Coming Out as Trans: Non-Safety Related Dilemmas

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We often talk about how coming out is not a one time thing: in different contexts through our lives, we have to make decisions about coming out. We also often talk about how these decisions are based on psychological or physical safety. Like many trans folks that have “passing privilege”, even though I’m out quite publicly – anyone who finds out because of google and thinks they can blackmail me is shit outta luck! – I’ve had to make enough of these contextual decisions that I’ve lost count.

However, there are reasons other than safety that come up for me sometimes and these are what I want to talk about today.

This evening, in a conversation that had absolutely nothing to do with anything trans, a group of us were discussing childbirth. A cisgender man was talking about how as men – with a nod in my direction – “we” can’t ever understand what women who give birth go through. He has no idea that I’m a mother who gave birth to a child. Why would he? I’ve never “come out” to him. I haven’t actively hidden it – it just never came up and, like with a whole other things about me, I don’t tend to bring up my transness until it’s relevant to a conversation or context. It’s part of my efforts at rendering transness as “just another thing”, so banal that it doesn’t need to come up.

But in a moment like this, or in a moment like the one where a group of women I was with were sharing their birthing stories, I have to make speedy decisions.

There is a part of me that feels that my experience of childbirth is just as valid and deserves to be heard. That “hiding” it, even indirectly through omission, is to dishonour my birthing of a very important person in my life.

There is also a part of me that knows damn well that me speaking up about my birthing experience will result in a possiblr number of things: laughs, because people will assume I’m joking; disbelief; or curiosity. Either way, the conversation will change and become about me and my transness. The original point of the conversation would be lost. The women sharing their stories or the cis men acknowledging that there are experiences they don’t understand would stop and ask me a million questions about being trans (unless some of them are assholes who would start insulting and harassing me – quite rare in my own experience but I know it can happen).

In an ideal world, where the existence of trans people and the diversity of trans experiences were widely acknowledged as “just another thing”, the conversation would simply move on. Alas, we’re not in that ideal world. And as much as I believe in working to achieve that world, I’m not sure I want to do it at the expense of losing chances at different dialogues that I haven’t had enough of.

Dilemmas, dilemmas, dilemmas.

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Trans as Communication

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I had a kind of epiphany yesterday. Quite a while ago, I stopped “feeling” trans, as in it was no longer a very relevant part of my existential identity. This was after a whole other process of shifting from feeling “male” to feeling “non-binary”, and eventually adopting the term “androgyne” for myself (I don’t like the word non-binary because, a) I hate defining myself by what I’m not, and b) I find the term clunky and ugly).

Comfy with androgyne, I stopped thinking about it for a while. Then I thought of something: trans isn’t so much an identity, for me, as it has been a way to communicate my way of being in this world.

This occurred to me because I was wondering, as I have before, what it would have been like had I been born in a society where, for whatever reason, hormone replacement therapy didn’t exist but where ideas about gender were more fluid. And it occurred to me that this would’ve been fine because I would have had access to other means of communicating who I am in a way that made sense in that cultural context.

Since I’m a product of western culture for the most part, with its emphasis on certain gender markers – physical and behavioural – playing with these markers has been the primary mode of communication to which I have had access. These markers refer back to shared ideas about gender – they are symbols. Using this mode of communication, I have communicated – or tried to communicate – my own transcendence of gender. Blending the symbols in a way that takes commonly understood meanings and twists them to mean “me” has been a way to affirm that I understand where the symbols come from and what they mean but that I can make them mean something else.

But I have never actually changed who I am. I have simply changed how I communicate who I am. And “who I am” is not trans, nor is it female or male.

Now, whether people accurately interpret what I communicate is a whole other story. In the end, it matters less to me than having a way to express what I need to express. If few fellow humans get it, I have other friends who do.

Fuck you and your accusations of “identity politics”

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I repeat, for those in the back of the room who haven’t heard yet, pointing out gross inequalities (in income, access to health care and clean housing, in all around well-being) that arise out of an inherently unfair and discriminatory system is NOT identity politics. You can talk about “we” all you want and appeal to what “we” supposedly all have in common, but “we” are not all treated the same and therefore don’t all have the same opportunities. And until the folks who are treated “better” by the system work to dismantle that system and the oppression that goes with it, people who aren’t treated fairly will continue to fight. If you don’t want to help, then get out of the way! If this makes you uncomfortable, well here’s a tune on the world’s smallest violin.
 
And yes, I’m fully aware that oppression is multi-dimensional and complex. That’s why any “we” that is to thrive has to thrive on increased understanding of what people with different experiences face in society. Ignoring the different ways in which people are treated in the name of some lofty ideals about “we are all one” just perpetuates the blissful, and sometimes willful, ignorance of those who profit the most from the oppression of others.

