hacklikeagirl

Beth 'pidge' Flanagan's blog. Open source queer.

A letter to my generation of trans women…

“Calling somebody else fat won’t make you any skinnier. Calling someone stupid doesn’t make you any smarter. And ruining Regina George’s life definitely didn’t make me any happier. All you can do in life is try to solve the problem in front of you.”
‘Mean Girls’

It’s been a few months since I last posted and I *know* I promised that I would post soon but haven’t. I’ve been thinking a lot about what I wanted to say and sometimes processing complicated stuff takes time. Sorry if this is all disjointed, but, I’m trying to talk about a lot of complex stuff here and I *still* haven’t got it sorted out, but, this is long overdue… so…..

I was at the Philly Trans Health Conference a few months ago. It’s always weird going to these things because of the circles I travel. There’s the old lady circle. The punk rock trans chick circle. The drag/street/sex worker circles. The internet trans girl activisty folks which overlaps a BUNCH with the punk rock circle.

I think it really dawned on me how split those communities are during this. Popping back and forth from one circle to the next, my trans mom in tow, having her both get news from the old lady and drag circles, then popping over to the punk rock and internet trans girl circles to give history lessons really drove what I want to talk about home.

I’ve always felt more at home with the punk rock trans girls circles since they gave me less of a rash of shit for being a queermo, tattooed trans dyke who felt more at home in divey punk bars than in gay discos. It’s not that I haven’t made a place in those other spaces. I have. But home for me is always going to be the basement show, the protest march that turned into a riot, the dyke bar with a row of motorcycles out front.

This home of mine, of awesome punk trans women, is relatively new to me actually. I’m sure that there were glimmers of it before I came along, but if so, it was very small. The internet really fueled it and maintained it. It’s funny.  This community that I had sooo much love for, so much in common with, essentially sat on a server somewhere far from home. I’m not even sure if I could call it a community, right? Like, communities are people, face to face, and I saw folks maybe once every few years or so. The rest of my time was navigating cis-space, dyke-space (which is still traumatic, thank you transmisogynistic assholes), and what little trans space I could stomach.

I sat in Tattooed Moms during PTHC, drink in hand, looking over at 40 trans women, laughing, joking when I realized that this community of mine has grown to a *thing* without me paying attention. I can’t help but think of all the women who made it possible and how this thing that is happening now, as imperfect as it is (and I’ll get into that in a moment), is the culmination of 20 years of them fighting like the hard, tough women they are. I was sitting there trying reallllly freaking hard not to cry because, how the hell did we win this? This community that I wanted, as imperfect and as fucked up as it is? How did this happen? We don’t win, right? Everyone knows that.

The thing that really spiked my heart was when I was sitting with this woman who I knew from the Philly in the way back, talking about a mutual friend of ours who once did the drag circuit and is now heavily into drugs. It pains me, because, these are folks I love, as imperfect and as fucked up as they (we) are all. The woman who were were talking about I really like. She was one of the few folks in that community to not give me shit for who I was, for who I loved. I don’t think most of the folks in the trans/drag community gave me shit to be malicious. It was because they were trying to be something that every fucking indicator of cis society told them they had to be. I think, if we’re going to talk about the word “tranny” that is the fucking conversation we should be having. About cispeople telling us what we should be. About us (and yeah, Andrea and Calpernia and all the rest. I’m looking at you) enforcing those fucked up standards.

But I think it’s tragic right? Because you folks, no matter which one of the circles I travel in, are the keepers of my history. History is this weird thing, right? Folks expect it to be all rainbows and kittens but really sometimes it’s someone lying dead on the street. And there is this serious lack of connect with younger generations which honestly was happening when I was a kid.

Let me tell you a story that I’m sure you’re going to find as funny as I did. I’m standing outside the wooden shoe in philly, listening to these trans kids talk about all the trans children they saw at PTHC and going on about how lucky and easy they’re going to have it and I couldn’t help but snort. Because, hi, yeah, I think I probably had that SAME conversation word for word, years ago about those kids. The thing is, I can’t really fucking blame them for not having a context to put this into because we really didn’t give them any.

About 15 years ago I was involved in this messageboard. I’m going to avoid naming it so I don’t cause the folks who ran it grief (but if you know how to FUCKING ARCHIVE A YUKU MESSAGEBOARD, let me know). It was were a lot of what is modern trans feminist thought got hashed out by a really rad bunch of trans chicks. So, I was talking to this kid I met in Philly and she had been doing all this searching for trans feminist/punk/riotgrrl history and she was coming up blank. Anne Tagonists zine (which was AWESOME). A few other things. So I pointed her to a few places and she was all “HOLY SHIT! YOU FOLKS WROTE ABOUT THAT IN 1998!”

And I get it. Who the hell knew we were doing “important” stuff back then? Not me. And as we all got older and started kind of getting on with life, we abandoned those communities. I think in part this was because we didn’t really need them so much anymore and that technology changed (people still use messageboards, wtf?). And now we get to watch this entire new generations make the same fucking mistakes we made, except this time on Tumblr and Twitter. Fucking rad, right?

I dunno, part of me wants to and then doesn’t want to show them that history. Because, I think one of the things that made the trans punk feminist whatever communities we made fucking awesome is that in order for us to exist we had to break up with, to some extent, the old trans community. But, I also can’t help but think that we lost something in doing so and that by not telling that history, they’ll be the worst for it.

I get it. I do. Y’all got your lives to live. Screw having to deal with people who don’t know what we went through, right? Except, as much as folks want to wave trans acceptance as this “we’ve made it moment” the fact is, right now, it still sucks. Ok, maybe if you live in a big metro area it sucks a bit less, but for the rest of the world, it sucks just as bad as it did years ago if not worse. I still have kids that are doing sex work to make rent and I’m still dealing with people who are super fucking traumatized and I’m looking around and I see people with my life experience either so fucking damaged there is no way I would ever send someone to them or people still healing from all the shit they went through or people just barely holding their heads above water or people who actually *are* doing that work. But it’s like trying to keep your head above a tidal wave.

