Seeing Red

July 16, 2009

I cannot stand it when people make me choose between their white and someone else’s black
But when they tell me it’s all shades of gray,
I see red.
I do not live in the demilitarized zone between male and female—
that place is armed to the teeth
and I have chosen sides.
I am not between, I am Other, I am deserter,
And for that they will hunt me to the ends of the earth,
They will ask me if I practiced sounding like a woman and yell that I am a MAN,
        As if saying it would make it true,
        As if these combat boots would ever march for them,
        As if they didn’t know that.

I speak “shibboleth,” fording the river of our tears and our blood,
But when you outstretch your welcoming arms, will they have bayonets?
Will you assuage the guilt of stabbing my sisters by treating my wounds
        Or by casting me out?

When we expose your prejudice, when we won’t shut up,
        will you plant your guns in our hands?
        will you make believe we threatened you with our flesh?
        as you did to Diana Courvant and the women who didn’t actually shower at Michfest?
Will you do it on the same day you pull a knife on my friend for being on the land
        and tell her you can’t control yourself?
Or will it be the day you watch me trapped against the wall
        and punched in the face?
Will you reproach your friend for getting in the middle of a fight,
        while you look on?
Will you praise the words of those you saw “not see it happen”
        And ignore my rescuers and advocates, those who were there?

Will you be “shocked!” that gay men, that white men, would do this to me?
Will you reproach my anger at black men’s harassment while disbelieving white men’s fists?
When HRC lobbies for transphobic discrimination,
Will you still tell us to focus on the people who do real violence?
When I, passing, duck behind my bike from a black woman swinging her shoe at my head
Will you still insist that violence against oppressors is righteous?
Will you, the white anti-racist in a white neighborhood in a white city
quote statistics and tell me it was a fluke?
Or will you insist that everything is shades of gray, that it’s complicated,
And ask what if my body, my presence, my existence was triggering for [real] survivors?

Will you ever see our blood, our tears, our scars?
Will you ever see our lips, our blush?
Will you ever see the blood on your own hands?
Will you ever see the wounds from your righteous, “friendly” fire?
Because until then,
I’ll be seeing red.

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The transsexual body is an unnatural body. It is the product of medical science. It is a technological construction. It is flesh torn apart and sewn together again in a shape other than that in which it was born.

Susan Stryker

My body is not in the shape it was born in. It is several feet taller and weighs over ten times as much as it did when it came out of my mother’s womb. Its workings are the product of medical science–I suffered a life threatening illness at age eight and would almost certainly be dead were it not for antibiotics. My appearance, also, is a product of medicine–artificially altering my sex hormones. My parents, not wanting me to go bald before graduating from high school, paid for a mild anti-androgen to stop my hair loss when I was sixteen. I’m very thankful for that, though in retrospect I wish it had been a higher dose. At seventeen, my “flesh [was] torn apart and sewn together again in a shape other than that in which it was born” by doctors when I had my wisdom teeth removed. Furthermore, I have altered my body to meet oppressive societal demands which I internalized through mental illness. In fact, I still struggle with my eating habits.

“A [woman’s] penis is a weapon. A sword. A knife. Dominance and sexism incarnate.”

Yes–a weapon against her. A weapon threatening her life, a weapon demanding her submission to both male and cissexual supremacy. Rather than symbolizing her power over [cis] women, it symbolizes her powerlessness within a transphobic/gender coercive society, the patriarchal order’s unjust demands on her person.

When her penis symbolizes maleness-as-violence it symbolizes the violence of making her male. The violence done to her at birth, classified then mutilitated against her will, the violence enacted to put her back in that classification–her penis symbolizes her vulnerability to violence, discrimination, rape, and murder.

