Archive for the 'Uncategorized' Category

hi!

you may have noticed that this space has been pretty empty for a long time

I have changed a lot as a writer and as a political person since I started this blog–it’s no longer reflective of where I’m at and what I am up to

so feel free to enjoy what’s here!

if you want to know what’s up with me now, I blog way more informally at francesetherealgumm.tumblr.com

SRLP10 Profiles: Janet Mock

In conjunction with the Sylvia Rivera Law Project’s tenth anniversary fundraiser, I’m writing profiles of folks whom SRLP is honoring, folks who work with the organization, folks who’ve made it what it is today.  Here’s the first; a profile of Janet Mock.  I hope you like it!  You can also find this series of profiles on SRLP’s website, where you will also encounter all kinds of useful resources!

If you have the resources, I encourage you to donate.  One of the good words for SRLP is “precious” and another is “real” and another is “serious.”  And if you’re in the metro New York area, why not come to the fundraiser?  There’s a sliding scale for tickets, and no one is turned away.  Janet and I have both heard from credible sources that it is the party.

When Janet Mock talks about Sylvia Rivera on Twitter, people ask her who Rivera is.  She doesn’t give them context, just a video link: Rivera speaking at the 1973 Christopher Street Liberation Day Rally.  She’s fought her way onstage past the transphobes and racists seeking to silence her.  Sylvia looks at the audience, takes back the mike stand from someone who tries to take it away, and shouts, “Y’all better quiet down!”

Now Janet quotes that to me, throwing herself back lightly in her chair.  “’Y’all better quiet down!’  I say that to people all the time.”  She laughs, then says it again.  Janet’s joy at Rivera’s resistance is palpable and contagious.  The same sense of joyful resistance is all over the space we’re in, the Sylvia Rivera Law Project’s Manhattan offices.  I can tell you a little about what goes on here: Janet Mock eats a bagel.  Clients pass through, talking in serious voices that remind me of what power is.  Reina Gossett makes jokes about flowers.  People smile widely in a way that makes you feel like you are seen and wanted.

SRLP will be honoring Janet this month in conjunction with #SRLP10, and she’s characteristically humble about it.  When I ask her what her relationship to SRLP is like, she says, “I’m someone who wants to do more.”  Maybe that’s one of the things a joyful resistance gives us: the knowledge that our work can be ever expanding.  If you love it, even if it’s hard, why not do more?  After all, Janet does a lot already, if not all in conjuntion with SRLP; I joke that one day I’ll wake up and find out she’s suddenly President.

As we talk about SRLP, we bond over our common ground in relation to the project, as two—what, exactly?  Writers, sure.  Media activists?  Critics?  Commentators?  “Communicators,” she says.  She “lives on Twitter,” where her online campaign for #girlslikeus amplifies the voices of trans women.  Still, “I feel like I don’t get enough time for people,” Janet says.  What a weird problem—all we do all day is talk to people, whether or not we can hear their answers.  She tells me about the time she visited SRLP for Trans March, about how members wrote down names of women on their posters, women who were their pillars of strength, and that gets me thinking about the act of writing yourself down and carrying your written self out into the world.

Janet knows how to do that.  She had “a strategic coming out,” in Marie Claire magazine, where she told her own story, her “unbelievable adventure.”  Personal so that “no one felt I was speaking for them,” Janet explains, and she drinks her coffee and looks at me.  She’s a trans person talking to another trans person.  We’re having these conversations in public about our unbelievable adventures, living proof that trans people exist outside of the cis gaze.

The conversation needs to happen, but the conversation isn’t enough—we’ve got to have SRLP, doing what Janet says Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries once did, “taking care of the people who are actually here.”  Legal assistance.  Guiding folks through name changes.  Guiding them through anti-discrimination suits.  Trying to make them safe wherever they are: the Five Boroughs, prison, all places where it feels like no people are or ever have been “actually here.”

Or it’s impossible cleanly to separate the conversations Janet has from the direct action SRLP does.  We have to respect their distinctions, but let’s not pretend that anything is a simple binary.  That’s why SRLP honors Janet, “someone who wants to do more,” because she’s walking a thin line with grace.  Janet is a visible trans woman of color who refuses to stand on “some gay red carpet”—she will not appear at an event so that a Black trans woman will be there as a silent body.  If you bring her in, her voice is coming with her, composed, funny, and kind.  Her voice will dispense basic education, and it will destabilize cisnormative narratives in subtle ways:  “I grew up with trans people,” as she tells me at one point.  As it turns out, we’re in all kinds of places, and children encounter trans people naturally, and not all children are cis!  She can say a lot by saying a little, and she has a talent for speaking of horror steadily.

“Every time there’s a trans woman of color [in the media], she’s getting killed.  It wrecks at our souls.  It chips away.”  She drinks her street vendor coffee and eats her bagel, horror clarifying her words rather than clouding them over.  It is similar to the act of communication SRLP’s staff does when they sit down with a client and work out what they need.  “It is a horror,” they’re saying, “that this system is violent.  It wrecks at our souls.  It chips away.”  Then both Janet and the SRLP say, “Let’s see what we can do about this.”

“My favorite [picture of Sylvia Rivera] is one where she’s yelling, and she’s with Marcia P. Johnson, who’s laughing at her.  The sloppiness of it all!”  We don’t always speak of horror steadily, or of joy.  Who can, and really, who wants to?  I first came across the video of Sylvia Rivera at the Christopher Street rally when Reina Gossett, SRLP’s membership director, posted it to rebut the assertion that trans women must always refute cissexism in calm, steady voices.  When Janet says, “Y’all better quiet down!” in public, you have to be tuned into her wavelength before you hear the sloppiness, the rawness.  But she’s saying it, every time she says something like, “I grew up with trans people,” and every time she sends out that speech “with no context, just her yelling and screaming.”

Janet has gone from making anonymous donations to SRLP when she first arrived in New York, blending as cis, to making remarks at their tenth anniversary celebration.  It’s a hell of a trajectory, the beginning as honorable as the end.  As it turns out, being a trans activist involves more parties than one might assume it would.  Ancestors left behind them an institutional memory of joy.  “I’m still thinking about my remarks, what I want to say at the event,” says Janet Mock, and then unfolds a grin that could help a person survive.  “And everyone says it’s an amazing party.”

