, into the corner, stuck in closets or told to shut up and that what they have to say or do is not important. My love for you is strong and infinite….
My fellow femmes: Lola, Candi (Lola misses you), Ana Bolica (for amazing courage and strength)
Apphia Mythologist (for simply just understanding the things I say or think)
F-Crew (you know who you are, for keeping me (in)sane and for loads of hurting laughs)
Roh (even though you are no longer in this world you are still in this heart)
and last but not least my bio/logical families and all the readers of the first 2 issues, who have taken the time and effort to read this. This is for you…
‘We shall not be silenced or live in fear’
Please note Blogs have been taken from the internet. Some permission was gained in use of blogs but others have not. Bloggers are therefore not necessarily associated with Masculine Femininities as a publication but are examples of voices, ideas and discussions that I wanted to showcase.
An ode to Lola by Misster Scratch
….So dirty laundry makes me think of clothes and closets. Clothes to cover up gendered bodies and closets to hide them in. Except that if it’s a femme’s closet, Misster Scratch is no doubt in there looking for pretty dresses for Lola. In fact, Misster Scratch is now beyond femme partners and friend’s closets and has started his own wardrobe!
So am I or aren’t I in the closet?
I mean Misster Scratch is often in there looking for Lola. Does that mean that even though Misster Scratch spends a lot of time in closets he isn’t actually in the closet but that Lola, even though she spends most of her time escaping out of the closet, is in fact in one?! *
*Just so you know I’m speaking about these identities consciously in the third person as they are parts of myself. The danger in speaking about them or even showing them is that you may get accused of ‘multiple personality disorder’ (as I have been) which is why I actually suppressed Lola for a long time as I thought it was shameful and wrong and would only explore my femininity through my partners and only in secret i.e. in the closet which was my inspiration for writing this. However as we know well if you suppress something it WILL surface and manifest…. sooner or later!
So who is this Lola anyway?
I don’t think I’ve really asked myself that question or actually felt the need to. I try to refrain from the constant regurgitations of explanations, to mainly cis gendered people, and well it didn’t seem important to ask myself. I mean Lola is an impulse born purely out of desire and instinct. Do we always have to question ourselves? Regardless of that, I have been asked the following questions:
Is Lola a she or a he?
Why am I only Lola part time and not full time?
Am I still Scratch when I am Lola and vice versa?
Is Lola a better femme that Misster Scratch?
Why do Lola and Misster Scratch have different names when they are the same person?
Does Lola have different desires to Misster Scratch?
Why do I feel the need to be Lola?
Is Lola or Scratch a FTM or MTF?
I’m sure the list is familiar to some of you and well it goes on and on…
I’m not set to answer all those questions but what I can say is that Lola is in fact an alter ego of Misster Scratch’s. She is equal to him but doesn’t surface quite as much but generally has much more fun and is much more liberated. Y’see even though I feel essentially ‘male’ and ‘masculine’ I don’t always feel very free being that way. I probably am a bad transgender person for saying that. I have found the male world to be so harsh and alien, unless I surround myself with genderqueers, femmes or sissies, but then you also get the threat of being beaten up or attacked for that.
This year I have been attacked a few times by various males thinking I’m either a batty boy or equivalent straight young male and on their radar. I have also been targeted by police whilst in masculine Scratch mode (I was read as male of colour and in these situations I didn’t know whether it was safer to be read as male, female or transgender and of course not being able to change anything about the colour of my skin). But I have never been attacked as Lola, though I have been sexually harassed. I do notice that people will try to get away with crossing boundaries much more with Lola than they will with Scratch like being patronising and invading physical personal space and thinking if they give you something you will give them sex in return (the usual shit I was glad to escape from and have to see other femmes constantly put up with, though of course there are also many positive responses to being femme). Still, Lola doesn’t seem to be as vulnerable as Scratch, I guess this obviously has a lot to do with my perception of femininity as ‘strength’ and masculinity as ‘weakness’ and so what I put out there is what I get in return, right? That’s all fine of course until someone else (and their own perceptions) come into play and complicates things further. Lola it seems can hold onto her identity much better than Misster Scratch can. Does that make her stronger than scratch or is it just safer for Lola to stand up for herself? When she does it she is ‘feisty’ and ‘in control’ but when Scratch tries he is viewed as a trouble maker, aggressive, violent and very likely security will be called. If for some reason scratch does show his femininity (in a male expression or presentation) there is a risk he will be abused and/or beaten up for it, but Lola will not, for showing her femininity. So it’s safer to be Lola in some ways and obviously not in others? It’s true I have learnt what I can do and get away with as Misster Scratch and Lola respectively and what I can’t. So for now I need both identities, does that mean if it was more acceptable to transgress gender boundaries that I wouldn’t need to be Lola at all? But then would I have to choose between Lola and Scratch? I hope not. It still seems so hard to transgress these boundaries and categories. I’ve discovered that you can call yourself whatever cool label you want on the queer scene but it doesn’t always mean that that will be your reality. What you perceive of yourself will not always be read by others in the same way, but that goes for everyone right, just with differing levels of violence?
Y’see Misster Scratch is a combination of masculinity and femininity but he struggles as a trans-guy to express the later for many obvious and not obvious reasons such as rejection of femininity growing up when it was imposed on him by males and females alike. As well as due to a struggling desire of achieving authenticity as a transgender guy in order to be taken seriously in a world where being male generally means being big built/macho/strong/tough/masculine/having a deep voice/being hairy and having to clutch a tight grip on hormones to achieve it if you were not biologically born into this heritage. Or is it because of failing as a femme in (an ethnic) culture of extreme femininity with very successful femme role models that I did and didn’t relate to? I understood and admired our heritage which inspired me, but not its limitations or the pressure to measure up. I didn’t want to dress up or be who I was for a man or society. I didn’t even desire straight heterosexual men who instead in my teenage years I teased, led on and then dropped at my disposal. Yes I used them for my own gain to learn about my own masculinity since I was attracted to their male energy but not in the way I was supposed to. Rather, I wanted a gay relationship with gay men, a straight relationship with straight or bi women and later learnt to have queer relationships with whomever! Back then though, essentially I wanted to be femme for myself and on my own terms which didn’t seem possible and so I just buried that part of me for years and focused on my masculinity which seemed safer to express and more of whom I was, yet whilst still surrounding myself with femmes and feminists who were my ultimate adult role models after my boyhood with mainly boys.
Years have passed and now Lola is everything that Scratch wants to be and because she is more anonymous she often has more freedom to explore her femininity, on her own terms and not those ideals imposed on her from childhood, the media and so on. Quite simply Scratch was feeling stifled as a trans guy and so Lola was born out of that. Kind of like a transvestite coming out story I guess, but with a difference…
Lola embodies a ‘fuck you’ to all femme standards she has never conformed to, including imposed western ones and those unsaid rules within queer and butch-femme communities, yet embracing the standards she does feel connected to. Playing with a performative persona that can do just what she likes with her femininity. She also plays on people’s exoticisation of bodies of colour by embodying her ethnic ancestry, purging the younger scratch who had to ward off countless white men when he was perceived as a ‘young brown exotic subservient female’. Lola is a real life experiment, a vessel for liberation, summoning the Goddess of Kali before she puts on her eyelashes of destruction and lipstick of vengeance and gets ready to take on the white world she lives in. She will now quite happily put on that sari or salwar kameez that her mother would force onto her and claim the South Asian identity that she has been stripped off for being trans and queer, that is rightfully hers. Her bindi and Misster Scratch’s nose ring come together as visible symbols of heritage because she is sick of being asked if she is Italian or Spanish or insert any other white euro centric culture in the white dominated scenes she finds herself in.
So if I don’t answer your questions it is because I don’t relate to them. These are the answers I have to give. It seems I am having to answer for a lot these days and losing people I care about in the process.
I recently explained my gender identity to my aunt and she recounted a story to me from when I was 14 that I’ve heard before but she obviously thought I had forgotten or not seen the insight involved. We were on a packed train in France. I was sitting on my mother’s lap and the lady next to us interrupted us to ask how old I was. I was extremely shy and awkward as a child and so my mother answered on my behalf. The lady then announced that she was from a famous modelling agency and gave me her business card and instructed me to get in touch in a year’s time. This story had been recounted several times over the course of my growing up. It is supposed to confirm some normality in my gender when I was an obvious ambiguous child and considered a tomboy. It validates conformity of being female and living up to that title simply because I could and questions why I have chosen not to. It enacts and provides reassurance that others opinions about my body matter more than my own. It suggests that being viewed as exotic was to be embraced and not rejected in light of facing a lot of racism when I was growing up because of the country and dominant culture that I had been displaced to. But there was never any question about whether I wanted or cared about being a model, or about being female or about what kind of femininity I wanted to express or whether other people’s perceptions could be questioned or in fact were questionable.
My brother said recently, when he discovered I was transgender and wanted to be regarded as male, that it couldn’t be true as I had ‘always been femme’. This is his own perception of my forced and reluctant femininity whilst ignoring and denying the masculinity he bonded with as a child, but regardless, the simple ‘fact’ being that to him femme = female and masculine = male. Am I the only one who doesn’t get this? I didn’t explain it to him. The thing is I know a lot of people think this. There is a common trans dialogue of authenticity being judged by how you behaved and expressed gender as a child corresponding to your chosen gender identity as an adult. God forbid you were a drop dead gorgeous femme read as conforming female even if you did/didn’t feel that way and then want to become a man! (Or insert other variations of course). We don’t want people changing gender willy nilly! This will be viewed as confusion or a mistake instead of/vs. being true to yourself. I mean how often have we lied to doctors to get what we want from them in our ‘transitions’ and can we really trust their prescriptive dosages of hormonal medications when they want us to transition as quickly as possible from one gender to another to avoid any of the shameful in-between phases. I mean some of us want it to be quick but some of us would also like to explore the in between phases or are happy being gender queer, ambiguous and fluid or want to experiment with hormonal intake and our gender expressions. And we do, but we have to sell ourselves out, lie and are still treated as minors and not allowed to express our gender on our own terms even though we are adults we must seek other people’s permissions and validations. Is this the trans heritage we gain? Can we ascend from this designated path?
I swallow my aunt’s story and tell myself at least my family haven’t disowned me like some of my other friends. That they are trying to confront their ignorance and fears and for that I am also trying to be true to myself, to be myself, to allow it, even if others will not. Even if it is unsafe and violent to do so because I can’t really do anything else as I don’t know how and it wouldn’t feel right and I wouldn’t be alive that way either. They ask me where I am heading or want to be in my gender expression and they require a straightforward answer. Truth is that I am so many things and want so much and there isn’t one. I know that I don’t want my choices to come from fear or having to always think about safety. My aunt asks ‘but what do you want’ as opposed to the negative. Truth is that what I do want seems too idealistic and out of reach and that is simply to just be myself without any negative consequences, without having to think about every move I make, every outfit I wear, whether I’m carrying relevant documents and identification or protection, whether I will get work, or whether I will make it safe to my next destination or not.
For now Lola has to think about less of those things than Misster Scratch. She is my one way of surviving and challenging this oppressive world whilst still having some much needed fun.
So to all those questions that I have been asked I do want to say one more thing. I am one and all… all for one and one for all.
by Elisha Lim
/ˈmætʃ.əʊ//ˈmɑː.tʃoʊ/ informal mainly disapproving
behaving forcefully or showing no emotion in a way traditionally thought to be typical of a man
He’s too macho to admit he was hurt when his girlfriend left him.
I can’t stand macho men.
Slang Exhibiting stereotypical or exaggerated feminine traits. Used especially of lesbians and gay men.
1. Slang One who is femme.
2. Informal A woman or girl.
1.pertaining to a woman or girl: feminine beauty; feminine dress.
2.having qualities traditionally ascribed to women, as sensitivity or gentleness.
I got a tattoo a few days ago. It reads Macho at the top of my right arm. It has splashes of ink.
A sailor’s arm. Maybe a few ladies a girl in every port will come and complement it, one arm performing the word.
I am not sure any more of who I am. Years of S&M practice, a theatre degree and countless Genet books later, things dissolve so much easier than they used to. I sometimes long for the time of being an angry bisexual riot girrrl offering endless rants to my long string of lovers and drunk fucks at the end of parties. Or even the less distant days of being a queer top squatter femme dyke. I used to fit into categories so well, explain them at length, explain what they meant to me what they should mean to others why we all need them. Sanctimonious bitch, but relatively safe. Any deviance from the alternative could be squeezed out of the little boxes as long as I could argue at myself how in the end of the day the boxes were what mattered, and my energy spent on fitting into them.
And I used to hate it when people said ‘ I’m queer, shouldn’t that be enough’.
I’m queer. But that’s not enough.
I definitely am femme. But that’s not enough.
At lesbian bars, a lady.
At university, a tomboy.
At the gym, a gym queen (I’m many things but not a rabbit).
At a gay bar, a fag hag.
My mother’s daughter, lusting after academia.
My father’s daughter, endlessly baking cake.
My teenage friend’s friend, drug fuck up.
The list goes on.
I am a macho, it’s worse since I go to the gym.
I feel I can’t even theorise my gender at all anymore, even less my sexuality, just describes that it feels like waves pushing me about a bit blank it’s all words or a nice ass perhaps sometimes the pain of the treadmill replaces my libido and it’ s been better to me than all my lovers. I have dissolved.
I lost a lot of weight last year. People always used to comment about my breasts, but I always hated them. Having had many trans-men partners I felt I was probably less entitled to hating my tits because I seemed quite happy to be Id-ed as female outside of that factor. I still am, but something happened. I got really skinny. People thought I was a boy sometimes and definitely thought I was 16 (I’m 27 but 1m57). I stopped having my period I had had extremely regularly from the age of 10. Slowly the mirror was showing me a sort of imagined neutral self, and I relished the genderless figures I inevitably played in various ‘official’ performances. Relishing being un-placeable. Whether adding lipstick or putting on jeans, I felt I was adding, not emphasising. And no more breasts. I felt I was entirely choosing to be femme, that it had nothing to do with curves, that every mascara stroke and pair of high heels was a choice I was making rather than the warped image reflected by my lovers and friends. God to not hear: Your tits look great in this, ever again.
I am female, I suppose.
I am femme.
I am a feminist of sorts.
But I am not a woman.
That is what it comes down to.
I enjoy carrying theatre sets in vinyl heels, stronger than some male friends. I enjoy extremely complex cooking, ‘show cooking’. I enjoy having bitches and being the bitch, sometimes. I like being vulgar and loud. I won an arm wrestle against a tall clown the other day. He was sitting on a chair, I was squatting on thin air. I’m slightly ashamed that my cock is still hard from that victory, his surprised face at the small blonde that beat him.
And now I remember. I was a tomboy until the age of thirteen. A lot of it had to do with finances and lice, as my rough games and scratchy head resulted in torn tights and time my mother was not willing to spend combing her screeching daughter. So it was jeans and short hair, running and climbing, but also a very limited skill at skipping rope and an extremely violent manner. Boys wouldn’t play with me because I was stronger than them, ironically the tallest and biggest of my age group for years.
I had a fascination for all thing perceived as feminine: make-up, dresses-weddings for god’s sake- but every time I toyed around with these, it felt like exactly that, toying, performing or adding on beautiful shiny things and delicate demeanour to my rough and aggressive person. It was never a chore or a violation to dress in skirts, attempt heels, even plucking eyebrows for a laugh, I do not think I believed I was a boy, but it always felt a bit like a rehearsal for some possible imagined future or alternative self. The wardrobe was my costume cupboard. But then no one had told me about what breasts and period might entail. Suddenly I stopped playing the princess as I was made a woman. Secondary Sexual Characteristics. Arrived too soon and took the fun out of acting.
There is no end to this reflection. The mirror distorts and loses me, my body has betrayed me countless times, words kill and die. And so, for the while being, macho-femme/inist (and western European mongrel, but that’s another story, maybe, maybe) doesn’t seem enough but it will do, my only possible temporary concession.
With much love and respect to MF, Scratch, cakes, performance running and performance playing, all things shiny and all things heavy.
 These are all from various online dictionary definitions. Trawling through various online sources, I feel I need to add that I was shocked to discover that whilst mavcho, quite unsuprisingly came up in all its performative chracteristics, many online dictionaries still equate femininity with femaleness. Maybe I’m naïve.
So this year one important media focus and interesting debate online has been about Caster Semenya, the South African Athlete who has been subjected to horrific tests in order to discover a gender outcome. I have chosen the following blogs as I feel that they have highlighted and dosumented the story well as well as giving uncommon emotional accounts and I feel generally do justice to the discussion. It has been incredibly difficult o decide which blogs and ideas to include in this discussion as far as the Caster Semenya ‘issue’ has been claimed by many which in itself is problematic since people of colour and non conforming bodies are quite often claimed, disected, scrutinised and taken apart by usually white ‘academics’ or ‘professionals’ who often do not relate to the bodies they discuss or represent.
One example being a medical professional, Alice Dreger, stating . “And the science actually tells us sex is messy. Or as I like to say, ‘Humans like categories neat, but nature is a slob.’ ”
Another being the New York Times offensive misrepresentation of the Bantu speaking people in an article about Caster Semenya for which they submitted this apology:
Correction: August 28, 2009
An article last Friday about Caster Semenya, the 18-year-old runner from South Africa whose victory in the 800-meter race at the track and field world championships generated controversy over concerns about her sex, referred incorrectly to people in South Africa whose sex characteristics have been studied because of the prevalence of hermaphroditism among them. They are Bantu-speaking people — not “Bantus,” a term considered offensive because it was used by those in power during apartheid in reference to black people.
Unfortunately, I cannot retrieve the original article but this is one post that critically referred to it:
“The Bantu, a group of indigenous South African people, often are hermaphrodites but they do not always have obvious male genitalia, said Dr. Maria New, an endocrinologist at Mount Sinai School of Medicine.”
“The Bantu” are a language community spread across sub-Saharan Africa, the predominant language group in most sub-Saharan countries. In each, they are divided into distinct sub-groups often called “tribes.” (Thank you for not following that lead, by the way.) In South Africa, there are nine recognized “Bantu” groups – recognized to the extent that their languages are among South Africa’s eleven official languages.
I’m not sure “the Bantu” could be called “a group of indigenous South African people” in any meaningful, accurate sense. Meaningful and accurate are probably of interest to news editors.
A second point has to do with “often.” The Bantu are often hermaphrodites? How often? Perhaps a note on comparison with other [ahem] “groups” would be in order.
To be honest, it sounds an awful lot like 19th century fears/fantasies about African sexual prowess/deviance. Colonials fantasized about oversized genitals, exposed breasts, oversexed and/or rapacious men, enslaved or dominant women, desexed men… It’s a bit disturbing to have the doctor resurrect this casually and have the paper of record publish it uncommented upon.
