Of Course Love Wins, But It Has To Be In Your Heart

Anaïs Nin wrote, “We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.” Sometimes, I feel the need to add, “…and hope to understand it, at least once.” A lot of this blog is like that for me – trying to make sense of things that happen, what they portend, what they imply, and where they must lead me, the woman I must be who gives account of the things I see and experience.

I am in Savannah, GA, for the week, for the American Association of Children’s Residential Centers annual meeting. I’ve written about it before (and again) – I love being a part of this organization. I love the opportunity to learn, this group of beloved friends who give so much more than I ever feel able to return. Tomorrow, I’ll get to spend a day learning about commercially sexually exploited youth – I would so love to do more beyond buying pajamas made by survivors of the sex trade (they are pretty fab, though, and the cute black tee is a great code sign to other radical feminists in the room). I am so ignorant, and just coming to understand that kids, right here, under our noses, are being drawn into commercial sexual exploitation, and it makes my blood boil. The rest of the week, I’ll be supporting a presentation and a luncheon on supporting sexually and gender diverse youth. I also need to pick up the thread of talking about how we innovate in education for youth in residential treatment – I pledged to lead writing a position paper on this, and I need to make good. Of course, I’ll be talking about bringing the autism revolution (like I could stop).

Someday, I'll be, big enough so you can't hit me...

Someday, I’ll be, big enough so you can’t hit me…

Some of you saw this on Facebook, but on my way into town, yesterday afternoon, I had a small, but unnerving experience, that stuck with me, and here I am, living life twice, trying to understand it once. I caught a taxi at the airport for the 20 minute drive into town. The driver was polite and gentle, making small talk and making me feel at home* and welcome to his beautiful city. He asked about where I was from and what I was doing in town, and had some questions about kids who are served in residential settings. He even put on his Bob Marley CD for me.

Then I caught something out of the corner of my eye. I knew what it was, somehow, instinctually, but I leaned in to be sure. On his rearview mirror was a Post-It note, just a little yellow Post-It note, with three Bible verses penned down. They weren’t just any verses of scripture, though. They were what I sometimes call Deadly Passages (get a copy, or borrow mine, and watch my beloved Actors’ Theatre’s take on them). The sticky note started with Leviticus 18:22.

Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman; that is detestable.

Considered in isolation, each of these verses (from the New and Old testaments) are most likely part of historically bound conversations. They call for frank discussion, today, about the predecessors of our Christianity and all the things that are neither love nor compassion that have been and are still done in God’s name. But taken together (the next verse on his sticky called for the punishment of stoning to death), these verses form a powerful credo of hate in the guise of Christianity. Like a wolf in sheep’s clothing, they are not a prayer to God but a call to evil. And every bit as much as my tee is a call to the sisterhood among feminists, they are a call to solidarity amongst minions of hate and injustice. Taken apart and in context, they are, perhaps, God’s word. But together, they are an incantation from somewhere else, altogether.

I maintained my composure, but I was honestly afraid. All kinds of thoughts went through my mind. I love life, so much. I thought of Teri and Iago back home, of all my little children, and the opportunity we are trying to create for them. My driver seemed kind, but flashing through my consciousness was the possibility of being killed, cut up, thrown in a ditch or swamp or dumpster. And I felt ashamed for hiding behind the cloak of invisibility that I have that someone who can easily be “read” as LGBT might not have in my place. I didn’t say or do anything, until I got to the hotel – I kept making small talk, and being friendly, as if nothing had happened. When the driver got my bag out for me, and I’d paid and tipped and all that, I told him, finally, that I did not mean any disrespect, but I had noticed his sticky note, and I needed him to know that God is about love, and not hate, and that we are called to love others, not to hate them. He mumbled something about his friend reading the Bible and them going through it together, and we parted.

I tried to stay cool the rest of the evening, although it made me unsteady. To my shame, I did not tell Teri about it right away – even at the end of the night, I talked to him and told him I love him and miss him without bringing it up. This morning, when I woke up, I was crying, and that’s when I decided to post about it and share the experience, but also to work harder to process it. I got a lot of support. One friend admitted that she would have assumed I was over-reacting (I felt this way, more than a little, myself), but she had just recently learned that someone she loved had lost a friend to an LGBT hate crime, and so she was beginning to understand that this is real.

The truth is that, even in that situation, the web of privilege in which I move was protecting me – privilege of class, education, and status that allow me to distance myself and command respect, privilege of affluence that keeps me out of many dangerous situations, and many other privileges. And likewise, in truth, the taxi driver was just some mild-mannered man. I don’t know how he came to have those verses on his mirror. But I do suspect this. He may have grown up ignorant – he may have feared people who are not like him. But someone is teaching him to hate, and even though it didn’t turn to violence against me, violence is where the road of hate leads.

And hate is real. Hate is directed at all kinds of people. With respect to the LGBT community, stoning us to death is not just hypothetical. It is happening, today, out there. My taxi driver came from Jamaica many years ago. Here’s a story just two months ago of a Jamaican gay youth not “just” killed, but actually stoned to death. I didn’t find it because I was hunting for a Jamaican story – it was actually the first hit I found when I googled “LGBT stoned to death.” Jamaica is also on a list of countries where consensual sex by gay people is a crime. Other countries, as well, particularly Uganda, feature violence being stoked by Christians, including American Christians, against LGBT people. It isn’t just ISIS. And it isn’t just Islamist Extremists – it is also Christianist Extremists. In both places, verses like the one above are abused to foment hate and incite violence. And it isn’t even just in underdeveloped nations or distant places where people who “don’t look like us” commit atrocities. It’s here in the United States, as well.

Hate doesn’t just happen to LGBT people, either. Whenever I talk about life after the early interventions we provide kids with autism, I brag about my friend Anthony Ianni. An autistic adult thriving and changing the world, powerful on the basketball court and behind the podium, this amazing man is a bullying survivor speaking out against bullying. People at Hope came to me, when they heard about an autistic youth who had feces and urine poured over him when his friends tricked him under the guise of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. They came to me, because they knew I would be mad as hell, which I was.

Theirs... and ours.

Theirs… and ours.

Since I’m expropriating quotes, let me expropriate Edmund Burke next. The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil Christians is for good Christians to do nothing. Let us think seriously about that. Christians are not standing up to this abuse of our God and our beliefs. We are not standing up to the hate and intolerance being preached in God’s name. The thing in the hearts of people who use these Deadly Passages as a clobber against LGBT people is not love, is not Christ, and we must recognize that, and help them back to God’s love. When we do not respond, we risk the possibility that the thing in our own hearts is also not love. And Rob Bell is right – of course he’s right – of course love wins. How could love lose**?

Of course love wins. How could it not?

Of course love wins. How could it not?

The question is not whether love wins, but whether we are love.

So let me do my harshest quote expropriation of all: if any of us Christians is not for all people, as Christ is for all people, then we are anathema***.

* I am so excited to be visiting the South. Having spent years near here, in the South, I became a bit of a Southern belle, and I always try to be friendly to people who cross my path, and I so love the gentility of it, the good side of Southern culture, being able to extend and receive politenesses and all the little things we Southerners try to do, at our best, to make the day a little more pleasant for the people we meet.

** Never lose, never choose to, bruise crews who do something to us, talk go through us. I can’t resist. Even though this isn’t a funny blog.

*** When I lived in Grand Rapids’ Midtown neighborhood, I lived around the corner from a streetside church, which had the original verse in big letters over its entrance like a store sign. They made pretty terrible neighbors  … well, as they say in the South, “Bless your heart.”

What if the People Who Don’t Know How to Do Trans Inclusion… Are Us?

I want to stitch together a few experiences I have had recently, with a conversation Teri and I had on the way back from Chicago, where I was an honoree for the 2015 Trans100 on Sunday. None of these experiences are meant to call anyone out – rather, it is reflecting on a pattern that emerges, to me, from these experiences, that speaks about all of us, not any individual actor, but the culture and society we are building amongst trans people. It is not an attempt to pick a fight within the sisterhood (or, rather, among the trans siblinghood), but rather to try and have that crucial conversation that needs to be had.

This is my Trans100 bio. I'm so amazed by the talent of the people chosen, and I feel more than a little unworthy.

This is my Trans100 bio. I’m so amazed by the talent of the people chosen, and I feel more than a little unworthy.

The first experience was months ago, at one of a series of workshops put on by leaders in the Michigan trans community. The workshops aimed to develop leadership and build and mobilize trans leaders. At the start of the first meeting, however, things went quickly off the rails. We had a brainstorming session in which we were asked to say what we needed to feel accepted, but it became quickly apparent that the designated note taker, who was putting the ideas on big sheets of paper that everybody could see, would write ideas in really big letters when they* liked them, and really small letters when they didn’t care about them. I pointed this out, and asked critically how we could have a discussion based on mutual respect if this is how we tried to develop mutual respect. One of the people there had an excellent idea, along with this, which was to foster the idea of assuming best intent in others, by having a simple protocol such as saying just, “Ouch,” when something bothered you, and if the person who said it understood why it offended, they could just say “Oops!” and move on (like you should do if you ever mis-pronoun somebody… just acknowledge it and move on). But there were soon a cacophony of “Ouches” that often had nothing to do with what the person talking had even been talking about. They culminated in a kind of surreal scene where one of the people present used what I can only describe as a Darth Vader voice to patronizingly point out to someone else that, if they were embarrassed about the way their voice sounded, they could change it with voice coaching or exercices (a point lost on nobody in the room). Later, we recovered from this, but there were still a lot of these weird moments. At one point in this series, we had an internal caucusing process. I had suggested a woman’s caucus, both because womanhood is the thing with which I most strongly identify, and because it created a potential home for the group of cis women who were participating. There was no interest in this, and I joined a trans caucus**. All fine and good, but then someone created a trans woman caucus, even though trans women were easily the largest group in the room, and the group would leave out both the cis women and some of the non-woman trans people who didn’t have a home. I didn’t feel comfortable with joining this caucus, because, in that space, it sounded a little bit like creating a white people’s caucus or a rich people’s caucus, or a men with power and influence caucus. The trans caucus, which ended up being Teri, me, and a really cool genderqueer / non-binary person, whom I love, was awesome (telling you, awesome caucuses are the only caucuses we should have). But I was left with this profound sense of not being able to belong to my own tribe – a sense I rarely feel when I am in broad LGBT spaces, and I never feel when I am in women’s spaces, or, amazingly, out in the “straight” world – all the places where belong naturally.

