Archive for June, 2012


Gender as Personality; Gender as Cultural Perception

19 June, 2012

I have been wondering for a little while (read: thirty plus years) what gender is, how one becomes gendered,whether gender is a social construct or an aspect of physiology, and how someone who is transgressively gendered can move through and interact with a traditionally (perhaps coercively) gendered world?

Part of the difficulty in addressing these questions and with talking about gender is a lack of common language. I think those who are traditionally gendered do not spend much time contemplating their genderedness. Like having two excellent eyes or ten flexing fingers, being traditionally gendered is taken for granted. When you are not traditionally gendered, however, you spend every moment of every day thinking about gender, not just your gender, but everyone’s.

“I wish I could stop thinking about my gender.”
—TotallyAmelia via Tumblr

I am able to remember a time in my life where I was not concerned with this thing called gender, I was four. The idea of gender had not been introduced to me yet. I simply knew my personality and that was all I needed to know. Honestly, I think that is all any of us needs to know. This raises another batch of questions for me. Why do we not interact with others based on their personalities? We do we feel the need to know a person’s gender? How are we determining their gender? Why do we try so hard to determine the gender of androgynous people or, worse, disbelieve those whose identified gender does not match what we perceive it as?

I have come to see gender not as a letter on a driver’s license or even a word on a birth certificate but as a multifaceted spectrum that incorporates physiological and cultural components. The arguments that it is merely a biological classification or that it is strictly a set of cultural norms fail to capture the complexity of the concept. Let’s be honest, if it were as simple as what parts you are born with or which conventions you follow, would I and so many others like me have spent so much of our lives obsessing over our gender, where it came from, and why it doesn’t seem to align with what society expects?

I think a life or a time looks simple when you leave out the details.”
Ursula K. Le Guin,
The Birthday of the World and Other Stories

Gender is a way of thinking about one’s own personality and the personalities of those one interacts with and it satisfies the cultural need to classify those personalities into tidy little packages. It is a philosophy designed to bring order to our world, but like all philosophies it mutates into rigid dogma in the hands of those attempting to maintain power and those who are afraid of anything outside of their individual experience.

Gender as individual personality is, perhaps, the easiest concept for a transgressively gendered person to understand and the hardest for traditionally gendered people to understand. When your personality runs fairly close to what society expects of you in your role as woman, man, girl, or boy, it does not occur to you that the personality you have is expresses your gender, that it is a method of categorising you with like personalities. Instead, the traditionally gendered see gender categories as being the domain of biology, in particular genitals and secondary sex characteristics. But gender is far more complex than that. When I was four and in kindergarten I got a damaging lesson in personality as gender.

It was a week or so into the first quarter of kindergarten and the children were just getting used to each other. Small groups of friends were forming and my instructor must have decided that not all of those groups were appropriately holding up the gender classification system. ‘Today,’ she said (or said something very much like,) ‘we are going to be in groups according to if we are boys or girls.’ We were all fine with this; after all weren’t we already with those like us? ‘Girls on this side and boys on that side.’ I had not really thought about whether I was a girl or a boy, but I knew I liked what the kids on the girls’ side liked and I played with them. The kids on the boys’ side were different from me. They played different games, they were louder, they were rougher (more aggressive), and I did not understand them or why they acted the way they did. Based on the logic of personality and perception I clearly belonged on the girls’ side and moved to join them.

‘Where are you going?’ the teacher asked me. I’m a girl, I told her. And she smiled at me. It was a smile that I would grow too familiar with. It lacked warmth or humour; it was reserved and hid her true emotions, a lot of disapproval and a little disgust. It was a frightening smile that told me not to question anything she said next, not to ever say what I had said again, and, more than anything else, that smile told me to never, ever reveal who I was (what I was) to anyone, ever. ‘No,’ she said. ‘You are boy and belong with the boys. Go to the boy side.’ I did not know what would happen if I didn’t do as she said, and that smile told me I did not want to find out. I shut my moth, crammed my personality into a deep dark corner, and joined the boys. I stayed there for thirty years.

And for thirty years I questioned my personality, I questioned how I was gendered and why my feminine personality did not align with what society classified me as. It never occurred to me to reverse the question, why did society believe I was male in spite of my evidence to the contrary? Everyone from school, to parents, to the mainstream media, to erotic fiction and porn confirmed that body trumped personality, so, clearly, I was broken mentally. I was a freak. And I knew I was freak because my personality was female.

