Wednesday, December 15, 2010

"Monsters Meet Such Interesting People!" - B. Bunny

Don’t ask me to be the spokesmodel for trans-etiquette – when it comes to gendered language, I’m just as dick-fisted and cunt-mouthed as the rest of you. There’s something about the presence of a gender non-conformist in the room that incites an outbreak of trans-tourettes, and there are some inelegant slang words I’ve been accustomed to using since before I was even noticeably a girl, much less a boy. “You guys,” for instance – it simply won’t leave my vernacular, even though every time I utter it I experience the noxious fumes of its jet stream backwashing my face. “Guys,” like Bugs Bunny, simply had no gender whatsoever for me for the longest time. I remember asking myself, “is Bugs Bunny a girl or a boy?” It seemed like the kind of oracular conundrum of classical literature, or like those obnoxious smarty pants riddles about the hanged man and the water puddle.  Bugs seemed to inhabit a space between those clearly delineated outcroppings of “boy” or “girl,” at least for this five year old. I could only distinguish between genders by play, both forms of which – either brutality or dolls –repelled me. My love for Bugs began with a purely dopaminergic response to a being who playfully donned, mocked, trounced and flounced gendered presentations in a way I’ve yet to experience – but work to emulate – in real (non-animated) life.

I find myself “Madame-ing” the blurry, and “Sir-ring” the lady. I am as awkward and as prone to subterranean blurtations as someone who doesn’t know better. I have experienced and invoked the sensation of falling like Jimmy Stewart down a vertiginous rabbit hole of disassociation, the place where deep shame can take you, the place of no voice. Shame from either side is rarely a helpful emotion, I find. I’m sure it has value, I’m sure it’s larned me a thing or two, but more often it’s clipped my wings, or merely stuck me in a cage and left the door open and laughed as I believed myself too disabled by it to leave. 

I’m going to try to look at this phenomenon another way. What if, when people mispronoun us -what if, when I trip all over my big clown feet in room full of transpeople - what if I’m experiencing an outburst of confusion, one that perhaps I do well NOT to suppress? What if gender-confusion is WONDERFUL? The very fact that I’m being so neurochemically disrupted is FANTASTIC! Of course I don’t wish to hurt anybody – there are only about two people in this world I’d like to hurt intentionally, and one of them likes it. But I see this phenomenon, in me at least, as part of the neurochemical rewiring process, one which must begin with interference and disorder, a static intrusion violent enough to force my brain to its default setting. Which, again in my case, is sometimes idiocy. 

Gender non-conforming people change space and time. We queer everything. Just yesterday a young person came up to me with tremendous sincerity and asked,“is this going to be part of your one-woman show?” after I had literally just invested ten minutes performing the heartbreak of being misconstrued as female. I’m going to revisit these moments as being ecstatic, as serving as part of the architecture of Awakening, for both of us. Whenever a human blurts something, the thing they’re trying to avoid saying, the thing they may be subcutaneously grappling, the gendered stutter of the mind that is attempting to do something new against an ego that is mired in the old, perhaps there is something healing in it. I’m not speaking about the resolute, those awful humans who will not pronoun you correctly because it “goes against their belief” (in their own absolutism, their superiority), or who repeatedly “forget” because they’re too self-involved to really care about how you feel, or even your benighted family members, although it could end up working on them too: I’m talking about the Trickster Tic, the mischievous brain spasm ejaculated from the mouths of We Who Know Better, who stand frozen in our tracks as the leaden word balloon leaves our mouths and thuds to the floor, or the feet, of the transperson we’re addressing. The Trickster Tic, or Trans Tourettes, is simply a symptom, some gas expelled from a depth that has been newly churned. 

I’m going to embrace this idea, to save myself another shame enema, and to witness neurologic/shamanic alterations in others. Loki dances everywhere, but especially where there’s need – a signifying monkey in the lair of the lion. This is what Trans does, this is our job, I am an ambassador (I wrote ambassODOR first, which is more accurate) of interstitial mischief, a messenger from the Gods, so if I think I’m going to be exempt from humiliation it’s only a sure, short amount of time before I’ve got to display my humbled rump for the masses. 

So “she” me, “he” me, what can you do me? I love you.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

I Forgot I Had Gills When I Got Here

After a panel discussion last night, someone in the audience leaned his head in close to mine and said “So. You were pretty vague about your gender up there.” I said “’transman’ isn’t vague” but he was insistent. “Well, later, you were saying something about this other space…” 

Oh yes, the “other space.” The interstices. I imagine bodily gender as a cellular structure, within which floats two, oh, let’s call them mitochondria. These objects, "male" and "female," in their solidity, have been mistaken  for the entire organism. Trans, using this metaphor – I know, bear the fuck with me – is the cytoplasm. In this way we can begin to see the fluid as having substance, of being substantial. I haven’t been around here much lately because I have been hella writing for dumb school – every class I’d chosen requires what amounts to a paper a week, of the kind that demands a works cited page – the creation of which takes more of my time than the actual writing. I’m that guy. Works cited is like algebra to me. Anytakepityonanancientundergrad, I recently wrote a paper about consumer identities vis a vis transgender, in which I suggested that “transition” become a gender placeholder. 

