Transduction

It feels a bit disingenuous to bring this up today, in a way (it being TDoR), but I’m increasingly bothered by pressure from within the trans community for anyone non-binary to label themselves as trans. Over and over, I see this Statement Of Certainty that “all non-binary people are trans/come under the trans umbrella”.

Why are people so obsessed with this idea?

For a start, it seems to stem from the assumption that there’s an Absolute Definition of the trans label in the first place. This is not the case. As with pretty much any identity label, it means different things to different people. For some it’s more about incongruity with the gender and/or sex they were presumed to be at birth; for some it’s tied up more with transition (a term which itself means very different things to different people); for some it’s tied up more with dysphoria, and so on.

And because of this diversity of meaning and significance, whichever way you use the term, you’re likely to exclude some people, or in this case include some against their will. My working definition of trans is therefore “anyone who identifies as trans – ask them what they they mean by it if you want to know more, because opinions and experiences differ.”

Personally, I identify as trans because to me it suggests transition – but I don’t mean transition in the assumed sense of clearly defined start and end points, and I don’t mean it in relation to gender at all (since I’m genderless, mine has never been a “gender transition”), but merely a sense of being on some kind of journey in relation to what most of society seems to think of as gender/sex. I’ve been through a physical transition which involved both surgery and hormones, and my body is still adapting to that. But my psyche is also still adapting, and my sense of self is fluid and constantly changing/changed in response to the changes that have already taken place. So I don’t know that I’ll ever feel like no longer calling myself trans. For me it’s also a statement of positive visibility, to help others feel less alone.

But I know many non-binary people who do not identify as trans at all, and I strongly support their right not to have others police their identity or use/non-use of labels, including trans. It’s simply exhausting fielding other people’s insistence that we’re all trans – folk need to accept that their personal definitions are not universal.

I reserve particular impatience for being told “trans means your gender doesn’t match what you were assigned at birth” by people who know they’re deliberately including people in that “definition” who do not have a gender. Just stop it. I’m happy if gender makes sense of your own experience, but it’s just a model. Leave us out of it. I’m also fed up with people insisting that trans means “not cis”. There are many people – genderqueer, genderless, gender-nonconforming, intersex – who are not cis but who are not trans either, and don’t wish to be labelled as such against their wills.

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Landfall

love-spiralAll of my life, I have never had the experience of being in love with only one person.

There have always been at least two people in my romantic desire field, and sometimes as many as six. But everyone I’ve ever been in a relationship with before now (all of my previous relationships have been very monogamous) has been staunchly anti-polymory, and treated my feelings about it very unkindly. Being now, at last, in two relationships with people who are themselves poly, something just became obvious.

It has literally only just occurred to me that this “stay hidden or be chidden” experience of being polyamorous was just as much a contributor to my PTSS as transphobia and homophobia (and the abuse and bullying stuff) have been.

This is the first time in my life that I’m able to be fully “out” as being in love with more than one person, and to act on it, and to have them respond back wholeheartedly the same way, and it be accepted and rejoiced in by all of us – and I can tell I’m still wary and flinching, expecting anger and punishment for something that’s entirely normal and has always been a part of my experience. Again.

I name this tormentor: polyphobia. I have had partners in the past literally declare me mentally unwell for just having feelings for other people as well as them (even though I never acted on those feelings, having agreed/resigned to monogamy). The relief at being with people who just empathise with and affirm this experience brings up both joy and sorrow.

What a thing.

It’s reminded me of a poem I wrote years ago, which I think I already posted here at some point – but I’m going to do so again. This is for all of us who have been made to fear our true selves. We may look, and love, at last.

Mirror, Mirror

So there’s the great ocean there
And one day, you glance out
Out beyond the land
And you know something bad is coming

Gulls start from the waters, yarring
Bubbles and things rise, float
Stillish seas no longer still
Disturbed sun shatters in sparkles

Something huge
Something terrible
Long ago foretold, long feared
Rising from the very roots

Finally you glimpse it
Dark vast shape surging
Inescapable through the depths
The ocean dances and bows to it

And it breaks through the surface
Looming, menacing
Dripping, encrusted
And it looks at you

And looking into its eyes
You see your scared reflection
And then with fine cloth, and your warm breath
You gently begin to polish it

Asterisk Not Obelisk

2001 obelisk at sunrise
I’d like to share an interesting example of trans social histories and the subjective nature of “stories” that I participated in a few days ago, after posting something on Facebook.

I came out as trans nearly 5 years ago now, and I joined a big online trans forum (which I ended up as a mod on for a while, until the forum infighting made me run for cover – but that’s another story).