One of the things that I’ve been dealing with this past few months is abuse in trans communities and at how we STILL FUCKING won’t deal with it. Like, we dealt with it shitty 20 years ago and deal with it shitty now and part of me thinks that we should just let the kids run off on their own and do their shit and let them make their own fucking mistakes because then at least maybe they won’t make this same mistake we’ve been making for freaking YEARS. And then part of me is adamant about saying “NO! They need to know about this! This bullshit has gone on long the fuck enough.”

I think this whole T-word crap is a symptom of a larger issue that we need to talk about and it’s a hard talk to have. But community isn’t always potlucks and parties. Sometimes it’s having shitty conversations about tough things. About our history. About privilege. About these growing pains all communities have. About trauma. About how hurt and damaged people lash out.

———
So, let me take a moment here. To talk to a small segment of you, the ones who like to play this game transgirl highlander (“There can be only ONE true trans woman!”). To the ones who think Andrea and Calp and the rest are right on and that they’re somehow helping with trans women’s communities.

Stop it. You are part of the fucking problem. That doesn’t mean I don’t love you. But it means you’re letting your hurt and anger dictate your actions and you are not doing yourselves or anyone else any good. You’re playing this bullshit “true” transsexual game and it’s crap and it does NOTHING to move forward. It’s not original. It’s not clever.

I get it. I do. You think the kids don’t know our history. You think the kids don’t respect what we went through. You think the kids are being jerks and disrespectful and all you want to do is sit there waving your cane at them telling them to get off your trans community lawn because they’ve been here for a whole of a few years? Let me tell you how to do it.

1. Get the fuck over it and yourselves.
2. Stop acting like a bunch of mean girls.
3. Swallow your pride, say you’re sorry and start communicating.

The damage you are doing. The cruelty in how you are espousing your opinions. It’s gross. It’s shameful. It’s nasty and mean. You are better than this. WE are better than this.  Want to be elders in the community? Want to be respected and honored? Then act like adults and do things that allow people to say “hey, there’s someone who I’d like to emulate” instead of being someone they should fear.

Keep acting like you are now and you will continue to be marginalized as the mean girl club that you’ve become.

Want the kids to know your history? Tell them about it and LISTEN to theirs. Calling them “disabled /diseased victims”, “nutty trans hacktivists”, “shut ins” etc? Yeah, brilliant. Way to fucking make a connection with the kids? Good going there (eyerolls out of my freaking head). Winning hearts and minds through insults. Wonderful.

One last thing. The whole “It’s noteworthy that the most vocal anti-RuPaul hecklers are trans women who are primarily attracted to women.” Golf clap. Shades of Bailey, Blanchard, Lawrence, right? I’m surprised the term autogynophile wasn’t tossed about. How ironic would *that* have been, amiright?

———

So yeah. In conclusion, I don’t have any answers. I wish I did. I wish this was all straightforward and simple and with a wave of a magic wand we could make things better. But we can’t. But can we at least have this conversation without being cruel to our own?

A quick note.

So, I know there is some concern about me not taking my generation and prior to task quite yet. I want to address that concern before I write the next letter.

Frankly, I’ve hit a bit of a block around that letter and have realized how hard it will be to write. It’s a whole lot easier to write to people you love and aren’t *really* mad at, than it is to write to people you are still a bit angry at but still love none the less. Maybe this is a cop out, I don’t know. I want to yell at them. To hurt some of them for what they did to me and do to you. To shake my fist at them. But I can’t. Because I was there and I know that in many ways, they’re parroting what was taught to them by prior generations, acting out in ways they were taught to act. If anything, I feel a bit of pity.

Time and distance has tempered my anger towards them bit. Made me see that despite the awfulness of some of what the prior generations and my own( and some of the current generation, tbh. primary/secondary:homosexual/autogynophile:hbser. Seriously, W.T.F?) perpetuate there are still good things that happen. Awesome things. The really amazing things around transfeminist thought that are happening now didn’t happen in a vacuum. Those blocks were imperfectly laid out years ago. Fights against fucked up, out dated models about trans women were happening back then. And it wasn’t just in internet communities. A lot of that conversation and work was happening in drag communities. In street communities. In working class communities. In trans women of color communities.

Transy house. Strap-on.org (please, someone, tell me how to archive whatever ezboards turned into and I’ll buy you a pint if we ever meet). History projects. A lot of little projects, all over the world, across demographics *were* happening that changed the entire landscape from the fuckedupness of what was going on back then (and still is).

I want to tell a story here that I’ve never ever ever told publicly. About a little clinic I started. A friend of mine (a trans lady who had graduated medical school and was now in her residency) had gotten pissed off enough about how there was an entire medical establishment who essentially fed off the lack of health care options for trans women. They profited from our destitution.

So, on a farm in western Washington, we built (literally. walls and all) a clinic. That provided orchidectomies to trans women. For 500 USD. Literally enough for supplies and to cover rent back when that procedure cost about 2000 USD. We prioritized low income trans women and trans women from disadvantaged populations.

The clinic didn’t last for long. About 2 years give or take. It was never meant to be a long term sustainable project. I tell you this story, not to toot my own horn (in fact, with the exception of folks I know IRL, I’ve never actually told this story. It’s kind of one of those things that get cisfolks to sideeye you a bit), but to illustrate a point.