Transition, as typically understood, is a deceptive verb because it relies upon moving between fixity that exists only as an idea – that is, as an idea of gender as two poles (no pun intended). It’s not that these two genders don’t exist – male and female are not “constructs” entirely, they’re real, they have substance, right? But whatever they’re composed of makes man/woman appear different depending on where you’re standing. Nonetheless, as subjective and illusory they sometimes seem, there they are. They are floating in the buoyant and balmy jelly of transition. If gender were a map, then Male and Female would be two delightful (if demanding) little islands. Rosie might take her cruise ship there, and, depending on which side of the island the liner landed, shipmates might be greeted with jeers or joy. 

I’d like to offer transition as a place, as a “sea of possibility,” if I may quote my beloved Patti Smith, and I believe I may. I might on occasion hoist my anchor and harbor myself in the Bay of Manlitude, but I don’t have til sundown to build a lean-to and find water because there’s no need to stay. It’s not that I don’t feel some relationship, a kinship, with man – I do. But I think my kinship makes me more of a cousin than a brother. Man is something once removed.

Does trans longing ever cease, ever cede to something else? Whatever alterations I make, will I always ache for something else, something more? I like my body just fine – and having a “mussy” (you can break that down yourself, Smarty) seems like the best of all possible worlds sometimes…but I would be lying if I said I no longer suffer phantom limb syndrome. Do bodies born with penises ever long to experience what it might be like to have a vagina? To not have this mess of giblets always cluttering their plates? How strange must it be to have one’s insides enclosed in a drawstring purse between one’s legs! It’s like being permanently at a Renaissance theme park somehow – oh, there’s my clove orange! It seems obtuse and archaic…and yet…

Well. I can visit the island, but this transperson can never stay. It’s up to me to embrace the ocean – less defined, indefinable, peppered with terrifying, wondrous creatures; it’s briny, moody, and capable of scattering me like hermit crabs on the shore. It’s so way bigger than me, so way bigger than anything I know – those two islands for instance, and anything else that may emerge from its depths, I’m incapable of fully understanding it. Nevertheless, I know it’s real. 

So swim with me, transpeople, nontranspeople too. Let’s join, let’s link, and be tossed by these waves. They’re feisty now because they’re disgruntled with those islands – the ones that think they’re all there is. But the islands are really just toddlers – they haven’t matured enough to understand that an entire universe exists around them, with them, in them – not for them. It may our oceanic mission, to wash up upon their baby beaches, and let those island dwellers ponder what else might be out there beyond their carefully limned, yet ever shifting shores. They fear a return to the sea, my friends, as do we all. We’re just lucky we live there already.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Kard Karrying Kweer

Several things distinguish humans from other beings – three that come to mind immediately are the making of art, morality, and fixity.  Or maybe it’s the combination of these three: octopuses make art but they don’t register time, even when wearing eight swatches. These things are sometimes at cross-purpose - for instance when I want to get my homo on and fag out at Urban Outfitters but can’t because someone told me (the internets) that UO is E-vil. One of these is not like the others but seems to be a hearty human urge, indeed, can feel like the only thing between one’s staying intact and one’s pixellating into a human solvent -and that’s fixity.

Identity seems to be a profound human need – I have some: artist, feminist, transperson, alcoholic. Change or mutability vexes most humans; for me this has looked like putting up with some serious shit in relationships (although I reckon a partner or two might choke on that one, having dished out more than my share of partner-poopoo). I guess we could pin human intransigence to psychotherapeutic clichés like “fear of abandonment,” or “fear of success.” Whatevs. It intrigues me that identity is so crucial. I remember meeting a transguy in my early days who told me he was a “femme fag pillow-queen tranny bottom” which seemed like an awful lot to remember. But look, I did. As a mutable fire sign Sagittarius (look, there’s another identity!) I feel more comfortable outside of groups – AA’s the only club I ever joined and believe you me it was under duress. 

When I read people saying things like “I’m a man! I am a man and that’s that!” I’m always a little surprised by their vehemence. Buck Angel comes to mind – now I don’t know him and he seems like a perfectly nice guy - he’s always affirming to journalists especially that he’s a man. To which I say, “hats off to you, Sir! You are indeed a man! And a very manly man as well!” He’s a man. Maybe you’re a man. Maybe you’re a woman. I’m sure it’s just me and my mutable fire sign but these sorts of declarations always feel a little frantic – understandable in a world that often looks at us down a very judgey cis-nose. But let me be clear – I don’t feel that way, so “normal” for me is not “feeling like a man.” I totally get that your baseline allows for this feeling that I cannot experience. It may be a flaw in my design, I concede that. And I would like to share also that I need to be “seen” as a man. I need my outside to appear masculine. Why this is I could no more tell you than why I like toffee in coffee ice-cream so much more than cookie dough. I need you to read me as male, but I do not really in my testosterone-enhanced heart of hearts believe that I can be a man. And here’s maybe another critical difference between me and someone else: I do not want to capitulate to what I’m convinced is a social grouping that has done ever so much more harm than it has good. 

