A Visible Presence (My First Pride!!!)

First, I’m sorry the living of life has largely usurped the documenting and analysis thereof — I’ve missed encapsulating my thoughts, but I think I needed to have some experiences* to have much new to say.

I’ve blogged previously about the idea that there is a nuanced up and down to choosing a life of visibility, because it confers the opportunity for advocacy, and of stealth, because it confers the opportunity for normalcy. I admit sometimes I still work on what the balance is for me — I never feel obligated to share every detail of my story, much like I respect Laverne Cox’s decision not to talk about her body and surgeries and things like that. At Pride, a really sweet young straight ally who worked the information tent with me joined in a conversation with me and a trans man friend who came by to say hello to me. He was really intrigued and interested in the fact that my friend had transitioned and had a lot of (good) questions to ask. Later, he said to me, “So you’re, like, a lipstick lesbian?” Well, yes, basically**. What can I say? Welcome to Pride, one lesson at a time, knowing all the terminology is really not required or the point, and I guess every conversation need not be an opportunity for education (and, plus, the whole thing was funny). 

Back up a step. I should clarify that, last month, I attended my first Pride, as far as I know. It’s possible I stopped by a Pride somewhere (I remember kiss-ins on the Diag at university, but I don’t remember Pride itself). Anyway, even if I did attend a Pride briefly somewhere, I never did so as a queer-identified person, nor did I volunteer at one. Saturday, I was info tent girl, hostessing Pride for most of the time between 7AM and 7PM! So I didn’t just go to Pride, I rocked the Calder

(That was the actual theme)

My first Pride was a blast.  

7000 people there. Four or five protesters, and everybody else loving on each other and having a good time and celebrating how good it is to be alive. I made it through a 12 hour shift in low heels***. And was cheery***.5. And got hundreds of people to fill out surveys, one for the Network relating to LGBT healthcare/wellness experiences, and the other for a project of my girlfriend’s****, on trying to better characterize homelessness experiences of LGBT youth in West Michigan, and advocate for better services.

It was Grand Rapids Nice… there were, I think, at least four churches with booths, and one or two more roaming the Plaza and chatting people up without a booth (all on our side… God knows where the protesters come from).

Oh, there were protesters, as I said a couple of times. A handful of them. One of them got disrespectful with a megaphone (in violation of city code) and the police officers on parade duty shut him down. The others were … well, as nice as people, who have an awful and dehumanizing view of religion that spurs hatred and intolerance, can be. I (and a few others) went out and said hello to them, made sure they were doing all right (I told them I appreciated their taking the time to come out… why not? They don’t make me look bad), and offered water (but they came with). We kept sunscreen at the info tent, too, because we’re just lovey like that, us queer folk, who recognize that actually being queer is the thing we’re proud about, but keeping people healthy and saving the planet are really, really important, too. 

One of the local network affiliates did a kind of ridiculous piece on our Pride. About 6-8 sentences spent on the marshals (we had April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse, an excellent choice), and then paragraphs about the four or five protesters. Okay, I can’t be too mean to these guys … the coverage stank, but they’ve been good to me, and most of the times I’ve had the opportunity to be on TV have been with them. It seems conspicuous, however, to write an article and not mention the 7000 people who came to Pride and had a great time (I met most of them, I should know). Or the organization that hosted Pride. Or the churches that came out, or the vendors, or, … how outside of the world of lawsuits and protesters and throwing slushies, we’re quietly becoming an integrated, deeply entrenched, economically powerful, and vibrant part of the community. And slowly, but surely, we’re advertising it.

It’s hard, though, and I think anyone who’s really gotten into Pride knows, to focus on the negative. And don’t let me do what the TV station did. It was an amazing, overwhelming day. I made friends and strengthened friendships and laughed and danced and hugged and loved and had some kind of pink lemonade shandy that was amazing-pants. I studiously avoided having to use the porta-potties, because even a homo can only do so much with those things, and the elephant ears, because, really, I’m not 8 anymore*****.  

If you Google Elephant Ears, you get a Wikipedia page for Fried Dough… and Type II Diabetes. Just right there on the spot. For serious.

We decided not to go out and party at the end of the night, although that was ramping up as we walked off. Teri and I came home (breeze in the convertible … heavenly after 12 hours on my feet), had a drink on the deck, I think made some nachos in the oven, and went to bed. And I cried in her arms. Happy, happy tears. Of pride. And … that’s what it’s like to know that I am loved, that my life, my love, and my gifts matter, and that I belong.

