Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Giving

The night before my love flew back to New York City she and I had an embarrassing discussion about manners. More specifically, it began when I checked my Essential Manners for Men book to see its rules on tipping. I read aloud a section on holding doors open for women and then asked (proudly) "do you notice that I do that too?" I was referring specifically to a notation the author had made about helping the person in front of you open a door by discreetly taking over the act of opening from behind, near the hinges. The author was discussing men opening doors for women, and I was discussing opening doors for people, including my partner. But still, a man opening doors. I then tried to defend myself by comparing my opening doors to my giving up my seat on buses to the elderly or parents with children. My partner, quite rightly, exclaimed "oh, so I'm biologically deficient? I am unable to carry heavy burdens?" I became upset, and flustered. I thought that I would never say (as has been said to me often) "ladies first" when entering a building or a train, but then isn't my principal of guiding my partner through doorways an unspoken rendition of "ladies first"? I became sulky, and then cried as I tried to tell my partner that I didn't ever want to suggest that she was less-than or unequal to me, that because she is female she lacks something to make her fully human. In every way, I see her as my equal. In some areas and situations I see her as better-able than i am, but I would never consider myself more-human, or more important than she is.

So let me try again.
I think the reason I hold doors open, give up my seat, assist with lifting...is not because I think the older people, women, parents, and children I assist are unable to open doors or what have you, but because I try to make it the practice of placing other people before me. In men, this is considered chivalrous. In the woman's culture I was brought up within, giving to others was considered a part of being a woman. So when a woman comes home from work and cooks dinner, helps with homework, etc that's not being chivalrous or kind, that is being a woman. My opening a door is given more public and private controversy than the constant giving of women at the expense of their careers, personal health, and goals. Yet my opening of a door is the visual signifier of this patriarchal and sexist culture that creates a gender divide where women consistently give too much. So my participation in these macho exercises is, in my mind, supposed to undermine the foundations in a way by not being specifically pointed towards women, but rather at all people in general. I have never given up my bus seat for another man at my age, but I have given it u for young men with children or older men, or men with visible disabilities that might make standing for long time periods uncomfortable. Still, I get what my partner was saying and I realize that if I couldn't defend my actions at the time they were confronted then perhaps I needed to re-think my actions. If I claim that it's not sexism that motivates me then i better make pretty damn sure that it's not subconscious in my mind. Of course, there are also other ways to undermine male privilege and reversing the door-holding-open clause is by far the least radical of all of them.

I have been worried for a long time that becoming male would make me less sensitive to sexism and misogynistic behavior. I think what this revealed is that there were already elements of that present in my behavior. It still bothers me, and there are elements I don't feel I talked about enough yet, but as trying as that confrontation was, I am actually very glad it happened.

Monday, November 19, 2007

In and Out of My Body

I have been thinking recently about disability - as a medical term, a politically-correct term, as an identity. My capstone was on transgender identity and disability, a relationship that is legally, medically, and socially haunting. We transpeople are included in many state interpretations of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and in states unlike Minnesota where there is no protection against gender identity discrimination the ADA is what keeps us from being fired or discriminated against. So we enter disability regarding it as a privileged status - we hope that it will grant us protection - yet we have been taught to read the word "disability" as akin to "disease" "inability" or even worse "monstrous". I say that "monstrous" is even worse because it is so close to what we are running away from, the idea that being transgender is being monstrous. So we want it, we fear it, and we create it too. We often create our own disability through our attempts to present who we are. I stand 7-9 hours at work with my chest bound, but when my chest is unbound I slouch in order to hide my chest. The effect of that is causing me to lay on the floor curled in an upward fetal position for hours. I know that this is nothing compared to what many people with legally recognized physical disabilities go through, but I sometimes get confused about what I am doing in order to become who I know I am.

I will be moving from the Twin Cities to NYC soon, thus moving from one gender-identity protected area to another. But my partner and I have to now realize the binds we are in. There are so many restrictions on where we can safely live. We are queer, female, transgender and genderqueer, interracial, black, white, and mixed. Already there are so many spaces in which we are seen to be dangerous and unwanted. Adding to this, if we move out of gender-identity protected areas then I begin to rely on the ADA to keep me safe. This means I have to state that because I believe myself to be a man I have a mental disability cured only by a physical transformation. It also means that I take a law created to insure that the civil rights, and basic human rights, of people with disabilities are respected and twist it to insure my own protection. I don't want to not claim a disability because I fear the label, but neither do i want to claim disability when I don't feel that my identity is a mental condition. These questions become a quagmire in which I go in and out of being lost. My privilege as someone on the fringes of disability...I can afford to think of these questions only when they become pressing to me.

Friday, November 16, 2007

desire, desiring, undesirable

I want to thank all the people who tell me they read this blog! I'm surprised and excited that people read these posts and I hope that the cathartic experience of writing down my thoughts helps y'all as well, or at least distracts you from your own issues/term papers.

