Conversations and Styles on Social Justice and Identity

I talk with different people in different ways about gender, race, orientations, <insert social justice/identity item here>. These differences show up the most to me in conversations about transgender issues, perhaps because these things affect my life with Eren so much more than any others do.

Well, that’s not quite right. It’s more that people perceive that these issues affect us so much more, and so more people talk with us–or at least me–about them than about any other issue.

We are pretty far outside what society considers to be “the norm” for some parts of it. Though we’re white and married and educated, she’s transgender and bi-lesbian, and I’m cisgender (considered ‘the norm’) and bi/pansexual and sapiosexual, and we’re polyamorous. (And no, I do not mistake ‘cis’ for ‘normal’–society keeps trying to say that’s how things are, but that’s no more true than saying the sun is more normal than the moon, or a tabby cat more normal than a tuxedo cat, or me being more normal than my wife.)

Anyway, the point is, I talk with different people about Eren being transgender differently.

Eren and I have both opened ourselves up to questions about transgender issues. Some of these questions are basic respect things–the “what are your pronouns?” variety. Some of them are curiosity that borders on the too-personal for many transgender persons and significant others (the “what’s it like to be partnered/married to a transgender person?” variety). Some of them are definitely too personal (the “what are your/her/his/their genitals like?” variety). That last set should never ever ever be asked of a transgender individual. If she/he/they offer up the information, that’s one thing, but just asking? It’s no one’s business. Nevertheless, Eren and I have encountered the questions, and we’ve done our best to answer them.

In the first category of people, I have utmost patience. These people are a) genuinely curious and b) genuinely trying to learn and c) genuinely trying to be respectful. This group tends to ask all the questions, but usually as a means of understanding, learning, growing. There’s not a lot of “ew that’s gross” or judgment or squick coming out of this group. It’s mostly that this group of people has grown up with a culture that has taught them only one way of seeing the world and hasn’t given them a way out. And yet, when given the chance, they are there and ready to try to learn. So I have patience with them. I had to learn, too, because I didn’t come out of the womb understanding transgender issues, and I too was born into a system that perpetuates injustice and inequality in order to give power to the few.

In the second category of people, I’m firmer. These people I’ve usually talked with several times about an issue–such as Eren’s correct pronouns–and they’re still ‘not getting it.’ Absent a cognitive difficulty, I will begin to encounter these people more firmly. I may interrupt speech to say “she” or “her” when they misgender her. I may wait until they finish before saying, “She thinks that is a good idea,” or “Eren’s pronouns are she and her.” This is still patience, but more direct.

This category often bleeds over into a third category of people, whom I will be very direct with. I will say, “You have done this multiple times, and it is not okay. You know her pronouns, use them.” Or I will say, “We have been over this many times.” There comes a point when patience only coddles privilege, and only directness will get attention. This part is often hardest for me, because I have been taught that women should be soft and indirect (or at least indirect). This part also often receives the most blowback. People in this category usually do not like being addressed so directly, but often only understand the direct communication.

I just walk away from the fourth category of people. These people either will never hear or will only hear when those against whom they’ve fought have disappeared. Either way, my words have no effect on them. I cannot change hearts and minds set in stone. Also, this becomes a protective measure–because those who are so convinced against transgender people cause harm to Eren and me. Their words wound us, particularly when they supposedly come from a place of love and support. There is no love and support in telling a person she is not real, unnatural, or any other degrading thing. There is no love and support in telling a person she will go to hell for being herself. And so, walking away both serves to leave an unproductive argument and to protect us.

I’d like to say there’s a fifth category of people, those who’ve found me again after I’ve walked away. I think this can happen, though it’s yet to happen to me. I have witnessed such turnarounds–my mom’s change of mind and heart on sexual orientation being one–but they’re very few, I think. I do know that my mom has been one of our biggest supporters, and that likely wouldn’t be the case had she not already made such a huge turnaround re: orientation years before. The possibility is there.

In the end, there’s no one way to talk with people about these things. A lot depends on context, on history, on conversational content, and on what each person can individually take. This is how I do it.

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Content Warning: “Trans Jokes” Aren’t Funny, and Other ‘Micro’agressions

I’m going to be talking about some things I encountered on social media this week from two family members–one on each side of my family, both of whom I looked up to greatly as a child, one of whom supposedly supports my wife and I a great deal. Both of these things involve transgender people. I’ll be posting the images of what was posted, in order to deconstruct these things.

