Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Genderqueer.

A couple of weeks ago, Slate columnist Vanessa Vitiello Urquhart (who I've mentioned before) contacted me on Twitter: “I'm doing an article on the genderqueer community and I could really use an AMAB. Would you be up for an interview?” Of course I said yes, so she sent me a few questions by email, to which I gave considered answers. As I never like these things to go undocumented, I'm reproducing it all here (for posterity). The questions are in italics. (AMAB stands for “assigned male at birth”, by the way.)
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First, what do you identify as, and why?
Genderqueer and femme. The first as a general, inclusive identity; the second because I realized I was.

Describe your presentation.
Androgynous but clearly male. I mostly wear jumpers and jeans. So while my clothes are all off the women's racks, they're not overtly women's clothes, and no one much notices – or if they do, they don't say anything. I do get a lot of comments (from random people) about my (fake) furry coats (of which I have several) but not in a gendered way. People just say things like “great coat”.

When did you start ID-ing this way? Tell me a bit about your history.
I've identified as genderqueer for a long time. Femme (which is my main identity) came later, after a lot of reading. My history is as a life-long crossdresser (we mostly use the term “transvestite” in the UK). I spent a long time trying to understand what I was doing without reference to notions of "femaleness" (which aren't correct for me; I'm not trans in that way). Eventually I realized that "femme" fit me very well, though I came to that sort of by reflection: by reading about butch women, and in particular Leslie Feinberg's ‘Stone Butch Blues’.

In your own words, explain what genderqueer means as if I don't know much about the topic.
I use the word at its most inclusive; i.e. someone whose gender is "queer" (non-normative) in some way, without specifying how. For me that takes the form of "inappropriate" femininity. Explaining this stuff to people who don't know much about it is difficult because, in that case, they very often haven't thought much about gender at all. In the UK, I'd probably point to someone like Eddie Izzard, though I don't know whether he's ever used the label genderqueer for himself. (He identifies as a transvestite.)

Do you know or regularly interact with other genderqueer people, either online or in real life?
I know a lot of non-binary and trans (and non-binary trans) people online. How many identify as genderqueer, I couldn't say. I hardly ever interact with them offline since our trans group packed in.

Have you/will you be pursuing any kind of medical transition?
No and no. Or at least I can't imagine I ever will.

What are your thoughts on the gender binary.
That it's a false and oppressive construct (of the patriarchy).
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Those were the initial questions, which were followed up a bit:

You said that you weren't trans "in that way" (which I understood to mean that you're not in any way female identified). Are you trans in any other way? Or, do you consider yourself cis? Do you feel that there's a grey area that cis and trans don't adequately cover?

I'm not female identified, no – so, as a male person in a binary sex system, I'm not trans (in that way), I'm cis. But of course the trans umbrella covers more than that. There are significant parts of me which the binary gender system genders away from me, so on those terms I am trans. On the other hand, I regard the binary gender system as an oppressive falsehood, and from that perspective I'm not trans because the gender border (that "trans" indicates a crossing of) doesn't really exist, so there's nothing actually to cross. But that latter is a theoretical/political perspective (derived from radical feminism); of course society mostly insists that the binary gender system is real.

Yes, there are always grey areas, people who fall through the cracks in any model of sex and gender. Personally, I'm both/either cis and/or trans depending on context, but neither feels exactly right. Yes, I am a male person in a binary sex system (in as much as sex is truly binary) and receive a fair amount of male privilege thereby, but "male" never feels like an adequate description. In particular, I dislike male pronouns, ticking the “M” box on forms, etc, being put in the discrete category "male". It always rankles. But I'm not non-binary either, so I'm stuck with it. I just wish I could append a “but” to that – male, but... – and have that “but” recognized.

Also, do you (or have you at any time in your life) experienced dysphoria?

Not proper dysphoria. I experience a kind of dysphoria when I can't express myself in a gendered fashion as fully as I might like. There's a quote from Ellen Grabiner (in ‘The Femme Mystique’): “It's when you push boundaries of gender that people freak out. Could I ever be brave enough to look as butch as I sometimes feel?” Equivalently, could I ever be brave enough to look as femme as I sometimes feel? Sometimes I feel very very femme, and I can't really express that. So yes, there's dysphoria there. But it's not full on, make this stop right now dysphoria. Butch Wonders wrote about this last year and identified it as dissonance/discomfort, rather than dysphoria. It's more a drip drip drip kind of thing, though that can become very severe indeed if it's not addressed. And reaching that “very severe indeed” stage is very common in my community – or at least it was; perhaps less so now with the internet.
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And there you have it.