Freedom of what?

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It seems to me that many of the people arguing for freedom of speech these days are:

-fighting for the right to express retrograde views that have upheld an unequal society for centuries;

-fighting for the right to express things that have been shoved down our throats as “the truth” for far too long (white supremacist beliefs, gender essentialist beliefs, etc.);

-expecting their views to be acknowledged as universal truths;

-acting as though views that support a racist, sexist, and so forth status quo is somehow edgy and sexy;

-acting as though people disagreeing with them, even respectfully, is some form of persecution;

-not understanding that it’s often their arrogance and refusal to acknowledge that their truth is not universal or objective, and not their little opinion, that drives people to get angry with them and refuse to engage with them;

-not understanding that their “opinions”, like those of most other people, are based on their own partial view and life experience, not on cold, hard, objective truth;

-not understanding that inserting their opinions in discussions of people’s experiences of an unjust world, as though they somehow know better than those who are directly affected by various forms of bigotry, actually is oppressive;

-and, as many have pointed out, not understanding that people telling them that they are full of shit is not actually taking away their freedom of speech.

Tl;dr: If you want to be taken seriously, do your research and base your opinions on something other than your limited life experience.

Everyone welcome?

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Many years ago, when I was a baby activist, I was involved in a bisexual activist community group. Inspired by other community groups who applied a more intersectional (I didn’t know that word then) approach than our white, cisgender, able-bodied dominant group did, I wanted to add a memo to the poster for one of our social events. It went something like this: “People of all colours, genders, ages, and abilities are welcome!” A couple of people were on board and we tried to tweak the wording (in French, because we were in Montreal) with the knowledge we had at the time. One member with a voice that carried – in the social sense, and incidentally an older cis guy – scowled at us and strongly suggested we just write: “Everyone welcome.” The others, weary of arguments and tired of playing with words, agreed.

At the time, I didn’t have the words to express why it was important to be more explicit than that. I just had a gut feeling. I felt like when I was a child and teen, unable to argue against the seeming rational discourse of older men in my family, no matter how racist or sexist they were, but knowing deep in my guts that they were wrong.

Over the years, I’ve read and listened to the experiences of people whose experiences are not my own. For example, a disability and poverty activist who I consider to be a leather sister has written much about inclusion or lack thereof in leather circuits. Many BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Colour) have blogged and tweeted explanations about what it’s like to not know when one is truly included. This led me to reflect on my own prior experience as a woman and being put on my place more than once by men who felt I should have known I wasn’t included even when it wasn’t stated because, “logic”. And now, as a trans person/androgyne, I often question whether someone like me is genuinely welcome at events that don’t specify “trans folk welcome”.

What it boils down to for me is this: if the society you live in renders people that look like you invisible, it’s hard to feel included by default. When you don’t see yourself in depictions of the “default” human being, it’s hard to feel like you are even considered to be human. When people don’t explicitly mention “your kind”, it’s hard to know whether you’re even on their radar.

So unless an event includes a welcome statement that is worded to show that organizers are aware of the existance and are welcoming of the presence of people like you, you’re left wondering whether your presence will genuinely be welcome. You wonder whether people will give each other meaningful glances like: “What are THEY doing here? What made them think they belong here?”

Same goes for dating profiles. When people say they are “open to everyone”, that doesn’t tell the reader who this person considers to be human enough to be included in that everyone. Heck, it doesn’t tell us whether they know we exist.

In an ideal world, this wouldn’t be a question. Everyone would mean everyone. But we’re not in an ideal world. So while we continue to strive for that, those of us who want to make sure people on the margins know they are actively included should be as explicit as we can. Without resorting to tokenism, let’s listen to what helps people feel genuinely welcome and appreciated in a space. Let’s not assume that “everyone welcome” says anything beyond “whoever is deemed normal by mainstream social standards is welcome”.

And most of all, let’s go beyond mere words and follow through with our actions. Let’s not assume that people will just trust that they will feel welcome just because the sign explicitly said they are. Let’s listen to what people need and accept that trust takes a long time to build.

A Series of Newsflashes

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Pointing out social divisions and disparities in access to material and social well-being that exist because of systemic discrimination is not being divisive.

Acknowledging that people have different experiences in society because of prejudice and stereotypes based on skin colour, religion, gender, sexual orientation, mental and physical ability, size, age, or socio-economic status is not a game of identity politics.

Standing up for respect, dignity, and well-being for all is not about political correctness.

Being in favour of social progress only so long as it’s done in a way that preserves your own personal comfort and wealth is not solidarity.

Patting oneself on the back for throwing money at charities does not fix the problem of how some people have more access to wealth and material well-being in the first place.

