the philosophactivist

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Low cost healthcare tips for the Uninsured

So I started writing for as a Healthy Living Examiner. It allows me to rant, talk about local clinics and hospitals....herbalists and acupuncturists....meditation and ayurveda. Yea, just about whatever. So, if you'd like to take a gander at my first article...please do:

The article is a self-advocacy article. It talks about using available resources, low cost clinics, low cost dental and vision, prescription assistance and low cost holistic health. I'm excited to be able to share this valuable information. (And not all of it is just for locals!)

I will try to keep everything relevant and useful.

That is all.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Trans Rites of Passage

I've been thinking about this topic quite a lot lately. For many cultures this is a defining point - a transition from one status to another. Many times it's a transition from childhood to adulthood and full inclusion into a social group. One of the first men to write about this (Arnold van Gennep) proposed that there were three phases: separation (pre-liminal), transition (liminal or threshold), and reincorporation (postliminal). I remember how fascinated my anthropology professor was when we got to this part of Cultural Anthropology...eyes all a-bulge. Flailing his arms talking about rituals and ceremonies marking this transition from a previous world into a new world. Immediately I think about similar traditions here in the U.S. such as bar and bat mitzvahs, rumspringa, vision quests, quiceaneras and sweet sixteens. It's such a special (and sometimes especially annoying) time. It's so awkward and painful and sometimes the "honorees" don't want to make a big deal of it. Some families even go into debt because of these events.

And then I think about what the equivalent of this would be in the queer or LGBT community. Our "coming out" is rarely similar to the debutante balls of the same name. The rite of passage is usually something we come to terms with within our self- and then start to tell others. Maybe it's joining a group on campus or in the community that is specifically LGBT. Maybe it's telling family members or close friends. When we come out that closet we are separating ourselves from the straight/heterosexual world we may have once thought was the only world that existed and transitioning through self-education or support from loved ones or our created family and then, re-incorporating ourselves back into society with this new-found sense of self.

Now lets think about the trans and gender non-conforming equivalent. Sometimes it's similar to above and other times it involves physiological changes. Sometimes we modify our bodies in order to feel whole; now matching our bodies to how we've seen ourselves. Other times it's not about physically transitioning and it may be changing our names on a birth certificate or other types of identification or telling our co-workers and family members to call us by the proper pronoun. Sometimes it may be about forming alliances with others like ourselves and organizing for our community or none of the above.

This society at times places so much weight on gendered coming of age events. But where is the bar mitzvah for the trans boy? Where is the quinceanera for the trans girl? And for those of us who came out much later...where is our "coming of gender" (not age) event? Hmm hope it's not the parties we have to throw to fundraise for our transitions.

I wish that more of us supported each other in coming out. I know that a lot of us don't have much money or are unemployed because of our gender, so this makes this much harder. I wish there was a trans fairy who would leave us a card under our pillow once we've decided to come out. Or maybe an organization or group that would write to us personally congratulating and welcoming us. It's such a tough, tough decision.

Perhaps if we had more support there'd be less transgender folks committing suicide. We can't all move to NYC or the Bay...a lot of people in rural areas are feeling really alone. Some are rewarded with beatings or being kicked out of the house when they have their realization about being gender non-conforming. A far cry from parties and debutante balls.

Being torn from our families, ostracized in schools, and then disappearing to re-acclimate into this heteronormative society (and sometimes even hostile LGB and queer communities) is a very common experience.

As trans and gender non-conforming people of color, our networks are much smaller and we have much less support from families and our own communities and the LGBT community at large. We face more violence and more disparities in education, housing, and in health care. Sometimes our families ask us why the heck we didn't decide to stay in the closet. Why did we "choose" to be trans when we were already at such a disadvantage because of our color? And that is our rite of passage experience. More close to those of tribes in other continents than to fellow Americans. Some of us stumble through the wilderness in search of ourselves with no support. Some of us scar up our bodies to deal with pain and remind ourselves. And then some of us have the privilege not to go through any of this.I don't know many trans folks that haven't experienced some form of discrimination and I probably know even fewer who had a party thrown in honor of discovering themselves.

I am so glad that there are more trans and trans people of color conferences and organizations that are allowing more of us to come together for education and support. Maybe in the future these conferences and events will be a rite of attending the gay pride parade with less glitter and more clothes.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Genderqueer Job Applicants or Cross Dressing for a Career

Folks, today I am 2 steps closer to a respectable career doing something that will pay some bills, somewhere. I, Toi, after months of looking for jobs across the nation- ok, in three or four states... have now advanced my job applicant status and possibly furthered myself to a third interview by...

get this...

purchasing a suit. And not just any suit my friends. This suit was purchased...
in the women's department of JCPenney by a beneficent benefactor who told me in not so many words that it would lead to actual success during my interviews. And I don't doubt it. Recruiters (in the South,especially) want to see you match your clothes to your proposed gender. Psshh...I'm not into "matchy matchy."

My mother and two aunts have asked me in the last month...what do you wear to your interviews? Well, a nice pair of (men's) pants, a (men's) dress shirt...(and sometimes a tie). Oh! And my natural hair, suitably tamed for their viewing pleasure. (Wouldn't want to be too "ethnic"). this is all wrong if I want to actually support myself this lifetime. I've got to fool them my mother implied. She said...just wear this to the interview and who cares what I wear after I get hired. Hmm...Granted, this has definitely worked for me before- though I didn't exactly plan it that way. In corporate america I just got so tired of wearing these femme clothes because that's what was designated in the "girl's dress code". I started to feel really weird wearing these feminine clothes for 8-10 hours and then coming home only to rip them off and throw on basketball shorts and a muscle tee. (flexes, grin) Yea. That's what I said.

So ...there I was in the ladies section of JC Penney...not "doing it right". (Is that even still there slogan? anyway...) . I felt mad weird. My mother says..."What size are you?" I give her a "No you didn't" look...and she assumed somewhere between a 6 and 8. Actually she said my butt was probably an 8...(blank stare). Soooo I grab the first andro-looking 6 that I saw after wading through some truly horrifying women-ly outfits designed for some stuffed-shirt dinner party and made a dash for the dressing room praying that this thing would a)not make me look too feminine and b) fit, so we could get the heck out of dodge.

So, there I am standing in the dressing room with my corn rows and nicely flattened chest under my undershirt and some men's boxer briefs...slinking into this women's business suit and delicately zipping with this ridiculously small zipper on the side of the pants. And my mind drifts off to that Office episode where the manager is wearing a lady's business suit. Yes, that's one of my favorite episodes. And then there I fit. I was elated. My flat chest was accentuated by the ridiculous women's cut they put on the chest of these suits to ...lift the breasts? Show 'em off? I have no idea. It did a bad job.

So I saunter out to my mother who is waiting to assess...and she says it looks good...and says it's not too "girly". I look straight at my flattened chest and say "yea...well I don't like that women's suits have this cut right here to accentuate the boobs I don't have." My mom shrugs...I go back in the dressing room to strip out of this clown suit that is going to be my ticket to some career somewhere...and juuuuuuuuuust as I'm snapping a picture in this outfit to send to my boo thang...*trying to look as masculine as possible *ahem*... my mother comes with another friggin women's suit that I have to try on for some person  I'll be sitting down with at some point who can't accept my gender expression. Great. So, I try it on...pants are too baggy...blahblah we buy the other pin striped andro-ish suit which makes me look like a negative AAA cup. Yea. That's not going to draw attention at all...

So, fellow andro and genderqueer folks...I'm going to say that it's imperative for us to start making some andro suits with neither a male or female cut.  I got close today but I'm afraid the chest area is a fail. Sigh. In my head I'm picturing the perfect vest and slacks and I'm looking so dapper accepting my next job.
Don't get me wrong though, I'm super appreciative of my mother's support. She's only telling me like it is. Basically, that these southerners don't want anyone who looks odd or queer gracing their halls if they can help it. Yeah, I know that it's not just the south...

And now I'm sitting here thinking that even if some of the LGB constituents of the employment discrimination policy (ENDA) hadn't thrown us gender non-conformists under the bus not too long ago, that recruiters would have still been able to discriminate by not letting us through to the next interview. Who can prove that you weren't hired because of what you're wearing (and even if you could, would they agree that it should be legal to discriminate based on an outfit?) Who can prove that it was your gender expression that kept you from being hired or promoted? It's all "conjecture". But even my mom knows that it's a factor in me not finding employment and a facilitator to me going to some job some place and being hired by someone.