“She gives me that look. And I know I’ll have to pretend to be a little boy from then on.”
Kate Bornstein,
Hidden: A Gender

Far easier for traditionally gendered people to understand is how other people’s personalities reflect their gender. Their personalities allow us to place individuals in the proper gender categories: girl, boy, straight woman, straight man, gay man, lesbian. Determining someone else’s gender category is more difficult than determining our own. For ourselves we ask one question: do I have a penis? If I have a penis then I am a member of the dominate gender, man. If I do not have a penis (because this is a phallocentric culture where a person cannot even use the word vagina in mainstream politics without drawing harsh rebuke), then I am not a man, but a member of the subordinate gender, woman. But with others the odds of our seeing their genitals to determine their gender are quite slim, so we find other ways. Of primary importance are secondary sex characteristics, such as facial hair, voice, and breasts. Of almost equal importance are behavioural cues, or personality. The way a person moves, speaks, and takes up space. What a person enjoys doing, the type of career they pursued, how they pursued it, the kinds of people they hang around. All of these are aspects of personality. As a society we default everyone to a male gender and then change that perception based on how the person’s looks and personality align with it.

According to research done by Kessler and McKenna it takes four female cues to outweigh one male cue. That’s how phallocentric our culture is and why women get sirred far more often than men get ma’amed.

Because our society cannot abide ambiguity we have created this nifty little classification system called gender to tell us who is what and, once we know what they are, how much of our respect they deserve. That is the ultimate purpose of the gender classification system. It is more than just the need for tidy little categories. It is what those categories help us determine, the thing we are most desperate to know, who is above who on the hierarchy. This is why transsexuals and other transgressively gendered people are such a threat to the gender classification system. They are jumping gender categories and changing the amount of power and respect they are entitled to, thus exposing the ridiculousness of the system. My personality is little altered from when I was socially male to my being socially female, but I receive less respect, my opinions are devalued, and I make less money (despite doing the same job). Conversely, I know some female to male transsexuals who have stepped not just into a different socially perceived gender but also more respect, more opportunities, and higher wages. Their personalities have not changed either. Our actual genders have remained consistent, but our perceived genders have changed and we suffer the penalties or reap the benefits according to our new position. Personality as gender exposes cultural perception as gender for the misogynistic system it is.


Trans* Continental — Day Three

14 June, 2012

I got a late start today, leaving at a quarter after nine instead of eight. I needed the extra sleep, partly because I was exhausted from the day before and partly because cats do not understand time zones. So when five-thirty rolled across the hands of the clock he decided it was breakfast time and no rational explanation of central versus eastern time zones could convince him it was actually four-thirty and dissuade him from head-butting me until I got up to fed him. After eating, he wandered about the room muewing in that petulant tone that demands answers to such questions as why aren’t you up yet and do I have to ride in the carrier again?

The first three hours of the trip were uneventful. Drove till I needed gas. Fuelled up. Ate a burger on the road. I was feeling good, fairly positive about myself, and even my hair decided to shape up nice. The sun was shinning and there was a cherry glow in my rearview mirror . . . and blue . . . cherry and blue. Shit. It’s a cop. Instant panic mode. Thank goddess, my amended license had come so everything matched up, but would the cop read me correctly? Would he see me as just another woman on the road or as a sicko in drag who needs to be patted down, just in case?

He approached and said “license, miss?”

Miss? Did he really say miss? He did! Not only was I read correctly but I got called miss! I look young! He said he would give me a warning and asked how the trip had been. He spent more time looking at my legs than my face. When he was explaining to me the speed limit in Wisconsin was sixty-five he spoke slowly and reminded me to “always read the road signs; they tell the important information.” Yes, officer. Gosh, I didn’t realise that. But that’s okay because you gendered me properly and are letting me off with only a warning; if you want to assume I’m a flighty girl who cannot read roadsigns, that’s fine. Seriously. I could not have paid the ticket.

After that experience the skies were grey. Literally. During the twenty minutes I sat on the shoulder of the interstate, storm clouds had rolled in. Just a few sprinkles and then the skies ripped open and dropped a deluge so heavy and hard I wondered if animals were going to start arriving in pairs. I had driven into a lightning storm. White and blue streaked the sky with the occasional blast of red and orange. It was brilliant. It was freaky. It was gorgeous. It was way too close to the car. One forked bolt stuck five hundred yards from me! It scared me senseless, but I appreciate the magnificent display now, sitting on a sofa, in my pyjamas.