The second experience was at a recent meeting of our local trans support group, Own Your Gender. It was a little momentary interaction that didn’t fully hit me until later***. Wrapping up some group conversation about… something, I lightly said, “It could be worse. I could not be transgender.” One of the facilitators quickly corrected me: “You mean it could be worse, you could still be in hiding.” Sticking still to my pledge not to pick fights in the sisterhood, I sheepishly said, “Well, that’s true.” But I didn’t agree. I didn’t need correcting. I’m glad I’m not in hiding any more. But I’m not just proud in principle, in a Facebook post on Transgender Day of Visibility. I am actually proud to be transgender. I love it, as I love life, and I am thankful for it. I was thankful for it even in hiding, although I am far happier living openly and authentically. I own this truth. Not as a weapon, and not to deny the experiences of our struggling siblings, but because it is my true experience. I have said it at the microphone to elected leaders and in front of large audiences, here on my blog, and in so many one on one conversations. I wasn’t fast enough on my feet, that day, caught off guard, to say it like it is, but it is true. And of all places where I should be able to say such a thing, our own spaces owe me the right to love myself in safety.

If you know one thing about me, you should know I'm happy. That's what lets me not spend my time surviving, but doing things like advocating for kids with autism.

If you know one thing about me, you should know I’m happy. That’s what lets me not spend my time surviving, but doing things like advocating for kids with autism.

The third experience was going to the Trans100 itself. While there is always an “A-Gay” kind of phenomenon at national trans events, like First Event or Southern Comfort, this was very different from anything I’ve experienced before. Maybe it was night club culture (which I’ve always hated, for a wide variety of reasons, chief among them the way in which our women’s bodies become meat in a meat market, or in that it was a place where my charade as a “man” was most transparently not working). From the very beginning, I felt surprisingly unwelcome. At the ticket counter, when I said I had reservations and gave my name, the person hostilely asked me if I paid for a ticket, and waved me away. A bouncer nastily (and cryptically) told me, “Green is downstairs and orange is upstairs.” I genuinely had no idea what they were talking about, and so I asked what that meant. The response was, “Green is downstairs and orange is upstairs, that’s really all there is to it.” I still had no idea what was going on – I hadn’t ever been to the venue (I don’t think it was what it is now, back when I lived in Chicago), didn’t see anything green or orange, and orange and green didn’t mean anything to me. I had to figure out for myself that she was talking about the wristband I had, that I apparently had the “cheap seats,” and that she was there to keep me off the main floor. This is all fine and good, although this is an award others nominated me for, and I didn’t even know there were different kinds of tickets. I asked Teri (critically, not rhetorically) in some detail whether this is just me being a princess, and I finally came to the conclusion that it is really not. Because it wasn’t about me – yes, if I had been asked to buy more expensive seats, as a fundraising opportunity, of course I would have… I end up buying expensive gala and fundraising tickets, for one cause or another, it seems, for us, all the time nowadays. But it isn’t about that. I felt, the whole time I was at the event, that I was standing in someone else’s space, that the little tiny space I was occupying in my little tiny dress and my little heels was space that I should be giving up to someone else****. Really just the same way I feel as a woman on a crowded subway car. Teri, to my surprise, felt the same way. It isn’t about not being an “A-Gay” … I hardly expected the night to be all about me, as one tiny person among many being recognized. And I agree that, as one of the people who was being honored, that I am only a person chosen to represent an ocean of diverse talent, and that the celebration is not of us as the 100 “best” trans people, but a celebration of all the best in the trans community, with us agreeing to be used as exemplars or lenses through which that panoply of trans talent can be seen and celebrated. Yet, I also hardly think it necessary to work so hard to make me feel so unwelcome at what, even if only in a tiny way, was ostensibly my own party (and, of course, my own party in that we were celebrating trans lives, and the belief that trans lives matter, and so my trans life should matter, just for being a trans life), to accomplish this end. And if I felt unwelcome, as an honoree, how did people who were not being honored, who come from experiences of marginalization, feel?

But it was the third thing that really started to put together pieces for me. Lana Wachowski, who directed the Matrix and Cloud Atlas, was the keynote speaker. She made some excellent points, for instance stating of the world, “I don’t need your acceptance. I need your evolution.” She is a highly visible, highly successful, highly talented and creative, highly impactful trans person. She leverages all of these things to make the world a better place for other trans people, including by supporting in significant ways some of the critical work to safeguard trans people that is going on right there, in Chicago. But then, towards the end of her speech, she called out the black community for her perception that black people advocate “against us” for things like the odious bathroom bills. The tension in the room – we were seated next to a couple of our fierce black sisters, and I was really happy that the crowd that night was ethnically diverse – was palpable. A group of people, mostly black trans women, on the other side of the balcony, got up and walked out. We stayed, but all I was thinking about was how our black friends next to us, and the ones down on the main floor, and the ones across the balcony, were feeling, and feeling hurt alongside them. This was Lana’s Patricia Arquette moment. Precious Davis was on point and brought the night back to what it is really about, by saying that we need all our voices present in the room, to have the critical conversations that define us as a community. Later, some people I know called out the women and men who walked out that night, accused them of betraying trans people, but she was not doing that. No, she was calling them back in. 

That night, over a gyro and fries we split instead of going to the after party, because Teri was hungry, and because I needed to stress eat (which I didn’t admit to Teri till the next morning, and my eating disorder behaviors come out infrequently enough that Teri doesn’t always know them when he sees them), and then further cuddling in bed in the morning, and over lattes, we had a really great discussion that help me put the pieces of what I want to say together, into something that, at least to me, makes sense as a whole.

That whole is this: we think that using preferred names and asking for pronouns is creating trans inclusive spaces, but the reality is that we, as a community, have no idea how to create an inclusive or safe space, for us. Rather, disrespecting trans lives is not just something that we need to hashtag to the outside world via #BlackTransLivesMatter, but we need to recognize that disrespecting trans lives is endemic in our own spaces and pervasive in our own processes and approaches.

And this is perilous. Altogether too often, our own spaces are not safe for us. We see it in trans spaces where trans people are called out or made to feel unwelcome because they don’t do “enough to transition” or don’t “pass” or meet some other stupid and arbitrary criteria. We see it in trans spaces that operate as an oppression olympics and don’t allow for the possibility that a trans person can be happy, let alone happy to be trans. And we do it in spaces where we take glee in putting up velvet ropes and using bouncers to make people feel like they’re not good enough.

Again, I say this with love and a sincere desire to keep Lana Wachowski and everyone else I mention, either by name or not, in this article, in the family, and to build a stronger and better family together with all of you.

Again, I say this with love and a sincere desire to keep Lana Wachowski and everyone else I mention, either by name or not, in this article, in the family, and to build a stronger and better family together with all of you.

This is really not about calling out the Trans100. Jen Richards and all the people around her, who made this thing possible, did a really wonderful and revolutionary thing. The 300 people who have been honored, over the last three years, including me, share with all the talent and creativity and passion amongst trans people, the burden of elevating our profile, of helping us all learn to stand taller, chin up, prouder, fiercer. I am thankful, humbled, but also dead serious when I talk about being asked to shoulder a small part of that burden. This is also not about calling out Lana Wachowski. She has done, is doing, will do amazing things. She has tremendous power to be a force for good, and she has already done so much in her own way to lift us up as a people.

On the contrary, this is doubling down on what Precious said, as well as what Tiq Milan said at the event, in his own excellent speech, which is in essence that just people like Laverne Cox on magazine covers (or people like he or I receiving awards or being asked to deliver addresses at events) is not going to be enough to stop trans suicide. We need to call everybody in, and at the core of the discussion we have, we need to talk about the fact that we don’t feel safe, all too often, in our own spaces. If we can’t feel safe in trans spaces, then we will just continue to have what we have now. A subset of fierce, happy trans people, like me, will go about their lives feeling safe and accepted outside of trans spaces, in mainstream society (as I do), and the people who are struggling, who have no place, … will face the ignominy of feeling unwelcome in the one place that has the least business rejecting them.

This is an indictment, but it is an indictment of me as much as of anyone else. Just me being visible, being on TV (to talk about being transgender or to talk about autism), being happy, putting on tiny dresses and drinking cocktails, isn’t the revolution by itself. Sure, it might support other people who, like me, and many of other highly visible, successful trans people, didn’t need much to succeed except for people to get out of our way, but it isn’t going to help all those people who are contemplating, trying, or succeeding at suicide. I – we – have a choice in front of us… every community has hierarchies. In good hierarchies, leaders lift their people up. There is disparity, even in most of the best and safest places in the world, but only just enough, and it is far more often seen as a cause for those who have more to give more, than as a cause to take from the marginalized and give to the privileged. In bad ones, we create classes of toadies who use the power of the dominant subgroup to lord over others, or to take glee in creating velvet ropes and glass ceilings and all kinds of barriers that keep our own people down, and we seek to grow disparity rather than eliminate it.

So what do I think? I think it’s time to tear down those velvet ropes, go out in the parking lot and get our sisters back in the room, and get down to figuring out what it actually means for trans spaces to be places where all trans people can feel safe, spread their wings, and fly.

* I’m using gender neutral pronouns here not based on the preference of the person about who I am talking about, but just to keep this conversation about concepts and not about shaming or calling out anyone.

** The idea of an “awesome caucus,” composed of anybody who was awesome or wanted to be awesome, was also nixed, sadly, even though I and a friend fought hard for it.

*** Yes, okay, it was basically this.

**** There were exceptions – I talked to Laura Jane from Against Me, very briefly, and she was the epitome of not being the problem I’m trying to describe, and really served as a role model influence for me in that, much as people like Amy Gore had been at V to Shining V last year, or Lizz Winstead, also of Lady Parts Justice is, like all the time. And a couple of our Chicago friends grabbed us and made sure we got a drink early in the evening.

Mira and Teri Record with StoryCorps

This is a picture from last week (Valentine's Day!). Some pronouns changed in our relationship since August, but the fire still burns hotly.

This is a picture from last week (Valentine’s Day!). Some pronouns changed in our relationship since August, but the fire still burns hotly.

You may have heard of StoryCorps. They’ve been recording stories across America since 2003, archiving more than 50,000 of them in a little more than a decade. A few of their recordings get edited down professionally and published on NPR, and you’ve probably heard one of them at one point, or another (they’re online!). The rest of the time, they archive the digital recording at the Library of Congress, in their American Folklife Center. One cool thing about StoryCorps is that they try to oversample underrepresented stories. Last summer, they came to Grand Rapids, and they worked with OutPro, The Network, and others to help collect more LGBT voices. We recorded with them on August 16, 2014. This was kind of amazing timing, because just around that time, the Smithsonian’s LGBT collection plans were unveiled, and there has been talk about possibly creating duplicates of LGBT narratives, like ours, and also putting them in that collection, which is something that’s happened with StoryCorps recordings in other target areas.

This is the actual StoryCorps trailer, it has a mad fierce sound booth tucked away in it, and you can actually get a great audio recording even while there's a festival going on in Rosa Parks Circle right outside the door.

This is the actual StoryCorps trailer, it has a mad fierce sound booth tucked away in it, and you can actually get a great audio recording even while there’s a festival going on in Rosa Parks Circle right outside the door.

