Genderqueer AND trans

June 18, 2014 § 4 Comments

That’s a labelling I’ve been seeing an awful lot lately: “trans and genderqueer” – “genderqueer and trans”. Not as a description of a person – but as a way of including two different groups.

I’ve been here before.

Certainly, some genderqueer people don’t feel themselves to be trans – this isn’t to suggest that that doesn’t hold true.

But, in that desire to simplify and dichotomize that we apparently can’t resist, it seems increasingly common to encounter the idea that genderqueer people cannot also be transgender, or transsexual, or have a trans history, or any other unique engagement with the trans umbrella. Not just online – more and more frequently I’m meeting people on the queer scene who suppose that my being genderqueer is the ‘limit’ on my transness.

As though there’s a slider, with ‘transsexual’ on one end and ‘genderqueer’ on the other, and the ‘more trans’ you are, the further along the spectrum you go.

As though the totality of our lives only gets one word.

As if that word itself cannot contain multitudes.

I see that the use of the phrase ‘trans and genderqueer’ often comes from a place of inclusion, of wanting not to offend and erase.

But this is a reminder – don’t, by including that ‘and’ forget that many of us are the ‘and’.

 

Who I am is more than a talking point

June 13, 2014 § 3 Comments

Another day, another article talking about being genderqueer, or neutrois, or bigender, as though the phenomenon was as recent as the words we currently use, and as though the people who ARE those things aren’t smart enough to know what we’re talking about when we talk about ourselves. I’m not linking to it. I’m sick of giving articles like that traffic.

But I will say, yet again, and will keep saying: my life, and how I understand it, is much, much more than a point of theory to be interpreted according to the whims of an outside commentator.

Don’t you dare claim that that’s a strike against debate, against investigation. God knows how I’d fill my time without research, analysis, constant interrogation – particularly of my own beliefs.

But it’s the way it’s done, in popular op-ed writing – the way it reduces and diminishes, rather than expanding and enlightening. Terry Pratchett is one of my favourite authors, and Granny Weatherwax’s definition of sin – that it’s “when you treat people like things” – is as good a maxim as I can think of for how to live a compassionate life. And this is what these articles do – they treat me, and people like me, as things to be dissected and picked over in the name of being ‘gender critical’ (funny how buzzwords don’t always invalidate your arguments).

These kinds of pieces may seem like small things in themselves – I believe that they are small – but it’s that drip drip drip of ‘these kinds of humans are…less than’. As with any cultural attitude, it’s not that someone will read one op-ed piece and go out and abuse someone like me in the street – it’s that it feeds into and validates the cultural norm that allows people like me to be passed over for job interviews, mocked in ‘polite’ society, be deemed undesirable as romantic partners – and on and bloody on.

It’s not about a ‘politically correct’ approach – it’s not about knowing a secret language, or not being allowed to talk openly, or about clubs or shibboleths.

But it is being tired of being talked at, and not talking with. It’s having my intelligence denied by the entry level arguments leveled against my knowledge of myself. It’s the assumption that, coming from a similar cultural background, I couldn’t possibly have done the same research – more research – than these writers – and yet have reached different conclusions. It’s the fall back to accusations – open or veiled – of self-delusion and fantasy, when my life contradicts a stranger’s 800 word opinion piece.

It’s about reducing a fellow human creature – one with full interiority, a drive towards self-knowledge and discovery, a thirst for both answers and challenges – as a prop with which to set a scene against which to monologue.

Talk about being genderqueer – ask questions – write articles, spread knowledge, stimulate debate.

But remember first and foremost that I am your equal.

 

Not by how I define myself, but by how others define me

June 10, 2014 § 6 Comments

 or Experiencing misogyny without being a woman

(Descriptions of harassment contained within)

 

Misogyny is a blunt instrument, but one that can be handled subtly. The way it is woven through our lives, our experiences, doesn’t have to abide by the parameters we ourselves have set for those lives and experiences.