I pulled into smallville, Minnesota at four-thirty and was at my parents house a few minutes later. Thirteen hundred miles in three days. It was a haul but one made worthwhile by the smiling faces and hugs that greeted me.


Trans* Continental — Day Two

13 June, 2012

The Red Roof Inn was a pretty comfortable stay and it was almost as big as my one-room flat so Spooky-Mulder did not take long to settle in and chow down some Fancy Feast wet food. The room was quiet and dark and I got a good night’s sleep. Dealing with the hotel mirror under the harsh fluorescent lighting, this morning, robbed me of the restful sleep I got. It put me in a bad state dysphoria-wise because the lighting magnifies and hideifies every minor flaw. This was compounded by a friend’s parallel between Mrs. Doubtfire and me. I think it was meant as an innocent comment, I won’t ask because it is too embarrassing to broach, but it sent me into a dysphoric nosedive and tailspin. So I had a panic attack, which delayed my leaving by half an hour.

I skipped breakfast because I felt too ashamed of how I looked to be in public. I had plenty of gas from yesterday’s fuel-up so I just got on the road and drove. I crossed into Indiana before I needed fuel and decided to grab lunch, as it was nearing eleven-thirty. I stopped at a place called the Flying-J Plaza, which is like a trucker pit stop with showers, a salon, an arcade, and two restaurants. I still was not comfortable in my skin so I skipped the sit down and went with Subway. I asked for a bag but, whether it is my Midwestern accent or I just cannot pronounce things, they could not understand me. I had to repeat myself four times and they still weren’t getting it and would end up not getting it because now people were staring at me. I left with my sandwich and pulled the car around to fuel up. I swiped my card and got a “see attendant” message. So, back into the lobby and the staring people to authorise the pump, back out to pump the gas and back in to pay for it. At that point, I had enough of people and I ate my sandwich while driving.

Spooky-Mulder cried for a bit in his kennel case, which broke my heart, but he stopped before we entered Chicago. I had dreaded Chicago. When my ex- and I drove out to the coast six years ago, Chicago was a traffic nightmare. Six years of DC/Metro traffic later and it was pleasantly navigable. The GPS, set to avoid tollways, took me a roundabout ride through the city and onto Highway 12. I thought getting off the interstate was a bit strange, but apparently Garmin knew a better route. I didn’t worry until it had been an hour, I needed gas and had to pee, and had not seen another car for thirty minutes. Now, there was no need for panic. I had the GPS and as long as I didn’t get out of the car I would be fine. Fifteen minutes later my Marcus Brutus of a bladder forced me to pull over at this tiny, dilapidated gas station. I scoped the interior out through the cracked window while I pumped gas and determined it relatively safe for restroom use—safer than the tavern across the street, anyway. Inside, there was no visible bathroom and the serial-killer-esque attendant directed me to the single seat room behind the counter. The door did not have a lock. I did not think I could take care of my business faster than I did in West Virginia; I was wrong.

Another forty miles and I was back on the interstate and in Wisconsin. I found an AmericInn in Elkhorn and snuck Spooky-Mulder in via the back stairs. I do not feel bad about the latter because they overcharged me for the room (a hundred dollars for one night). Now, I am off the road and ready for bed. Four hundred thirty-five miles traveled; four hundred twenty-nine to go.


Trans* Continental — Day One

12 June, 2012

I have finished the first leg of my transcontinental journey from Virginia to Minnesota. So far the trip has been relatively smooth. I stopped three times while traveling. The first was an urgent need to use the restroom. I was hoping to make it all the way through West Virginia without stopping, but my bladder forced the issue. It was a nerve-wracking experience because the stall doors didn’t lock. The entire time I was in there I worried about someone walking in on me and flipping their shit. It was the fastest tuck ever, but I got out with nothing more than a few bemused stares. Thank you West Virginia, this is the reason so many trans* people get bladder and kidney infections.

Next came a Pennsylvania fuel stop. “Fuel for me and fuel for my baby,” as Dean Winchester would say. While at Hardee’s (I haven’t been near one of them for a while) I had a couple of gawkers making me their dinner entertainment but other than prolonged rudeness there were no issues. Sheetz, the fuel station, sat just across the road with an easy turn back onto the interstate. They had a lurker there. He stated at me while I was pumping gas and then followed me about the station while I got a snack for on the road. When I paid and headed back to the car I kept my keys laced between my fingers, just in case, but he stopped about fifteen feet shy of the car and just watched as I drove away.