Technically, you can go listen to our story at the Library of Congress. Unfortunately, right now, the unedited stories do not go online. However, the StoryCorps people provide a CD of the recording and permission to excerpt and publish that. I’ll have to admit it took me all the way until January to finally rip the CD onto my Macbook Pro and start editing it down in Audacity, and I just finally figured out how to do some channel mixing and compression on it, get it to a manageable size (the interview is 45 minutes long; this excerpt is only 10), and upload it somewhere so I can stream it from this blog.

The excerpt here focuses on the story of how Teri and I met (I know, sickeningly sweet) and fell in love, and how we find that our relationship allows us to strengthen each other in our passions for serving children, me with my roles at the Center for Autism and with the AACRC, and Teri as a facilitator of our LGBT Youth Group at The Network. In picking 10 minutes to share, I was challenged with what to admit. Somewhat to my surprise, I didn’t keep the parts about LGBT advocacy, really, even though this is a huge part of our lives. I did save one part, where Teri came out to me, for the first time*, in words, about being trans himself, since back at that time, we were publicly lesbian identified (and not yet heteroqueer). I cut out a lot of me talking about my little autism kids, because, well, we have other videos on that topic (and once you get me started, I scarcely have the ability to stop). I really decided to focus on our love story. Why? Because it’s my favorite part of the interview. Because it’s the story that just gets better (and perhaps slightly more exaggerated) every time we’ve told it**.

I suppose that opens me up to criticism of bleaching away the queerness of our story, but in my defense, I think it is important to remind the world that even we, two trans people in a loosely heterosexual relationship – even we have love stories just like anyone else’s. So, it isn’t me preaching feminism. It isn’t me talking about the amazing future we have, when NT’s and NNST’s start building the world, hand in hand. It isn’t about the message of a day when we are equal in our lives, our loves, and our gifts. It’s just a love story. Hate it if you may, dear reader, but in hating love stories, must you not also find yourself hating love? And without love, what are we?

So, here it is:

I hope you like it!

* Yes, in the sound booth, girlfriend. It was not, however, the biggest shock in the world.

** I know, we tell it a lot. It’s become kind of legendary among my close friends.

Teaching People to “Get” Privilege

At the beginning of the year, I wrote a blog post* outlining why I felt a shakeup in our notion of being an ally was critically needed. It followed up on my attempt to start a conversation around redefining privilege, begun publicly at the West Michigan TDoR a few months earlier. I started, in essence, with how I am dedicated not just to recognizing the marginalization of the LGBT community, but to ending it. And the end I foresee is a world in which we are valued for the gifts we bring, where people know that we anchor communities, where people know that we make towns and cities vibrant, and where people feel motivated to keep us safe not because they feel sorry for us, but because it’s in their own self-interest. To get there, I argued, we needed to become more aware not just of marginalization as we experience it, and privilege as others experience it, but we need to be aware of the privilege each of us carries, and become increasingly willing to leverage that privilege we have to engage audiences, tell stories, build relationships, and change the world.

The second place I engaged in this conversation was by starting Our Narratives, along with my Teri and others, as the Network‘s new initiative to help LGBT people know their stories, relate their stories to the Struggle, and use their stories to advocate for change, both big and small. We started this with our November 2014 Our Narratives workshop (and we have another one coming up, in a couple of weeks). Our Narratives was a critical piece of what needed to be done, because it is difficult to use privilege to advocate for change if you don’t really understand how to advocate for change, or how to broaden that story beyond just your own story. We showed with that inaugural event that our participants came in feeling they knew their story, but they didn’t know how to relate it to the struggles of others (or distill the universal theme or align the societal statistics with their story), and they really didn’t know how to use their own story to advocate for change or understand why their own story was relevant in advocating for change**. And we showed that we could change all that, just in a day. Teri commented, also, that he was blown away by the intensity of these stories, and he felt kind of badly for having underestimated our community, going in. This, I think, really recapitulates my point at TDoR. That passion behind that storytelling… is a kind of talent or privilege, and it’s just one of the many talents*** we don’t recognize or leverage as a community.

So, I’ve got people talking about and understanding their marginalization. But my belief is that we cannot be good allies unless we understand our privilege, too, and we begin to understand intersectionalism of both marginalization and privilege. So, really, I set out with So You Want To Be An Ally (SYWTBAA), which happened at the end of January, with two goals. First, I want to learn to teach people that we exist within an intersecting web of privileges and marginalization – it is fundamentally flawed to think of “us” as marginalized and “them” as privileged. Second, I wanted to socialize our people to critically analyze our behaviors as allies. Again, pulling us out of an “us v. them” mentality, I want us to be good allies to others (because it will stop unfortunate things like ethnic minority groups attacking LGBT rights, because they perceive that “our” freedom is incompatible with “theirs,” when in reality, we are all “us,” and there is no “them”).

I’m coming back now to talk about where I succeeded, and where I’m still trying. SYWTBAA was a three hour seminar with group activities interspersed. Unlike Our Narratives, it placed a heavier emphasis on instructor led content. I originally conceptualized it as being co-led by an LGBT person and a heterosexual ally (and had one picked out). But, the more and more I thought about it****, SYWTBAA became not primarily about heterosexual allies working with the LGBT community, but rather, a broader and more conceptual thing. I got feedback, privately, from some people I trust and respect, that I needed to thin down the feminist theory, because people who came to such an event would be well versed in it already. I respectfully disagree (and I’m sticking with that assessment). At least, here, in Grand Rapids, we do not have people show up to these events with bell hooks under their arm. And I would challenge, that, honestly, while there are a few of us out here, we do not even make up the majority in our own activist/advocacy spaces, let alone the majority of mobilizable people that can make the army we leverage to end oppression. A simple analysis of how many HRC bumper stickers one sees and the sales data on the feminist classics quickly reveals that.

So, the workshop ended up being more of a solo presentation, by me. I would like to broaden the examples I drew on, but I used examples from multiple kinds of marginalization – related to disability, mental illness, different racial and ethnic groups, the young and old, women, and, of course, the LGBT community. I used examples ranging from the Victoria’s Secret expropriation of Native American culture three years ago, to raising the possibility that the 99% may just be the largest of all marginalized groups, even larger than women as a group (or the 51%, as we like to call ourselves). I acknowledged my heroines, provocatively putting Andrea Dworkin and Julia Serano on the same page*****. And I preached feminism. I talked some gay – I explained why we don’t have a straight pride, as an example of how privilege assumptions and the power structure they maintain form an asymmetrical view of the world.

There was some good stuff. Unlike the very targeted before/after results we saw for the flagship Our Narratives workshop, we saw broadband improvements on all five of the questions we asked about our participants’ before and after experiences. But, the biggest gains were in understanding one’s own privilege (that is, understanding of one’s own privilege improved markedly, whereas improvements in understanding one’s own marginalization were more subtle), and feeling able to critically analyze one’s behaviors as an ally. So these are exactly the things we set out to do, and this preliminary data, from the first time we did the program, were very favorable. It also turns out that Keynote makes totally fetch slides, and although I used it at First Event earlier in the month, this is the first really meaty presentation I made in Keynote, and it was much more sophisticated than that prior one.

#Geekgirl loves her data, so here are the numbers – again, noting the big gains on the top-most and middle items:

Participant survey data from our January 2015 So You Want To Be An Ally

Participant survey data from our January 2015 So You Want To Be An Ally

There were some surprises. Using the Network’s detailed identity question****** on our post-hoc survey, only 55% of respondents classified themselves as allies (#FAIL? Or humility?). Of course, with all the work to make sure there were plenty of presentation materials, it went a little long. The last exercise was supposed to really critically push people to identify both when they were an ally and when they were an accomplice (and really, all four roles in the paradigm I borrowed and presented earlier). I do not feel like I fully got across the idea that things like reverse racism are not valid constructually, because of global effects overwhelming the local effects (so that in a majority black neighborhood, like the Hyde Park neighborhood of Chicago, where I lived before I moved back to Grand Rapids, the national/systemic racism against black people overwhelms the fact that Caucasians are a minority just in those few blocks, even though the President of the United States of America lives 2.5 blocks away, etc.). People also still tended to think of themselves as primarily privileged or primarily marginalized (and I really should’ve asked a poll question about this, and I did not – I really want people to come away from something like this understanding that we are all both).

Don't make me do Michelle Obama side eyes.

Don’t make me do Michelle Obama side eyes

Overall, though, I was pretty happy with the conversation. In spite of the early critiques that the feminist / conceptual approach would not be what people wanted, we had a pretty sold-out event, and we had really positive feedback from the participants. One, who leads a drop in center for homeless and runaway youth, followed up by inviting me to a training panel discussion to talk about this content. There was interest in exporting the training to another group, which is something we’re possibly open to (although we really want people to come in our doors). We want to do this quarterly, so I’ll be curious to see if we can find 20-25 people who want this training every three months (I think we should be able to – there are, in any event, to me, more than 20-25 people who need this training every three months).

What’s next? Well, we’re looking at ways other than dramatic / prose speaking and blogging to teach people to tell their stories. Maybe spoken word art, maybe something video-based, so we can go wreck YouTube. I’m also thinkiI’mng of more content elements. I’m wondering, particularly, if we need to QueerTheConversation on racial justice – still giving you side eyes if you talk reverse racism at me. We could come clean (or even cleaner) about how everyone who’s been on our Board of Directors in the last couple of years has been Caucasian or Asian (and, as I’ve argued, there are many ways in which I feel a need for pause and caution, and I do not consider myself a good spokesperson for racial injustice), and much more strategically talk about our outreach to ethnic minorities, both in terms of building support for LGBT people from these populations but also building a reciprocal ally base, because we’ve got a lot to give back to people. We’ve been talking about that a lot, but right now, I feel like we need to double down on that. Amidst all the other things were trying to revolutionize and all the other systems we’re trying to wreck (now, usually I don’t do this, but why don’t you go ahead and break them off a little preview of the remix?).

I guess it turns out that Queering the New Year is a resolution one really must keep all year long.

* Slash manifesto

** For instance, it is also a narrative we can leverage that, in the midst of fighting over whether transgender people should be equal (or should be excluded), my narrative that I am societally accepted, largely by everyone, that I’m here in Grand Rapids creating jobs and opportunity for adults and teaching kids with autism how to communicate and learn, and that I am in danger not of killing myself, if I can’t have rights, but of not building as many jobs (mostly for straight people) or helping as many kids (again, predominantly straight people’s kids) – my narrative is an important narrative, because it dovetails exactly with what the rest of the business community has been saying about our civil rights act. It’s just, by and large – and not for want of talent, see the next footnote – I’m the only trans person saying it. But this is an example of a privilege-based narrative, used to advocate for good. Making me something more like Tesla and Elon Musk, arguing, “Hey, your life would be better if you changed your laws for me.”