Sundry Updates

Just so you know, here’s what I’ve been doing:

I have three poems in Specter Magazine at the moment and another in the St Sebastian Review.  And in awfully exciting news, I have a short story in Topside Press’s Collection, an anthology of fiction by transgender authors.  If you’re able to and you feel so inclined, you can preorder one copy of The Collection for yourself and another for a trans person in prison.  I highly recommend that you do!

Keep your eyes on this space for a review of Tobi Hill-Meyer’s The Genderfellator!

Unpacking the Media Coverage of My WeHappyTrans Video

My WeHappyTrans video has garnered a lot of attention, and I feel now is the time to say something not just about my experience, but what my experience indicates about the way cis media covers trans bodies and lives.

Let’s examine the WeHappyTrans situation.  In this article in the Advocate, where the media attention to my video began, all of the focus is on me as an individual: my parentage, my “journey,” my gender, my sexuality.*  There is almost no talk about WeHappyTrans as a project, no mention of its creators, Jen and Noah, just the cursory explanation that it’s “a website dedicated to allowing transgender people to share their positive experiences.”  In other words, the Advocate wants you to think that WeHappyTrans exists just so that trans people can talk about our feelings.  This makes sense in the cis narrative of transness.

Vivian K. Namaste, a trans theorist, has pointed out that “autobiography is the only discourse in which transsexuals are permitted to speak.”  Cis people like when we tell stories about our struggle, but only when the struggle is confined to our subjectivity.  If we talk about the larger system of cissexism, the structural problems with the way cisnormative society defines gender–in other words, if we talk about oppression and justice–cis people do not hear us.  They certainly do not give us space to talk about these issues in the mainstream media.  They hear what they want to hear: that we are exclusively emotional beings, incapable of organizing against the threat of cis violence.

This construction of the emotionally tortured transsexual does another important job: it normalizes trans suffering.  Much of the emotional suffering that trans people have to deal with is a result of cissexism.  Lack of access to medical care, disrespect from family and peers, and constant media reminders that trans bodies are worthless and require frequent monitoring/destroying.  But if cis people create the impression through media that suffering is trans people’s natural state, they can erase the real cause of trans suffering: cissexism.

Cis writing about trans people embarks on an extraordinary discursive project: to emphasize trans people’s emotions–our human qualities–in order to reduce us to overemotional, unstable creatures, dehumanizing us in the process.  Because humans who are really human aren’t completely bound to individual subjectivities.  They can think about other people, and talk about them, and talk to them.

It’s precisely for this reason that I try to avoid talking too much about my individual experience: I know that its fodder for cissexist narratives.  And what happened when I made a video about my experiences?  Exactly what I thought would happen.  I hate being right.

All this explains why the Advocate doesn’t talk about WeHappyTrans as an organization, but instead about an individual video.  It’s impossible to talk about WeHappyTrans within a cisnormative narrative.  WeHappyTrans is an organized community effort of trans people, talking to one another, reaching out to one another to create something together.  It’s more than just a website where trans people talk about ourselves–it’s a communal consciousness raising project, an effort to destroy the idea that trans lives are exclusively comprised of suffering. Within a cisnormative narrative, this is impossible, because cis people construct us as bound to our individual subjectivities.

Cis people fear trans people who talk to other trans people.  They fear the possibility that we might build communities, organize, and take power from cis people.  So they try to pretend we don’t do it.  They try to present a version of our lives in which all the other subjects we interact with are cisgender subjects.  When cis media does show trans people interacting, they never talk about anything other than their emotions.

This is not what trans communities are like.  In my trans communities, we talk politics.  We talk oppression.  We talk intersectionality, justice, and organizing.  I’m far more likely to say to a trans friend, “Hey, are you coming to the conference next week?  I want to check out Merritt’s presentations,” than I am to start a chat about the emotional journey of my transition.  I talk about my feelings sometimes–everyone does–but like other humans, I don’t make my feelings my exclusive subject of discourse.  When was the last time you saw a piece of media in which two trans people talked to one another?  About something other than their transness?  Think of it as a harder version of the Bechdel Test.

Of course trans people need space to talk about our feelings, both our suffering and our joy.  That’s part of why WeHappyTrans exists, but don’t make the mistake of thinking that this makes WeHappyTrans an apolitical project.  When trans people talk about our feelings to one another–really talk about them, not through a cis lens–we’re doing profoundly political work.  That’s why WeHappyTrans is political, subversive, and valuable.  What could be more subversive than a happy transsexual?

Then there’s another choice that the Advocate made: they picked my video, not one of the many others on the site, and billed me as “Warren Beatty and Annette Bening’s Transgender Son.” , Because within a cisnormative narrative, a trans person cannot have value on their own. Their ideas are relevant only when they are connected to cis people, especially well known cis people.  News about celebrities makes for hits, and hits make for ad revenue. Obviously, like anyone, I don’t appreciate only being valued in relation to my parents–how would it feel if you were always talked about as an extension of your parents?–but it’s also insidious beyond that.

If my work is so banal that it’s only of interest because my cis parents make movies, why report on it at all?  When I’m billed as the “Transgender Son of Celebrities,” it implies that the work I do isn’t valuable or important.  After all, if it were, would you need the added draw of my parents’ famous names to click the link?  I really hope that what I do is of interest and value beyond giving people a chance to find out what Warren Beatty’s kid is up to.  I think it is.  I’m not saying I deserve the media coverage I get–that’s not for me to decide–but I do know that the way the coverage comes says something about the cis people creating it.

The media talks about trans people only in very specific contexts.  They talk about trans people when we are murdered, when we’re connected to famous cis people, or when cis writers feel the need to discuss our aberrant bodies for purposes of sensationalism and exploitation.  As you consume media, please be conscious of why these stories are the stories that get written and published.  And the next time you see an article on a trans person’s emotional journey, or any headlines that describes a trans person in relation to a famous cis person–don’t click on it.