As it turns out, Vanessa only quoted my “history” answer, using it as one of a few examples of multifarious genderqueer identities. And that's fine. Her piece, ‘What the Heck is Genderqueer?’, is intended as an introduction for people who don't know what genderqueer is or means, and I'm happy to help and be part of that – even if the proper answer is that it means all sorts of different things.

Take, for instance, a point she makes lower down: “[M]any of the terms associated with genderqueerness end up referring back to masculinity or femininity in some way, which is a bit tricky if the ideal is to move beyond the gender binary entirely.

Yes, it's tricky; it's always tricky. How do we describe our gender issues so that they make sense to other people, including ourselves? Very often we end up referencing normative notions of gender, even when we regard those as erroneous (or at least incomplete). If this seems like classic doublethink, well, okay, so it is. We're stuck in an oppressive culture that posits binary gender as the basic reality and we have to deal. For me, genderqueer is one reaction (of many) to that, a practical response, a political response, a quiet (or not-so-quiet) resistance, a way of working around the gender system, or expanding the terms of it – or simply a way of hacking out space in which to... live.

[T]he fact is that some people feel constrained by a culture that insists that they be either male or female, with all the expectations, assumptions, and stereotypes that come along with choosing one of those identities. (...) [A]ccommodating genderqueer individuals really isn’t so difficult. It comes down to listening to what they say about themselves, accepting that this is true for them, and not making a fuss about it.

Quite so.

Or as Paris Lees put it in DIVA magazine: “Don't be an asshole.

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Fourth Anniversary.

Four years blogging away now, four years yesterday. I did remember the right day this time but didn't get round to writing; I went to a gig instead.

Looking back at 2014/15: Once again, there were fewer posts than in the previous year – 13 as opposed to 14. My resolution of posting something every calendar month is still standing, if only just. The respective days in each were: 25th, 23rd, 21st, 31st, 26th, 31st, 14th, 21st, 31st, 19th & 30th, 31st, 30th – i.e. a whole load of 20s and 30s. And July was the 31st at 22:46 (a mere 1 hour 14 minutes before August). Similarly, October was the 31st at 20:52; and December, the 31st at 21:28 – half-past nine on New Year's Eve, when most people were out having New Year "fun". But that's okay. I hate that kind of standardized, compulsory fun anyway.

Stats update (2014/15): The most viewed post is still ‘In vision (3)’, which now has over 4000 views (2000+ more than any other). Overall monthly pageviews peaked at 3226 last April, but whether those are all real views or a random influx from Russian spam sites, I'm not sure. The highest referrers remain Reddit, Google and T-Central.

Rather than having a favourite post of last year, there were particular elements that gave me pleasure: the phrase repetition in ‘Andreja Pejic’ and ‘Butch blogs’; minor wordplay in ‘Underdressing’; and the precise nature of the jibe at the end of ‘Trans "vs." feminism (4)’ (which no one is likely to pick up on). Is it impossibly vain to reread your own writing and feel pleased with it? Probably it is, yes. Never mind ;)

Here's something else I like (adapted from an old feminist slogan quoted in Prof. Deborah Cameron's book, ‘The Myth of Mars and Venus’):

If being a man is natural, stop telling me how to do it.

I'm adding that to my growing list of "things to say" as and when required. In the meantime, let Year Five commence.

Friday, 30 January 2015

Radical Femme.



Radical Femme’ is a Facebook community/group/page created in April 2013 with the tagline: “How many femme groups or pages have YOU seen on Facebook? Let's put an END to femme invisibility! All things femme - right here!” Or as the founder further described it: “a femme-centered queer feminist page that welcomes femmes of all genders!

Last October/November she put out a call for new admin. When I asked what admin-ing involved, she explained that: “It mostly means loving and nurturing the page! For example - curating content (or, of course, writing original posts). And then - sharing the posts far and wide, as well as sharing the page itself in various places to get more readers/likes. If there are discussions in the post threads, it means moderating them as needed - make sure no oppressive behavior or hurtful language is being used and ban trolls as necessary.” Okay, I can do that – so I offered my services and was subsequently added to the editorial "staff".

So far I've stuck to “curating content”, posting items of possible interest and sharing them here and there. Yes, we could just post this stuff on our own "Timelines", but I think it's nicer to have a group (or page). They're the Facebook equivalent of forums, and I like forums. Instead of the insular world of FB "Friends", a forum is anybody who joins, which leads to greater diversity and, potentially, to more lively discussion. Not that there's a whole lot of discussing going on at Radical Femme at the moment (so I've not had to do any moderating as yet); people mostly just come and Like things. And as you'd expect with social media, visual content with a strong caption is the most popular – look, read, Like, (perhaps) Share, done.