Yes, this posture is easy for me who doesn’t think they are a man anyway. I’m not doing yoga here. I don’t know how I came to be born to this body that confuses the mind, or this mind that has some other ideas about the body. But, and sometimes it grieves me to say this, I wasn’t born a man. The state of trans – “for me, today,” as my friend Sheila loved to intone – is an acceptance of the mutable, the dynamic. It is, for me, not the rugged embrace of Paul Bunyan but more of a dance with the blue ox Babe. 

ANYTRANSMASCULINITY, what I’m really trying to say here is that identity policing is pissing me off. Of course, in this I run the risk of alienating all the police, thus creating more us’n’thems, but here goes…
If you’re an activist, you’re probably a bit of a control-freak. I will suggest to you that you probably have alcoholism or mental illness in your family. I say this because it’s true for me, and many, many, MANY of the activists I know. When you combine this sort of chemical askance with the human instinct to identify oneself against another you get the kind of person (myself) who is unutterably convinced of both their best intentions and their superiority.

Neither of these things is entirely true. 

What’s really jacked me up is the pecking, the regulating I see coming from my trans/queer community. The nit-pick and the scrutiny, the “you’re not doing it right” and the “you don’t speak for me” is craven responsibility-denying. My understanding of queer and trans is that they are the essence of inclusivity - especially queer. I know many transpeople are very committed to a gendered status quo; that’s fine by me, but I’d appreciate if you’d stop blaming your lack of freedoms on those of us who speak out. Really, I don’t know why I even fight for equality for you people. 

Okay, so here’s what I’m suggesting. Let’s stop micro-managing one another’s message. Let’s let “our community” be where they are. I promise not to check your ID for “queer” if you promise not to weigh what’s twixt my fleshy thighs. If I’m going to critique your message, I promise I’ll offer my own version, framed with love and compassion, and only a soupçon of snarkery. Let’s leave queer enough alone. And know this: my shop is open for any of you, all the time. I don’t care how you identify, if you’re straight and white and male even. And have dreads and like Eminem. I don’t even care. I love you Brother, I love you Sister and I loveloveloooove you Sisterbrother. Welcome, everyone. You are all loved here.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Is This Microphone On? or Konversations Kill

In an ongoing effort to extend my tentacular reach, I’ve been having chats about the impact of language and symbol on the disenfranchised at large. For instance, when I began my transition, I used the word “tranny” a lot. It seemed to mitigate the seriousness of my decision, and the flippant, and I hoped insouciant, way in which it fell out of my (full-lipped, sensuous) mouth helped those closest to me feel less threatened. I was being, in a Tom Cruisian sense, “glib.” This wasn’t calculated; it was initially unconscious. You could say I used my own transphobia* to bridge my transition, for myself and for others. It was useful for a while, and then it began to chafe. This was because as I began to fit in my own skin, I felt genuinely less pejorative about it. “Tranny” seemed less and less enchanting, and hearing my (non-trans) friends use it began to feel awkward. This I could not articulate until I began reading that some transwomen take real offense at transmen appropriating language used specifically to diminish and dehumanize transwomen.

Being as old as I am and having shown my ass on entirely too many occasions, I was willing to concede I had been thoughtless in my word choice. I mulled over the “t-word” conundrum, until I could finally feel some compassion, and then of course what I’d been avoiding all along, shame for having so blithely embraced such a rubber-bullet word. Aaah, so here is the crux of the biscuit, as Mr. Zappa used to say! The “S” word! One must avoid shame at all costs, even at the expense of others! The moral of this story is that I always have things to learn, and I must be vigilant with my own ego to do this.

More recently, a friend of mine was edited from a Pride-Fest lineup because she has dreadlocks. She’s white, so dreadlocks are challenging for some people. I had forgotten this myself, until it was brought up by the group that snipped her off, if you will. It seemed dated, this posture, unhelpful, emotional.  I wasn’t there so I don’t know what happened, but I can tell you what happened for this transguy: I had to do some deep dish diving. When our soi-disant “own community” censures us, it’s unsettling. It seems counter-productive, fascist even, an attempt by the marginalized to wield whatever watery power they feel they hold. It was absolutely none of my business, but the conversation kept sticking – I needed more information. I made pilgrimage to one of the wiser, more judicious persons I know, someone who wore dreads for a very long time herself, Shirlette Ammons.

I intuitively understood that Shirlette would not hold with white people sporting dreads, but I also knew she could shift the dialogue for me enough that I would see it from a new perspective. I am extreeeeemely lucky to have friends and colleagues I can ask to extrude my being into some new space/time dimension, like I’m play-doh and they’re the template; I relish this sort of travel. Also, I enjoy being Technicolor spaghetti dough but this is neither here nor there. I said, “I get it – it’s like ‘this is one of the few things I can call mine and you white people are taking that too, for a fucking fashion for godssake!’” Shirlette retorted, “I wore dreads as a symbol of struggle, rebellion. They had deep significance for us, those of us striving to keep our culture from this kind of liquidation.”
I responded with a possibly weak analogy – race is deep, but I was seeking a foothold. “Tattoos were like that for me! When I was getting them, they were so meaningful, they were like thoughts and dreams I had about myself coming up through my pores. We were this tiny little gang of artists and visionaries reacting to being suffocated by our culture, our political system.” In 2004, when I briefly apprenticed again at an Austin skin shoppe, I was appalled to see how much had changed in two decades. I’m sure I don’t need to tell you what tattoos are now; they signify various things, but mostly they seem to semaphore a capitulation to an external pressure, not an internal one.

