Sunday, December 16, 2007

teh gay

I'm going home with my partner for New Year's, and I'll be staying with her family for a few days, and meeting her friends from high school and her grandmother, etc. I'm quite excited, and the usual small amount of nervous. I'm also curious as to what it's going to be like for her to bring home a man, since she once spent no small amount of courage and energy explaining to her loved ones that she's gay. The real picture is more complicated, of course, since she doesn't identify as lesbian so much as [gender]queer, and she has dated folks of a variety of genders. But she's bringing me home, and I'm a guy, and that's a hefty thing to plan for.

Of course, I'm not a straight man, but this is something that she'll probably share with most of her friends and none of her elderly relatives. I'm also a man who grew up as a girl, which is something she has shared with some close friends and her parents, but probably also won't be told to the acquaintances/grandma.

And it's the former, not the latter, that is the reason we are not in a straight relationship, despite appearances to the contrary.

I find it impossible to say that my experiences growing up female and trying to find myself as a dyke didn't contribute to the kind of queer person that I am today, but I also feel strongly that the fact of my transness does not automatically make me queer, nor does it automatically make my relationship with my girlfriend automatically a gay relationship. It's a frustrating connection that a lot of people try to impose upon trans folks and their partners, and I think it's a delicate operation to properly refute their flawed reasoning without resorting to either reactionary homophobic statements or keeping separate two things that are, in fact connected.

That is to say, my trans experience has contributed to my queerness: I remember what it's like to be a dyke. Though I feel compelled to add that I have no way of knowing what it's like to be a dyke who doesn't feel like a guy on the inside, so my experience of lesbianism is possibly (if not probably) pretty different from most lesbians. And there's also the fact that I feel a little silly saying something like "Oh, I only date women!" when I know the huge range of people and bodies and genders contained in that statement, not to mention the ones who ought to be but get left out.

So those are some reasons that I'm queer. But there's also the fact that I'm a guy, and while I mostly date women, I am into guys as well. Hypothetically, for the most part, since I've been in a committed relationship for most of my transition, and I didn't really date or hook up with men before my transition. That is, I believe, mostly due to gender issues- I didn't want to hook up with a guy who thought I was a girl, because I couldn't handle it mentally, or could I handle being intimate with a masculine body before I'd changed my own body...the disparity would've freaked me out.

So. Coming back to my original topic. There are a lot of reasons that Rochelle and I have a queer relationship. Her queer identity is just as complex as mine, and it all adds up to us not being straight, but often being perceived as straight, and how to deal with that.

It's uncomfortable sometimes because we often get (appropriately) read as queer individually, which means that we get looks from people thinking "Why is that dyke holding hands with that fag?"

And just as there's an uncomfortable omission of queerness when the straight world takes us at their own face value, I am hesitant sometimes to say the words "my girlfriend" when I'm talking to other gay people because I don't want my queerness to fall away from me. This is especially problematic when gay dudes are hitting on me. The most forthright thing to do would be to work the words "my girlfriend" into the conversation, right? But this is complicated by the fact that I am still new to being welcomed into the queer guy club, and I like being there, and I don't want them to step back and start assuming that I'm straight. I don't want to be kicked out of the club! I'll say "my partner" sometimes because it feels less straight.

Going to her world is going to be an adventure in masquerading in straightness (not least because she's from the South!), and I know we'll be talking about how to handle it without feeling like we're invisible, or making any molehill mountains. I know it's not necessary to defend our queerness to the entire world- enough of this is about our sex life and our romantic relationships and our personal identities that it doesn't need to come up all the time. But hey, the personal is political, too, and there's a raft of heterosexist baggage that I don't want to be carrying around all the time.

I don't want my trans body to become the battleground for any ideological skirmishes, though. We're not straight because we're both queer. And I'm queer in (small!) part because I'm trans. but that doesn't mean that we're not straight because I'm trans.
But I don't want my

Saturday, December 15, 2007


I went out tonight and saw some people that I went to high school with, one of whom I haven't seen since high school itself, practically. He didn't really bat an eye, just chatted with me like everyone else. One of the other guys, who I've seen frequently, complimented my mustache, and asked me, with genuine curiosity, if I get hit on by guys.

Now I'm home and, reflecting on those interactions, I have two thoughts.