White Supremacy and American/Canadian Values

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I’m a bit confused when I hear people say white supremacy goes against american or canadian values. Both of these nation states were built on the blood of Indigenous peoples and folks taken by force from the African continent. And lest one think that this is “in the past and we ought to get over it”, remember that these nation states continue to amass riches on the backs of Indigenous peoples and that white supremacy is built into the entire system. We see this in many, many ways ranging from the eurocentrism of our educational, political, economic, judicial, and medical institutions to the systemic discrimination that is evident in these same institutions. Tell me again, then, how white supremacy goes against american or canadian values. If all you can say is that “we” built these nations based on values of respect and freedom, I will ask: “Who is ‘we’? Respect and freedom for who?” and invite you to read some history from Indigenous and Black perspectives and from the perspectives of other peoples here and elsewhere who have been exploited in the building of these “great” nations. Canada, in particular, likes to pay lip service to openness and “tolerance”. But these are superficial words accompanied by great photo opps and just enough action to make it look like “progress” is happening. At the end of the day, though, the people in power, who get to decide who has rights and what the speed of acquisition of rights and human dignity should be, are overwhelmingly white. And their decisions are based in the eurocentric ideologies engrained in the above-mentioned institutions. So tell me again….how is white supremacy against american/canadian values when these values are seeped in white supremacist systems to begin with?

I must acknowledge the many, many writings and presentations by Indigenous, Black, and People of Colour activists and scholars for helping me shape these thoughts. I didn’t make any of this up.

Free speech, huh?

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I have SO MUCH to say about the anti-SJW and anti-PC crowd’s antics. It would take blog post upon blog post. But I was feeling a bit creative tonight, and I think this little skit sums up a lot of what I have to say on the topic:

Person A, exercising right to free speech, exists publicly as queer, trans, Muslim, Indigenous, female, fat, Black, or another marginalized identity.

Person B, exercising right to free speech: That’s gross/indecent/immoral/against nature/ disturbing! You should hide/die/kill yourself/get raped/have your clothes ripped off!

Person A and their friends/allies, exercising their right to free speech: That’s really fucking oppressive. Why don’t you leave us the hell alone and mind your own business? We’re not hurting you and we have the right to exist!

Person B and their cronies: How DARE you tell me what to do?!?!? What happened to free speech in this country?!?!?! You SJWs are such fucking bullies, trying to control us with your political correctness!!!!!!

People with any sense of reason and decency: WTF?!?!?!

Summer Bodies & Revolutionary Acts

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It’s summer time and thus bathing suit weather here. So it’s that time of year when I see a lot of posts by people who are embarrassed or ashamed of their bodies. I also see posts by people making fun of other peoples’ bodies. Makes me sad. No one should have to deal with shame or have it get in the way of enjoying their life.

So hear this:  No bodies are ugly! Skinny, fat, young, old, tall, short, smooth, wrinkly, saggy, scarred, black, white, brown, able bodied, disabled, gender conforming or non-conforming, inked, pierced, or not….doesn’t matter…all are beautiful and valuable 🙂

If you feel bad about your body, I know it’s hard, but try to ignore all the media that tells you your body is ugly so they can sell you things 🙂 If it helps, see the act of putting a revealing bathing suit on that body as a revolutionary act. Take back the pool and the beach with other people who don’t fit the bogus mainstream norm of what is beautiful and your friends who love you the way you are.

If you like to make fun of other peoples’ bodies, try to think about where that attitude comes from, why you feel entitled to pass judgement on other people, and how you hurt people with your stares, your laughter, and your disgusting memes that make fun of people who don’t match your shallow definition of what looks “good”.

You don’t decide for us

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As a bisexual and a non-binary (I don’t like this word but it’s all I got right now) person, I’m really tired of being asked to be “patient” while the rest of the world learns to “accept” that I exist. If you are straight or gay, or binary identified, you do NOT get to decide when the world will be “ready” for folks like us. You do NOT get to decide the length of time that it takes for us to expect a full recognition of our humanity and the right to dignity, respect, and inclusion.

Oh, and by the way, this goes for all forms of oppression and power dynamics. Settlers don’t get to decide when Indigenous people have rights. White folks don’t get to decide when People of Colour have rights. Non-intersex people don’t get to decide when intersex people have rights. Able bodied folks don’t get to decide when People with Disabilities have rights. Men don’t get to decide when women have rights. Need I go on?

If your precious “opinion” is hurt because you feel like we are “shoving things down your throat” when we demand rights and human dignity, and you feel offended when we point out how your actions hurt us . . . in the words of Suicidal Tendencies, “…if I offended you, Oh I’m sorry
But, maybe you needed to be offended
But here’s my apology and one more thing…Fuck you!”