Another three hours on the road put me just outside of Columbus, Ohio. Five o’clock came fast and I had grown tired of asphalt (no pun intended but intentionally left in). I stopped at a Comfort Inn first. I wondered if it was going to be too expensive for my budget, but never got the chance to find out. As soon as I walked in the door the manager, Ahmed (according to the shiny, brass name tag), said, “May I help you, SIR?” I smiled and shook my head. “Apparently not,” I replied. I headed down the street to the Red Roof Inn. Here ageing rocker Kelly was polite and used the appropriate pronouns. (See, Ahmed, not that difficult.)

There is a café across the lot where I’ll grab some supper tonight before getting some sleep. Three hundred thirty-six miles traveled today. Eight hundred and sixth-four miles across three and a half states left to go.


Whose Pride Parade is It? (a Caitlin on post)

10 June, 2012

Yesterday was the Pride parade in Washington, DC, which was a unique experience. Having never attended such a mass gathering of the gender and sexuality minorities community, I was overwhelmed by the immense crowds and the vast spectrum of style and presentation. But, as potentially affirming as the experience was, it was more disheartening. I was particularly troubled by three things: the lack of trans* representation, the rampant commercialisation of the parade, and the heteronormative appropriation of a GSM event.

As a trans woman attending with another trans woman and a trans man, I was looking forward to seeing others from my subsection of the community stepping-out onto streets that are more often hostile than friendly. I was anxious to see myself represented in the community and to feel a part of something larger, yet there was a distressing lack of trans* representation at the event. Though we missed the beginning of the parade due to metro rail-work also slated for this Saturday and Sunday, the section of parade I saw did not have any trans* specific floats nor was there trans* representation in other floats. There were gay, lesbian, queer, and drag specific floats. There we’re rainbow flags, gay pride flags, marriage equality shirts and banners. But, what I saw of the parade did not include political messages promoting trans* rights, demanding fair use of bathrooms, or acceptance into public spaces. I did not see anything memorialising the trans women of colour beaten and murdered by intolerant people. It felt very much like we were simply overlooked by the community.

Complicating this feeling was the rampant commercialism the parade was mired in. The number of banks, products, churches, and service providers with little to no connection to the community overwhelmed the floats that had strong ties to the community, such as The Blade and the homosexual contingent of the AARP. Conversations I overheard after the parade had more to do with the companies represented and how sexy the multiple floats of gay, cis, white men dancing in their underwear were then recognition of the gay owned businesses, such as The Blade, which has had to make cut backs on its staff and coverage due to the harsh economy.

But, perhaps, all of this is to be accepted and overlooked with a nod and polite thank you for thinking of us and allowing us to have our parade in your fine city. Except, I left with the realisation that it wasn’t really our parade. Much like how everyone is Irish on Saint Patrick’s Day, it was looking to me that everyone was homosexual during the pride festival. A conversation held by two women on the metro ride home validated this impression. Their conversation started off innocuously, with the one observing the other’s rainbow flag and pointing out that she, also, had gone to the parade. Ah, yes, I thought, members of my community out and open. This was not the case. Here is a snippet of their conversation.

Woman 1: That’s a great flag.
Woman 2: Yeah, I marched in the parade.
Woman 1: I was there. It was so much fun! I’m NOT gay, but I totally respect you people.
Woman 2: I’m NOT gay either! ::laughing:: The bank I work for was in the parade so we all had to march. I had to tell my parents that work required it otherwise they wouldn’t have approved of my going.
Woman 1: Oh, I know, it’s SO hard to be a supporter for gay people, but I love my gay boys!
Woman 2: I know, right. My gay, I call him my gay boyfriend, is so fabulous how could I not support him.
Woman 1: I have a BOYFRIEND, but I ALWAYS tell him when a gay boy thinks he’s hot.
Woman 2: Me, too! I ALWAYS tell him because that’s the highest compliment you can get, to have a gay boy think your boyfriend is hot.
Woman 1: Not that I don’t support the gay girls, too.
Woman 2: Oh, definitely! But the gay boys are cooler.

Their conversation continued for fifteen minutes, at inappropriate decibel levels, as the two proud supporters shouted across the aisle at each other. It eases my worries of harassment, discrimination, and physical assault knowing I have such staunch and committed activists being fabulous and marching on my behalf in my parade.