“But Shirlette, I think we’ve had this conversation, this dreadlock thing. I don’t feel it’s helpful.”  She pulled back, clearly agitated, and then sat up in her chair. “This is just the third or fourth tier of us not having this conversation!”

I believe she’s right. Clearly, at least to this transguy cuttlefish, race – and gender inequity - is a conversation that needs having, all the time. We will keep attempting to have it until we have it. It requires openness, the possibility of experiencing deeply unpleasant feelings, it means becoming able to see one’s part in a social/economic system that absorbs the meaningful and renders it for market. 

I would also suggest using trans as a lens for re-imagining these conversations. “Life,” as my good friend E. would say, “wants to make life happen! Life wants to explore all its possibilities!” Transgender is one of those life “possibilities,” an evolutionary high note in a soaring aria. If we can envision ourselves as a racial, ethnic, sexual (or non), speckled (or not), gendered (or no), shoot of Life’s curling tendrils, then we are simply another (spectacular) branch on a tree. Trans exemplifies this desire of biology, of God via nature, to create. And create and create and create – exploring every possibility, every permutation, without fear or judgment, simply creation for creation’s sake.

Nonetheless, our capacity to eat our own is also a symptom of the sickness suffered by the societally tortured. When white people critique others for wearing dreadlocks it feels, well, a little like privilege – maybe like when non or even trans people critique transpeople’s fashion choices. I’ve done it and so have you. Who else gets to make these decisions, these excisions, but those of us marginally empowered by our righteousness? We are all activists, and we are all in different places at different times. Jockeying for position to the top of the Activist Heap by elbowing others, critiquing one another’s commitment to fight The Power, means we have gotten lost somewhere, we’ve diluted the Nectar of Connexion we receive when we awaken to our trans/queer/ally/otherness.

My dear, beloved friend, may we always keep the conversation open and flowing, the way life moves after a rain, hither and yon, over and under, but always to the deep bluegreen sea. I will practice being aperture instead of right, soft instead of brittle, maceration rather than laceration. Put me in your mouth, friend, and let your enzymes diminish the shell I have made around me; that which protected me, now keeps me from others. Amen and atranswomen. And always, never forgot that I love you.

*although I think “transphobia” is too neat a package. I found the word itself, “tranny,” to be delightfully playful and archaic, like “fanny.”

Monday, August 9, 2010

Buy Me Some Peanuts & Cracker Jack, I Don't Care If I Never Come Back

There are entire economies devoted to the belief that humans are the ultimate life form, the pinnacle of creation. The survivability of the lowly cockroach in a nuclear storm renders that courageously upbeat faith moot, but what of it? I happen to think we are one more step in evolution’s grand trek, a stop along the way like Stuckeys where we can get our pecan-log on. Bill tells me that all great evolutionary change is precipitated by catastrophe. He reminds me that prokaryotes evolved from eukaryotes for whom oxygen was poison. Those early anaerobic eukes were well adapted to living in our highly nitrogenous, cO2 rich atmosphere, and living in water kept them safe from the ultraviolet radiation of our sun. But that had to change, didn’t it? My own smaller universe’s great shifts have been punctuated not by ellipses but by several loud, comic exclamation points. And catastrophe is of course merely a word describing a big event; to an alcoholic those seven DUI’s are the thing that got her sober, not just a series of tragic-comic inabilities to put her finger on her nose before an officer of the law.

Our economies and ecosystems are currently anchored to the binaries of him/her, us/them. Public systems and institutions are rarely ahead of the curve, so we can’t really fault them.  From my perspective at least I see all current social dialogues – about marriage, about immigration, about social policy – as the dying grip of the tribalists’ attempts to force reality into a “manageable” package. What’s painfully evident in the arguments for things like “traditional marriage” or “keeping America American” is how they are not grounded in any sort of logic or even actual history, how they are excruciatingly emotional and even childish. As raw as it is for me to feel persistently ejected from social discourse by virtue of being a queer former woman must it be mind-numbingly painful to feel that all the structures holding your universe together are falling apart, or being blown up by pansy, homosexual, unpatriotic terrorists. I can relate, believe me. 

All forced conflict is by nature absurd, but catastrophe on the other hand can be exhilarating and generative. At the heart of any argument for war, whether on the battlefield or in one’s own kitchen (“If I spill one more jar of honey from a jar you have left improperly sealed you are exiled from this kitchen!” Those of you who have roomed with me may pause now and shake your heads in sweet nostalgia) is something absolutely ridiculous, like “this here is mine.” The great gift of transitioning is the molecular understanding that not even your own body is yours – everything really is just energy we shift from shelf to shelf, kicking up dust mites and memories and hope for some room. The creamy center of catastrophe is maybe “there seems to be some sort of logjam here – maybe it’s time to move some tectonic plates around!”