Sigh. I know that some of you are thinking... well of course you've got to dress differently to get a job, we all do. But, I want to stress that I am having to cross dress. It's not that I want to wear sweats or booty shorts (see *Awkward Black Girl). I want to express my gender in the way that I feel comfortable and I'm not able to. Me wearing a woman's suit is certainly going to make me feel a tad uncomfortable during my interview. Shake it off, you say. But you men out would you feel doing an interview in panty hose and lipstick and maybe a nice little skirt suit? Yea, awkward. I know that there are so many trans and gender non-conforming folks out there at their jobs feeling really,really awkward because they are not able to express their true gender. It can really make someone feel helpless and defeated. A lot of us accept jobs where we can feel comfortable but don't get paid nearly what we're worth and others of us can't get a job at all because they can't "pass" as their true gender or fall somewhere in between. I just want people to realize that this happens frequently and urge people not to be so harsh in their judgment against trans folks who want to get surgery and "pass". We just want to be who we are...this policing of our gender has to stop in all arenas.



Wednesday, November 23, 2011

(UN)Queer for the Holidays

Well, if you're anything like me, going back to your old neighborhood or even merely hanging out with your family could be like going back in time. Sometimes I feel like just crossing the border into my hometown melts away a decade of identity processing. I have to admit that I feel severely repressed every time I come home. And it isn't just the feeling of being 16 all over again. It's years of finally expressing myself in the ways that I am comfortable with and then coming back to a place that hasn't been a witness to any of that. It's also coming back to legal names and pronouns that I finally got comfortable with discarding. It's being called “ma'am” and being asked if I'm a “tomboy”. It's rigid gender roles and a bible belt that upholds the patriarchy. For all of these reasons, I'm never in a hurry to make it home for the holidays.

You see, I'm the “free spirit”of the family I'm told. I'm the only queer...the only buddhist...the only vegetarian...the only traveler. I'm kind of like a sideshow to some of my family members. It's great to be the entertainment and all- but it leaves me feeling pretty lonely. While everyone can share about their family and whatever heteronormative ideals they fit right into...I find that people always refer to my partners as “friend.” Yep, even the girl I was with for 4 years. I've never felt comfortable sitting around when everyone is laughing about their weddings and engagements and babies- when I don't really fit into any of that. I've felt a lot of the time that people just didn't want to know anyway. It's better left unsaid at the dinner table. I also have such a huge family that I'd probably have to be constantly coming out at every function, which is really tiring. And I've decided that only a handful of my family can handle actual labels for my gender expression.

So where does that leave me?

Silent. Repressed. Awkward. Every single holiday. Sure we can dwell in the past, but the present minus queerness leaves me with about 10 minutes worth of material. My school (minus my activities), My hobbies (minus my organizing), my writing (minus a major project). Sometimes this bothers me and other times it doesn't. I realize that I'm really different in many ways than the rest of my family. I realize that people in my family uses homophobic slurs and I've seen transphobic comments on facebook...I realize that my causes are not theirs. But I hope, that despite all this that some day my partner can sit down at the table and not be called my “friend”. I hope that more people will accept that my gender expression is what it is. I hope that some day soon, we will have dialogue about queerness and how it has shaped me and why I do the organizing that I do. I hope that my queerness will not have to take a back seat while my straight cousins and their family get the front row. I want my relationships to garner the same respect even though they don't come in the same package. I probably won't get married- that doesn't mean I'm any less committed. I probably won't have kids, that doesn't mean my relationship is any less complete.

As I think about the difficulties I'm having I try to take into account the intersections of my identity. So many conflicts surface with the intersection of being black and queer. Especially since I'm from the south. Down south, many black folks are religious and being queer is not all. Being queer is a sign of weakness (and most times a sin) and is a hardship that you place upon yourself in addition to you being marginalized as a person of color. Black folks want to know why you would choose this. Some black folks think this is a “white people” thing. Gay black men are forced to be on the “down low” because they fear for their safety. Many lesbians are disowned or their gender expression or sexuality is not taken seriously. And trans folks? Forget about it! This is the most vehemently opposed (and oppressed) group. African-American trans folks receive the most violence from their families, within their communities, and from law enforcement. So this is what I'm working with as I grapple with opening up dialog with my family. Most of them identify as christian and I've heard the majority of them use the phrase “fag” at some point in the last 10 years. I feel like this is an east coast thing. (My family is mostly from the east coast and some settled here in the South). I can't help but be apprehensive in speaking to them about all of this. All I really to not be (un)queer for the holidays. In addition to people “accepting me for who I am” I'd like to be able to talk about who I am and what I'm about. And I'm sure that my family will welcome my partner and be as nice as can be...but I hope that in the future they will be accepted as a family member and not just as my "friend".  I hope this isn't too much to ask... I know it isn't.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Prednisone (a corticosteroid) and Dating

Prednisone and Dating

It took me a month or two to start the corticosteroid prescribed to me by my hard-of-hearing rheumatologist. I was terrified of the physiological changes that would happen but even more terrified at the sound of urgency in everyone's voice when I told them that I had not started the drug yet. Though everyone acted like it was no big was a huge deal. My “condition” was worsening. I could barely walk. Sometimes I couldn't put on my shirt or tie my shoes. I ached all over and seriously wanted it all to end. Wished it would end. The pain was so unbearable and indescribable. It defied all language. So...I began the medication at what I was told was not a high dosage. It changed my behavior almost immediately. Some nights I'd feel like I was on speed and I'd dance at midnight for an hour or so non-stop. Sometimes I'd have splitting headaches or my throat would hurt. Sometimes my stomach hurt. I got these raw spots on my tongue. I cried for no apparent reason.

And then I met someone.

Ahhhh! I thought...maybe I shouldn't date anyone right now. I don't know what other side effects there will be. But she was awesome and there we were. I tried to be as honest as possible about the new medication and the way it made me a little weepy. My pain was still around and she ended up steping into the role of caregiver quickly- soaking my feet when I couldn't walk (about 3 weeks into our relationship). Immediately I felt ashamed. She took care of someone else all week long and now here she was caring for me. I have always been so independent. I really, really tried not to get help from anyone after I became sick and to my own detriment a lot of the time. My mentor once told me to stop being so butch. Ha! If she only knew that I was just being a boi. But women do it, too. I feel as if all genders go around not divulging how much pain their in, emotionally, physically, etc.  Especially if they are people of color.

So we continued dating. I was finishing up grad school and was super stressed and still hurting. I couldn't be all that I wished I could for her. I was pulled in so many directions. Sometimes I was irritated. Sad. My parents were in complete denial, only a few family members knew and I felt alone. There were so many ups and downs. I had spent a whole winter with this pain...and was now trying to figure out how to manage it and how to heal and- how not to let it affect love with all of this going on in the background. But with her I felt euphoria. We went to performances, walked around town, watched documentaries and spent whatever time we could with each other. Usually weekends. I can't even explain to you how awesome this woman is. A family-oriented, organizer of so many different causes. When I went into these schpiels about race in academia and in my community, she totally got me and I was in awe.

I thought I was doing a great job juggling my illness, school, and romance through the Spring. The meds made me feel ok and I'd gotten a great homeopath whose remedies were helping me work through all this emotional stuff. I also got a wonderful herbalist whose herbs also helped me physiologically. But- she also told me that my diet was horrible. I was eating good foods- just not for me. Ugh. So I tried to switch my diet, I was stressing out with school...these new meds...but our attraction and interest was still going strong.

Then came the summer. I had a huge transition from east coast to west coast and the meds had started to make me feel irritable and like....stone. It took me weeks to notice this. My emotions...what had happened to them? I was so emotionless. I did not feel like myself at all.  On top of all this I went down on the dosage with a new doctor and began a new anti-malarial drug. I'm fairly certain these drugs brought back my blood disorder and really messed with my level of iron. So I was fatigued a pain if I biked too much or walked too much. I felt like such a sucky boifriend. I don't think she'd ever dated anyone with limited this was all new for both of us. I felt it really hard to keep up with her, and at first, she rarely tried to slow down. I began just declining going out with her. Especially if it was an event in the night time where we'd stay out all night. If I don't sleep I can barely move in the morning...Also she never knew that smoke exacerbated the achiness in my joints and I think that my disorder caused me to be overly sensitive to it. It took me a while to figure that out, too.