*** Sometime, let me write a blog post about all the kinds of people I know because I’m engaged in the LGBT community, that wouldn’t normally be in my social circles… sure, there are doctors, lawyers, engineers, and CEOs, but actors and actresses, airplane pilots, retired Navy SEALs and Army Rangers, authors, poets, comedians, magazine editors, … I’m really not kidding when I say my network broadened by coming out, and didn’t contract really at all.

**** And, well, because we woke up early and finished the last bits of the program the morning of the event, itself, and Teri even cooked us breakfast, so that I could finish.

***** I should be even more provocative, and have some male role models too, and in truth, I do, although most of my strongest inspirations are other women, and I put up six pictures of women. For the record, they were: bell hooks, Gloria Steinem, Shulamith Firestone, Andrea Dworkin, Julia Serano, and Mira Nair.

****** For a lot of our own surveys, we use an inclusive identity question, where a long list of options is presented, and respondents check all that apply, with no validation process. Currently, our list is: female, male, androgynous, agender, bigender, cisgender, transgender, genderqueer, gender fluid, cross dresser, intersex, heterosexual, gay, lesbian, bisexual, pansexual, polyamorous, sexually fluid, asexual, aromantic, questioning, two spirit, queer, and ally. There is a free response “other” option, and my smart-ass boyfriend put in heteroqueer. So we add items as we go – it had less items the last time we used it. Recently, I’ve been asked how to do this on surveys, and I agree that this approach is cumbersome for someone other than an LGBT organization. So my second approach, when we’re trying to make it simpler, is to ask two questions, modeled after the two-question approach of identifying ethnic/racial grouping. There, questions are asked separately, here in the US that is, about being Hispanic/Latino, and about ethnic affiliation. I propose something similar, which is (1) Do you identify as trans/transgender, genderqueer, gender fluid, gender non-conforming, or non-binary? (Yes/No/DK) and (2) Do you identify as (male/female/other). This is nicely subversive, too, in that the questions make more sense and are more welcoming if trans people are put in front rather than put in as an afterthought.

A Mission to Christianity

Last week, Calvin College brought Mark Yarhouse to speak about the transgender community. Christian LGBT community members raised concern. On digging further into the matter (I had heard neither of Dr. Yarhouse nor of the Regent University from which he hails), much of this concern is rooted in Dr. Yarhouse’s historical body of work. At its best, he takes a non-judgmental* approach to supporting Christians (predominantly) who are trying to reconcile their sexual identity with their Christian identity. At its worst, it stoops precipitously close to apologetics for conversion therapy, teetering on an edge (although, from Dr. Yarhouse’s perspective, trying not to go over that edge) of what is considered criminal in multiple states (although not Michigan), and what is considered clearly unethical by a preponderance of us as psychologists.

I, in turn, reached out to friends at Calvin and summarized these concerns. They very graciously had me out to tea to discuss them further. I understand (and welcome) their spirit of trying to create dialog across what they perceive as a chasm (although, in truth, we are quite able to sit at the same table, drink the same tea, and find common language with little difficulty). I also understand and accept their challenge in working with a broader range of stakeholders, ranging from their students (who are generally quite accepting) to some of their older constituents (who are, sometimes, otherwise).

gender-dysphoria-cover

Based on Dr. Yarhouse’s presentation, I cannot recommend his forthcoming book.

I went to hear Dr. Yarhouse speak, and up until now, I have been largely silent (or, as I am sometimes accused of being, “diplomatic”). I did so out of love for my friends at Calvin – and I do sincerely consider them friends – who I am very convinced are trying to do right (and good). I do so out of love for my Calvin alumni staff – anyone who knows me knows how much I love my team, and that I would make (and sometimes have made) all manner of sacrifices for them. My friends at Calvin worked very hard to make this a non-combative atmosphere for discussion, and I do appreciate that, although there are subtle nuances of these choices that are more problematic**.

I have held off because I have been balancing various other perspectives, as well, causing me to wait before I responded. I balance the very different perspective my own organization is in the process of taking towards its own mission of Christian service (one which I wholly endorse, for no simpler reason than that it is based in love), and even the wonderful things Calvin College, itself, is doing for its trans students, like a whole campus network of gender inclusive bathrooms***. I balance my duties to the LGBT community – many of whom would not be willing to even listen to this. And I balance my obligation to live my life, to be the sort of woman God made me, to be what and whom God has seen fit, to be unashamed and unabashed, to try and be a source of support and kinship for others. Again, anyone who knows me really knows how much I love the wonder of this life. In speaking now, I accept and embrace that I am doubtless to be scorned on the one side or the other, and most likely, on both. But I – we – must live our lives against what is right and not against what will receive scorn. From anyone.

Yarhouse spoke about many things. Semantically, he used marginalizing language under the apologetic of recognizing that “we won’t all agree on words.” Scientifically, it is my opinion that he misrepresented and selectively presented data – for instance, in discussing the increasingly common practice of suppression / delay of puberty medically for trans kids, he included data that indicates that young children who do not conform to their birth assigned sex have a high rate of “desisting,” or not being transgender-identified by adulthood, but he ignored data that adolescents have a much lower rate of return to cisgenderhood. He ignored large scale data on the safety and efficacy of transition. This data is not inaccessible or esoteric to the researcher – much of it is summarized in the World Professional Association for Transgender Health’s Standards of Care****, commonly considered the international, scientifically accepted, gold standard, and endorsed widely by other provider and specialty organizations (and freely downloadable – you should read it, if you have not already). He included some references to neuroscience, ignoring much of the most recent cognitive neuroscience data. There is much more that could be said about the scientific content of this lecture. But I think this is entirely not the point*****.

Rather, it is the Christian content of this lecture that most troubles me. On one level, the Christian content of this lecture was deeply problematic because it included discussion of the kind of “deadly passages” that are used, and used absurdly, in Christian discussions of LGBT people. To caution for deep pause and great consideration of scripture such as the Deuteronomy quote, “No one who is emasculated or has his male organ cut off shall enter the assembly of the Lord,” is to forget the gospel (or worse, to fail to understand it). But the real point that bears discussion goes beyond this kind of legalism, too.

My last blog post was a continuation of a discussion from a year ago. In some ways, this post, too, is a continuation of a prior thread of discussion. What remains from that discussion is this question of why full and easy acceptance (for me, particularly) comes from all corners of society except certain elements of the church (which do not include my friends at Calvin, or even Calvin as an organization, and which does not generally include my own church, but which are exemplified by conversations like the one led by this speaker). I am drawn back (again) to Frederick Douglass’s claim that, under the surface, there are two separate Christs – one of the Cross and one of this land. Whereas the former accepted, included, and fought for social justice, the rather, all too often, back in his day, and still today, looks for permission to hate, reasons to exclude, limitations on welcome, and the development of a Christian body that is more concerned with its organization and prosperity, than with serving God. A Christian body that uses religion not as salve, but as weapon. A Christian body that uses its senior leadership not to motivate believers to love and nurture people, but who motivates them to shun them (or, in a weaker form, to have conversations about whom and what they are still ‘allowed’ to shun). The same sort of people who cry foul that Christians are a mistreated minority (in America, no less) while, in the same breadth, fighting marriage equality.

I find, since reading over the foregoing Narrative, that I have, in several instances, spoken in such a tone and manner, respecting religion, as may possibly lead those unacquainted with my religious views to suppose me an opponent of all religion. To remove the liability of such misapprehension, I deem it proper to append the following brief explanation. What I have said respecting and against religion, I mean strictly to apply to the slaveholding religion of this land, and with no possible reference to Christianity proper; for, between the Christianity of this land, and the Christianity of Christ, I recognize the widest possible difference–so wide, that to receive the one as good, pure, and holy, is of necessity to reject the other as bad, corrupt, and wicked. To be the friend of the one, is of necessity to be the enemy of the other. I love the pure, peaceable, and impartial Christianity of Christ: I therefore hate the corrupt, slaveholding, women-whipping, cradle-plundering, partial and hypocritical Christianity of this land. — Frederick Douglass

In Douglass’ day, it was the conflation of Christ with slavery, whereas today, this phenomenon is best seen at looking at too much of the church’s attitude towards women and gender/sexual minorities. But, the phenomenon, itself, is wholly alive. And, sadly, quite well. Although there are times when we let ourselves infight as marginalized communities, and one cannot ignore the overwhelming magnitude of the body of depradation wrought by the Christians who championed slavery, and I have no wish to pretend that I have been subjected to those kinds of horrors, still, the mechanics are the same. In those days, Christians had these very same conversations asking whether Black men were men, whether Black women were women (“like our women”). The fundamental problem with Dr. Yarhouse’s talk – and with “Christian apologetics” and the way transgender people are treated by the church – is a failure to recognize that God’s making us in His likeness is a two-way street. God is in heaven, and we are on earth, yet the reality is that merely existing is not enough to be Christlike to anyone, and failing to love, to understand, or to accept, particularly when done in the guise of Christlikeness – is morally wrong.

Early in my coming out process, once, I had a gay man tell me, presuming that I must be interested in him at all, that I could not be his girlfriend, but that I must be his boyfriend. In saying what is the point in understanding what is wrong with the lecture I went to see, I can only say simply that both he and Yarhouse miss the point of my existence entirely, and in exactly the same way. Yarhouse seems genuinely surprised that a gay Christian would perceive more in common with other LGBT people (as gay) than with him (as a Christian). He would be surprised, likewise, that I would shun this olive branch of being told that I can be accepted, not as the woman that I am, but instead, as a “biological male presenting female” or some other self-evident absurdity (again, evident to everyone except certain members of the Church). But far more than this, this line of reasoning runs the risk of ignoring the inevitability that denying what God made me, must always be a denial of God, Himself, as well.

In truth, I felt the greatest wall separating my closeness to God, all the time between when I realized the woman I must grow up to be, and when I finally let myself be her. When I finally accepted the charge to be myself, that wall – those scales – they fell away at that moment of finally accepting the full truth. In those days, I did make a lifestyle choice – one that kept me from my place as a daughter-child of the divine. I left that choice behind, and I became – am becoming – whole again. Not sin-free, not screw-up-free, because I do many things I feel unworthy of the woman I am called to be, and perhaps, most of the time, find myself generally inadequate at this and many other things. But as whole as a wicked girl like me can find a way to be.

Much as it was not my accepting the truth of who I am that kept me at arms length from God, but rather my refusal to do so, for many years, Yarhouse fails to understand that it is not now any choice of mine that prevents these Christians from being Christ for me. It is their choice. Their lifestyle. Their denial of God’s truth (or even the very small part of it that is evident in my existence) even when presented directly with it. This, I fear, is very much the same to be a disciple of the Christ of the land, and not of the Christ of the Cross, to look for excuses not to love, rather than opportunities to love. I am not the one being intransigent in this case – for being that woman is not one of my many sins. I know that I find myself bathing****** daily and hourly, in all manner of guilt that I did not do more, love more readily, work harder, be less weak, and I scarcely feel capable of being Christ for anyone, but I do not spend my time looking for excuses to not love, to not accept, to exclude, to discriminate.