* There’s also the silly and borderline unethical headline, which seems to imply that the Advocate interviewed me, something I would not agree to.  The video also isn’t news–I made and uploaded it months before the Advocate had what was presumably a slow news day.

Review: Speakeasy! Warning: Queer Porn

A quick note before we start: I am aware that usually film reviews come out when the film comes out!  That doesn’t mean that the conversation ends there.  In fact, it’s enriched by access to previous readings of the film!  So before you say, “Dude, Stephen, you are way behind the curve, Speakeasy came out in 2009,” accept that I am indeed as a person profoundly behind all curves, but that’s irrelevant for the moment.

Now, I wasn’t a porn-watcher until T.  I was a porn fan, mind you, but I looked at mostly drawn stuff–plenty from 4chan’s /y/ and /d/–to store up in my mind, so to speak, and replay later, while jerking off.  And there is much to say for porn about superheroes posted on LiveJournal.  But since going on T about a year back, I’ve taken a sharp turn–I am all about people fucking on video these days, and to my surprise it’s not what I’d consider “good porn.”  It’s all the middle-school-gay-boy-in-Richmond-VA classics: YouPorn Gay, Pornhub Gay.  When I get bored of gay porn’s cookie cutter body types and scenes, I move on to self-shot grainy DIY vids.  What I’m trying to say is that to my regret, until Courtney Trouble offered me a review copy of the full-length porn film Speakeasy, which she co-directed with Morty Diamond, I had never utilized one of her films for its intended purpose.  However, I am a man undaunted by the new, and since then I have utilized Speakeasy liberally.  But–and I’m telling you this to set the scene–I figured that as a Film Critic, I better View The Film, so I called over some of the chosen family for a wholesome night of bad Chinese takeout, bourbon, and queer indie porn.

I’ve never watched porn with anyone before.  My ex and I would sometimes send stuff we liked to each other, but that was a brainstorming process, not a communal event.  As my friends and I watched together–all clothes stayed on, no one touched their own genitals or anyone else’s, because this was me trying to be Porn Roger Ebert–I started thinking about porn’s “purpose.”  Since I got into porn vids, I’ve thought of them as strictly masturbation aids, to be watched while in the act.  As it turns out, though, watching porn without jerking off and while chatting about it with your friends is just as valid a “use” of porn as rubbing one out.  The sexuality in the room became free-floating, without a goal.  There was no pressure to perform well, because we weren’t engaging in a sexual act.  We all knew we were turned on, and we all were pleased that our loved one was turned on, but none of us are romantically or sexually into the others.  Our horniness just floated among us, a pleasant and tingly energy.  And from what I can see, lots of folks experience queer porn this way–look at the #pornparty hashtag on twitter, for example!  It’s one example of how queer porn troubles boundaries–where and how we watch porn, with whom, and why.  The team, for those of you interested, was me, a gay trans man; M., a relatively het cis lady; and P., a queer cis woman. I tell you because I suppose if you have one of those identities it’s relevant, because I can tell you that from the first scene of Speakeasy, there’s something for each of us–but, as I’m about to discuss, I’m not so sure if our identities and your identity are relevant to whether you’re likely to get off to this porn.

We open on a shot of Billy Castro, who plays a Chandler-esque private eye in Speakeasy‘s fantasy 1920s setting.  He’s writing in a notebook with a–Uniball gel pen?  Rest assured, I’m not making a dig at Speakeasy‘s production value; rather, I think the placement of this pen is intentional and important.  Keep it in mind, and I promise I’ll talk about it later.  Me and my brave fam are barely into our chow mein and Solo cups of bourbon and ginger ale when Tomcat starts fucking Lorelei Lee, and she is red-faced and begging and squeaking beautifully and Tomcat keeps telling her to shut up and we all start shifting in our seats a little.  This brings in a question for me: what’s the relationship between porn and sexual identity?  Why am I, though totally uninterested in sex with women, so hot and bothered watching Lorelei Lee get ravaged? Tomcat, a trans guy, is hot too, but right now I’m staring at Lorelei.  Tomcat ravages her, pushes her into all manner of objects and spanks her over them–God, how nice to watch porn in which you know consent has been carefully negotiated!  And I’m riveted.  I know immediately that I’ll return to this scene when my fam is gone.

What does this mean for my homosexuality?  Should I be reevaluating my gay identity?  And both of the subject positions in this scene look good to me–that is, I’d just as soon be Tomcat and ravage Lorelei as be Lorelei with Tomcat ravaging me.  Does this mean my gender is implicated?  What does this porn mean for my identity?  That’s the question conventional wisdom would have me ask, but instead, I’d like to ask a different question: What does my identity mean for this porn?

Plenty of identities are represented in Speakeasy, but we’re never given a rubric for which performer identifies as what.  Certain of them I recognize–for example, I know that Jiz Lee is genderqueer, and I can garner a little from performers’ presentation–but otherwise, queer porn liberates the viewer from mainstream porn’s tyranny of categories.  No kind of movie is more tyrannical about categories than porn, and in no other kind of movie are the stakes so high for the audience when they choose what genre to watch.  When my friend Jessica goes to see The Avengers three times (true story) it just means she’s a geek, but getting off to gay porn makes you gay and getting off to straight porn makes you straight.  Never mind how many straight women like dyke porn, or how many gay men appreciate it when James Deen fucks Ash Hollywood’s throat.  And obviously the queer women who dig gay male porn don’t undergo a magical transformation of their sexual and gender identities.  Where did we get this idea that who we like to watch fucking is the same as who we like to fuck?  Predictably, the only people who get a pass on this rule are straight men: no one ever questions a straight guy who likes to watch two girls fuck.  But even their pass isn’t total–if he’s walked in on spanking it to some glorious man on man sodomy, you can bet he’ll get some questions.