Undamaging a community takes time and work and none of it happens in a vacuum. It’s built on over years, either directly or by changing the way a community thinks or even by changing the climate that surrounds a community. The work people are doing now is, in part, built off the work some of my contemporaries did which in turn is built off of work some of the prior generation did. That’s not to say the people doing the work now don’t deserve credit. They do. All of it. But, the work I did around the clinic would NOT have been possible without the work the prior generation did. Without being able to have a trans woman being able to transition in medschool and keep her job.

It’s all a lot of small, scary steps that happen over years, done by people who have suffered serious trauma. It’s imperfect. Sometimes it runs off into the weeds. And sometimes it’s just a few people doing the work. And then more and more join in and it reaches critical mass.

So, I guess my point is this. We need to address our history both the good and the bad and to reconcile it with where we are now. To understand it in context. To be mad about some of what happened, but also be able to see the good things that happened, which, many times, are lost amid the anger and hurt. To be able to forgive a bit more and recognize that there is no real good and evil here. Just fucked up people doing the best they can in a fucked up situation.

A letter to the next generation of trans women..

“A sure sign that something is seriously missing in a society is a generation gap. If the younger generation does not take pride in becoming like its elders, then the society has lost its own continuum, its own stability, and probably does not have a culture worth calling one, for it will be in a constant state of change from one unsatisfactory set of values to another.

If the younger members of the society feel the older ones are ridiculous, or wrong, or boring, they will have no natural path to follow. They will feel lost, demeaned and cheated and will be angry. The elders, too, will feel cheated and resentful at the loss of continuity in the culture and suffer from a sense of purposelessness along with the young.”

The Continuum Concept: Allowing Human Nature to Work Successfully by Jean Liedloff

This was the sign on the door of the surgery of the first surgical clinic ever run by and for trans women, THI, 2002-2004

Hey,

My name is Beth. You probably don’t know me. I’m substantially older than most of you, transitioned longer ago than you did and frankly, spent the past decade kind of out of trans circles fixing my life up a bit. If you were involved in trans/queer feminism about 12-18 years ago, you’ll probably know who I am. If not, go find someone who was involved in that stuff from that era and ask them about me. They’ll probably know who I am. Don’t worry, I’ll wait right here.

Back? Good. I asked you to do this because I think it’s important to know something about me before you continue reading this. That this letter comes to you not out of anger or malice but out of love. I know the past few weeks have been a bit low on the love side all around, but, please believe me, I’m writing this out of love and respect.

That said, I think I know who some of you are, at least what your tweets and tumblr posts say you are. I’ve even talked to a few of you. But mostly, I’ve sat in the back, mostly quiet for the past decade, watching you and this new community of trans women grow. Sometimes I’ve silently rolled my eyes at you. Sometimes I’ve wanted to twist your ears and sit you down and wag my finger at you. But more times than not, I sat there, proud of you and of what you’ve accomplished.

So, that said, I’m going to ask you to take a seat for a moment. We need to have a talk. A heart to heart. A come to Jesus moment. But before we do that, I have to tell you something.

I’m sorry.

See, this whole fucking mess the past few weeks, with RuPaul, terminology, Andrea, Calpernia, Parker, everything… it all exists, in part, because my generation failed you. Please, don’t think I’m letting you off the hook over what has happened the past few weeks or siding with one side or the other. I’m not. Frankly, the two critiques I somewhat agree with about your part in all of this is that this whole thing smells very privileged and that many of you lack a lot of historical and cultural context of North American trans culture. The former issue is something we all need to own. But the latter? That you lack this history, this context, is, in many ways, not your fault. It’s ours.

It would help if you understood what life looked like for most trans women in the States who came up during the late 80s to late 90s. It was the time of HBIGDA and the DSM-III. It was a time when being an out trans woman wasn’t possible in most cases, outside of the gay and drag communities. If you wanted to survive, it meant being quiet. Hiding. Disappearing. If you were privileged (pick one. White. Middle class, urban, etc), you *might* have some protection, but not a lot. You might have had access to communities outside of the gay and drag communities. Access to #transgen on EFNet or to USENET or the AOL rooms. If you lacked that access you most likely came up through the gay/drag communities or through the gender groups/clinics.

I tell you this because this narrative is in many ways, far different from what many of you experienced. I can’t fully explain what it was like back then in a way that will make you understand, and to be honest, I don’t *want* you to ever have to understand those times. They were horrible and awful times in a lot of ways. We lost a lot of friends. To HIV. To drugs. To depression. To the streets. To insanity. To poverty. To murder. To suicide. That’s not to say this stuff still doesn’t exist. It does. But in many ways, things are better, especially for those of you who are able to access some form of privilege. Many of the women who are your contemporaries, who are working class or trans women of color or rural women, may recognize some of what I’m about to talk about because many of these women still come up through these communities.

I would say that a tragicly large percentage of the women that I knew from the drag/street queen communities back then are dead now. The ones in the internet communities survived. I still look those women up from time to time, living stealth lives, making it through life the best they can. I love them. I love them in their imperfection. I love them for their ability to survive and to make a life, no matter how imperfect it may be to most. But I don’t miss them as much as the women I knew from the drag communities. I miss those women the most. For their courage. For their resiliency. For their carrying on of a culture of trans women that is decades old, that has it’s own in jokes, it’s own customs, hell, it’s own language (fidaga ouyaga eakspaga agaey enthaga ouyey ownaga utwaye iaga eanmaga).

I’m not going to patronize you by spending an entire letter telling you that we had it worse. Things still suck. I think all of us can be honest with each other though and say that each successive generation has had it, generally, a bit easier than the last. We all stand on the shoulders of imperfect, fucked up giants.

I tell you this, at the risk of becoming a bit nostalgic and seeming silly to you, not because I want to tell you about how I had to trudge through 10 feet of snow, up hill, both ways, to visit the hormone doc. I tell you this because I think that it’s important for you to understand the women who transitioned 15-25 years ago. To understand our cultures and histories in context. Understanding this is vital to understanding exactly how we failed you and how we move forward.

