hacklikeagirl

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

Content Warn This.

I want to talk a bit about trigger warnings and content warnings. And why I’ve kind of decided to just stop using them in most places. But first, a bit of background.

Years ago, I was raped. I’m not going to get into details about it, because it’s not really pertinent. But suffice to say, I was treated for PTSD, spent lots of years in therapy over it and am now more or less “better”.

That said, a certain movie that was on while it was happening that still, to this day, sends me into that chest tightening panic. I’ve never seen it since. When it comes on, I either switch the channel or walk out of the room if I can’t. Agency, huh?

That movie triggers the panic I felt and sends me back to that day so long ago. Which is why I hate when people say “trigger warning”. Because that isn’t how PTSD triggers work people. It’s smells, a movie, a song.

What people are really asking for when they say that stuff is “content warnings”. Now, there are places where I will use content warnings. In groups where people have a shared trauma or there is an expectation that maybe talking about XY or Z is going to upset lots of folks in that specific space. But generally, in my own writing, I don’t use them for a very real reason.

With VERY few exceptions, content warnings and the language around them are controlled by a very specific set of people, with a shared culture and class and honey, lemme tell you, folks like me ain’t part of it. Tell me the last time you’ve heard of content warnings about “Discussions of wealth” or “Discussions of the state”. I mean, I’m sure it happens, but it’s not the norm.

And here is why it isn’t the norm. Because that discourse is one of middle class white folks. Bad things that happen to them are traumatic because they are aberrations. They’re not systemic. Those bad things aren’t shit they’re intimately familiar with.

When I was young I grew up around violence, as a target of violence. When you have the full expectation that you will see violence today, either in your school, your street, your home, it effects you. It becomes something beyond trauma, something you expect. It effects your language. It effects how you think.

When I was older I was in a LTR with someone and her brother approached me one day because he was “worried”. Because I used phrases like “kicked their ass”. Because my *language* had violent undertones. I looked at him like he was speaking another language but years later, I kind of get it. To him, violence was an aberration he had experienced in his nice white middle class cis straight guy life and as he was raised with the expectation that he would never experience it, that one incident was something that literally had him hyperaware.

To me, violence was literally something that was so systemic it was as familiar as an old pair of shoes. It changed how I think, how I talk. And because it was systemic, it was just *something* I expected would happen.

Trauma is political. Language is political. And while I have no issue with say, a sexual assault survivor group asking for content warnings, I’m not going to content warn my writing.

Because I want you to feel uncomfortable.. I want you to have to see me. I want you to be forced, Clockwork Orange Style, to see people like me. I want you to have to deal with the reality of my life and and my past and no, fuck you, I’m not going to use your standards to make it so you can choose to avoid that.

If I don’t get to avoid the bullshit this society heaps on me why would I want people to be able to avoid actually reading about it?

PS. If your take away from this is “Aw, right on, content warnings SUCK!” because you hate people messing with your “freezedpeach” rights or whatever. You entirely missed the point and should probably piss off to whatever hole you crawled outta.

Random About Me Post #1

So, I figure that I should probably do a nice light hearted about me post. When you read someone’s blog, you get this really one sided view of them, and it’s distorted and doesn’t give you the entire picture. So…. n number of random facts about me….

– I’ve lived in three countries. I hold two  (soon to be one, fuck the US) citizenships. In a few years, I’ll have two again. It’s complicated.
– I can read a few languages. (English, German, French, Irish, some Italian and Spanish, a bit of Dutch). I am horrible at speaking most of them. Except English. I’m pretty good at that one.
– I have a cat. His name is Turing. Apparently he let another cat in the house over the weekend who has now adopted me. I don’t know, don’t judge me ok?
– I’ve broken 15 bones. I’ve had something like 12 different surgeries. I still have two plates and 13 screws in my body.
– I like motorcycles too much. See above.
– I will never ever ever live in the United States again. Once I was free of that place, a huge weight lifted off my shoulders. It’s kind of nice.
– I like writing code that produces code. It’s kind of fun.
– I drink way too much coffee.
– I’m quitting smoking. It’s hard. Please, if you don’t smoke, never ever start.
– I’ve got a slew of tattoos. Almost all of them deal with birds, even though I’m absolutely terrified of heights.
– I haven’t spoken to my blood family in over two decades. There are a lot of reasons why that is, but suffice to say, my life improved dramatically once they weren’t in it. I’m allergic to toxicity.
– My chosen family is absolutely amazing and I love them LOTS.
– I used to have very severe panic disorder. I mean, I guess I still have it, but I’ve a huge toolbox of tools to deal with it.
– The worst thing I ever had to do was to take one of two lousy choices I was given. I made a decision that kept someone out of harms way but limited my ability to see them. I still hate that I was given no other choices and my heart still breaks thinking about it, but I made the right, responsible choice, even though it broke so many things. Life is like that a lot of times.
– I will never ever become a grown up. I will always be an adult.
– I am not and never will be a fan of the police.
– I don’t trust snakes, but I love reptiles.
– I’ve lived on a few farms and know enough useful skills that the zombie apocalypse doesn’t scare me.
– I want someone to make Zelezny’s Lord of Light into a movie.
– There is one windows machine in my house. I turn it on once every couple of months.
– I’m writing a book. Slowly. I should be done somewhere around 2017 or so.
– I play mountain dulcimer, mandolin and am learning the hurdy gurdy. A long time ago I played bag pipes. Uh, yeah, sorry about that.
– Grilled cheese + black pudding == Yes. Please.
– I get into way too much trouble because I get morally offended by something and then stick my neck out because of it. Ungh.
– I have been in trauma wards twice in my life. I plan on not making that visit again.
– I am of the firm belief that scrapple is vegan. No pig ever died for scrapple.

