Tag Archives: transgender

Three-dollar bill, y’all

This article by Australian QUILTBAG activist Rodney Croome bears reading and taking to heart by everyone – by both cis and trans, by hetero and homo and bi and pan and ace alike. It brought me an intense sense of comfort in this time of complicated politics among queer people. I haven’t been out of the queer closet long, and indeed, I came out publicly into the middle of a minefield of sorts in the form of the Australian marriage equality debate. But what I’ve been so incredibly heartened by is the way in which a highly diverse and sometimes even quite internally-divided QUILTBAG community has largely come together on this issue, uniting in our stand on not only our rights under the law, but the manner in which those rights are given. So often the middle-ground fallacy has been invoked by opponents of civil rights, and the weakened and incomplete provisions put forward have been accepted by the oppressed because they’re perceived as being, in whatever manner, better than the alternative. Of course, I’m not seeking to in any way blame those queer people who would be happy with any small victory, those who would approach the struggle for rights from the perspective that the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. I just think that this Daoist approach is better rendered by other translations from the Chinese, and should be taken more literally, as my friend Agnieszka does in her translation.

千里之行,始於足下。
“A journey of a thousand miles begins right under your feet.”
– Agnieszka Solska (transl.), Daodejing 64.11-12

For my part I’m not as big a fan of the single-step approach, disturbingly close as the analogy seems to another ancient Chinese cultural preserve: 凌遲 língchí, the death by a thousand cuts, and particularly in this instance, where every step promises more pain to the community: the preliminary societal argument; the funded campaign; the plebiscite itself; the introduction (which may not happen depending on far-right voices within the Coalition) of the legislation (which may itself codify into law the right to homophobia and transphobia, and this is indeed what’s imminent if this lawyer’s interpretation of the proposed bill is right) to amend the Marriage Act (which was modified in the first place with neither plebiscite nor queer consultation). And it’s enraging, painful, and humiliating in roughly equal parts to be lectured, primarily by non-queer people – and especially by the likes of that vile purulent bigot Miranda Devine, whose recent vitriolic bile I won’t give the benefit of webhits – about why we should take the bone when we’re thrown it. How we should take the bone even if it’s thrown only with the deepest of grudging, only with effort directed towards keeping conservative fuckwits happy, and only with more strings attached to it than to the cast of Thunderbirds. We’re being given a bone alright – or to phrase it more appropriately, we’re being boned. The plebiscite, which I’ve obviously discussed more than once both here and elsewhere, seeks to allow the populace to take an unprecedented vote on whether their fellow citizens deserve equal rights, accompanied by a political-style campaign in which falsehood will be neither prohibited nor punished. But what’s more than that, the legislative bill that’s been put forward by the Federal Government takes the implicit homophobia and transphobia of the plebiscite one step further and makes it explicit, fossilising into clear, unambiguous law the Brandisian right to anti-queer bigotry in a way that’s as unprecedented in Australia as the plebiscite itself. And yet amongst all this, the queer community’s reached the sweeping realisation that our journey of a thousand miles also begins right underfoot: that we’re already on the path and need only continue moving forward, albeit with fighting against the Government and its power structures all the way. We’ve noticed that we’re in a position to make our voices heard, loudly and effectively, and that we actually have a surprisingly and gratifyingly large number of allies in doing so. As Croome says in his article:

LGBTI Australians are overwhelmingly against a plebiscite, and they are making their voices heard in record numbers through letters to politicians, in letters to newspapers or simply around the workplace water cooler. I can’t emphasise enough what a profound shift this has caused in Australian politics and culture. There have always been straight Australians, including politicians of all stripes, who cared about the trials and tribulations of their LGBTI friends, family members and fellow citizens. But never has this consideration been so widespread it has changed the course of national political debate.

Challenging though it is, this is a time in which I truly am fiercely proud to be queer. I’ve been lucky (so far, at least) to have avoided the kinds of oppression levelled at many in this community. My life as a trans lesbian woman holds promise (particularly after something wonderful that occurred today… but that’s a digression for another time, kids). And in advocating for myself, for the queer people I know and love, and the entire queer community, I’ve recently been feeling a strength of will coursing through me as well, even while I’m sensing in myself very few other strengths at the moment. And I’m enjoying that. I’m enjoying it.