I know a lot of you may see us as retrograde dinosaurs, not able to grok “your” theory. As binarist assimilationists. You’re right. A lot of us are. Many of us didn’t have a choice. We became what we needed to become in order to survive. And a lot of times, we get angry at you because a lot of the theory you espouse is stuff we hashed out over a decade ago (seriously, I’ll be more than happy to show you the archives if you don’t believe me).

Our biggest failure is that we failed to give you a culture that you could enter into when you came out. A culture that welcomed you and cherished you and made you feel safe and gave you a sense of history, a sense of place, a sense of being part of a community. That was beyond our ability. I’ve cried about that for years. I don’t know how to make that right and the most I can offer is that I’m sorry.

We left you to fend for yourselves. Instead of raising you up, we allowed some of the crappiest places on the internet to do what we should have been doing. We really can’t complain when you look upon us as silly old trans women, backwards in our thinking, hold overs from a fucked up era. We never gave you a place in what communities we had, so you went off and created your own.

I wouldn’t say we tried very hard to create those communities. We couldn’t. Most of us were too caught up in just trying to survive or too caught up in believing what the shrinks told us we had to be in order to help with that. Or, we became insular, distrustful of this new generation, trying hard to heal our wounds, but at the same time, jealous at what we perceived as your calk walk through transition. It’s bullshit, right. But it’s bullshit that we created because of our damage because we were trying to protect our broken selves.

I know that it’s little consolation. In fairness to us though, the damage done to us by a trans misogynistic society reverberates down through the years. You see it in many of the women who are my contemporaries from time to time. In Andrea. In Calpernia. In me. We’re damaged people, hurt and angry. We spent our 20s, the time when people are supposed to be living their joy, on a constant war footing. We’re mean to each other, we’re mean to you. We lash out. In a lot of ways, it’s not too different than a lot of people who experienced serious oppression. A generational divide that in reality is a chasm created by trauma.

So, now that I’ve fully impaled myself on the sword, it’s time that I twist your collective ears a bit. I do not disagree with you about hurtful language. About the T word. About the S word. I’ve always hated those words, BUT, I will be the first to admit to ingroup use of them. It’s important for you to get where a lot of us came from. I straddled the internet and street queen communities, but, when push came to shove and I lost my biological family, it was the trans drag queens who took me in, fed me, and made sure there was a roof over my head. As imperfect as they are, I will ALWAYS love them. Without them, I would not have survived my 20s.

When I had no place to go, it was my adopted trans mom and her drag queen roommate, Garry, who took me in. When Garry died, it was his old roommate, a trans woman drag queen, Joanne, who gave me the most comfort. We sat upstairs in his room for hours, tossing shade at the ragtag collection of internet trans women downstairs. These people gave me a sense of community, a place to feel safe, love and most of all, they gave me a backbone. And yes, we were fucked up in oh so many ways.

I’m not proud of how I acted back in those days. It’s a bit too easy for me to say “welp, that was the way it was”. In my defense, though, we are all molded by the culture by which we were surrounded. But how do you fight against that when none of us really controlled those cultures. A lot of drag culture was and is run by, or at least heavily influenced by, cis gay men. We were what *they* wanted us to be. Fierce. Bitchy. Mean. With tongues so sharp they could peel the bark off an oak tree. (If you really want to see an excellent movie about that culture, even if it did predate me by two and a half decades, go track down “The Queen” from 1968 )

Or, if we came up through HBIGDA style groups, we were what the medical establishment wanted us to be. 50s housewives. Assimilationists. Hiding in the shadows, cut off from any community in order to at least appear “normal”. Perpetrators of the primary/secondary load of holy horse shit we were fed. And honestly, we had to be. When you do not control your own medical destiny, you jump through the hoops, you get indoctrinated or you don’t get treatment.

When we did have some continuum to prior generations, it was sporadic. Remember, we had just been through a decade where AIDS had killed a large portion of the trans women who could have carried on that continuum. I’d love to quantify that number for you, to give you a sense of what *that* horror looked like, in real numbers, things you could understand, but the fact is, I can’t. Those women were listed as MSM (men who have sex with men) and are lost to us, a data point in CDC statistics. And it’s still happening.

I’m sorry. I knew this letter would ramble a bit, but thinking about what we were back then and seeing you and where you are now, makes me want to get a time machine and fix all of our screw ups or at least bring you back to those years so you can understand why we are what we are, so you don’t make our mistakes or maybe so you understand us better. I guess the point of all this though is a request? Cut us a bit of slack, OK? Be gentle with us. We are wounded and hurt and scarred. Many of us carry anger over situations that fortunately are much rarer these days. (And my dear contemporaries. Don’t think you’re off the hook here either. A preview of my letter to you: Stop acting like a bunch of cruel jerks.)

You may see us as binarist assimilationist dinosaurs who are backwards and screwed up. And you’d be partially right. We are. But we’re also the strong, tough, self-reliant women who fought tooth and nail to make sure you didn’t have to go through what we went through. That fighting, that constant, never ending battle, took its toll on us and because of it, we’re broken in ways I hope you never will be.

We are your history and you are our futures. If I could have one thing out of this entire mess, it’s that we all use this as an opportunity. For you to understand us better and for us to understand you better. To work together to make a healthy community, that includes all of us, from no matter who we are or where we came from.

We need to start this work now. Not for us, but for that little trans girl, who is secretly crying herself to sleep every night, praying to whatever god she believes in, to somehow make this either go away or make it not hurt anymore or make her not wake up at all. When she’s old enough, she will need a space, a healthy community to recover in, a place to feel safe and loved and to know our history. If we all don’t work for that community, right now, I’m afraid that one of you will be writing a letter like this to her in 10 years, begging for her forgiveness.