Thus, the premise underlying Yarhouse’s statement is fundamentally flawed. I appreciate your desire to be Christ for me, but if you wish to call me these names, if you want to have this kind of discussion over my living body, then you’ve already made your decision not to do so. This is your decision, and neither I nor God have made it for you. And again, my fear is that anyone who makes such a decision will find themselves aligned with the Christ of the land. I won’t judge you for making this decision – it isn’t my place. But, like Douglass, I will respectfully decline to be interested in that sort of Christ.

That choice is their moral quandary. But thus, I am left with what becomes my moral quandary. Christ spent time in synagogues. He debated and spoke with elders. But he spent much more time loving people, and being out among them. I must ask myself, what is the opportunity cost of spending time (any time) trying to build inroads into the dwellings of this Christ of the land, instead of being out loving? What is the point in this dialog? What is the point of feeling the rage build up inside me, at the injustice, for all these days since that talk, and before I wrote this? Who was I not able to love, because I was too busy hurting, these last days – hurting man-made hurt? Could I not shed the tears I shed, just now, as I wrote this, for something more worthy? To me, the truth is, it is the Church that needs our prayers, with the “issue” of transgender people, not me. Save your prayers for me, please, for my million actual flaws and shortcomings, and not one of the few things that is not wrong with me.

I don’t have an easy answer to this quandary. In my feeble attempt to be like Christ, I try to spend most of my time out loving others. On most days, I am simply thankful for all the kids God has given me, for the rich work I have been given and for the surprising ability of my small hands to do even a tiny part of it. But, like Christ, I also long for a day when the structural injustice is undone, and the Church can again establish itself as a home for the broken hearted, and not for exclusionary movements.

* What, in my sister, Miss Austen’s, time, would have been called “disinterested,” when that word still meant a good thing, that a person was supporting another person out of a desire for that person’s good and not their own.

** Calvin uses – this is not unique to this event – comment cards for Q&A. The cards are moderated, with a subset being presented to the speaker by a faculty facilitator. In general, this has the significant strength of creating a more civil, and a more continuous discourse. It is also probably ultimately faster, allowing for answer to more questions and questions of more substance. In this kind of a case, however, it, unfortunately, amplifies the fact that this is a conversation on transgender Christians but not by or with us – by further silencing our already marginalized voices from the conversation. When Frank Foster, an outgoing State Representative, who fought for change to our civil rights amendment, but made a tactical decision to sacrifice the wellbeing of transgender people for the sake of a bill protecting the less marginalized (but still at risk) gay/lesbian/bisexual components of our community, only, I did feel it was my responsibility to gently raise the issue that we do, in fact, exist, and that our voices belong in the conversation about us. I do not represent trans women, or trans people, but I am one, and, if no one else will speak, I am willing. I also frequently promise not to pick (verbal) fights, and most usually, I keep my word. But, promises to behave oneself were made somewhat superfluous by the manner of the lecture.

*** Although, I do also hope the point is clear that I welcome this, but that I do not generally need/use gender inclusive bathrooms, myself, and I am content to use the women’s room like any other woman, which is also the only generally accepted policy from an HR standpoint.

**** I am a member of WPATH but was not involved in writing the Standards. As of this writing, Dr. Yarhouse does not appear to be a member of WPATH.

***** I often quote my friend, Mara Keisling, who heads the National Center for Transgender Equality, when she says that, “Science is our best friend.” So this may, especially in conjunction with my own pedigree as a neuropsychologist, for the best of readers, strike as somewhat a surprise. Do let me explain. I do think that there is science underlying my claim that I do not “identify as,” “present as,” “live my life as,” but rather, that I simply am a woman. Science that has to do with my brain. Science that establishes the safety and efficacy of transition-related medical services. Science from an anthropological standpoint that demonstrates our stable presence over time and space, across cultures, a marker of a likely biological/genetic/epigenetic phenomenon. But, for people who have not yet accepted gays and lesbians on this same ground, and who in some cases (this happened at a Christian Reformed event, held by a grassroots effort called All One Body, a few months ago) have still not come around to the idea of what they refer to as “interracial” marriage, I think a scientific conversation is really a waste of time and effort.

****** Alongside all the other more trivial, daily, guilts, of having eaten too much, of having not been ladylike enough, and so many other things.

Sexual Healing

This is a part two to last year’s Learning to be Loved*. Teri’s a part (intermittently) of a certain Facebook group for transgender people, which will remain unnamed, which I joined briefly last year and went running from, arms flailing and mouth screaming. And it’s a great example of how few safe spaces there are to have a constructive conversation about the sexuality of mono-amorous, relationship-oriented, yet proudly sexual trans people. There recently was a blow-up over there (I’ll check and see if Teri left the group again – yep, he did) related to who, how, and when a person could be attracted to a trans body (like mine). A blowup that did not include a productive conversation on this topic**.

No, sir, I plead not guilty.

No, sir, I plead not guilty

Even in our national spaces, like First Event, one struggles to find room for this conversation. I was able to sneak my way into some excellent seminars, led by trans men and about trans masculine sexuality***, and this was pretty great. I made some new friends, and I brought home something**** autographed for Teri (do go check out Mitch’s site, too, he’s so cool) to spark further discussion back home. A discussion about queering heterosexuality, alongside the conversation about what trans men can contribute to a desperately needed reboot of manhood.

Go buy this book, for serious

Go buy this book, for serious

But, so, with my recent Mira Goes Het article, I focused on the relationship between our heteroqueer relationship and the heteropatriarchy. I want to return back to the ground of that even older post, and this question of the feminine body as an object of desire, and the extension to the situation in which that feminine body is a trans woman’s body, or, well, in this case, my body. Back in one of those panels, someone said something interesting, and noteworthy for its non-provocativeness. He said, basically, “You know, I date everyone except cis guys.” This was non-controversial … it basically extracted chuckles and knowing nods. And “Honey, I feel you, I dated a cis guy, once.” I did feel badly for the one cis gay guy present, but then again, he made a comment something along the lines of, “You know, if my partner has a vagina, I’m going to want to penetrate that” and… well, there are just no words.

IMG_2339

Also at First Event. I don’t want to just make fun of him… well, maybe for that last bit. But how do we get to being sexual without the weirdness?

So then, on Facebook, this morning, there was this interaction Teri had with a fella who was attracted to trans women (specifically/exclusively). This person was attacked, fairly mercilessly, as one of those “tranny chasers.” The only space that was opened for anyone to be attracted to a trans woman was the absurdist reduction of “trans women and cis women are exactly the same” (I’ve seen trans women take, also, the polemical position that they wouldn’t consider any lesbian an ally unless they would openly pledge, ridiculously, that they would date any trans woman). Apparently, another trans guy (because Teri’s my Dear Future Husband) chimed in and was open about his own attraction to trans women. That was “okay” because he was one of “us.” In contrast, the original poster (OP for you OG’s) was cisgender, and so he was… disgusting. A pervert. The difference between these statements, how they were perceived, and where they came from, was — is — worrisome to me.

Also on Facebook a friend posted an article about what lesbian-identified trans women (a class from which I’m increasingly the dearly departed) refer to as the “cotton ceiling” (namely, because I’m using my footnotes up too quickly today, and I feel bad when I get to ten asterisks, when cis lesbians accept trans women conceptually but reject them as potential partners for cis lesbians, either in the general sense of the dating scene, or the specific sense of dating them, themselves). I responded on Facebook that the biggest thing I could do to fight the cotton ceiling was to openly and authentically be in love with Teri – to be, in the public eye, the subject and object of love, and the object of physical desire*****.

So here is the presentation of the conundrum. Janet Mock has talked about this, too. We cannot extend a blanket statement that people attracted to trans women’s bodies are disgusting, without in turn, making an unacceptable but implicit statement that my body, too, is disgusting. And I’m here to tell you it isn’t (and if you don’t believe me, ask my boyfriend). My body is lovely, not because I’m “almost” as good as a “real” girl, but because I’m better than any other girl Teri’s ever going to find (because I’m the one, Mister). Friends (who are newer to trans people) sometimes say to me, “You looked hot the other night – is it okay if I say that?” And I tell them, of course it’s okay. I like to look hot – and my friends are benefitted by me with the right to appreciate it. And I’m desirable, not to everyone, but to the one that matters, not because I’m exactly the same as other women (because we’re not Barbie dolls … I don’t look like or have the experiences of an African woman, as much as a waitress recently thought I look like Pam Grier, or a woman from Uzbekistan, or any number of other women), but because of my unique value and desirability as a woman unlike any other. And if you pay any actual attention to actual women, that’s (not to speak for everyone — some women are asexual or aromantic) what we want.

I’m not in the business of telling other people to whom they should be attracted. I’m going to go on several limbs, and I don’t mean to offend out here, but I’m going to say what I see. We live in a world that is dominated by long-term, stable, mono-amorous romantic/sexual relationships. That’s the political battleground, for most of us. And yet we do not leverage actual trans people in romantically/sexually, long-term, stable, mono-amorous, satisfying relationships as a part of the war on the cotton ceiling – most of the people I know, Mock aside, who have much to say about this are way outside of this space. And this is crazypants. I’m not in the business of telling anyone to whom they should be attracted – not even Teri. But Teri is attracted to me. And I am attractive to him. I bestow on him the right to have me be the object of his desire, and I delight in his desire. And I deserve it.

I changed the tagline of my blog this year, to “Welcome to the Revolution.” So I might as well be clear about the revolution to which you’re welcome. There are lots of revolutions, actually, but with respect to being trans, I’m reminded of a comment Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie said about being feminist – she had to clarify that she’s a happy feminist, because of the dominant assumption that feminists aren’t happy. My revolution is that I’m a happy trans woman. A happy woman (because trans is a modifier, I am not anything other than a woman). Not just like cis women. Different, but not less. I’m happily in love. I’m happy to be the object of desire. I look good – sometimes I even look really hot (and even less frequently, I actually believe this about myself). And sometimes, I need to be told I shouldn’t wear that, because it doesn’t do anything for me. Or to stop obsessing about the scale.

If we want more trans people in happy, satisfying, romantically/sexually fulfilling relationships, this is the kind of revolution we need, and we need to get more of our stories out there (because I know Teri and I are not the only happy ones). We can’t solve the “cotton ceiling” or its heterosexual equivalent without actually including the stories of trans people in good relationships. And just like I play a unique role in being the trans woman who gains acceptance quickly and easily, and who doesn’t really seem to scare anyone, ours is one of those trans relationship that is the safe gateway to the idea that trans people are relationship material. So I’m going to welcome you to it, and help you understand that it … is wonderful. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie said that we should all be feminists. She’s right. I’m going to add that we should all be happy.

* You know, everything needs a sequel. Even Pride & Prejudice.