I would call myself androgynous, genderqueer, transgender, transsexual, trans masculine – and yet misogyny aimed at me has been a constant companion since childhood. That might seem like a stunningly bland and obvious statement to make, but one that I thinks needs making, because it seems as though some in the trans and wider social justice communities are forgetting that, in a bid to make a wider point about male privilege.

Does male privilege exist? Fuck yesdo we even have to ask? Do even the queerest of spaces often highlight and praise what is considered masculine over what is considered feminine?  yes yes and yes. Do some trans masculine and other FAAB (female assigned at birth)* trans people engage in misogyny aimed at others? Sadly yes.

But taking those facts and then claiming that all FAAB trans people benefit from male privilege – without qualifiers, without the rest of the story – that’s not only painfully untrue but also a damaging erasure of real suffering endured under a misogynistic system. And that suffering is not an aberration under that system, but a crucial part of it.

What do they see, the people I’ve met throughout my life who’ve abused me in the street, followed me home, threatened to rape me, discriminated against me in education, in the workplace, groped me, insulted me, mocked me? Gender variance, yes – but rarely is that gender variance explicitly parsed as ‘ you are trans masculine, and therefore I object to you’. In some cases, it comes from a place of utter confusion: ‘what ARE you? Are you a man or a woman?’. Rarely, it is a reference to being trans – in the form of the word ‘tranny’. Occasionally, particularly when I’m out with a male partner, it’s for being an effiminate man: ‘batty boy’, ‘faggot’, ‘poof’, ‘YOU’RE GAY’.

But, overwhelmingly, what they see is a woman who is not doing womanhood right. I know this because they tell me. The man who threatened me at a taxi stand for fifteen minutes (no one intervened) because I wouldn’t go home with him: ‘Who’d want you anyway – you’ve got no tits. Why don’t you just go home and wank while you cry because no one wants you.’ The group of older men outside a pub in the afternoon who closed ranks and shouted at me that I was ‘begging for it up the shitter’. The cis men and women, in politer settings, who sneer and mock and tell me that I’d look so much better if I looked more feminine, and who’d hire me as I am? The people who will not hire me/work with me/teach me specifically because I’m obviously a ‘psychodyke’. And, occasionally, none of that even matters – anything vaguely ‘woman’ will do – guy who tried to masturbate on me at the bus stop, this song’s for you.

It is frequently said that the world rewards women who ‘aspire upwards’ to masculinity – and I believe that is true. But it frequently punishes them as well – for usurping male power and privilege, for destablising a system, for being ‘unworthy’ of what they claim to be theirs. And that applies to people assumed to be women as well as actual women.

On average I would say that I ‘pass’ as male around a fifth of the time. Mostly in casual situations – in shops, on public transport. There are plenty of trans masculine people, FAAB genderqueer people, who do not pass as male, and suffer far worse than I do the punishments society metes out to those it considers difficult, wayward women. Who they actually are, who they know themselves to be – do we seriously think that the people who attack them, attack us, take the time to find that out? Or, if they do know it, use it in any other way than as a weapon?

Structural critique and understanding of oppressive systems should never be reasons to turn away from individual and systemic suffering within those systems – it doesn’t have to be a zero sum game. Highlighting the appalling misogyny directed at trans women, trans feminine people, trans people assigned male at birth, does not have to mean claiming that other people do not suffer under an oppressive system too. Acknowledging that some trans men have male privilege, in different degrees in different situations, does not mean that all FAAB trans people have male privilege in all situations. It is possible to have a degree of male privilege and still be the victim of gross misogyny. Assuming that all trans masculine people pass – that all trans people assigned female at birth ARE masculine, and therefore benefit from masculinity –  is simply untrue.

We shouldn’t compound the damage done by misogynists, by misogynistic systems, by pretending that those abuses don’t exist – or don’t matter. It serves no one but those seeking to keep us down.

 

 

*I’m not generally a fan of identifying trans people by the birth gender they were straitlaced into. However, in this context, because it is the criteria widely used, I think it’s useful to discuss.