The movies of folks like Trouble, Diamond, and other queer pornographers like Tobi Hill-Meyer and Shine Louise Houston, fall under no category but “queer.”  So if you like this stuff, you may be queer, but beyond that good luck policing your own identity as you watch.  Speakeasy has many scenes, and though individual ones sometimes appear on her website NoFauxxx, films like this one are best enjoyed (in my opinion) all in one sitting.  Or lying down, or however you prefer to have your evenings of total boundary-destroying self-love.  Performers of different identities move through the piece without warning, and if you get turned on by someone who belongs to a category you thought you weren’t attracted to, well, there you go.  There’s no way to shut your eyes for fear of the gay–or of the straight, or of the pansexual, or anything else.  After Tomcat and Lorelei Lee, there’s a scene that features Dallas Fivestar suspending Jiz Lee and then giving them the hat Dallas was previously wearing, something I find both cute and hot to such a degree that something weird and hat-related must be going on with me.  And with a brief pause, we cut to two trans guys getting distracted from their bartending duties, and maybe I have a weird bartending thing, I don’t know.

This is queer doing the work that queer was conceived to do as a concept: to challenge all static or discrete categories of identity.  Queer porn is here to do that work, and Trouble’s porn does it.

Funnily enough, up to this point I’ve barely mentioned Billy Castro, star of the show.  He’s hot in an almost retro way–the way I got this gig, in fact, was by comparing his sex appeal to Marlon Brando’s.  As a queer femme, that titillates me.  I’ve always been into that base “straight boy hot blow job in locker room” kind of thing.  The other week, I watched this straight blond guy play frisbee on the college lawn for like thirty minutes, you get it?  Not in that boring masc4same way, but in the way where I know I’m looking at something I can’t have and thus don’t actually have to you know, deal with.  I made out with the het guy who played Rocky in my Rocky Horror Picture Show shadow cast.  You get what I mean.  With Billy Castro, there’s another level for me: the guy is straight and queer at once.  Heaven.  Despite my crushes on straight boys, I’m most attracted to subversion, and a classically butch straight man who’s also trans is pretty much my perfect fantasy.

Not everyone is on my wavelength, though, and as a matter of fact Castro’s specific performance of masculinity has brought Speakeasy under fire from some folks on charges of misogyny.  After all, Castro’s scenes with his leading lady–in fact, pretty much all of Lorelei Lee’s scenes–feature treating women badly.  I’ll level with you: I simply do not know about all that.  As a man, I can’t and shouldn’t dictate the terms here, but I think I can ask some good questions: what if reading this film as misogynistic denies its auteur, Courtney Trouble, her agency, and sells short the complexity of her deceptively simple fuck flick?  What if this reading uses dominant ideas that are at bottom patriarchal to deny a woman permission to satisfy her kinks?

As I mentioned before, in one of Speakeasy‘s first shots Castro is writing in his notebook with a plainly anachronistic pen.  It’s un-20s, and not by accident.  The shot is a close one, the pen right in the frame–there’s no pretense here that the viewer will really think the film takes place in the past.  The audience of Speakeasy must willingly suspend their disbelief, just like I did when I went to see The Avengers, except then my only motive was geeky fun.  For Speakeasy‘s viewer, the motive is much stronger: getting off.  Suspension of disbelief–and/or Jiz Lee–is integral to sexuality.  The costumes and props in this film aren’t high end.  They recall what a lover and I might pull together for a spot of retro hanky-panky.  (If you read me regularly, you may have guessed that I kink hard for history.)  Rest assured, the hotness of each actor is shown off to distraction, but this ain’t Masterpiece Theatre–and it’s better that way.

We know that in the 20s shitty misogynistic treatment, like the kind Castro and Tomcat give Lee in the film, went unquestioned in heterosexual romances, and queerness happened in silence more often than out loud.  (I’m not saying the 20s were The Dark Ages, so for the moment can we accept that I’m using certain values of “in silence” and “out loud” and “unquestioned”?  Cool.)  Trouble and Diamond choose to set their film in this period because the darkness of it is sexy.  Why is it sexy?  Patriarchy embeds things deeply in us, and even when we have unlearned such things a little, their vestiges remain.  The good news is that those vestiges can be plenty hot to play with.  I’m rereading Gender Trouble at the moment, for a project with Original Plumbing, and Butler speaks often of this.  If we accept that systems of power, like patriarchy and heterosexism, are productive in nature–that is, that they mold us as subjects–then we’re led to a more fun notion: we get to do what we want with what they’ve instilled in us.  In Speakeasy, the patriarchal atmosphere of the pornographers’ vision of the 20s serves to fetishize queer sexuality, and when there are clearly negotiated boundaries of consent and ethics, fetishization can be fun.

When I say that the film has clearly negotiated boundaries of consent, I mean that the directors constantly tip off their audience that this isn’t really the 20s, and that behavior like this is not ok.  Castro’s pen is just one example.  (So is the adorable fact that he clearly does not smoke, and handles his period appropriate cigarettes like a non-smoker.)  While the bartenders fuck behind the bar, numerous anachronistic bumper stickers are visible.  The performativity of the characters’ fucked up behavior is made explicit, and as you watch that happen, you also realize how upsetting it is that in most porn the performativity isn’t made explicit.  Watching Speakeasy with an eye to its intentionally obvious performativity, we realize that the performers are queers dressing up and playing in ways that turn them on.  That turns me on way more than a meticulously accurate 1920s, which in fact, given Castro’s character’s misogyny, would upset me.

Trouble enacts her kink for the ravaged femme, and she never lets the audience forget a femme holds the camera and shouts “Action!” and “Cut!” to whoever’s doing the ravaging.  You can practically hear her giggling with aroused and empowered glee when Lee looks up at Castro in a post-fuck haze.  Again, I’m not here to dictate what is misogyny and what isn’t, but what I can say is that the idea that this woman’s kinks have implications for her politics makes me feel weird in a not-fun way.  Again, we run into the dangerous and reductive idea that porn acts upon us–that we are changed by what turns us on.  Instead, why not work towards a model of porn and sexuality in which our agency is centered, and we realize that in fact porn is changed by us?

In some ways, Speakeasy recalls John Cameron Mitchell’s Shortbus, because they’re both about titular clubs in which queers give free reign to their freaky sexual desires.  And as with Shortbus, there’s plenty to say in Speakeasy about what the space of the club means–how the characters enter it and either change or are changed, as when Jiz Lee and Dallas Fivestar switch gender presentations upon their entrance to the club.  Castro’s PI enters the club as a regulating heteropatriarchal literally policing force–until he’s seduced into human fuckage, at which point his own queerness is exposed.  He’s trans.  The equipment he’s fucking with isn’t what he’d be fucking with if he weren’t secretly a part of this clandestine queer world.