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22 Days of Musing: 16

16. A brain of many parts.

A question I’ve been asked more than once since having transitioned earlier on this year is whether or not the process has given me any relief from my mental health issues – whether the transition has enabled me to feel freer, more open with my life in a way that’s allowed my depression and anxiety to be ameliorated even in part. This is an extraordinarily difficult question to answer, but I think in tonight’s reflection I might well try. Difficult though the question is to answer, it’s an entirely fair one: the fact that even under the law, QUILTBAG people in our society still don’t enjoy the kinds of freedom afforded to the privileged, the cishet upper-class male white Anglo-Saxon Christian (the recent and puke-inducingly-named Budgie Nine being classic examples), factors heavily into the appalling statistics for the state of their mental health. The stigma from society, both real and perceived, contributes to the oppression of QUILTBAG people and the deterioration of their psychological well-being. (Most of the stats I’m about to cite come from this link, in case you’re wondering.) In Australia, the rates of depression and anxiety in straight people are about one in seventeen and one in seven, respectively. In lesbian, gay, and bisexual people, these rates increase approximately to one in five for depression, and one in three for anxiety. Thirty-six percent of trans Australians currently suffer from depression. One in eight lesbian, gay or bi people have attempted suicide in their lives. Australian statistics on transgender suicidality aren’t available, but comparable surveys in the US indicate that two in five trans people have attempted suicide at least once in their life. Two in five. Sobering indeed; if the same rate applies to transgender Australians, it comprises a 14-fold increase in risk on a background rate of around 3%. All this is largely the result of stigmatisation that’s present everywhere and still seeps even from much of society that thinks itself progressive; for this reason, it does make sense that friends and others would ask whether being out of the closet – being able to be open and actively performative about my gender, rather than keeping it firmly under wraps and detesting myself anew every time the shame touched me – would assist my mental health. And there are certainly ways in which it has done so. I’m more likely to be frank and honest with people now than I was before; it’s something I still am learning how to do effectively, but I’d like to think I’ve gained certain aspects of confidence that I lacked previously. I’m less likely to tolerate people’s bullshit, more likely to call them out on it. (I’m just waiting for the day someone calls me a transphobic slur overtly and to my face. To hark back to that Pixar film Inside Out for a moment, the little fire-headed Lewis Black inside my mind has a seriously fucking itchy trigger finger and is just waiting to go verbally R. Lee Ermey on some arrogant bigot, with all the energy pent up from having to tolerate reading articles about institutional anti-QUILTBAG perspectives while not being able to reach into the Internet and smack Cory Bernardi and Miranda Devine and Lyle Shelton and Tony Abbott right upside their stupid fat heads.) And on a more genteel side but also related to that previous point, my ability to express my feelings to those closest to me has also improved beyond what I’d expected. I’ve always craved physical contact, and consider it one of the most direct and unmistakable signs of genuine affection of all sorts, but for decades I’ve felt immensely awkward about initiating it and paranoid about overstepping the bounds of social convention, most especially the social conventions that limit those who identify as male. Not so much any more, and that brings me a more reliable sensation of closeness to those I care about. Verbally, too, I’m less worried about being effusive with praise or compliment or affection. Telling someone how much I care, or that I love them, is easier now after opening myself up, and that’s been inexpressibly wonderful. And I think that’s a nice note on which to leave tonight’s reflection, so I’ll save the rest of that thought for tomorrow; there are a couple of tangents (hopefully interesting also to the rest of you) that I’d like to explore while I continue to talk about the relationship between my transition and my mental illness.