The following blogs i have chosen stand out from the rest of what I have seen on the internet
The Caster Semenya case: sports and sexuality
20 September 2009
Eighteen-year-old South African athlete Caster Semenya has done nothing wrong. Yet she has been accused of deceiving the world about her gender. There is nothing wrong with Semenya’s body. Yet her body has been paraded in front of the world by the mass media as if she were a sideshow freak.
Semenya is a talented athlete. Yet her career is at stake.
Semenya won the 800 metres in the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) World Championships on August 19. She was accused by the international media of having won the race due to her unfair disadvantage of “really” being a man.
Semenya, like many other female athletes, has been subjected to sexist judgement of what a female body is supposed to look like.
Semenya is an intersex woman. But intersex women are not the only women who have been subjected to such scrutiny. The accusation of looking “too masculine” has always been used to degrade female athletes, including Martina Navratilova. For years the media focused on her highly developed biceps.
Semenya was subjected to invasive “gender tests” (actually testing biological sex, not gender). The test results were leaked to the international mass media. Australia’s Daily Telegraph was the first to run the story, revealing Semenya has internal testes and no womb. This may or may not be true.
If it is true, it is a discovery that would prompt any 18 year-old to do some profound soul searching about their identity, their relationship to their body, and their relationship with the world.
Ideally this soul searching would be done in the person’s own time, in their own way.
Yet for Semenya there was no question of privacy. The most intimate details of her body were revealed to the world in lurid headlines in the international mass media: “Semenya has male sex organs” (September 11 Sydney Daily Telegraph) “a woman… and a man!” (September 10 NYDailynews.com) “Is SHE a he?” (August 19 Melbourne Herald Sun).
Semenya is now traumatised and has gone into hiding. She is not the first athlete to have had this experience.
In 2006, Indian athlete Santhi Soundarajan was found to be intersex. She was stripped of her gold medal and publicly ostracised. The discovery ended her sports career and she attempted suicide.
An intersex person is somebody with male and female biological characteristics. There are many different ways this can happen.
A person with XY chromosomes can be insensitive to testosterone (Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome, or AIS). Different clusters of cells in the same person’s body can have differences in their biological sex (known as mosaicism).
A person can have XXY chromosomes rather than the typical XY or XX. There is nothing abnormal about this. It is all part of the natural variation in humans. Yet there is no clear cut dividing line between who is intersex and who is not. All of us have both “male” and “female” characteristics.
All males had female bodies once in the womb. Testosterone is supposed to be the “male hormone” and estrogen is supposed to be the “female hormone”, but all human beings produce both.
The dominant understanding of biological sex in our society is that all human beings are either male or female: there is nothing in between. The existence of intersex people exposes the falsity of this very crude notion. It shows that biological sex is a continuum.
The binary understanding of gender is certainly not universal across different cultures. Outside the West, many of the world’s people have a much more compassionate, sophisticated and realistic view.
The Bugis people in Indonesia recognise five distinct genders. They see intersex people, or “Bissu”, as a legitimate third sex. Rather than being vilified, Bissu are revered as priests. They are understood to be a combination of the other four genders, and are therefore able to mediate between them in sacred ritual.
Should intersex people be barred from sport?
It has been argued that intersex people have an unfair advantage over women in sport because they have male physical characteristics, such as a higher testosterone level. Yet such male physical characteristics have a cultural significance that is not necessarily the same as their actual effect on the body.
People with Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome often have a higher level of testosterone than non-AIS women. People with the syndrome do not develop fully fledged male bodies because their bodies respond to testosterone poorly. Their bodies produce more testosterone to compensate for the body’s poor response to it.
The AIS Support Group in Victoria says it is possible that Semenya has AIS (if the leaks to the media about her body are true). So even if Semenya’s testosterone level is three times that of non-intersex women, it does not necessarily give her an unfair advantage.
But more importantly, “maleness” is not the ultimate advantage in sport. Other factors, such as the athlete’s nutritional level, training, muscle strength and length of their legs have much more impact on sporting prowess.
Perhaps it would be more realistic to stop segregating athletes according to gender at all. Perhaps athletes should be graded according to these factors instead, as weight lifters are divided according to body weight.
There should be an end to sex testing in sport. It is a discriminatory practice used to bar intersex people from competing, and it is meaningless when there is no natural, clear cut dividing line between male and female. Many athletic organisations have some understanding of this already.
Intersex athletes are not necessarily barred from competing — only if they are found to have an unfair advantage. According to its website, the IAAF isn’t due to decide on Semenya’s case until November. In the Atlanta Olympics in 1996, eight women with Y chromosomes were allowed to compete in women’s events, said a September 9 article on the Science of Sport website.
Intersex rights, queer rights and feminism
Many “experts” have been interviewed during the mainstream media’s frenzied response to the leaks about Semenya. What’s missing are the perspectives of intersex people themselves.
In most of the world, gays and lesbians have not yet won full legal equality. In the First World, we have come far enough that our main battle now is for the right to marry.
Queers have already won many other basic civil rights: the right to work; the decriminalisation of gay sex; and the right not to be chemically castrated on the basis of a classification of our sexuality as an illness.
Intersex people, meanwhile — as well as having to fight for the right to marry — still come up against archaic laws and barbaric medical practices that belong in medieval times. Perhaps worst of all, they come up against society’s ignorance.
The gay and lesbian struggle sets a precedent for other sexual and gender minorities. Inspired by this historical example, intersex people in the US began politically organising in the mid 1990s in the Intersex Society of North America (now defunct).
Previously isolated intersex people found each other over the internet and developed support networks, which became politicised over the issue of intersex genital mutilation.
It is still a standard practice in the United States and Australia that if a baby is born with a penis deemed too short by the doctor, or a clitoris deemed too long, it is amputated. A US group calling itself “Hermaphrodites with Attitude” formed to campaign against this barbaric practice. They picketed hospitals and medical conferences.
Intersex activists have not yet won an end to this genital mutilation. But there have been some positive outcomes from their campaign. Opinion about the practice is now divided in the medical community.
The campaign for equal marriage rights is today mobilising more people than any other queer rights campaign. Legislation discriminating against same-sex couples having the right to marry also commonly discriminates against intersex people.
Most intersex people identify either as male or female. Intersex people who are legally identified as male or female can marry the opposite sex. Yet a minority of intersex people do not identify as male or as female but as androgynous. These people, as well as intersex people who are same-sex attracted, are denied the right to marry by legislation that defines marriage as between a man and a woman.
The campaign for equal marriage rights is commonly seen as a “gay marriage” campaign, yet we could do a lot more to embrace the concerns of intersex people. This would strengthen the unity of the campaign, and could increase the political confidence of intersex people.
In Australia, the next round of rallies for equal marriage rights will be on November 28. Organising committees should encourage intersex activists to speak. Other speakers should also be conscious to address intersex issues, including Semenya’s story.
The ostracism of Semenya doesn’t just affect intersex people. Gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people are affected too. Semenya’s ostracism reinforces the rigid notion of binary gender, a notion that excludes all of us. In Australia, we have a particular responsibility to defend Semenya because it was the Australian media that led the world in ostracising her.
This is also a feminist issue. The incredible scrutiny under which women athletes perform, the media commentary about their supposed “masculine” bodies, and the pressure put on them to assert their “femininity” — by say, posing nude in men’s magazine’s — has nothing to do with their strength as athletes. It is related to society’s commodification and sexualisation of women’s bodies, and its unwillingness to recognise diversity.
Friday, September 18, 2009
This is an outpouring of love for Caster Semenya. Wrong is not her name. What is wrong is the way she has been treated in global media. As three queer women, we have struggled with our own relationship to the feminine as it has been constructed in mainstream society. As a black woman set adrift in a sea of whiteness, it was hard to see myself as beautiful. My curves and skin color made me unattractive in my world. As a white, feminine woman who is also intersex, I have struggled hard to come to peace with my body. Doctors and the world around me have told me I am defective or have denied my existence entirely. As a disabled Korean adoptee, I grew up as an outsider, rarely seeing people who moved like me or reflected me in my community or in the media. I was constantly told that my body was something that needed to be “fixed;” that it was “wrong;” and that it, that I, was “undesirable.” We engage with each other as comrades, three queer women uniquely shaped by our lived identities and experiences. We were the odd ones out, queered by our bodies, but later we claimed our queerness with fierce intention and pride. Now we choose our difference, embrace what sets us a part from a constrictive mainstream. It is for these reasons that we feel a deep kinship with Caster Semneya. Her story unfolded internationally without her consent and knowledge. We write to right wrongs done to someone whose only crime was daring to be all that she is.
My quirky black girl heart is breaking for Caster Semenya, the South African runner who has lived her life as an athletic woman until the IAAF decided she was just too good to be all female and did some probing to find the “truth.” Now she’s in hiding and on suicide watch, her genitalia, sexual organs and hormone levels the subject of a global discussion and dissection before she’s had a chance to make sense of it all. Did I mention she’s 18? Unfortunately, this is nothing new in the world of sports, women’s lives destroyed because their remarkable performances caste doubt on their femininity. “Real” women aren’t that fast, that strong, that masculine.
Black women have long been portrayed as masculine and inappropriately feminine in popular media with athletes particularly targeted for their muscles and physical prowess. Earlier this year Sarah Gronert, a white tennis player, was being harassed by other coaches and players because she was believed to be intersex. Calls were made for her to be removed from competition but no such action occurred. “There is no girl who can hit serves like that, not even Venus Williams,” said the coach of one of her rivals. Black women are (barely) women but Gronert, though described as “beautiful” in more than one article, surpasses the limit. Too much, Too good. Note: Gronert is ranked No. 306 in the world.
And everyone (I guess now including me) feels the need to add their two cents to the fray. An article I read wanted to claim Semenya in the realm of queer and trans identity and even went so far as to say that the comparison made by the South African Government between Semenya and Sarah Baartman was simply a nationalistic one. A more apropos comparison, the author opined, would be Billy Tipton, a female born singer who lived his life as a man until he was discovered in death. Billy was “outed” by medics who were attempting to save his life which is not at all like Semenya, an 18 year old girl who was outed not as trans but as a “hermaphrodite” to the whole world. An intersectional lens is needed. Pieces of Semenya’s story need not be parsed out for the advancement of singular movements.
The feigned concern for Semenya on behalf of the IAAF is perhaps the most disturbing. After performing tests, lying about what they were for and then leaking the results, they revealed that they hadn’t yet gotten in touch with her. They aren’t ready to discuss the findings though they were published in papers around the world. This is after an initial professed need for urgency because there are “risks” associate with her “condition.” The audacity to test Semenya after accepting the South African certification for her to compete is indicative of the racist and imperialist ideology of the organization. The IAAF had to check on the SA sports authorities as if they were incapable of making that determination. The paternalism of the IAAF’s concern must be pointed out as they claimed to be acting in Semenya’s best interest.
And doesn’t all of this call professional sports practices into question? Why do we persist in validating a two sex binary and a gender dichotomy when we are repeatedly reminded that these divisions are limiting and not reflective of natural human diversity? What does it mean that the word “hermaphrodite” can be used in news articles as a legitimate term in 2009?! How is it possible within the context of the supposed proliferation of women’s studies that more people aren’t aware that the sex binary does not accurately reflect the diversity of human bodies? How does a common human variation become a freakish spectacle for the world to consume, again and again?
Our refusal to accept the biological reality of more than two sexes and more than two genders has driven someone to (possibly) contemplate ending their own life. Why won’t we let Caster Semenya be great? It’s time to look within ourselves and see how our own beliefs and behaviors support the myth of a two gender, two sex world. I feel like if I had been doing my job or my discipline had, this wouldn’t have happened. That people around the world would understand that it is not as simple as male and female, not as easy as man and woman.
I want to call on communities not to repeat the IAAF’s mistreatment of Semenya by partitioning her story and using her to make claims for your particular group. Black people have called out the racism and some of the sexism that is swirling in the press but still use offensive ableist language that is indicative of a certain distancing from female masculinity and a subtle homophobia. More than one group has taken up her story as a new Raison d’être for the cause of gender and sexuality. The way she has been treated in the media and by the IAAF is racist, sexist, queerphobic, ableist, imperialistic, all at the same time. May this incident be the impetus to ensure that this never happens again and a rallying cry for intersectionality in our movements so that everyone acts with the understanding that their humanity is linked with someone else’s.
When news first leaked allegedly confirming that Caster Semenya is intersex, my stomach dropped. I began to brace myself for the onslaught of offensive ignorant media and blog coverage and it didn’t take long to appear. In fact, within the hour that the story broke, I received an email from a CBS producer calling Semenya a “hermaphrodite” and requesting my presence on their live morning news show as I “have the same condition.” The word “hermaphrodite” (which is inaccurate, misleading, and offensive) was used in most of the articles I have read and immediately the inappropriate speculation about Semenya’s body, hormones, and chromosomes began.
Intersex is a set of medical diagnoses that feature “congenital anomaly of the reproductive and sexual system.” Intersex people are born with chromosomes, external genitalia, and/or internal reproductive systems that are not considered “standard” for either male (penis, testes, XY chromosomes) or female (ovaries, vagina, uterus, XX chromosomes). Intersex is a fairly common occurrence. It is estimated that 1 in 2000 babies are born obviously intersex. That number does not include the large number of people who are diagnosed as intersex later in life (myself, and perhaps Semenya included.) Intersex people’s bodies have historically been, and continue to be, viewed as “social emergencies” by doctors. When discovered at birth in most Western countries, unnecessary cosmetic surgery is performed on the majority of intersex babies to force them to conform to either male or female aesthetic binary standards. These surgeries often require multiple follow-up repair surgeries and are ridden with complications. Obviously, an infant can not consent to having surgery, and adult intersex people are often haunted by a lifetime of these unnecessary procedures that rob them of their sexual sensations and have long term affects on their ability to feel present and safe in their bodies.
When an intersex diagnosis is made later in life, surgery is often pushed as a necessary and expected solution. The idea of a person whose body does not fit the narrow standard for male or female is unthinkable and unacceptable under the current medical and social model.
Multiple public genital examinations are standard for most intersex people in doctor’s offices and medical schools. Pictures of naked intersex children and adults fill medical text books and journals with a black bar across the individual’s face in a weak attempt to preserve their anonymity. Many intersex people struggle with severe post traumatic stress from these public genital displays, multiple surgeries, and genital exams. When a person is either open about being intersex or is outed, as appears to be Semenya’s case, our bodies are again put on a type of public display. People seem to think they have the right to see pictures of our bodies, ask intimate details about our genitals, how we have sex, etc. People feel they have the right to have speculative conversations about intersex people’s bodies in a way few other groups ever experience. It is no one’s business what Semenya’s genitals looks like, what her gonadal tissue consists of, what her chromosomal make-up is, or how much testosterone her body produces. My website, which features my writing and information on intersex, has always gotten the majority of hits via people searching for pictures of intersex people’s genitals. I wrote a blog some time back addressing the problems with this “curiosity.” Before the Semenya’s story broke, I got between 40 and 50 hits a day. Since then, my hits spiked to over 500 a day and haven’t dropped much lower since. With very few exceptions nearly every single search sending people to my site was for pictures of intersex people’s bodies and specifically, their genitals. The fact that people think they have a right to access the bodies of Semenya and other intersex people is the direct result of many years of historic exploitation and medical abuse of intersex people.
Intersex people exist and have existed for as long as humans have. Intersex is a natural variation in sex. Despite what most of us are taught, sex is not a binary (and neither is gender!) Binary sex segregation has always caused problems for many of us who do not easily fit into one of two boxes. Semenya is as much a woman as any non-intersex woman is. One’s gender identity isn’t contingent on what is in their pants or what their chromosomal make-up is. The IAAF has no right to penalize anyone for being intersex. The fact that it is still acceptable to put individuals through these types of “gender” tests, is disgusting. Further, the fact that they did not go to great lengths to preserve her safety and privacy during this matter is absolutely sickening and unforgivable.
I was 15 when I found out that I had been born with an intersex body. I was initially misdiagnosed, given an unnecessary and painful surgery, underwent multiple genital exams with multiple doctors and other medical staff and students, and was told that my body was unacceptable, freakish, and in immediate need of correction. This experience was incredibly traumatic and shaming for me. This was NOT due to being born with a body that doesn’t fit what is deemed “normal” for a girl or a woman, but was a result of being told that my body was “wrong” and needed to be fixed. It was due to doctors medicalizing this variance in my body and treating it as if it were a true medical emergency. On the larger scale, my shame was a result of living in a world that refuses to accept the fact that sex is a social construction that exists (and always has existed) outside of the binary. I had lived the 15 previous years perfectly happy in my body. Fortunately for me, I discovered the intersex movement 3 years post-diagnosis and was able to finally work through the shame and embarrassment I had felt. I was able to get angry at the system that told me I was a freak, a mutation, an accident, defective, and unacceptable. Through this, I began to learn to accept and love my body again. I was lucky enough to escape surgery and have learned to not only love the body I was born with, but feel pride in it.
With all of the attention Semenya’s story has received, one can’t ignore the impact of race and white supremacy on how the situation has been handled not only by the IAAF, but by the international media, and individuals discussing it around the world. White and western ideas of gender most certainly had an impact on the way Semenya has been treated and the reasons her sex was called into question in the first place. Gender standards of how a man or a woman should look and act are based on white/western standards of beauty and gender roles. Women of color who deviate from white/western ideals of how women should look and act often have their gender and femininity called into question. Further, white supremacy has historically created a sense of entitlement in white people to the bodies of people of color. White people feel entitled to gawk at, interrogate, and investigate the bodies of black people. Not surprisingly, many comparisons have been made between Caster and South African slave Saartjie Baartman who was known as the Hottentot Venus in the early 1800s. Baartman’s body was literally paraded around Britain during her life and even after her death for the eyes of white Europeans.
My heart goes out to Semenya. I can’t imagine how it would feel to find out that you are intersex from reports that were leaked into the international media. I have struggled heavily over the past week with whether it is even appropriate for activists like me to discuss the situation at all. For one, it is still speculation (Semenya’s intersex status has not been confirmed at this point); two, if it is to be discussed, Semenya is the only person who has a right to disclose such information; and three, when I was diagnosed, I didn’t want to discuss it with my closest friends and family, let alone with strangers (no matter how well intentioned). That said, it *has* been leaked and people are discussing it, and doing so in inaccurate, hurtful, and dehumanizing ways. I think it is especially important to have intersex voices speaking out in support of Semenya and against the oppressive systems that try to force intersex people into boxes and binaries that simply do not fit and never will, no matter how much shaming and surgery occurs. I hate that this successful and talented young woman has been thrust into the spotlight essentially erasing the reason we all know her name in the first place (she is a talented athlete, remember?) I hate that despite the work of the intersex movement, the majority of the world still doesn’t get it. Intersex people are your friends, neighbors, and co-workers. We have feelings, hobbies, and talents. We are not theoretical, sensational, or mythical. The stuff you say and write affects real people! I can only hope that Semenya has the support she needs to take care of herself and get through this. I hope that she can rely on the strength that is apparent in her quote to You Magazine “I see it all as a joke, it doesn’t upset me,” she says. “God made me the way I am and I accept myself. I am who I am and I’m proud of myself.”