Here are a few links I've "shared" to date:

What is femme anyway?’ by Iris @bossyfemme;
No Queer Girls are Queerer Than Others: Resisting Femme Invisibility’ by Jeannette Young;
Men in makeup: lawyer by day, glamour puss by night’ by Seán Faye;
Where Are All the Young Femme Lesbians? We Are Right Here!’ by Megan Evans;
Exploring Trans* Femininity with Will Brower’ by Annie Malamet;
It’s Time to Smash the Stigma Against Male-Assigned People Expressing Femininity’ by Leela Ginelle.

And a couple of quotes from those:

Femmes have theorized our own feminist understandings of femininity. We know that the construct of “femininity” is often exclusionary because it has been defined according to certain standards of white, heterosexual, middle-class, able, and cisgendered (non-trans) female bodies of a certain size and shape. For some queer people who don’t fit into these categories, identifying as femme allows us to access, reclaim, and redefine femininity on our own terms—in ways that are incredibly empowering.
— Jeannette Young.

It’s supposed to be fun: the range of style options available to men is already woefully narrow. Wouldn’t a world in which getting ready for a night out was about more than picking from a cupboard of identikit Zara shirts be more thrilling for everyone? Guys, believe me, there’s no quicker way to shake off the fog of the working week than a smoky eye and a nude lip. If you’re looking for a simple starting point, just put a bit of dark brown eyeshadow along both lash lines. Don’t you feel sultry already?
— Seán Faye.

If any of this seems interesting and/or entertaining – and especially if you identify as femme – click on the initial link above and Like us yourself :)

Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Pharmacist Baffler.

I've blogged about Andrew O'Neill before: firstly in ‘Genderpunk’, and then as part of ‘In vision (3)’. This time it's to recommend his two-part show on Radio Four about gender and sexuality, which is currently up online here. The first episode (broadcast on December 16th) has “15 days left to listen” (at time of writing), so don't wait too long before checking it out if you're going to. Maybe he or someone will bang it up on YouTube later, or maybe they won't; who knows.

In episode one, “comedian and transvestite Andrew O'Neill gives his thoughts on gender identity”; in episode two, “comedian Andrew O'Neill delves into sexual identity and homophobia”. Yes, it's comedy – or more exactly, serious topics addressed via the medium of comedy, with a few random instances thrown in of being silly (which never hurts).

The first episode was the most pertinent to me (and this blog). It's primarily about transvestism (aka pharmacist baffling) with Andrew talking/joking about language, definitions, difference, dysphoria, gender expectations, repression, secrecy, finding yourself, fear of rejection, coming out, finding a way to be yourself, and so forth. Since my way to be myself is similar to his – though far less “brazen” – a lot of what Andrew says about himself goes for me too. So I smiled and chuckled and laughed out loud when what he said was "funny because it's true"; or was funny because obliquely true, as he approached a topic from an unexpected angle; or was just funny.

Sorry, no quotes here to make you laugh. Comedy routines are best heard afresh, rather than second-hand, or after being read. And it may well be copyrighted anyway. So you must go and listen to it yourself if you want to. As another recommendation, Grayson Perry tweeted: “great prog Andrew, hilarious and not just because I recognised every single experience! Well done!” And, yes, it is all Eddie Izzard's fault.

A couple of things did jar with me a little, though, as an engaged and critical listener (i.e. as another transvestite):

Andrew seems to be rather down on our “female persona” siblings. Maybe that's a false impression caused by lack of time, in trying to get as many points across as meaningfully (and as funnily) as possible. You can hardly convey the countless nuances of transvestite (never mind trans) identities in a half-hour comedy slot. All the same, I'd argue that cross-dressing in a "female" way, trying to create a female appearance, is not necessarily sexually motivated, nor the manifestation of immature ideas of femininity. It may indicate a bigender – or, indeed, binary transgender – identity for a start; but often it's more an accommodation than anything else. The urge to present as a feminine woman, rather than a man in a dress, can't be so easily dismissed; and while it may require some complicity, that's not the same as (self-)deception. Moreover, femininity has more cultural – and hence more personal – resonance when presented in female form, which makes it more effective expressed like that, especially if it's by necessity occasional.

In the second show, I noticed an inconsistency – between “transvestites are no more likely to be gay than the rest of the population” (i.e. might be gay) and, later, “the sexuality of transvestism is an overdriven heterosexuality” (i.e. not the slightest bit gay). The second of those made me shake my head: “No, not my sexuality.” But it's always difficult, when talking largely about your own experience, not to extrapolate and generalize from that. So I'll let this one go and just scribble a note in the margin: “#NotAllTransvestites”.