Before transition, her penis, symbolizing patriarchial violence and sexism, symbolizes her body as dangerous and unsafe, threatening to women–including her. It symbolizes the isolation she faces as someone unable to be with her own kind, that she & her emotions and her inner truth are inferior because they don’t match up to the prescribed ideal…her penis symbolizes her Otherness, her danger to others and to herself, her inability to access community and support, her toxicity to the people she loves, the impossibility of ever joining the real and the human on her terms–it Others her not only through difference but also as a threat. It tells her to feel shame & self-loathing because she is threat and violence, the very violence enacted upon her–that is, her own body symbolizes her as the criminal causing her victimization, her own body tells her she is not merely ‘asking for it’ but doing it herself. And by supposedly symbolizing her invulnerability, it is the cited reason she should be left vulnerable to the very violence that organ makes her vulnerable to–it is both the reason to attack and the reason that attack is unimportant. Her penis symbolizes her lack of importance, her lack of humanity, symbolizes the justness of the violence done to her–rather than symbolizing her worth and superiority, her penis symbolizes her worthlessness and inferiority. Her penis symbolizes not pleasure or power but pain and powerlessness. Her penis is trauma, not because of anything inherent but because of trans misogyny.

In that her penis symbolizes male supremacy, it symbolizes her inferiority as a woman, as someone who wants to be a woman. Her penis is made to symbolize her insanity, her instability, hysteria, and weakness. Her penis symbolizes her forced receptivity to social control by a cis male order, symbolizes her lack of control over her own body and its sexuality–the control wrested from her.

it symbolizes her objectification
her fetishiziation, her inhumanity, cis male control over her sexuality
–and through the Standards of Care it symbolizes cis male authority, dominance, and control over her body
it symbolizes institutional abuse and violence
it symbolizes infantilization and lack of authority; it symbolizes her as so dangerous she needs protection from herself.
it symbolizes the necessity to protect her–from herself, from her danger to herself and others

Her body symbolizes patriarchial violence–against her. That everpresent symbol cannot be erased or ignored except by surgery, it is inescapable, that trauma is re-presented every day, sometimes at the level of consciousness, sometimes not.

Her penis symbolizes Patriarchy, it symbolizes her inability to remove Patriarchy from her body and her life, it symbolizes her subordination, misogyny, it symbolizes her inability to escape subordination and misogyny, it symbolizes the naturalness of her subordination and the justness of misogyny against her.

Her penis is symbolized as ugly and incongrous, her penis symbolizes her as freak and outcast. She is taught shame and self-loathing over both the genitals she has and the ones she wants.
Just as it symbolizes her forced receptivity, it symbolizes her inability to receive, to receive love and pleasure and support,
it symbolizes normative masculinity’s emotional numbness
it symbolizes her Otherness, the impenetrability and incomprehensibility of her emotions
it symbolizes her sexlessness,
her alienation from biology and reproduction,
her alienation from the Real
her inhumanity
it symbolizes her alienation from truth and meaning
her “phallus” reflects her unintelligibility, her meaninglessness
her isolation from meaning, representation, knowledge
–her phallus represents her lack of the Phallus

it symbolizes the demand that she be hard and unyielding
and by contrast her longing to open and release; it symbolizes the impossibility of being fully open with others
it symbolizes the trauma that makes her unable to feel
it symbolizes her unreliability, her manipulation, her insanity, and her deception
it symbolizes her truth as deception
it symbolizes her oppression as truth and as Truth.

“dick” and “prick” and “schmuck” to her symbolize only violence, there is not the support given to cis men of their penises as good and natural, as creating life not just destroying it
they symbolize her body’s inherent shamefulness
they make her body an object of contempt
her body becomes ans argument for her dismissal, her irrelevance, her ejection and exclusion

it symbolizes her forced isolation
as “unemotional” and “unfeeling”
as a threat held at bay
as unnatural and inhuman
–in short, as monster.

EDIT 7-27-2009/RE-EDITED 1-27-2010:: This piece got linked to at Susan’s place, and without the context of the rest of this blog, almost all of the commenters misinterpreted what I mean by “symbolize.”

Hint: remember the phrase, “not because of anything inherent but because of trans misogyny.” As in, I wouldn’t characterize this as satire, though irony… kind of fits. There is an irony I’m pointing out, and I’m not actually this much of an essentialist…

Sheesh.

It does something to you, growing up trans in this world, coming out, transitioning. It does something to you, knowing you are worth less.

