Vulnerability and Courage

This week has been tough. I have fought twitter trolls and TERFs (Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists). I have fought my own self doubt and the sinking feeling of realising that if I am going to wait to be correctly gendered by a stranger, I will be waiting a long time.

In many safe spaces introductions take place with name and pronouns, but that is not how the world works outside of those places. I introduce myself with my name and often try to offer some hint like “I’m the sort of guy who…” but when this clue is, inevitably ignored and I am placed firmly in the female pile, I shrug and stay silent.

As minorities we learn to remain quiet and unobtrusive. We learn that, in order to stay safe, we should stay invisible, refuse to rock the boat. We have been taught that nothing less than perfect is acceptable, and if we are less we need to remain hidden.

How many of you have said these words:

I’ll do “the thing” when I’m thin/happy/more energised/have money/have time?

How many of you have never got round to doing “the thing”?

I tell myself I will correct people’s gendering of me when I pass better. I’ll correct them when I have more confidence, when people aren’t listening in, when I’m not with friends or at work, when I’ve had my hair cut/had surgery/come out to more people…I put it off and put up with being misgendered because I’m scared of the reactions and, ultimately because I do not dare intrude on someone’s comfort zone.

In her TED talk Brene Brown discusses vulnerability and courage and the fact that, in order to understand vulnerability we must talk about shame.

We cannot talk about the vulnerability of being “out” if we do not talk about the shame we are made to feel about being trans*.

That shame may look different to everyone but in my experiences it usually includes things like:

  • shame at having to hide
  • shame at lying about your identity
  • shame at not being “trans* enough”
  • shame about our bodies
  • shame about being a burden
  • shame at making other uncomfortable

And that is where the pronouns thing comes in. I feel anxious about correcting a person’s misgendering of me because, at the heart of it, I feel ashamed that my existence makes them uncomfortable.

Coming out makes us vulnerable. Vulnerable to rejection, hostility, threats and violence. Being out puts us on a stage where we are scrutinized for every action and reaction.

So why come out? Why correct someone who says “the lady over there” and points at me? Why become vulnerable? Because, if I don’t who will. Being vulnerable is also about being courageous. It is about being daring, being brave, standing up and standing out.

If things are to change we need to change them and we need to not be afraid to fail in the process. Edison made 1,000 failed attempts at the light bulb before he succeeded, Henry Ford went bust 7 times before he had success. The courage is in the trying, in knowing your worth beyond your ability or appearance. Courage comes from being knocked back and standing up again.

So I will make this promise…the next time a stranger calls me miss or lady I will gently correct them. I might do it so quietly they don’t hear, they might laugh it off, they might ignore me, but the next time I will be bolder. As Theodore Roosevelt once said:

It is not the critic who counts. It is not the man who sits and points out how the doer of deeds could have done things better and how he falls and stumbles. The credit goes to the man in the arena whose face is marred with dust and blood and sweat. But when he’s in the arena, at best, he wins, and at worst, he loses, but when he fails, when he loses, he does so daring greatly.”

So let’s be daring. Let’s be BOLD. 

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The Perfect Body

Gender dysphoria is a condition where a person experiences discomfort or distress because there’s a mismatch between their biological sex and gender identity.

Some days are good days, others are bad days and the worst are dysphoria days. Dysphoria is indiscriminate, the days when you think you’ll be absolutely fine it suddenly hits you. You get up, dress, see the person you want to see in the mirror. You leave the house, grab a coffee and get called “darling”…and then dysphoria hits. The guy you saw in the mirror doesn’t exist, because noone else sees him. The woman who smiled back at you ealier has disappeared as your height is read as “man”. And your good day is turned upside down, inside out…it’s over.

Yesterday was one of those days. By the end of it I was lying in bed at 1am desperate to escape my own skin because it just. doesn’t. fit. This isn’t the uncomfortable feeling that comes with carrying a few extra pounds, or having a bad hair day. This is a deep down knowledge that the way you see me isn’t the way I see me. This is an incongruence between how I feel and how I look. Every pair of trousers I pulled on emphasised what I see as feminine hips, not the sleek masculine hips in my mind’s eye.

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However the worst part of dysphoria tends to be other people. I can avoid mirrors, imagine myself how I want, but when a customer says “give that to the lady” and indicates me, when I’m feeling totally all over the dude-look, my heart falls to my feet. Actually I often think this relates to the inherent binarism in society or the fact that people insist on gendering everything (including me).

It is something that crosses my mind most days, especially due to the fact that I will probably never “pass”. Firstly, because it is difficult to pass as a gender that is almost entirely unrecognised, and secondly because I will not be able to medically transition towards a more masculine presentation either (male is my back up gender, after non binary). So the thing I identify with least, the one thing I know I definitely am NOT, is the thing I am named daily.