She became frustrated. I became frustrated. Stupid drug that took away my emotions or made me overly emotional. After a month or 2 I felt like I was inhabiting my body again. More like myself. Less distant. I'm going to say it was the decrease in dosage. Around the fall I started to notice which foods would make my joints hurt more...but I must have also become low in some other mineral or metal because I would crave powdered donuts or kettle corn...what a summer. I suspect that if I'd learned to control my diet more and if I'd kept a better eye out for my emotional shifts that the summer would have gone slightly easier. As I've thought of my diet more and more I've thought about how eating the foods that I wanted to eat was the only control I really had over the summer and fall. Everything felt so up in the air but if I just had a snack or meal that I liked, at least I had that. I guess that might be the main mechanism for eating disorders if you think about it. Not that I think I had one-- I just know that with my life swirling all around me, food choice was something I could most of the time control. Well, until I started running out of money.

But she stuck around through my aches and mood swings. I can't wait until I'm off of this altogether. It's really changed my mind about taking testosterone. I'd known that irritability was a side effect but actually experiencing it- whoa. I miss my raspy, baritone voice though  since I've decreased in dosage :(. But, I suppose that's neither here nor there.

The reason I'm telling this tale is because I want folks to be more aware of what prescription drugs can do to you. I know physician's always say “Possible” side effects but keep an eye out for emotional changes. Listen to your loved ones. I know that there were support groups that probably could have forewarned me and told me of techniques they used. But- I thought I was fine and never called them up.  As an independent person, I pride myself on not requiring much assistance. This autoimmune disorder changed everything. I had this wonderful partner who was trying to understand and trying to help me once she understood more- but every time she helped me I felt more and more ashamed. Sometimes I'd relax but then I'd be reminded of what she'd done- and I'd be depressed again. Because I'm the masculine one...right? What am I doing not being able to support myself? Manage my pain? Manage my emotions? And I felt so bad that I was a burden. I felt like at some point she resented my illness; being with this ill person. I felt like she saw my illness as a weakness...that it lended to her believing that I was weak. I became more indecisive because I was indebted and also because I'm fairly easy - when it comes to restaurants and outings.  She'd dealt so much with my irritableness, I tried extra hard to dial it back. But- then she started blowing up at me. And I started reacting to her reacting to me...and emotional meltdown after meltdown. Was there some queer counselor, yoga or meditation instructor that could have helped us from triggering each other?

I'm usually a level-headed person. I've practiced buddhism for years and years. But it felt like meditation was no match for this damn drug. Sometimes I was so complacent. I became less into my practice as I spiraled into this out-of-body experience with prednisone as the driver. Granted, it's important that I mention other factors were involved.  But the prednisone set the dynamic. And I am going to do everything within my power to heal myslf and get it out of my system. The anti-malarial drug as well. Because I care about my partners and loved ones and I would have never been so incompassionate if I'd never taken this stupid anti-inflammatory that suppresses my immune system (and emotions as well). Sigh.

One of the best things I heard while trying to cope with this drug: Remember, these emotions are manufactured.

I know partner knew this...but what then? How do you deal with the aftermath or the continuation of being on such a disrupting drug?

Here are my thoughts: 1.keep open communication with your partner, ask for honesty and listen. 2.Try to eat as healthy as possible and figure out the allergens that might cause inflammation as well as depression or irritability. 3. Find coping strategies for when you have spells of irritability or rage whether it is going out, meditating or chanting, or doing breathing exercises and remembering that these emotions are not really coming from you. It helped me a lot when I would get angry to ask I really angry? Why am I angry? Is this really coming from me? Is there a reason for me to feel this way? Did what just happened warrant this much of a response? And when I'd get upset at myself for being angry I'd remember how important it was to be compassionate to myself. At first it was really hard to keep from being depressed or angry at my reactions, but once I learned to manage my emotions a little more it was easier to step back and be compassionate to myself. Honestly, if you can't be compassionate to yourself, you can't be compassionate to your partner. No matter how loving you think you are- if you are hard on yourself, odds are that you are the same way to your partner.

It's also extremely important to remember that autoimmune disorders didn't happen overnight. Depending on your understanding of the etiology or cause of could believe it started as a child with exposure to toxins or maybe that it's something you inherited or you could believe that it is karma over a milennia. Whatever your understanding, it's important that you know that these disorders are deeply rooted and that the odds are that there is going to be a long road to recovery full of ups and downs as you learn to manage your lifestyle. It is imperative that you be with someone who understands this. I can't stress this enough. If you are with someone who does not understand the extent of this disease and what you are going through, it is going to make your recovery that much harder. I also recommend that your partner finds a support group for loved ones of people with autoimmune disorders and reads some literature and maybe even blogs on similar experiences and that you really sit down and check in with each other on how you are feeling and how you can support each other. It can be difficult, you definitely shouldn't minimize that - but it's not impossible. Those of you suffering with chronic pain and illness remember that if your partner gets upset or stressed out or feels like they can't deal with it, that it doesn't mean they love you any less. Think about it. If it's difficult for you to manage, how must it be for them? Even when we don't think that we ask a lot of our partners, it still can be overwhelming for them. Understanding is key. I can't stress enough how we need to be compassionate to one another in order to get through this together. And if your relationship must end because it is too difficult, don't beat yourself up or stress out about it. I know that it is more easier said than done but we really need to use that time to focus on what we need to do for us to feel better and manage our health and hopefully we can keep that loved one as a friend if not a romantic partner. If they stuck with us that long through all of the ups and downs, they really do care.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Silencing and Voicelessness- a QPOC, limited ability/chronically ill perspective

It can be hard to understand the life of a gender non-conforming person. Some are lucky enough to be called by the pronouns they wish to be called by in their home life and at work- others are closeted and must deal with the daily contradictions of presenting in a way that is "acceptable" in the work environment and to family, etc. Some of us spend so much time working on who we are and discovering our identity only to be ushered back into the closet on numerous occasions- daily.

I'm going to speak from the experience of being a gender non-conforming person of color with Systemic Lupus. Voicelessness is something that I've struggled with throughout my life. Mostly because I was born brown and female-bodied  in the South. In my generation...African- American kids did not question authority. Not your parents...not your aunties and uncles...and all this was training for dealing with white policemen,white teachers, principals and doctors and a predominantly white upper management in the workforce. Some of this was taught unconsciously. We needed to "understand our place". Once in Jacksonville, Florida when some male cousins and I were discriminated against and accused of shoplifting in a Walgreens the elders in my family chastised us for going to the "white" walgreens and said we should have gone to the "black" one. So, race/ethnicity has definitely made me feel crippled at times. Especially in the ivory tower where your views and perspectives are made to feel less valid and many times you feel like an outsider in your cohort--because of race and sometimes, gender.

Being female-bodied, we internalize all kinds of sexism and misogyny. Women have their roles, and one of them is not to speak up- unless a man has been affected. Maybe a son or a husband - or even some stranger.Women have spent centuries being told to keep quiet and stay in their place. Women have fought for liberation for decades, but the vestiges of the patriarchy are everywhere. Being read female and being partially socialized as such for decades, I have not gone unscathed. The various institutions I trusted (why? I have no idea) many times told me exactly where I was "allowed" to go. I defied this of course with the best of my ability, I took note as I watched my black mother navigate the systems.

Queer people of color are oftened silenced.Silenced and voiceless imply two different things for me. When you are silenced- people are unintentionally or intentionally invalidating you and your ideas. When you are voiceless- you are silenced but there may be other factors contributing to being unheard. Silencing can be overt while the variables lending themselves to a person feeling voiceless can be very subtle. Being a QPOC or being genderqueer makes a person marginalized within a marginalized group. Who listens to the queer black or brown man's hardships or those of the gender non-conforming? We're always being told to be quiet because we're being too divisive by expressing how our social and economic concerns are different. All discrimination is not equal. Many of us face double or triple the discrimination because of intersecting identities such as race,class,gender, and sexuality.

I have been pondering on something recently as far as what others might mistake as me being voiceless. As a genderqueer, masculine of center person I am constantly monitoring my interactions with women. Especially my partner. And sometimes this is misread. I am not being unassertive, I am trying to respect her. When I say that I'm trying not to take up a lot of space when I'm in mostly women's spaces with has nothing to do with my confidence and everything to do with the fact that I want to honor those women who are continuously marginalized and not allowed to speak, including her. I realize what my interactions with men and my occasionally being read as male does to my interactions with women. I try to check them. But also as a masculine of center person who may more frequently be read as female because of my features, at times I am still silenced and voiceless. All I know is...that I don't want to contribute to the voicelessness and silencing of women who I truly respect. I don't think that makes me soft or weak...and it hurts when things said about my hypersensitivity to taking up too much space are read as such. How does that make me any less masculine? How does that make me less strong? I'm not going to throw around my weight because I'm in a room of women or even a room of men. That's not what I'm about. It is important for transmen to recognize our privilege and also to learn to balance it with decades of past and continuing marginalization. It's definitely an on-going process.