When you decide, if you decide, to take hormones, to have surgery, to medically transition, you have to accept that your life is worth less because you are trans. You have to accept that in our society, you are not worth a couple weeks of a researcher’s time, an office, and a couple hundred rats.

You have to accept that you will never receive safe medical care again. There are no studies, there is no research. There will be no research. There is a federal ban on funding research. No one knows your risk of cancer, no one knows if there are better options, no one has scientific evidence of jack shit. No one knows the long term effects of trans HRT, let alone how your body reacts with other drugs. Let alone the changes you will experience that aren’t on the map for cis people, that aren’t about them, that are specifically trans. You are not worth even the laxest of FDA approval standards, at least not to the government. Not to medicine. Not even to WPATH. Not even they advocate, protest, denounce, even they are complicit. You are not worth a single class in medical school. You are not worth a single day in medical school. You are not worth any formal training. At all. You are not worth being treated by someone properly trained.

I know, these are false. This is only culture. But you have to accept it nonetheless. You have no choice, if you want to access medicine.

You have to accept not merely the risk, but the certainty of institutional violence against you as a cost of transition. If you want to transition, you must accept abuse. You must accept coercion. These days, you can purchase hormones from overseas, but you still must accept that if the US government finds your purchases it will steal them. You must accept that if it does this you risk health consequences.

If you have surgeries, you have to accept paying thousands of dollars for what cis people have to begin with. You have to accept paying for it all yourself, unfunded by the same cis people who will demand that you take part in funding the same procedures for them. You have to accept that you are shouldering a larger economic burden than those who make twice as much as you do. You have to accept shouldering economic burdens for the very same people who discriminate against you, paying for research you are legally prohibited from benefiting from.

You have to accept that from here on out, you are never safe. You have to accept exchanging internal misery for violence, discrimination, and abuse. You have to accept that the chances you will be murdered go up 16 fold.

You have to accept that you are accepting the risks of violence, discrimination, death, and abuse. You have to accept that you are accepting medical risk that would be illegal for any other population. You have to accept that you are accepting the risk that you will not only be killed for who you are, but that that killing will not even be considered murder. You have to accept, when you transition, that you are taking steps that will disqualify you from many of the most basic safety nets our government provides, and that you pay for in taxes. You have to accept, when you transition, that the actions you take may legalize sexually assaulting you, IPV against you, raping you, harassing you, etc etc, and cause you to lose many of the resources available for dealing with them. You have to accept a world in which your life is worth less than a cis woman’s comfort–and you have to accept entering that world on your own two feet. Whether or not it’s a “choice” to be trans, you have to accept that every pill you take, every patch you wear, every shot you inject is a choice to remain in this world of violence and hate.

You have to accept transitioning anyway. You have to accept leaving yourself vulnerable to all of that. You have to accept taking immense risks to gain some of what cis people have from birth, what they have handed to them. You have to accept that you are not turning back, that your own actions expose you to this risk, no matter how little your fault it is–but if you do turn back, you have to accept that you are throwing your emotional health in a wastebasket and lighting it on fire.

You have to accept betraying yourself. One way or another.

No, it is not your fault. No, the violence, discrimination, hate, etc etc is not your fault, you are not “bringing it on yourself,”–the government is, transphobes in the street and in the West Bank University of Minnesota Office Building and in every office building are, transphobic feminists and CLGB folks are. They are solely responsible, and they are reprehensible for it. But you have to accept risk. You have to accept unacceptable risk. You are in a building lit on fire by arson, and you have to accept that there is an exit you are not taking.

There is something that being trans does to you. Something that transitioning does to you.