We can see the transgendered as biology “fucking up” or we can view ourselves as ahead of the social curve. We are a genetic error, a mutation - or  - we are the budding beginnings of evolutionary tendrils. Or both. It doesn’t matter to me – it doesn’t change what is, for me personally. Either way it was a wonderous catastrophe that shifted me from Samantha to Samuel, a starfish beginning in a Spongebob sea. To be literally cut open from port to starboard, a wanton cicatricle twist of scarring and fate – to have imprisoned the hormonal body in testosterone only to have it escape its ordained estrogen death and mutate into something beyond the imaginings of its inhabitor, is to fucking know some evolution.

I try to sidestep my own obsession with the “why” - technologies avail themselves to me only as I live in my present moment. I can now view my own past through the lenses of addiction, transgender, spirituality or vis a vis misogyny, pop culture, 70’s blockbuster films, the slow food movement, tramp art and more but I had to stay more or less in motion to be able to really look behind me. Any discipline I may use to update my understanding of history is just another place holder on the landscape of the cosmic dinner table. 

But know this: you are not a biologic cock-up. You are here with reason and purpose and cunning and calamity. You are here with some really great shoes. You are here to take me out to the ballroom, take me out to the crowd. You are here to exhibit your tentacular disaster, your twisty limbs, your sass and frown. You are here to get down, sisterbrother. Don’t truck with the naysayers – tell them you’re just the next babystep towards God’s great genius and you can’t help them if they won’t leave the crib. Come slither beside me – what everybody knows but will never say out loud is that in the race between the tortoise and the hare, it is the stopwatch who wins. Let us then be cuttlefishies and leave the racing for the quads.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Knights of the Iguana

In the abstract, transgender men having babies seems a little like having cake with your frosting and eating it too, if only because transitioning itself is already like making a really big baby. To carry a child in this baby seems rather like an infant carrying a fetus, if you can follow my logic. But of course, in reality, this is the most mundane phenomenon of all – pregnancy. Yawn. I know more people these past 9 months – trans or not - who have had babies and I know a shocking number of currently pregnant people as well. Since I’ve lost several friends this year, this must be the Imax 3-D summer of the whole life-death cycle thingum. It seems rather extravagantly generative and almost oppressively Spring-ish however, like, having concluded we are indeed careening towards the Endtimes, the seasons are throwing themselves a White Party on Fire Island with Marianne the Maenad.

What I had not anticipated by transitioning was becoming an entirely new person. The narrative of transgender is that we get to be “who we really are.” I held to the string of that flighty balloon – the bladder of Becoming More Deeply Oneself – and looked to it to lead me somewheres. Where is a balloon going to take you but to the troposphere where you shall surely get sucked into the jets of a Southwest 757? Transitioning did not free me to find myself, like a divorce or a week with Outward Bound – it put me in a genetic splicing machine like The Fly and created something new, wondrous, horrible, as humdrum as pregnancy. I can tell you I am not more purely myself; I am something new entirely. As with a child, I can taste the flavor of my parents in everything I do but my parents are the boychild and grownuplady Sam. And they have about the amount of control and impact on me as Ward and June did on Eddie Haskell. 

Snakes and snails and puppy-dogs’ tails, hormones and name change and chest reconstructions – these are what little boys are made of. Are you still finding your voice? Do you know who you are? As a transwoman, as an ftm? My condition (Gender identity disorder? U.S. artist?) means I shall ever be standing next to myself, observing, critiquing, wincing. I meet people of many persuasions who at least appear to be inside their own skins, but if I asked them I suspect I would learn they are a potato twice baked and terrified of being eaten. I myself feel rather underdone…but I’m closer now to something…

Disorder doesn’t touch it. I am nothing but order. My orders come in magnetic waves, a magnet wand moving iron shavings around a face – look, a Van Dyke beard! Now a Fu Manchu! I’m at the mercy of the magnet, people, I’m Wooly Willy. Only I wish I had that kind of facial hair. Transitioning is in the hands of people best suited for Etch-A-Sketch, Wooly Willy, Mr.Potato Head, our childhood selves who are imagining our adult beings. When I was six I used to roll up my pants legs and pretend to be a “Gridiron hero.” I didn’t exactly know what the “gridiron” was but its masculine significance captivated me. I confess, I rarely watch sports of any kind, and as I’ve grown older the sort of masculinity attached to the NFL has little appeal. I pine for the lace-up knee pants of yore, with leather armor and an actual pigskin.