To Pride and back

Aaaaaand this blog post is going to be written slowly indeed: partly from my desk, and partly from a prone position on the polished hardwood floor that I’ve spent much of the last few days on, a position that I’m altogether too familiar with over the course of many years and that I’m utterly sick and fucking tired of. Anyone who’s known me for even a relatively short period of time knows about the intermittent but persistent issues I’ve had with back pain over the course of the last nine years, and every once in a while this unwelcome visitor pokes its head in the door again, and screams out “YOUR PAIN IS BACK! YOUR BACK IS PAIN!” like a bad punster at a shitty open mic night. For those that don’t know the backstory, these are all indirect consequences of having ruptured two spinal discs back in 2007, an injury for which I eventually underwent surgery (I still have the fragment of disc – my father set it in a little resin cabochon while I was still convalescing, and I keep it now in a small mosaic box I bought in Damascus some years ago, a vessel that’s perfectly fitting in both senses of that word). I’ll show you the MRI pictures one of these days; they’re fairly spectacular examples of disc injury. Although I’ve had several relapses in the intervening time – some requiring several sessions of physiotherapy, and one requiring an intraspinal cortisone injection – it’s never again been so severe as it was that first time around. It often takes me by surprise yet again that it happened so very long ago. Nine years. It seems almost an eternity: so much has taken place, has changed, has become different in the last nine years. But I digress. (I feel it’s important to warn you, if you haven’t already noticed, that I’m very good at going off onto long and sometimes superficially bizarre tangents, and you shall have to get yourself used to that, one way or another.)

In any case, while I’ve been feeling this phase of back pain slowly creeping up on me over the last couple of weeks, I did aggravate it further by going out to my city’s Pride parade this last Saturday, but had I known I was going to further intensify my back pain by doing so, it would have made not the slightest lick of difference to whether I went or not. Although I’ve never before attended a Pride parade (having been more or less firmly in the closet in previous years, of course), not only did I feel the need to attend to show my support – particularly given the fact that issues of equal rights for the QUILTBAG community are in the forefront of Australian sociopolitical discourse right now – but I felt a driving wish, an active desire, to go: to throw my weight behind the entire Brisbane queer community, to assist in showing the entire city that we exist, that we are here and we are angry and we are hurt and we are pushing with all of our might to move towards equal treatment and equal rights both within the law and within broader society. And the turnout to the Pride parade here showed that, I think. I was deeply anxious about going at all, and this anxiety I managed to conquer only with the assistance of a good friend who also pushed with great strength through her own anxiety to join me, but both of us were in agreement afterwards that the event was well worth the angst we had to work our way through. We didn’t march in the parade, preferring only to attend the rally and then go for lunch at a gyōza place I like thereafter, but the rally itself was brilliant. People were out in force, thousands of queer people crowding the streets in casual wear and suits and shirtless, ace and gay and lesbian and trans and bi folk wearing feathered wings and rainbow suspenders and garish makeup (though I’ve never been one for costuming, I couldn’t stop myself doing my own nails in rainbow tones as an explicit show of my own support). In my own life I’ve known so very few out queer folk: nobody in my own family, even my extended family (and on both sides,  no less), has ever so much as come out as bisexual, let alone transgender, and this lack of queer role models in my life has been a major reason why it took me so long to come to terms with my own issues of identity. And so it was richly heartening, I confess, to see so many queer people concentrated in one place, all of us there to celebrate our identities, to proclaim our legitimacy. Several queer activists as well as elected officials, including our acting Premier, spoke passionately and forcefully in favour of continuing to work towards queer rights. And considering the fact that our state’s Government have introduced legislation for State-based civil unions, and recently managed to have the age of consent for vaginal and anal sex equalised, I’m cautiously optimistic that they, at least, are actively interested in fighting for our community. For us. For me. Certainly, the federal Government seem utterly uninterested in doing so – and in many instances seem more intent on actively fighting against us.