First, a breath. For this moment, this historical moment, this moment of existence, as precious and fleeting as all moments are. For hope, even at the edge of despair. For love. For loving ourselves and each other, fiercely, even when the world tells us not to.
How do I write out my thoughts about what is happening to Caster Semenya, an 18 year old gold medal winning South African athlete who was recently out-ed to the world as intersex by the IAAF? How do I write about my rage, my pain and my fears in a way that makes sense? How do I write something that can convey how dehumanizing, violating, disturbing, offensive and heart-breakingly saddening it all is? How do we talk about trauma, as we race to try and understand all the different things that are happening simultaneously and feeding off one another? How do we acknowledge that there is a human being at the center of all of this, whose life’s work is on the line?
As someone whose body has been and is still seen as public property, to be commented on by strangers giving unsolicited advice or asking intrusive questions, to be starred at and made fun of, I fight daily to claim my body. Growing up as a disabled child, I went from doctors to brace makers from surgery to surgery to physical therapy to doctors. I ached for people who looked like me, people who moved like me; people who could tell me that my body was beautiful the way it was and no surgery would ever make me able-bodied, just as sure as no surgery would ever make me white. The idea of trying to make a brace that went from my heel to my hip that could be “hidden” beneath my clothes “so boys wouldn’t detect it,” was at once an attempt to make me more desirable by making me seem less disabled and an assumption about who should desire me and who I should desire. It wouldn’t make me more of a girl or a woman, something I never really completely understood or felt like. Women were the people who wore high heels, ran, were desired by and desired men; they got married and had kids and I never saw anyone who moved like me who was married or had kids on TV.
I see what is happening to Caster Semenya and so much of it is rooted in how we think about bodies and what gets considered to be a “normal” body. So much of it it rooted in ableism, a system that oppresses disabled people, privileges non-disabled people and maintains able-bodied supremacy. Ableism tells us how bodies should function, move, smell, sound, and look; including male and female bodies, black, brown and white bodies, queer bodies–all bodies.
What happens to Caster Semenya is connected to and impacts all women of color. After all, women of color’s genders (and bodies) are always under surveillance. Caster Semenya is not the first and she will not be the last. Santhi Soundarajan, an Indian athlete, also lost her 2006 Asian Games silver medal for failing a gender test and also found out the results of her gender test from newspaper and television reports. The twisting and wringing of individual women of color’s gender (in the U.S. and globally) reinforces the violent racist gender stereotypes about all women of color and leaves us all hung out to dry.
As disability justice activists, we must connect how ableism gets leveraged in service of heteronormativity, in service of white supremacy, in service of misogyny. Ableism gets used all the time to divide us and we must fight it at every turn. How do we begin to understand that it was Caster’s extraordinary able-bodied and gender-non-conforming abilities that threatened ableist notions of gendered bodies and propelled the exposure of her gender through the use of a medical “gender test” to expose her sex. This is not just about defining what a “woman” is, it is also about defining what a “normal body” is and what “able-bodied” is and what it is not; it is about defining what “intersex” is and what it’s not.
We must understand how the medical industrial complex and science are being used to profit off of our bodies and medicalize our genders, our abilities, and render, in this case, an 18 year old intersex South African black woman a spectacle for the world to stare at, gawk at, and examine—at her expense. We must see how this spectacle is connected to the spectacle made of disabled bodies everyday behind closed doors, in sterile white rooms, under florescent lights, in homes, at family dinners, birthday parties, a trip to the mall, to the park, down the street.
As reproductive justice activists, we must challenge the notion that women are only as valuable as our wombs and the children we are expected to produce. We must challenge definitions of “woman” and “reproduction” that exclude intersex people and work to create a movement and framework that integrates an intersex analysis in to our work.
Where are the radical women of color feminists, building homes with fierce intersex poets, forging alliances with trans and gender queer immigrant gardeners, eating dinner with queer disabled dancers, making music with southern artists? Where are our voices, bringing an intersectional, multi-issue, multi-lived politic and analysis to all of this—amidst the white media frenzy, gender binary enforcers, medical experts, athletic officials and government heads? We need more than just a gender analysis, or a nationalist racial analysis. These are opportunities to speak across the lines and tiny definitions of ourselves that keep us self-righteous, isolated and apart.
Our voices are crucial because people who reflect Caster Semenya and reflect us are listening and learning what it means to have extraordinary bodies.
To close, we want to invite everyone reading to look within themselves and ask yourself how do you know what gender you are? How do you know what sex you are? How does your race, nationality, ability, class, etc. impact how you experience your gender and your body? What are the messages you receive about your body and how it should be? Where or who did those messages come from? Ask these questions of your friends and family. Read. Learn. Open yourself up to a discussion you may not have had before this moment. Stop saying hermaphrodite! Everything in society that we think of as static is something we created and we don’t have to support ideologies that aren’t useful to us. We can create a world where all bodies, where all people, are celebrated, loved, and cherished.
We are not wrong. She is not wrong. Wrong is not our name.
Match Points? September 14, 2009
By Jack Halberstam
In the 1980’s I remember watching John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors and other bad boys of tennis throw their racquets around, yell at referees, jump up and down in anger on the court and generally vent like spoiled schoolboys about a missed shot or a lost point. McEnroe’s favorite cry of disappointment – “You cannot be serious!” – even became a popular catchphrase. People thought of this behavior as “passion,” as evidence that white male American players in particular were invested in the game, and on-court outbursts stood as proof of a kind of emotionality that made the player “human” as opposed to the robotic coldness of a Scandinavian player like Bjorn Borg or the explosiveness of an Eastern European player like Ilie Nastase. Last night when Serena Williams was called for a foot fault at 5-6 and 15-30 in the second set, when she was already down a set, she turned to the line judge and directed a few choice words of disbelief her way. Later Serena Williams commented at a press conference that she had almost never been called for a foot fault in her whole career, let alone at such a crucial point in a match at the US Open. After Serena’s outburst, the line judge, an Asian American woman, approached the chair umpire and complained that she felt threatened by Serena! The big wigs were called onto the court and Serena was given a point penalty that, at match point, gave Kim Clijsters the match. This was a terrible call, a terrible moment for women’s tennis and more evidence of a double standard in sports around male and female behavior and in relation to what is perceived as racially specific conduct.
As Tavia Nyong’o commented in his superb blog on Caster Semenya: “World-class female athletes have long made people anxious, particularly gorgeously muscle-bound black ones.” What was true for Semenya might be true for Williams – the public and the media has no neutral language with which to describe and explain the extraordinary performances of Black female athletes. Black female athletic performances that are, literally, beyond the pale have tended to solicit suspicion and disdain while white female athleticism, especially when it is packaged in a Playboy ready form, receives acclaim and respect. It is no secret that the Williams sisters in tennis have had a love-hate relationship with the media and the public, nor that Serena in particular has been berated for her “masculine” physique. In fact, in February 2009, The Huffington Post ran an interesting op-ed on the omission of the Williams sisters from the 2009 Australian Open’s “list of the 10 most Beautiful Women” in the tournament. The list was topped by Jelena Jankovic and included more than one blond Russian. The absence of Venus and Serena from this list spoke volumes about the misplaced emphasis in women’s sports, and women’s tennis in particular, on appearance over performance but it also implicitly referenced the lurking charge of “lesbianism” or “gender transgression” that hangs over many a performance of female athletic excellence. The recent case of Caster Semenya is just the latest in the long history of gender confusion in relation to women’s sports and Serena Williams’ outburst illuminates the treacherous path walked by female athletes who compete at the highest level, blow away the competition and refuse to or simply cannot conform to normative standards of female beauty.
Again, as Tavia noted in his analysis of the freak show attitudes provoked by Semenya’s extraordinary athleticism, virtuosity is both compelling and confusing to people. Many, many athletes who win at the highest level of competition also have some unique physical attribute, what NYT sports writer Maurice Chittenden calls a “freakish advantage” (http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/article555183.ece). In an article from 2005 on top athletes and their physical oddities, he notes that Michael Phelps, the US swimming champion, has outsized feet that work like flippers; the same was true of Ian Thorpe. David Beckham has “bandy legs” that help him to put curves into his kicks; Lance Armstrong has very low lactic acid levels so his legs can keep going and going. And so on. Sports champions are often, literally, freaks of nature, so why we would stumble over the spectacle of a woman with a six pack but not a man with size 17 feet? Obviously, the boundaries for female athletic virtuosity must not leave the domain of acceptable femininity where femininity is too often defined in opposition to athleticism, activity and aggression.
So while the female body draws negative attention for athleticism that tips into muscular masculinity, behavior and conduct for female athletes is also judged according to a different set of rules. When Serena Williams cited John McEnroe and his antics as an influence for her own on court passions, McEnroe quickly distanced himself from her and suggested that she had crossed lines he would never have even approached. In fact, almost any kind of showy behavior by athletes of color draws negative attention while almost any kind of bad behavior from white athletes is thought of as “spirited.” When Justine Henin showed terrible sportsmanship at the French Open in 2003 by not backing up Serena Williams’ complaint about an obvious missed call, the French crowd began to boo Williams instead of Henin and Williams became so unnerved that she went on to lose the final set after having led 4-2. The headlines after Serena’s defeat and the hideous display of group racism within the crowd, crowed about the end of Serena Williams’ unbeaten run. When a Williams sister wins easily, it is called “boring”; when she fights hard, she is labeled erratic; when Venus or Serena question a call, they are charged with petulance but when they are don’t, they are pegged as indifferent to the sport.
Tennis has often been cast as the sport of ladies and gentlemen. It is implicitly a class bound activity that favors the kids who grew up with tennis courts in the backyard and expensive coaches. Much has indeed been made of the humble beginnings of the Williams sisters who spent the first years of their life in Compton, LA before moving to Florida and training with other teen tennis stars. Implicit in all of the coverage of the Williams’ family—including their mother Oracen and their father Richard—is that somehow, the Williams just don’t behave properly in the dignified world of tennis. When Venus won Wimbledon in 2000, her father danced in the stands shouting: “Straight out of Compton!” When Venus started a clothing line, it was seen as a distraction from tennis; in general, Venus and Serena’s outfits on court have been seen as unbecoming to the game and they are both characterized as excessive, too much, more spectacle than tennis.
Just to put the focus on Serena Williams’ behavior in perspective, imagine a discussion about Roger Federer’s effeminacy in relation to his designer sports wear or his tendency to cry when he loses. Imagine a real interrogation into the fist-pumping behavior of all kinds of white American tennis players who leave their sportsmanship in the locker room and resort to “mission accomplished” tactics while crushing opponents who have often learned to play tennis in far less rarefied and privileged circumstances. In fact, the most recent fist-pumping, great white hope for US women’s tennis, Melanie Oudin, a nineteen year-old blond pony tailer, has been discussed as a “Cinderella” figure, as someone who will single-handedly rescue US women’s tennis! This Cinderella story consigns Venus and Serena to the role of the “ugly sisters” and promises a new queen, a palatable tennis princess and a return to tennis whites.
The F word : Misster Scratch
I have many words, but they do not belong to me. I have many identities but I do not belong to them. Somehow I’d like to be able to communicate how I feel and who I am, using both, just as everyone else in this zine has done. I’ll go first and get it over and one with.
One of my favourite words is the F word.
In the last few weeks I have unwillingly come off testosterone. At the same time I have been consciously and willingly feminising, though I still consider myself masculine, that hasn’t changed. Coincidently, I have been told, amongst various things I dislike, that I am not ‘man enough’ both directly, and in directly from strangers and those I am close to.
These things aren’t related, it’s just the way things happen sometimes. I have been unwell, wanting to express my newly arisen un-closeted femmeness but having difficulties with people’s expectations. Maybe they are related? Things are connected, whether it’s conscious or not. Right?
It’s got me thinking about who I am and where I come from? (the dreaded question I absolutely dislike others asking me, which I frequently get asked by curious people needing to know what the colour of my skin corresponds to rather than who I really am and y’know that goes for all those gender questions too).
I want to think about my conscious and subconscious choices. I blame my therapist, of course. But still I’m thinking…
Who would I have been if I had had a father and not just a mother growing up?
If I had known my father and some decent male role models would I still be such a feminine boy?
What if I hadn’t had been abused and lived in a women’s only refuge, would I be more of a straight macho guy instead of the sissy femme?
Or are all these questions something that transphobic wider society asks me? The world I try not to live in but sometime find I have to connect to. These questions reek of sexist assumptions perpetuated by the media, that our non conforming gender identities are a problem of our past and are problematic. Nevertheless, they still they preoccupy me since my past wasn’t very rose tinted. They are the same questions that my non trans brother asks himself too. Funny that. I question my masculinity and so does he.
I didn’t know my father after I was 12, but don’t even remember him after age 8 since I blocked a lot of him out. I didn’t really know him anyway. I do know he was the macho, rough and tough intellectual type, from my mother’s limited stories and photos I’ve caught a glimpse of, but not much more. My mother I know better. She was the pin up 70’s femme babe that men lusted after, also very intelligent and ambitious…Hollywood, Bollywood, she would’ve conquered them all but no, she settled with my abusive father instead.
So where does that leave me? I do not identify as, or live up to either…though at times, if I’m honest and think hard enough about it, I embody them both, without even knowing them fully, hardly.
Now the more male I look and become, the more I don’t know who I am, since I look more like my father, than my mother or my brother, who I did grow up with. I do not always recognise myself. The inside and outside do not always match either. I keep telling myself it should be the other way round? Shouldn’t I be getting closer to who I really am, like all the other tranny boys seem to be? Like they say it happens? It’s not the same for everyone. I wish it was like that, sometimes, but this year I have finally accepted it is not that way for me and so have decided to not ‘fully transition’ into someone who I will probably dislike and couldn’t face in the mirror. I do not want to look like my abuser.
These days I’m being confused as being an MTF instead of a FTM. I like it as it relates to me better sometimes and it’s refreshing to not be so caught up in a male identity. I mean does it really even matter which way I’m transitioning when I don’t really feel I’m going in any specific direction and feel as feminine as I do masculine (despite hormones). Yes the F word.
Is this making any sense?
I’m masculine but I’m also feminine. I’m a Transvestite who likes to wear mostly women’s but also sometimes men’s clothes. I’m transgender with transsexual tendencies as I don’t really wish to live in my given body and want some masculinising changes to it since it is predominantly female, which doesn’t fit who I am well enough. I often fantasise that I was born with a male body (I feel it if I don’t look in the mirror and when I have sexual intimacy) but I know I would still be feminine even if I was born into a male body. But on the same hand I don’t want to change too much of my female body either, with surgery I mean. Though I do like taking testosterone, I love how it makes me feel but it doesn’t make me who I am (I’ve realised that now I have stopped, after being on a mild form for a year which did make quite a few considerable changes!). Hormones make the outside world change its perception of you and that really helps passing and people taking you seriously when you become accustomed to being undermined. But that is not why I took them. They made me feel elated, much more stable and much more secure with myself which is what I mainly enjoyed. Some people don’t understand me coming off and on them again since they think you shouldn’t play with them but I like to experiment. I feel that is healthy for me.
Really I don’t want to be a man or a woman, my father or my mother. I don’t think I ever could be a ‘real man’ or ‘man enough’ or for that matter a ‘woman’ or especially a ‘lady’, but I do think of myself as both male and femme. The only time I prefer to be considered solely male or female is when I’m using the bathroom. The only time I wanted to be genderless or gender free is when it comes to ID or filling in forms and job applications. The only time I wanted to be completely male was when I was about to have sex with a heterosexual female person who thought I was one, but I’ve never wanted to be female, that’s the only thing I’m ever certain of. But maybe that will change? Who knows? Does that make me less trans or less of a feminist? I disagree.
Is this still making sense?
I’m not confused; I’m just a different kind of a guy. A trans guy, not a woman. Someone who is concerned with women’s and tran’s rights, who actually likes to be feminine and be around other femmes, regardless of their gender and regardless of the activity. Who likes make up and dressing up, getting dirty and sweaty, especially when it’s well paid, as well as releasing my aggression, tension and desire with sport , exercise and the occasional sexual practice. These are all gender expressions to me. Who said femmes are not versatile and are boring?! Why then are we so often ignored or dismissed?
People are always confused though, asking me if I am a girl or a boy after they have looked me up and down like I’m not even there. People call me ‘he’, ‘boss’, ‘geezer’, (rarely) ‘sir’ a fair bit but sometimes they call me ‘she’ or a ‘girl’ not because that is what they see but what they have been socialised to believe, since in mainstream society we have to be either male or female. They don’t see either in me, or both and so they have to make a quick judgement. The stressed, pained look in their confused faces is enough for me to be able shrug it off with amusement, but sometimes it becomes abusive and that is when I want to kill the world, or worse kill myself, since abuse is not something I have been able to shrug off from childhood to adulthood. But I would never kill myself for recognition and doubt I would get any that way.
When they have plucked up the courage to ask me what gender I am I tell them ‘it doesn’t matter to me’. It’s obvious that they are not happy with that answer as it clearly seems to matter to them. What they really want to know about trans people is what we do in the bedroom, what we look like under our clothes. That often seems to define who we are as trans people, who we are as femmes…‘urgh, but what do you do in bed?…’ Well if I tell them how much I love femme cock and love to beg ‘please’ when it is offered, that when I’m with boys I lust over their bodies wishing mine was like theirs, touching them all over or wherever they let me like a good obedient boy. That I want to be their boy, their femme, their anything and everything in that moment of desire. That I like to watch the daddies with their boys so I can get hard with envy, that I willingly like to be hurt by my lover…well then I’m likely to get a fist in my face, or spat on. That just isn’t the correct answer. In fact it’s downright disgusting.
I want a daddy so bad but it’s something so unfamiliar and scares me, so I just watch instead. I used to be ashamed about this all until I found the queer scene. It’s ok to be perverted I discovered…for a while at least, but again I still haven’t been able to break away from people’s expectations of my gender and sexuality, anywhere I go.
I have found there are norms everywhere and even in the feminist, queer and trans community. There are still dominant norms just different ones.
I’m sick of people telling me who and what I should be and what I should and shouldn’t do with my body and my life. In these communities I’ve generally been ignored and rendered invisible being a trans male identified femme. It’s not something to talk about, people don’t and well people there also seem very confused. When I do talk about it and then race as well, well…is it hot in here? Do you need a drink? I really need to go to the bathroom, great to catch up with you but I gotta run…everyone just seems to want to leave! or nod silently if I’m lucky enough.