There was a nasty phenomenon going on all of the time that I was there, of (mainly) trans women who’d had, or intended to have, surgery thinking of themselves as the “TrueTrans™” people, and making a distinction between being transsexual (which they thought of as “really trans”) and transgender (which they treated as “the lower classes”).

In response to that hierarchical nonsense, the label trans* (with an asterisk) started being used by people, who meant by it specifically “trans+whatever (-gender, -sexual, whatever, none) is simply trans and simply valid – nobody gets to police anyone else’s identity or labels anyway, but surgery is no yardstick of the validity of someone’s transness.” So having been a part of that movement, I associate trans* with equality as well as inclusivity.

Meanwhile, it turns out that in other trans circles and communities, trans* got coined too, but with several different and competing meanings and intents, all of which were different from the meaning/intent we were using. And now there’s been a strong backlash against using trans*, because for many people it has apparently come to represent the exact opposite of what it meant to us. To those people, it means “trans people are the TrueTrans™ people, and everyone else is merely trans*” – or/and it’s come to mean somehow that the voices of white, entitled transmasculine people are heard at the expense of everyone else (this is what I’m being told, anyway).

So I innocently used the phrase “supporting trans* young people” in a post the other day, and got strafed by someone for whom this is a slur. We sort of discussed the matter, I did some reading up (this, and this, and by way of balance this), and I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m no longer going to use I still can’t decide whether I’m going to stop using the asterisk, since though it means something really positive to me and a load of people, there are another load of people out there who feel very disenfranchised by it.

Actually, I’d be very content for trans to become the default term, if it meant we moved on from transgender/transsexual (and that godsawful “transgendered” that people use sometimes) altogether (and all together). Shortening of terms is a good sign of cultural assimilation, according to sociolinguistics.

I’m also fascinated by how each group of us had no idea that trans* meant anything different to other people from what we were used to it meaning, and how easy it is to assume that “my/our story” must be the “true story”.

End of ramble.

Edited to add: An interesting thought just struck me: to those of us with a computing background, the asterisk very much symbolises inclusivity, as it means “anything at all can go here” – whereas for non-computery folk and/or academics, the asterisk perhaps implies “not important enough to include in the main text, but worthy of a footnote”. I’d never even considered the possible differences in asterisk-affect.

The discussion in that fb thread continues, and it’s clear that there are as many people who value the asterisk as there are those who cringe at it. Perhaps it’s time for trans[*] – or for a new word.

Abstention

[Trigger Warning: medical squicky stuff, sexual abuse references]

This may be uncomfortable reading, but it will be very honest. I’m currently on antibiotics that mess with my mood, so this may also be more dark than it’s meant to be. End of warning.

Three times a day, I have a routine to go through, post-surgery. This involves dilating my neovagina with a narrow stent (a.k.a. a dilator), and then a fatter one, for ten minutes each. The stent in this case is a clear, colourless plastic dildoid thing with a tapered front end, sort of like a giant blunt pencil.

There’s more to this: I have to get set up, which takes about ten minutes (sterile wipes, baby changing mat to lie on, bowl of warm water with antibacterial stuff in, towel, water-based gel, paper kitchen towels — then clean everywhere crotch-related, before dilation). Then after the dilating, I tidy up, and then douche with warm water with iodine stuff in it (after next week, this will just be warm water), clean the stents and douche, dry myself carefully. The whole thing takes about an hour. I listen to music on random shuffle whilst doing the dilating.

So that’s the practical aspect. What I wanted to write about here, though, is the emotional aspect.

It’s been hard to admit this to myself before yesterday, but going through this routine is quite distressing, and I feel resistance to doing it. Yes, this is just partly because I’m still very tired from the surgery, and it’s quite an effort to go through all this (which includes walking down and up a flight of stairs twice each time, as my bathroom is downstairs). But it’s also for two other reasons.

The first is that inserting a stent into what is still essentially a healing wound is uncomfortable, and sometimes painful — and is therefore an abuse penetration trigger. This is hard to bear. Since yesterday, when I let it be true and was lying here with my stent inserted, sobbing my heart out, I was able to embrace the experience, and say to myself “Know this: if you so desire, nobody else is ever going to penetrate you again, ever. This hole is not for that purpose, unless you choose it to be so at some point. That power is solely yours.” Since this, today dilation has been easier, something has shifted, I’m not fighting myself.

The second reason, though, is just plain sorrow. When I was in my teens, I read Triton by Samuel Delany, in which someone in the far future (and on the moon Triton, natch) goes through a complete male-to-female body change (including gene manipulation) in under half an hour, and walks out sore, but essentially completely healed. That’s always been my dream, I suppose, but what I’m going through is a much more involved and medicalised experience, with pain and slow healing. But the worst part, the saddest part, is that every time I dilate, I’m reminded that because of a quirk of fate and prenatal hormones (or whatever the fuck made this happen), here I am trying on a daily basis to persuade my body not to heal up this artificial hole that I’ve had to have sculpted, because my body came out wrong.