Dear Anonymous blogger who isn’t that anonymous…

I’m almost 100% sure that the cat and floor in a picture on your blog is the same cat and floor on a FB reply made by your mom to a public post of yours. I figured it out today. Sorry, little slow on the uptake sometimes.

I’ve been waiting so very long for you to contact me. If you would like you can DM me on twitter. No pressure.

When you asked me about regret… yeah. I have lots of regrets. Some of those regrets are around making the best choice out of the lot of really shitty options you’re given and not having the power to change the outcome no matter what. We can talk about them if you want.

I’ve been reading your blog a lot recently. I’m sorry for all the crap that is going on in your life right now. I guess I know how that all goes (especially if you are who I highly suspect you are, then I know exactly how that goes).  If you want to not talk about the big elephant in the room and just talk about that, that’s ok too.

Be Kind To Each Other – Bryn Kelly (1980-2016)

This past week has been, to say the least, not a good one.

Last week, my friend Everett contacted me to tell me that a friend of ours, who we had known for almost two decades, Bryn Kelly, had committed suicide. I had seen Bryn pop on to Facebook last week, sent her a message just saying hi. She never responded and I’m still angry with myself for not following up.

I’ve not been able to have a whole lot of days since where I didn’t spend at least part of it crying and I’m sure this has been a common enough scenario in all the communities Bryn touched. She had that effect on people.

I want to tell you about Bryn. I appreciate that there are going to be a lot of folks who knew Bryn from lots of different places and they’re going to tell you how they saw her. This was kind of her secret super power, I think, to be able to move in and out of lots of different spaces. I want to tell folks about the Bryn a lot of us knew.

bryn

Bryn would probably laugh about me posting this picture. Bryn, circa 2004, out target shooting with me and my adopted sister.

She was the woman dressed up as the uterus, campaigning for reproductive rights. She could play the autoharp like no ones business and belt out old timey tunes. I heard more of Fleetwood Mac’s Rumors with her in the room than with her not. She was a proud rural woman and I loved it when she talked about where she came from.

She was a tireless advocate for trans women. She was involved in Camp Trans, involved in HIV activism, involved in the Fully Functional Cabaret, writing….. so much stuff that it was very very easy to lose track. A lot of it was centred on trans women. If you’ve read any trans feminist thought in the past 15 years, it was more likely than not, built off of things Bryn contributed to back in the days of livejournal and message boards.

She was funny as hell. Literally one of the funniest women I have ever known. She was also kind and loving and snarky. SO SO snarky. And strong, so amazingly strong, strong in ways I wish I could be. She had a spine that was made of steel and we loved her for it.

I doubt she knew just how many of us looked up to her and admired her. I wish I would have told her that more.

brynbkteo

Art by Kat Endgame

Our hearts are broken, our worlds a little less bright without her. The only sense I can take from this is the last thing she posted on Facebook.

“Be kind to each other.”

We’re trying, Bryn.

It is so hard sometimes but…

We’ll keep on trying.

Live to Ride.

I didn’t learn how to ride a bicycle until I was 13.

It wasn’t that I didn’t want to. I did. I just had the worst coordination and my step-grandfather was not the best teacher. My father and mother didn’t have the time or desire to teach their eldest weirdo kid how to ride a bike, so I just never learned until one day, I decided to teach myself. I got a lot of cuts and bruises but I did figure it out. I was never a strong rider, but I was a constant one.

I’m sure it shocked my parents when I went and got my motorcycle license at 19 and then went to the local motorcycle shop and bought myself a wicked fast bike. An 80cc Honda Elite. Let the laughter commence. 80ccs of rubber burning torque monster, it was the silliest thing ever but I rode the living daylights out of it.

I know, you’re laughing right now, but seriously, I went the entire length of Delaware on that thing in 3.5 hours, getting a ticket for blowing a red light in Salem. I drove it all the hell over on rodes I really had not right going 40mph full throttle on.

And while my love affair with that blue plastic POS ended after only 2 years, my love of of two wheeled motorised vehicles has remained with me to this day. From my ’59 Vespa VNA to my ’81 Yamaha Seca, each bike has tried me in new ways. The Seca’s shite electrics. The Honda Shadows leaky water pump. The Vespa’s carb that I could not for the life of me get to tune in for more than a week. I’ve always loved motorbikes and I fully plan of riding every day until I die at 80…. mph.

After spending 4 solid weeks under the Shadow a few years back I finally gave up and did something I never thought I’d do. I bought a new motorcycle.

vroom

That, my friends, is the only bike I have ever truly loved. Know how I know?