When I was first questioning my gender identity I had a lot of things zipping through my mind, but as I’ve said to some of my friends, I never pictured myself at the sharp edge of a civil rights movement. But without wanting to sound too arrogant – I don’t wish to compare myself to Eddie Mabo or Edith Cowan or Rosa Parks or Nelson Mandela, or other, more visible champions of more devastating civil rights battles – that’s where I am, and I suppose I’m coming now to realise that coming out as transgender means that I have not only a responsibility, but also a right, to stand up and fight for my own rights when those in power will maintain their willingness to deny them. On one level, I’ve been extraordinarily lucky in that apart from those shitheads on the train that one time, I’ve never experienced a great amount of active anti-transgender or queerphobic sentiment myself. People have been, by and large, both respectful and lovely. Still, both passive and institutional queerphobia are pervasive, not least of which are those bigoted provisions lurking in dark backwaters of law (and I do mean backwaters); while not always actively oppressing the queer community, such pitfalls do still passively lie in front of the queer person who seeks to avail themselves of the law’s protections, and we have a very, very long way to go in the quest for equality with many, many of those pitfalls on the road in between where we are now and the ideal of equality. I’m realising that I’m in a unique position to make my voice heard and join in the battle of the community to which I’ve only recently realised I belong. While the fight for gay rights dates back many decades, it seems to me (even if it be little more than my falling for the recency illusion) that the groundswell of support for the queer community more generally has been rapidly growing, both in volume and in population, in the past five years or so. My perception’s been that voices are becoming louder, angrier, more insistent. And I can’t help feeling not just that I should, but that I want to, join them in getting loud and angry and insistent.

Once, twice, six months a lady

On Sunday of this week, the 11th of September, I realised that I had passed six months of being publicly out as a trans woman. My post to Facebook on the 11th of March was not the first time I’d told somebody I was transgender, of course; by that time I’d already been undergoing hormonal therapy for about ten months, and had told perhaps thirty or thirty-five people in total. Basically my close friends first, then my family, after having worked on the issue for some time with my psychologist and two doctors. (It goes beyond having “a doctor” these days for me; I seem to have accumulated a medical team instead. A GP who specialises in treating gender-variant people, an ordinary GP who I see for other issues, a psychologist, a psychiatrist, a laser technician. Coo.) Six months is not very long, to be fair – I know trans people who have been out forty years or more – but still, this forms a milestone in my own journey, and a milestone that this time last year I was still terrified by and thought I would never have the courage to achieve.

On the whole, I’ve been far more lucky than most in my transition. Focused as my life is upon the academy, and of a fairly large city to boot, the people around me tend to have a fairly broad perspective, and are generally much more liberal (in the small-ell sense; my friends overseas no doubt find it a peculiar irony that the major Australian politically-conservative party are named the Liberals) than might be expected from the members of an “average” community. Moreover, we as anthropologists and archæologists spend our lives investigating the structures of and systems of interaction within societies, and when social roles differ from supposed norms, we tend to be curious and interested rather than horrified and disgusted by variations from those norms: we seek to be descriptive and talk about what is, rather than prescriptive and talk about what should be. For these reasons, I’m infinitely grateful to have happened to exist within the milieu I have when I finally realised that transitioning was something I wished to pursue. Though my transition has easily been one of the hardest things I’ve ever done and continues in a variety of ways to be challenging and difficult (the breakup of my last relationship resulted from my partner’s inability to come to terms with my being transgender, despite the fact that I’d told her this fact and about my desire to transition less than a week after we started dating; I won’t lie, I’m still a little bitter), the friends, colleagues, and family around me have inundated me with nothing but support, love, endearment, and admiration. From some people it’s even reached the level of clear excitement, which is a little discombobulating, but equally lovely to experience! No doubt it’s a combination of being happy for me on the one hand, and being touched that I trusted them enough to tell them on the other. I’ve felt similar rushes of what I could only call excited love when my friends have entrusted me with their own stories, their own secrets. It’s an immense honour and a great gift when someone trusts me sufficiently to reveal their hearts to me, a gift far beyond any material object, and if that’s an honour and a gift that others have perceived when I’ve likewise shared with them, then they can rest safely assured that their feeling of being honoured and trusted is equalled only by my gratitude for their trustworthiness.