So my boychild infects the adult. I make a fetish of ties and cufflinks and if it didn’t smell so much I might VO5 my hair like my father did. The man I’m becoming, and when I say “man” I mean quotey-hands man, is an amalgam of testosterone, surgery, and Bobby the camp counselor when I was nine. My library of manlitude is one ludicrous and scratchy reel after another – my godfather Gary Belt and his amazing, perfectly tanned, Mark Spitz-type body, or Mark Spitz himself, with that flagrant seventies soup-catcher and excellent bangs. Let us neither mention nor forget the Speedo, come to that. Stuffed with nuts, a banana hammock – stars and stripes forever, Ma! It was treacherous, to linger too long there; the effect of a man’s package on my pre-teen brain might have been enough to expose my inner longing, but alas I had no tongue (!) for it and I dared not give it name.

Today, who are we? We mutants, who has created us? If I were a woman I would be Ava Gardner in Iguana, Ingrid Bergman from Notorious, Butterfield 8 era Liz, Nico, Violette Leduc, Gerty Stein – but I’m not, so I won’t. Once upon a time, when I was a lesbian, I hosted a “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof Party” and wore stilettos and a silk slip to my suite at the Plaza Hotel and left bright red lipstick on everything. My head pounded with red wine and Percocet because I knew the truth even then: I was Big Daddy in drag. 

So from the head of our childhoods we issue, now Yul Brynner, now Speed Racer. What gets mashed in these templates is up to your cocktail of choice: estrogens, testosterones, accessories, plumage, fiberglass hulls, pantyhose, tricorn hats, or powdered hoof. We think we get a choice – and perhaps in some karmic, celestial way we do – but in the here-and-now, Baby, you’re lucky if you’re more Willy Aames than aimless willy. Surrender Dorothy, to the amalgamated tramp art of transition, all hand-madey and hobo, slapped between slabs of neutered silicon and stitches. Be grateful you are less of your own choosing; let the magic fingers (a quarter a pop!) of JesusMaryandJosephlizard massage your cortex into a gendered submission. The gods are going to have their way with you, trust. Please, my sisterbrother, should you see me senescent and ambling down your garden path, know that I have become most truly myself - ineffably, righteously, magnificently me. And I will be wearing a pair of red, white, and stretched out blue speedos.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

My New Firmament

A week out of chest reconstruction surgery and I'm washing half a flexiril down with a cup of coffee. I wish it was an oxy, but I have a history of eating those like tic-tacs, without any apparent effect on my breath, and so I am allowing them to sit safely in the closet, high up like a citadel I won’t in my weakened condition assault. My days of drug marauder are done, but like a battered one-eyed king I flip through pages recounting my younger antics with an arthritic finger and one gimlet eye, mostly rolling it skyward but occasionally letting it mist with frothy memories, and the dreamy buzz I am allowed in the afternoons I do swallow said pill feels like a hotly whispered solicitation from the hottest ex I never laid.

Fortunately, my real life, unadorned with chemistries and without a constricting vest, is waiting patiently off-stage, reminding me that absolutely none of this is real - this nipple-weeping, compressed, gluey bandaged time – and that my Actual Life is better than anything I might imagine here in post-surgical la-la land. Ah, but what might my Actual Life be, now that I am breastless!? “Do not expect surgery to ‘fix’ you,” I hear my post-sutured and scalpel’d friends mutter, “Beware your expectations!” Indeed, the bright red balloon of expectation springs a mild leak when I drape this new, more classical torso with fantastic shirts only to discover the boob bulge has been replaced with a belly.

Sigh. And even this morning, at the Jiffy Lube, where contrary to suggestion I am not looking for surgical aftercare, I am “ma’am’d” for an indiscreet sentence. Such is the life of the barely bearded, even sans breastesses.

I dreamed last night of fathomless obsidian waves crashing over the hull of my hospital bed cum sloop. It was exhilarating, like those weekends spent with Mom and Dad on the Chesapeake, standing on the bow as she took giant steps through cresting foam and jellyfish. Once, I fell in the drink like this, and despite my father’s stern “prepare to come about!” and “hard a’lee! ” as he masterfully cap’ned the vessel for rescue - head abob in the Maryland deep I laughed and laughed and laughed. Two weeks ago now I came out of anesthesia in real life, saw the bandages, and was filled with inexplicable joy. I am so powerful; nothing can stand in my way now, except my own mind. I try to make this mind like I make the bed, somewhat tidy and presentable, and that way when I return to it I feel a sense of order and ease. Unmade, irrational, I am anxious and sure of failure.

Transitioning is complicated. I walk to the courthouse (change my middle name from “Leigh” to “Lee” or keep it?) and smile g’morning to women who feel contractually obligated to respond aloud. Every fucking interaction is a magnum loaded with gendered obligation, every fired shot like the call/response of a frenzied preacher demanding an “amen” from the parishioners he’s entrapped with a promise of salvation – social masculinity is Kurtz in the shadowed corner and every woman must walk into his cabin with an interrogator's light in their eyes facing black. Only a former woman can know this – this daily submission to the male at large. It’s repugnant, ferocious. This cabin is piled high with skulls and everybody is welcome.