I will not be the only trans* person who doesn’t transition in a traditional way. Other trans* people will decide surgery is too dangerous, hormones are too risky, or transition is simply too expensive. What is important though, is that despite the outward appearance, their gender identity isn’t questioned. In a collection of essays from queer writers I came across the story of a Russian lesbian called Vitya, who happened to be a man (and uses he/him pronouns despite being female and a lesbian). He had grown up in a country whether queerness was quashed and trans* identities were invisible. It wasn’t until he met and fell in love with a lesbian (aged 40ish) that he realised he was a lesbian too, just one that was living as a man. Vitya lives as a man, he has no choice (he says) to transition but also no desire any longer. He is in a loving polyamorous relationship with 2 lesbians and living in community with queer people who accept his identity as a lesbian, despite his outward male appearance. For Vitya, the recognition of his identity is enough, feeling female and being in a relationship and friendships as a female, he has no need to change his body. (I realise this is an exception and many trans* people feel the need to transition despite love and support).

my friends relied on the internal promptings and rhythms of their bodies and hearts, not an ideology imposed from outside. They made it all up as they lived their lives. 

David Tuller, Adverntures of a Dacha Sex Spy

The unrealistic expectations of masculinity and femininity do not only impact cis people. They make the burden of trans*ness even heavier. No person will have the perfect body, few cis men are ripped and strong with all the right muscles and shape. Few cis women have “perfect” proportions or delicate faces. Yet these are the things expected of trans* people. A trans woman is expected to be super girly and a trans guy expected to shun pink flowery things or they’re not female/male enough. It’s time, in 2016, in the Age Of The Queer to throw away these binary categories of gender.

Unfortunately these things are easier said than done, I know my gender and love of pretty stationary or wearing makeup doesn’t make me less manly. However the fact that I need a neon sign about my head to pass as a non woman isn’t something that will change easily, and it is something that will trigger dysphoria until I find a way to overcome it. The perfect body doesn’t exist, just as the perfect trans* person doesn’t exist. We will overstep boundries and make you feel uncomfortable until you come to realise that your recognition of your man/womanhood is not the be all and end all.

The ridiculous notion that anything other than our own internal identification is what decides our gender or sexuality…the notion that a woman can’t possibly be a lesbian if she has had sex with a man but not a woman….the falsehood that a trans guy is less of a man because he hasn’t had surgeries…these things are harmful and toxic. Your body does not dictate your gender, you do.

Why Nike’s advert isn’t a step forward for trans* rights

Today I was sent this advert to review, the new Nike advert. It features athlete Chris Mosier who has been accepted onto the USA national team. He also happens to be trans.

People have touted this as a huge step forward for trans* visibility, for breaking barriers and challenging assumptions on gender. However, all it does is serve to put trans people in the spotlight while reinforcing the age old narrative that trans people are not “real” men or women.

Why?

Because the voice over asks questions such as: “Chris, How’d you know you’d be fast enough to compete against men?….or strong enough? ….”. And yes,  they may be valid questions, how did you know you were strong enough *full stop*. But it doesn’t need to be followed by “against men”, because he is a man. You wouldn’t ask that to any other male athlete, assuming that they had grown up wondering if they could compete in their gender category. The fact that these questions are asked to Chris imply that he is not in fact a man and therein lies the problem.

Society has a huge problem with transphobia, not that you would always know it. Often it is hidden in the little snide remarks (you’re taller than I expected!) , at the end of sentences (You’re pretty..for a trans girl). This advert reinforces these transphobic ideas by it’s implication that Chris runs fast, for a trans guy, and thereby its implication that Chris is not a “real” man. This narrative, that trans people are “in disguise” is the one that has led to things such as the bathroom bill in some states in America that seeks to limit bathroom access by transgender people to their designated sex at birth, not their chosen gender. This bill has prompted such images as:

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This is the the view that trans people are in fact just dressing as their chosen gender in order to gain access to rest rooms, attack people, fool people or just generally gain something. It is something I discussed earlier, in this blog, when a talk show debated whether trans women were men in disguise trying to win gold medals. Although this discussion tends to focus on trans women, in the form of trans misogyny, it is universal in its discrimination of trans people.

Back to the advert. It basically says that Chris Mosier is not a man, or not a real man at least. An advert by such a prominent and respected company, one that puts its name to international stars and sports, that’s logo is recognisible across the world, is obviously going to be view millions of times on hundreds of platforms.

Nike has a responsibility to its clients, its partners and the public who will view this and form their opinions from it. Their blatant disregard for trans* people make it ok for others to behave this way. Nike have let themselves, and the trans* community they presume to support down. 

They reinforce the damaging and transphobic view that trans people are, somehow, less. That a trans man is, somehow, less deserving of his spot on a national men’s team. That a trans man is in fact a woman who has run fast enough, become strong enough, to compete with the real men. It is not up to me, or anyone else, to comment on another person’s transition and it does not matter what interventions a person has had, their gender identity is still valid. However, hormone therapies mean that trans people will have the same hormone levels as a cis person, therefore there is absolutely no reason to think a trans man can’t compete and keep up with other men (or vice versa with trans women).

