Good Omens

Living a genderqueer life

Category: social life

Microseconds that matter

Two kinds of people: some know my birth name, know my whole history; others don’t.

Two kinds of people: some, calling me by my name, hesitate for a microsecond before saying it: “How about you… Enne?”

So there’s actually four ways of saying the name. With somebody knowing and hesitating,

I get hurt. I don’t have the courage to say, “did you notice what just happened.” I don’t know why you did it, and probably never will, because it’s so difficult to ask. Was it a momentary lapse in your concentration, a sign of you thinking of me as something that is no more, and just pretending to respect my wish? These silent microseconds hurt me the most because they make me try to find them on everybody’s lips, hearing them even when they weren’t there, making me doubt even myself.

With people not knowing what was before, using the name I’ve given them to use,

I feel good and secure. This is my life as I want to live it, not as dictated by somebody else. I have the means to steer my life in directions I find meaningful. Sometimes it means steering away from difficult things in the past, and those things must be reckoned with at some point. People who don’t know who I’ve been, because I’ve decided not to tell them, can’t help me with those things.

With somebody not having lived it but knowing what I’ve decided to tell them,

I am open and fragile. I want to tell them everything about myself, and at the same time, I know that with telling, they may begin to think of me differently. Letting a new person know my old name is one of the most difficult things I know. But with the old name come so many stories, places, names, feelings, that have made me what I was and what I am. If I am to open myself to somebody, if I want somebody to understand me completely, I can’t separate my history from my present.

With people knowing everything and still saying the name, the name, like it is my name,

I feel loved and humbled. I am so important to somebody that they have wanted to let go of their old images of me, to understand me in a new way, not compel me into a shape easier for them to understand but let me be free and breathe again, freed from the prison of minds, both theirs and mine.

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.

Change name [X] Stop thinking about it [ ]

The teacher practice ended on Friday, and I’m blessedly free of long-lasting responsibility until the beginning of March and my last period of practice. Of course, I’ve a lot to do in the meantime, going to lectures, two sessions as a studio bassist, and such.

I received my new health insurance and debit cards this week, so the name’s really official now! I still have to go to the local police station to apply for a new driver’s licence card and passport, but I think that can wait for a couple of days.

I’ll have a naming party on my birthday in February. I decided to do it even though I don’t feel like it myself. I had grown apart from the old name, and I’ve been using this one since September, so it’s not as though it’s anything new to me anymore. But some relatives seem to have trouble accepting my name, so I thought that maybe a ceremony of sorts will make things clear for them. I even invited my grandparents to the party. I’ve been kind of avoiding them since all this started, but I can’t go on doing that for the rest of their lives. Avoiding a little discomfort will add up to a lot of it in the long run, and I’m trying not to do it any more than I absolutely have to.

I’m happy with having changed my name officially. Still, I think that the name change was only the beginning of something bigger. I’m not ready yet, or complete – I don’t even think this is the name I’ll be using for the rest of my days. I’ve already begun experimenting with variations of the name in my signatures, just as I did with the old one. But this is a good official name, that’s something I’m certain of. I will get no dysphoria being called by it; it is, like my gender identity, unfamiliar to most people, and so highly interpretative according to the person using it; it is also a name bringing about frequent double-takes in people hearing it for the first time: “Your name is WHAT?” This is good: people have to really listen to what I say my official name is, not just listen to the first half of it and then fill in the rest.

I’ve met some truly wonderful people in the last months, with some of whom I look forward to doing interesting things this coming spring and in the future: activism, chatting over tea, seeing new places – sharing life’s beauty in any of a hundred ways. After a long dark winter, the sun’s showed up again. It’s definitely getting better.

Visiting a childhood home

Yesterday, I played at happening where there were a lot of people from the place I did my civil service in – an education/arts workshop kind of place for disabled (Down, Williams, etc. syndromes type of) people. When I finished my service two years ago, I still used my old name and lived in the gender assigned to me at birth. So, naturally, the wonderful, lovely people I was so glad to meet yesterday at the gig, used my old name – and I did not ask them to do otherwise. There are two reasons for this.

First, it took some of these people the best part of my year there to get my old name right. I don’t want to confuse them more by telling them to use a new name for me, especially now that I won’t be meeting them often enough anymore for it to have any effect.

Second, and this is what makes the first one possible, it didn’t feel bad yesterday to be called by my old name. It’s maybe because these lovely people know what I’m like and don’t (have cognitive skills sharp enough to) put me in a conceptual box, like “man” or “woman”. These friends remember me (some don’t of course, two years is a long time) because of what we did together, because we laughed, cried, argued, traveled, played, ate – shared a part of our lives, not because of “what I am.” Working with disabled people is performativity and social constructionism come to life, it’s about creating a world where everybody really has the right to exist as themselves, by living as if the world really was like that.

