Good Omens

Living a genderqueer life

Category: genderqueer

An infinite November

This must be the slowest November ever. It’s never taken so long for a day to go by, even though I feel like sleeping at eight every evening. Right now I feel I don’t have any routines left, no timetables, just watching the dreary rain, trying and repeatedly failing to write my thesis or play the bass (it’s so hard to start, even though I know that I’ll like it when I manage to).

I’ll be moving to a flat by myself next month. So will R and K, to their respective new homes. Living together didn’t go as well as I’d hoped. We were too tired all the time, exhausted by our own troubles, to be able to lend a figurative or sometimes even a physical hand, so it all went downhill when negative feelings started gathering momentum. There were lovely, lovely moments and periods, and I think I’ve learned so much, it’s easy not to have any regrets about trying. Now that we’ll have our own places, we can figure out ourselves, our relationships to each other and our shared history.

On a positive side, I feel that I’ve reached a point in my life, where my queer gender is the least of my troubles. In therapy, in the wearisome process of digging up old things and trying to deal with them, my re-phrasing of my (non)gender experience seems to have been the start of everything getting better.

PS One of the reasons this month feels so slow is that I’m growing a Movember moustache, in the spirit of “it’s not only men who can grow one”. It’s more like the first whiskers of a teenager than moustache, but there it is. I’m looking forward to 1st of December.

Alien from space

Queuing for lunch at work today, I had a conversation with two children, ages maybe five and six. It went approximately like this – I did a bit of abridging. All the while, imagine me concentrating very hard on not looking at the fifty adults standing in the line too, and not imagining what they are thinking.

Child 1: Look Dad, that man’s got yellow glasses!

Adult (tiredly): Well, indeed.

Me: What makes you think I’m a man?

Child 1: You’ve got hairy legs.

Child 2: So you’re a man.

Me: Actually that’s not true. All people with hairy legs aren’t men.

Child 1: But you look like a man.

Me: But I’m not.

Child 2: Are you a woman then?

Me: Nope.

Child 1 (victoriously): Then you’re a man!

Me: I’m not a man, and I’m not a woman. I’m transgender.

Child 1 & Child 2: What’s that?

Me: There’s other people than men or women.

Child 1 & Child 2: No there aren’t.

Child 1: I’m sure you’re a man. You’re just kidding me.

Me: You can be sure and still be wrong. I’m not kidding you, I’m not a man.

Child 1: What are you then? Are you an alien from space?

Me: That’s okay with me.

Child 1: But you look like a man!

Me: You say I look like a man because you’ve been told that people who look like me are men. That’s not always true.

Child 2: But I know you’re a man!

Me: You can’t know what anybody is until they tell you. It’s not about (insert Finnish child words for genitalia) and it’s not about what you look like.

Child 1:

Child 2:

Child 1: So are you just a human?

Me: Yes, that’s exactly right. I’m just me, and I’m just a human.

Child 1: BUT YOU LOOK LIKE A MAN!

Me: I’m in disguise.

Child 2: In disguise?

Me: Yep.

Child 1 & Child 2: Oh. (They take their food trays & go, glance at me over their shoulders, I smile amusedly, they smile bemusedly.)

I (want to) live in a world full of trust and love

What if I told you that my trans experience isn’t something I had been looking for all my life, but something I heard about and wanted to try for myself, and found that I liked? Would that make my experience less true?

When I first started studying comparative religion (in a galaxy far away called year 2007), on the second day of the study year, all new students gathered in the department’s seminary room with the professors and other faculty members. We had sparkling wine (the university still had money back then), and were asked why we wanted to study the subject. I remember saying that even if the natural sciences or psychology discovered exactly where it is that religious experience originates, be it evolution biology, cognitive neuroscience, psychoanalysis, sociology, whatever, the experience itself would remain. And because of that, it is people’s experiences that I’m interested in, not the reason for them. I’m not interested in biology, and I’m not interested in the existence of God. What interested me then and still does, is what people feel and how they make their feelings & experiences understandable to other people.

For me, it’s the same with trans experience. I don’t want to need to know if being trans is something born with us, or if it’s something we choose, or something else again. All I need to know is that the experience itself is there, for me at least, and that other people have told me they also experience it. After that, it’s a question of trust. Do I require some proof from you, because I think I know better, or do I try to live knowing I don’t know everything, and might as well know nothing?

As a last school thing before summer, I’ve spent some time writing an essay about early Christian conceptions of God colliding with those of the Hellenistic world. In the latter, the word God refers to a perfect being. To be perfect, you need to be complete and unchanging. And to be unchanging, you need to be detached from everything else. Is that something I want?

It may well be that being genderqueer is something I wanted to try, tried, and found out it suited me better than being a man. When I had freed myself from the tight confines of being a man in this culture, I found I did not fit back in – not because I had been trans all along but because I had found freedom in it unlike anything before. Or it may be that I have been genderqueer all along, and finding the concept, I slipped into it, not by choice but because it was what I am.

But as I said, I’m really not very interested in the question. What is important to me is that living genderqueer has opened to me a world of good I didn’t know existed. It is a world that doesn’t reach everywhere yet, but it will eventually – a world of trust, of shared griefs and joys, of absurd moments when it collides with other worlds. Not an easy world, but one full of love.