As a gender non-conforming person with a chronic (and sometimes fatal) disease I get no respect from most of my doctors and am always searching for the one doctor who is not racist, or sexist, or homophobic. It's so hard to find a doctor lacking at least two or more of these wonderful means of discrimination. I have a disease that doctors and the world are just now learning more about- one where at times you're fine and other times you feel like a 16 wheeler hit you and backed up over you...for months. Sometimes you appear healthy when your kidneys or brain is failing. No one understands your pain- not parents, partners or doctors. So your experience is often invalidated and goes unheard by those you expected to support you the most. I must say that unfortunately I have had this experience at one of my lowest and most trying points with SLE. My parents were in denial, most of my friends were too busy to even check in with me...but I am very appreciative of the handful that were there for me. Though I was voiceless in the physician's offices and silenced by rheumatologists and hematologists/oncologists alike, it felt good to be able to have at least three or four people to talk to. Even if some days I just sat immobile, curled up in a ball crying from the pain and not wanting to talk with anyone.

So, I'm marginalized as a brown, female-bodied, genderqueer/gender nonconformist with a disease that no one quite understands. In a lot of my interactions I can't be how I feel and who I am. I can't express myself. People don't acknowledge my identity. Many of these people are close to me. Some have access to my medical records and are expected to treat me (without actually caring who I actually am). I am constantly silenced in this body, with this disease. It's a lot to deal with. Sometimes too much. And at times I have wondered how I could possibly regain my voice. I've yelled, screamed at the top of my lungs but I've been really tired lately. I haven't cared about power struggles in the workplace or academia as much. I've been sick and trying to deal with a diagnosis I got just this past January.But the struggle continues and I'm done with not being heard or people's selective hearing. (Nothing new). I am gathering all my strength as I work on healing myself. I will never be silenced. I am a writer and the pen is a conduit for my voice. So even if I'm not physically able to battle it'll be hearing from me....oh you will.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Queer bout 'em?

I'm kind of frustrated with the lack of literature with an actual sociological or psychological analysis of romantic relationships within the "queer" or LGBTTSGNC world. It's already so hard to find good models of what a healthy queer relationship should look like while there are oodles and oodles of self-help books about straight/heterosexual relationships. I'd really love to be able to understand the dynamics that are created (romantically) between a trans person and another transperson, lesbians, gay men, and people who are same-gender loving or of any other variety besides straight/heterosexual. I keep saying that queer relationships are a lot harder because of internal and external struggles. Your job, your family, internalized homophobia and transphobia in both partners, self-loathing, being closeted, reactions from strangers, etc. This is a lot of added stress. Then add in how this world caters to straight relationships...and not having many lasting queer relationships to learn from and well, I'm sure many of us queers have felt it. And then...when our queer relationships fail, having religious folks or family members tell us it is because of our it's some karmic debt that we have to pay. Like we don't deserve happiness because of our "choice" to be queer.

So many of us are walking around like ticking time bombs because we aren't allowed or encouraged to process, acknowledge, and accept our identity. We are made to feel ugly, awkward, and sometimes, even like sinners. It takes a lot to finally get through self-loathing and to feel good about where we're at....maybe even to feel a little bit of pride and then...we meet someone maybe doesn't feel that great about themselves or has similar or worse experiences that inform how they interact with us because of their gender or sexuality.

Things would sure be a lot easier if we queers could get more free counseling and have more discussions about co-dependence, self-hatred, gender roles, this hetero and patriarchal system, internalized homophobia and transphobia,etc. Queer theory is great and all...but is it addressing all of this in a substantial way? A tangible and accessible way? Maybe if we could understand more fundamentally what we're up against and how it affects us individually and how this, in turn, informs our interactions with our partners...we could have more healthy, quality relationships (and for some...more lasting).

That is all.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Occupy Oakland

So a lot of people seemed to be a little confused as to the point of Occupying cities. Some have even gone on to say that we are just complaining about life being too hard or too tough and that we need to pull ourselves up by our boot straps. Be silent. The most disappointing part about these comments is that people really don't get why so many people are organizing, collaborating and raising their voices. People really buy the notion that we all have equal opportunities in this country. Smart people. People with a lot of influence. Even people who have been discriminated against in the past. It is so important that we continue to educate ourselves on privilege and the decolonization of our minds. Assimilation and colonization is what fuels POCs against POCs. For instance, Herman Cain. Here is a prime example of the perfect, assimilated black man who is blind to the plight of many people of color. Sorry if 50 or so years wasn't enough time for those of us who couldn't even drink out of the same water fountain or attend the same schools to become equals. Jeez, we brown folks are really messing up. Now that racism isn't overt, we should be able to deal with its vestiges. Out of sight, out of mind- right?

I keep seeing these folks who write these letters, take photos, and post them on facebook talking about how they don't complain..that they've earned where they're at through hard work as if immigrants and people of color never worked two and three jobs to provide for their families or put themselves through college. Most of these folks posting these letters are white. White people have historically decimated and appropriated. The systems in place in this country were created by, for and to uplift white folks. The boot straps they want us to pull ourselves up by...are provided by white folks. That's just how it is. White folks are the colonizers, though we are all affected by colonization. We have to know this in order to change it.

This movement is about the People finding their voice and challenging a system that says that our rights aren't as important as that of corporations and the wealthy. It's also about the People rising up and taking back our communities. Having more influence- more say- in the decisions made in education, housing, restorative justice, etc. We've let the plutocracy make the calls for far too long.  This our land. (Actually- it's native land and we need to respect and acknowledge that first and foremost).  Collectively we have the power to stop these wars, keep schools open, receive fair wages, put an end to racism,sexism and homophobia...the sky is the limit.

I'm sure there were plenty of people who thought that the civil rights movement was annoying and that people of color should just accept their "lot in life". That things couldn't get any better.  We can DO something about this broken system. Let's not sit idly by and swallow propaganda and falsities when we know the truth. Oakland has a very radical past. The antagonism between law enforcement and communities of color has been a major factor in the organizing efforts that have shown that the people of Oakland can and must provide for themselves. I will always respect Oakland for always finding a way with its free school lunches, community gardens, and focus on its youth and respect for the wisdom of the elders.'s completely understandable if some of you don't want to get on board. But, if you won't get behind least don't stand in front of us. The revolution is already happening. Please help ...not hinder. We need everyone involved if we are going to rebuild this society in a way that respects and values everyone regardless of race/ethnicity,class,gender, sexuality or ability.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Privilege and Protest

Sigh. If I see one more white man at Occupy X,Y,Z talking about how the man is holding "us" down ...
So I've been hanging out at Occupy Oakland, seeing what's what and I'm going to say wreaks of privileged folks. There is a large percentage of folks who are highly educated (whether from college or the school of..(should I even say "hard") knocks? No wonder so many people of color are skeptical about this movement. Our struggles are not all the same. I'm not saying that we can't come together over some commonalities...but to talk about the "man" holding us down as if "his" foot is on everyone's neck and that some aren't disproportionately affected- is more than ridiculous. Red Flag number one.

Red Flag number 2. Sexual harassment and women and queer folks not feeling safe and having to have their own section of the camp. I'm not even woman-identified and some man at the information booth found it necessary to put his hand on me and give me a little squeeze in an uncomfortable place. Also, there are men who are helping to organize the General Assembly and other committees who have committed sexual assault or who are sexually harassing women in the encampment. What's being done about that? Um. Nothing. Though there is a "Safer Spaces Committee" ...not many people are feeling safe. Men and their feelings of entitlement...and all under the guise of being an organizer/activist/community-builder who "knows everything" about sexual harassment and wouldn't dare commit such a thing. It really burns my biscuits when folks don't continue educating themselves  and use their status as an organizer to show that they can do no wrong (and that goes for sexism,racism, being homophobic,etc.)

Also...a few people of color see it fit to be divisive. Walking around the encampment talking about why there shouldn't be a POC committee and how "evolved" they are as if color-blindness has anything to do with evolution. It is racist in itself- denying differences and aiding in discrimination and is basically a "microaggression". Discrimination in itself. So, who exactly does it serve for us to be acculturated? Mhm. Exactly.