First, I have a pang of guilt about how fiercely angry I can get briefly when people say ignorant or stupid things, because I forget that often they really don't know. They don't know that they're being offensive. They're just curious, and (strangest of all to me, living in my trans community) they don't have any context or frame of reference. I'm like an alien- certainly an alien concept. It's such a normal, no-brainer idea to me that gender identity is self-decided, and sometimes in conflict with bodily evidence. I forget that most people who have never experienced any gender dysphoria or gender identity conflict have no idea what it's like to feel this way, and consider it totally weird/alien/crazy that anyone ever would. So I ought to cut a little bit of slack to people whose minds have not yet been expanded.

Second, it made me wonder about what exactly goes on when I run into people socially whom I haven't seen in many years. Do they recognize me? Do they recognize that oh, that's that dyke I knew in high school with a beard, so she must be he know, what's that called, transgendering? Is there a grapevine- does everyone know by now that I'm a dude these days? Are all the bearded pictures on my Facebook profile sufficient to clue everyone in?

Or do they not recognize me? Does someone have to pull them aside and clue them in? Do they recognize my sister, and then put pieces together? Are they confused? Do they understand that I'm a transsexual? Do they doubt the veracity of their own memory and wonder if maybe those twins they went to high school with were always a boy-girl pair?

I'm so curious!

I have no sense of how recognizable or unrecognizable I am now, 2 years into transition. I think I still look like me, if a more attractive me than has ever existed. I know that I can't have changed that much. But I have a beard now. So, who knows what people are seeing. I guess they'll see what they want to see?
Here are two snapshots that I took in front of my wall of ties. The first is from early 2006, a few months before I started T. The second is from last week.

A lot can change in 18 months. But it's hard for me to tell how recognizable the person in these pictures is from the first to the second. Clearly, they're both me...just as I think it's clear how much more settled and, well, real I look in the second picture. But how different do I look?

what can you say?

What is there to say to people who make unknowingly loaded comments? On the mild end, there's the regular patron at the library where I work who said, six weeks ago, "hey you've got some fuzz going!" stroking her chin to indicate my nascent beard. I replied, a bit sheepishly, "Well, it's wintertime, gotta keep the face warm!"

Fine. But when she says "You didn't do it last winter!" what do I say? I didn't say anything at all, but what is the acceptable combination of "I'm a later bloomer!/Beards weren't in last year!/Actually, I couldn't grow a beard last winter because I didn't have enough testosterone in my body." No response was really needed there, since I'm not accountable to her (or anyone!) for my facial hair or lack thereof. Should it happen again, I'll probably respond with some sort of gently self-mocking comment about being a late bloomer. But I'm not used to knowing when to be comfortable with familiar/friendly teasing, and when to be defensive. She certainly didn't even intend to tease, I'm sure, and had no way of knowing the history and hard-won context of my facial hair, and why I might be touchy about it.


Then there's the uncomfortable comments that aren't teasing, that are meant to be compliments...except the person issuing them somehow can't see what a bigger and bigger hole they're digging.

So what can you say to the person who isn't a close friend but certainly isn't a stranger, when they start saying uncomfortable things? What about when it is someone you'd think of as a friend, though not a close one?

A month of so ago, a good friend of mine was in town just for a night (let's call her LongLostFriend), and was out on the town with some other friends of ours- I met up with them at a downtown club, and they were all drunk as skunks and mostly adorably so.

At one point, one of the girls started in with the particular brand of questions and statements that drunk people ask and make when they're trying to hit on you but pretending they're just being friendly. I don't even remember, now, what this girl was saying, but a few lines stick out.

"Your name's Eli? All the Eli's I know are tranny boys!!"

Me: "That's nice. It's a good name."

Her: "I LOVE tranny boys! I date tranny boys and butch girls and they're so dreamy!"

Me: "So, I think I'm going to go find my other friends now!"

What was going on there, and what to say? Was she trying to suss out whether I'm trans? Just trying to make conversation with the ambiguously queer guy? How to say "Gosh, those are some offensive, fetishistic over-generalizations you're making there. If you're trying to hit on me, you're going about it the WRONG way!"

Later, standing outside with the friend I'd come to see(LongLostFriend=LLF), I had to navigate ANOTHER round of uncomfortable conversation. Another friend of hers was there, someone I'm not close with but whom I've known a long time, since my first year of college. And this woman (let's call her LeftHandedComplimentGirl), who hasn't seen me in a long time, launches into monologue about my appearance, clearly intending to be complimentary, but stepping further and further out of line with each successive comment.

"Wow, Eli you look so good! I haven't seen you in such a long time, you're looking really...good! You look like a guy! Like a guy-guy, not just a trans-guy! And, I mean, I knew you when, I remember what you looked like! You are a much better looking guy than girl. You have muscles!"