With love,

-b

This is a two part post. The second post “A letter to my contemporaries” will follow up when I have the time/energy/know exactly what I’m going to say.

On writers block. Now with Choose Your Own Adventure!

I’ve been walking a lot recently. I walk mainly to think, to process, to figure out things. The past few weeks have been me walking and thinking about this unending stream of topics I want to write about. As I walk (like a NJ/NYer, which means, two speeds, fast or GTFO of my way!), I think, fleshing some of these things out a bit. I end up telling myself “Oh, that would be something people would care about! File that away!”

And I have some real winners too. About the pitfalls of dating as a dyke identified trans woman. About how I almost died from a botched surgery. About the time I had to deal with 40 Philadelphia vice squad cops. About the for and by trans woman health clinic/surgery I helped start. About really personal things, some funny, some sad, all of them honest and (hopefully) interesting.

So, I sit down to start banging away on the keyboard and I realize that I don’t know where or how to start. How do I begin to even write about some of this stuff? Written words can’t even wholly express some of it. How do I put on paper what will be, in a few years, some of the more colorful parts of half my life? Maybe I should just say “Fuck it” and do what everyone else does and write about current events, just to avoid trying to figure out how to fit part of a life into an easy to digest blog post?

I guess part of why I’m so blocked up right now is because of Edward dying. I know, maybe I’m blaming everything on that of late, and I KNOW I haven’t really gone into that whole bit here and I should. But not right now. I can’t even pass a Burberry store (He *loved* Burberry) without crying.

When someone so close to you in age dies suddenly from a health complication, your thoughts are going to naturally turn to one thing; you’re next. I think that has something to do with what’s going on. I think I have so many things I want to get out of my head NOW, that I’m clogged up.

There is this story I want to tell about all these really awesome trans women (shout out to y’all, you know how you are) who I’ve come across in my life. These women literally transformed what it meant to be a trans women in this world, changed how the world related to us and how we related to the world. I can’t even begin to describe how different things were 20 years ago and how these women literally changed it. Every time I try to begin to explain *that* history, I just don’t even know where to start. But. again. I don’t know where to start because stories like that are just. so. big. So, I guess I’ll just start a bit smaller. But that begs the question. Where?

I’m going to be lazy and just leave this up to you. I figure that if I’m assigned a topic, I’ll feel a bit of pressure to stick to that topic and not wander. So, have at it folks. I’ll pick whichever is in the lead when I get a bit of writing steam going again (a week or so, probably).

P.S. I know, I haven’t written much about my Europe trip. I’m processing. I will, I promise.

On chosen family

I really dislike making New Years resolutions. However, with the whole “forgiving the family” post fresh in my mind, I’ve got to kind of temper my being an overly understanding doormat with me being a little bit of a killjoy.

When you lack blood relations, you make due with the people who come into your life. Sometimes, those people fill the void. Edward, who, for lack of a better word, was my adopted brother, was one of those people. My life was so much better for having known him. When my ex broke up with me, it was Edward whose shoulder I cried on. When she moved out, it was him who was with me when I came back into a half empty house and it was him who drove me around to find silly things, like a can opener.

My roommate. She’s the same. She’d probably take a bullet for me if I asked her to (although I’m tempted to ask her to, I don’t want to stretch the limits of our friendship). My friends B and C. The same. These are the folks who on those rare moments when I need something, they’re the ones I call.

And then… there’s the other folks. The folks you’ve kept so long because, well… you just have. They call you when they want something, but other than that, you don’t hear from them. When you need something, they’re never there. Or, they do fucked up shit and refuse to either own it, or when called on it, deflect. Yes, I’m thinking of two specific people in my life within the past year, who, if they aren’t dead to me at this point, they’re certainly in the “lost their phone number, ain’t calling anytime soon” section.

As an orphan, you keep those folks in your life out of some sense of… I don’t know, duty? Maybe a sense that if you do get them out of your life you’ll be left with nothing? Conceptual scarcity? I don’t know. But you do keep them, even though when they do interact with you, they basically get to make you feel like crap, and you let them do it, consequence free. And you take it, because, heaven knows, if you didn’t you’d be… alone? But, then there are those other people… oh… yeah… right…

So. Here is my New Years resolution. It’ll be the first one I’ve ever made in my adult life. I will no longer waste what precious time I have on people who don’t treat me, somewhat consistently (I mean, hey, we all have bad days, right?) with anything less than dignity, integrity, and honor.  Because life is too short to spend wasting it on people who treat you like crap.

A letter to my biological family

“So, did you get the presents I sent?”
“Yes.”
“Well…. did you open them?”
“No. We threw them out unopened.”
“*sigh* Should I even continue trying with you?”
“Probably not.”
- Last discusssion I ever had with my father, over the phone, Christmas 1996

Dear biological family,

I’ve hated Christmas for years. I didn’t use to hate it. In fact, it use to be one of my favorite holidays. For years it was the day that I mourned being told to stop trying; that I should give up hope on ever being part of the family again. These days though I usually try to spend today alone, in quiet contemplation. Doing so over the years has transformed it for me, into a different kind of holiday.

You know, over the years, my perspective on this has changed dramatically. The first 5 years after I was declared “Dead to me”, I spent the entire holiday season in a deep despair or angry at you. Now? Almost two decades after escaping the toxicity of being in the family, I’ve moved through being angry about it to now being kind of indifferent. Because, really, you gave me the best Christmas present ever.

By not having you in my life, I was forced to grow into my own person. Without having the support people normally get from their families, I had to make due and figure it out on my own. If anything, this made me a vastly more interesting person and certainly a stronger one.