* There’s a lot going on! Of particular note things like name-change-court-date…. Also there’s a great quote from Their Eyes Were Watching God that’s something about having lived so much as to be content on memories alone, but I can never seem to find it again. Love, love that novel, by the way, a masterpiece.

** We’ve had it out over my orientation, but I’m femme, all the way. We did have a healthy debate, Teri (who is not femme) and I, on this business of femme vs. lipstick lesbian… then apparently there are chapstick lesbians, and SPF30 lesbians, and … gawd … Teri just makes me swoon and get mushy inside. Leave it at that.

*** Which, apparently, are some kind of environmentally friendly shoe… Timberland Earthkeepers. Who even knew Timberland made cute strappy sandals?

***.5 Seriously, I can be obnoxiously perky at times. 

**** Teri also made up with like three or four people following a long-running dispute, while totally outdoing the gay guys at bartending, because, seriously, never let a gay man do a lesbian’s job.

***** Speaking of letting a gay man do the job, I should admit that I just finished Wade Rouse’s At Least In The City, Someone Would Hear Me Scream for book club … I’m channeling a little bit of his snark here. I can only do snark in small quantities. Did I mention that, in the “Which OITNB character are you?” quiz, I’m Piper (if not, re-read note 3.5)? And Teri was Vause. Hmmm… She’s writing fiction on her laptop right next to me while I’m writing a blog post. Hmmm… and I swear, the chicken is real.

Things Change in a Moment

I had a drink with a friend the other night, at a newer brewery*. It was a really great night. Even though I got carded (I really need a new drivers license, hopefully in 3-4 months I may legally change my name, and at least have a female name and appearance on it, even if it still says “M”), but it was no big deal. They were respectful, and treated me like any other woman. No one stared at me. I not only felt comfortable with my girlfriend and our friend, but I felt comfortable in the place, chatting up waitresses and being my usual bubbly self. We had a little food, but I was watching my waist & my wallet, and I didn’t have a full dinner (I split appetizers with my girlfriend). I only had one beer, so I didn’t get drunk or even tipsy (well, I do get pretty animated after just half a drink, and at home I put plastic wrap and a rubber band over the half-empty beer bottle and save it for tomorrow, hashtag cheapest date ever). But it had been a long week at work. My girlfriend politely ignored all my nonverbal / discreet attempts to say, “Your sweetie is exhausted!!!” So I was loving the conversation, but went home a bit after I was worn out.

Then I did a stupid (albeit very small stupid, in the grand scheme of things) thing. I wanted to stop at the supermarket for a couple of things for making brekkie after sleeping in. So the supermarket that’s around the corner is the kind of place where there are semi-abandoned-by-their-parents groups of kids with bad manners roving around. Kids incidentally who are too old to be awake, let alone in the store, at that hour. Anyhow. I’ve gone in there during the day, dressed en femme, and it was cool, but this was different. These kids did some serious slack-jawed staring. Now, you should know that African American kids, especially, stare at me en homme too, maybe even more. They even ask me if I know I look just like Michael Jackson (I don’t, but I’m polite and say I get that all the time in my best southern charm) or go get their sister to show them. So I don’t even know if they were staring because they knew I was trans or because I’ve just always been something unlike anything they’d ever see before. But tired and late at night and … It really got to me. I cried and cried into my sweetie’s shoulder in bed that night. Everything can change in a moment – it had been such an affirming evening.

I get over myself pretty quickly. As I was crying, my intersectionalist nucleus** was already gently pointing out that these are poor minority kids, who are left to wander the supermarket at 11 PM, and even being trans, I sadly have a huge number of advantages over them, and in most of society outside of a supermarket at 11 PM on a Friday, I am way less marginalized than they are. By the morning. I was proud that I held my head up and got everything I needed instead of bolting out. And … honestly, I don’t feel emotionally different on estrogen, but crying in front of someone else, and for myself (as opposed to over someone else or a movie or story) is something I’ve never been able to do, so I felt really proud of myself for being able to cry in my girlfriend’s arms. And then again, I was chopping cilantro to put in the omelette and listening to country music on the SoundLink, and again, everything can change in a moment. Thank god for that.

