Monday, January 14, 2008

a few for the blog

Been almost a month since I've posted- whew! If my pattern holds, expect a flurry of posts in the next day or so as I catch up with everything. To start off, here is a mishmash of moments I've had in the past few weeks that have all ended with me thinking "well, there's one for the blog."
While at home for the holidays, I went for tea at the Pied Cow (fave Portland coffehouse) with an old friend from high school, her girlfriend, and a few of their friends I'd never met before. At some point, the conversation turned to having babies, and being old enough to have babies- I think we were talking about teen pregnancy, maybe- and two of the girls were saying "Wow, pregnant in 6th grade? That's crazy! I didn't even get my period til 7th grade!" "Yeah, me too!"

and without thinking, I chimed in "Yeah, me too!"

The comment mostly got lost in the flow of conversation, but one of the girls I'd just met gave me a funny look, of the "What are you talking about, bro?" variety. I guess maybe she thought I was just trying to be funny. Or maybe she heard the note of sincerity in my voice and thought I was just talking about when I was first old enough to be fertile. I don't know, is there a corresponding milestone for non-trans dudes? Is it when they start having 'wet dreams' or whatever that health class euphemism is? Or maybe she is actually a super trans ally and was giving me a look of "oh hey, you're a dude who used to menstruate, then? cool!" and I just misinterpreted it. somehow I doubt it.

It was a reminder of some of the things I still have in common with most women: some cultural references and shared historical experiences. I do, for instance, know what it's like to choose amidst the dizzying array of feminine hygiene options (maxi? thin or ultrathin? with or without wings? dri-weave or plain? good lord!). I acknowledge those similarities, and I further acknowledge that those are commonalities that are not shared by most men. But I don't think those few shared experiences are enough to keep me forever in the girl camp, either, despite what the womyn-born-womyn folks would have one believe.
Just this past weekend, my sister and I had another uncomfortable encounter with an apparently well-meaning but incredibly offensive individual. We went to a birthday party at a champagne bar (woo, fancy!) for one of my sister's friends from Smith College. The birthday girl's partner is on the transmasculine spectrum, and pretty much everyone there was gay or queer, which might lead one to believe that everyone there is pretty much on the same page, re: how not to be a jerk. but hey, surprise! no such luck.

Apparently there was a girl there who was in a writing class with my sister, and who therefore had heard some of my sister's writings, including some about me and my transness. This girl had apparently been offensive then, too, though I didn't get all the details- but something about how she came up to my sister and went on about "wow, that's so crazy! your twin is so trendy! i don't understand, why don't those tranny bois just keep being dykes?" etc., to the point where my sister just walked away from her.

So she comes up to where my sister and I are standing, and starts making small talk, etc. My sister introduces me with "This is Eli" and we shake hands. More small talk, and then the girl says "So, how's your twin?"

Not with a malicious emphasis, exactly, but definitely not a neutral tone- with a bit of a smirk, as if at a private joke.

My sister just gestured to me, and I took my cue and said dryly "I'm fine, thanks."

The girl gave a bit of a start and said "oh, I'm sorry! I didn't realize it was you! haha..." and made a little more small talk before beating her retreat.

We rolled our eyes and moved on, but then later she came up to my sister and said "Oh, I'm so sorry about my faux pas earlier! I didn't realize that was your brother! I mean, I guess I'm just saying- and my girlfriend agrees with me- that he's the most convincing we've ever seen!"

My sister managed to avoid being downright rude to the girl, and extricated herself quickly, but as we took the subway home later, we tried to figure out what could possibly be going on in that girl's head that she would not only think it okay to say that, but that she would offer it up as a positive, placating remark.

Does she not realize that she is in effect offering up her judgement and on something that she has no right to police? That she is trying to tell me that, wow, I almost meet her standards for masculinity, gosh, she was almost never would've known that I'm a not a real guy, just a fake/freak/imposter who is "really convincing!"

We tried to think of how to respond to such a situation, which (as I'm sure I've mentioned here before) comes up not infrequently. Do you say "Yeah! and you know, you're very convincing as a decent human being! not quite though. maybe next time."

Or would it be better to ask them what they mean by that, and keep asking questions until they are forced to say out loud all of the condescending and offensive words and assumptions that are riding on their semi-innocuous comment. That might work- worked for Socrates!- but never underestimate the power of people to ignore their own privilege/offensiveness.