** I admittedly read this conversation over Teri’s shoulder.

*** I was welcomed as having the stake as a significant other of a trans man. Actually welcomed. We need to learn how to actually be welcoming (without diluting our standards or intent) in the queer community.

**** I tend to lead with something like, “I’m in love with a trans guy, and it’s so amazing, we’re so happy together, and no relationship I’d been in before this one just made sense, like this one does” and this tends to go over well, and make me friends / establish me as the trans girl who rides in cars with trans boys. There is probably something about this whole still complex question, as we exit the butch/femme paradigm and move into this heteroqueer space, about this dual issue of whether we end up endorsing the patriarchy and how to come to terms with what the “safeness” sexually we have with our trans guys and bois, absent from interacting with cis guys, says about cis guys, says about the damage of masculinity, says about how to help guys achieve a rebirth of slick.

***** Reader, she means lust. She is the subject of physical desire, as well, but she is a femme and rarely admits it in public.

On Reconciling The Binary with Fighting The Patriarchy

We have lots of very feminist discussions in my household. We routinely analyze the systems of oppression underlying events and discuss critically what being an ally means in different situations. We use words like cispatriarchy*. Intersectionalism gets invoked frequently as a concept not only by me, but by also Teri (who really only understood that he was a feminist relatively recently, back when he came with me to V to Shining V). Last weekend, a bunch of trans guys came over, and along with my own Teri, they had an excellent dialog about what manhood means. They let me listen, and occasionally add a feminist perspective. And we laugh and cheer when there’s a character in a movie named after Shulamith Firestone**.

Seriously, you guys, this movie is SO good.

Seriously, you guys, this movie is SO good.

Okay, so that’s all good, right? And I stand in solidarity with other women. I try to stamp out sexism in the workplace and teach my people to recognize discrimination. I support reproductive freedom. I support pro-woman policies. I’ve supported numerous women in office or running for office, and advocate for the unique contributions women make to leadership. I didn’t back down from my work leadership roles as a woman and even doubled down, taking on this new mission that may yet be the death of me. I don’t just call myself a feminist – but in the language of my analysis of oppression, I function as a feminist, and I am a feminist, because I clearly act to undermine the system of marginalization that keeps us ladies down.

So why, ahem, do I have this guilty obsession with Blurred Lines*** whenever it comes on the radio (it’s not because it’s a “feminist movement“)? And why did Hot in Herre make me actually want to take my clothes off? (Nowadays, reader, this video is why, but I just saw Austenland a few months ago, and so previously, this could not have been the explanation.)

Why, the more masculine Teri’s role became in our relationship, did I suddenly feel not quite right sitting at the head of my own table and felt better with Teri sitting at the head of my table and me at his side (okay, erm, I actually did this)? Why do I find myself wanting to defer to him, or serve things to him? Why do I seem to, here and there, quite like a little misogyny or chauvinism in my life? I know, too, that I’m not the only one. Just what in the name of Simone de Beauvoir is going on here?

Recently, Teri and I have been having something of an 11-month itch. Rounding on a year together (our anniversary is January 18), we’ve been fighting a little bit about our models of responsibilities. This started, apropos of my Mira Goes Het and Teri’s Real Men Wanted piece, with the situation that preceded the jam session with the trans guys, about Teri’s “breadwinner” comment. Even after the jam session, and our blog posts, I stewed about this for some time before finally admitting to Teri that this comment had made the short list of times when I felt most disrespected in our relationship. Not only did I not have the choice to assume the role of primary financial agency in our relationship, but this was explicitly something I did not really want, and had not been looking for. With that being said, I felt the comment had failed to recognize not only the home and parties and tickets to galas and other middle-class luxuries I provide, but also that I do the laundry, vacuum, grocery shop, make Teri at least one, if not two fresh/hot meals every day (and sometimes pack him a lunch), all while trying to be pretty for him and satisfy him and … Yeah. Way, way het. On the one hand, it placed me in a narrative in which many other modern career women find themselves, also****. But on the other, and this part is harsh to admit – the thing that Teri can do (and has offered to / is starting to do), which is take on more of the chores around the house, is not what I actually want (it is what I am supposed to want). It’s true, what I said before, I do want to be out changing the world. But, the truth is that I do find myself wishing I were not financially responsible for us in the all-encompassing way I am now, and I find I quite like domesticity, and I keep finding myself on the verge of telling Teri to man up, which I said I would not do, and then feeling ashamed about the sentiment. If Teri is going to do more chores, this part of me is saying, “At least go take care of the driveway/yard … it’s a treat when you cook for me once in a while, but I like cooking for you. I like wearing pretty things for you.” And other, sundry, seemingly thoughts unbecoming a feminist.

We got to talking about this a day or two ago, and I pointed out something to Teri that surprised him (and which surprised me, a long time ago, but which had long since been assimilated into how I see the world). It also explains a little bit of our dilemma. Studies have shown in different ways that equality of chores and domestic labor lessens, not increases marital sexual satisfaction. It actually leads to less sex. Other converging lines of evidence paint a potentially scary picture. Heterosexual relationships are much more able to tolerate the combination of a less pretty man and a more pretty woman, than the reverse. High status professional straight women (many/most of whom are feminist in their mentality) tend to seek even higher status professional men as mates. All of this converging evidence, in essence, says that there is at least some success/selection of relationships based on their compatibility with the binary*****.

As always, I part ways with some ideas in my sisterhood. Many feminists still argue for the idea that gender****** is pure or mostly social construct. As a scientist, like Julia Serrano (Serrano is a biochemist, and I am a neuropsychologist), I find this untenable to the point that having this argument is not even constructive. There is too much contradicting evidence for there to be any sense in a social constructivist view of gender. This isn’t an argument for genetic determinism. Rather, the only sensible view is an epigenetic one, in which most factors are driven by genetics, and biology generally, with varying response to environmental moderating factors. This grey scale is the only real option. Queer people are also taken with very black and white statements, like the statement that gender identity and sexual orientation are (completely) unrelated. Again, it is very difficult to even coerce the data to make this statement sensible. It is not a coincidence that most people are cisgender or that most people are heterosexual, and that the “rules” bend far enough to allow me to exist does not, in itself, invalidate these moderately to very strong associations. It is not a coincidence that most feminine people are women and most masculine people are men. These concepts are related by correlation of more modest strength. You cannot use someone’s gender to predict with certainty their sexual orientation (although, from a scientific standpoint, you can make a much better guess than if you didn’t have their gender available). This doesn’t mean people should be cisgender, heterosexual, feminine women, masculine men, etc. It doesn’t mean that we should go back to making bad assumptions about people. It just means that our coding (in the range of environments we experience) strongly selects for these combinations.

Like all of this, the binary is probably, itself, not a coincidence, either. It is certainly possible that, to some extent, the findings like the finding that men who do more chores have less sex, may be a symptom of the patriarchy, instead. So, just like LGBT people experience mental illness 2.5x as often as straight people, but it’s because of society’s marginalization of us and not anything wrong with us, these men are ostensibly having (“getting” is the term society would use) less sex not because of their egalitarian nature, itself, but because this nature bucks society’s expectations. There is probably something to this. But it seems hard entirely to ignore the fact that in-binary behaviors are associated with more sex (for binary people in binary relations, she bends over backwards to minimize the offense this whole line of reasoning will undoubtedly cause… to everybody).

It is also much more likely that, although the binary is not (and should not be) for everyone, the binary is likely to continue, for a long, long time, to be the thing, for most people, in some form or other, and that the binary cannot simply be “shattered” by the emergence of non-binary people or relationships. Without any intention to define or question the identities of non-binary people, then, for those of us in the binary, it is imperative that we understand how this thing works, because, again, from the perspective that few of these things are likely to be pure social constructs, and many of these things are likely to be biology-environment interactions of some kind, the binary is likely to be a thing that is malleable in some places and firm in others – meaning that some things about the binary are relatively easy to change, and changing them may result relatively readily in making us happier, whereas changing other things about the binary, or changing the binary in other ways, may really go “against our nature,” and make us miserable. This is backed up by looking at large scale experiments that tried to substantially de-gender societies, like the early kibbutzim. Experiment is relevant, whereas societies with an array of gender norms, which evolved spontaneously over millennia and survived, are relatively more likely to have found a way to “roll with the punches” and re-craft the binary, these attempts to substantially change the binary, far from the existing binary, and not informed by an understanding, really, of what the binary is or how it works, fail. This isn’t a cop-out. All the things that survived over the generations, including, but not limited to, LGBT people happily living their lives when no one is trying to kill or marginalize us, again, are variations we seem to be able to tolerate. What I want to do is not apologize for the binary, but understand how it can be changed so that it can be healthier, because I don’t think it can be shattered, and I’m interested in making a better option for people inside the binary, not just increasing awareness of “options” outside of the binary (which are probably not “options” in the sense of political lesbianism, for most people, anyways).

That’s because part of what is going on in our relationship, that’s complex and problematic and I don’t know what to do about it, is that I feel my femininity, in my very binary nature, wanting masculinity out of Teri. Which I have no particular right to ask for. And besides it not being right to Teri, I should not be mindlessly endorsing the binary (even if I do find that bass line in that song catchy, that song is still rapey). And even if I think the binary is highly selected for by the way we’re all wired, it scares me. It’s easy for me to say, “Women don’t get hit” but I don’t think men should get hit, either. I don’t just want women to be safe from guns – I want men to be safe, too. I don’t think “boys will be boys,” I think that shortchanges them, even if I don’t really know what being a boy is like, exactly. So, the binary is alluring to me, but also I don’t honestly know how to make the binary “safe, sane, and consensual*******”.   And certainly, the binary ebbs and flows. It seems worryingly pronounced right now, for instance in the degree or extent of gratuitous use of female sexual images for every kind of purpose. And femininity must never be an apologist for the worst excesses carried out under the banner of masculinity, as in Forster’s excellent Passage to India, where he attributes to this vicious cycle between masculinity and femininity the death of the ability to collaborate and grow with each other of British and Indian men: “They had started speaking of ‘women and children’ – that phrase that exempts the male from sanity when it has been repeated a few times.”

I avoided this book for the longest time, because I didn't know how it ended, and I didn't understand the point Forster was making, until I got all the way to the end.

I avoided this book for the longest time, because I didn’t know how it ended, and I didn’t understand the point Forster was making, until I got all the way to the end.

At the same time, Teri’s quest, and those of the other trans guys, to either infiltrate and redefine manhood, or replace it with some other good identity construct, is something, then, that I do, after all, have this binary stake in (because binary women have a stake in binary manhood). And although there are good men all around, engaging in this same discussion, I think queer men (or guys) like Teri, particularly, have something really unique and valuable to contribute, and hopefully queer women (like me) stand to gain, in this case, quite directly, from Teri’s findings. Again, we use too many ultimatums and too much hyperbole, but I guess I’m saying that I need a good man way more than a fish needs a bicycle.