The narrative subversion of Castro’s hegemonic role echoes the film’s anachronism-based subversion of his character’s patriarchal behavior: in the end, it’s all in the service of Diamond, Trouble, and their audience, her kinks, his kinks, kinks and the kinks of the man-hatin’ heterophobic sexy queers such as myself who fap and schlick and otherwise rub out orgasms to her work.

This has been an awfully cerebral porn review, hasn’t it?  Here’s some more practical information: A++, would fap again.

You’ll especially like it if you kink for history, rough sex, squirting (incredible enough squirting that my friends and I literally paused the movie to discuss how impressed we were), rope, and both the good old butch/femme dynamic and various twists thereof.  It also features my current favorite trans boy on trans boy scene, one between Syd and Moustache Malone, who sucks cock with the enthusiasm of a boy giving his first blow job and the skill of a seasoned sinner.  Both boys keep their shirts on, incidentally, something I appreciate–partial clothing is often a necessity for trans folks to feel comfortable during sex, and sex with shirts can still be quite the party.

I hope that I’ve been helpful, in my snot-nosed cultural studies way.  Go buy this porn, either on DVD or by download!  Support hot queers fucking how they want to fuck!  And a huge, huge thank you to Courtney, first for offering me a review copy and second for somehow accepting that I am the most neurotic about my writing who has ever lived–she sent me the movie months ago, and I have only now rendered my review into something I considered fit for human eyes.

And you have no idea how long I’ve considered adding “Billy Castro…call me, maybe?” to the end of this review.

Billy Castro…call me, maybe?

Sundry Updates: Ms. Magazine Roundtable & Allen Ginsberg Marathon

Remember that Ms. Magazine roundtable on trans feminism?  It happened!  It’s posted!  A million thanks to Avital Norman Nathman for making this happen (and for taking on fellow cis feminists in comments sections when they started in with the TERF stuff).

Part 1 – introductions

Part 2 – cis dominance of the feminist movement

Part 3 – how cis feminists can be allies to trans feminists

This thing was such an honor to be part of, and such a BLAST too.  I learned a lot.  I want to say one thing, which is that I’m currently in flux about whether or not men should claim the term “feminist.”  Right now, I’m “a queer femme guy who is trying to be an ally to trans feminists,” or more simply, “a no wave femmeinist.”  That’s not something I was thinking hard enough about at the time of the roundtable, but my thoughts on it have evolved.

 

Sundry updates, part 2, the revenge of the update:  I’m currently interning at SPLAB in Seattle, a center for poetry and spoken word.  We just had an event, the Allen Ginsberg Marathon, where we read poems until dawn in honor of the great man’s birthday.  I read, and got to hear fabulous performers like the Band of Poets, Mickey O’Connor, and my current boss, Paul E. Nelson.  Here is VISUAL DAGUERREOTYPE DOCUMENTATION

 

That’s me with Paul, who I mentioned before, and Melet, the cellist of Band of Poets.  (They are a band who are all poets.)

PARDON CECE & REMEMBER THE WORLD

CeCe McDonald has just been sentenced.

This woman survived a racist, transphobic hate crime, and for that crime she’s being imprisoned.

Pay attention.  Please remember that this is the country you live in, if you live here.  This is what it looks like, this is what it does.  I’m not saying you should cry all the time, or explode, or limit your emotions to anger–I think you’ll find that if you try to live with facts, happiness will become more difficult for a while and then you’ll eventually explode into health, because you can’t be healthy without putting yourself in opposition to a country that imprisons a woman for daring to refuse to die.

CeCe is going to be imprisoned with men. The most chilling thing I have read in a while is the official statement regarding CeCe’s gender: “because he is being housed as a male with Hennepin County.  We will intake him as a male at St. Cloud prison.  We will assess him as any other offender would be assessed”  These people don’t see CeCe as a person, but as an “offender”–another black and gender-variant body that does not fit the white supremacist and transmisogynistic American project.

If you think for one minute, by the way, that this injustice is primarily about CeCe’s transness, think again–this is about race.  Be present in that fact, especially if it hurts.

I’ve been trying to be healthy and okay and resistant, trying to do decent things with decent people and be kind and remember.  Half my head is shaved and half is longer; you might know that.  As a gesture of solidarity and a way for me to remember the world, I’m leaving at least the longest lock of it uncut as long as CeCe remains imprisoned.  I encourage you to do something like this too; my particular praxis works for me, but they might not for you. What I’m doing is inspired by CAConrad’s WAR HAIR. (Read him! Know him!)  Do please try to find a praxis that works for you, that encourages rage, kindness, and health.  I’m leery of posting pictures of this progression because this is not about my body, but about remembering, holding yourself accountable for the violence in which you’re complicit, and trying to find a way of life that is both livable and honest in an unlivable, dishonest country.

This makes me think of Himanshu Suri’s song “Juveniles Detained At Guantanamo Bay,” in which he recites the names of the kids that the US is torturing, then says, “I want my loved ones to all stay right near me.”  We have to confront being alive and loving each other while confronting the horrors we perpetuate.

Comment and share something you plan to do until CeCe is free.  Make sure it is something that you will do every day, that will constantly remind you what is important in the world.  Maybe before you pour your coffee, you say her name, to honor her.  Maybe before you go to bed, you write another sentence in a letter of support you plan to send her.  Maybe instead of buying the sandwich you normally buy at the corner near your job, you bring lunch from home, then sit and meditate on injustice for the duration of the time you’d ordinarily take in walking to the deli.

As CeCe has said in her blog, “We have to be the matriarchs of this society.”  We make the world.

Write CeCe a letter.

Send her a book.

Donate to her support fund, because not only are they imprisoning her for surviving, they are fining her.

Contact Governor Mark Dayton and his Lieutenant Governor, Yvonne Solon, and demand that they pardon CeCe.