 

Our clothed bodies are not yours to strip bare*

June 4, 2014 § 28 Comments

I was eighteen years old and, despite coming out three years earlier, was at my first ever queer club night. The university one, so it wasn’t exactly fancy – organised by the LGB soc – they claimed that there weren’t enough trans students to make it worth adding the ‘T’. It took less than half an hour before a cis lesbian tried to make me ‘admit’ what type of genitals I had. “I’m so freaked out right now,” she said, “I don’t even know what you have in your boxers.” I tried to end the conversation as quickly as possible while she told me how weird I was, and went home that night feeling oddly betrayed.

I don’t go to predominantly cis queer spaces any longer, and the main reason for that is people like her. Some didn’t stop at questions, figuring that they had the ‘right’ to check. One Pride I was punched in the groin by a cis woman who didn’t like that I had made her ask ‘are you a man or a woman?’

I say that as background to a conversation happening today between several prominent UK feminists, culminating in possibly the worst hashtag of all time – #NoUnexpectedPenises. Because it’s not that they’re transphobic (of course not), or that they think trans women are men (they’ve learnt not to admit that) – but that trans women aren’t female, and if you invite someone who isn’t female into women’s spaces then you might accidentally be inviting a penis into a woman’s space, and then the sky falls down. Not that this isn’t a long-running issue in modern feminisms – but it did get a little shot in the arm today.

I’m not a woman and I don’t seek access to women’s spaces – reason enough not to have commented on the issue. And yet. Of recent, several feminists who don’t want to be called transphobic have tried to draw a distinction between ‘woman’ and ‘female’ that allows them to exclude MAAB trans people and claim FAAB as their own. To these feminists, I am female – no matter how I describe my gender, my ‘sex’ (in their really quite rubbish understanding of biology and sociology) will always and forever entitle me to entry in their club. Except, or course, that it doesn’t – because, for all that they claim it’s not about policing appearance, I have been harassed and assaulted precisely because my appearance puts my ‘sex’ into dispute.

Having elided the categories of ‘trans women’ and ‘women with penises’, they’ve decided that they can tell by looking – and that they have a right to. When pushed, they claim that it’s in order to protect survivors of sexual abuse from something that might trigger them, ignoring:
– The countless cis women who’ve been assaulted who object to having that claim made in their names
– The fact that rape can be and is committed by people of all sexes, genders, and in every imaginable way. ‘Females’ can and do rape others. Rape does not just happen with a penis.
– That a body part does not equal a rapist. It’s just a body part. It can’t make someone innocent or guilty of abusing another person.
– The fact that trans women are one of the most vulnerable groups when it comes to risk of suffering sexual violence – but apparently their histories of abuse are not as legitimate as a cis woman’s. Positing a penis as innately ‘rapey’ and pretending that all trans women have penises (or have somehow magically been ‘tainted’ by having a penis) posits trans women as inherently dangerous – a disgusting premise, and laughably untrue – in that ‘laugh while you cry’ way.

It shouldn’t need saying, but we say it every time because of claims to the contrary – no one is arguing that people cannot decide which genitals they’d like to have in their private lives. But how that can be stretched into a right to decide which CLOTHED bodies are allowed in a public forum escapes me.

How is it that anyone would think they have a right to know what’s under a stranger’s clothes? To deny them access to gatherings, to essential services, based on the assumption of the nakedness beneath their clothing? How can they claim that it is feminist to do that?

Gay blogger Andrew Sullivan lambasted Laverne Cox this week for her decision to keep her private parts private. Trans people, apparently, should be willing to answer questions about our genitals if we ever want to garner basic respect – there’s a paradox. In Atlanta, two trans women were violently assaulted on public transport, to the cheers of onlookers, because several cis men decided that they had the right to demand access to the women’s naked bodies. For all that it’s dressed up in the language of concern and personal empowerment, I fail to see how these so-called feminist demands differ from the wider cultural notion that trans people are defined by our genitals – and that the rest of the world has the right to look at them, judge them and abuse us because of them.