I have something which, a few months from now when all the mad swelling has gone down, will pretty closely resemble a vagina, and that’s amazing. But it’s also an artifice that in many ways will never behave like a real vagina, and my body will require (less and less constant, it’s true) persuasion for the rest of my life to keep it how it should be.

Let me be clear: I’m really happy to have this, my body feels much more congruous and complete than it ever has, but I’ll always have to live with that sorrow too. So it is. I expect as we become more accustomed to each other, and all the healing happens, and I can live more normally and not spend three hours of every day persuading my body not to reject its new configuration, I will feel much more ease around all this. I’ll probably eventually forget about it for stretches of time, and that’ll be good. I just want to honour, right now, what I’m feeling right now about it — because the Post-Op Transwoman Bible™ says Thou Shalt Only Be Seen To Rejoice, and I want all my voices to be heard.

Oh, and fuckin’ antibiotics, if I never have to take them again it’ll be too soon.

By the way, the stent is named after some dentist who invented them. I was expecting some connexion with Stentor, the mythical singer who died after losing a singing competition with Hermes. But I like that abstention has “stent” in it, since it reflects my inner desire to abstain from dilation, and my need to let these stentorian voices sing out and be appreciated.

It amazes and amazes me, how over and over I have to discover that so much of my experienced pain is coming from resisting being conscious of uncomfortable feelings, whether physical or emotional. Let’s be soft out there, folks.

20140528-201118-72678754.jpg

X-celsior!

british passportOver here in the UK (I’m guessing that most people who read this are elsewhere, but who knows?) we have only two options on our passport for recording “sex” – the ubiquitous F and M.

A number of people (recently including me) have been trying to get the HM Passport Office (as it’s known this year – they keep changing their name) to follow the lead of Australia, New Zealand, and other countries, and add a non-gendered option, an X.

To date, everyone who has written to the UKPO saying “I need this, please” has received a boilerplate response, basically (and insultingly) saying “We are not aware of a need for this.” Really. That’s what everyone who has expressed a need has been told.

And see here for Complicity’s very comprehensive breakdown of HMPO’s crap façade of a recent “review” of the issue.

Who does need this? (you may ask…) Well for starters, anyone who feels, as I do, that there’s no good reason to show a person’s sex on their identification documentation in the first place.

And then there are those of us who do not identify as having a binary gender (or any gender at all) or sex, and who feel misgendered every time we have to present our documentation, and some of whose other documentation may not even match, since there are other organisations (such as many banks) who are already allowing for non-gendered titles and suchlike.

And ditto for those many intersex people, of course, who do not identify with a binary sex.

The gender/sex binaries do not accurately represent a certain proportion of the UK population, and sex doesn’t belong printed on the passport, especially now that all sorts of other biometric info is electronically stored in the passport to distinguish us.

There’s a current GoPetition petition created by the non-gendered activist Christie Elan-Cane to lobby the government to do something to address this, but it hasn’t yet had much exposure, so there are not many votes on it yet. If you live in the UK and feel moved to sign this – either because it’s meaningful to you personally, or because you know someone (like me!) for whom it is, or because you simply agree with it – please go ahead and sign this, and share it wherever you share such things (I’m delighted that writing about this on my facebook wall has already added 10 signatures to the petition, for example, and many of those are from people who acknowledge the need, even though it is not theirs – in fact, since I and a few friends started posting about this, it’s leapt up by almost 100 already).

http://www.gopetition.com/petitions/in-support-of-‘x’-passports-in-the-united-kingdom.html

While we’re on the subject, blogger Cassian Lodge is planning to instigate a campaign to lobby for legal recognition of non-binary genders – see their tumblr post about this if you’re interested to get involved.

male-female-neither

Gender’s Game

rainbow-cloud(Hello, I’m back…)

Mm, been a bit of an “interesting” few months, I was very much under the thumb of opiates whilst awaiting what was actually fairly low-level surgery, and couldn’t think straight enough to post.

But trala, here I am, had me little surgery, and then spent two months coming off a maximum dose of opiates (Tramadol) – high dose because it shouldn’t have taken almost a year to get that surgery, and opiates stop working after a wee while and you have to keep upping the dose. So yes, two months reducing the dose and coming off them, and then… WHAM! as soon as I actually stopped taking them, this last month has been a hell of involuntary muscle spasms and cramps in my arms and legs, and not a lot of sleep. Trala.

But this isn’t about that, this is about this.