Read what she has to say about herself.  It’s beautiful.

 

ETA: In a cleansing gesture, I shaved most of my head yesterday, instead of proceeding with what I had before.  Forward!

Cultural Criticism on the Empire Builder Trans-Continental Train

I sit in the observation car for a long time, because the scenery is fantastic.  I’ve been on this train for a day and a half–two days and a half if you count the trip from New York to Chicago.  Now I’m going from Chicago to Seattle and there are great stretches of land that look almost flooded, with spines of trees reaching up and what seem to be the remains of shacks or broken boats, but I realize that in fact these are bodies of water, probably the Great Lakes, because we’re coming up on Minneapolis.  It makes me aware of how coastal I am–I know the geography of California and New York, but confronted with Midwestern lakes and rivers I’m–excuse me–all at sea.  When we got onto the train there weren’t two seats open for me and my boyfriend, and I had to sit next to this terrifying piece of cissexuality who made me acutely anxious, but now everything’s ok.

An Amish family has overtaken one of the car’s tables; they play various card games and smile at everyone.  I have the image of the Amish that I guess most people have–quiet, insular, and unfriendly to outsiders–because I’ve seen them once or twice, plus the Harrison Ford movie Witness, so I expect them all to be ice queens of the Kelly McGillis type, but these are friendly and chatty.  They borrow phones, or ask others to talk on the phone for them, so they can communicate with drivers who’ll take them from the train station to their final destination.  There is apparently a large industry of people who drive the Amish.  The more you know.  This particular family has several small girls who traipse around the car smiling under their white bonnets.  The combination of white bonnet and dark-toned simple dresses makes the girls look more delicate than they might look in the jeans or sweats worn by the other little kids on the train.  A boy who I assume is their older brother looks around with the guarded expression of your average male adolescent, and I can’t help wondering about his sexuality, because he’s at the age where he’s just starting to have one, or know that he has one.  Plus I have the well read urban queer’s lust for the rural and straight, where you think about them squirming and gasping and rolling in hay.  This boy’s blond bowl cut unfortunately forestalls the fantasizing I’d normally do with such a Flannery O’Connor-ish ruddy and suspendered masculinity.

After a while, the kids go to bed, and a teenage girl is left sitting across from the bowl cut wearing boy.  They talk occasionally in very quiet voices, and at the table across from them a group of young men are playing cards.  The card playing men have names like Frank and Jim, curse often, and drink from little travel-sized liquor bottles.  They’re playing Texas Hold-’Em because they figure everyone in the country knows how to play it.  I hear them say this and am acutely aware that I don’t know how to play Texas Hold-’Em, so much so that I almost want to turn around and say so.  I’m writing a short story about a trans boy in a notebook, though, and our worlds don’t intersect at this time.  The juxtaposition of gambling and cussing and drinking with the Amish adolescents strikes me as funny, in the way that the world organizes itself into tableaux that seem to be establishing scenes in novels.  It’s like the Amish kids are having it explicitly modeled for them just how vain and sinful the world of “the English” is.  (I know from Witness that they call us the English, but on reflection it is very very probable that this is inaccurate.)

We’re late getting into Minneapolis, and I try to get off the train for some air.  The card players do too, and one of them at least is very drunk.  His name is Frank and he keeps trying to get the other one–Jim?  Tad?–into an argument about the 49ers vs. the Green Bay Packers.  We’re in close proximity, waiting for the train doors to open, so we start to talk and I try to make a joke about how little I know of sports–it’s all Greek to me! etc–but it gets subsumed in Frank’s drunken happiness.  He’s pleased, I think, that he’s managing to pass so much of this train ride drunk, playing cards, talking to people he vaguely knows.  This is a kind of happiness specific to the cross country train–just overjoyed not to be bored and insular.  For me, that’s a distillation of what happiness basically is–a loss of interiority, getting to watch lakes go by with other people instead of by yourself.  This might be why I like trains so much.

I’m used to happily drunk straight cis guys on trains, and I actually mind them a lot less than I mind straight cis guys in any other form.  On my last cross country ride, this pair sat across from me–one English guy and one American–and I didn’t even get mad when the American guy suggested I become a magician’s assistant.  “You’d just have to dress up in a cute little outfit,” he said.  This was before testosterone, and I said, “You don’t think I’m a girl, do you?  I’m just a really pretty guy,” and he said, “Can I take a picture of you?”  I said sure, for some reason.  Probably because I was charmed by him–he offered me drinks, though I declined, and his conversation was great–earlier he’d intimated to me that he will never in his life go hungry because of he is willing and able, if needed, to kill and eat deer, squirrels, and other animals.  So somewhere out there is a picture of me taken by that man on his disposable camera, because he was interested in something of what he saw of me from under the bill of his faded blue cap.  Still, at Union Station in LA I walked away from the train fast, made my dad practically run with me to the car, because I was worried he might follow me.  The cis straight guys I talk to on trains are a lot more threatening off trains then on them.  We all deal more easily with what’s liminal when we’re somewhere liminal ourselves, in flux, traveling.

Now, we step off the train into the Minneapolis chill.  Thank god for free air.  Train passengers exchange first names, hometowns, points of origin, destinations, always.  Frank is from Montana, and that’s where he’s traveling home to, to visit his hometown.  He goes to school in Wisconsin, where he’s coming from.  A mom is carrying a kid into the station, and the kid is looking out over her shoulder with the disturbed delight of the very small person.  He points out how cute the kid is, and I completely agree.  He says he’s a kid fanatic, which is a bit creepy until:

“What are you studying?” I ask.  He says, “Elementary education,” which makes it slightly less creepy, although he is still a very drunk man cursing copiously in front of kids, but who can judge upon first acquaintance, so take from all that what you will, I guess is the moral of that story.  “And Native American studies, because in Montana–” he hitches up his whole face and talk-laughs out, “We got a lot of Indians.”  I have no idea what my face did when I heard this remark, but I’m pretty sure I looked exactly as angry as I felt.  He was too drunk to notice.