This is me, a cisgender person, talking to other cisgender people, about the things we’re doing to hurt transgender people. We need to stop.

I’m putting the rest below a cut, so that those who already have to deal with these aggressions on a daily basis (trans folks) do not need to be subjected to it one more time just so I can get my point out to other cisgender folks.

Continue reading

Permission and Danger

A few weeks ago, I read this blog post and then messaged my wife: “This seems so dangerous to me.”

She read it and then replied, “What about this seems dangerous to you?”

And indeed, it’s something that shouldn’t probably seem dangerous. For those who didn’t click through (though really, you should, the story is well worth the read), the story is (at its simplest) about a younger man learning from his older friend not to ask permission to do what he wants with his life.

To me, that screams DANGER, WILL ROBINSON!

I realized, while reading that post, that I have spent my whole life asking permission to do everything. Often my ‘asking permission’ comes across as ‘just doing what I want,’ but in actuality I’m asking: is it okay? Is it okay if I go to grad school now? Is it okay if I go to this grad school? May I go to this program? What about this, or this, or this?

Some of the permission-asking makes some sense. I have a wife, and now a lover and a boyfriend, and so there are others whose considerations must be taken. My wife, in particular, bears legal and financial burdens with me. My wife and boyfriend, in particular, move with me. So if I am thinking about attending a school across the country, then I should be discussing that with them.

But that’s the crux, I think. I don’t merely discuss. I ask. I don’t ‘just do.’ I ask.

At various points in my life, I have found myself marveling at people who ‘just do’ things–from going to stores to moving across countries. How do they do that? I wonder. How do they just do that? Until reading that blog post, I never realized that my underlying question was, Whose permission do they have?

Likely, they only have their own permission, as adult human beings.

I could stand to give myself permission more often, I think. I wish I could figure out how to make it seem less dangerous.

Coming Out is Forever

My wife and I had a conversation the other day revolving around her transition. She mentioned that she’d written a journal wherein she realizes she’ll be coming out forever–a feeling which I as a bi/pan person can understand, since I’m also always coming out. In our discussion, and in her journal, she brushed on the pressures of ‘fitting in,’ of ‘passing‘ as cisgender.

I paused the conversation there, because I wanted to check in with her. I wanted to make sure she wasn’t trying to conform to something that wasn’t her, that she wasn’t trying to fit into a mold with an ever-changing, ever-moving target of cisgender ‘femininity’ just because it has ‘cisgender’ attached to it. I wanted to make sure she felt free to be herself.

And I wanted to mention an article I’d read: The Null HypotheCis. This article points out that our society tends to treat ‘cisgender/cissexual’ as the null, the standard, the thing against which we test.

After all, surely if we’re going to risk so much, put so much at stake, in such a monumental “decision”, we should approach it carefully, and make sure to be certain, right? Shouldn’t we be looking for proof that we’re trans before gambling our whole lives on that being the case?

Well, maybe… if proof of being trans was even really something possible, beyond the simple proof of subjectively experiencing your identity and gender as such. But more importantly: we never ask ourselves for “proof” that we’re cis.

And yet–identifying as cisgender is (as the article points out) every bit as much of a subjective thing as is identifying as transgender. (And perhaps that’s part of the discomfort of transgender identities–that such persons make us call our cis selves into question, make us think about how subjective our identities really are.) I brought it up to her because I know how easy it is to buy into that narrative of the societally structured null hypothesis, that ‘straight’ is null and LGB is the question.

As a bisexual woman married to someone who didn’t come out of the closet as MtF until well after we were married, I lived with ‘heterosexual couple privilege’ for years. And I still do, in some ways, since we’re still in the very beginning stages of Eren coming out at work and making legal marker changes.

And yet–both Eren and I live with stigma every day. Both of us are eternally coming out. And sometimes, it’s exhausting and hard and emotionally draining. Sometimes people expect us to be the educational battering rams to knock down their uneducated peers’ views.

But worse? Bisexual people experience higher rates of depression and suicidal ideation than lesbian and gay folks, and transgender people have an even higher suicide rate. In a world where we’re constantly either erased or that it will kill you for existing, is it any wonder that our two groups experience such high rates of depression and suicide? No, it isn’t.