* Okay, and then we Google them to make sure we know what they mean.

** If I could’ve had more names, I would’ve snuck “Shulie” in there somewhere, for serious.

*** It’s because of that descending bass line before the chorus, and how they sing “You Know You Want It” an octave down. It’s potent!

**** This in itself, cognitive schema be damned, makes this whole business more palatable than any sort of thought of being stuck in any kind of “man of the house” role.

***** By the binary, I mean the traditional “complementary” relationship between… male and female, masculine and feminine, butch and femme, man and woman, etc. Without arguing that all these things are the same, because they are not, the binary is the dualistic quality that these relationships, as typically appreciated by society (and in the case of the butch/femme relationship, by queer society), have in common. As an aside to an aside, as far as the butch/femme concept goes, we all hate the question, “Which one of you is the guy,” but we don’t want to discuss the fact that, given the sufficiently robust grounding in gender and feminism that we have (but the people asking these questions typically do not), it’s a less ridiculous question than we make it out to be.

****** Another fight, that I’m not going to pick today, is that the idea that “sex is biology and gender is expression,” or similar ideas, as if these terms could be analogous to mood and affect, is also not workable. I take, and at some point, will defend, the notion that there is no meaningful or non-arbitrary way in which sex and gender can be understood as discrete and unrelated constructs.

******* Unless you’re really feminist, you’re probably not going to really get this analogy, but many feminists wrote about reading The Story of O, and most of them had the same response I did… they thought it was insanely hot… until it wasn’t anymore. And then it became quite the turn-off. Although we try to be sex-positive, and we accept people who like kink, we end up finding sadism is not a neutral / amoral construct, but it is an altogether bad / evil thing, and masochism, while alluring, lives in a binary, mutually reinforcing system with sadism (acting as its accomplice). Thus, while masochism is alluring, it too, is immoral, for the reason that it perpetuates the horror that is sadism. In the same way, femininity cannot, must not, be the immorality that perpetuates barbarisms committed under the flag of “masculinity.”

Mira Goes Het – Way, Way Het

I intimated recently that you should expect this post. Teri’s been writing about stuff that’s been going on with him, over at his excellent blog, throwing all kinds of foreshadowing (reader*, note the stylistic difference between Exhibit A and Exhibit B, and Teri’s newest blog, on trans men reclaiming manhood… #SorelyNeeded) into the mix.

#NoHomo to be seen, at all?

#NoHomo to be seen here, at all?

We’ve known for some time, that there is, if anything, more diversity of sexual orientation within the trans community than within our cisgender siblings. I’ve commented, before (there’s a little reprise of it in this Gays.com article I did) on how I had felt attraction to men, prior to transitioning, but trying to date gay men, as a man, had been a miserable disaster. I had accepted being a heterosexual man as the only sensible option available to me, but I knew that wasn’t right, either. When I finally became honest with myself, and started coming out, my attractions did trend right back to men. And then I met Teri. And all I knew was she held the door. Teri fit the bill – first as my Prince Charming who used she and her pronouns, and now just as my Prince Charming.

And so, suddenly, with Teri’s own newfound openness, I’m a straight person, again. Interestingly, it’s really hard, within the visible elements of the trans community, to find a trans man + trans woman couple. There were Arin Andrews and Katie Hill, for a hot minute, but at least as a couple, they didn’t last (this isn’t a criticism, they seem to both be doing very well, and to have remained close, and more power to them!). There are one or two stories like this one, about a trans couple having children. These stories tend to be transition-centric, and in the case of the Andrews/Hill relationship, transient. Really, our love is neither transition-centric nor transient. So I guess, we’re going to be defining and owning this space.

I had written, quite some time ago, about my insistence that people who bring gender and sexual diversity (the LGBTQIA+) should retain the term “queer.” I’m starting to come around on this idea, a lot – I have/do act as an ally for people who are different in many other ways. Autism being an obvious example, but at work, also, I’ve acted as an ally for someone on this very specific topic of respecting personal choices related to body modification. However, my queerness is not a moving target – I am still queer. In actuality, my sexual orientation was not a moving target, either. When I came out of the closet, I became honest about what I want and need in a companion. I am attracted, as it turns out, to men and bois*. And Teri fit in this category from the beginning, and he still does, today.

Here, I make a distinction with some of my friends. There is a tendency of sexually fluid people (whether bisexually identified or not), interestingly, to impose the assumption of their experience on other people – for instance, by saying something like, “It’s the heart that matters, the plumbing will take care of itself.” It’s not always so simple, for all of us. Of course it’s the heart that matters, but we don’t all experience our attraction in an “I’m attracted to the person” kind of way – that’s one sexual orientation amongst many. So it’s not all about the plumbing (in the sense of the stories that spend all their time talking “sex change” surgeries), but the physical/chemical attraction is also not always irrelevant. My situation, also, I suppose, is a little different than Tina’s situation (as Alice sees it) on L Word. I am taking no easy road out of anything (although, arguably, when I tell the car dealer I can’t make a decision, because “I have to go home and ask my boyfriend for advice,” I may be treading some fine line).

Where have you been? Oh, right. Stuck in the far reaches of Heteroville, that's right.

Where have you been? Oh, right. Stuck in the far reaches of Heteroville, that’s right.

In our case, in any event, the conversation was a gradual shift in tone. I had jokingly called Teri, “sir,” many times before, when I was very happy being “her” girlfriend. And “Mister.” I had, at one point, had a conversation something like, “Would you want me to call you my wife, when we get married someday? It doesn’t seem quite right. But I would, if that’s what you want.” (Whereas, there is no ambiguity that I want to be a bride/wife). At that time, Teri had said, “I’ll be your husband and your wife.” Interestingly, later, a variant of this conversation happened at work, for him, also – “Would you prefer that I call you ‘he’? I feel so badly calling you ‘she,’ like it doesn’t really fit you, and I want to respect who you are.” In truth, all this time***, I was not “gunning” for any one answer. I love Teri. I’m content – was content, am content, will be content – to be terisexual. Who knows how the introduction of something like testosterone would affect our relationship? But Teri was here to watch me make the jump to clean-burning estrogen, and that was surprisingly uneventful. It might make our love even better. It might pose a hurdle here or there****. All eminently manageable.

That part, actually, is easy. And thus she writes many paragraphs about it. The part that she has been avoiding, thus far, dear reader, is the hard part. As a butch/femme couple, we already had to start having a dialog about heteropatriarchy and the dangers of our queer relationship emulating all its flaws, and acting to strengthen it (making us accomplices). I have had to, before any discussion of pronoun preferences surfaced, confront things like my feeling wholly inadequate as a partner if I do not provide a fresh, hot, home cooked meal at least once a day. How quickly I feel responsible for doing his laundry and cleaning up after him. The tang of annoyance I get at also being the primary economic agent of the household, on top of “taking care of” Teri and Iago. Of how, suddenly, I am dealing with heretofore unexperienced impulses in me, to defer to Teri’s judgment and to want him at the head of my table, to take my place at his side, to chose my actions in a way pleasing to him. And scoffing at the idea that he may be able to weigh in on aesthetic matters.

Reader, I am still a feminist. And I seek to be as radical as she comes. But, although I was never any political lesbian, there was a sort of safety in being a lesbian, much in the sense of pride one feels when buying fair trade, organic coffee – as if our relationship came stamped with some “No Proceeds Went to Support The Patriarchy” badge. The truth, though, is that butchness and masculinity, themselves, bear far more overlap than we generally care to admit, and in truth, a great many butch/femme relationships do function as accomplices to oppression under the patriarchy. If anything, a trans-hetero relationship bears that risk and then some. This statement, that our marriage would, surreally, now be back to a union between one man and one woman, seems to raise the bar, or heighten my awareness of the risk. Suddenly, one goes to get one’s fair trade, organic coffee, in a big SUV*****, replete with guard grilles over the headlights (in case the driver should need to run over the proletariat on the way to Starbucks, no cosmetic damage would be incurred).

Teri and several of our trans guy friends were at an excellent in-between-the-holidays party we threw for the trans community here. We had a really great discussion (because I’m that trans girl who likes to ride in cars with trans boys… and call them by their last names, okay, basically, I am One-Dimensional Female Character from a Male Driven Comedy) about how trans men are reticent to be called men. Sometimes, we all agreed, because their identities are actually non-binary. Sometimes, I argued, because they are afraid of taking their stand within manhood, and being able to embrace the good and fight the bad from within. Because, as men, they lack Gloria Steinems to whom they can unabashedly look up. It occurred to me that, whereas I have a cloud of inspirational women (most of them cis, but many trans also) around me, as role models and inspirations, when I asked Teri, or other trans men, who their role models were, I got … weighty silence. In those cases, I argued, they are indeed binary, and ought, indeed, call themselves men, but they are scared to take up arms and fight within manhood against the patriarchy (I commented, later, because this is what our pillow talk is like, that “man” is the traditional form of reference for adults who use he and him pronouns, and if trans men reject the title, we all need them to do more talking about why and what their choice means).

I also took Teri to task, several days later, because he said, “I wouldn’t ever want to be the breadwinner.” I pointed out that this seemed overly convenient, since I had no similar choice in our life together. He explained what he meant by the comment, and I understand where he’s coming from. In essence, he doesn’t want to force our relationship into a “traditional” configuration. I don’t want that, either. The truth is that, even if Teri could support us financially, I rather like being out changing the world, both for kids with autism and for the LGBTQIA+ community. I also don’t want Teri (or any man, cis or trans), pushed into not being allowed any emotions or into having to be stoic in the face of all odds. I don’t want Teri forced into a job he hates just to keep me in a lifestyle (whereas I love the job that keeps us in our lifestyle right now).

But…I suppose, to whatever extent I have a right, in the binary, to influence what kind of man Teri becomes (or manhood generally), don’t let’s have trans men become the sort of men whose manhood is living in their mom’s basement, because the internet is free, playing Call of Duty all day, and asking me to evaluate them and say they have autism and are thus disabled (okay, so that might hit a particular nerve for me). Manhood, in the traditional binary sense, and the masculinity it accompanies, is bound up in the idea of agency. And I fear for young trans men / boys – some of the ones around me seem not to develop this sense of agency (as seen in many good men, and better yet, in most feminist women). Who want a manhood that involves a wide variety of women solving all their problems for them. So I challenged Teri, in essence, to view his manhood not only in terms of the privileges it affords him, but in terms of the responsibility that comes with that privilege. His blog post represents a way station in that process.

The challenge reflects back on me, too. I’m going to have to learn to be a straight girl, without selling out the movement. I’m going to have to learn how to love my man but remain tall, fierce, and proud, loving my womanhood. To figure out what femininity means, inside the binary, and all my desires to “give” myself to him, in a way that does not destroy my selfhood. I’m going to have to learn to support Teri’s development of a holistic, sustainable, beautiful manhood, without ever asking him to “man up.”  This is going to be really interesting. It’s the first day of 2015, a whole new year, and I think I’m up to this challenge.