Today someone asked me–I don’t remember what it was. Why I took some risk. Why I lane split on my bicycle, why I run red lights. And the only thing I could think of is “I’m trans.” Why I bike in bad weather in the winter–my excuse is that public transit is expensive and a site of harassment, but again I can’t get past ‘but I’m trans’. Of course I do that. Someone lectured me about taking herbs that hadn’t had vigorous scientific studies done on them, that no one really knew if they were safe, if they did what they were said to do, if they had unknown terrible side effects. All I could think of is, “but I’m trans.” Someone implored me not to wear my heart on my sleeve, to leave myself vulnerable to people who will attack me and hurt me, and all I can think is “but I’m trans.” People tell me not to get a tattoo unless I’ve meditated on it for a year and been completely certain, since it was permanent, but I think “but I’m trans. What are you talking about?” People lecture me on my BPA water bottle, on this health risk and that health risk, on what we don’t know about food risks, and I think ‘great for you, but I’m trans.’ People wonder why I go out alone at night, when I feel vulnerable to violence, powerless to defend myself, and they chalk it up to trans woman male privilege, but I know that’s not how being trans affects it. People wonder why I bottom intensely with a new person, and I think, are you kidding me? I should be concerned about that when I’m in a community space? Why did you spit at him when he had you trapped against the wall? Why did you kick the car’s bumper?

No, the reason I take risks has nothing to do with male socialization. I take risks because I’m used to it. I take my life into my hands and it’s nothing special, really. I take risks because I know that it’s ok for me to die in my society, and I can’t help internalizing some of that. I take physical risks to preserve my psychological health because it’s all I have. I take risks because I know I don’t matter. I take risks because what’s one more risk given all I already have? I take risks because I really don’t know how long I’m going to live, or what beast is staring at me from thirty years away. I take risks because I know that in ten years my life, my very existence, could be illegal. I take risks because I’m already surviving a risk that others quake at. I take risks because risk has lost its meaning.

Hopefully I’ll be getting to writing new posts/material soon. I originally wrote in in 2006, (an earlier version is included as text in the Being and Loving Me project) but didn’t really perform it in a group setting until CT ’08, with a couple changes. So–

Trans Fat

To a country concerned about consuming trans fat–
“Will it block up our arteries,
belabor our hearts,
befoul our blood?”
To a nation with a notion to nullify trans fat–
Wanting clear credentials proclaiming:
“Completely chemically natural;
To keep your conscience clean.”
To a people panicked by trans fat pollution–
From the ballgame burger bun,
To the Michigan music margarine,
To the dyke’s dozen doughnuts.

Like your worst nightmare:
Merely to gaze on these fatty mounds
Will invite all the worst of heart disease,
And any who’ve tasted these curves refuse
Your resistant abstinent insistence
Point blank.

Read the rest of this entry »

Hi CT folks and Femme Con folks! This is the long piece I performed at Camp Trans; I thought y’all might want to read it. Trans Fat and the other (as yet untitled) one I’ll put up soon, so check back.

So Shut Up

“You have male privilege.
You dominate conversations.
You profited economically from your time as a man.
So shut up.

“Nobody talks about trans men.
If you’re talking about trans women specifically, its because you’re sexist.
We’re the invisible ones.
So shut up.

“You’re fixated on hormones and surgery.
You reinscribe Patriarchial gender norms.
You’re obsessed with passing and being a 50’s housewife.
You did this to fit in and be gender conforming.
You’re just trying to fit in because transgressing gender norms is too hard
So shut up.
Read the rest of this entry »

Diseased

You call me sick
You try to tell me I am a man before you punch me
–Just under my left cheekbone–
And you yell, outraged, that the freak you trapped against the wall spit in your face.

Because, you might catch it. I hope you do.
Because transsexualism is a disease
It threatens you
It mocks you
It tempts you
It is a dis-ease in the truest sense of the word,
With doctors armed and ready to defend us all from infection and contain the contagion
Researchers at the Clarke are searching frantically for a cure to end this epidemic
–As if the cops and the courts weren’t doing a good enough job–
vaccinating our children with violence and self-hate
If we’ve got it, we can’t go to school till we’re ‘cured’
And it hardly looks good to show up sick to a job interview.
They can give us drugs to “alleviate discomfort,”
But they can’t make it go away.

No, we’re quitting this quarantine
And we will spread our sickness around the world like the plague that it is–
A plague on coercion,
A plague on state control,
A plague on sexism and gender roles,
A plague on your categories and naming,
But most of all, a plague on your authority.