Eren and I worry more about her external safety and my internal safety. We worry about someone ‘finding out’ she’s transgender and deciding to hurt or kill her for that. A world that makes a punchline out of her existence means her existence is in itself dangerous and a challenge to the system. We worry about my internal safety as I am currently the one teetering most precariously on that depression slope. We worry that in 49 states (including ours), ‘trans panic’ is still a ‘defense’ for killing a transgender person.

So what can we do? We can recognize that transmisogyny hurts all of us:

Transmisogyny not only names the oppression trans women face as both trans people and as women, but it is also an enormously valuable concept for understanding what motivates violence in a patriarchal culture. It is both a specific descriptor and a larger framework for understanding much more about how gender works in our society. In fact, I would argue that the simultaneous hatred of both transness and femininity — transmisogyny — is at the root of much, perhaps even most, of the anti-queer violence in our world.

Let me be very clear: I in no way wish to take away from the specificity of the term transmisogyny and the experience of the world, unique to trans women and nonbinary transfeminine people, that it describes. I am emphatically not arguing that people who are not trans women or otherwise transfeminine directly experience transmisogyny. Rather, I believe that transmisogyny is such a strong (and often subconscious) influencer of attackers’ thoughts and actions that it underlies many of the ways in which people of all genders are disciplined and punished over perceived gender and sexual transgressions.

In other words, while transmisogyny is primarily aimed at trans women and transfeminine people, and it is experienced solely by them in ways that should be discussed without mention of other groups, its prevalence in the world is so widespread that it also happens to “spill over” into violence against others.

Combining this with The Null HypotheCis idea, we can see why so many people are threatened by transgressions against boundaries thought to be objective but actually subjective. And we can see that these shouldn’t actually be seen as threats but as freedoms for all of us, ways to break the bonds that those ‘objective’ boundaries have held us in. If we can break free from a reliance on supposedly objective understandings of gender and turn our gazes to subjective understandings, perhaps we can break free of the violence against queer people of all stripes–particularly transgender women of color–and perhaps we can begin to see visibility and a reduction in suicide rates amongst bi and trans groups.

And maybe–maybe then, coming out won’t be quite so exhausting.

Experiencing Depression

One of my favorite Vloggers, Laci Green, did a pretty personal vlog on her channel, Sex+, about her own experience with depression. It’s worth a watch:

She’s right when she says depression is isolating, just like TheBloggess is right when she says that depression is a lying bastard.

It’s hard to remember, in the thick of it.

For me, this most recent experience of depression has existed as a series of dips along a continuum. I can’t remember when I first felt myself falling into the hole…it’s been a really long time. I’ve been here for a really long time. Sometimes, the hole is deeper and darker than other times, and I feel like it’s so dark I can’t see the way out. I have suicidal ideation. I feel like no matter how hard a light shines, it cannot pierce the darkness. And then…somehow…because I make myself talk to Eren or Zyn, because I make myself move away from my brain long enough and focus into movies for six hours instead of staring into the heartache of racism and sexism/misogyny and transphobia and heteronormativity and monosexism, of staring into all the ways I’ve failed to be perfect….

Somehow, I come out of the deeper pits.

I’m still in the gray, though. I get a little higher some days, and some days I remember what it was like when I felt like I could touch the sky, what it felt like when the wind brushed my skin and sunlight poured in.

I think part of this is that so many days, I have trouble even moving. I would like to get out more. Heat exhausts me, and we’re being slammed with heat waves. Sometimes reaching down hurts. Sometimes walking hurts.

And I am riddled insecurities–that I read so much and post so many readings that my friends are annoyed, that I ‘love’ or ‘like’ too many things on various social networking sites, that I clog my friends’ feeds.

It makes it difficult to do what I’d like to do with this blog–more in-depth posting, less personal posting. I need to dig into things, and keep up with my academic things for that. Instead, I’m listless, and reading so much to run away from my brain, and then feeling empathic pain from much of my chosen reading, and then doing neither the digging in nor the posting.

I’m trying to remember to be compassionate with myself. My wife is certainly compassionate with me. I’m trying to remember that not everyone is completely irritated with my lack of ability to do anything, or disappointed in me.

I’m trying to figure out if there are triggers for some of these deeper pits. I think there are, for some of them. Some of them seem (for now) unavoidable. Others mystify me for now.

My experience with depression is much like what I think (without re-reading) this blog post probably reads like: a lot jumbled, as my mind tries to skitter away from things I need to examine in order to repair myself. I have at least e-mailed a therapist.

I am hopeful for more and better posting as I find my way out of the depth and gloom.