Oh, wait, before I got to this, there’s that, which that is about, which is that it turns out that Tramadol (and probably other opiates too) are a pretty good cushion against PTSS symptoms. So I’m now living without that net for the first time in a year, and it’s a bit of a bugger. But I’d rather be me off drugs than on them, if I have the choice.

Anyway, this.

As you will know, if you’d been reading my blog-things (and can remember that far back, after such a long lacuna), I’ve been describing my gender identity as an archipelago of different gender-qualities (woman, androgyne, trans man, other) in the greater sea of me.

Well, it’s become recently apparent that this was just a convenient lie. Convenient because with what I was going through (MTF transition, PTSS, chronic pain, etc.) I needed the majority of people in my life to think they knew where I was and who I was and not just stare at me and say “Uh?” So for the sake of all that, and for self-pretection, it seemed true to me at the time; but it ain’t so.

What’s so? The actual truth (for now, for me, at any rate) is that gender makes no sense to me at all. I’m going through an MTF transition because my somatopsyche knows it’s female, and my body needs to get with the programme. But when I really think about gender (and I can actually do that, now that my brain is no longer opiated), it just does literally seem like a mere game. From culture to culture, from subculture to subculture, we’re told from birth “this is how people with these genitalia behave and see themselves, and this is how people with these genitalia behave and see themselves – and no, there’s no Other, just those two.” Well okay, there are cultures tucked away on the planet that allow for more options, but they’re still fairly limited and constructed around the binary Girl/Boy paradigm, generally speaking (so in some places you get to be The Other One, you get to be Both, but there isn’t really anywhere where you get to be Neither – apart from Nepal).

I look at my sense of identity, and I can’t see anything coherent or concrete that looks like what people call gender. All I can see in me (and in everyone else, is how it seems to me) is a vast array of human qualities with the borders between them blurred and edgeless – and then each culture (each subculture) corrals them into sets and says “You be woman-qualities, you be man-qualities” (with, generally speaking, an implication of “heterosexual” in those selections).

I hope by now you’ve noticed that I’m careful to say: this is how I’m experiencing it, seeing it. Because I have no idea what’s going on in anyone else’s head. But it feels and seems to me that gender doesn’t exist, it’s just a rule book for a set of games – and that calling myself woman-androgyne-trans man makes about as much sense to me as describing myself to someone as “Well, I’m sort of part boot, part top hat, and part racing car.”

So this is in equal parts bloody amazing and bloody inconvenient. It’s bloody amazing every time I step closer to a real sense of me, and this feels like a big step in that direction: I don’t have a gender identity, I just have a sex identity (female) that belongs to my somatic body-sense, hence transition. It no longer makes sense to call myself transgender, because no gender – in fact, the academic, narrow definition of transsexual would fit me better, if it weren’t such a nasty word (in my view), because I am in fact transitioning due to a body-sex incongruency.

Oh yes, why is it bloody inconvenient? Because I have to explain it to everyone, and it’s going to make how I identify in the future more hard work. Up until now, it would be honest to say that my interest in getting the X option for UK passports was academic, not personal – I could see its value for other people for whom it was a true thing, being neutral or agender. But now I can see an X in my future, and neutral pronouns, and so on, and that’s hard work. I know it is, because I’ve seen my friends working hard who have already come to this conclusion about themselves ahead of me. Ah well.

If I were forced to describe something about me in terms of “gender identity”, I would describe it as a rainbow-coloured cloud. This comes (for me) from an image in Buddhism of the rainbow-coloured cloud as a symbol of the potential out of which everything happens, and keeps happening, and keeps affecting and being affected by everything else (because it’s all intertwangled). And it’s still a game, something that covers up the clear blue sky out of which it arises, and into which it evanesces, all the time.

But since saying that makes people stare at me and say “Uh?”, I’m now inclined, in fields that ask “What is your gender?” to write “post-gender.”

This is a bit of a problem, because it sounds potentially elitist. But I don’t mean it in a Look at me, I’ve seen through this and you haven’t, nyah nyah way.  I simply mean I used until recently to think I had a gender identity, but now I don’t. Go figure. *shrug* And for the same reasons that I don’t like “assuming a position” by calling myself atheist (I prefer non-theist), I don’t like the term agender as a description of me. I’d really just rather avoid the G word altogether.

There you go. Oh, one more piece of news: I’ll be having my, um, Sex Affirmation Surgery (that’ll have to do as a label) on the 6th of May. I’m very excited about this! I get to be as close to female as is possible in this day and age. But as for woman, man, androgyne, etc., I’ve always felt more like a spoonbill than any of those things, so here’s a very lovely spoonbill for you.

Happy new year(s), by the way. Glad to be back.

spoonbill-cropEnvoi: Ooh, cool – in outing myself as post-gender, I’m outing myself for the ninth time!