People (men, white folks, the educated, the economically stable) need to check their privilege before theytake it upon themselves to organize these movements. It is destructive for male chauvinists and "macktivists" and theorists and white folks to be heading this occupy movement. How can we build anything sustainable without people feeling safe or heard?


More Later.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Diversifying the Stacks (book shelves that is)

We really need more queer and trans writers of color. Now, of course this desire partially comes from me wanting to read perspectives and issues similar to my own,  but I also say this for the greater good. It's not just about me not being able to relate to book after book after book - it's about a very monotone and singular perspective that we (people of color and others) have been subjected to for far too long. I get an instant breath of fresh air when I read Baldwin, Butler, Morraga, Chin, etc. Though I'm sure our life experiences are very different- I appreciate writings from people who have experienced similar oppression. When I read stories that actually have an analysis of the way that race (in more than a Harriet Beecher Stowe Uncle Tom way or just an outsiders perspective on what it's like to be brown or black), class, gender and sexuality intersect and affect our lives , I am giddy (yes, giddy) and excited. Relieved that something is being published from a perspective other than our colonizers. We need more memoirs and science fiction and poetry and creative non-fiction and...and...and...the sky is the limit.

I know that it is hard enough for people of color to get their stories published, so what about queer and trans POCs? I see them here and there blogging, in Zines, and on youtube. I see us organizing more and more in New York City, Oakland, and I'm sure many other places. But I ask- where are our stories? We need to write them. I want to see more brown and black trans folks talking about their transitions or writing characters like themselves. Oh. There's that giddiness again. The same kind I get when I see black or brown queer and trans characters on television series and movies. I know that there are real barriers for us getting our stories out there into the mainstream. We have to go through all kinds of gatekeepers. I'm sure that there aren't too many people sympathetic to queer and trans POC literature. Also, many of us have a history of oral traditions and might not be eager to get things into print. After all, books...literature...are all from the colonizers. Wouldn't it be great if we could all sit around telling our stories and tales around a fire like our ancestors did? to make it happen...sigh.

Diversity! We need to diversify our literature. How are we to understand each other if we're always seeing the same perspective? Hearing the same voice? I want to make it clear that I don't say this because I think our voices need to be validated but because we need to be able to heal through talking about our own experiences. It's also important for us to see that we're not alone in our experiences. I was once part of a QPOC writer's circle and it felt exhilirating to be able to tell  our stories together and encourage each other to write our experiences. For many writing is healing and this healing could inspire others. I know that there will be more and more QPOC writers soon. I'd like to encourage  people to write their own experiences and write the stories they wish to see- the ones they can't find on shelves or and I will do the same.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

On Coming Out...again...and again...

I came out as genderqueer/gender non-conforming/trans to a friend of mine that I've known off and on for a while now. Her first question was..."when did you decide that?" This was a good exercise for me as I had been sifting through the dreaded myspace on that particular evening trying to figure out how far I had or hadn't come in the past 3 or 4 years. I decided that I became "definitely other than lesbian" three years ago. I told her that I'd always known I was a "bad lesbian". Something just didn't feel quite right. I also told her that a recent roommate of mine let me know that I was also a bad androgynous person. I thought for sure after seeing all the andros in Austin that ...yes that that must be what I was. But my roommate pointed out that I wore all men's clothing.

Oh. Right.

And after much self-reflection I started to see that...well, I'd always actually seen myself as a boi or more "masculine of center" though I'd never categorized myself as butch/dom/stud/ AG,etc.

There have only been about 2 years in my (adolescent and adult)  life that I didn't wear men's clothing. What can I say? It just always "felt" right. I've always been a boi and I don't think I ever really "decided" on that. It's just what I've been. What I did decide to do was to deliberately tell (or not tell) people once I began to acknowledge that I was outside of the binary.

I find it comical that a handful of people from my past who I've come out to in the past couple of years have said that they've always sensed this about me. (Just like when I was coming out as lesbian how people said- 'Oh yeah I knew that.') How could people know this before I did? Is that possible? I guess having terminology and a community of people who identify similarly has helped me to acknowledge that I am different. I wonder if I'm better off for going and buying into all this queer theory- and queer politics. A lot of queer people of color I know don't care about being politicized. They just are. I miss the simplicity of just being. Damn liberal arts colleges and queertopias. Now I guess all that's left for me to do is reconcile who I was with who I'm becoming and decide if these labels really represent me and if I want to use them when coming out.

Check out this article on the harm done when closeted and when dealing with subtle discrimination or microaggression, stigma, and social inequality:

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Reclaiming our inner Self. Issues with Spirituality and Sexuality.

I know that spirituality can be a touchy subject for people who don't identify as straight. I remember religion being the reason that I suppressed all those thoughts and sentiments that I had for people of the same sex. People in the South ( I should say, many of the people I was surrounded by- family, friends, co-workers, etc.) can be really religious. There are churches on every corner. Churches that aren't necessarily accepting of us non-heteros. Some scriptures contain very hurtful interpretations of what past spiritual teachers have said about non-hetero sexual actions. Few preachers, pastors, etc. bother to acknowledge that few past spiritual leaders have commented on an actual non-hetero lifestyle. We queers (or however we may choose to identify) are not only the sum of our sexual actions. A friend of mine is always saying "I don't care what you do in the bedroom. I don't care what any of you do, as long as it doesn't affect me." And after a few years of hearing this, I finally countered with "It's not just about who I'm sleeping with. This is my partner. It's not just about sex." But for some reason...we are reduced to this solitary action. Some spiritual teachers teach about desires of the flesh and lust and put our love into that category. When I was younger I couldn't help but feel ashamed for the feelings I had about women. I was taught that this was wrong...not just wrong but abominable. Lots of us walk around feeling a lot of shame and guilt about who we are. That's why the pride parade was invented. It was us being proud about who we are in a society that makes us feel "less than". It was also satire. They made fun of all that heteros felt we were by dressing up as that. I feel like we've lost that message a lot of times...

Spirituality is an important tool. I feel that one of the many reasons that there are so many people who are dependent on drugs and alcohol in our community is because we are so often rejected from different spiritual paths (and of course, society). I remember feeling animosity for the church and vowing never to go to another church. I felt really hurt and I couldn't understand a God that didn't love part of his creation. God specifically hated me, or as some preachers actions. And this whole "don't hate the sinner, hate the sin." Ugh. What kind of God or religion would say that we should hate anyway? I couldn't comprehend. Luckily I found one of the only churches in the U.S. with an LGBT congregation and pastor. I felt more at ease with my faith and sexuality, then. Though I decided to continue with my spiritual search and didn't stay with that particular church- it definitely was my first step in the reclamation of Self. It was a step towards reconciliation and the obliteration of internalized homophobia. I found other spiritual paths that were open to members learning about other religions and this opened a whole new world for me, unfortunately some of these paths were not accepting of LGBT members- or they taught that one day we would change. There is nothing worse than being closeted on your spiritual path. How can we find our true Self if we are hiding parts of it from our spiritual community. I don't believe that we can truly discover Self if we have such intense feelings of shame.

Some spiritual paths teach that our sexuality, gender, etc. are not "who" we are. I agree. At the core of all of us-- we are That. The Great Spirit. Creator. Brahman. Ultimate Reality. Tao. God. However we choose to identify how we are interconnected. To me, spirituality is about sifting through these layers around our true identity to find our true inner Self. Believing that one of these layers- our sexuality- can prevent us from discovering  Who we are is very dangerous. It's extremely difficulty feeling guilty and, at times, even questioning our very existence because of one aspect of our identity. You know, there are actual religions that say it is better for LGBTTSGNC to kill themselves. Suicides are becoming more and more frequent for queer and questioning youth. For many youth, they do not have a choice as to what religion they will be or what spiritual path they will take.

The fear that some of us deal with on a regular basis and the affect that it has on us reminds me of a curanderismo term called  susto or soul loss. It is believed that various fearful and traumatic events can cause us to experience this loss of a part of our soul.  Soul retrievals are performed to heal us of past traumatic events and to help us regain that part of ourselves. I feel that many spiritual traditions have a form of this whether through prayer, chant, or meditation. These are tools for finding, understanding, and healing our self and ultimately understanding each other. Our community is being denied the chance to heal. Sometimes we are even told that we cannot heal unless we give up our "unnatural" actions which causes further harm.