It’s hard being a minority, hard to have enough self esteem to keep going sometimes, hard to feel good about myself without relying on the attention of others. It becomes all about how other people view you and how much value they place on you since they are always telling you. I often feel like public property, like I’m being owned. I want to break free from this, to reclaim my own worth and identity in a world that despises brown people, femininity and freaks, let alone a brown feminine freak.
Since being out as a femme, people who once ‘tranny chased’ me are embarrassed they ever did, or run away when I mention the F word! When people hear femme and don’t see a bio female or a gay man they run away or laugh like it’s a joke I’m making. It used to be easier when I was in the closet about it. Then it was cute and endearing. I’d wear sexy dresses and underwear in secret and when they would find out about it it would turn them on. Now I think I hear the tumble weeds if I hear anything at all. Oh, but surely silence is still better than ‘you’re not man enough or ‘if you were a gay man id fuck you’, ‘you’re too feminine to be trans’, or ‘you’re obviously not really trans, it’s just a phase’.
Ok so this must be making some sense to someone, hopefully, or am alone in this all?
Maybe I’m just in the wrong place and the wrong time? Or maybe it’s just that everybody else is?
I know that when I read ‘Masculine Femininities’ I feel so much better. Honestly. I hope that you do too.
Notes of a Faggy Butch
What I see when I look in the mirror; a body and face that have appeared differently over the past year, my hair cut in shorter accenting jaw-line and ears, my focus on my broad shoulders and collarbone. I feel as if I have peeled away a layer in that time, or a mist that sat over myself- I appear to myself more acute, more polished and present. I never felt that I had to give up or leave any part of myself behind; I never felt that this discovering or uncovering of masculinity was in anyway in conflict with my femininity- it was more like an addition, something that came to the fore-ground, but the female did not disappear, rather the whole become rounded out, whereas a purely feminine identity had always seemed a little jarring and incomplete
Much of the importance of the “faggy boi” phenomenon which I have seen and heard blossom over that time has been that it has allowed an experimentation, in terms of body image and sexuality, with a new aesthetic; it has been sexy and self-affirming to discover the beauty of masculinity, to recognise it as expressed by myself but also as by all genders.
Identifying as “faggy” and trying on the idea of being a “faggy butch” (with all the contradiction that that seems to entail) has for me held a more overtly political meaning as well. My whole life I have experienced the kind of masculinity that seems to predominate in our culture as a source of intimidation and oppression. I come from a background of domestic violence and attempted sexual assault. I am thus always wary of emulating a kind of “macho” masculinity- I have spent far too much of my life deconstructing that masculinity to wish to perpetuate it. As I was growing up I found instead the antidote to this machismo in men who were kind and respectful of women, who went out of their way to acknowledge women even in contexts where this meant to go against the grain. In a queer context, a lot of these have been feminist gay men, and it’s been sweet to be a fag hag in a whole new way- being a “faggy butch” has felt like a way of paying homage to a part of queer culture that I didn’t feel I was allowed into before, and revelling in its joys which were secretly mine all along, like Erasure, purple and silver colour schemes, glitter, silk ties, shaved heads and eye-liner. Being a “faggy butch” has basically allowed me to embrace a future with a strong vein of masculinity running through it without compelling me to sacrifice my female and feminist past, as this would be an impossible decision to make.
It has been difficult at times. The first difficulty is in the wider reaction from some feminists. In the past I have been involved in a domestic violence help-line and domestic violence therapy project which were both women only spaces. I’m not sure if the people would be so comfortable with me working there now. If it should so happen that I was to decide that I wanted to transition, where would this then leave me in relation to my feminism? As we have also seen recently in controversies over trans-people being allowed on the Reclaim the Night March, are we to understand it that as we get closer and closer to a trans-identity we are to cut ourselves off from out feminism? What do these feminists think then happens to that part of trans-men’s histories, especially for those who have experienced domestic violence or sexual assault as women? Or their political consciousness, for that matter? That they dissolve into thin air? Too often feminist beliefs become just one other sacrifice of transition, and one that it has been difficult to negotiate as there is a need not to attack feminism as one of our allies in the face of the greater enemy of Patriarchy, but we need to think about the gravity of what we are doing here, which is denying people the right to a feminist political identification and representation, and the right to domestic violence and sexual assault services– thing that would be considered monstrous by feminists in any other context. Feminists need to consider that as a longer established discourse and as a larger minority, they hold a certain privilege in relation to trans, particularly in being the voice that defines who is a woman and who is a feminist, and that this should not be abused.
The second difficulty is in the reaction from some of my queer- femme friends. There seems to be a very specific expectation about what a butch is or should be
“ uggh, you don’t shave your legs, I can’t believe it. I’m shocked. I would never do that” would have ten years ago been the kind of standard gym changing room abuse, the revelation that would be used as hard evidence that you were a dyke. Interesting then that, minus the don’t, this is exactly what queer friends reaction to my shaved legs has been. Sometimes it feels like its more about fitting into what has become a queer convention, rather than developing the self-confidence to be who you feel good as. What would our feminist elders say?
EXCERPTS FROM MY LIFE AS A TRANS FEMME MALE
By Debra Kate
I am a trans femme male. I have known since childhood that I was probably a boy, definitely not a girl. Despite my affinity for certain elements of female attire, I was far more interested in spitting and wrestling, which for some strange reason the girls were not into. It became apparent to me fairly early on that I was going to have to ditch the dresses to get the kind of action I was looking for. It wasn’t until I came into contact with out gay men as a teenager, that I encountered a femininity which I could relate to. I learned most of my “feminine” mannerisms from fags.
The thing is, I’m attracted to masculinity, which for a large portion of my life meant – heterosexual non-trans males. And those are exactly the kind of guys who bring out my own masculinity in full force. There were plenty of disagreements over my boyish attire and inability to be a proper girlfriend, but I always knew that my girl clothes were not meant for them. I was a closet drag queen for years.
I always felt queer, but didn’t feel like I was allowed, as a “woman” who was attracted to guys, to “appropriate” that title. In Boston, I had been hanging around with a mixed crowd, queer & straight, so it wasn’t really an issue most of the time anyway; I just jumped into bed with someone if the mood was right. Straight girls were a special treat for my fragile tranny ego, because they liked boys. I never felt like a lesbian during those experiences, which further convinced me that I was not allowed to identify as queer.
KEMBRA PFAHLER – VOLUPTUOUS INSPIRATION
A big influence on my coming to terms with who I am was definitely Kembra Pfahler, the lead singer of the Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black. I met her after she performed a solo show in Boston. She was incredible! She was wearing a cheap lounge singer gown and one of her amazing self-styled fright wigs, and her skin was painted a different color. She did a number where she had these ropes tied around her ankles, which were attached to a pair of men’s shoes. When she walked, they dragged behind her, following her like a mysterious, invisible stalker. To escape the dangerous shoes, she ran into the audience, which was comprised mostly of male rock fans. They didn’t know what to make of her. She was ducking under tables and hiding among their feet. I was an instant fan. When I moved to New York, I started doing backstage work for the band.
Kembra was the first person that I ever heard refer to a biological female as a drag queen. She was talking about Theo, the lead singer of the Lunachicks, and eventually she started calling me one too. I ended up moving back to Boston, but I’d take the Greyhound bus down to New York for the big Karen Black shows and stay at her place. When she’d leave the flat to go out, I’d be all butch, but when she came home, I’d be cleaning her kitchen buck naked except for one of her boas, some glitter lipstick and my white patent leather boots. There wasn’t one time that I saw her that she didn’t call me a “closet case” and encourage me to take my hidden fashion sense out into the streets for the world to see. She took me to the Black Lips Performance Cult’s production of “Vagina”, which changed my life. From that night on, I knew what I was meant to do. It took me a few years, but once I uprooted myself and landed in a new country, I put those dreams into motion.
When I hit Germany, a lot of things began to change for me. In Boston, I had been in the music scene, but in Berlin, I headed straight for the drag shows, which, back then, showcased almost exclusively performers who were born with penises.
I heard that Wigstöckel, the big annual show, was coming up. I wanted to help out, but everyone I asked gave me the brush off. Gérôme Castell was the only one who would tell me when the setup was happening. When I showed up, she made sure that I got a task. I was allowed to paint the backdrop white. I was ecstatic.
I had been going to Café Transler shows in outfits made out of whatever I had on hand to fit the theme of the evening. For the “Depression” show, I made a wig-hat with hair that could be ripped off in a fit of anguish and then reattached via velcro for another round of theatrics. Another night, I showed up in an angel costume which I had scrapped together from an old raincoat, toilet paper and tape. I think that’s what sealed my fate. I got asked to join the troupe.
The amazing thing about Café Transler was that, despite what was going on at that time in the scene, the troupe was 100% supportive of all forms of gender expression. They were willing to look outside of the box and accept a bio girl into the fold. Later on, we added a bio king. One of our mottos was “For all genders of the world”. Another motto was “Too stupid for the stage? There’s no such thing!”
Even though we no longer perform together, Café Transler remains my family. With them, I felt the first true freedom to be myself. One time, the theme of our show was “Abschied ist ein bischen wie sterben” – Parting is a bit like dying. So, I had an MTF sexual reassignment procedure on stage. My “sex change” consisted of substituting a tiara for a captain’s hat and removing the bulge in my tights. My “stuffer” was a baby bottle and a rolled up dead fox, which once upon a time could have been clipped onto a fine lady’s collar to make her look fashionable and sleek. By the time I was pulling it out of my pants, it was mangy and moth bitten, and when it unrolled for the audience, hair flew out in all directions. I do believe that was the biggest laugh that I’ve ever gotten on stage and one of my happiest performance moments.
I can not speak for all Tunten, but my experience with Berlin Tunten is that they are similar to queens, but with an important distinction. Tunte is viewed as a form of trans identity which often has political implications. A Tunte usually uses the female pronoun. She is not, however, a transwoman, unless she also identifies as such. When I took my birth name as my Tunte name, I made a political statement that I was born a Tunte, not a girl. It is my public name, the name under which I perform and make art, and is the name that I use as a trans activist. I keep my male name, the one that I’ve known inside of me since I was young, for special occasions. I want to be recognized as a trans person and as a Tunte, and I want that recognition regardless of my physical form and pronouns.
ART & ACTIVISM
When it comes to my drag aesthetic, I have always been very influenced by ideas about how women are supposed to look. I want to stretch those ideas out like taffy and fold them back in on themselves. If a woman is supposed to wear makeup to look feminine, then shouldn’t applying more makeup make her look more feminine? If wearing lingerie makes you pretty for your man, then piling on extra layers of lingerie should be a sure fire way to achieve devastating beauty! At what point does the liberal application of femininity tip one over to the dark side of “Dude, that’s not a chick. That’s a guy!” Because that’s the world that I want to live in! My favorite look is a cross between a doll and a birthday cupcake, between a child’s drawing of an animal and a clown. Those paintings of crying children with huge eyes get me hot as well.
My photography started as a way to document my life. The images which I was seeing were not representative of what I was experiencing. They were either shots of stage shows taken from the audience or portraits of queens posing for the camera. There was so much more going on behind the scenes. On top of that, because I was in queer spaces, it was assumed that I was a lesbian and not a “real Tunte”. For this reason, I often found myself looking at a stack of photographs from a show that I’d performed in, and not seeing a single image of myself.
At some point, there was a big exhibit of photos of the Berlin drag scene. Everyone from my drag troupe was on the wall but me. There were rows and rows of Tunten and a bio king. So, basically, the “real” homos, all born with the appropriate genitalia for the pursuit of gender fucking. I got pissed off. That’s when I kicked it into gear with my own photography. I was sick of dealing with other peoples definitions of drag, which invariably didn’t include me. I wanted to show the world what I saw through my trans eyes.
I make my photos for two audiences. Most importantly, I do it for those of us who are in them. So that we can see ourselves and have evidence of our own truth. So that when we’re gone, we are not forgotten. I also want to show the rest of the world that drag performers are people who also happen to do drag. That king hanging out backstage might be making the exact same expression as your uncle when he’s got something on his mind, and that queen has the look that your little sister gets when she’s about to make trouble. I want viewers to feel a connection to my photos on that level, one human relating to another.
The desire to connect people and foster communication is a constant running throughout all aspects of my life. One of my great passions is trans networking. I remember how it felt when I thought that I was the only one experiencing the things that I was going through. It doesn’t have to be that way. We are everywhere, and we now have the internet in our box of tools. We no longer have to live in isolation.
Despite being a lifelong flamer (albeit often closeted), I never actually felt femme until I was in my late 30’s. After the traumatic loss of my favorite sweatshirt, I had some sort of hormonal change, and everything shifted. I started having hot flashes. My period got lighter, my muscles got bigger and I smelled different. About 5 months into it, I was walking with a friend of mine, a trans guy, and he asked me if he could carry my bag for me. It was like being hit by lightning. It ran straight through my body, and I couldn’t speak. In my mind, I saw myself handing it over to him, but when I finally managed to move my lips, I said, “No, I can carry my own bag!”
After that, it was hell for a while. That’s for sure. A large part of my youth was spent trying to fit in with the other boys. As transmen started to come out of the woodwork, I found myself finally able to have the kind of camaraderie which I had always yearned for but only witnessed from the outside. It was also becoming clear to me that transitioning could, in fact, finally become a reality for me. Then BANG! I felt Femme! The transguys were triggering that effect in me, and after that it started to happen when I was around the kings. As soon as I’d get near them, I’d go all girly, but I didn’t know how to be feminine in that way. I often found myself tongue tied, which was a shock for a motor mouth like myself. When I was with non-trans boys and men, my masculinity often went into high gear. I wanted to wrestle with them and have guy bonding adventures. I had no girl training. I only knew how to be a trashy fag with my gay friends.
Some years earlier, I had been cornered by a transman at a trans event where I was performing. He was relentless in insisting that because I was not presenting as a man, I was a woman, and therefore the event was not for me. That memory haunted me for years, and as I dreamed about handsome transmen arriving at my door bearing flowers, I became increasingly terrified that I would lose my chance to finally become a member of the illusive boy posse, that I would become irrevocably invisible as a trans person. Whenever I started to feel femme, I tried to shut it down. But by that point, there was no turning back. My world was full of hot transmen and kings, and I wanted them all to think that I was pretty. I started having crazy mood swings. I was switching from masculine to femme and back again, sometimes in the space of a minute. I’d get really angry and want to smash things, like when I was a teenager. Then I’d get weepy. This would happen sometimes up to 30 times a day. I began to get sharp pains shooting up from the area of my kidneys. They would strike suddenly, at any time of day or night. The pain was excruciating. It got so bad that I literally felt like I was being ripped in half, straight down the middle.
Eventually it became apparent that a number of the transmen that I knew were coming out as gay, and things settled down for me. Their support and acceptance has made a world of difference in my life. I finally have other queers with whom I can talk openly about my past, without getting that evil eye, the look that conveys a dreaded judgement, “You don’t belong in this queer space!”, “You are not trans!” or the worse sin of all, “Hetero!”
I want to be seen as a whole person and not as a series of labels assigned to me based on whatever facet of my personality someone happens to notice and latch onto. I have often found myself frustrated by people’s misinterpretations of me, most maddeningly within queer and trans spaces. Theoretically, that is exactly where we should be able to express our gender without dealing with the kind of shit that gets shoved down our throat out in the rest of the world. The insistence on the part of others that I am a woman, and the need by some to label me a lesbian, strips me of that option. It makes me invisible as a trans person. So too does insisting that I transition to the point of passing as a “real man”. I am a real man, just not the kind that everyone is used to. I know how to work a wig, a push up, and a whole palette of face paints. I can wrestle you to the ground and look drop dead gorgeous doing it!
There have been many times when I have avoided calling myself a man, because of my ambivalence about the culture of maleness. As a boy, it was a lot of fun, but as an adult, it’s not a world which I necessarily want to be immersed in. Although I am not a woman, I think that it would be wonderful to become one when I am older, a fabulous finale for a life of transition. Boy, Tunte, femme man, grande dame and who knows what else in between. All of those are, were, and will be, me.
Here is something which I’ve been thinking about lately, which is the difference in how the terms femme and butch are used among queer men and women and how that has affected my view of myself:
I come from a gay male background. For years, I heard the terms butch and femme being used to describe gay men without ever realizing that there was a whole butch/femme culture which involved women. My own feelings of butchness at that time were in relation to other gay males around me. On many occasions, I was the butchest in a crowd of flamers, and I reveled in the chance to let my masculinity shine. It is only in my recent history that I have finally heard from folks steeped in butch/femme dyke culture what, in their eyes, constitutes a butch. Under those guidelines, it would seem that despite how I had felt among my gay male friends, I did not qualify as a real butch.
I wonder if my current feelings of femmeness are also in question due to my trans male status. My maleness is always there inside of me. It does not cease to exist when I dress up pretty. No matter how feminine I may feel, at some point, my masculinity always rears it’s head again. Under such circumstances, am I actually allowed to refer to myself as femme? Will I face censure? Perhaps there are degrees of femmeness, and the curvacious figure which was the bane of my boyhood will this time tip the scales in my favor, allowing me to slip under the wire and register as an entry level femme or as a breezy femme-lite.
I have begun to tell my lover stories. In the hot breath time where sleepiness turns to lust in my darkening bedroom I begin to tell him stories about the things I would like to do, the things that I want and know from the heat radiating from him that he wants too.
I am learning a new version of myself in these stories.
His trans body has always had a cock that I can sense, feel and sometimes touch. A hardness I have never questioned. Now my body is reinventing itself in the night. In the fiction that falls from my lips fully formed, my body is as fluid as my lover’s. We both fuck and are fucked. My femme, female body grows hard and long and fills him up in the most natural and instinctive way. In the night I hear words coming out of my mouth, see images rising in my mind that don’t scare me or puzzle me or even surprise me but in the morning I am curious about how they got there, where they came from.
My lover and I are dancing a dance that takes us far away from each other to dance our own steps while we hear our own melodies (occasionally we look at each other and think… but weren’t we just dancing the same steps?), and then our steps take us to a point where we meet. I hold out my hand to be twirled, step close with my cheek against his, his arm settles around my waist and we are back in the dance. We’ve been dancing these steps over and over, moving away from each other, losing steps, miscounting time… then finding each other again to keep going, making less mistakes (we hope) on this turn around the floor.
Each time I find myself dancing on my own I feel further and further away from my old self. I am struggling to understand where the different segments of my life fit together, wondering who I am meant to be now.
I am not trans. I am not straight. I am a woman (with a multitude of ‘women’s problems’ that keep me in my place).
I have been straight (until I was 13).
I have been bisexual (until I was 16).