Although I enjoyed the company I was with, I cannot say I got much out of the parade. With the lack of representation, commercialisation, and appropriation holding centre stage in the venue, I would have been happier at a coffee shop chatting with my friends and getting back to the grassroots movement to gain a little recognition and respect.


Getting There is the Battle

6 June, 2012

Getting There is the Battle
by: River Eller

::getting ready to go to work. hating the prep time::

Shaving entails feet, legs, hands, arms, chest, under arms, shoulders, face, and neck; it is a tremendous pain in the tucked region and generally takes an hour and a half. I did most of it the night before so it only took twenty minutes this morning. It saves time to do it in stages, but that means everyday there is a different area that needs shaving and, every now and then (read: last night) shooting stars, planets, blue moons, and horseshoes align and I have to do it all at once. The exceptions to the stagger-shave rule are my face and neck, that’s everyday. I am still figuring out how much pressure to apply to each area, so I cut myself, a lot. I cut myself twice last night, once on a toe and once behind the knee.

After a scalding shower (it needs to be scalding to burn away my dysphoria), I towel dry my hair and shave my face. I also brush my teeth. I do this all by the glow of the nightlight. It is enough light to see by while being dark enough I won’t glimpse body parts I cannot handle seeing.

::a quick blast with the blow comb. hating my forehead; cursing mentally—and a little under my breath—fiddling with my hair::

I stare into the mirror. A brush in one hand and volumising spray in the other. I always flip my bangs to one side then the other then straight down. I brush them back to add lift …

::seeing my forehead again; struggling against the tears::

… and then back down. It wants to part to the right and leave the thinning spots distressingly noticeable. I brush it toward the left side. Better.

::still noticeable and oh goddess! that forehead::

I let the sides and back of my not-straight-not-curly-and-still-to-short hair flop down as it pleases. At least it is chin length now, which means fewer days in a wig.

::smiling at my reflection then frowning because I forgot to do my make-up before my hair; chastising myself; making myself feel bad because I deserve it, they tell me I deserve it.::

My foundation is powder. I tried the liquid but it clumps to the stubble as the five o’clock shadow comes in. Powder is lighter and can be re-applied quickly without a caked on look. I can do this because I am blonde and my shadow is almost non-existent.

::thanking the goddess I am blonde::

I apply some blush and, because I was feeling dysphoric yesterday, I decide to femme it up with eye liner (brown), eye shadow (green), and mascara (Lushes Lashes). I use just a hint of eye liner in my eyebrows to make them a touch more visible. Then the whole thing is sprayed with De-Slick, a mattifying spray.

::redoing my hair; feeling bitchy because it doesn’t look as good as the first time; still hating my forehead::

My outfit is cute; they always are. They need to be because jeans and a t-shirt get me clocked. (child: Mommy, why is that boy wearing make-up?) Today it is a dark, denim-like-blue, cotton skirt from Old Navy and a green and white, floral peasant top from Macy’s. I adjust my tuck to prevent accidental bulging.

::I thought it was supposed to shrivel from lack of use; it’s been a year, why is it still so huge? sighs::

I rub baby-boy Mulder, my black cat, on the head. “Be a good boy,” I tell him. “Or girl,” I add, “which ever you feel you are.”

::heading out; locking the door behind me::

Traffic is light, which is good because I left ten minutes late and have to speed to make-up the time. I push the car to seventy and hope that the people doing eighty are the ones who get pulled over. The posted limit is forty-five, but everyone does sixty. Well, everyone except the dump trucks, they do thirty and scatter themselves across all three lanes creating a string of weaving, merging vehicles at inconsistent speeds. I hate speeding or doing anything I could get pulled over for; I don’t want to deal with bigoted police officers. (cop: Sir, your license says female. Please, step out of the car, sir.)

::parking; rushing into the building::

I’m still late. Teachers are supposed to be there at seven; it is five after. On the way into the building, the wind blows my hair to shit. There are students gathered near the door and they see my bald patch. Some snigger, others turn away in disgust, and one grabs his friend’s backpack and pretends to vomit into it. Mr. Veep, the vice principal (read: bigoted asshat) is standing in the doorway, watching.

I smile. “Good morning, Mr. Veep!”

He looks away and down and mumbles a sorta “Good morn-nnmph …”

The office is crowded. It’s always crowded in the morning. Teachers, subs, administration, support staff, students, and parents. Today a group of parents take up half the lobby space. The men are big, I mean, BIG boys. The lightest of the three must weigh in at 225 pounds and his wife isn’t far behind him. The other men aren’t starving, either. Of the other two women, one looks like she could skip meals, plural, everyday for a few weeks and not suffer. The other is so skeletal I’m convinced the big’uns have been eating her meals.