Sunday, 30 November 2014

Leslie Feinberg.

Leslie Feinberg, who identified as an anti-racist white, working-class, secular Jewish, transgender, lesbian, female, revolutionary communist, died on November 15. She succumbed to complications from multiple tick-borne co-infections, including Lyme disease, babeisiosis, and protomyxzoa rheumatica, after decades of illness. She died at home in Syracuse, NY, with her partner and spouse of 22 years, Minnie Bruce Pratt, at her side. Her last words were: “Remember me as a revolutionary communist.”

— from an obituary by Minnie Bruce Pratt, written at Leslie's bedside, and submitted to The Advocate. You can read the whole thing here. (Don't get hung up on the pronouns. Les accepted any pronoun used respectfully. I'll be using the gender neutral sie/hir here.)

Tributes to Les, to hir life and work, have been appearing all over, from just about everyone. My favourites are by Ivan Coyote and Sasha Goldberg, along with Sinclair Sexsmith's piece ‘Long Live the Butch’ and Kiki DeLovely's ‘Love Letter to Minnie Bruce Pratt’.

My own introduction to Les's writing was Transgender Warriors – “hir prideful book” as I called it, naming Les as one of my Inspirations in 2011 – and so it is. An autobiographical memoir of hir own journey, of hir own investigations into trans – into pan-historical, pan-cultural trans and other gender-variant identities – its slow diffusion of pride is very powerful. The book effectively says: we're not alone; we're not an aberration; we're here; we've always been here; we're everywhere and everywhen – get used to it. (Okay, the class politics which pervade the text won't be to everyone's taste, but you can always ignore those if you feel you must.)

Hir book of collected speeches and essays, Trans Liberation: Beyond Pink or Blue, is important too, not least (from my perspective) for hir speech to the 9th annual ‘Texas T-Party’, in which sie makes the connection between LGB and the specific T of (heterosexual) cross-dressers and (our) partners, asking in conclusion: “Have we reached the moment in history when this dialogue between our communities can begin?” That was back in 1997 and the question is still moot.

And then there's Stone Butch Blues, which was (and is) a hugely significant book for me. As I related in another post from 2011, it was largely through imagining myself as a mirrored version of the book's main character, Jess, that I began to understand myself as femme. Reading the various tributes, it seems many people have found themselves, their communities, their own and/or their lovers’ identities in Stone Butch Blues, which won Stonewall Book and Lambda Literary Awards in 1994. It's currently out of print, but the sort-of sequel, Drag King Dreams, is still available (“sort-of” because it isn't really a sequel; it just feels like one).

And now Les is gone :(

Dorothy Allison once wrote: “Writing is still revolutionary, writing is still about changing the world.” Through hir courageous writing and activism, Leslie Feinberg helped change the world for the better.

Thanks for everything, Les.


Leslie Feinberg 1949-2014

I'm not at odds with the fact that I was born female-bodied. Nor do I identify as an intermediate sex. I simply do not fit the prevalent Western concepts of what a woman or a man "should" look like. And that reality has dramatically directed the course of my life.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Stop Our Silences.

Signal boost for a worthy campaign, explained by CN Lester as follows:
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The majority of young people who don't fit traditional gender norms are bullied. Bullied in the street, bullied at home, bullied at school – by pupils and teachers.

Gendered Intelligence is a groundbreaking British organization that provides support for gender non-conforming young people – no matter how they identify. Through young people's groups, school training, research and campaigning, they're already making a huge difference to the lives of hundreds of young people.

November 17th-23rd is National Anti-Bullying week here in the UK, and Gendered Intelligence have launched the Stop Our Silence campaign to raise awareness of gender-based bullying, to raise funds to run youth groups, and to show solidarity with all young people who are being silenced because of who they are.

There are two really easy ways that you can help.

1. Friday 21st of November – let's flood Twitter with selfies.

We're so often told that people like us don't exist – that we shouldn't exist – that there's nobody else like us out there. So let's break our silences and celebrate who we are.

Trans, cis, not sure, somewhere in between – everyone is welcome to lend their support. Just take a selfie holding a message:

“I was silent because...”
“They silenced me with...”
“I will never be silent again because...”
“Let's end the silence around gender-based bullying.”

Tweet with the hashtag #StopOurSilence to @GIYouthgroup and we'll keep the images rolling.

2. Stay silent for 24 hours – or sponsor a silence.

Gendered Intelligence members, family and friends are going silent to raise funds – even a small donation makes a hell of a difference. Or do your own sponsored silence? If only 100 people managed to get another 100 people to donate £1 each, GI would have £10,000 to fund their work.