I have been a lesbian identified woman who sleeps with and falls in love with men (until I was 20).
I have been a lesbian who toyed with ‘dyke’ and ‘queer’ and was sad that no one seemed to read her right because her clothes, hair, face was wrong (sometimes I am still her).
I was a lesbian in Birkenstocks with a girlfriend in dungarees and motorbike leathers who prayed for civil partnerships to be legalised so that if her partner became ill, as she would, hospitals would be able to give me access to her bedside.
I was an ‘old fashioned’ lesbian who had a librarian fetish and a slowly focussing queerness.
I am queer.
Two years ago I began thinking about the term ‘femme’ and where a girl in a tweed skirt, good underwear and battered Converse might fit into that.
I am a ‘middle of the road femme’. My feet remaining resolutely lesbian in sensible shoes that hide seamed stockings and red nail varnish.
At the time my lover and I began the long process of texts and smiles from across the room that led us to the ambiguous but solid place we are now, I knew that he used both pronouns and I went with ‘she’ so that I could have an uncomplicated crush. We came across each other in spaces I had begun to think of as ‘women’s space’ and for a long time there had been no men in my world. My mind told me I liked this person therefore they must be a she. Along the way it became clear this was wrong and I stopped using female or mixed pronouns.
One day he sent me a message that asked outright – do you only fancy girls? Or do you fancy trans people too? Something like that. I didn’t hesitate when I replied but I’ve thought a lot about it since (not my answer, just how my desires could have changed without my noticing). The longer I knew the boy who would be my lover the more apparent it was that I could not see him as a woman. I began to feel uncomfortable when other people mixed his pronouns.
I began too, to feel really shaky in my own longstanding lesbian/queer-who-fancies-women identity. It wasn’t hard to let go of, it is quite clearly not who I am anymore. But then it is not hard to see what I are not. It is just hard to know who I am now. It shouldn’t really matter but for me words are important.
Do I make a new category up? Am I like those femme girls who you might see on the arm of a passing FTM? Will I be part of a binary gendered couple? Is that queer? Will I become even more invisible as a queer? Am I transsensual? Do I have femme cock? On occasion it seems I do.
My lover is not a straightforward boy. We have a history of partly shared experiences, heritage and politics. Our language shares the same sprinkle of other tongues and we understand each other outside of this community, this city, this country. In our own definitions of the word, we are both femme. His body, in my eyes, to my touch, in my desire, is not the body of a woman. Mine is. In my stories our bodies do what we want them to do regardless of the boundaries set by our shared biology. We run fingers over each other, feeling out the differences. We hold our arms up to the light and marvel at being next to someone who is exactly the same colour, in the same skin. We are the same and not.
It takes guts to be a whore
Interview with MsTizo
I was recently interviewed for some academic project on sex work migration, managed by yet another white privileged-everything gay boy who thinks sex work is sooo cutting edge and queer. I had various problems with the project, not least because it follows the classic hierarchy of knowledge production: white middle-class male academic, white female interviewer who is also a sex worker and therefore knows how to find folks and make them talk, and a brown retired sex worker who gets to bare hir soul and give them all hir experiences and theories for free, to run off with. To be precise, I did get 50 quid out of it, and a free lunch, which is something, and to be honest, the most anyone has offered me since transitioning. A political whore, I’ll stay true to the principle that sex should be paid and knowledge free – and have got hold of the transcript in order to share it with you here.
Can you tell us about your childhood?
My father was an engineer, my mother a secretary. She had moved to Spain from the Philippines. I was born in Spain.
Can you tell us about the area you grew up in?
I grew up in a white working-class area, post industrial, urban but quite narrow minded. People knew each other, it was quite close knit and people were talking a lot, there was a lot of gossip, about people who were different. My parents were quite concerned about fitting in, and us behaving sexually was part of that, because we already different, being an interracial family and so on. They always worried about the neighbours talking, and that shaped how they dealt with our sexuality. Not sticking out and not confirming to those stereotypes that people had about the Philippines, that everyone is a whore basically.
Can you tell me about your life at school?
I liked school and I was also bored by it. I did quite well … I did very well, better than the white kids. I remember feeling very different at school being the brown kid, being the queer kid, even though I wasn’t out. Not fitting in with the boys and the girls, and how they related to each other, feeling alienated by that.
What did you do after school? Do you feel being a woman/man/ethnic group/other identity (gender, ethnic…) had anything to do with how your life went at that time?
I trained as a secretary. It was like a continuation of school… both were these very heteronormative place where girls and boys are produced, and are produced to be heterosexual and very feminine or masculine. Going through that as someone who doesn’t fit into gives you a certain perspective on heteronormativity and the way that, say, femininity is sexualised and commercialised (like having to smile at customers’ or bosses’ jokes for free). So if you don’t fit into that you end up having a more laidback approach to presenting gender and sexuality in general. As a female-assigned person you’re expected to perform femininity on top of doing your job, but you’re actually paid less for it than your male-assigned colleagues. So you might as well get paid more for it – which is what the sex industry offers.
Why did you migrate to the UK?
I came here aged 25 as a student migrant. I wanted to spend time in London, it was an exciting big city, and the cool place to be for young people at the time. I had EU citizenship privileges and I wanted to improve my English. I was curious about exploring another place.
How about your family? Did they agree with your decision to leave?
They were happy, they thought my English would improve, I’d get a good degree, and meet nice people.
How did you imagine this country before getting here? Was it different from what you imagined?
I thought it would be much more multi-cultural than it was, that’s how Britain advertises itself. I was surprised that there is actually so much racism, so much discrimination.
Can you tell me about your working life before migration?
I was a secretary. It was safe and boring.
Can you tell me about your working life after migration?
First I did call centre jobs and then translations, while also studying full-time. And then a friend of mine kept talking about the work she was doing in the sex industry and kept saying ‘It would be really easy for you, you’d be good at it, as you have a lot of sex any way.’ And another friend at the same time was having the same thoughts. Both of us knew a lot of people in the sex worker rights movement, so it was easy to find out information on the legal situation, how to get started, the risks, where to advertise, how to deal with clients etc.
What did your friend mean by that (that you’d be good at it)?
I think she meant that my view of sex is very matter of fact. I don’t see sex as something that belongs in marriage, or in loving relationships. It can mean all kinds of things, both positive and negative, and it can be less worthwhile and more worthwhile, and the things that make it worthwhile can be all sorts – including money. And at the time I was on the BDSM scene and playing a lot with white male submissives, and sometimes asking myself afterwards ‘What did I get out of that?’ It wasn’t that the scenes were particularly bad, just that they weren’t very satisfying, and one person always seemed to get more out of it than the other, and that was often the white man, because he felt more entitled to getting pleasure, and had no qualms in asking for it, by virtue of his race and gender.
That was not-for-profit..
(Both laugh) Exactly. So I thought, might as well charge for it and go pro.
Were you able to get a job according to your educational qualifications, work experiences and expectations?
Yes, but there is a lot of discrimination – racism, sexism, transphobia. So compared to my white non-trans male colleagues, the kind of work that I can find tends to be more boring, less independent, less well-paid, and much less secure.
Has your migration legal status influenced your experience of work in the UK?
No. I’ve got most of the privileges a British passport holder would have.
What kind of jobs have you done in the sex industry? How did you find them?
I started advertising independently and also joined an agency. The agency person was actually really nice and gave me the most thorough work induction I’ve ever got. Telling me about various types of work, how much you can charge, what’s the risks, challenging my fears. For example, I was quite nervous around vanilla and subbing, and she just says ‘You should try everything. This is my experience, and it’s mostly been good.’
But I wasn’t very popular with the clients. At the escorting agency, I never got booked, and I think it’s partly because I’m quite androgynous, and the only person who ever tried to book me was a woman. But the independent advertising was OK. There wasn’t a lot of work and we didn’t really know how to advertise, but the few jobs that we did get were really good. We advertised on alt.com as a butch/femme ‘lesbian’ sub/dom couple and the clients were genuine submissives who really wanted to enjoy themselves and have a good time.
The work itself I really enjoyed. I guess if I could I would change the conditions. For example, because I’m trans, I would prefer to have the option to also work presenting masculine. But I wouldn’t advertise myself as FTM because I know from friends that you get more violence. And most FTMs who work as sex workers pass as female.
Why were you nervous about vanilla at first?
Because it’s closer to what you grow up thinking of as ‘prostitution’. I probably had a lot of the traditional feminist concerns about being fucked for money, letting someone enter inside your body. It’s both an actual physical thing of having something large inside your body, that’s more difficult to keep control of, both physically and emotionally. It’s also more difficult to reconcile with my gender identity as someone who is male-identified. And the fact that it’s much closer, at least in appearance, to the kind of heterosexual sex that our feminist mothers have warned us about (laughs). Which can also be a turn-on, of course.
I actually ended up having quite good experiences of vanilla. It was an older colleague who sad to me, ‘If you get tired, just tell them “Oh honey, I’d like to feel your weight on me.”’ (Both laugh.) Vanilla sex work is less demanding, it’s less physically and emotionally draining, you don’t need to input so much. Pro-domming can be exhausting, you have to give a lot.
How does sex work compare with other sectors you worked in here in the UK? What are the advantages and disadvantages?
It pays much better, you get to work with other sexual outlaws, the hours are better and more flexible. But there’s not a lot of job security, you never know how much money’s gonna come in…. And it’s very stigmatised, especially if you’re Filipino, which is a big problem.
Was there any particular reason for you to work in the sex industry?
I guess as a queer person I’ve thought a lot about sexuality and the way people react to sex. What kinds of situations, where it’s appropriate or inappropriate to do certain things with your body. So I’m naturally curious about the inappropriate things, so that’s one of the things that attracted me to having a go at being a sex worker. And also the emotional things about being a sex worker, the language about ‘selling yourself’, which I actually associate more with straight work. With sex work, you get more out of it, and as someone who enjoys performing, I consented to performing this very feminine presentation, and I got paid for it rather well, that was very clear to me.
I like sex work as it’s less alienated than other jobs, it’s a service and you interact with the person who’s paying you directly. You do something and the person moans, or smiles, or moves, or has an orgasm. The positive effects of what you put in appear very directly on their body, in their face.
The classic textbook examples from the sex worker rights movement would be waitressing or being a flight attendant – the emotional labour that is unpaid, that you’re naturally expected to be able to do, by virtue of your gender or race. In straight jobs there’s this assumption that you’re identical to the presentation that you give, that the service you offer is a natural outflow of your body. With sex work, on the other hand, it’s clear it’s a performance, every sex worker knows that. So it’s less like selling yourself, you keep yourself separate, you deliver a performance as a service, and you get remunerated for it.
What else do you like about working in the sex industry?
I’ve already mentioned having colleagues who are also queer and having lots of good fun with that femme work partner. We hadn’t been sexual before, and it was really interesting to be in that situation with her. And the clients were genuine submissives, so it was like a real scene. I also worked in a flat for a while, that belonged to an older colleague who acted as a mentor and was really sweet and sensitive, sitting me down before each session: ‘So this is what he’s into, you could either take this role or that (in the ‘lesbian threesome’), what would you be more comfortable doing?’ And checking in with me afterwards, if everything had gone ok, if anything could be improved about our communication. Working in the flat was fun, the receptionist was this bisexual woman who had chosen to work there because she liked working with other queer and kinky people. Our clients were nice, too, they were genuinely appreciative
What don’t you like about working in the sex industry?
The stereotyping and the hierarchies of attractiveness. I don’t present feminine, I’m a person of colour, I don’t conform to this slim, tall, big bosomed, blonde, Barbie-look stereotype so that automatically means it’s harder to find work. And I stopped working when I transitioned. One of the reasons I don’t work now is because of the sense of risk.
Did you have any bad experience at work?
I don’t feel there’s a market for FTMs post transition in the sex industry. Because of the heteronormative ways that desire is structured and marketed. I also feel I haven’t had a lot of support from sex worker rights activists. They’re all talk about diversity and so on, but when you actually turn to them and ask for support as a trans sex worker, their faces go blank. They’re not interested. I like a lot of the activism, and support, but it also seems very limited. Like the argument that sex work is liberating. It may be, if you’ve always been treated like a good girl or boy, and wanna rebel against that. But if you’ve grown up with the assumption that you or your mom or everyone else in your community is a whore, it’s a different story.
I didn’t really have any bad experiences at work. I had one client who underpaid me by ten pounds but the money was actually the most I ever got, £290 (rather than £300 for 1.5 hours. I think I wasn’t quite what he had in mind, a friend had hooked us up who’s very blond and femme. He kept telling me how he wished he was in Eastern Europe, as the girls are so cheap you can just get another one if you don’t like the one who’s walked through your door. Half of the time I was there he was actually online looking for the next girl. He was just unappreciative, disrespectful. What probably bugs me most is that I tried very hard to give him a good time, but he refused.
What are the advantages of working in the sex industry when compared to other jobs?
The money was much better. It was cash in hand. It was flexible. I could do my other free-lance work, which happened to be in the same area where my colleague was working. It was easy: she’d SMS me ‘Are you free today?,’ and I’d pop by for an hour and walk away with money. I also like the idea of working outside the capitalist economy, I know there’s different takes on regulating sex work through taxation, but I actually liked the fact I was making a living without financing the war, for example. You also get to interact with people in a way you wouldn’t normally. I wouldn’t normally have sex with those kinds of people, older, middle-class, straight white guys, very different from my lovers. It kind of creates empathy with the rest of humanity, seeing how the other half live. (Laughs)
What are the disadvantages?
Not being able to present my gender the way I would like, or being very limited in it. Being treated like a girl. Which can have a naughty aspect to it as well, but if you’re automatically expected to do it, it can be boring at the very least.
What do you think about current debates on trafficking and exploitation? Do they match with your own experience of working in the UK sex industry?
I migrated under very privileged circumstances, with an EU passport, and even though I have Filipino heritage, which is one of the countries associated with trafficking, I’m mixed race and second generation, so I’ve evaded the racist immigration laws that create a lot of the circumstances that allow exploitation, that allow brothel owners or clients to exploit you, and make it difficult to call the police if you get abuse. The trafficking debates definitely make things worse by giving policy makers an excuse to make it even harder to come into the country and do your work, and report abusive people if necessary.
How could the situation be improved?
Get rid of racist immigration laws, get rid of measures and laws that criminalise workers or our clients and other people working in the sex industry.
Do you identify as a sex worker? If not, how do you identify (woman, migrant, man, gay man, transgendered, student, tourist, adventurer, artist, not relevant, etc.)? Why?
Yes I identify as a sex worker, increasingly, and as most of these categories [those listed above – gesturing at interview sheet on the table].
What do you do in your time outside of work? Where do you go? Who with?
I hang out on the BDSM scene with my friends. Most of my friends know about my work. If I wasn’t out to them I would have to censor myself and my experiences, and the views I hold as a result of them. And also I like challenging people’s views and want to support friends who want to explore similar things. I’m kind of split on the coming out question. The other day a transboy wrote me an email saying he’d like to do sex work and that someone had told him I’d done sex work. I was glad he’d found out so I could pass on expertise, the same way it had been passed on to me. At the same time, I also got upset because no-one has a right to out me as sex worker. I should keep ownership of my sexuality, and be able to choose exactly who I wish to discuss this chapter of my life with. You have no idea how much shit I’d get for this information to spread, how few of us there are, and how high the stakes are for a Filipino FTM who’s taken this risk. It’s not just a question of being a bit naughty and rebellious, the way it is for a lot of white queers.
Do your family know about your job in the sex industry?
I’m not out to my family. Having to deal with that racism, the view that everyone from the Philippines is a sex worker, and a diasporic community which is quite conservative, partly as a result of sexual imperialism and war, I wouldn’t want to do that to them either.
How about your partner?
All my partners know. Funnily enough most of the people I meet these days have had a go at it themselves. I couldn’t be with someone unless they knew and were ok with it, and I couldn’t respect someone who wasn’t OK with it. It’s about politics and how they regard female-assigned people of colour who claim sexual agency. It takes guts to be a whore, and if you wanna be close to me, you better respect that! (Laughs)
To T or not to T by Robin
Masculine Femininity finding my space on the gender/sexuality spectrum…according to some we all start out as straight bio-sex corresponding to gender type people… then somewhere along the road the binary got fucked up and I evolved into a queer gender fucker. I know where I prefer to be. But even within this sense of openness and possibility of finding a true sense of identity I find struggles and hurdles to overcome adventures to encounter people to meet and identities to try on.
I used to think I was a lesbian, before that I thought I was attracted to ‘people’ or possibly asexual, before that I just assumed I was a straight woman/girl. A girl who didn’t have periods. A girl who was freaked out by the way her body was changing so starved herself and over exercised to try and achieve the body she wanted. A girl who felt this immense uncomfortableness with her body that made her stomach seize up. A girl who differed from boys in some ways but seemed to get along with them better. But supposedly girls and boys having close friendships is supposed to mean something… there is always the hanging question of ‘will this develop into something more?’
Coming back to the straight world after having a ‘lesbian’ experience and beginning to explore that identity was interesting, suddenly I became aware of this cultural framework within which I was operating; the sense of a cultural construction of gendered and sexual identities. I definitely felt passion for the guy I was with but somehow it just didn’t seem right for me. Not as a heterosexual or bi woman. I don’t feel I am, or was ever, a ‘woman’. I feel an immediate guilt when saying this, as if saying I’m not a woman means I’m not a feminist, I am a feminist, I absolutely support feminine and female identified people, neither of these meaning you are necessarily born into a female body.
I then tried being a femme, largely because of my attraction to this transguy and my assumption that he would be attracted to an opposing gender expression. This didn’t work. As: – 1. I didn’t take into account the dominant/submissive/switch aspect of the sexuality spectrum and so didn’t communicate to him my thoughts on this and 2. As I relaxed with him and felt he was attracted to the inside of me rather than a performative identity I relaxed and began to express a more masculine identity.
Then I began to see a pattern in this conflict with my gender expression and thought it was to do with me not having periods. Then I realised really I really didn’t want to have them and really took no interest in being a grrrl. I preferred to be a boi but I was definitely attracted to male identified people and didn’t understand how this was supposed to work?
Queer Trans-Boi Fag Dyke who is, as far as I know, a Switch into Grrrls, Femme Tops, Sub-Bois and Trans-Bears and finds femmy guys and hairy guys hott but is not sure how that is supposed to work? How’s that for a sexual identity? I don’t reckon there’s a box I could tick? And no, this isn’t about being ‘outside of the box’; it’s not to do with my parents, or my hormonal state, although maybe it is? But I feel at the end of the day it’s about finding a sexual and everyday identity I can live with and feel intense feelings within.
I am still not sure if taking hormones might be the right path. It just seems so artificial. I feel I should be able to ‘be’ without chemical intervention, but can you still identify as a faggy boi? Do I still have to tick the F on forms? And what if I want to be with bio-guys, or other trans-guys, will they see me as a guy unless I take hormones?