“pardon me” I squeak. I keep my head down and avoid eye contact.

::willing them not to notice::

I slip between them and head to the counter and the staff sign-in sheet. Just three quick strokes, ‘CMS’, and I’m out of the office and into the hallway and sixty-one moderate steps later its the relative safety of a parent free room. dontnoticemedontnoticemedontnoticeme—

“The fuck is that?” the biggest big’un asks. His voice is as large as his stomach and resoundingly deep.

“Oh! That’s MISTER Song,” the skeletal one says. “He teaches literature.”

Big’un grunts. “I always figured boy teachers were fags. Doin’ women’s work.”

“Thank Jay-zus it don’t teach our kids,” says Mrs. Big’un.

Ms. Möbius, our smashing, sweetheart secretary, overhears them—they’re so loud neighbouring schools could hear them—and she says in a firm voice, “Good morning, Ms. Song. My but don’t you look nice today.”

“Thank you, Ms. Möbius. Have a great day!” thankyouthankyouthankyou!

“You do the same, now, dear.”

She’s a blessing, that Ms. Möbius. She also does a damn fine job subbing on those rare occasions I need to call in dysphoric sick.

::out of the office … sixty-one steps … shut the door::



Writing Apologetics

4 June, 2012


I have received several negative responses to the posting of my flash fiction piece, “Trans* Love.” This post has been the most hateful, but it shares a commonality with the other responses, mainly that the piece involves transsexual sexuality. People were not offended by the use of blood and self-harm in the piece and, with only a few exceptions, they were not troubled by the inclusion of sex. Rather, it is the fact it is transsexuals having sex that is the issue. So I have prepared a response in the form of traditional apologetics. Though this is a response specifically to this anonymous poster, much of it will address other issues people had with the post.

The idea of transsexual sexuality is anathema in our society. Too many people either grossly speculate on or actively ignore its existence. Both approaches take transsexuals out of the realm of human being and make them into fetishes or neutered Barbie dolls. One of my blog’s objectives is to look at elements of regenerating (transitioning) that are often ignored, fetishised, or criminalised by society. Sometimes I do this politely functioning on a comfort the afflicted level, but today I am feeling more brash and in the mood to afflict the comfortable.

Sex is a powerful Jungian archetype and so is blood, which is also connected to fertility and female sexuality. In this instance I honestly believe there was no other direction the writing could go without ringing false. The key for making this sequence work, is this is not sexuality for the sake of sexuality. Rather, it serves as a counter weight to the extreme self-loathing she feels. The need to self harm is overwhelming (my personal experience) and it takes an equally powerful act of love and acceptance to counter it (again, my personal experience). As a writer, it was clear to me only his creative, affirming passions could counter her self-destructive passions.

If you are offended, well, perhaps that is good. Art should make people itch, either for the pleasure or from the discomfort. You can’t be a writer/artist AND be a good girl. There’s too much at stake; there’s too much darkness in the world. That was one of the first lessons I learned about writing.

The second lesson I learned is writing is a large mansion and there are rooms in that mansion for everyone. Some rooms (Stephen King, Shakespeare, JK Rowling) have a lot of people in them. Others have very few or just a lone authoress. And that’s all right. The point is not to please everyone, but to write what you feel and to celebrate that diversity.

Not everything is for everyone. You do not have to like what I write and I am not going to try to convince you. I expect a fair number of people do not like it. But as Terry Davis (author of Vision Quest and Mysterious Ways) says, write something they love or hate but make sure it’s so well done that they’d be an asshole to say it is poorly written.

I am expressing my truth as best I can. Maybe I am going to hell for that and maybe I am not, and I hope not to learn that anytime soon. There is enough darkness in the world we do not need to create more through hateful attitudes. And there is enough death without wishing it upon someone else.


Trans* Love

4 June, 2012

Trans* Love
by: River

::feeling dysphoric and unlovable. feeling out of place with gender. feeling alone.::

The mirror is an enemy. It reflects lies. I can’t look like that; it’s not what I see when I close my eyes. I see smooth, clear skin and long, wavy, ginger hair. I see a face unmarred by time and the ravages of testosterone poisoning. I see me and I am beautiful. But the mirror reflects someone else. It shows a middle aged man in a dress with limp, thinning hair. The mirror shows a scarred and weathered face, five o’clock shadow and cheeks sunken from anxiety and radical diets. The mirror, my reflection, is an abusive partner. It shows what I hate and makes me want to self harm.