When you removed me from the family, you also cut off the pipeline of guilt and self-loathing. This, I think, is one of the better gifts from all of this. Because I didn’t have you tsk tsking, I was able to have adventures you could never dream of. I was able to live my life answering only to me, without guilt, without apology. Thank you for that.

I know you don’t think of what you did as a gift. I know, to you, it was punishment. Punishment for breaking the rules. Punishment for speaking out. Punishment for saying this is who I am, if you don’t like it… door. ass. try not to let one hit the other on your way out. And while I *know* I’m not entirely blameless for how things went down (I was awful and a kid and under a hell of a lot of pressure from multiple sides), the fact is, I’m much older now (and much grayer) and I realize that being mad at how you handled my transition doesn’t help anyone.

So, biological family of mine. Thank you. For two decades of freedom from you. For two decades of quiet holidays. For giving me the space to find my chosen family, those who love and cherish me (even if they’ll never quite get why I spend this day in my lab, working). For giving me space to heal from the damage that exists in our family, that you inherited just as much as I inherited my damage.

I hope that this time away has given you some of the same healing. I know none of this was easy for you and that you, like me, were navigating without a map, muddling around in the dark, damaged, blind, people walking about on rough terrain.

In closing, I was reminded of a valuable lesson this year. Life is really fucking short and can be revoked at any time. I lost a few good people this year. Some I knew very well and not having them around during this season pains me. Some, I hardly knew, but people I cared about did and seeing the pain their deaths caused was yet another reminder. Life is fragile and fleeting and being reminded of it so often this year, has given me the kick in the ass that I should probably say some things before it’s to late.

So, Mom, Dad, Sister, and yes, even you my Brother, who I’ve hated for so many years, I give you on this Christmas day, the only gift I can from so far away. My forgiveness. Because, no matter how much you wish it wasn’t true, I am your daughter and sister and my imperfections are a reflection of yours and without forgiveness, well… what can we ever hope for?

And while I have no overwhelming desire to have you in my life again (I may be able to forgive you, but trust is something that has to be built), I do want you to know that this last present is one I hope you open.

-b

I punch the first person who says anything about Pink Floyd.

tower_of_london

Caution: Discussion of personal trauma. Abuse, physical and otherwise. Also, cliched thoughts about walls and me being a dork in general.

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238

“Hey, I have, I dunno, a weird question. It’s about your blog.”

Oh shit. I’m on the phone with a friend of mine. One of my “open source friends”. They tend to be the group I discuss being trans with the least, mainly because, well, it just never comes up. I think “Oh crap. This is going to be ‘THE OP’ question. I know it. It’s going to have something to do with cut off penises…”

“Okayyyyy…. shoot?”

“So, this whole Bradley Manning thing….”

“You mean Chelsea…”

“Yeah, Chelsea. Do you think they’re just doing this to get an easier time in prison.”

I stifle a snort and couch my next words carefully, wanting to really make him understand it.

“Um…. the likeliness of her being treated well in a men’s prison during transition is highly unlikely. I mean, you do realize that she’ll most likely be kept in a guys jail and denied medical treatment for this. If she’s “lucky”, she’ll get some limited medical care and they’ll put her in adseg which means she’ll be a little less likely to be raped but she’ll be in a cage, alone. for 23 our of 24 hours. If she’s unlucky, well… it’s genpop, which increases her risk of violence, but she’d at least have time out of cell. I wouldn’t imagine anyone wanting to do this expecting better treatment. She’ll likely get much worse treatment.”

“Oh…. ok. I didn’t realize”

We continue our conversation but this part of it sticks into my head. This is not a non-intelligent person I’m talking to but the simple reality is, the lives of trans women are so far from what the dominant culture even thinks about, that cisgender folks just have no clue about our lives. Here is this really smart guy asking me a question that I’ve known the answer to for 20 years because what the general public knows about our lives is limited to what sensationalistic crap they catch from TV or from cisqueers using our lives for entertainment fodder (yes, I’m looking at you Hedwig. And you Ticked off Tr*****s.)

The reason I bring this up is because this week is both the Trans Day of Remembrance and apparently, Trans Awareness Week. At least 238 transwomen were murdered this year. This is only the murders. Not the assaults. Not the rapes. Not the suicides. Murders. Considering that there aren’t a whole lot of us floating about, this number is appalling and it is probably at the low end. I’m sure many more have been killed this year, that they’ve been lost to the count either through non-reporting or misgendering. The vast majority of these women are poor and/or women of color  That’s not to say that violence doesn’t happen to white trans women. It does. But white trans women tend to be shielded from the worst of the violence.

TDoR is old news for me. I went to the memorials for a few years and stopped going when I watched some transdude mispronounce Gwen Araujo’s name. I never went back to another one. It was almost always something that seemed run by and for female cis queers and trans dudes, even though they aren’t the ones being murdered. It seemed to be a way for white cisqueers and trans guys to make themselves feel better for not giving a shit about trans women during the rest of the year. “Hey, for one night a year, we *care*. Just as long as you died a horribly violent death.” Yeah, I’m cynical.

For me, it was insulting. The people most effected should be the ones taking center stage. So they can mourn. It’s their communities being decimated by violence. So, I mourn TDoR in my own private way and try to avoid TDoR memorials (or, ugh, dance parties? REALLY? Who came up with that bright idea? Certainly not a trans woman.)

That said, this week is also something called “Trans Awareness Week.” I didn’t get the memo on this from the Cabal of Trans Folks until late, but apparently, we’re supposed to a. Let folks know we’re trans and b. Give folks 24 hours to ask all the stupid questions they could want without fear of us ripping their heads off. Personally, I can see letting folks know you’re trans being important. Like, if you’re friends with one, you’re less likely tosay, vote in favor of restricting the bathroom use of transkids in California schools.