When it’s pouring rain out and cold, even though I had the car, I still put on my rain gear and rode.
When I had to go visit a friend, 800 miles away, even though I could have flown, I rode (in 18 hours, on a new seat. OUCH!)
When she blew a fuse that took me and two friends 6 hours to finally find, I still loved her.

And this last September, when I low ended on a wet, oily switchback road and was left in a wheelchair for close to 3 months, I promised myself I’d get on her again.

Yeah. It was stupid. I was coming down Germantown road and at the first big switchback, slowed down and moved to the outside to get ready for the turn. Drop a gear. Put foot under the selector to gear up after I’m out of the turn. Start to lean. JUUUUST as my back tired hits the bit of fallen leaves covering the pool of oil and water.

The bike dropped on me and with my foot stuck under the selector it took me about 20 feet. But in that 20 feet I ended up:

  • breaking my tibia
  • breaking three ribs
  • giving myself a lovely rolando fracture in my thumb
  • chipped my fibula
  • and a bit of crush impact on my femur
  • broken collarbone
    1911902_10204488382825002_2997437787339014904_n

I didn’t even realise I was a mess. I tried standing up. No dice. The motorcyclist behind me, whose name I never got, did the nicest thing ever. I got my helmet face open and asked him to get my Langlitz jacket off. Now, I don’t do commercial adverts or anything, but that jacket saved my skin and I was going to be damned if I let a paramedic cut it off.

Off came the gloves. I looked at my right hand, with my thumb broken over next to my pinky. “Hrmm. I think that’s broken…” and he slipped me out of my jacket.
The paramedics came and got me to the hospital. Thank goodness for lots of excellent drugs because the pain kicked in and it was bad.

All told, I was in trauma for a week. If you’ve ever been in trauma, it’s kinda shitty. Like, I knew I was bad, three surgeries bad, but the other folks on that floor were in a way worse place than I was. I think all told, the bill was somewhere around $130,000. The damage to the bike? About 200 bucks worth of parts.

Here is what I want to talk about though. Not about motorcycles. But about family.

I have no family I talk to anymore. I want nothing to do with them and the feeling I’m sure is mutual. And that’s great most of the time. But, now I’m in a trauma ward. And on top of that, I’m prepping for a move out of country. And not days earlier, I had just sold my house. So, I’m in hospital, I won’t be 100% any time soon, but I have a house to cleanup, packing to do, and no idea how I’m going to do it. Hell, I wasn’t even sure I’d be going home after I got out of hospital.

And then something happened and to this day I actually cry about it when I think about it. I don’t remember a lot about that week in trauma or the weeks after. The amount of morphine I was on absolutely made everything in time blurry. It’s *still* a bit blurry. Sometimes I remember stuff and then forget it. Sometimes I think I remember stuff but I’m not sure. But I do remember my adopted baby sister, Katrina, coming in and telling me not to worry, that the house was being taken care of.

See, I’m still a little not solid on the details of who did what etc. But this much I know. Katrina, my friends and co-workers John, Terri, Sarah, Darren, Matty and I think a bunch of others (Honestly, I was in trauma when this was happening so I have no idea who else was there and I feel bad that I don’t know.) went and packed my shit up and moved it all to my friend Sarah and Jamies house. And when I got out, they moved me to their house (Ok, when I first got out I convinced Matty that it would be a GREAT idea if we popped down to the Fixin’ To for a quick one. NOT MY BRIGHTEST MOMENT!)

All told, I was in a wheelchair from October to late December. I literally was walking unassisted for a whole of 4 days before I got on a plane to move to Ireland. And through all of the chaos, all of the drugs, all of the pain and everything. I never got to tell the folks who helped me out so damn much how much what they did meant to me. I don’t even know how to express that not because I don’t know how to say “Thank you” but how do you say “Thank you” for something so big?

I ride because it makes me sane. It clears my head. It allows me to feel a sense of freedom. It’s my 900cc therapy. When you are heading down I-5 at a speed that certainly isn’t legal, all of the bullshit that is in your head, all of your distractions, it gets the hell out or you turn into a wet smear on the asphalt. You are focused on nothing but the next quarter mile that will pass you buy at 9 seconds or so.

I am grateful for my ability to ride and frankly, the only way I’m going to stop riding is when I am physically not able to. But the thing I am most grateful for, is that riding and crashing has taught me so much more than I ever expected it to. It taught me how it’s ok to accept help. How to rely on others. How the difference between life and death is a thin as a pile of leaves and some motor oil on the rode. How I have really excellent people in my life and even though I am 5000 miles away from some of those people, I will always love them for the kindness they showed me.

So yes. I still love my motorcycle even after all the hurt and pain it has caused me, but it has taught me to love my friends even more. Thank you folks.❤

An update, soon, I swear.

There is a lot that has been going on since we last talked, dear blog. A move to a different continent. A serious accident that broke a bunch of stuff and put me in a wheelchair for a few months. Some really amazing friends. A bit of very sad loss. I’ll update everyone soon, I promise, but rest assured, I’m alive and well and mostly kicking.

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.

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