::picking up the sterilised shard of glass set aside for this.::

It is easy to picture the cut, performed with surgical steadiness. First it will just seem to be a line. Slowly, blood will bead on the line as my pulse causes it to seep out the sliced skin. I will watch it. The beading will become a rivulet, the rivulet will run down my arm, the blood will drop in perfectly circular splashes onto the hospital white countertop.

It would be gorgeous.

::dialling your number.::

Three, four, five rings. Voicemail.

::wanting to leave a message but not sure what to say.::

The tone. A breath. A long pause.

::hanging up.::

The phone rings; it’s you.


Three, four, five. The call goes to voice mail.

Immediately it rings again.


It is you. Concern colours your voice. I try to explain how I feel, but the words are jumbled and twisted. They abuse each other, consume rationality and meaning.


Your voice is soft, kind. You are on your way.

::sinking to the floor. Making my six foot one inch frame small and impenetrable.::

You use your key and find me pressed against the counter. You kneel beside me and wrap your arms about me. They are stronger than they were six months ago and the hair is thicker, coarser. You run the back of your hand along my cheek, wiping away tears.

::gazing at you.::

Your face is thinner and more angular. Your pores are larger and patches of brown hair are visible on your cheeks and chin. The brown fuzz overwhelms me with a dizzying combination of lust and dysphoria. You smile and my heart melts.

You stand, all awkward charm and help me to my feet. I sway a little from vertigo and you catch me around my waist. With tenderness, being careful not to cut me or yourself, you open my hand and take the glass shard. You set it back in its case and close the lid. You would never throw it out and that is one of the reasons I love you.

You guide me to the bathroom and start the shower, adjusting it to that perfect temperature of steamy, tolerable, scalding. Heat burns the dysphoria off. As the mirror fogs, you unbutton your shirt and drape it across the laundry hamper. You slip out of your shoes and shed your slacks and boxers. You stand before me in nothing but your binder. You give me a moment to take your tan, handsome body in, before slipping my blouse and bra off. They are deposited in the hamper, along with my skirt and the pantyhose I cut the legs off to secure my tuck.

::sighing. helping you remove your binder.::

We step into into the shower. It scalds. I take the pain into my heart, storing it away as pleasure to be reflected on and relished. You caress my double A breasts; cupping them in your small but powerful hands. You kiss my nipples.

::sighing. massaging your clit-cock.::

You moan, you kiss my neck. You slide your hands down my side and between my legs.

::shivering in anticipation.::

You slip two fingers into the soft, pink flesh of my scrotal sack, fingering a make-shift vagina. You gently knead the soft tissue while kissing the spot where I will eventually have cleavage.

::shuddering. weeping. climaxing beneath your loving touch.::

I do not grow hard and do not come, I have not done so in several months—this is the only reason I can let you touch me,—but I do climax. It is an internal tingling that pulses out from my core, enveloping my whole being. It is blinding in its intensity and I crumple into your waiting arms.

We hold each other as the searing water cascades over us, burning away everything we are not.


A Queer and Pleasant Review

2 June, 2012

The first thing you need to know about Kate Bornstein is she is a compassionate person. She weaves A Queer and Pleasant Danger (May 1, 2012, Beacon Press) from great lengths of compassion and love. This isn’t just a book, she hasn’t produced a litany of entertaining anecdotes for mass consumption. Her memoirs are a love letter written for her daughter, Jessica, whom she hasn’t seen in thirty years and her grandchildren whom she’s never met. Kate is a former Scientologist and her daughter and grandchildren were born into Scientology and are still in it. As a former Scientologist, the church declared her a suppressive person, an SP; for her to contact someone in the church would destroy that person’s life. As much as she wants to see her daughter again, know she is safe, and tell her she is loved, Kate cannot bring herself to shatter the only world her daughter has ever known. That is compassion; that is love. And that is the purpose behind her book. It is an open love letter to her family in case they ever wonder about and try to find her. You and I, Sweetie, are just lucky folk who get to eavesdrop.