Pebbles

I’ve tried to post (at least) every two weeks, but since the last post, I’ve had so much to think about, that I haven’t been able to decide where to begin – and so I haven’t written anything here.

One evening, I had a long conversation with a friend, which showed me some things inside me: difficult things, hidden things, long-lost things. I was left weak and crying, but fortunately I wasn’t alone, the friend was there to help and comfort me. In the following days, I felt like I had let my mind’s walls down so fast, too fast, that what had been contained within – my sense of self, or parts of my identity –  had spilled from my grasp like too many pebbles from a child on a seashore. I had to begin gathering the pebbles from the ground again, and doing so, to look at them and decide which to keep.

There are some pebbles it’s easy to keep. Good memories, relationships with people, worldviews… Positive things that give me hope and make me happy. Others are lovely and important too, but having too much of them will exhaust rather than invigorate; most of these involve doing something, like meeting people, studying, working, cycling…

The third, most difficult group of pebbles is the one with all the questions in it. It is at the same time the most crucial of all: every pebble here is one I can’t afford to throw away, even if I’d like nothing better. These are the ones I reserved a time for a psychologist to talk about, because I’ve at last started to come to terms with not being able to handle all these by myself. Some of these are:

Gender identity. An assigned male at birth transboy? What the hell? What I’m going to do with it, go through the treatments and start binding?

Gender presentation. My presentation is gravitating towards “dapper butch” again as summer gets nearer, but I hate it that people will take me for a well-dressed man. I mean, I’m not dressing like this because I want to “present gender”, but because I like to dress like this!

Sexuality. I’d love not to be so embarrassed by knowing what penises are usually used for. It’s like I’m ten again and just read the school biology book for the first time. Yuk!

Being good at things. My identity seems to center on being good at things, and looking at the world in a positive, optimistic way. This is of course very nice. But (a bit like Hyperbole and a Half writes on “not giving a fuck“) I’ve come to realize that this isn’t just about having loads of positive emotions – for me, it’s also about not being really able to handle the negative emotions, and instead storing them away until you can’t do it any more.

I think I’m going to spend a long while on these pebbles. It’s going to be good.

Coming out (again, again and again)

Why do I have to do this?
Why does it have to be me?
Why can’t I just be normal?

Why am I so scared?
Why do I have to be brave again and again?
Does it ever get easier to say the words?

What makes you think I’m a…?
Why do you say that?
Have you ever heard of a person that is …? No?

Oh.

Why’s it me that needs to educate you?
Why don’t you know all this already?
Why didn’t they tell you?

Why didn’t they tell me?

I had a gender once, but I got over it.

Last week, I read a zine sent to me by one of its writers, j. The zine’s name is

Null & Void, or, bathrobes: a conversation about gender (or the lack thereof)

and I suppose you can buy one by contacting j. via their blog. You should definitely read it, this is good stuff.

One of the things mentioned in the zine is being “post-gender”. I fell in love with the concept immediately. Like Chris, the zine’s other writer, says,

“i want to be ‘post-gender’. I want to not have a need to engage with the concept at all when it comes to defining myself.”

These two sentences opened into something new and wonderful in my self-perception. It’s like I’ve been looking at things in a different way since reading them. In a way, I feel I’ve come a full circle from where I was a couple of years ago, but have grown and changed in the process, so that the old place seems changed too. I’ll try to explain, but I’ll need to think first.

You know how there’s a difference between doing something because you can’t imagine not doing it (not knowing options exist, maybe), and doing the same thing after you’ve learned there are options, carefully weighed them, looked around for more, and then, still, decided to do like you were going to in the first place?

For instance, from the age of 2 until maybe 18, I was a vegetarian because I was brought up as one. Then I began questioning my un-choice, began to taste different kinds of meat, found out I quite like many of them – and then went back to being vegetarian, nowadays vegan most of the time, this time because I’ve chosen it to be so.

I used to think gender doesn’t matter to me at all. Then, by my studies, discussions with friends, personal experiences and all the other things that life has brought, I was taught to see the intricate webs of meaning, power, and violence, that my being brought up “according to” my assigned-at-birth gender has tangled me in – and how so many things I’ve thought “natural” to me really come from being taught from an early age on.

In trying to extricate myself from the web, I became aware of the consequences of (hypothetically) succeeding in the attempt: I realized that a total detachment from society’s grasp always comes with the terrible price of complete freedom. For a time I tried it, feeling I stood alone in a world of white under a burning sky with no shelter but my own pride, and I learned the hard way that as much as the world of language needs me to keep going the power relations of oppression and indoctrination, I need it to be able to resist it, and shape myself in doing so. And so I put away and forgot my original idea of gender not mattering to me, and tried instead to find a gender labeled in a way I could have as my own.

But reading Chris’ words last week, I realized that what I had really been looking for wasn’t not having a gender label forced on me by others, or even being able to define or leave undefined my relation to gender – it was not needing to or have others think about “my gender” at all, “not have a need to engage with the concept at all when it comes to defining myself” – just people doing things together and giving each other shelter in whatever storms life might bring.