It is sad that in a time when politicians, media outlets and papers shout loudly about equality, we can still praise such an advert for its “forward thinking” without ever seeing the inherent transphobia in it. It’s sad that we more readily accept an athlete with a history of performance enhancing drug us, than a trans athlete.

On an aside it is also true that in America many people worry that trans women will use their *disguise* to prey on vulnerable women in bathrooms (something that has never happened), yet a convicted rapist walked free from jail after just 6 months. 

So, no I will not be applauding Nike on their so called inclusive advert. I will not be cheering for the trans* visibility it claims to give, when it is on the terms on a cisnormative society and upholding their views I will continue to stand up for what is right, for the equal and fair representation of trans people in sports, the media, books and films. I hope that Nike will hear this, will hear the outcry of trans* people who are not happy with this poor show of support, and do something. I hope that the next advert with a trans person doesn’t include the tagline *for a trans man/woman*.

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If you agree, please share this, comment, tweet Nike…demand fair representation. Demand REAL equality. Demand BETTER.

LJ x

Pride, politics and protest

This weekend in Leeds was Pride. Sometimes called Gay Pride (it’s not though) Pride began as a radical statement in reclaiming the streets for LGBTQ people.

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Pride came to life with the Stonewall riots; a series of demonstrations by members of the LGBTQ community against the police in 1969. “Gay” bars were routinely raided by police in those times but the police lost control of the raid at Stonewall and it quickly erupted into protests; protests that had a very specific reason. Protests that were meant to take back the streets, make the hidden community visible and make a stand. The LGBTQ community began to become cohesive and formed organisations, from which the modern pride comes. Unfortunately the roots of pride have often been forgotten and diluted. Particularly the fact that two prominent instigators were trans women of colour who fought for LGBTQ sex workers and founded street activism to support drag queens and trans women.

I’m new to pride, I’ll admit that. I’ve been to a grand total of 4, but that doesn’t mean I don’t know what it is supposed to be, or what it is not.

Although pride is a space for inclusivity it is easy to forget that when you are a non binary, non gay, non straight person. The flags and colours and chants around you fill the air with gayness, the rainbow flag which represents “GAY” is everywhere and the trans* flags and bi flags jostle to be seen amidst the crowds. The hosts and stage presence is dominated by cis, gay white men. The ally on stage raved about her gay children. And all the time I stood in a crowd of *my people* feeling invisible. Feeling forgotten.

There are so many queer issues that become lost in the noise of gayness. The fact that a friend of mine was taunted and heckled for being 32 and at her first ever pride is disgusting, but a reality. Even the gay community turn on their own for not being gay enough, and all the while more and more people become alienated from a community they thought was theirs.

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Once upon a time the LGBTQ community held together because the world clumped us all as *other*, creating a chasm between *us* and *them*. Slowly, gay became accepted (although quite often it was provided that the gay was on the terms of the majority groups with femme men and butch women). Gay people who conform to the vision of gayness are far more readily accepted than a radical queer gay person or a radical femme trans man. And I think that this has created more and more divides within the LGBTQ community. Divides that mean me and my non binary siblings are made to feel forgotten and unwelcome. Divides that mean a bisexual woman in a relationship with a man is straight and therefore has no place at pride. Divides that mean a lesbian who has slept with men but not women is not a “real” lesbian. There are still letters of the LGBTQIA acronym that are ignored or even mocked. Some sexualities or sexual preferences are laughed at and some gender identities are mocked for being “imaginary” or just for indecisive individuals. That isn’t a space of support. That isn’t a safe space. That isn’t inclusive. If we can’t even be accepting of our LGBTQ siblings how can we expect our allies to be accepting?

Pride is amazing, please don’t hear me wrong. As a space for being visible it’s great. But it’s not great for everyone. It’s not always great for what it’s meant for. Pride has become commercialised in so many places, with large corporations sponsoring the parade (which makes it free to public) but which means that the parade is organised to within an inch or its life in order to allow the companies to promote themselves. The radical protest that pride once was no longer exists in many places as it becomes more and more organised and less and less “out there”.

So how do we respond to this? If you are an ally, continue learning and educating yourself. The world doesn’t stand still and the gay community of 10 years ago is not the same as the LGBTQ community that exists now. Standing still in a sea of change is not an answer, for allies of LGBTQ people.

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It is for us, the *others* to continue to remember what pride is. It is for us to continue to bring the radical protest to the streets, to challenge people’s perceptions and I believe it is our responsibility to make people uncomfortable. Yes, you head me…If we pussy foot around and let people stay comfortable, nothing will change. Pride will continue year in, year out, marching and chanting and being visible but never making a change. We need to push boundaries. In memory of Marsha P Johnson and Syvlia Rivera who stood their ground and made themselves visible, and vulnerable, we need to reclaim Pride as a political protest.

 

LJ x

 

*** I feel that I have tried and failed to articulate how I feel about pride, and I’d love to hear your responses too. Do you agree or disagree? Have you got anything to add? What was Pride like for you?