Recently I found myself shopping for underwear at Target. Now that I have a reason to own cute underwear/a reason to wash my underwear on a more regular basis I am often drawn towards the underwear sections of any clothing store. As I was trying to find the least expensive pair of cute non-white boxer-briefs I realized that I was cruising the underwear models. Which makes me think about desire. Why would a black and white close-up of some strange man's crotch give me a hard-on in the middle of a big box store? There is nothing erotic about the overhead lights and linoleum floor of Target, and I have never been turned on only by a body before. I have to actually know someone in order to desire them. So now I am left wondering if it's the month without sex that has made me want to masturbate while out in public or if it's something else.

I'm going to go with something else for now (or else this would be a fairly silly post) and suggest that when I go out presenting as male and am read as male I also then feel safe owning desires I would never admit to if I thought I was being read as female. All of which points to a more complicated understanding of gender as an intersection and creation of both biology and society. This body desires men, but if the men who respond in kind view this body as female than I loose all interest, my anus is the same anus but the desire for penetration is only present when we are both viewing it as a male ass. I have a completely different biological and emotional response. I cannot think of myself as female and want men, but I can be male and desire both men and women. I am trying to write an essay for Mattilda's new collection "Why are faggots afraid of faggots?" where I discuss my desire for men. I write about how I fear the rejection of gay men (and here I mean the rejection of my identity and sexuality) and my at-the-moment conclusion of how to overcome this fear of my own people is found in drag. When I perform as a drag king all of my fear melts away and I can become not only a gay man, but an angry gay transman, something decidedly not Minnesotan. i think that the implicit authority given to a performer allows me to own my own identity.

So back to those underwear models. Their bodies are also the bodies I desire for myself. I want to have a body that screams "I AM A MAN" when I am naked, when i am at work, when I enter the men's bathroom. The idea that I think these skinny, buff, white male models have ideal bodies and that my body needs to match theirs is preposterous, but I am beginning to understand why so many of my cissexual gay male friends crush on straight men. I never fell for straight women as a woman, but seeing men through the eyes of a man I can understand this intense desire to claim a complete manhood - one that is white, middle-class, able-bodied and straight. Sometimes the idea of going through life as not-quite-a-man is horrifying. At these times I think of my partner and friends and find an enormous support in their unwavering support of me. Even my partner forgives my underwear-model-crushes at times like this.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Depending on Strangers

Yesterday I tried to post and found that all I could write was garbage. I think this is because I was trying to write about my therapy appointments. In general, my appointments are rather boring. My identity, however, depends so entirely upon these twice-monthly hours of telling a stranger my inner-most thoughts that I thought I would want to write about these alienating experiences. It turns out, however, that once these sessions are over I prefer to keep them over. Traditionally, meeting the "gate keepers" of ones identity has been a time where transmen and especially transwomen were forced to assume gender roles rigid in white Western standards. Men were forced talked about cars, women about shopping. I am incredibly lucky to have found a therapy center that is progressive enough to not require me to bind everyday or to not find my partnership with a genderqueer woman suspect. These experiences are related in both historical and current contexts in the books How Sex Changed, Sexual Metamorphosis, Conundrum, The Whipping Girl, and parts of Transgender Warriors as well as many books written by therapists. I have found that when trans-spectrum people write about our lives therapy is only included as yet another example of discrimination or it is not included at all. It seems to be that academics, therapists, and activists who are cisexual are obsessed with surgery, hormones, and therapy, the trappings of our identity. It places our identity outside of our own bodies and our own consciousness and into the privileged ideas of others. It makes sense, then, that when we are given the chance to write about ourselves we stay far away from the hospitals and waiting rooms where we are judged based upon our ability to conform to the gate keepers idea of "man" and "woman" and instead turn towards our created families, our partners, the identities that we hold true regardless of our diagnosis.

All of that said, I am very lucky to be living in Minnesota. The University of Minnesota's Center for Sexual Health has never once judged my identity. They have been supportive and kind. I was surprised that my therapist considered that last two years of my life as my "real world" experience. She also insisted that it was not being correctly gendered that mattered, but that I was presenting a gender I felt comfortable in, regardless of how it was understood. My therapy is not nearly as humiliating an experience as I anticipated, and I have not yet felt that I need to present a more traditionally masculine male identity in order for my identity to be taken seriously. Perhaps years from now i will want to write about these hours with a stranger, but for now I feel that out of all my trans experiences, these sessions have the least to do with who I am.

I do want to write about an intriguing off-shoot of therapy, however. The legal and medical labyrinth I am now entrenched in has given me a few happy things to celebrate. When i was very little my family would celebrate the Feast Days of my brothers and my saintly namesakes (mine was July 20th). Without a saint to my name I have had to create my own days to celebrate, and ironically the transphobic processes of the state have given me inspiration. Halloween, for instance, now has a special double-meaning as it is the day I was declared transsexual by the Center for Sexual Health and November 29th is the day I legally changed my name. I have decided to celebrate it as my new Name Day and there is a certain pride in reclaiming these potentially humiliating days, and I see links between these celebrations and the way that family is recreated in queer contexts...an idea I have always loved. Reclaiming, recreating, extending, and evolving words is one of the most radically transgressive ideas.