I am learning to live off the grid in another way entirely. I am completely unconcerned with my paper trail, my electric bill, my ss# and my dl. Instead I am wanting to become a vaporous presence, a scent maybe, that passes through the pedestrian and gives her pause. Claws, even. This carved out body, with its overly fleshy hams and sags atop a former athlete, is a kite to fly in an electrical storm. My born body was like a “boyfriend pillow” that I could hold in the night and snuggle up to – always apart from me in the middle of the bed. It is a condition of my transbeing that I may never be “satisfied” to be in this body ever (which makes me in many ways fundamentally American).  I’m a baby transperson – these experiences, of testosterone, surgery, are a well-worn path I’m merely following generous and glittery signposts on. My advantage is I’m crafty and old to boot, but those two things line up to remind me that sharps and age don’t equal experience. The surgical removal of my breasts has been an encumbrance dissolved with stitches, and the breasts themselves were but the least of this dissolving.

Two holes were carved, like a Halloween pumpkin’s face, in my chest, for the same reason: to let the light shine out. You and I are the trick and the treat my sisterbrother, your scars between your legs magic glowworms and mine under my ribs too give the light and then the meaning to the form.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Should You Return To Me, We Were Truly Meant To Be

I came home from a magnificent trip to California to find out a friend of mine is dying from cancer. She’s got the kind that’s going to take her out in a matter of weeks. This is what happens when you’re alive. Back in April, another dear, old friend of mine dropped his body for his next great adventure. My life, on the other hand, is a near embarrassment of living riches. Always, when this happens, I look out from my windshield and remark querulously that this doesn’t appear to be the ideal system, this extravagance and dying. “It’s this sort of nonsense that’ll make me a nihilist before I drop!” I say, wagging all kinds of fingers.

Part of it is being a recovering addict: I’m around a lot more death and dying than your average, non-alcoholic joe. My partner’s seen me through six and counting in eighteen months or less, six more than D’s ever witnessed pre-me. The people just drop. (It’s smoking as does it sober, more than not. So you there, dinosaur with the ciggie-butt: stab that stick OUT.)  On the road to Ojai, where we will laze at the Blue Iguana Inn, decompressing from the raucous, over-stimulating Los Angeles - the arrival at which we witnessed the brutal highway fiberglass punch of one car into another, then another, parts peeling off and flying directly in front of us before we tremously rode off, shaken and dazed –  I consider the story of our high school teacher, Mr. A.

Mr. A, a very engaged educator and young man himself in 1975, took his class on an ambitious camping trek over the summer. Benny, whose blond mop resembled Shaggy’s from Scooby-doo was a lanky, gawky, likeable teenage boy who fell off a cliff during the hike. At this point in the story, I often remember seeing a turtle that fell from a height (Or had he been dropped by a wicked classmate? Alas, my childhood is filled with children and torture and some memories I’ve concealed in a narrative haze). His shell was fractured like a gruesome mosaic, with the white flesh you’re never supposed to see between cracks limned with thin blood.

Mr. A clambered down the cliff somehow. I imagine his heart pounding wildly and his body filled with that sickening silver of adrenalin; I imagine the surreal color and stillness wrapped perhaps in tunnel vision as he picked his way over boulder and dirt. He sent some boys back and he stayed with Benny and watched him die. When we returned to school that fall, all the kids said, “Mr. A isn’t the same since Benny.” It changed him utterly.

I haven’t been with someone as they died, yet. But the deaths of others - a few in particular - have changed me utterly. My own death continues to absorb me, but those of us dying to some gender we’ve inhabited to lease another die in a way I imagine is more insect than human. Bear Bergman remarked that the quantity of butterfly analogies he waded through after soliciting submissions for his anthology of gender writers was, well, overwhelming in an underwhelming kind of way. I am inspired to recall the Monarch butterfly migration from Mexico to Texas, a season during which one is non-consensually co-opted in the slaughter of clouds of Monarchs, simply by driving to work. There’s something ridiculous, sad and exhilarating about driving one’s Honda hatchback through a butterfly storm, one wing of each left glued to the windshield to taunt and chasten the driver’s murderous vehicle. This meander aside, there is something compelling about the caterpillar/pupa/butterfly metaphor, however hackneyed. The trouble with trans is we don’t actually get a pupal stage, unless moving to another city and changing your name can be considered pupal.

My chrysalis is the internest, the interwebs. Here I can hide covered and golden, hanging from my hindquarters in your doorway – you can’t see me here encased, but I dangle the promise of my realized future before you. When and if you see me emerge I’ll be post-surgical, bearded, unrecognizable from the soft and wriggly Samantha. I tried to kill that being many times – so many times I now have nothing but sorrow and shame for the way I abused her – but she had to surrender everything before she would go. In my more Italianate moments I feel like a queered Pieta, a hairy engorged mother cradling the body of her broken daughter-son. Some of us – not all – must clamber down that cliff to cradle our own pre-transitioning form and watch it pass. Others of us – not all – absorb the pre-trans body as nourishment for the new, and turn our own selves inside out like the surgeon does the penis to the vagina. Me? I’m just a sock puppet for my own, and hopefully the heavens’, amusement.