House-elves and werewolves

My love and I began listening to Stephen Fry’s audiobook reading of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series last summer, and with an average rate of five chapters a week, we’re now halfway through the last book, Deathly Hallows. I’ve read and re-read the books maybe once every two years since they were first published, but the real magic of the series is that the story grows with the reader. The various facets and levels of the – at first glance simple, even naïve – story are so manifold that I believe I could go on reading the books indefinitely, and still find new points of view from which to look at them.

Listening to Stephen Fry’s aural painting of the familiar scenes, I’ve felt compelled to visit the dark underbelly of the magicking world in a kind of anti-patriarchal, queer feminist reading of the series. Not being forced to adhere to the simple survey of the actual events happening on the page, my thoughts have been on what is left unsaid, which things are taken to be so “natural” or so self-evident that they need not be explicated.

In previous re-readings, I’ve found myself partly mirrored in Harry, growing up quickly in a world difficult to understand, or Hermione, trying to solve all of life’s difficult situations with booklore, or any of the half a dozen “real”, in-depth characters of the series. This time, I’ve been thinking a lot about the nameless, unimportant “evil” characters that abound in the series – especially werewolves, living on the margins of the society, being able to pass as fully human at will, but ultimately lacking the motivation to do so. And I’ve thought about house-elves, willing slaves to a ruling class able but not compelled to show mercy to its invisible servants.

And I’ve thought about myself, genderqueer in a world of people and people, and about people I love, and how I would love to “contaminate” them with the same invisibility I experience every day – about, ultimately, preferring the company of people like me to that of those, even loved, that can never understand my “condition” fully. And of all the people living their whole lives happily, without ever questioning the systems of oppression that patriarchy forces on us, until change is forced down their throats like a potion of clear thinking, unasked and unwanted, when there’s a flaw in the plan and systems come crashing down.

After reading Žižek

The world is made from words.

Many people believe that words are something referring to an “objective” “reality”. I believe it is not so. I believe words refer to another words, which refer to yet another words, and back, making a web of words leading from one to another. I believe words are all we have, and words have power – they are power.

Every word we say is a political act of rewriting reality. Either we write the new reality to be the same as the old one, or we change something. And because the web of words that reality is, is constantly changing because of what other people write, even choosing “same as before” is shaping the world into something new.

As genderqueer, I experience the power of words every day, beginning with the morning newspaper. On its pages, my gender identity is constantly being made non-existent: in a gallup analysis “both men and women think…” In a clothes shop advert, “for women, men and children”, every possibility is thought to have been covered. The list of little words and sentences denying my existence goes on and on, and I haven’t even finished my Earl Grey…

So please, take care of what you’re saying. By including somebody in your use of any concept, you automatically exclude others. That can’t be helped, it’s just the way language works. Just be aware of it: there are no objective sentences, and everything you say is being used against somebody else.

Everybody is nobody, as far as taking the blame is concerned

There are some things like that one would feel better off without. Anger is one of them, especially when you’re angry because of something that anger really can’t help at all. I’m currently experiencing a vicious circle of fruitless, non-directable anger, which is really tough to cope with. This is how it goes.

I’m angry with…

… having to be nice to people who say it’s hard for them that I’m trans*. There’s always somebody who I must understand, understand and understand, because this is such a hard time for them. Why doesn’t anybody ask me if I’m having a hard time? I’m having one all right, thank you very much.

… having to act nice and normal like it’s my fault to be what I am and you don’t have to change anything about the way you look at the world. I WANT you to have to realize that the way you’ve been looking at the world doesn’t work anymore, it’s not a good way of looking at anything. Not at me, anyway.

… having to be the exception. I find myself saying time after time that I’m okay this way, everybody can keep identifying as what they have been identifying all along, I can be the quota trans* person. But what I really want to say is, ditch the bloody gender binary! Stop living as if  there were only men, women and exceptions! Even, and especially if you’re happy as a man or a woman, proclaim yourself as having stepped outside the system – non-binary, genderqueer, trans*, whatever, just do it, even for one day! I want to be political about this, I want a revolution to join, I just don’t know how to start.

… the world and the fact that when something is everybody’s fault, it’s really nobody’s, and so I’ve really got nobody to be angry with. I know nobody’s to blame for me feeling this way (except maybe myself, but that’s not an option I want to explore any further), and that everybody’s doing their best to deal with me being what I am. And so, I’ve got to understand people again, because I already do, and so we come back to the beginning…

Mirror mirror on the wall

This morning I looked in the mirror and saw a person I’ve been longing to see. For quite a while, I’ve been seeing somebody else in the mirror, somebody trying their best to look like me but not quite managing it.

I can’t explain it very well, but this morning, my first thought when looking at the mirror, was, “now this is how I should look like.” For example, I’ve been feeling ill-at-ease with the fact that I’m taller than many people I like to be with, and generally felt I look too much like a stereotypical person of my (biological) sex. But today, there was a change in how I see myself. There was not a “person of sex A” in the mirror, but myself, looking calm and relaxed (albeit a bit bleary-eyed because I had to get up early).

A trans* person, ready to face the new day.