* Excellent, incidentally – they have saganaki and sausages they light on fire, and it’s fun to let boys light stuff on fire in a safe environment, and I had a great dark cherry wheat beer. Also my girlfriend lets me make her order things I want to taste, if they look like she’ll like them too, and having been played by that one many times, I am really enjoying being on the other side of it!

** Usually, it’s called a nucleus if it’s in your central nervous system, and a ganglia if it’s outside, but the basal ganglia are an obvious exception. Anyway, I’m trying to internalize my intersectionalism here, people!

Why I Choose Advocacy

There are a lot of politics surrounding the notion of “passing” (that is, not generally being recognizable as trans after transitioning) and trans* people who transition and can/do pass. These politics follow an odd pattern. There is this irrational fear in parts of the cis- world that trans women who pass or blend in are some kind of stalking monsters whose aim is to prey on unsuspecting heterosexual men (no one who has ever met me had ever thought of me as a super-predator … most of my girlfriends have claimed they could take me in a fight, and, well, they’re right). However, usually when cis people see me walk like a duck, talk like a duck, quack like a duck, it helps them accept that I, well, I am a duck*. Actually, most of the antipathy towards trans women who blend in with cis women comes from … other trans people. They don’t question my womanhood, but they do look with disapproval on trans women like me who are or want to be deep inside the binary.

More on that issue another time. It’s actually the necessary frontispiece, in this case, to say that, while I probably don’t pass or blend completely right now, a year or more down the road, I think I might. Now this is what I really want to talk about. I do not have a credible option to be truly “stealth” (having no one really know I’m trans, in my day-to-day life). The only way this could possibly happen is if I were to completely abandon the professional field which I studied for seven years of graduate school, internship, and residency, in which I became board certified, which I honestly love. My field is simply too small – most of my colleagues inside my specialty will know when I go full time, because of the connections I inherited and the connectedness I craved and developed. So no, I can’t go deep stealth. I could go a more shallow stealth. In many places, there are only handfuls of people in my specialty practicing, and not all of them at connected in the way that I and most of my classmate are. So what I could probably do is go full time and then move somewhere where HR, and maybe my immediate supervisor, know that I am transgender. If I shut this blog down, silence my trans story in favor of a nondescript story of my womanhood (which would not make for a great herstory), I could probably maintain this indefinitely.

There’s really one thing I would lose, besides a level of my sense of personal dignity, if I did this. It’s my ability to advocate. No pride parades. No calls for local, state, and national government to increase LGBTQIA+ rights and protections. All of that would “blow my cover.”

I have to admit, it’s a little tempting. Oh, not forever. I’m a connected queer. I just don’t have it in me to isolate. But the thought of doing this, especially early after transition, when it would be more possible, is awful tempting, just to have the experience of simply being known as a woman, before having that as most of my life space (as opposed to limited areas of my life space, when I’m around only strangers) becomes infeasible. If I wasn’t so connected, if my field weren’t so reliant upon webs of references and colleagues and mentors voicing their support of me, I can’t honestly say I am sure I would reject the option.

On the other hand, I also view it as something of a blessing that it’s not much of an option to me. The truth is, I like advocating. This road has been hard for me. I did suffer. I’ve been bullied and bruised. I’ve been called countless names, which healed far more poorly than the bruising. I’ve played a role that doesn’t work for me for a long, long time, at first in ignorance and then knowing the truth full well, but not seeing a way out. I didn’t always know how I would survive, and although I never gave up, I was often sure I would die unfulfilled, and there are parts of my journey that I survived I know not how.

I know I’m not the only one going through this. I’m not very strong, and I’m not very brave. I’m not at all courageous. I get scared. I cry. But I feel that if some brother or sister could suffer a little less because of my being out in the open, I will wear the target, and suffer the attacks, and if I must fall, I hope that I shall look braver than I feel as I fall, that the fight I put up will scare our enemies, and embolden our allies, and that I acquit myself with some small measure of honor. I also do it because I believe that if people like us have the audacity, we can shape the world in an inclusive way, instead of letting bigots shape it into a maze of exclusionary movements and spaces.


Mazes are not really very inclusive spaces, but I will point out that Labyrinths, which are a completely different thing, have major genderqueer cred

I could vanish into the night. I choose instead to stand my ground and advocate.

*I am not a duck, just to be clear. I am a woman.