It’s important to note that he’s also white, as far as I can tell, and working class, as far as I can tell, and I am very aware of my expensive blazer that I’m wearing, and of my expensive education which has helped me learn to feel weird about white guys studying Native American studies because of having “a whole lot of Indians around.”  And then I feel uncomfortable about my brain thinking that my social class has taught me how to interrogate my whiteness, because that plays into classist ideas about the racist “redneck,” and I basically fall into a black hole of thought, and before I know it Frank is talking about his tattoos, because he’s getting an owl tattooed on his side because “the Indians–it symbolizes wisdom, and for them that’s actually a female trait.”  He has more, religious stuff, Catholic, a cross on his arm that he shows me, and a big back piece featuring the Virgin which he doesn’t.  He’s getting half his back done in Catholic iconography and half Native American.  He says “Northeastern,” and that’s as specific as he gets.

After I ask what he studies I tell him I study poetry, and he says, “I fucking love poetry!” with lit up eyes and a huge smile.  It is very hard for a poetry student not to enjoy someone who reacting to their studies like that.  And at tattoos, I mention how much I enjoyed watching my ex-boyfriend get tatted with a tarantula.  I look away from him as I say it, not deliberately, but my unconscious motivation is I can only assume not to see his hypothetical flinch at the word “ex-boyfriend.”  The conversation continues and we talk about the tattoo my ex got and its meaning, and whether or not he flinched when I looked away he doesn’t seem discomfited.  Which leaves a variety of options, including but not limited to a) he is drunk, so my queerness didn’t, ahem, penetrate; b) he is totally down with queer stuff; c) he is homophobic and hiding it well out of tact, kindness, or one of the other many possible reasons.  My guess is it’s some combination of options b and c.

I came out to a woman on my last cross country train, while we stood in the dusk somewhere in Indiana, and she assured me everyone in my life would come around.  She was middle-aged and kind and had long dirty blonde hair; she was moving back West to live with her well-monied daughter because she had lost her own job, and she could help take care of her sisters’ kids.  She also served as a buffer between me and the more rambunctious able-to-kill-and-eat-deer photographer guy.  I have done her a great disservice in forgetting her name.

I get back onto the train when Frank goes in to buy chips at the station.  It’s dark inside; they’ve shut down power so as to connect with another car, and my boyfriend is asleep.  I sit down next to him for a while and write.  During my layover in Chicago, where I have just left, I got to see Jamie, who mentioned that he loves watching movies with cultural studies people.  I would like to tell Jamie–and probably will, when I see him again on the Chicago layover on the way back–that taking trains is Candyland if you’re into cultural studies.  People just open out to be dissected, like Frank, with his appropriative tattoo plans and affection for poetry and willingness to accept the fact that I have an ex-boyfriend; like the guy who wanted to photograph my body because he’d misread it and luxuriated in that misreading.

Or–here, I’ll tell you a really good one–one time, there was the guy I talked to for like an hour and a half, and his daughter.  He was in agriculture, and disparaged me for spending all my time on the coasts.  “See the middle of the country!  All that stuff you call flyover,” he said.  He’d been in some vaguely colonial line of work in South Africa which he did not explain to me fully, but when I told him how I was reading Wizard of the Crow by Ngugi he went into a long diatribe about how Africans didn’t know anything about agriculture and how that was the reason for famine in postcolonial countries.  I was fresh out of my first real education on postcolonial discourse, and I lit into him for that, but his daughter–probably about fifteen, and interested in studying sustainable agriculture–wanted to talk about the Vampire Chronicles.  This guy, splendidly enough, turned out to be way into Anne Rice, and his favorite was The Vampire Lestat, and he had only the first knuckle of his left middle finger.  I cannot recommend trains over airplanes highly enough, if you are into people.  Everyone has these infinitely complex lives, and a lot of them are incredibly fucked up, but on trains you end up talking to them about Lestat of all things, and as I remember it all three of us found common ground in talking shit about Twilight, which might actually be in this day and age the great equalizer.

I know that not everyone has the privilege to let this stuff roll off their back.  I am white; Frank’s talk of his tattoo does not make me unsafe.  Some of it does not roll off my back–the people who are looking at my body and staring at my gender, for instance, but a lot of it does.  I try to be Isherwood-esque about it–a camera, because these privileges enable me to see and record certain things–I’m trying to give you some idea of the lens of this camera, and where the photographer’s privileges enable him to place it.  I guess it’s worth noting how disability works with trains, too–they’re way better for my anxiety than planes are.  Although as far as I can tell trains aren’t accessible to people who use wheelchairs, a guy who uses a cane and deals with seizures tells me that his disability prohibits him from taking planes, and he’s grateful for Amtrak in this regard.

It’s possible that Frank will go out to Alaska, where he tells me they’ll pay for his college if he goes to teach, and have some revelatory educational experience with something he reads or someone he meets, and get a clue about why saying “I love Native Americanism” is a problem.  Hopefully he won’t get the tattoo.  It’s possible that the sustainability-loving daughter of the agriculture worker who loves Lestat will read Something Torn and New: An African Renaissance and start huge fights with her dad over the Thanksgiving dinner about his bullshit racist colonial ideals.  It’s possible that the guy I ran away from at Union Station will have a niece or nephew or brother or sister come out as trans, and will go to an ally workshop and really internalize it, and will join Trans Youth Family Allies and spend time saying to other cis people, “Hey, how the hell do you think that person felt when you told them they were in the wrong bathroom? Have some respect.”

And I will keep going, doing this, whatever it is: noting the people around me, careful to be critical of what I see and what I think and feel.  I will remember that the train I ride today, will ride tomorrow and the next day, is called the Empire Builder, and as I look at the beautiful country I travel through I will remember by what violence I came to look at it.  I like living at the intersection of literature and social justice; after all, I’m in damn good company here, and I get that cool understanding of everyone as an infinitely complex human being that I think literature offers like nothing else.  I think that this is probably what I am supposed to be doing, meeting people and talking to them.  I didn’t talk to Frank about his tattoo or his ideas this evening, because he was awfully drunk and awfully cis, but we will be on this train for two days more.  I don’t think I can change those ideas, to be honest, but I can keep on talking to people, so I will.