This last comment she punctuates by, rather frankly, feeling me up- running her hands over the lines of my pecs, over my tight t-shirt. Which I put up with rather good naturedly for about 10 seconds. Meanwhile LongLostFriend, noticing that this other woman is out of line, starts agreeing with her but in a neutral, appropriate manner. "But seriously, Eli, you do look really good. You're so handsome."

And there was the difference between the appropriate and inappropriate compliment- it lies in the content, the context and the delivery.

The well-meaning girl was just like the well-meaning gay men who say similar things: "Wow, you look so hot these days!" I can do without the lefthanded compliments, "you look so good!" and the implied, elided transphobia that I inevitably fill in silently. ("...for a transgender!") Why do these people think they have the right to comment on my transition? That's what it is, not a compliment. It's a judgement on my masculinity, on whether I've successfully made myself up into the kind of guy they don't expect "tranny boys" to be able to look like. There are all sorts of evaluations tied up in there that I'm not interested in hearing, and that they don't really have a right to hold me to.

This in contrast to the compliment from my friend which, like the similar words I hear from my family, I will accept gladly. They are close to me, they have a right to comment on how my personal appearance has changed. They are not surprised, or in judgement, and they are coming from a place of affection and support.

But what to say to the other people? How to tell them that I don't want to hear these things from them? The fact that they were dunk and I was sober put up a definite roadblock. You can't reason with drunk people, I've found- it's hard enough to explain to a sober person why their words are offensive. Drunk people get twice as defensive twice as fast, and often can't follow the line of reasoning anyway, so why bother? That's probably a big part of the reason why I employed my smile and nod and keep-the-conversation moving techniques.

But I also just don't want to engage with these people, and that's where I worry if I'm doing a disservice. I know it's not my responsibility to engage with them- I don't need to lay my body down as a roadblock every time someone comes barreling down the Transphobia Interstate. But how is anyone going to be educated and know to stop saying such things if I don't step up sometimes? I can't leave it all to the allies. And to them, I'm an authoritative voice, as their token trans friend, and a friendly face. They'd probably actually listen to me.


And then there are the flat-out offensive remarks, uttered by a non-trans person who believes himself to be surrounded by non-trans people, and their casual cruelty? Last night at a bar, my sister and her friend mentioned that they'd both gone to Smith. And a guy in the group says "oh, Smith? Were you there when all that stuff with the transgender people was going on?"

Slightly awkward pause.

"You know that TV show, the documentary?"

Someone replies "Oh, you mean TransGeneration?"

He brightens. "Yeah! Did you know her?"

More awkward pause.

He says "Uh, I mean, him? uh, gir? shim? whatever! Haha!"

Awkwardest pause yet. I sip my beer, and I feel curiously blank, though there are words like Closeted and Beard and Ugh, Moron running around the edges of my brain.

The three people in the group who know that I'm trans exchange uncomfortable grimaces. The other three people in the group who don't know I'm trans but who have some tact exchange a different set of uncomfortable grimaces. The dude continues

"Anyway, I just love male to female transsexuals!"

So, not just awkward, but confusing, too! Really, what IS he talking about? The Smith student on the show was FTM. My sister and the other Smithie start to answer "Well, yeah, there was some overlap...I knew Lucas, who was one of the guys in the show...I was in the background of a scene..." and then someone else offers CaptainOffensive a beer, and the moment fades. No worries.

Later, after CaptainOffensive leaves, his friend, the other Smithie, who has known me for years, leans over and says "I'm so sorry!"

And I explained that, well, sometimes I just decide that I'm not going to interrupt an enjoyable evening to school someone about their offensive rudeness, even when they clearly need it. It was an energy that I just wasn't willing (or ready, on the spur of the moment) to expend.

Now I'm not sure that was the right choice. It was an uncomfortable moment for all of us, and I didn't make any move chide the guy. I needn't have outed myself to do that, though I could have. I could have said anything from "I think "him" is the word you need" to "Y'know, I don't really think it's appropriate to refer to anyone with mocking, made-up pronouns like that" to "gosh, do you only say such offensive things about trans people when you think there aren't any listening to you? because guess what? I can hear you!"

I guess I wasn't a very good trans ally last night. I didn't step up to educate someone during a teachable moment. Neither did I let the stinging words sink into my skin and burn for the rest of the evening, so I guess that's one small victory of my own strength that I can claim. Huh. Maybe next time.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

huzzah! legal identity!

I got home to find that the last piece to the puzzle of my legal identity had arrived in the mail.