And so, for a while, I became again the person I was two years ago. It felt funny, like talking to somebody one’s been in love with a long time ago, or visiting one’s childhood home. You remember something of the way you felt then, but it’s really only a memory now, nothing to hurt you, just photos in an album – you remember the photos but not the actual experience – and you catch yourself thinking, is this it? What was so special about this?

The past slips away from me, and I let it go. I can visit it again if I want to, but for now, I’m happier with the present, and look to the future to get even better.

Take me dancing tonight

I was at a gig yesterday at the Helsinki Music Centre. The band in question was Tsuumi Sound System, ” #1 etno cannon in Finland.” Everybody was there, so it felt – so many friends from different circles gathered there at the same time!

TSS’s music is hugely dancable. From the first note, I couldn’t resist first tapping my foot, then going to the dance floor when it began to fill with people. Between these two, there was a moment of unhappiness on my part.

I love dancing, I love to be aware of my whole body, co-existing, sharing the space with other bodies on the dance floor. But yesterday was my first time to go dancing after becoming aware of my “gender trouble”. So, while I was enjoying the music immensely, at the same time I was aware of other people, not knowing me, seeing me in a way I don’t see myself, and making assumptions based on what they see. This is a form of dysphoria I’m only too familiar with, and has to do with the social invisibility I wrote about a couple of posts back.

There is a certain built-in paradox in the way I feel about the relationship of a person’s mind and body – call it my philosophy of the body, if you like. Because, as I wrote earlier, for me mind and body are necessarily two quite different things – how else could there be a feeling of “gender dysphoria”? I really don’t like thinking like this, because it puts me in mind (heh) of Plato’s hierarchical dualism, where mind/spiritual world is the only thing that matters, and the body/material world is of no use, or even a bad thing. This is a view held by some people even today, and it makes me feel a bit uncomfortable, even seeing where they are coming from.

But at the same time, I see in myself and others the old proverb coming true, “mens sana in corpore sano”, that is, “a sound mind in a healthy body.” A human being functions as a whole, and if a part of a person is feeling low, it will show on their whole being. So I have a philosophy of the body that is essentially illogical and thus of no practical use.

Feeling slightly dysphoric, I decided to give this illogical set of beliefs an empiric try. I let the music suck me in, to the dance floor, lift me up and in the end leave me sweating and gasping for breath after an hour of very intense free style dancing. What a night!

How to sit still

This morning, my love and I shared a breakfast at the old café/restaurant Eliel at the Helsinki Central Railway Station. The food was OK, not really good but not bad either. The orange juice was really nice.

My love had an appointment with a dentist, and I stayed a while to finish my second cuppa tea. The Railway Station has tall windows that open to a street full (at that time) of people hurrying past. I sat at my table, looking at the people. Do I look like that, I wondered. Probably: I hardly ever stop to look at the buildings, or sky, or trees, of my home city. And how often do I look at the people on the streets like this, with my attention fully on them?

Having realized this, I will have to go back to the basic idea of my yesterday’s blog, and put in other words some things I may have been writing not so clearly there. This will be the topic of my next post. Now for some serious bass playing.

See you!

Another day in drag

When I pass you on the street, and you look at my direction – what do you see?

I’m invisible.

And so are you. I realized something when I became aware of being genderqueer: we humans don’t really see each other. When I look at you, I see clothes (usually), a hairstyle, a body of a certain shape, perhaps a face – and from them I figure out a “you” that fits the type of “yous” I’ve learned to know with this kind of a combination. Even naked, I only see an outside, not you. That is why it is so dangerous to “judge a book by its covers.” You really can’t know how a person wants to be seen, before you ask or get to know them.

For a time, I felt really bad when shopping clothes, either at the women’s or the men’s part of a shop (usually thrift or second hand places, my economy being what it is), because I’m neither. I thought if I only could dress androgynously, I would feel better. But then, a couple of weeks ago, I had a little sentence pop in my head, that has made me feel increasingly confident:

“Every day is another day in drag.”

I can’t dress in a way that would make people see me as I see myself, because for them, I don’t exist – yet. But if I tell them about myself, make myself visible to them, they will eventually see me as I want to be seen, no matter how I dress. So when I put on some clothes in the morning, or even take them off for sauna, I, in choosing how to appear to other people, create a symbol of myself that is visible socially. The symbol, my body, clothing, even behavior and way of talking, beckon others towards my own sense of myself, a thing apart from these but still in some way inseparable from them.