It's so hard to respond to shit like this, particularly when you're not expecting it, particularly in the middle of a social situation or party where you want to take the high road, and respond gracefully, and not make a scene. Do you just be the better person and ignore it, even if it means missing out on a teachable moment to possibly try to make the offensive idiot in front of you into a better person by pointing out their ignorance?

So hard to decide what to do! But if there's one thing we can be sure of, it's that there will be a next time. I guess we can practice our witty repartee til then.
So, last but not least, I was very nearly America's Next Trans Model for a minute there. I heard from someone who works with OUT magazine that they are doing a trans-focused issue soon, and they were looking to find some trans folks to be the models for a photo shoot to go in the issue. One of the standard fashion photo shoots that they usually do, except with (amateur, clearly) trans folks as the models. I was initially a bit dubious- the first contact email had the subject line "tranny photo shoot" and I was immediately squicked, in no small part because I think the word tranny is pretty much juvenile and degrading in any context, and I have a hard time taking anything seriously that uses it in a non-mocking/satirical context. I've been known to use the word myself occasionally, but only in very heavily tongue-in-cheek manner, and pretty rarely. Not to mention the fact that it didn't initially mention the name of the magazine, and I've gotten a couple of dubious contacts before from people over the internet looking for sexual/naked pictures of me, so I'm always just a bit wary of random email contacts related to trans stuff.

But! I learned more about the person who contacted me, who seemed very cool, and I heard a bit more about the project, which also seemed like a good plan- why not have a wide variety of trans folks as the models? It'd be a great change of pace from their usual hardbody chelsea boy models! And when I heard that it was for OUT, which I consider definitely a legitimate organization, I agreed.

I went to an initial meeting, and meet the person who was contacting me, who was indeed cool, and the photographer. There were four other guys there, and I was pleased to see that there was at least a reasonable range of diversity- about half and half on hormones, more than half white but at least not ALL white, a few in our 20s, a couple older (30s and 40s, maybe?) , some clean-cut, some scruffy/punk looking. Seemed like it'd be a good mix, and I was definitely excited to be part of a professional photo shoot.

But then I got an email this morning saying that the photo editors had decided to keep it down to just two or three models, and the photographer had decided to go with a more "genderqueer" look, so it turns out I was going to be needed for the shoot after all. Which is fine, if a bit disappointing. But editorial decisions have to be made, etc.

What makes me a bit dubious is the notion that the photographer wants a more "genderqueer" look. That's a legitimate artistic vision, of course, and it fits in more with some of the other photos of hers I'd seen.

But...I guess I just got the wrong impression, that it was going to be a trans* focused photo shoot, because it seems a bit odd to try to pare down a reasonably diverse group of transguys to just the genderqueer ones if you're trying to present images of the transmasculine community in general. In fact, it seems like the sort of thing that would get one's hackles up, with conspiracy theories about 'lesbian' photographers shooting for 'gay' magazines only wanting to take pictures of the 'visually transgressive' guys who are still 'blurring gender binaries' and don't look 'too straight' and still look hot to dykes and still look like non-threatening 'others' to gay men. in other words, not guys who look like to a large extent.

that said, at the meeting they did emphasize that no decisions had yet been made about the style or content of the shoot. I don't know anything about what kind of discussion or decision making actually went down, so it's entirely possible that they just decided that they wanted to only represent more 'genderqueer' folks in this particular shoot.

And maybe here again is the problem of trying to push together all sorts of people under one big 'trans*' umbrella. You have everyone from genderqueer people to people with transsexual medical histories all being looked at the same when really, we all have quite different needs and perspectives and opinions, and it can be damaging or insulting to conflate us. Everyone's needs are distinct, but there's enough blur and similarity that it's also damn hard to parse everyone out. Like me, for instance: I identify as male first, transsexual second, but I also acknowledge that I had female/dyke experiences, and I also have genderqueer leanings, albeit from within a male framework, such that they tend to get expressed as drag queen tendencies. So that's a little complicated, right?

Anyway. The moral of the story is, I'm not going to be in OUT magazine. I'm not too worried, though, since I've been in OUT magazine before (one of the OUT 100 in 2001! woot.) and also because it's not really my business how the photographers and photo editors at OUT choose to cast their photo shoots. I'll be interested to see how the shoot turns out, though!
and while we're talking about super fashionable transsexuals, here's a shot taken while I was home in Portland, in the middle of an intense muffin-baking binge. I believe I'd just taken my third batch of the night out of the oven. You can just about almost see my chest hairs poking out above my homemade Oregon pride a-shirt.

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