 I wonder how in the course of history queer people went from being heavily revered soothsayers and medicine (wo)men to being rejected from society? Obviously western religion and culture had a lot to do with this in the West. (I am not exactly sure how things went down in the East but suspect that religion has a part in discrimination there as well). Sexuality has become yet another grounds for discrimination and injustice.

How do we find what's "right" or believe that we can do what's "right" when some religions are always telling us how wrong we are? How can we feel whole again, and for those of us who are spiritual seekers in search of community- how do we continue the search and keep from being discouraged? The answer is different for everyone. I have been very lucky in that, though much of my journey has been alone, I have found accepting and inspiring people along the way. I hope that everyone at some point unplugs for a bit and makes an attempt at self-realization and the reclamation of Self. With all that our community faces- healing is imperative for survival. I believe that we can heal ourselves by learning to understand ourselves and each other. We certainly must be compassionate to ourselves first and foremost and seriously acknowledge our own suffering and hardships before we can be supportive of others. This might be one of the first steps in reclaiming our Self. Bit by bit we must reconstruct ourselves into that which we aspire to be. The truth is...we've been that all along and how can we ever feel ashamed of the beautiful butterflies we are?

Thursday, September 22, 2011

(in)justice and the death penalty or Kaput with Capital Punishment

So, two people were executed yesterday in the south- Troy Davis and Lawrence Brewer. The latter was a white supremacist who brutally drug James Byrd. Jr. to his death in Jasper, TX. Davis was a man who was convicted of shooting both a man in a car and a police officer outside of Burger King. While Brewer obviously killed James Byrd, Jr., there were multiple discrepancies in the case against Troy Davis. Appeal upon appeal had been filed to introduce new evidence, including affidavits of witnesses recanting their testimony of what they had actually seen. The police seem to have coerced many witnesses and the justice system appears to have failed Troy Davis, as he was still executed  yesterday, 9/21/2011. Now, I've been thinking about the way I feel about the white supremacist's execution versus an innocent black man's execution and I've decided that there should just be no death penalty. I really don't think that this  draconian eye-for-an-eye tactic has ever assisted in bringing about any sense of real "justice". 

So I was wondering what the actual definition of justice is?I'm sure there are many but here's one from a quick google search:  a concept of moral rightness based on ethicsrationalitylawnatural lawreligionfairness, or equity, along with the punishment of the breach of said ethics.

Apparently there are a number of variations of justice but two in particular caught my eye:

Retributive justice regulates proportionate response to crime proven by lawful evidence, so that punishment is justly imposed and considered as morally correct and fully deserved. The law of retaliation(lex talionis) is a military theory of retributive justice, which says that reciprocity should be equal to the wrong suffered; "life for life, wound for wound, stripe for stripe."[7]
Restorative justice is concerned not so much with retribution and punishment as with (a) making the victim whole and (b) reintegrating the offender into society. This approach frequently brings an offender and a victim together, so that the offender can better understand the effect his/her offense had on the victim.

But what happens when the justice system is corrupt. What happens when officials coerce witnesses and tamper with evidence? I'm left thinking that "morality" and "ethics" are not something that officers must adhere to. And what about judges? The woman holding the scales, Lady Justice, is blindfolded - meaning that she is unbiased and takes all into account? I conjecture.

But check this out- (from

The origin of the Goddess of Justice goes back to antiquity. She was referred to as Ma'at by the ancient Egyptians and was often depicted carrying a sword with an ostrich feather in her hair (but no scales) to symbolize truth and justice. The term magistrate is derived from Ma'at because she assisted Osiris in the judgment of the dead by weighing their hearts.

To the ancient Greeks she was known as Themis, originally the organizer of the "communal affairs of humans, particularly assemblies." Her ability to foresee the future enabled her to become one of the oracles at Delphi, which in turn led to her establishment as the goddess of divine justice. Classical representations of Themis did not show her blindfolded (because of her talent for prophecy, she had no need to be blinded) nor was she holding a sword (because she represented common consent, not coercion). BUT...

The Roman goddess of justice was called Justitia and was often portrayed as evenly balancing both scales and a sword and wearing a blindfold. She was sometimes portrayed holding the fasces (a bundle of rods around an ax symbolizing judicial authority) in one hand and a flame in the other (symbolizing truth).

Guess which one we inherited.

Unfortunately here in America lady Justice is not blind. She is not impartial. She is racist, classist, ableist, and sexist. And those scales are tipped in favor of the wealthy or those with great attorneys while people of color many times start out on the lower scale. Guilty until proven innocent because it is in our nature, right? Sometimes we even see ourselves in the way that these systems see us. The way we are portrayed in the media. I knew that Troy Davis did not stand a chance and it alarmed me that I was not surprised that he was not granted clemency while I was more shocked that the white supremacist was actually executed.

The death penalty is an antiquated and barbaric practice that tries to pass for a form of retributive justice. To me, it seems like just a revamped version of people sitting around in a coliseum waiting for a lion to devour some criminal or innocent bystander. Or maybe it's like the picnics that white southerners had as they sat around the black folks they had lynched. Now, I could sit here and talk about why we should abolish the death penalty in terms of risks and cost and that probably will be what wins state governments over. But, I can only think about the reasons in terms of compassion and morality. Killing someone who has killed someone solves nothing. We need to be addressing the roots of the cause which stem from the family unity, the community, the education system, and a deteriorating justice system and focus on more kinds of restorative justice. There are plenty of organizations out there working toward this goal and it's important that those of us who are passionate about civil rights and non-violence include advancement of restorative justice in our movement. We are living in a society where it is far too easy to see lives as expendable. This is obvious by the wars we wage and the lives taken during our occupation in other countries. It's also apparent in the way that innocent people of color and LGBT are attacked and gunned down by police officers and extremists in our own country.

Capital punishment is our problem. The prison system is our problem. The justice system is our problem. No matter how far we want to turn our heads in the other direction, this affects us all. The way allow these systems to disregard members of our society is a threat to us all. In Texas, more money is spent on new prisons and jails than education. You've got to see the irony.

For more info on the wrongfully executed and list of the exonerated and posthumous pardons go to:

State, National and International death penalty links:

Monday, September 19, 2011

Random Thoughts on the East Bay

I'm almost ready to emerge from the summer cocoon I've woven here in California. I've got a lot to process after being in Oakland for a few months. I was not compelled to check out the queer scene in San Francisco, I'll admit. My heart was heavy after learning more about gentroqueers and the lack of representation of queer people of color (QPOC) in that particular part of the Bay. Though I know they are there! I saw some inspiring art happening - D'Lo's play, A QPOC art exhibit. I had my moments with the East Bay. Sometimes I loved Oakland, sometimes I just wanted to run from it. There is so much displacement. On the same main street where there were intoxicated and homeless people of color, there were white young people riding by seemingly carefree.  My first month in Oakland I wondered why I got screamed at almost daily on the street. Some friends of mine (brown folks) said that it's probably because I'm black and that kind of pulls me into what's going on. (I was staying in a mostly black part of town). I really think it's because of how I look and how I dress. I will never forget a drunken homeless man who stopped me and a group of friends to ask for some change. He harassed us and suddenly stopped in mid-sentence to say "Oh. you're a girl" to me. He got in my face and stared at me for an uncomfortable amount of time before we asked him to leave. I didn't expect my hats and ties, pants with zippers, and other men's clothing to be such a big deal. ( I guess certain parts of New York spoiled me). I slowly found out it was only in particular parts of town. I contemplated on if I should switch up my style and finally compromised with myself and wore what I wanted but only if I wasn't going to be hanging out where I would draw unwanted attention. I felt like a target.

After about a month, it wasn't as big a deal to me. I knew where I could go.  But it was unsettling to me that I'd actually compromised. Being read as female so much also left me feeling as if I'd gone back in time and had undone all the processing it had taken to get me where I am today.  I became so used to being referred to as "she" that on one fateful day I even used this pronoun for myself in my own thoughts!

I met some great queer activists but I was left wondering where all the genderqueers were. Every once in a while I'd get happy when I saw a transmasculine person or someone who was androgynous. When the Butch Voices conference came around and I got to meet some of the Brown Boi Project, I felt better. But I still felt really lonely once that was over. I just wanted a handful of folks to kick it with that got this particular part of my struggle. I used to feel that there was a lot of tension between transmasculine folks and butches, and I'm sure this still exists but Butch Voices and a lack of a trans/genderqueer community has made me think more. Masculine of Center folks should definitely be allies, no matter how they identify. We have a similar struggle. I recently came across a really hateful blog that seeks to create more tension between FTMs and butches. It also seeks to say that transfolks have no place within  radical feminist and lesbian communities. I've seen a lot of ridiculous ideologies under the guise of "radical" or "liberal" thought lately. When are we going to see that a lot of these homogenous spaces really just perpetuate that which it seeks to eradicate.