Or murder us. I mean, hey, I know some of the folks who follow this blog, but maybe there is some craphead out there who goes out on a date, and after finding out his date is trans, thinks that the appropriate response is to murder her. Who knows, right? It’s the internet after all.

The second part of all of this I find kind of silly. Like, there is no universal trans chick experience. It’s not like we have a hive mind, so really, you ask 10 of us the same question, you’ll get 20 different answers. And, to be frank, I hate being Google for stupid “What do they do with the penis after they chop it off?” questions. It all feels horribly self-absorbed and my desire to participate in it is very limited. Besides, I would hope that I’m approachable enough that people felt ok with asking me questions.

But… that said. 238 women. My sisters. Women like me. They will never wake up, never see another sunrise. All because someone refused to see their humanity and passed a death sentence on them. Guilty of being some trans thing. So, if people needing to ask the “dumb questions” helps them, then sure. Fine. I’ll answer whatever dumb or not dumb question people have about my life if it means that person will make me a promise.

Here is the cost of me answering questions. I want everyone who reads this to do something to make the lives of trans women better. It could be as simple as saying something when people say transphobic shit or as complex as saying that you won’t consider the trans status of your dating partners or as obvious as saying you’ll fight for trans inclusion in your work insurance policies (many places do not include treatment for trans issues in their insurance policy, at least in the US).

Because I’m tired of seeing people like me get killed.
Because I never want to see another Rita Hester.
B
ecause I never want to see another Angie Zapata.
Because trans women of color are at an insanely high risk of being the victim of violence.
Because over the past 7 years, about 1,300 trans people have been murdered in 59 countries, the majority of those women being trans women of color.

Because this needs to stop.

Girl and a half.

“Hrmmm…. that doesn’t quite feel normal?”

I don’t want to hear this right now. Out of all the things I could have wanted to hear as I lie there while some guy I’ve just met not 20 minutes ago gropes about my breasts, that short phrase knots my stomach even more than it already is.

I’m in my new doctors office. I have to go to get my refill of estrogen and do the whole annual checkup. I always kind of dread going to a new doctor, especially when they’re not specifically knowledgeable in trans health care.

“When was the last time you had your period?”
“Uh, I never had one.”
Look of shock “Uh, why?”
“Because I lack a uterus…”

Then comes the whole explanation and then I have to do the 30 minute “Trans Healthcare for Doctors” spiel. Yes, I need breast exams. Yes, I know my estrogen intake.

This new doc was actually pretty ok. He admitted he had no clue. Ok, that’s a good start. We go through the standard questions and then it’s time for the once over exam. Yeah, sure, breast exam, whatevs.

“Yeah… I don’t think this should feel like this. Do you have a history of breast cancer in your family?”

Oh fuck. Oh shit. No, this isn’t happening to me. “Uh, not that I know of? I don’t speak to them anymore, so, I don’t exactly know what we die of other than black lung disease, alcoholism and emphysema”

“Well, I’d feel better if you get a mammogram. You’re a little young to start them, but with your estrogen intake, I’d rather be a bit cautious. Plus with your supernumerary nipples, there is evidence of a slight increased risk for breast cancer, even though this is probably just a cyst.”

Ok, don’t panic. It’s probably the same “hormonally active breasts” your last doc found…. it’s ok… probabl… wait. superwhatisit nipples? I sit there trying not to panic, trying not to think of having to have the breasts I spent years growing slashed off in a blink of an eye as I scan my 25 year old, little used Latin. Super…. numerary. Wait, did this doc just tell me I have extra boobs? What. The. Hell?

“Uh… supernumerary nipples? What do you mean by that?”

“This mole. And this one, right there under your armpit. They’re extra nipples.”

*blink*blink*
“Now, this lump is probably nothing to worry about. It’s most likely a cyst. But, I’m going to write you a script to go get a mammogram.”

We go through the rest of the exam, with my head bouncing between absolute panic and being somewhat amused. Extra boobs. I can’t help but imagine that I’m the dominant part of an in utero twin absorption. Does this make me the good twin or the evil twin? Will my now absorbed twin, one day try to regain control? For fucks sakes, please, don’t let this be cancer. Cool, it’s like being a character in geek love. Or a dog. How many nipples do dogs and cats have? Fuck, if it’s cancer, I don’t want to go through that. Not now. Please. Fuck, not one but two extra boobs. I’m like super girl and a half or something. Fuck. Cancer.

Shit.

I end up trudging out and going to work, ignoring the script in my bag. I’ll deal with it later I tell myself. Like, never. Because if I don’t get it checked out, then it can’t be cancer, or something like that. Don’t ciswomen get the whole breast health thing drilled into their skulls? We don’t. I’m kind of surprised that more transwomen don’t die of this. Oh, right. Too busy getting murdered or not having health care.

Besides, this is probably just the foot of my absorbed twin that he’s feeling. Yeah. One day, this little version of me will twist herself free from my breast and I’ll have a mini-me. Or, I’ll have cancer and then will get my boobs lopped off. Or I’ll have cancer and die. Or. or.

I’m bad at taking care of myself sometimes. Ok, a lot of the time. Doctors and dentists and the health care profession in general stress me out and when I can avoid them I will. I refused to go to the hospital when I broke my collar bone and dislocated three ribs (popped the ribs back in place myself and slung myself with the collarbone). But shit. Breast lump. Fuck fuck fuck.  I mention it on facebook. And then disappear into work. A week later I get a message from a friend of mine (we will call her S. )who knows me all too well.

“Did you go get your mammogram yet?”

“Uh. No, got busy.”

“Beth, Don’t fuck around with this.”

“Uh, I won’t. Swear. I just got busy.”

“By next week… ok?”

“Ok, mom.”