It took an astonishingly fast three weeks or so- I sent off the complete application, my certificate of citizenship with my old name and picture of my 10 year old tomboy self on it, and certified, notarized, original copies of a) my name change court order and b) my letter from Dr. Brownstein saying I've had "irreversible sex reassignment surgery."

Now the United States of America fully recognizes me as a male citizen, and I can go about getting new jobs, etc, with whatever amount of disclosure I so desire. Sweet!

looking up

I found out last week that Jane Rule died at the age of 76. She's a favorite author of mine, a "pioneering lesbian writer" though she was something of a reluctant poster-child, as those obits make apparent. Nevertheless, she recognized the dearth of lesbian writing and lesbian role models in Canada (or anywhere, really, at the time) and stepped up, writing for the gay press, and granting plenty of interviews as an "authority" on the subject.

Anyway, besides the fact that I like her writing very much, and I'm sorry to hear about her death, reading her obituary got me to thinking about role models.

She was clearly a role model for many young writers, young queers and young women (not to mention young queer women writers!) and she was definitely one of the people I looked to when I was younger, if only through her writing, as a sort of elder guide. By which I mean, I get a lot of my moral compass ideas from what I read, and when I first came out as queer, I thought I was a dyke, so I read whatever lesbian-themed or -authored books I could get my hands on. Jane Rule came into the picture because my Mom recommended that her to me when I revealed my gayness.

At any event, it's struck me that my earlyish adolescence, a time for finding role models and hero(ines) and writings to inspire one, was filled with reading and admiring lesbian writers, and history and culture.

Rochelle says she counts herself lucky that her boyfriend is so familiar with the lesbian cultural landscape, and I myself told my dad that I still feel affection and nostalgia and more than a little bit of empathy for the lesbian community. I don't consider myself part of it anymore, but I do feel a connection, from having felt a part of it for a number of years, and having sort of grown up in it. (I identified as a dyke from 13-17, roughly, with my awareness of my masculinity starting at around 15, so there was definite "am I a dyke or am I a dude?" overlap time).

Anyway, my meandering point is that many of my favorite authors, musicians, political figures (Bella Abzug!), and general role models are women, usually queer women. Which is great, because they're great, but...I would like to have more men in my life, so to speak.

I've probably written about this here before- I know I've thought about it before. I don't have a lot of male role models- when my first therapist asked me for one, I said "Tintin." But I'd like to have more men (outside of my immediate family, I'm thinking authors, etc) whom I can learn from and admire and emulate.

I want to re-set my cultural compass, slightly.

Not that I'm ever going to abandon or disavow my lesbian roots. They served me well at the time, and provided a great foundation to where I am now. I will always admire Jane Rule and her writing, and I will always feel a pull to lesbian writing/culture. I don't belong to it anymore, but I do have history there.

Does anyone have any recommendations? I'm thinking of reading recommendations here- I'll take fiction, essays, manifestos, what have you. I just want stuff written by men or about men/masculinity, and/or that is rooted in or an window into masculine culture. The two (pretty disparate, so you can see I'm casting a wide net!) examples that I have on my reading list already are Hemingway and John Stoltenberg. You can't get much manlier than the former, or so I've been told. And the latter wrote a book I very much enjoyed called "Refusing to be a man." He is a longtime feminist, and was partnered to the late Andrea Dworkin. I clearly don't admire the entirety of their 2nd wave opinions, but I do admire their partnership in no small part because they both maintained their gay and lesbian identities, respectively- much like Rochelle and I maintain our queer identities and declare ours a queer relationship, despite its heterosexual trappings.


On a not-entirely-unrelated note, my father is visiting this weekend, and one of the things I most admire about him is his excellent beard. Or perhaps I should say was- he's clean shaven these days. But I've always loved his beard, that I remember vividly from my childhood, and while I often emulate him in other ways (flirting with waitresses, being charming to strangers in general in an attempt to add a little more pizazz to this world, putting interesting and eloquent outgoing messages on my voicemail for same reason, etc), I'm quite glad that at last I have the hormonal capacity to start growing a beard like his.

So it was with nothing less than total warm delight that I received his compliments yesterday afternoon- one of the first things he said to me was "Son, I have to tell you, you look great!"

He followed that up later by telling me that I've managed to successfully avoid a trap that many beard-wearers fall into, which is shaving the neckline too high, so that the ends of their beards hug their jawlines and don't properly end on their necks. I was tickled to hear this, since it was something that I deliberately planned for while growing this sucker out. I've read up on the subject, you see!

In any event, there's no better praise for my beard than from him, whose beard I have always admired. So cheers to that.