I count myself lucky in this situation – I’ve never had to deal with worse than a grope or a punch (not that that was easy). Many, many trans people – particularly trans women, particularly trans women of colour, face far worse. This isn’t a petty dispute, a differing of opinion, a side issue. This idea that it is acceptable, appropriate, for trans people to be policed and abused because of the supposed state of the most private part of our bodies lies right at the heart of anti-trans violence and oppression.

And shame on any feminist who thinks it’s acceptable to prop up that system in the supposed name of liberation and equality.

 

* Title has been changed to reflect its use in a piece by RadTransFem, who has left some important comments below regarding the wider milieu in which this debate exists. Go forth and read!

 

New music video – are you in?

May 29, 2014 § 3 Comments

What

A new video for the Aether track Youclick here to listen. Filming with the Positive Change Arts Project.

 

When/Where

Saturday June 7th – 4:30pm arrival, shooting between 5-7pm

Hackney Picture House

270 Mare St, London E8 1HE

 

Why

Because I wanted to make a video to give something back to the people who have given so much to me. Because I’m sick of videos pretending to be diverse by hiring over-represented groups to pretend to be under-represented groups. Because we wanted to make a positive stand against bullying, against stereotypes, against reductionism – and, instead, celebrate our unique beauty.

The premise is very simple – we’re going to gather together in a gig-like setting – I’ll bring speakers and a mic, and sing my best to you (although we might have to repeat the same song over and over again). We all – myself included – have a piece of card we hold. On one side is written a word/phrase that the world has called us – something that doesn’t fit – something that hurt – something that needs to stop. On the other we write a word/phrase that DOES describe us – something we’re proud of, something we claim as our own.

I wanted to make a video about the power of naming yourself, without apology. And I wanted to buy you all a drink while I did it.

You in? Email me at cnlester@hotmail.co.uk – we’re going to have a blast.

“people need to open their eyes to the diversity of experience”

May 28, 2014 § Leave a comment

In which I am interviewed by More Than the Music and talk industry, activism, TERFs, misgendering and being a bit sadcore.

“Why would you ask that?”

May 19, 2014 § 15 Comments

One of the commonest complaints that trans people have about our interactions with the wider world – and one that many cis people find almost impossible to believe – is that we’re utterly sick of being asked about our genitals. What they are, what we do with them, if we like them, how they work, do they work, are we going to have ‘the op’, have we had ‘the op’, who paid for ‘the op’…it goes on and on.

I’ve been dealing with this for a good ten years by now – I wrote about it last in 2011 – and I still don’t know what to say when people start asking. I’m usually still too shocked, hurt, to think of a witty rejoinder – sometimes I’m just glad that they’re not groping me ‘to check’, as a small minority of cis people have done.

I was preparing for my latest gig on Friday night – after sound check, about half an hour before the show. It was an LGBT bar, and I was curled up in an inconspicuous corner with a pint of water and my lyrics sheets. A woman came over, very clearly the worse for wear, and asked if she could sit by me because her friends hadn’t arrived yet. Her questions were, in order:

- “So are you a gay or what?”
– “So you want to be a boy?”
– “So you had your boobs cut off?”
-“So what are you going to do with your ladyparts?”

That last one clearly bothered her – she returned to it several times, asking me if I wanted a penis, because I would need one if I ‘wanted to be a boy’. There was obviously part of her that realised how rude she was being – she kept interrupting herself with a ‘oh, do you mind if I ask?’ before barreling straight on. A lot of cis people do that, in my experience – add a ‘do you mind if I ask’ or ‘this is a bit personal but…’ before continuing to ask, ignoring my discomfort, or outright refusal.

I didn’t want to tell her to fuck off, or mind her own business – she was obviously in distress (she explained that her partner had just left her) – and I just wanted to prepare for my set. So I told her that I was comfortable being myself, and needed to be alone before I performed – played my set, enjoyed the next band, met some lovely people, got back late to my hotel room and cried from the sheer frustration, the exhaustion, of dealing with the same shit over and over again. It woke me up in the middle of the night – things I should have said, to her and to other people. Something to shift focus away from me – something I can feel safe saying, and hope will make someone think about what it is that they’re actually asking from a stranger.