I do not believe this life-death cycle to be the best system. I would arm-wrestle God for a chance to change it, but I had rotator cuff surgery in January and besides, God would play by some rules I’m not privy to thus just pissing me off and destroying my bursa. Like It always does. My own life, however fraught with the illness and death of others, is also packed with the sort of love a barista bestows her espresso grounds; I can anticipate the smoothest of brews and the most savory top-notes. I may be (always) grieving – it does seem like a rather perpetual state – but I’m also consistently surrounded by love. Look at Benny - he lay at the bottom of a cliff with his hand held by a man who whispered, “I love you, hang on” in those final minutes. I have dropped off so many cliffs I stopped counting, but you have always been there at the bottom, whispering in my ear. Your whispering turns to soft gusts, until like paper I float from side-to-side falling down the next precipice, the soft breaths folding paper to origami, until I am a winged thing, floating out into the freeway, watching coyote and cactus. I hope I don’t meet a Honda is all.

I read that every breath we take has a bit of spider leg in it – that’s how many spiders have risen and fallen on this planet. I believe that every inhale also holds a bit of me and a bit of you, too. I don’t always like it and I certainly don’t understand it, but isn’t it wonderful? You, living and dead, are my sigh of relief.

Monday, May 17, 2010

In a Little While From Now, If I'm Not Feeling Any Less Sour

“It’s a lonely road you’ve chosen,” muses Bill, “I mean, it’s not like you have a room full of 30 alcoholics welcoming you to your new life.” He’s right about that – being trans is not like recovering from alcoholism where any number of people are there to greet you with embraces and then drive you to your community service obligations. But it hasn’t been lonely. After all, it’s been in transition that I met my sweet dear double D, atop “Doopie Ridge” I like to say, which is my name for D’s expressive sternum. It was in transition that I gathered an assortment of faces for which I feel nothing but unfettered joy when I see - ck, Ethan, Melissa, Mo and Adrianne; it is here I met K. and M., my stealth buddies, mentors, my brothers. Here is where E. resides, my newest, deepest friend, and right here, on these internets (I typed “internest” and I like that a lot) is where I’m so often buoyed by Amrit, or Rafe, Carson, Joshua, and Aeron.

There was loneliness in the beginning. I think of the narrative that I’ve been entertaining, the one where I’ve been a female who’s becoming male – I have the best of both worlds, I’ve seen it from all sides - but I wonder if that’s true. Perhaps what’s closer to the truth is that I’m incapable of experiencing gender as anything but a trope, that I was never-a- woman who will never-be-a-man. E. calls this “unwoman.” I like trans. I like to think I had a flavor of the gender, the way someone whose Scandihoovian parents moved to Guadalajara  and lived there for 40 years has a flavor of being Mexican. The loneliness of transitioning was perhaps the disambiguation of a connection I understood myself not to feel, and that was with a gendered body of any kind.

Last week a local reporter attempted to interview me for a “human interest piece.” Maybe it’s my testosterone-induced paranoia but “human interest” seems like margarine on the dry crust of journalistic sideshow. “Human interest pieces” are always about “overcoming the odds,” succeeding in the mainstream despite one’s unique flavor of, oh, let’s say, limblessness, or homelessness; it’s always about triumphing over some “lessness” however subtle,  like “whitelessness.”  Yeah, it’s my paranoia. But how to talk about being-ness, how do I describe my incarnation, how do you describe yours? Could he, the reporter? My embodiment is a dark liquor I sip in the night, and I do it alone in a field under a cloud-strewn moon. Maybe spells and incantations might reproduce it for others, pull it from this absinthetic ether I travel in, force it into a shape like Harry Potter’s wand might, but I would tread lightly here: the figure you conjure might swallow you whole.

Shirlette states emphatically, “I will not deconstruct race for anyone, anymore.” I’m shocked and delighted to hear that; once again, smitten as I am with my own experiences, I have forgotten how non-white people live in this world most of the time. The ridiculous, outrageous, innocent and egregious things people seem to think is okay to say to me are the sort of things black folk have to put up with every day. I entertain fantasies of an empathetic technology, one that allows the speaker full brunt of the impact of their words on others, but we might all stay in our houses then, shaking with shame, recovering from wounds we were neither prepared for nor worthy of receiving.

Meantime, I’m swimming with my fellow (!) fishes - you know us’ns – we’re the ones you read about, changing gender to meet the need of the river. That’s all we’re doing, Ladles and Jellyspoons. The river requires this. We can’t say why, or, like Cassandra, when we do you may be cursed to not believe us. But some of you know - you suspect - and you are all aboard, even as you have no desire to change yourself. Thank the River God for men and women like you – you’re the white woman marching with Reverend King in the 60’s, you’re the straight dude cheering his best friend at Gay Pride; you’re the committed Christian baffled by the uncharitable views of your brethren; the father that won’t buy guns for his children, the mother painting her son up with Maybelline. I got thrown out of bed but you’re waking up on your own.

Alone? Yes. Lonely? Only by choice. I can swim with my school, diving through your open legs as you cool in the water, minnows nipping at toes dug in clay and mica, or I can heave myself ashore and gasp for oxygen while others wonder with bemused laughter why it is I don’t breathe air. So just for today, as we ex-loners like to chant, I’ma stay right here. The water’s fine.