Queer Failure & Anxiety

It’s May, and I’m traveling cross country on the Amtrak, sitting in the observation car watching what is probably Wisconsin go by.  In the past year, I’ve finished my sophomore year of college, decided that I’ll be getting my first apartment come fall, become a writer whose work people actually read, and published what is by my standards almost nothing.  This blog, let’s be honest, can hardly be called a blog.  I post every few months if that.  And before we get back to our regular program–doesn’t it seem like I’m always saying that? what the hell is our regular program?–I want to talk a little bit about fluidity, anxiety, and failure.

It’s not a phase; I’m really like this; I really do identify this way; this identity is valid because of its stasis–those sentiments have been my refrain ever since I came out as queer.  My first coming out, incidentally, was as bisexual, which I’m not.  I knew something queer was going on, and I misinterpreted a desire to articulate as male with a desire to kiss girls.  You can see how that might happen, in an aggressively heteronormative world, right?  And there I am, trying to justify myself, and my whole point here is that no one should have to justify their queer identity.

When I came out as bisexual as a barely-a-teenager, I was told I didn’t know what my sexual orientation was and I needed to take more time to figure it out before I “came out.”  It was the first obvious manifestation in my life of an important lie: that any true stasis is possible in terms of identity.  That lie has affected me enormously; you can see it in how I write, my obsessive use of qualifiers: maybe, enormously, quite, really, actually–it’s as though I feel the need to tell my reader I might be wrong and please not to be offended if I am.

There are a couple silent messages embedded in, “You should wait to come out until you’ve thought more.”  Firstly, that I shouldn’t come out unless I absolutely had to, because the consequences of coming out would be ruinous if not.  Why would you let people think you were queer if it still might turn out out that–thank God!–you weren’t?  Keep the secret that you’re unsure and maybe it will all go away and we’ll never have to talk about it.  Secondly, it carries the message that anyone‘s identity is totally static.  I feel pretty secure in my identity as a gay trans man–I mean, I’ve plastered it all over my bio here and my friends all know it and both “gay” and “trans” are important signifiers for me in my social life–but I’m not so arrogant as to think that I know myself completely.  There may yet be unplumbed depths in my young self!  Identity is fluid–in the millennial queer world, that’s a truism, but it’s one we forget almost because we say it so often.  As so often in radical political discourse, it’s as though we’ve decided that repetition of a concept exempts us from its practice.

What the hell harm does it do a person to come out as something and then eventually come out as something else, something contradictory?  I haven’t noticed any harm done me by it.  This idea–that we have to know exactly who we are before we speak on anything–exists in infinite iterations, though I think it hits young queers particularly hard because of preconceived notions adults have about young people’s sexual and gender identities.  There’s the version of the idea that says that a queer teen isn’t allowed to say they’re bisexual until they have double triple checked (and probably not even then), or that a trans person isn’t allowed to ask for respect in their gender until it’s been a certain amount of years since they first came out, or that–and obviously this is different–you can’t really say you enjoy an author’s style until you’ve read his whole body of work plus all the articles you could find on JSTOR, or that you can’t publish blog posts until you’ve worked out all your political thoughts because otherwise they’ll be bad and people will think you’re a dilettante kid whose work is only being read because his mom and dad are famou–oh hey.

So there you go.  I’ve been completely freaking out due to an irrational conviction that I have to develop a complete and static set of opinions.  Which is impossible, and which no one ever does ever.  Especially not smart people.  I was going on about this on Twitter (I go on about a lot of things on Twitter) one day, when Reina Gossett pointed out to me the value of queer failure.  Specifically, she said, queer failure is anti-capitalist.  That made me think of how much I hate the contemporary images of queer success.  It made me think about how I evaluate my success.  Capitalism demands we produce consistently, and it demands we produce simple ideas, because complexity takes time, and time is money.  I don’t make any money off this blog, but I’m not so naïve as to think that this blog isn’t part of what will some day be a “career,” or at least will be called one.  I mean, it’s on my résumé for certain jobs.

These days, I don’t believe in the “career activist,” but it would be foolish for me to assume that my political work didn’t inform how people understand me as a professional entity.  And since my professional life is probably going to take place in universities, where I’d try to teach and research in an activist way–well, it’s all complicated, and guess what–I don’t have to decide what I think right now!  It’s still good for me to talk about it, to get it out there, to allow ideas room to grow and change.

Capitalism tries to silence complexity so that the cycle of production can continue uninterrupted, and queer failure is complex.  My failure to know my sexual identity fully at fourteen–but is that really failure? and then again, what exactly would constitute a real and complete failure? are there any one doesn’t grow from?–was complex; it involved the oscillations of my gender identity and also a poignant story of two Conan Doyle-fixated adolescents at Shakespeare camp and in love which I’ll maybe tell you one day but not right now.  My failures now are complex: I fail to produce definite opinions about the Haas convening and what my place in it was; I fail to decide not only what I think but what I will always think about Obama’s recent endorsement of gay marriage; I fail to eliminate nuance in my thinking, and the only solution I can come to in my anxiety is silence.  So I don’t write the blog post about Haas; I don’t write the blog post about Obama’s endorsement and what it means for the US’s neocolonial pinkwashing; I stay silent and occasionally natter on Twitter.

I’m over that now, or I want to be.  That review of Speakeasy that I promised you forever ago?  It’s coming.  That post on Obama?  Will come to you probably directly after this one, both whenever I’ve got wifi on this cross country train trek.  I’m sick of being silent because the world tells me that queers have to have one set of ideas, one identity, or none at all.  I’m buying various lip tars, reading Portrait of a Lady, and embracing the fact that stasis is a lie.  I hope you find a way to do the same–I mean, with the last one.  The lip tars and the Henry James are strictly optional.

FREE CECE

I have nothing valuable to say here other than that you should click here.

Chrishaun “CeCe” McDonald is a young African American transgender woman who is charged with two counts of “second degree murder” after an incident that began when she was violently assaulted because of her gender and race. We say NO to racism and transphobia, and call on HennCo Attorney Mike Freeman to DROP THE CHARGES!

Her trial starts today.  Be aware; try to help.



Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 248 other followers