Fuck, don’t make me deal with this, S I just want to write code, get my release out, maybe go out for drinks. I don’t want to think about dying. I don’t have the bandwidth. I just dealt with Edward dying, I don’t want to deal with this shit. I know. I’ll think about the damn extra nipples, because then I can at least say I’m thinking in the general bodily area and maybe then I can squirm up the courage to go to the boob squishing van.

A week later.

“Did you go yet?”

“No, the mammogram van is coming next week.”

“Beth, dammit, just go!”

“I will, I will, I swear! I’ve made an appointment”

I didn’t. But shit, if I don’t go now, I’m lying and I don’t lie (I take it as a matter of pride that I don’t lie, except during poker and practical jokes). I make the appointment, dreading each day until it comes.

The day of the appointment, I drive the motorcycle in. There it sits. A bus sized, pink ribbon monstrosity. The thing that is going to tell me if I live or die. I eye it, like the thin letter a high school senior gets from that university they applied to but don’t think they got accepted to. Fuck, I just won’t go. Then I’ll never know and none of this will be real. I head into work, knowing that the bus in the parking lot has an appointment with my name on it. I head down at my allotted time. Squish. Zap. Done. Ok, that didn’t suck nearly as bad as I thought. And then I wait….

A week later, the doc calls. I go in again, trying hard not to vomit. It’s going to be cancer, I know it.

“Good news, it’s a cyst, like I thought. I still want to do an ultrasound to make absolutely sure, but, yeah, it’s just a biggish one”

I breath a sigh of relief. And then go back to thinking about this kind of weird thing I’ve now found out about my freakshow of a body. I decide that I like the absorbed twin explanation and that I’m going to name her after that friend of mine who rode my ass to go get my mammogram. I think she’d appreciate the humor.

Oh Dublin… I may have been wrong about you….

So. Dublin.

I was hating on you for a while. I really was. Somewhere within all my grumpy dislike for you, I wanted to like you, but I couldn’t find a reason. Then, I went to this party… and there was this woman… and a conversation… and now my heads all spinny and getting Dublin (and her and our conversation) out of my head has been difficult. So, let me tell you the story…

Friday, my last day in Dublin, I actually hopped in to go visit the local work office and talk to the locals. It was typical work and I headed on out of there, planning to go to the one thing that night I thought that I *might* have fun at. The local anarchist space was having a queer zombie dance party. Like, ok, right there, you’ve pretty much hit the head on what can drag me out of my shell to go socialize. Zombies? Queer? Anarchist? I’m there. You could call it an anarchist queer zombie root canal and I would be the first in line.

And I pretty much was. Like, suuuuper early. Oh, crap, I forgot. Queer standard time. People show up 2 hours after things start. Oh well, I’ll be social, drink tea, smoke, and chat. And I did just that, which I’m pretty proud of myself for doing. A lot of times, I’ll find a corner and read, just to be around people, without having to have too much interaction.

A few hours in, I’m hanging out when in walks…

ok, let me back up here. I apparently have a “type”. My adopted family and I have discussed how I really do have a type and it’s not like this standard, boring, “type”. It’s very specific and I don’t even try to make excuses for it. It just is what it is. And no, I’ll not be describing my type, because it’s really not a hard and fast type, it’s more a tendancy…. anyhow…

In walks my type. But, zombiefied. I, being the sauve bitch I am, immediately run outside to smoke and get as faaaar away as possible. Yeah, that’s how I roll! I run away. Introverts FTW!

I spend the night avoiding her, because well, it’s my last night. What’s the point, right? I can just convince myself that she’s vapid and I would hate her if I talked to her, because, hellllo, airplane, 12 hours?

I’m hanging out with someone, smoking cigarettes. Everyone is fascinated by my pre-rolled American Spirits. I end up chatting with this woman I lent my lucky 2 dollar bill to, when who walks up? The cute zombie woman. Oh. yeah, of course they’d know each other…. Ok, Beth, don’t panic. Remember. Vapid. She’d probably not going to be someone you’d be interested in. And then the worst thing that could possibly happen, happened.

She started talking with me.

I’m not a shallow critter. I don’t care if I find you attractive. If you can’t hold my interest (which most people can’t), pft, not interested, even remotely.  We started chatting politics, specifically the diaspora. We talked about cultural trauma, plastic paddyism, RD Laing…. She explained “the Gathering” which I’m still 20 shades of “eww” over (I have a lot of thoughts on this, but nothing coherent yet). We talked about language. We talked about food politics. I think I stunned a few folks in that I had more irish language competency than they would have expected an american to have. We started talking irish politics. Ok, ok, now I’m kinda interested. And then, like, the most awful thing happened ever….

We started talking early irish law.

Those of you who know me well, in real life, know, that all you have to do is start discussing early irish legal structures and, hell, you could be the corpse of Richard Nixon and I’d sit there starry eyed. It’s intellectual foreplay for me. (I’ve been looking for an original copy of Corpus Iuris Hibernici for YEARS.) And here is this… this… zombified, adorable woman, talking about one of the few subjects I rarely get the chance to dork out on (believe it or not, I don’t have a lot of chances to discuss early irish laws surrounding property rights during a divorce with beautiful women… I know, surprise, right?).

I stuck around for the rest of the night, just so I could listen to her, just so I could hear every single damn word out of her mouth, just so I could drink the last few hours of Dublin in and maybe have it make up for the past few days. I ended up getting back to my hotel at 4:30 in the morning, barely awake, hopping a flight, getting to my airbnb place and sleeping 13 hours the next day. I still don’t know if she was single, or queer, or interested and not a damn bit of me cares. For a whole of 5 hours, I got to listen to someone I found insanely attractive make my brain light up with talk of early irish caste systems.

So, Dublin. I’m still not sure what to make of you. You’re kind of like that ex of mine who I thought I hated but I ended up adoring. I’m willing to give you another try. Especially if I get to hang out with her again.

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