This rich support surprises me anew every day, and every time that I think about that support is another little nudge forward, another shot of gratitude that helps me moving myself forward even through rough times. (And lately these rough times have comprised the bulk of my waking life. While my gender transition is only relatively tangentially related to them, I also suffer from clinical depression and a social anxiety disorder that currently aren’t stable. Nonetheless, the support that my loved ones are giving to both my gender situation and my mental health struggles is in large part the engine that propels me through each new day. I’ll talk more about those anon as well.) And to be completely fair, apart from a snide comment I overheard on the train last week – in which one numb young shit asked her friend how to spell the derogatory word tranny so she could send it in a text making fun of me to a third and presumably equally small-minded friend; a request that, from my perspective, dripped with the richest of irony by exposing the same lack of education that probably yielded the bigotry it contained – I’ve largely been treated with respect and honour by the people I interact with. There have been issues of misgendering, of course, and standing at a broad-shouldered and fairly barrel-chested 6’1″ I’m not really surprised, even though disappointed and a little hurt every time. Even there, though, it’s usually from people who don’t know me and consequently are much easier to ignore or just get past, and from those who do know me, I never have any issue so long as I can see that an effort is genuinely being made. (Self-recognition and self-correction of a name or pronoun slip go a long way in that regard, though it really doesn’t have to be a big deal. In all honesty, a simple apology, a quick “sorry” with a correction of the slip-up and then just returning to conversation as normal is absolutely fine with me. I don’t want for you to have to be overtaken with embarrassment any more than you want to. We all fuck up from time to time, and Christ knows I’m still very much coming to terms with the change myself!)

And it does help me to think that when I attract stares and odd looks from strangers, even though I feel I’m now living as my most authentic self and portraying to the world the person that I feel I truly am and want to be, they’re staring because of my being transgender. I feel much pride in being a trans woman, and although I do wish often that I wasn’t so stereotypically masculine in my build, it does please me to think that when I attract stares from people, I may be one of the first trans people that they’ve seen “in the wild” (as it were) and can thereby show them that I’m just a person, just another human being with my own interests and desires and hopes and character. Another aspect of dealing with the stares and strange glances is that, in part because of the anxiety disorder I mentioned earlier, I always used to feel that people were staring at me anyway, was always afraid that people were silently standing in judgment of me. Even before I realised I was transgender, even before my transition began, I felt this was the case. It’s one of the reasons I got my first piercings – my left brow and ear, which I got at the same time at least two years before I ever began undergoing hormonal therapy (indeed, before I even came to the realisation I was transgender). And the strange thing is that, paradoxical though it may be in that I feel I truly am what many trans people phrase as living my truth, I weirdly feel better about being stared at now than I used to pre-transition. There’s a line that I think parallels this sense nicely, a line from the epilogue of what for many years has been one of my favourite novels – Tim Willocks’s Bloodstained Kings – in which the main character, Cicero Grimes, finally comes to terms with the deaths of his father and brother and leaves his city home for good:

He packed his Olds 88 with the things he needed, and a few of the things he wanted, and drove south, deep into Mexico, where the air was dry and the days were long and where he could speak Spanish and be thought of as strange because he was a gringo, and not because strange was how he was.
—Tim Willocks, Bloodstained Kings

I suppose I view myself in a similar light to Cicero Grimes: I’m quite comfortable now, after my transition, with being the target of stares; with being thought of as strange because I’m a “tranny”, and not because strange is how I am. (And believe me, I really am strange.) It lets me say to myself, “Well, if they’re judging you for being transgender, then they’re just bigoted and they are therefore unimportant.” It allows me in my turn to brush off stares as being the superficial responses they are; as the Klingon proverb says, ghIlab ghewmey tIbuSQo’ pay no attention to glob flies. And who knows? Perhaps those stares will encourage people to learn, to grow, to understand and come to an acceptance of not only me and other transgender people, but everyone in the queer community. These days – particularly with the heated argument across society about the Federal Government’s rotten-to-the-core proposal for a plebiscite on the topic of marriage equality, a plebiscite that I vented my spleen about just a couple of weeks ago – I feel more of that kind of understanding and acceptance can only be a good thing, and if my existence in the community as a trans woman can serve as a means by which to accelerate that acceptance for me and all like me, then let them stare.