I have a big crush on this musician.. my friend and I call him Fitty Mc Fit.. we’ve both talked about how when we look at him we can’t quite understand the attraction? Is it wow you’re music is amazing! Is it wow he’s hott I wish I looked like him. Is it wow he’s hott I’d like to be with him? And which gendered desire is that stemming from? Me as a man or female?
I keep dreaming about this gay guy at work. I dream he’s my boyfriend. We’re running late, dashing for the tube in Berlin. He’s ahead of me and as I follow I become aware I’m not who I want to be in this situation. I’m not biologically male. I’m going to let him down. I feel like turning back.. maybe he won’t notice I’ve left.. but he grabs my hand and pulls me on to the tube as the doors close.
Would I feel happier in my body if I did transition, as right now I really don’t like my chest and really want more upper body strength and less weight distributed to my hips, and I’m experiencing a lot of beard and body hair envy. I feel distanced from my body, as though it isn’t mine, I think it’s a coping mechanism I developed to try and get over my anorexia, that if I stepped out of seeing my body as mine I could cope with it having a female shape.. but after recovering, in a way by doing this, my body has continued to become more and more female. I never used to have a chest or hips and my arms where so thin they kinda looked muscular to me, and my legs were strong from cycling, I felt proud of my thick muscular hairy calves. I do, now, have periods as my family insisted that this was, most likely, the centre of my gender disphoria, not having this thing that is supposed to make you a woman. This was also why I had to distance myself from my body, so I didn’t hate it, so I could put on weight to reach this goal of something that would make me feel okay about being living in a female body. I even feel distanced from my voice.. that when I speak it’s not my voice that comes out, as though I am mediated through another. I find I am jealous of deep, husky voices willing mine to sound more like that… to have the feeling in your throat, the reverberation and friction of a deep husky voice.
Is this distance from my body gender disphoria or body dismorphia?
Do I prefer to wear boy’s clothes because they are more functional and don’t constantly make you aware of your body shape? Is the reason I can’t wear girl’s clothes because of gender disphoria or body dismorphia?
Although I am seeing a few people they are aware of this distance I have from my body when we are intimate. They are sensitive to it and check in to make sure I’m expressing my boundaries and limits. This honesty and openness allows me to trust them and push my boundaries further. I know everyone has issues to do with their body and it’s important to discuss what makes each of us feel comfortable.
I did go on T for a short time but stopped, partly due to not being sure and being scared of being stuck in a body I felt was even less mine and partly due to an email my godmother sent my mum.. which my mum then emailed me. She expressed her opinion that I was doing this (transitioning or generally having gender issues) to try and get attention and that the name I had chosen being slightly like my mum’s ex-boyfriend’s son was no co-incidence. I never even thought of this when deciding on a name. I just liked the name because it was gender neutral. She also said, which I think I found the most hurtful, that if I transitioned I’d loose all the qualities my friends and family love about me. Wouldn’t I still be me but happier in my body? I know obviously not just female identified people have issues about their bodies.. male identified people do too. I’m sure to adopt those insecurities.
I am really finding people who identify as male super attractive at the mo but I can’t quite understand how that would work sexually- probably different with every person, as sex usually is! Where does the desire come from? Is it from my suppressed desire as a female bodied person of being with a man and is this desire coming from my re-awoken female hormones? Therefore would it change if I took T? Or is it my desire to be a gay male identified person. Is the desire for a bio-boy or for male characteristics and is therefore for bio and trans guys? Or would it totally not work with bio-boys? And am I wrong for making a distinction in terms of reading my attractions to men?
Is this a permanent identity or is it a stop on the gender and sexuality exploration train?
Would I regret transitioning?
What abuse may I face?
Am I more likely to be assaulted?
Will I ever not feel nervous about going to the toilet or changing in front of other people?
My mum has expressed her worries about the danger I may be in by transitioning.
But as my lover would say: –
‘Aren’t the abusers the problem that needs to be addressed not the transperson…?’
Although I identify as a switch, I love being a sub. Will I ever feel comfortable being with a bio-guy as a sub or is that too binary? Will I ever trust a bio-guy that much? I guess trust is a big issue. I love femmes and I don’t think I’ll ever stop being attracted to them, but will I ever have a ‘successful’ relationship with a straight bio-woman identified woman? Last time I dated a trans-woman I was grappling with the fact she seemed way more of a woman than I was.. I guess I’ve dealt with that one now!
Will I feel comfortable in all male places?
Will I ever not feel intimidated in a football crowd?
Will I ever be able to go to the toilet without standing for 5 minutes between the doors trying to decide which door I should pick this time?
What about the childhood male conditioning I have missed? Will the other boys/men notice? I don’t think a bio-boy can get through childhood without playing football? What if people ask me about my childhood? Will I be stealth? Isn’t that letting down the trans-side?
Will people stare at my scars if I have my top off?
Will I feel like myself or will T make me loose a part of myself?
Is this just a story for this part of my life?
Will I get over it?
Will I feel guilty when I’m topping for being a man?
Will I ever feel comfortable topping a woman-identified woman?
Will I feel like my voice is mine when it breaks?
Will anyone ever love the heart of me and respect my gender identity?
Will my work mates think I’m a freak as I transition alongside them?
Will I get fat on T?
Will I ever loose this eating disorder in either compulsion eating or abstinence and excessive exercise as a form of punishment and euphoria?
Will I ever not have digestive complaints?
Will I ever not feel like I’ve let someone down?
Will my Dad’s voice of authority ever stop or not annoy me?
Will I ever feel satisfied with my body/life choices?
A few months post- T, for the time being, I’m not sure what I want from the folks around me. When I tell them that my hormone regimen has reverted to the somatic supply, I’m often met with a careful pause. Okay, or I see, or Good for you feel loving and appropriate. So why am I still hungry?
I think back to these conversations , remember the previous hormonal transition. As my body changed certain friends, and usually not the very close ones, would comment on the changes they saw and heard in me. Compared to the indignities of being told all the ways I wasn’t passing, or having to fight relentlessly for one tiny little pronoun, I welcomed the more benign commentary that felt incredulously like acceptance to me.
Is it the gaps, the vague and silent cross-overs between respect, acceptance and tolerance that are bothering me? I remember people asking me, how are you feeling, what happens next, holding the changes in my flesh in a certain amount of fascination. It’s not the spectacle that I miss – the things that felt important to other folks weren’t the things that felt important to me – but there was a stock-taking in the world around me, an acknowledgement that something significant was going on.
I hate to use psychoanalytic language, but projection is the best word I know to describe what I’m doing here, in part at least, to my generous and sweet friends who surround me. This is the heart of things these days, for me:
I knocked on my own door and waited for Ruth to answer it. She wiped her hands on a cloth and led me into my bedroom. “Close your eyes,” she urged. “Remember you told me I could do anything I wanted to it?” I smiled and nodded. “OK, open your eyes.” I looked around and then up at the ceiling – there it was.
I sat down on my bed and fell back to look at the ceiling. Ruth had painted it velvety black with pinpoints of constellations I recognized. The darkness softened to light around the edges. I could see the outline of trees against the sky.
Ruth lay down next to me. “Do you like it?”
“It’s just incredible. I can’t believe you’ve given me the sky to sleep under. But I can’t tell if it’s dawn or dusk you’ve painted.”
She smiled up at the ceiling. “It’s neither. It’s both. Does that unnerve you?”
I nodded slowly. “Yeah, in a funny way it does.”
“I figured that,” she said. “It’s the place inside of me I have to accept. I thought it might be what you need to deal with, too.”
I sighed. “I really do have trouble not being able to figure out if what you’ve painted is about to be day or about to be night.”
Ruth rolled toward me and rested her hand on my chest. “It’s not going to be day or night, Jess. It’s always going to be that moment of infinite possibility that connects them.”
The most amazing thing to me about my hormonal transition (when I started taking T), the thing that felt like hope, and an emergent validity, was the brand new experience of legibility. I’m not used to making sense to the people around me. I was starved for readability and suddenly, people were saying to me, I know what boy is, I know what it means for you to become one. I know what trans is, I’m trans too. Come here, do this with me. All the wading between constrictions of embodiment, all the confusion and pain at being a raced and gendered outsider, all the shame about not being able to use my body in the ways expected of me, clarified under the aegis of the word transgender. Temporarily. I’m a boy, I’m a sissy boy, I’m a queer boy, I’m a transguy, I’m a transman, transsexual, transgender, trans person, trans* person, FTM, MTM, MTX, FTX, queer!,human, fake-human, guy, man, never female, once girl,lived as a woman, part female have been joyful, important , true things to say.
At some point, something started to ache and shift in the palms of my hands, a muscle anxiety, the desire to grasp something already (jealously, brutally) stolen from me by nobody I know personally. (I think I know where to point, but that’s another story for another zine.) Before, the thing that made me feel seen, really known, was the acknowledgement, the joy in the amazing, warm people I met who said, I know that you’re changing. They said, I know what boy is, and I know what it is to have a “female body”. Good for you. Not everyone, of course. Not most people. But I found the spaces in which I could surround myself carefully.
I knew they “knew” boy, man better than I could. I held that knowledge, that difference silently, respectfully, in the back of my thoughts with my arms around a new friend on a barstool, love ricocheting gently between our eyes. Now I know that I hardly believe in this thing for myself, that the claustrophobia I had felt was the way that gender has used itself against me. Internal, unbounded, invisible me who got claustrophobic again with the strictures and assumptions of apparent masculinity. It didn’t feel as terrible as girl had by any means. Always I’ll retain this he liberation from 23 years of enforced normality, naturalness, inevitable she. Nothing, I’ve thought, inevitable about knowing me.
I had a transition buddy. I’d whisper it to him, back then, over the telephone, at 2, 3, 4 in the morning, 8, 9, 10 at night. If the world was different I wouldn’t have transitioned at all. If the world was different, I wouldn’t care what people called me. I guess I make a really bad transsexual. A kind of bogus transgendered person. I know there are loads of people whose acceptance would waver dramatically if I said this out loud. I’m only saying this to you, you know. –You and I are different, he said gently.
So I guess I’m hungry again for the abrasive commentary. The loving risk taken by a new friend. I remember her precisely. Lost her email address. She was one person among many, but her alcohol effusiveness is one of the safest things I’ve ever known. I suppose I’m hungry to be simplified again. To be told: you fit in my world. I know what you’re doing. I’ve heard of others like you. I’m pleased to recognize in your path a path that’s unusual and honorable. Life’s short. Be happy. I panic when I don’t hear these things from the mouths of non-trans friends, the way I did once, the way I used to. Now, when I’m saying, administered hormones gave me a false visibility that didn’t suit me, I’m as hungry for legibility as I’ve ever been. Can’t help but remember that murky place I knew in primary, secondary school where there was no joy of recognition for years, sometimes, in the faces of anyone around me. Less easy to understand now; more visibly what I “am”. Changing, different, repeatedly. Trying to shake off a violent set of seizures of my body is a life’s work just as every grin, cautious smile and greeting on the street reassures a deep pain and stirs an old gratitude inside of me.
 Feinberg, Leslie. Stone Butch Blues: A Novel. Los Angeles: Alyson Publications, 1993. Pp.269-270
This is not strictly a zine; it is an important gender minority document. I am not a theorist or an academic, just passionate about this subject and wanted to say something…so I guess it is both.
(If you find the intro difficult to read or boring please just skip to the main contributions, they are really worthwhile and much sexier but please read it all if you can or maybe just come back to it!).
I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about my identity and about being visible as a masculine feminine Trans person of colour, a different kind of a male. Different to the normative heterosexist types but also different to most of the Trans males I meet in my community, support groups and events. I have been reading some texts on the subject: ‘Sons of the movement: FtM’s Risking Incoherence on a Post-Queer Cultural Landscape’ by Jean Bobby Noble, Nobody Passes by Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore and also Judith Halberstam’s ‘Female Masculinity’. I have been facilitating body image workshops (with Jin Haritaworn, who features in this zine) specifically dealing with being proud of expressing identity/ies, I have created a queer comic ‘The Incredibly Qweer Adventours of SpYkeGrrl and MissTer ScraTch’ with Spike Spondike and I even belong to a ‘boy band’ troupe ‘D’Artagnan and the three musclequeers’ exploring gender. But mainly I have been hanging out with fellow MFTs (Masculine Feminine Trannies) and other gender outlaws; bonding, laughing and crying, discussing and debating, expressing and creating and doing what we do best, in practice, not in theory.
Jean Bobby Noble asks an important question; ‘Are all selves commensurate with and reducible to the bodies; categories; pronouns?’ and makes another important statement that ‘Gender should be more powerful when it refuses categorisation at all’. And yet those of us in gender minorities get left out, unseen, rendered invisible and unimportant, at worst a joke.
So, as a masculine Trans person who feels feminine; who am I? Male or female? (This is what I get asked a lot directly or indirectly) or, which pronoun do I use? I get ‘she-d’ a lot and very often get confused as a female masculine person, the kind Judith Halberstam has made famous. But I am NOT. I use capitals not because I dislike the above or want to be disassociated from this but more because I want to be recognised for whom I really am; essentially masculine and yet feminine. So, if I say I am ‘masculine’ and then add ‘feminine’ so it reads ‘masculine feminine’ (whether I feel masculine and feminine at the same time or at different times, this is essentially how I feel and identify) how can that make sense to people? Any indicator of being feminine usually renders you female, especially if you were born with a female body, whether you wanted it or not. Even more complicated is to be happy with the female body you were given but consider yourself male (or not want/choose full transitional surgery for whatever reasons). So how can we as masculine feminine people exist and be recognised? A simple answer is to say we just do. It is only recently that I have begun to hang out in certain communities (as a non academic trans person (of colour) taking testosterone!) and have started to present myself in my masculine feminine identity (see drawing at the end for an example of this if you are intrigued) and have attracted the attention of other similar identified people (as well as others!). Gender Minority Project Outreach!
However, as a non super human (unfortunately) I do understand some of the confusion. As the second quote above indicates, gender categorisation can be problematic as well as limiting. To state that we (I use ‘we’ as a collective as there are more than one of us in this zine) are male (though not all of us are necessarily solely male identified) gives us a false impression of holding power by privilege. By becoming male/masculine through transitioning from a biological or socialised female, ‘crossing over the divide’, many people would say we are now living a kind of privilege and thus betraying feminism/ists, but some males have more power than others and obviously some are feminists. White middle/upper class males possess this privilege more than males of colour or of working classes, heterosexual more than queer, biological more than Trans. Thus in the first instance can we be fully ‘manned’ by identifying as male? Because we were once (if only biologically) female and were not born with this power privilege? Or because we can‘t be both male and feminist? As Jean Bobby Noble questions, ‘If we live and socialise in feminist, lesbian, queer circles. If we work against white supremacy, capitalism. What if we want to be fully ‘manned’ and still stand up for all those?’
More confusion: as Trans males who transition with hormones, we physically experience male puberty regardless of whatever actual age we are, so do we remain boys instead of becoming men when we have already been adults? When do we finally become men, if we want to? Do we even need/have to take hormones and have surgery in the first place in order to be recognised as male? Can we still be (or become) feminine or do we have to give that up or pretend we are not, be ashamed and fight it? Or can we be accepted? Even better, can we be proud and celebrate that? It is true that FTMs, according to Noble, ‘not only have to directly engage the men around them but also embrace the boys within them’ but can we embrace our femininity where it exists also? (Some cultures do encourage femininity in all genders more than others, for example in my Indian culture.) Do we have to strictly measure up to being male? Do we have to continually struggle between being a boy or a man? Do we have to struggle at all? There are many different ways of being masculine and many different types to transition into so why are there still stereotypes of what it is to be male and female even in the Queer/Trans communities that exist? How can we break away from and change those norms? Can we raise awareness about claiming both masculine and feminine identities, or even go beyond that? Or does that place us somewhere else; make us ‘queer’ and ‘androgynous’ and non-trans, even when we have transitioned (physically, mentally or psychologically)? These are gender bending, blurred or non-gendered identities that some of us may prefer but others of us may prefer to have those gender identities, but just not be limited by them; having our cake if you will.
‘What I seek as trans man is radical modulation and categorical indeterminacy rather than categorical privilege’ says Noble and I would have to agree. I retain my femininity as a male, because I lived in a women’s only refuge as a child, because I am a feminist fighter for women’s (as well as Tran’s peoples) rights (not just as a male ally but because I had to experience this first hand), because I like to wear make-up, paint my nails and cross dress. Does that make me an inadequate male? Inadequately feminine? Less Trans? More qweer? It is true I am out to ‘pervert, challenge, deform’ the concept of gender but still choose to call myself masculine and feminine at the same time (albeit with a lot of blank looks, disgust and when I am lucky love and respect). I don’t feel I have to be one or the other or that I cannot be male if I am feminine and must be female if so. That just doesn’t make sense to me.
I would like to reconceptualise what it means to be masculine. For a male to discuss his gender means he has already failed at being male because he should just be male without question. Masculinity to Noble is merely ‘a set of signifiers, discourses, media images and scripts’. William Pollack’s ‘Real Boys’ refers to a ‘boy code: A set of codes to ensure perception of heterosexual, hard, impenetrable manhood through guises that distinguish him from females and homosexuals. It prohibits boys from feeling emotions to avoid being read as feminine’. So as Noble states ‘masculinity and the male body is not reducible to each other, but is articulated through each other’ The same could be said about femininity if as Simone de Beauvoir states in ‘the second sex’ that ‘woman is made and not born’. So are all men and women male and female impersonators respectively? Most of us it seems, whatever gender we are, struggle with performing and ‘passing’. Proving our manhood usually means not being feminine and being male enough or being female as strictly feminine and non-masculine. I believe that as male identified people, whether Trans, FtMs, or other, we can find power by ‘feigning indifference’ instead of by ‘cultimating proximity/identify/similarity’ this is contrary to what Judith Halberstam has claimed most Trans men do.
We as individuals can celebrate our (non)gender, but how can we gain the love and respect from those we love and respect and have to live with, in our communities? How can we get them to acknowledge and give us credibility? How can we make that happen when we are all ignorant in some way but to different extents and to different things?
This is exactly why I decided to, with the help of others, make this zine. It is a voice and tool for those of us who most often do not fit in and yet want to be seen, heard, talked about and the rest. There is a lot more to say but for now these are some of our stories about what it means to be masculine feminine, Trans or something else, in our meaningful eyes, our sexy shoes and in our crazy worlds.
Thanks to all the contributors who got there in the end even though I knew from the beginning that they would contribute something that would be mind blowing!
This Zine is dedicated to Roh, a good friend and fellow gender outlaw, who passed away almost a year ago today. I know they would’ve loved reading this and would’ve written something themselves given the chance. In their words ‘gender schmender’!
