Good Omens

Living a genderqueer life

A year

A year ago on this day, my life as a man ended.

Today, I mourn that which was and won’t return; rejoice of what is now; and wait for that which will come.

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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.)

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.

Still alive!

There’s all kinds of greatness happening right now. Some things that have happened since the previous post:

1) Applying for a Bachelor & Master of Music degree program at Sibelius Academy, and getting in after six years and three tries,

2) balancing between comparative religion and gender studies in making preparations for starting my master’s thesis after the summer, and

3) the best thing, which is something I won’t write here, not yet. We aren’t expecting a baby, if that’s what you thought. C’mon, I thought you knew me. Suffice to say I’m happy, happier than I’ve been for some time.

But I am also very tired right now. I’ve been working too much, even though it’s been doing things I love, things that give meaning to my life. Mix music and teaching, add a touch of world-view discussions with lovely people, give it a title that looks good in a CV, and you get what I’ve been doing (for a nice paycheck, by the way). So nothing wrong there. It’s just that it’s, well, exhausting, to be honest. I’ve been resting today and will continue to do it tomorrow. Then I’ll have to get back to work.

But I’ve started to work on how to not burn myself out come fall and the new Uni. It always goes like this: I start slow, with not so much to do, and then when I’ve forgot how tired I’ve been, I start feeling I can take on more, and start to gather speed and momentum, and everything goes well until the next crash. Then start slow again… Now that I’ve recognized the pattern, I’ll have to prevent it from happening again.

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.

Biblical ponderings

My love and I had lunch with two friends on Friday. The company included a theologian, and myself, a student of comparative religion, both interested in the relationship between religion and ecology. So it’s maybe not so surprising that we found ourselves talking about just what exactly it is that happens in the second chapter of Genesis, that is, the Bible’s “creation 2.0”. And as we had to admit we weren’t quite satisfied with our knowledge of the subject, of course the book was opened.

Having created Earth, Higher-Power wants the proto-human (person/ze in the English translation, human/3rd p. pronoun in Finnish) not to be alone, so Higher-Power starts to create animals and birds (Gen. 2:18-20) from the soil, so that the human being would have somebody to be with. But instead of finding a suitable partner, the human being names the creatures presented, but doesn’t find them suitable company. (According to some philosophers of language, naming includes and indicates assuming a stance of power in relation to the named – how could the human find equal company in something that is presented to them as in need of naming?)

But if we don’t take account the power of naming, this myth presents the creation of living beings as aiming to being in relation to another. The human needs a partner, so a variety of choices is presented to them, until a suitable match is found – by Higher-Power splitting the proto-human in two. Only in meeting themself, looking at them as at oneself does the human find peace. A theology of meeting merging with a theology of existence?

Looking at the first chapter of Genesis (Gen. 1:26-27), this time I found the phrase “likeness of Higher-Power” strongly associated with the meeting of Moses with Higher-Power (Exodus 3:14), where Higher-Power describes Themself by claiming “I am who I am.” To me, this association was a whole revelation in itself, even though I’m not very much into believing in (a personal, written in capitals) Higher-Power right now. That the Bible describes a human being as the image of a Higher-Power who doesn’t have to define Themself to anybody, is to me a very powerful indication of the above mentioned theology of meeting. Not defining people we meet by our standards is only possible if we make an effort to get to know them – know them well enough to see them as whole human beings, existing (created, even?) in and of themselves, not because they (might) mean something to us. I am who I am, so you are probably who you are too. If only I could understand it fully enough to live by it!

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?

Abstract

In this blog post, some topics concerning the author’s current occupations are looked briefly into. Among these are the ongoing, final teacher practice taking place at Helsingin Normaalilyseo, the long Finnish winter turning slowly into spring, and the author’s joy in finding that so many people have joined them in signing the citizen’s initiative for an equal marriage law that started gathering names today. The initiative has in less than twenty hours jumped first from zero to ten thousand signers, then to the critical 50000, and is at the time of the writing of these words reached 84000 with no sign of slowing down.

It is argued that the author has grown a slight preference towards teaching Civil Ethics over Religion, and that while this change is by no means dramatic, it might have some impact on the career choices and educative-political views of said author.

Deep regrets are expressed for the swift deterioration in the condition of the author’s 60-year-old Russian double bass, which will be operated on at a high cost by the skilled staff at a Helsinki-based lutherie. Still, a positive attitude towards the immediate future and optimistic views on a possibly forthcoming insurance indemnity are professed to the reader.

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.