On a personal note – I was badly bullied through school for being queer and trans – it happens so often it's almost a cliché. But it doesn't have to be like that – and Gendered Intelligence are working their arses off to change things.

So lend a hand?
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Okay :)

Despite the fact that I don't really like selfies very much. I find them banal, use hide functions on other people's selfies almost automatically, and have never posted one here. But this is a selfie for a cause, so I'll be temporarily suppressing my natural negativity this Friday. Yes, that's this Friday. Get busy cru.

Now I just have to think up some text. Something beginning “I was silent because...” seems appropriate. Because I didn't suffer gender-based bullying at school. Not outward bullying from other people anyway. And that's because I was so completely silent about this stuff.

I've written about my own silence before – see the (rather pathetic) posts ‘Stealth’ (prompted by something CN once tweeted) and ‘14th August 2012’; the answer “Coming Out” in ‘Eight Questions’; and the somewhat happier ‘Second Anniversary’. No, I'm not a particularly good role model for not being silent. I'm still quite silent. Stay silent for 24 hours? Piece of piss ;) . But I don't feel as oppressed by my own silence now.

On the other hand, would I rather not (in hindsight) have been quite so silent as a young gender-variant person? Would I rather today's young people not feel the same need to be silent? Do I wish that no young person (or indeed anybody) suffers... in silence, or because of their silence, or because they're not silent. How many yesses is that? I've lost count.
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NB. If you don't use Twitter or social media, selfies can be sent direct to Gender Intelligence.
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#StopOurSilence Friday edit – and here's my selfie :)

Friday, 31 October 2014

Underdressing.

Underdressing means wearing differently-gendered clothing underneath normatively-gendered clothing. It's a common transvestite strategy. When social/cultural norms and pressures, internalized shame or embarrassment – or just specific dress codes – prevent us from wearing what we might like, there is some relief to be found in doing so under cover, as it were. That is, wearing certain underclothing concealed under other clothing – as indeed underclothes tend to be, unless you want to dress up as Superman. As an example, filmmaker Ed Wood wore (perhaps apocryphally) a bra and panties under his military uniform while serving with the US Marine Corps in the Second World War. Nice one.

Googling brings up numerous trans-related blogposts (and forum threads) on the topic of underdressing, ranging from support and advice to personal taste to kink and guilt. There's usually some sort of guilt thrown in there somewhere, some need to apologize, to qualify something somehow. We so often feel the need to do that. *Sigh*. One exception is the blog of an American crossdresser called Meg, who (admirably) isn't offering even the hint of an apology.

The oblique prompt for my own post was a fashion piece in The Guardian this week: ‘Why women are buying men's underwear’. And why are they? Some are buying it for their male nearest as always; some are buying it for themselves because, for instance, it's “so comfy”; and I'd guess, although the article doesn't consider this motivation, some women are buying it to underdress, in order to express (some sort of) masculinity (or something) in themselves, to themselves, for themselves.

Below the line, someone called ‘mikiencolor’ makes the following point: Women wear "men's" underpants: latest unisex fashion trend. Men wear "women's" underpants: crossdressing sexual fetish.

Actually, that quote makes (perhaps unintentionally) a whole load of points: about gender and sexual assumptions and stereotypes and judgments and proscriptions. *Sigh*. It makes me tired just thinking about all that, so I'll leave the comment alone as one of the very few worth reading. Here's another one I liked (from someone called ‘Hosieryformen’). Otherwise, as you'd expect, the comments are the usual pile of pants.

As someone who underdresses myself – and I'd call it that even though virtually all my clothing is technically (if not obviously) non-normatively gendered – the best passage I've ever read on underdressing comes (perhaps inevitably) from a lesbian femme. In a chapter on personal femme style in ‘The Femme's Guide to the Universe’, Shar Rednour writes:

Lingerie is like the fabulous gift wrapping between the birthday girl and a precious treasure, and baby, that treasure is you. Wearing sexy undergarments makes you sexy. It means you're ready to be sexful at the drop of a skirt. Wearing sensual next-to-you things can also remind you that you are a Queen no matter what you have to be wearing on the outside. I used to wear camisoles and lacy slips underneath these ghastly uniforms required by the hostess job I had at the Ramada Inn. Try wearing a velvet or embroidered bra under your McDonald's uniform. Or a PVC G-string under a power suit. No matter what costume we have to don to face the world, our lingerie is our armor protecting our inner Queen and keeping us sane with reminders of our true nature.

Quite so :)

And no, there's not the least hint of apology in Rednour's writing either. And I just love that. More and more, nowadays, I find, I have less and less time for useless internal bullshit.