If you would like to contribute to further additions to this zine please send anything related to this theme of masculine femininity or other related themes of gender to me at http://www.myspace.com/missterscratch
Destined to be a Drag Queen, my being born in a female body was always going to be problematic…
I knew something was wrong for most of my life but stayed in denial.
I felt that it would be an impossible task convincing others of the truth, that I was a gay man trapped in a woman’s body, especially considering I looked so female and acted so effeminate.
Coming out to my mother was difficult. I thought at least if I had been a masculine child, someone who had hated wearing female clothes, had liked to play with stereotypical male toys… that would give her something to refer back to and think oh yes, that makes sense.
However, au contraire… I was a baby queen… Like a few other biological men who I know I longed for a barbie when I was six and cried when my sister got one first. Going back further I laugh thinking back how I used to always put a tiara on the top of my Christmas list every year and how my parents once made out of cardboard with fake jewels and but I wanted the real thing just like Princess Diana wore!
Growing up my idols were Kylie, Madonna, Brigette Bardot and Marilyn Monroe. The first celebrity I had a crush on was Boy George. I was bullied at school for being different. I figured I was a lesbian in my teens as I dated a girl in school and was technically female myself, but no one ever thought I was gay, I was considered too femme! I hated sports and was always the last to be picked for any team, generally if someone threw a net-ball at me I’d fall over. Hockey was worse, faced with a group of girls flinging a rock hard ball across a freezing cold, muddy pitch and thundering towards my shins, hockey sticks raised menacingly I tended to throw my sick away in horror and race for safety. As for long distance running I looked on that as a special kind of torture, I would be right at the back without fail, way behind the obese kids and the ones with asthma.
I left school to become rich and famous in the middle of my A-levels and found my local gay bar, Dantes Inferno instead. I felt I had finally come home and began a career in alcoholism rather than acting or dancing. I drank in bars which were almost entirely men only and felt I was with my contemporaries at last. I fit in. I had found my niche in the world! Although it was frustrating that people couldn’t see I was really male. I hated being referred to as female. A small blond girl professing to be a gay man was laughable I thought, so I kept it to myself. I knew nothing of what testosterone could do or that other FTM’s existed. I did think of dressing male and cutting my hair short but I looked so female that would really be little help and certainly I would not be taken for male. So I drank more and dressed super femme as I thought it would make people like me and perhaps I could work really hard and try to be a girl. The drag diva in me saw that I really went to town with this new idea… I wore more make up than Jodie Marsh and spent all my time out on the gay scene. My confused parents despaired of my new lifestyle.
When I saw my first drag act I was stunned! She was called “Jezebel” and I knew she was exactly the same as me, a gay man dressing up as an exaggerated version of a woman. I then decided if I bought huge bouffant wigs, sparkly false eyelashes and stiletto platforms I might, just maybe, pass as a drag queen and thereby have people treat me as a gay boy in drag! It was the only way I could imagine passing… Femme drag was born for me then.
I applied my make-up with a trowel, covered myself in glitter and emerged at the WayOut Club and Ted’s Place as “Miss Lola Terry”.
Sadly I spent years bouncing from the gay scene to the drag scene, constantly feeling misunderstood and in pain. Femme drag was no solution, lets face it… I looked like a girl in a wig and even if I did pass I would have to go home and take my wig and clothes off and I would be left in my hated female body. For years now I had only fancied men, but couldn’t stand straight men coming on to me, it made me feel ill that they liked me because they liked my female body. I wanted to be a man with another man. It also made me sad that my friends didn’t know or understand who I really was. Drinking helped me feel less, and then it took over my life.
Years and years passed until I was ready to properly come out to myself and others, to accept myself as trans and come to terms the reality of my situation. I had therapy for years, and had to deal with many other painful issues first. I have now been in AA and sober for nearly four years and that has been a fantastic support as have my parents.
Transitioning was as necessary for me as getting sober. I am so happy that finally the way I look on the outside matches the way I feel on the inside. People know who I am.
Some find it incomprehensible that as a gay man I now do drag. I see it as fulfilling a life long dream! The way I look at it, if I had been born in the correct body I would have grown up as a camp gay boy and done drag; so why shouldn’t I do that now? For me, I do not want to pass as female when I go out in my wigs and head-dresses… Far from it, I felt giddy with gratitude when going out to Trannyshack recently having people point out my hairy legs and commenting on my being so obviously in drag. That makes me feel just as happy as going to work in my office in a suit and having people call me ‘sir’ in restaurants. I am so glad to be in my male body now, love my deeper voice and flat chest I even enjoy shaving. As a gay man being trapped in a woman’s body feels like a nightmare that is finally over. I made the best of it with make-up and big earrings but I can’t tell you how relieved I am now just to be me.
There is no question that I am effeminate, I always have been, but very definitely male. I decided to keep my old femme drag name “Miss Lola” for a drag act I am doing with a friend (bio-male drag queen)… and I finally got my tiara… although this one was £16 from down the road and diamanté… but near enough to my childhood wish!
The hard part about being a femme transman for me was the fear that I was the only one and thereby wouldn’t be accepted or understood. I reached a point in my life where it didn’t matter any more what others thought, personally I just had to be true to myself or die of denial in alcoholism. I was surprised and happy that I received loads of positive support from friends and family when I came out. I’ve since met all kinds of different transmen including others who are gay or bi, some who are femme and some who are very definitely not. I think it’s true that there are as many different types of trans-guys as there are bio-guys. So Vive la difference!
In physical reality I have evolved ..
to a solid state I struggle to maintain fluidity
my mind speedy frontal lobe development
goes stiff n hard
my pineal gland now the size of a pea
shrunken to the enth degree
was once the size of a small plum
in ancient times
so finely tuned to the magnectic field
ancient minds like hologram conciousness
in every space and inbetween
the planets and stars their time keepers were seen
the universe a complete organism
then rene descartes invented the clock
broke the universe into divisions
creating his tick tock
from sunrise to sunset he carved
hours, minutes, seconds into days, weeks and years..
and then this never-ending sound ticking in our ears
we are not solid after all
nothing is solid
not even a clock
the physical reality of gender
is formed in mind
male or female
tick or tock
the pendulum misses its swing
variation out of control
particles and soul
i feminise in my masculinity
to subtle and gentle planes
Energy is matter says einstein and
Matter is conciousness says the Mother
hi! I saw your post on MySpace from q10.
I want to submit to your zine but I’m not really sure what to say. So I’ll make it short. Whether this goes into your zine or not I would love to get a copy of it.
So here goes:
when I was younger, and didn’t know yet that I was queer, I would justify why being a girl was better than being a boy–because I wanted to be a boy and didn’t know it. I mean, I knew it, but I was/am female, and I was taught that I was supposed to be a girl, and act like one. I wanted to be a boy though. the only things I could come up with that were better about having a vagina were that it seemed harder to hurt it (like if someone kicked you in the crotch), and also at that age, it seemed that being a feminine boy would be harder socially.
My real-life introduction to queer culture was hanging out with almost all Trans boys. I thought about being trans myself, but didn’t want to “politicize my body.” a few years later and a lot more educated, I realize that being transgender is not about being political, and also that it doesn’t have anything to do with proving anything to anyone else or trying to educate someone through your choices.
I am female bodied and identify as female most of the time–probably because most of the people in my life still call me “she.” I tell people who ask that they can call me he or she or both. I like to be called both because sometimes I feel masculine and sometimes I feel feminine. But most of the time I feel somewhere in between. I changed my name to “tiger” because it is gender-neutral. I am the kind of person who, although I would like to radicalize the world around me, usually takes the choices that are given to me and takes one of them, instead of creating my own standards and definitions, unfortunately. Some amazing new friends that I made at queeruption 10 showed me that I can identify as whatever I want, and label myself accordingly. I realized that I am a fag and a boi and whatever else I want to be, and that I can play those roles and be my androgynous self any way I want and any time I want.
I don’t know if this is what you are looking for at all. I’m just excited that people are looking at this and talking about it. I bet if I put more thought into it I could have written something better, but it’s a long story that I was trying to make short.
Ok good luck and lots of queer love,
I feel as though I rediscovered my femininity through masculinity–a femboy
masculinity. When I felt my masculinity emerge, I finally began to feel comfortable with my femininity.
I consider myself genderqueer and can have kind of a feminine masculinity. I’m most comfortable with switching gender pronoun usage, since communities I’m around don’t use gender neutral or all-inclusive genderpronouns. For instance, performing as a drag king, members of the troupe refer to each other as he *or* she. This honours, to me: On one hand, referring to “she” who plays on the women’s (American) football team highlights positively, incorporates, and celebrates the usually ignored/monsterized masculine female into our and the larger culture, such as, but referring to the same person as “he” who brought the flyers for the drag show gives credit to his/her masculinity, and the masculine gender of this person in drag and activities leading up to it. A performer before realizing my gender flux gender identity, I’ve found gender performativity to be very real–very corporeal.
I believe the more out we are, the more we can change at least our immediate cultural and personal surroundings. For instance, I’m not that tall. I’ve been asked if I’ve had top surgery, which I have not. Perceptions/assumptions of me before one knows me often discredit me of my adult status, even as a female. There have been days when I was feeling particularly male/masculine and presenting as such and passed, only to be ignored and given no service in public places of business due to perceptions of youth to the point of being underage. Other times, I could not discern with certainty whether the lack of service awarded me was due to this perception that I was too young to be a customer or participant in social/business interactions/transactions, or an aversion to my masculine femininity. While I have been denied service, I accidentally provide a service to the community. Two of my neighbors, hardly if at all acquainted, have requested I buy tights for them. Both of these queer, sometimes dragging/cross-dressing, somewhat bisexual men noticed something about me, inquired had a few sex/sexuality/gender educational conversations with me then sought me out for informal research and confidential exploratory confessionals on their own sexualities and queer expression and gender presenting opportunities–including seeing me as a resource for making a gender bending purchase in public. So I encouraged their gender exploration and steered them towards amping up their respect of the feminine and women as necessary. When another neighbor referred to me as “What is that?” one of the closet crossdressing neighbors informed me he replied, “Don’t say that; she’s probably asking the same thing about you.” While I’m glad he stuck up for me, he also informed the insulter/inquirer of my supposed correct gender. While my female masculinity hit the radar, my dykeboi, or trans-gender, or correct fluid gender was sacrificed to even the crossdressing neighbor’s need for a stable binary gender “underneath.” (He later insisted I was a “girl” because he knew I was a girl.) Reverting to binary sex (though he referred to it in terms of gender) open the range of gender but allowed this neighbor to receive his ticket to exploration from me while maintaining his limited understanding and biases. I haven’t bought him the tights yet. Sometimes the perception/aversion is to the femboy/boi that I am or that I am assumed to be due to my stature: e.g., epitaphs of “fag” have been shouted my way, and I’ve heard butches deliver this word derogatorily to self-identified dykebois. A few years back, if I had to describe my gender, it was “dyke;” this question and answer has now evolved to, if I have to choose one gender, it is “fagdyke.” Other fagdykes, fem tranny boys, fem or soft dykebois lend me an understanding and something to relate to. (So live out, since I do; the
favor is returned and our cultural service is passed along.) Being genderqueer means I am comfortable with my fluctuating or mixture gender, even if you’re not. It means I’m not comfortable being called “girl,” unless my masculinity/maleness is recognized as well—and respected. This comes back to female masculinity, since recognizing my masculinity/maleness recognizes and respects masculinity in a female body or connected with female in some way or at some point in time (previous, for some). Simultaneously separate and very connected, my gender relates to my sexuality. I’ve had butches either ignore or express disgust at my interest, leading me to call myself sometimes a “double ‘mo.” I’ve had young gay men express annoyance that they can’t tell the lesbians apart from gay men. Their inquiring eyes turn my way to the unfamiliar twink at the club at
times. Though I can’t be certain of their thoughts, and prefer a fellow fagdyke so far. My female masculinity is subpar according to some butches, who can’t see to wrap their binary heads (or other body parts or attachments) around my masculine femininity, or what I call my genderqueerity, overall, since it fluctuates. But both are glorious, and anyone who is interested will just find more bang for the genderfuck.
Sabri Clay Sky
Female masculinity, male femininity, feminine masculinity, masculine femininity…?
Scratch: Are your masculine and feminine identities separate or do they correlate with each other?
Jin: I identify as a switch, or a pendulum, and my masculinity and femininity are very related. When I present masculine for a while, my femininity comes back with a vengeance (laughs). I get depressed when I feel stuck in one mode. If I present just masculine for too long, I end up feeling grey, lifeless, like all the colour has been drained from my life. You know how boys grunt and move their bodies very sparsely, their shoulders and hips. This is the most, and the longest I have stayed in predominantly masculine mode. There are times I have to remind myself that I am entitled to express myself, express femininity, to switch and change.
S: Why do you have to remind yourself?
J: Pressure from outside. Even within the trans community. You know how we often talk about standards of authenticity that we internalize and pass on to each other. That you are successfully trans if your masculinity is read as ‘real’ in the street. And then actually being in the street and wanting to pass, even if it’s just from point A to B. And that becomes easier if I tone it down a bit on the make up and the nail polish (laughs). Also getting worried if people now read me as a genderqueer male, this is not something I have a lot of experience with so far. I know how to negotiate the ‘gross lesbian/dyke’ thing but no one’s taught me how to survive the ‘sissy/faggot/batty boy’ thing. Which I worry will be even more vicious, because homophobic and transphobic people are more willing to beat up men, as they don’t deserve chivalry. Then there’s the pressures I put on myself. I guess I look back on longer patches of presenting feminine in my life than many of the FTMs or masculine genderqueers I know (or, to reframe this positively, I have a very broad gender repertoire). I often feel I have to conceal or make up for that past. Part of me sees it as inauthentic, as selling out my transness in order to fit in, find partners, be liked and loved. But that same femininity is now an integral part of myself, because if you do something for a long time it becomes you and it’s something you also need to reclaim and stay truthful to. I realized it makes a big difference presenting feminine as a female than as a male, and vice versa. So while both modes are authentic to my body and my personality, my choices are mapped onto different contexts, where the same presentation could get me either violence or social approval. Like, I miss things like exchanging smiles with shop assistants, which came easily to me when I presented feminine and looked female. People are friendlier again now that I am passing more as male, but for a long time, when I was perceived as a masculine female, that kind of social grease that oils your everyday survival, or passage through space, the friendly small talk on the bus, just wasn’t there. I felt like I had to keep my head down, avoid talking to people, become invisible, hard, cut off from the world.
How about yourself? Do you see yourself as masculine and feminine at the same time? At all times?
S: Sometimes I feel like it’s complicated and like I can’t always put my finger on whether they exist separately or whether they always exist together. And I feel like at different times it’s drawn out of me, my different identities, by different people. I feel like different people will draw out whatever they want out of me. But as for how I see myself, I see them really mingled together. In terms of how I grew up, I never had any sexist ideas about, you know, I played with boys, I was interested in doing boys’ things. I didn’t think that made me a boy, I still had that feminine identity, even though I didn’t claim it at that stage in my life, I do now, reclaim it. I didn’t set those things apart, I wanted to do what I wanted to do, whether that was things considered female or male. And I’ve kind of grown up with that same mentality, of wanting to.. finding it hard to be accepted for that, but allowing myself to be both. And it’s not always equal, but they both come with each other. I felt like partners have wanted me to be more male, or more female, same with society in general. And I obviously understand that’s about confusion. I think that’s hardest to understand for me when it’s people who are close to me. I think there’s a lot of sexism that’s engrained in people.
J: Like in your partners?
S: Yeah, I think people who are closest to me have found it more difficult to deal with. Like when I say I’m femme, I find that partners have felt threatened by that. Or felt that they shouldn’t be attracted by that, when they’re femmes themselves. And for me that seemed odd, because I hadn’t changed the way I behaved, or who I am, it’s just that I’ve told them that that’s what I am. And it’s almost the concept, or the reality of what that means. I think that as I’ve become more male.. I think I’ve struggled to be accepted as male, the male side of me has been harder for people to accept. So I’ve tended to focus more on my male side in my transition, and it’s only now that I feel comfortable with that side of myself, through the taking of hormones, for the most part, that I can allow myself to share femininity with others, but more importantly myself. It’s felt like a coming out in itself (J: The femme coming out). And I’m not so afraid to show it.
J: What kind of reactions have you got from femme partners to your femme identity?
S: I think more recently I’ve been lucky, in terms of subconsciously expressing it, I think I’ve attracted partners who are more open to that, and embracing it. I think it has been difficult for some partners, how they’ve been conditioned to behave towards trans men, trans boys, and there’s a lot of assumptions going along with that, in terms of how you don’t want to be touched, and how you do want to be touched, and it’s a reconditioning.
J: Like you recondition them. (Scratch nods.)
I’d like to say something about the partner thing. Because I used to identify as a femme, as a result of being in a long-term relationship with a butch lesbian whose gender and sexuality is very much about butch/femme. I’m feeling very ambivalent about that phase of my life. Which was most of my 20s. (S nods.) Because on the one hand I loved her, fancied her, wanted to be with her, wanted to be like her, and since she only did femmes that was the only place in her life I could get. I also got a lot out of it, like being treated really well. Which I still associate with butches, this gentlemanly very caring very female way of being with someone. And it was nice to be the pretty one, I like it when people find me pretty and intelligent (laughs), and femmeness provided that for me.
But I have always been a switch, always wanted to also express masculinity … I’m struggling with my ex over this, who is still in my life, because she sees my masculinity as inauthentic, she insists I’m a totally different person now, like I took over that beautiful feminine body (laughs). It’s funny because I remember her saying things like ‘You’re so cute in this picture, you look just like a boy.’ Or with this haircut or that shirt. I would wear her clothes, which she didn’t like, because I would break them in and they no longer fit her. So I felt she saw and even fancied my masculinity, in a butch/femme kind of way. This is painful, because I realize how codependent I have been in my gender identifications. Something I shared with Roh I think (our friend who died). That I felt much more comfortable with other people’s bodies, genders, sexualities than my own. I would happily do femme for this butch, straight girl for that FTM, and faggie SM top for that bicurious boy.
explore in all directions. After trying to fit myself first into a female frame, and then into a transsexual male frame, I have quickly become very genderqueer, multigendered even, where I try not to be too fussed about is this male with a feminine foreground or masculine with a female background. And where I want to reclaim all that instability, incoherence and complexity as authentic parts of my personality. Or as possibilities. That I can choose to explore or not, depending on the constraints I currently face, like holding down a job, getting from point A to B safely, or pulling this or that person.