I don’t know if this will work – but, next time, I think I’m going to try “why would you ask that?” – because that’s not only what I want to know of that particular person, but of the entire cis obsessions with trans people’s genitalia. I keep trying to make sense of it, but the only sense I can determine – that people are so in need of clinging to the security of the system they know, where gender is decided and fixed by genitals, that they’re happy to ignore all common social rules – feels too much to try to challenge in a brief interaction.

But, perhaps, that question might act as a small spur to challenge themselves? Maybe stick in their memory as a gentle interrogation that didn’t let their interrogation pass unnoticed?

If that was all, though, I wouldn’t have needed to write this post – I could have kept it private, or shared with close friends and compared notes. But I wanted to write it here because I know that some of you reading this would have asked those questions, or something similar, yourself – and I wanted to know why.

What is it you really want to know? What do you expect us to feel, when you ask?

Why do you feel entitled to an answer?

 

Everything you ever wanted to know about top surgery – Master Post

May 15, 2014 § Leave a comment

Last year I chaired an online panel Q&A about top surgery, with answers provided by a range of people with different histories, genders, experiences.

The formatting of that post was, I’m afraid, rather bulky and hard to navigate – so I’ve collated the information into a PDF which you can download below.

 

Top Surgery Answers

 

The questions we answered were:

1. Did you lose nipple sensation and if so how much?

2.  Does anyone know much about options for people who identify as genderqueer and therefore might struggle with referrals?

3. How, as a non-male person, does one get top surgery?

4. What if you have large breasts?

5. How do I know if I should get top surgery?

6. Do you have to have a catheter for top surgery?

7. How does the Scottish system work for top surgery?

8. Can you get your nipples removed?

9. Do I have to take all my piercings out?

10. If I got a therapist’s letter, would a U.S. surgeon accept it?

11. What’s the best solution for keeping erotic nipple sensation?

12. Is it possible to get ‘bespoke’ top surgery, without hormones?

13. Dr. Garramone needs a letter from…someone?

14. Hard nipples after surgery – solutions?

15. Clogged nipple pores after surgery – solutions?

16. Best treatment for keloid scarring?

17. My chest changes size with my hormonal cycle – will this make a difference?

18. Indents and scar positioning

19. How long does it take to regain full range of motion after DI top surgery?

Tips, hints and advice from the panel

 

Do please share with anyone/any groups who might find this helpful – and, if you’re about to embark on surgery, all the very best of good luck.

“It’s always a challenge to present yourself honestly in a world that rarely acknowledges that truth”

May 9, 2014 § Leave a comment

…in which I am interviewed by TYCI – hope you enjoy it.

Something apt

May 5, 2014 § 4 Comments

Another week of subtle and not so subtle transphobia, and too much work to be allowed. Blogging is light this week, I’m afraid – but I was doing a spot of comfort reading last night, and hit on something that made me laugh. I might memorise this and bring it out when accosted by people expecting me to prove why my version of my life is real. Obviously, there are plenty who think that we’re either lying or delusional. But, for everyone else, there’s this – with many thanks to C. S. Lewis…

 

“Logic!” said the Professor half to himself. “Why don’t they teach logic at these schools? There are only three possibilities. Either your sister is telling lies, or she is mad, or she is telling the truth. You know she doesn’t tell lies and it is obvious that she is not mad. For the moment then and unless any further evidence turns up, we must assume that she is telling the truth.”

…”But what are we to do?” said Susan. She felt that the conversation was beginning to get off the point.

   “My dear young lady,” said the Professor, suddenly looking up with a very sharp expression at both of them, “there is one plan which no one has yet suggested and which is well worth trying.”

    “What’s that?” said Susan.

“We might all try minding our own business,” said he. And that was the end of that conversation.

 

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