And the reader should feel lucky, because there is a serious lack of authors like Katherine “Auntie Kate” Bornstein in the literary world. Her compassion, honesty, service, and humour are rare and beautiful traits in a society supersaturated with anemic pop culture. She was the first person without a gender I met. Initially we met on paper, in the lines of her wonderful primer, My Gender Workbook. Like Kate, I had been designated male at birth and was living that way, had lived that way for thirty-four years. I scoured for the best possible hey-you’re-a-girl-trapped-in-a-man’s-body-but-don’t-give-up-hope-you-have-options book on the market; there are surprisingly few books in this niche. As I surfed the electronic pipeline, I kept coming back to Kate’s My Gender Workbook. It seemed too light, too comfortable with itself and it’s readership, too fun. The book’s subtitle convinced me to buy it: how to become a real man, a real woman, the real you, or something else entirely. This spoke of compassion. Kate genuinely wants to help her readers figure out who they are. Now, fourteen years later, Kate is bringing that same compassion to her memoirs.

The compassion isn’t just for her daughter, grandchildren, and readers. Everyone that Kate writes about in her memoirs she treats with the same tenderness. The world is Kate Bornstein’s lover and she is a gentle partner. Perhaps, it comes from her time as a bottom, the dominated, in the S&M community, though, I suspect, it is from her being a bottom throughout her life. This is something else you should know about Kate: she has always submitted to and served others. From early on she formed herself to the will of others, the world’s daddies, starting with her own daddy. By today’s standards Paul Bornstein would be considered an emotionally abusive man, a self-proclaimed male chauvinist pig who could have served as inspiration for Norman Lear‘s Archie Bunker. Kate recognises that Paul was a cruel man. She is under no delusions about that, but she also sees the good, sometimes just potential good, that was in him. Throughout Queer and Pleasant there is never a sense of judging him, just telling the truth about who he was and what growing up as a son who was really a daughter was like in his household. She doesn’t hide his attitudes and flaws; she accepts that this was who he was without sugar-coating, just truth. She does the same when talking about L. Ron Hubbard and life in the Church of Scientology. She lays the truth about Hubbard before you. She doesn’t demonise him, he does that well enough on his own, what she does is treat “the Old Man” with the same honesty and acceptance she does her daddy. Even as she reflects on Hubbard’s death, there is compassion:

“No one’s come forward online to say they were there when the Old Man was lost, or that they held his hand and cried with him. If I’d been there, I would have.”

I don’t think I could have called up that type of compassion for a man who treated people the way Hubbard did, but Kate is a bottom, and from the bottom it is easier to see just how messed up we all are. And that’s truth.

This is the next thing you should know about Kate, she has an unwavering commitment to honesty. She tells Jessica and us at the start of Queer and Pleasant that, despite the label of suppressive person and the implication of being a spinner of lies, she will tell the truth. Even when she exaggerates or tells you how she wishes things could have happened she still relates what really happened. This is the aspect of Kate’s narrative that drew me in like a walleye on a fishing line. I spent thirty years lying to everyone by pretending to be a boy; now that I’m done playing at boy and living as girl, I don’t have time for lies. And neither does Kate. She went through a myriad of personalities and ways of living, each, she says, its own unique way of being gendered; she married and divorced three times; she did some cruel things to people who didn’t deserve it; she touched a number of people in very deep and intimate ways. She bares all this to her readers with unflinching honesty. But, like I said, this is a love letter and love is honest even when it means showing your own darkness.

Her memoirs, however, are not a Robert Lowell confessional; they do not dwell in the darkness. Like her other works, there is a wry sense of humour that infuses Queer and Pleasant. This is the last thing you need to know about Kate, she possess a levity that enables her to see the humour in the bizarre situations she’s come through. Her pop culture riffs and Doctor Who allusions make her memoirs a joy to read. How can a person who has served in the church of a mediocre science fiction writer who espoused the idea we are all thetans from the Galactic Empire who were shot out of an erupting volcano into a soul catcher and joined with cave dwellers not see the humour in life? How can a female placed in a male body by a cosmic prankster of a God not approach her story with a little self-deprecating humour and a lot of irony? For all the trauma and trials she went through Kate is still remarkably vivacious. If you need proof just consider the book’s subtitle: the true story of a nice Jewish boy who joins the Church of Scientology and leaves twelve years later to become the lovely lady she is today.

Reading A Queer and Pleasant Danger was a pleasure for me. I learned more about a heroine as important to me as my Mommy and Grandma, but more important I learned lessons about compassion, love, truth, service, and humour. Thank you, Auntie Kate, for being the lovely lady you are and for sharing that with us. And I promise, I won’t take the personality test.