Also...Queer Job hunters out there...

I've been looking for employment and it has come to my attention that my resume has a lot of LGBT organizing on it. I remember when one of our faculty told me that I should take those experiences off...well, that's a lot of experience I won't get credit for. So far I've still been sending out my resume with this experience ( I'll admit that I've revised it quite a bit), but I've been thinking about how people might just not be calling me back because of my obvious tie to the queer community. As weird as this sounds, I'd like to think it's just that I'm not experienced enough...but lately I'm growing wary.

I've also been thinking about how it will be at the next job I take. Will I be able to go by they or he? Will I be safe being out? Though these are important questions to ask during an interview...they could also lead to me not getting the position. When I was fresh out of undergrad, these were issues but I opted to be in the closet until I got the opportunity to come out.  Luckily I worked with some great people who had no visible problem with me being out and eventually I was even able to adhere to the  men's dress codes and scrap the women's codes. Now I think about getting a position where I'll have to train or do a lot of public speaking and wonder if how I dress will a) affect the recruiter's decision to hire me and b) affect professional relationships with business partners, or employees of other organizations I might train, be in contact with,etc. Sure, I know that I should just "be me" and not care about all this but at the end of the day- I need to be employed. Do  you know the percentage of trans people who are unemployed or underemployed?

Here are some key findings on the National Transgender Discrimination Survey:
Transfolks face:

Double the rate of unemployment: Survey respondents experience unemployment at twice the rate of 
the population as a whole. 

Near universal harassment on the job: Ninety-seven percent (97%) of those surveyed reported 
experiencing harassment or mistreatment on the job. 

Significant losses of jobs and careers: Forty-seven percent (47%) had experienced an adverse job outcome, 
such as being fired, not hired or denied a promotion. 

High rates of poverty: Fifteen percent (15%) of transgender people in our sample lived on $10,000 per 
year or less–double the rate of the general population. 

Significant housing instability: Nineteen percent (19%) of our sample have been or are homeless, 11% 
have faced eviction and 26% were forced to seek temporary space. 

 In a Maryland survey, 42% of trans people were unemployed, 31% make an annual survey less than $10,000 and 19% did not have their own living space.

There are few policies out there to end this kind of employment and housing discrimination.

So that's the deal.

But I feel like I can't go back in the closet. Not at a place where I spend the majority of my time. Maybe some of you are thinking that I should just get a job at an LGBT organization or LGBT-friendly employer. I've tried. Lots of them are underfunded, aren't exactly trans-friendly (??) and are not racially diverse (to put it nicely). We need more Allgos and Audre Lorde Projects and Brown Boi Projects. Sigh. Should I try to find a queer bubble to hide out in. Queer community,queer job, queer, queer, queer so that I can get treated equally. (Maybe). Or should I risk being uncomfortable, unsafe, or possibly even unemployed. I honestly don't know what would happen if I had to not be me 8 hours a day...40 hours a week...52 weeks a year minus vacations.

that is all.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Genderqueer Love

So maybe you're attracted to people outside of the gender binary. Maybe you're wondering how you go about loving a person who categorizes themself as genderqueer, gender non-conforming, transgender, transmasculine or transfeminine, agender, androgynous, bigendered, or perhaps no category at all. I wish it was as easy as just loving the person for who they are ...I really do. But I truly believe that the way that we have been conditioned in this society really informs our relationships and our interactions within romantic relationships, especially. When a lesbian wants to date a transman, many times there are expectations for the behavior of that transman. I have heard many times from transmen that they don't want to be seen as a butch lesbian or a stud by their lesbian or queer women partners. They are men. But many haven't been socialized as men all their lives, yet their habits are what does one do with that? It's difficult to navigate. All I ask for from my partner is that they acknowledge how I see myself and check their expectations for me. I haven't been socialized as a man, so much of our interactions will not be the same as you and your past boyfriend. I identified as a lesbian for 10 years so, in some ways I have been socialized as a lesbian. I understand that scene, even though I fit like a round peg in a square hole there now. I've spent some time thinking, fretting, and overanalyzing about this...

In some past relationships I didn't even bring the genderqueer thing up. I was processing it myself and whatever I mentioned was just shrugged off so as with most of my life I just kept a lot of things to myself. Or maybe I was just expecting my exes to "accept me for who I am"...that old queer motto. Because I was the "same" as I ever was. know...that's really not true. As I've come to accept my identity and discovered more about myself through all those hidden facets of Me-ness that I had buried under some feigned sense of normalcy (and once queer- queeritude), I've come to realize that I have changed quite a bit. I'm not really sure that my exes could have handled who I am today...then. I couldn't.

All in all, I guess I'm tired of people using that "but you're the same person" line. I feel like it allows people not to acknowledge who you are becoming. It allows people to stay comfortable with who you were and never fully process the transition you have undergone. A while back, I would have welcomed this for friends and family in true protective fashion. I would have shielded them from my queerness and would have worried about just being accepted. I would have taken whatever bone anyone would have thrown me. And I guess you might say that at times I still do when it comes to pronouns. I realize that I'm living in this no-man's land and it's really hard to wrap your head around something you haven't seen. So I allow for the "ma'ams" and the "young ladies" in certain contexts. It still makes me feel torn and creates this state of dissatisfaction...unrest...because that's not who I am. I know I "look" like a Miss if you look hard enough and I know that sometimes people are just trying to be nice or dont' want to make a mistake. I'm still trying to figure out how to deal with that...strangers versus people who have known you for a significant amount of time versus people who met you at this particular point in your gender expression.

So I'm coming to terms with how to deal with that...and this genderqueer love. Do we genderqueers date those in the LGB who fetishize us? Are we relegated only to each other? Do we get into relationships full of teaching moments, false hopes, and expectations? Is there queer relationship counseling including therapy on gender expression? Sigh. Just like the majority of queers- I want to be seen for who I am now, not who partners wish I was...or remember me as...or wrongly think I am because so and so who is masculine of center or FTM is that way.

Hi, I'm Toi...have we met?

I think that what it comes down to is actually talking about these things up front, which is hard to do. Gender can be fluid just like sexuality. Maybe it's important to have check-ins periodically (what? did I just say that. Is this a performance evaluation?). Not to "keep track" but to stay in touch with who both are becoming. My ideal partner shares this struggle with me and is cognizant of the way I decide to move through certain spaces. Damn, that's a hard gig and it doesn't pay much. But I am willing to do it for them, too. I realize it's really difficult to be that person on the other end. How does the relationship not become about the transition or the trials and tribulations of one person's experience over another. How can both involved learn to respect and appreciate each other and free themselves of all these expectations and falsitudes? We're up against a lot, aren't we? From internalized homophobia, the way we may be treated by  society, evolving identity, and then after all this we're expected to be decent partners. Why aren't there more than a handful of books on this? And don't say that the books from straight or lesbian or gay relationships applies...the dynamics are really, really different, in my opinion. More on this later...still processing solutions...

Sunday, June 12, 2011

On Being Bilingual

Ok. So I started to write this blog the other day on Cis supremacy in the LGBT movement and community during my short stay in Austin and never really got around to finishing or posting it because...well, I have a lot to say on it and it's not ready to be hatched... But...I will write a little bit about my frustrations with being an academic and an organizer. This is what I mean by being "bilingual" today. I speak the languages of both academia and the community. (Still working on fluency).A lot of times there are no "roots" to help translate. I'm fairly sure that there isn't anything equivalent to Latin that can provide some sort of shortcut to speaking or understanding both....besides our basic humanity.

It's difficult to be so very committed to the idea of what an education is...what education means when my eyes are open to other types of knowledge that are not given much legitimacy in the halls of higher ed. Sometimes I get caught up in believing that that degree that costs tens or hundreds of thousands is really all they market it to be. No matter how inapplicable many of those credits are. I fight internally against these elitist notions that have clouded my thoughts and peppered my vocabulary with a tinge of inaccessibility that just "comes with the territory." How else could academics relate to academics? Give lofty lectures and write and present on stuffy old papers? With each new phrase or label I can feel myself stepping further from my community and I ask myself...does it really have to be this way?