* Reader, I snuck this gag into my About Mira, page, but please be forewarned, I am so bowled over by the delicious titling of this piece about my middle namesake, that I cannot stop making reference to it.

** I openly admit (and Teri tolerates) that I find trans men, generally, quite hot – this is in no way meant to be any kind of incentivization to Teri to transition (or not transition).

*** Okay, you know I’m a little impish. There were many conversations, like, “Can I call you a dude?” “What about saying you’re my fella?” Accompanied by endearing, but annoying, Mira-isms.

**** One does not know, for instance, how one feels about facial hair. But one is willing to give this idea a try, because one’s partner wants some. There may need to be a Mira Embraces Lumbersexuality blog post, soon.

***** Reader, I just leased a Prius C. Although, Teri… wants a Jeep Wrangler Rubicon. and goddess help my ecofeminist soul, but I find this idea disturbingly sexy.

Transgender Life: The Difficulties of Dating

Some artwork representing the dissonance many trans people feel between who they know they are and how they are seen by the world

Warning, this post is a bit of a blast from the past – I wrote this back in April, for Gays.com. Those of you who freelance know, sometimes, your posts get held in queue for the “right” time for an editor to publish them. This one finally dropped before Thanksgiving, and I never got around to posting it here. It’s interesting to read my mindset seven months ago (here on miracharlotte.com or elsewhere). Seven months on, I don’t just have “hope that there is room for us to find the love of our lives” – I know that I have, in fact, found just that. It’s funny, too, to think about being wound up about things like appearing feminine, or being out and about in public, which I now take, if not for granted, as like laws of the universe which I no longer question.

Dating and relationships is a really complicated business for transgender people, especially transsexual people who decide to transition. We’re all over the map – many of us found a long-term relationship or even a marital partner before coming out as trans, and sometimes (but not always), those relationships work out.

It seems for trans women, that more often was with another woman in a ‘heterosexual’ relationship (all of my significant relationships for example), but it could be all ranges of things. Those relationships have to change if they’re to survive – it’s common for a newly outed trans woman’s wife to express that she’s not a lesbian. That’s fair, maybe she’s not. For trans men and women who identified as gay or lesbian before transitioning, too, their partner might not be able to reconcile their own sexual orientation with the transition. On The L Word Jenny tells Max (whom she had been dating prior to transition), “you identify as a straight man. So there’s the mismatch, because you want me to be your straight girlfriend to your straight guy. And I identify as a lesbian, who likes to fuck girls. And you’re not a girl.” Sometimes, too, the relationship does survive, but not sexually or romantically.

Read the rest, over at Gays.com!

Why I Want You to Rethink Everything You Thought You Knew about Being An Ally

Since I entered my role as CEO at The Network, I’ve been doing a lot of studying, observing, and reflecting, on the kinds of trainings and programming we provide, the aims of the programming, the tools we use, and the outcomes we attain. We do some great things. There are also some major gaps. In 2015, we’re working on addressing some of those (we have a really great new board member who’s doing some amazing stuff to build up our social and support groups, for instance), and they teach us (and I mean us, not our straight allies) a lot about how to think critically about LGBTQIA+ challenges in 2015.

One new program we created is called Our Narratives – it’s the beginnings of an educational arm of the Network built around the idea that identity ownership is pivotal to the LGBTQIA+ struggle. We started with a first program based around the premise that our identity stories, or narratives, are one of the most powerful tools we have in advocating for change. Change could be big – changing the law or the policy of a large national or multi-national organization. It could be small – getting that one person in your class to actually get to know their queer peer instead of just making fun of her. That first event really overwhelmed us with just how powerful these stories are. My Teri, who led the facilitator group (while I hostessed), wrote about his experience of the event. Our outcomes data also showed that our people who did the program came in knowing who they were, but they didn’t understand how their own experiences related to the struggles of others (like an LGBT youth who is homeless, because he’s gay, may not know that 40% of homeless youth nationally are LGBTQIA+, and in Michigan, the number is more like 50%, even though probably only about 3-5% of people are LGBTQIA+). And they didn’t feel like they could relate their narratives to this broader story and use the combination to advocate for change. But Our Narratives impacted that. Our data suggests this is a trajectory alternating intervention – we are creating, together, an army of self-advocates and activists (apropos of that Smiths song, you don’t need an acoustic guitar, and what some activists look like might just surprise you*).

image

Girl loves her data.

But you know me – I just get radicaler and radicaler**. So two conversations sort of reached a confluence in what we’re doing next, at the end of January. First, we had a number of straight allies who wanted to be a part of Our Narratives. This brought up a lot of touchy conversations. And some boorish behavior – like straight allies who wanted us to stop our conversations and explain readily google-able terms***, like “cisgender.” But, ultimately, also, a respect on both “sides” that we needed to start with a space that was completely safe for LGBT people to tell stories about being LGBT people. Also, there’s this thing. We don’t disrespect the fact that our allies put themselves on the line in being our allies. But you would have limited patience for me (this is the relevant forewarning) if I advocated for change based on how difficult my path is being friends and allies with, say, black women. You might even find that offensive – not that it mightn’t be hard, occasionally, politically, for me to be friends with people who are marginalized, or cost me a couple of invitations to tea**** – but seriously, I ought to get over myself on that count pretty readily, and that story wouldn’t really move you to action. So if we want straight allies to participate in Our Narratives, we can teach them the general concept of using one’s own narrative to advocate for change, but we really can’t justify our space being co-opted for some purpose other than telling stories that center on the lived experience of LGBT people. That’s because The Network, and spaces like it, are by, of, and for LGBT people. And straight people, who feel like they don’t have a space of their own, should look, at, seriously, the world. That’s your space. It’s all yours – and in contrast, we’re the ones who frequently lack safe spaces.

The second conversation was starting to get constructive about what being an ally means. And for that, I’m going to need a diagram*****.

The solid lines mean that the group (in grey) serves to strengthen the system (in color). The dotted lines means the group serves to undermine the system.

The solid lines mean that the group (in grey) serves to strengthen the system (in color). The dotted lines means the group serves to undermine the system.

This is actually a really general concept, this business of what an ally is and should be. We live amidst Systems of Oppression – the patriarchy (or the heteropatriarchy or the cispatriarchy, if you prefer) is one, but just one. A System of Oppression is a process that keeps people marginalized. Notice, she said process. Not a person. Not a group of people. It’s a process. I purposely made all the groups of people in my version of this model grey. Because patriarchy is not synonymous with men. Heterosexism is not synonymous with straight people. White privilege is not synonymous with white people. However, all people – all people, and this is the radical part of the message – play, in any given situation, one of four roles (the names of the roles are negotiable, but not really the point – as my behaviorist friends taught me, it’s the function of the behavior and not the topography) in a system of oppression. They are oppressors, meaning they are in the advantaged group, and their actions maintain the system of oppression and frustrate the empowerment of the marginalized community. They are accomplices, meaning they are in the marginalized group, but their actions nonetheless help the oppressors maintain oppression and frustrate empowerment. Or they’re activists, meaning members of a marginalized community whose actions break down oppression and build empowerment. Or, finally, and this is the point that’s relevant to this story, they’re allies, who are members of an advantaged group who help activists break down oppression and build empowerment. It’s very important, however, that this concept cannot be explained by breaking people down into less than four groups. The role of an activist and the role of an ally is not the same role. Also, again, taking a cue from my behaviorist friends, in this model, a person being an ally is defined based on the function of their behavior – not what it looks like, and particularly, not just calling themselves an “ally.” You don’t get to call yourself an ally. You get to act like an ally, and we’ll call you an ally when we (that is, assuming, I am we) see it. And when you call yourself an ally, but your actions maintain oppression or marginalization, you’re not an ally. You’re functioning as an oppressor, whether you like it, or not.

Again, this model is broad. It applies to you, if you want to be my ally in trans empowerment, whether you are trans or not. It applies to me, when I’m allying with impoverished people as an affluent person. It applies to gay people who are allies in empowering the bisexual or pansexual communities. It breaks down the binary****** that classifies people as LGBTQIA+ or as straight allies, and instead, points out that, dynamically, we all play all four roles in this diagram, at different times and in the contexts of different systems of oppression.

And this is the part where it gets radicaler, yet. One of the things we want to confront with this workshop is that LGBTQIA+ people, all too often, make terrible allies. Lesbians and gay men make terrible allies to trans people, sometimes. Trans women make terrible allies to trans men and genderqueer / gender fluid / non-binary people, sometimes. The whole LGBT make pretty terrible allies to the asexual/aromantic community, rather frequently. And we end up in adversarial relations that push us into being bad allies to marginalized ethnic communities, too. So this isn’t (just) a workshop that is designed to make better allies (to the LGBTQIA+ community) out of straight people. It’s a workshop designed to help us all be better allies, and to help us all understand that, by exposing the dynamical process above, we can learn to be critical about when we are being an ally, and when we are being an oppressor.

Then, we have a choice. We can get defensive, and keep yelling over the voices of the oppressed, that we are their “allies,” or we can accept the problem, and we can correct it. And you don’t need a footnote to know which answer I think we should be adopting. So that’s the intro to what we’re up to next. If you’re in Grand Rapids, I hope you join us for it. Whether you’re here or not, I hope you join me as I learn to stop being an accomplice or an oppressor, keep being an activist, and start being an ally.

* The revolution is wearing heels (although not at this very moment) – which is something else I want to write much more about – how we successfully disentangle and own femininity, as feminine people, and how femininity can exist freely and proudly as something other than a means of oppression used by the patriarchy.

** No, Autocorrect, I do not mean ridiculer. For god’s sake, stop oppressing me.

*** Seriously, people, Google is a fierce thing and perhaps ultimately a horseman of the apocalypse, but when you Google cisgender, you don’t even have to pick a link to click. The definition is right there on the page in front of your eyes! It’s like magic. Srsly. Also, just as an aside by way of an aside, I don’t care if being called cisgender makes you feel uncomfortable. I’m not angry – if you know me, you know my experience from day to day is predominantly elemental joy. But if you really want to compare your discomfort at having to recognize that you’re not transgender to my having to pretend to be a boy and a man for 38 years, you can just tap on over to another blog.

**** Okay, seriously, I have a hard time even finding time for tea… and I’m not so bourgeoisie as all that… she says as she types on her fancy Macbook, leaving a fragrance of ambiguity lingering in the air of this footnote.

***** Because real feminists use diagrams, thus breaking down the gender binary that says that men are visual thinkers and us ladies are verbal / emotive or (more frequently) irrational. Also just because I can. And I give credit to my peep Amanda Niven, from whom I originally learned and subsequently stole this simple but informative model.

****** Careful readers and people who know me well will, at this point, be completely unable to stifle some sort of titter, snort, or open laughter, at the idea of me breaking down the binary, but here we are.