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.