I really like my body at the moment because it’s malleable and can pass as all kinds of things. I can walk into a gay bar and a lesbian and a gay boy will check me out… (laughs) If I’m lucky… I hope. (S: You are lucky.) I can engage with both and can feel part of both these communities.. and the trans community. I do feel queerer than ever these days, and it’s not because I think my way of expressing gender is superior to others – I want to stress that, coz I think there is an assumption that genderqueers are superior to transsexuals. I guess I feel queer because I feel like I am a gender and sexual outlaw in kinship with all these different communities and a bridge between them in a way as well.
S: There’s so many threads that I can totally relate to, even though we’ve had very different pasts, especially with partners. I’ve also felt like a chameleon, that was my way of surviving as I was growing up, in quite a traumatic abusive situation, it was always about surviving, and being the right person in the right moment to the right person. And I think I’ve carried that through with my gender identity. I don’t know how much it directly links in with that, but I’ve noticed looking back on my past relationships it was very easy for me to be a chameleon, to change and shift in different situations with different people. I’ve always honoured their wants and needs, didn’t really think too much about my own. Whilst at the same time I did manage to be myself in my expression. I presented more masculine/male but left how that was interpreted to the other person and I’ve always found people who’ve been attracted to that. So things haven’t been questioned? I always accepted it was positive attention, and so never questioned, the affirmation of who I was and what they found attractive in me. I never really questioned why partners wanted what they wanted from me, I just willingly gave it. And I think that was very destructive. It wasn’t recognizing myself, or honouring myself and who I was.
J: Like by fitting yourself into a butch/femme paradigm (S: Exactly) and losing out on your femininity.
S: Yeah. I always felt shameful about it, something I hid, not very well. Sometimes it was acceptable, sometimes it was not, and that was confusing. And because I always felt more male, I felt that I should veer towards that, and that was my goal. But the femininity was always there. That’s why I found it difficult to relate to other trans men and boys, that I first met. Because I did feel it was always more male-focused. It’s only recently that I’ve met people like me, who feel a combination of masculine and feminine, who still present in a male way. And that’s why I wanted to make this zine.
J: How would you describe your femininity?
S: It’s a good question. (long pause) It’s always been something that I’ve bonded with my femme partners over. And it’s not something I put my finger on ‘This is what makes me feminine.’ But I’ve always liked femme company and really related to that way of being. (J nods.) Even when I was hanging around with boys, I was still hanging around with girls, too, or the sissy boys. When the other boys were saying ‘Don’t hang around with girls, if you’re a boy.’ (J: When you were little?) Yeah.
J: Did they know you were female… born?
S: Yes, but they read me as one of the boys, and I felt like I couldn’t show them certain parts of myself, and I felt those parts were my feminine self. Which were things like dressing up in women’s clothes, wearing makeup and nail polish, cooking… being interested in boys, in a sexual way.
J: (laughs) It’s more like a gay man’s childhood, isn’t it?
S: Hm. Hm. So those things became secretive and appealing. And the first introduction to my femininity as an adult would be to wear my partners’ clothes and feel like a transvestite. (both laugh) But not something I would share with them at first. Or something I would do privately with them once I had confessed. (pause) And yeah, I’ve presented as mainly male in my communities, sometimes when I’ve been brave enough explored my femininity separately. And more recently it’s been something that’s been fused together? And I have tended to find that I get more affirmation when I present more male or more genderqueer. (pause) But actually, femininity is something that I probably enjoy expressing the most, it’s more fun. And probably because it’s something I’ve repressed for so long. Even though being male feels more real to me?
J: Are you still worried now that your maleness will not be seen when you present feminine?
S: Hm, it is something that I still worry about. I feel like currently I pass as genderqueer, so I feel like there’s more options. But I do feel that if I express my femininity that people won’t recognize my maleness. Because people don’t assume that you can be both still. I have had a lot of people tell me that I look very male in my femininity. And I guess it’s something that I’ve never realized people perceive until recently. And I’m presuming it’s because of the hormones. (Jin reminds Scratch of the situation with the makeup, when Scratch bought makeup but was allergic to it and had to be hospitalized, but then decided to wear the same makeup for a photo shoot and later a queer party). It’s funny because I never felt like putting on makeup when I was younger, because my mother forced me to. It was a certain type of makeup, to appeal to men. And on the queer scene now I really enjoy drag and dressing up, and I’ve always enjoyed that side of things, even growing up. The freedom to explore, and not having boundaries. And in terms of meanings that are attached to things as well. Like wearing makeup to attract a man, versus wearing makeup to enjoy yourself. (pause) But I did also have allergies, growing up, to makeup. So I tended not to wear a lot of it. And so people read me as being butch or more masculine, more female-masculine-identified, when I didn’t feel so.
J: I have become much more extreme in expressing femininity since masculinizing my body and adopting a male background presentation. Like the drag-queening photos that you and Debra-Kate took of me. I feel less self-conscious about my body and happier to show off flesh, my legs especially, which is definitely a result of the T, coz it shrinks away those hips (laughs).
I had a lot of dysmorphia and body issues when I was younger. Coming to terms with them and coming out as trans was actually very linked for me. It was only when I stopped messing about with food and trying to lose weight which was also always about trying to become more petite and attractive as a female and shrinking away those muscles. So when I stopped doing that and looked at my body for the first time and gave it that space to look the way it was meant to, without manipulation, I realized that I had a more masculine body, and that was fine. Actually I really liked it and I started going to the gym, and then I started on homeo-T and then on synthetic T, to express that love and exaggerate those features that I had learnt to love. Which is ironic because gender dysphoria is often considered hatred of your body. When I think about these things, like how did I become trans, I have to be careful not to slip into this ‘What caused it?’ pathologizing frame… but I do find it interesting. For example, exploring hyper-femininity seemed like an organic precursor to becoming male. It was only in my early 30s and late 20s that I started experimenting with extreme femininity, and I think that it actually freed up space to swing back, or swing into, extreme masculinity. It’s all about giving yourself permission to gender your body on your own terms.
I also think that sleeping with non-trans men was very important to my trans coming out. On the BDSM scene, I met a lot of male subs who wanted to do gay things with me, had gay rape fantasies, wanted to be fucked… And obviously heterosexual BDSM can be problematic with regard to queer and trans stuff, as it often reduces it to a fantasy or a fetish. But for me it was a really important space, where for the first time I met people who desired my maleness. Which I never found on the queer scene. Because on the queer scene people didn’t fancy me that way, because I wasn’t a classical genderqueer person, wasn’t butch enough. So the BDSM scene was a really important practice ground for me.
You’ve written in your articles about how racism influences your gender explorations. Could you say a bit about that?
S: (Pauses.) I think there is some, I don’t know, how am I gonna put this.. views about my culture in terms of divided gender roles, strict gender codes, sexism…that has meant I have chosen a very genderqueer, non-polar expression I’ve always wanted to prove that that’s not necessarily true. I think for some time I did believe there was some truth in that, from my experience growing up (though I was very lucky and was allowed to be quite free with gender expression) but I resent those fixed assumptions by people who are ignorant about the history and the heritage of my culture. My fixation on femme, I do feel is influenced by the importance of femininity in my culture. (J: Both in boys and girls?) Yeah. It’s something that is idealized. Even though masculinity is something that seems more overtly dominant, I feel that femininity holds more power. But this isn’t really about racism, this is more about dealing with my cultural influences. Um…
J: Do you feel there are different role models in South-Asian cultures that you can aspire to, of feminine males?
S: Yes, I’ve always looked towards androgynous role models, whether within a male or female body. It’s something I’ve seen within my culture, and I feel that’s maybe why I have a different way of expressing my trans identity, and how I choose to transition, that people who weren’t from my cultural background possibly wouldn’t. (pause) I’ve never felt like I’ve identified with being the hyper-masculine… butch, even when I was lesbian-identified, even though I felt male. I’ve sometimes felt like my ideas of what it means to be male are very different from everybody else’s, and thought I was just being strange (both laugh). It’s only when.. when I started having more relationships with male-identified people that I realized that I was right, and there’s so many different ways of being male. Yeah, and that totally like… depends on backgrounds and… yeah, culture and experience.
J: I often meet white FTMs who are into hyper-masculinity, who really aspire to that huge, broad-shouldered, hunky, muscular build. Macho even. I could never look like that. My dad doesn’t look like that (who is shorter than my 5 foot 1, and not much hairier). And I find it problematic as an ideal, though I’m also sometimes attracted to it.
S: I would like to add to that that I’ve always seen being male as problematic. Growing up it was always the males around me who had trouble being man enough, passing… (J: Passing?) Yeah, passing as being a ‘real man’, being man enough. And I suppose in terms of femininity and being female, I always saw around me, people were more comfortable with that, even though they still struggled with standards. So I guess coming into a trans community, I haven’t wanted to seek that out, in terms of what the ideal gender is, or ideal gender norms, to be preoccupied with passing. I think it should be a space where people can be themselves, to come away from that.
To me transition has meant really acknowledging who you are, and being yourself. And I feel like we’re made up, or I am, to talk personally, made up of very different elements, which are always changing. And I never wanna be stuck (J: Definitely.) or struggling.
J: It’s funny how changeability is pathologized, this whole kind of ‘incoherent, unstable, mad, bad’.
S: Or you don’t know what you want. Being unsure, confused. Yeah.
J: When really, why would anyone want to be stuck, like you say, with these extremely narrow ideals of femininity and masculinity, which make people ill and unhappy, give us eating disorders – and men have them, too, like the compulsive exercising at the gym. Being a one-dimensional person who hides most of who they are in order to not get beaten up.
S: Yeah, I also think that a big part of my life is worrying about abuse and violence. I have been a survivor of it, so I’m not so scared of it in some ways, but I know it’s a reality. And I do worry about this, that I spend too much time surviving that, or escaping from that, than actually exploring. All the abuse I get on the street is about being a conflict of genders, and it would be easier sometimes to be either masculine or feminine. But quite honestly, I don’t think anyone can say that they are either. Even these people shouting, you know, even these people who are the abusers.
J: It’s interesting that you say you feel more free as a survivor to explore gender, that it gives you tools for your gender expression. Because the stereotype is that you’re trans because you were abused, that it’s a negative thing, and that being a survivor is a negative thing.
S: Yes. Totally. I think it’s because if you are a survivor you have to focus on what makes you more positive and more healthy, and I’ve never felt more positive than like this, being myself. So I can’t see that it’s a negative result of my abuse. (J: Because even your mum thinks this.) She feels a lot of guilt and shame and a lot of pity, which I really resent. (laughs) Pity for me. Whereas I embrace it. I think that’s more her need for an answer than it is accurate, because she saw who I was growing up, and I’m not that much different. You know. I’ve always been this way.
J: I haven’t really dealt with my family as they are in other countries, so it’s been easy to avoid them. I am grateful to them for encouraging my masculinity.. actually they considered it more dangerous to be feminine. My mum would say don’t wear makeup because people will think you are a ‘Thai prostitute’, and heterosexuality as well was something that was dangerous, that could get you pregnant, or ill, or raped, or people would talk badly about you, and the neighbours already were because we were this strange interracial family. And both my mum and my sister were tomboys when I was growing up. So when my last counselor said, when I told her about difficulties with my mother, she sounds like a bad female role model, I took issue with her. Because I have been raised very freely with regard to expressing androgyny and masculinity.
S: It’s been very similar with my family encouraging my masculinity and tomboyish behaviour.
J: I feel guilty not involving my family more with my transition. I had built quite positive relationships with them before coming out, and I feel like my explorations have brought me further away from them again. I feel ambivalent about taking so much space for my gender, like it’s a luxury that takes me away from the things that really matter, like connecting with human beings who are important to me, and also with communities. I’ve stayed away from Thai diasporic spaces, I’ve stayed away from anti-racist spaces, queer of colour spaces even, because I’m scared I won’t be accepted. Whereas my lesbianism or bisexuality was something I could hide, my gender isn’t. So I can’t just say I’m going to foreground my culture and race today, and downplay the rest, because it’s going to be so visibly in their faces, and they will have to relate to me somehow. Especially at the moment, with the war and the backlash against multiculturalism, and all this crazy racism going on, I sometimes ask myself am I getting my priorities right. Because gender can be such a self-indulgent, self-obsessed thing, that absorbs all your energies, and you forget that the world is still spinning around you. At the same time, it’s unfair to bash ourselves for the intolerance in those places and our fear and avoidance of them.
S: Yeah, all I can say is I’ve been feeling that recently. There’s a lot of awareness recently about trans issues, and sometimes I feel it’s such a focus in my life, and I wish it wasn’t. And I wish people just related to me as me, and not as a gender. At the same time, of course I want them to recognize my gender. It’s finding that line where it has enough importance in your life, but yeah, isn’t my main priority. It’s a shame we have to spend so much time and energy focusing on it, because it has so much stigma to it. We should just really be accepted and understood and able to focus on the rest of our lives.
J: Let’s close on a positive note. I’m interested in who your role models are. What boys do you want to fuck or emulate. Are they the same ones?
S: (laughs) It’s personal! Right now I feel very positive. It’s a new year for a start, and a lot of change has happened recently so I feel so new in myself, and that leaves me open to explore different things. Definitely I want to meet and have more sex with different kinds of people.
J: Any ones in particular?
S: (laughs) I would like to explore, I think I find it interesting what you express when you’re with different people, but not in the same way as in the past, where I gave up my identity, but where I can do that now.. yeah, really presenting that, and how you can have that exchange with someone. And that goes for people who are similar, I would definitely like to explore stuff with more trans people. I think I have had my own fears about that, which relate to my own identity. (J: Around authenticity?) Yeah, exactly. And I have had a lot of one-night stands or affairs, and I would like to experience something more meaningful. I think there is a lot to be learned from other people’s experiences. And that also goes for trying new things and reestablishing communication with my own body, and then how that communicates with somebody else’s body. I’d like to talk about this stuff more with people Sometimes it’s just a fumble, you know, it’s not spoken so much. (J: While you’re having sex?) I think sex is a really healthy way of exploring gender and your identity, and I think in the past it’s been more unhealthy for me. (J: In terms of putting your needs second.) Yeah. And I would like to be braver, to explore my hyper-femininity and to see how far that goes, it’s something that really excites me at the moment. But there is always something holding me back. And I would like to let go of that, let go of those inhibitions once and for all.
J: I also find this an exciting time in my life. I want to explore gay-boy spaces, now that I am starting to pass. Because I don’t know how long I will be on T for, so to make the most of this moment, while I’m in this current body. Because I have been fantasizing about these places for such a long time, especially the sex clubs, but also bars and social spaces where men relate to each other without hatred, that I often associate with masculinity. I want to absorb that flirty camp energy and I think it could make me more whole. I also want to be more creative with the whole gender thing rather than suffering and tragic and feeling sorry for myself, to really enter into community in that way, for example through writing, making comics, and performance.
S: Yeah, creativity has always been my natural outlet as an artist, but many times has felt stifled in this trans world of medicine, surgery and theory. I don’t often feel I can’t convey how I feel about my identity in a more creative way. I worry it will not be considered credible or it will be easy to be misunderstood or easily ignored. I feel I have to make a solid statement in a language that people will easily recognize, which is usually hormones and surgery, and I struggle with that. I guess this is what this zine is about!
How do you feel about being a gender minority in terms of your sexual practice. Do you think it will be easy to connect with people sexually?
J: I think most people who sleep with me will make an exception. Like most gay guys who’d play with me would not have considered playing with a female-bodied person before.
S: And as a (male) feminine identified person, does that complicate things?
J: On Gaydar and Gay Romeo (a German dating website), a lot of the guys say explicitly ‘No sissies’. (S: Wow.) But I sometimes read that and feel stronger in my identity. Because I do identify as a sissy and feel solidarity with sissies, and realize that there is a place for me in that community, even if it’s at the margins. I have to remind myself that I don’t fancy people like that anyway. Who wants to sleep with transphobic people? My friends don’t, whether or not they are trans themselves.
I find a lot of ‘bio-boys’ who are attracted to me are very feminine and more on the trans side of things themselves, which is nice, but I do wonder if I’ll ever sleep with a non-trans man again.
S: I also feel some of the same fears about isolating or marginalizing myself, by standing up for my specific gender identity. There are some groups I have always shut myself away from, such as hetero bio-guys, because I have feared they will not understand me and my identity or at least misread it for their own gain. There are other groups, too, who I fear have misread me, like lesbians, but I am now finding that it’s becoming easier to cross over these boundaries, and I have always found labels limiting, but it is a fine line of doing this and reaching out and compromising yourself. On the queer scene its seems much easier to cross these lines and do as you please with not much stigma, with anything goes, but I sometimes feel trapped within this community also, and worry it can also be limiting in this way. Especially living in London or other cities like Berlin, San Fran or New York, it is easy to exist, but what about if I moved somewhere else, where could I go and be both safe but also stimulated.
J: Yes, I’ve found the London scene very adventurous sexually. It’s a big deal to see bio-boys and girls who are open to having sex with each other, and with trans people. I do remember the biphobia though, when I still identified a bisexual bio-girl, I was the lowest of the low. Now no-one cares what I do sexually, I’m already queer by virtue of my gender!
My desires are very eclectic and broad, so in a way I don’t mind not having a ready-made niche to fit into. I am excited about finding more surprising possibilities that fall off the map and the social scripts we have inherited. I feel more comfortable that way. Because the major reason why I transitioned is that I felt claustrophobic, depressed and stifled by the existing scripts, like butch/femme, heterosexuality or even queerness. I just couldn’t do it anymore. It made me ill. So I have to remind myself of this, when I’m overcome by this sense that ‘There is no place for me and nobody will ever want to fuck me again’. That this is the freed-up space that I have been looking for, that I have fought for. And I intend to savour every inch of it!
On the other hand, if I present feminine for too long, I feel like I become that sex object I am impersonating. I start identifying with the catcalls, the patronizing and belittling (which goes on even in queer, feminist and pro-feminist contexts), and I stop believing that I actually have something to say and deserve to be heard. This is just my particular take at this particular moment in my life – I know there’s a lot of strong kick-ass femmes out there who manage to walk that tight-rope quite happily.
 I also miss the feistiness which used to be part of my presentation. As a female-identified person, I knew how to stand up for myself. I haven’t yet learned this yet as a male-identified person, in a way which does not get me in trouble. This is partly to do with being read as a brown underaged boy, or a short campie man who doesn’t deserve much space or respect.
 My decision to take T was partly a result of my difficulties in passing as trans or genderqueer, and in having my masculinity perceived by other queer people.
 What is feminine and masculine is again relative. In my biography, ‘extreme femininity’ was initially a femininity that was often read as straight, and only then became hyper-feminine drag queening. ‘Extreme masculinity’ means a masculinity that exceeds what is allowable for queer women.
 Of course, the whole idea behind mad pride is that stability and coherence are problematic ideals of mental ‘health’, and that they serve to stifle creativity, non-conformity and rebelliousness.