Me- the person who used to make trainings and curriculum for doctors about the importance of "plain language" I'm battling with myself not to write from such a distance. And also not to make assumptions about anyone that they will not understand the terminology I've been co-opted into using in this vanilla...oops...ivory tower. I don't know about speaking this whole other language. This academic-speak. I happens and I need it to move through the rooms of the tower and be taken seriously. Or something.  Without their idea of a good command of the English language I might be seen as *gasp* low brow. Without some kind of assimilation and acculturation...I could never fit in. I could never be heard past the first few sentences. Hm. Or maybe this is just an illusion. If so, many of my peers of color have confided in me that they feel the same...must be a mirage we're seeing.

On accessibility- yes, I believe it's important for everyone to be educated but...what is educated? Who determines what it means to be educated and what a good school is? Or even...what is considered a school.
I have a hard time reconciling within myself my wanting to support better access to more affordable colleges when the educational system at times continues this cycle that creates its own superstars to serve the  system...use its research...create vocabulary for its own use. And further perpetuates this type of knowledge as a means to education for education's sake. I'm just sayin'.

The academy is exclusive and began on that premise. Communities have fought to make it more inclusive so that we can have better opportunities...but I wonder now if those of us who support free schools, democratic schools, skillshares, and other ways of sharing local knowledge should be focusing our efforts more on creating another type of system instead of trying to fix a system that is fundamentally flawed in many, many ways- from it being exclusive and inaccessible to its limited application. From its skewed views on history and culture to its overemphasis on theory. Can it be overhauled or will we replace a dilapidated structure with a more viable one not built on what a group of old western white men (and later women) thought of as enlightenment and a "good" education. I mean, c'mon...we've seen the various ways that a monoculture has limited advancement of different fields and subjects from the sciences to art and philosophy.

So college...I love the environment. I love the spontaneous conversations that erupt on campuses. I love the access to thousands of books, classes and workshops. But I can see how this world might look to someone who doesn't value what these institutions have trained us to value. Just the other day I was talking with someone about the many ways that information/knowledge can be conveyed and how the written word in itself makes things inaccessible to people who have limited english proficiency or who are illiterate (we were speaking about Zines). These people are thought of as uneducated. They've lived  life where they've had to come up with creative ways to live in this world where the written word and English are the gold standard of communication. Imagine their world. Is their a bridge to both worlds? Am I standing on it? Am I quickly crossing to some side? Biding my time on the fringes of one or the other...looking co-optation square in the eye? Will I surrender to both/and ?Either/or?

For now I aim to be well-versed in both. To use all that I've learned in academia as a tool to create change in our community by working for civil rights for all and working toward a society that is inclusive of all its members and understanding of its history and the social movements comprising it.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Only tell me of the possibilities, please...

Many times in our activism and organizing it is really easy to get bogged down with "the Struggle." We begin to focus on our cause in way that perpetuates and sometimes even recreates it. When anti-oppression work becomes our life...sometimes our "lens" becomes clouded with seeing all the things we fight for in every single situation. Now, there's nothing wrong with being aware. Today what I'm thinking about...after writing about this type of work, and allies, and sustainable this missing and very important piece- and that is how are we coming together? So many times we come together over what is wrong. Do we ever focus on what is right? Possibilities? And I don't mean pipe dreams. I mean a focus on how our communities could and should look. Do we get together and have groups about what is right with our communities? Lots of times when radicals and organizers,etc. come together it is largely reactive (because of some situation that has arisen) or to party (and it's ok to blow off steam and celebrate). 

How do we keep doing this work and not get bitter or jaded. Not have our outlook colored by the barriers we face day in and day out in work and outside of work. How can we encourage others when we're not getting a lot of encouragement ourselves? An important Zen proverb I stumbled across on a breakroom wall when I was an AmeriCorps Vista said,

 "Student says "I am very discouraged. What should I do?"
 Master says, "encourage others."

This proverb is born out of the idea that when we are at our lowest, if we encourage someone, this will provide the encouragement we have been needing ourselves. As organizers, activists, and advocates we might very often feel defeated and feel like we have no words to uplift others...but, if we dig deep within, all we need do is think of the words that we would like to hear at this very moment. This propels us forward and makes us realize that we are stronger than we thought and can continue on. 

 This is what our communities need. Lots of times they already know about all the negative things that are present in their neighborhood. They need to know what is positive,too. We all need to have reasons to go on keep, keepin' on. And this starts with us. The organizers...the activists....the advocates. We need to come together and support each other. Dialogue through differences, dialogue about solutions for systemic problems, organize together. We need to help each other see that we are not alone. Our causes do not stand alone. They are intricately interwoven and if we can address the root of these causes TOGETHER then everything we do from that point on will be sustainable. When we try to address things alone, it is easy for things to feel impossible. For instance, the civil rights movement. If Dr. King had set out on his march alone- well, we'd probably be still using separate water fountains. If Gandhi had practiced ahimsa alone and had not bothered to tell anyone, India might have still gotten its independence but the process would have been very different. Perhaps there would have been even more bloodshed.

So, people need to hear the possibilities for a better community. And not just that "it gets better." That's hard to see if you are living in an area where police brutality reigns supreme and drugs and violence are part of your daily existence. At the core of all of this inequality, oppression, and disparity I feel that the issue is very straightforward. We don't value one another in this society and "our" American values and economic model are to blame. From beliefs such as "every man for himself" and our ideas that in this country there exists a meritocracy in which everyone can achieve anything if they only TRY harder. That we get what we deserve and what we're worth. And the culmination or maybe the driving force behind "our" American values and beliefs...the American dream...which is basically getting all that you can (economically) for you and your family (at times, at the expense of everyone else). We have seen where this thinking gets us. An inflated self-importance gets us nowhere. Movements happen because people come together. Solidarity is not just about people coming together who share's about looking deep into these causes and seeing that there is a common goal. Seeing that our causes are inter-related. We need to organize around that. 

We also need to organize around TRUE equality and a dismantling of this ridiculous hierarchy of power based on race and wealth. We need to organize around the fact that although it says in our constitution that all men are created equal in this country- that obviously, just in the language itself, and in the ideology of our " founding fathers" that this was flawed at the very beginning. Brown people weren't "men"...women weren't "men"...and equality did not have the meaning it has today. And in my honest opinion--equality still brings up issues because it is a relationship built on power. An example-
if two people are "equal" it means they have an "equal" amount of power...when will we get away from that? Will we always be fighting for a balance of power or will we uproot this whole notion...move past this feigned notion of "equality" (which usually at some point gets tainted with color-/gender-/ability-/sexuality-blindness and forces many to assimilate and acculturate) and move on to something real. Sigh. More on this some other time... 

In this country we already know that it's diverse, but is it inclusive? While working for the Office of Diversity and Community Outreach at a family of hospitals, I begin to see the difference between these two and how organizations completely disregard the need for both. Also in my organizing I've seen this happen - especially in radical circles that are not inclusive of queer people or people of color...or the LGBT community that is not inclusive of genderqueers or people of color... and we could go on and on. What good is diversity if  sub-groups within groups continue to be marginalized and have no voice? How can a group or organization actually benefit from these diverse perspectives if voices other than the dominant voice are not valued? And how can movements advance without these perspectives? How can creative solutions come from groups or organizations that are culturally (and environmentally) homogeneous?

Now apply this to our neighborhoods and our communities...

Now apply this to our states....

Now apply this to our country. 

Hmph. OUR country. We have to stop believing the hype...that this country belongs to someone else. It's ours. It belonged to many strong groups of People that were decimated and relegated to tiny plots of land "out of the way" of the colonizers. Yes. This is true. And now we have got to take ownership. We have got to take ownership on every level. On a personal level (of our actions and interactions), on a community level, on a state level, and at the larger national level. If we want programs that assist us, safe communities, affordable health care, affordable education, immigrant rights and fairer labor laws-- we have to come together. If we want our country to stop trying to "democratize" the world and impose "our" way of governing and values onto others, we've got to come together. If we would like to see the end of this Amerocentric (well Western, in general) view that we can just parachute into places and occupy and kill and whatever else we're doing in so many places in the world under the pretense of "helping people" and "democracy"- we have to come together and speak up and not feel defeated as individuals...or that we can do nothing. That's it's all out of our hands and beyond our power. It's completely true that we can't do this by ourself and that we should stop trying to. But we have to realize that there are tens of thousands of people who want what we want...that have a vision of the possibilities...that see the good. And if you don't...can't...won't... 
We should talk.