one fine day

My life, italicized to acknowledge my projection of agency in this case, clearly recognizes that Monday morning through Friday evening is far too consumed by work to allow much opportunity for the kind of life challenging, affirming or at least dramatizing events that are the true grist for hyper reflective mills such as mine, and so often grants me a surfeit of such activity in a deliciously condensed weekend.

Last weekend was just such one fine day, but rather than selfishly sit and ponder on the implications of each of these instances, the transparent collusion prompts me to immediately, quickly, and rather roughly share a sketch of its 24+ hours (we’re on trans time here, so temporal boundaries, like so many others, will blur a bit).

So, in reverse order:

on sunday afternoon I lingered beach side on the north shore and walked about with ellie navidson. ellie blogs here at (in)visibly queer, and is one of the more remarkable of the many trans folk who I am more than able to remark about. ellie is one of the blessed who could easily pass be appropriately gendered. however, ellie is instead committed to remaining visibly trans. ellie’s choice has inspired most of those around her, if not to remain or become visible themselves, to at least, as in my case, give serious, mindful consideration to their choices around visibility, privilege and the implications of our very being in public space. you should read his blog. and think on it. ellie is quickly emerging as a leader of our community, and for good reason. i will readily attest that his authenticity and care is a fierce as her writings or presence.

Earlier that morning I caught up with an old friend over breakfast, our conversation painfully punctuated by some incredibly loud construction work just a few feet away. We had met last year when we were both getting a ride to a crossdresser friendly sexyfuntime party. I was just starting to accept that I was trans and this was to be one of the last times I went out “en femme”. She identified as a crossdresser, but later explored beginning transition and followed my progress with interest. Like many others, I tend to assume that, as the joke goes, the difference between a crossdresser and a trans woman is …. about two years. I learned, however, that the reality, rather than the idea, of transitioning made my friend realize that he was quite content with his chosen level of gender expression. Further, he told a rather disturbing, though not surprising story, or being rather patronized by a trans woman at a recent event who explicitly diminished the experience of crossdressers. In our community there is an often unspoken hierarchy of trans experiences, with the “true transsexual” granted the highest authenticity and the “transvestic fetishist” the lowest.

This is bullshit, and anyone peddling it needs to stop. Like now. Do some of members of our community face greater risks and obstacles than others? Of course. But I’m beyond tired of the way different cliques under the wider trans* umbrella tear each other down in a misguided attempt to lift themselves up. I’ll heartily embrace the company of the creative, kind, and brilliant, regardless of what spot on the spectrum they occupy at any given moment, and just as heartily employ the awesome power of my wrath on anyone I see scorning one of our own. In fact, I’m forming a League of Trans Heroes for just such vigilance. Or maybe The T-Team. ‘Tev, we’ll be on your ass. So check your shit be nice.

Around 2:00 the previous night/morning I found myself at Lincoln Hall in Chicago for One Queer Roof, an event that for the first time brought together three different queer dance parties under one big glitter covered roof. I popped in for one reason: I wanted to dance with my girlfriend. I did. I could. The reality of this is still sinking in. I have a girlfriend. And I was able to go out dancing with her. And feel safe. Feel adored. Feel beautiful. The quite ordinary events of holding hands, a kiss, become quite extraordinary when you’ve given up all hope of experiencing them again. More to say on this later.

While at the party I ran into about half a dozen other trans women I knew from the newly formed No Boys Allowed group, a regular meeting of femme identified trans people. I didn’t really know any trans women before deciding to transition. I had some interactions online, not all positive, and met a few in my neighborhood the week I decided to start hormones. My network expanded a little after I came out, but not much. So walking into the first No Boys Allowed meeting, into a room of 15 beautiful, vibrant, daring, trans women, representing just about every stage, identify and expression available, was nothing less than revelatory. Alone we were each powerful in our way, of that I have no doubt. Together, it feels revolutionary. This is also where I met my now girlfriend. Take a moment … got it? Good. As I said, more on that later.

I came so late to the party because I had been at another one earlier, a Midsummer Night Fairy Party hosted by my dear friend, the photographer Andy Karol. I met Andy last year when they were looking online for gender fluid subjects to participate in the exhibit Eden: Expressions in Gender. I’ve had plenty of photographers ask to shoot me, mainly straight cis men who aren’t particularly effective at hiding their fetishization of trans women, so I was naturally skeptical of Andy at first. One look at the work though, and I was fully on board. Andy is a remarkable photographer, artist, model, actor, parent and friend, with a sensitivity as finely tuned to gender and identity as to light and composition. Eden featured nude shots of gender fluid people in nature, achingly beautiful, sensual without being explicitly erotic, respectful while still intimate, human yet transcendent, and foregrounding questions about the relationship between gender identity, expression and embodiment. (And yes, or “warning”, there is a nude picture of my pre-transition body languidly draped across a fallen tree in the exhibit.)

Andy’s newest project is Trans Euphoria, a “direct response in opposition to the “dysphoria” often associated with gender variance.” This series will be portraits of trans people at their best, in moments of joy. Needless to say, this is exactly the kind of work I’m most excited to see more of in the world. I’ll get Andy on the other side of the camera for this site soon.

Andy and their partner, writer Lee Knauer, threw the party and I had a chance to both dress up as fairy, a precious opportunity I felt a moral imperative to seize, and meet many of the other subjects of Eden, including model Micah Patton …. sorry, what I was saying?  Snap out of it Jen.

Alright, just a little further to go. Stay with me folks.

After shopping for sparkles, iridescently violet eye makeup, huge eyelashes, and fairy wings at Beatnix (love that it’s a one-stop shop), I popped over to Roscoe’s, a Boystown staple, to refuel. While dining outside by myself, one of my favorite activities as a gregarious loner, I overheard some men talking, with an unmistakable tone of derision, about a recent evening that found the spot taken over by “trannies”. Needless to say I listened with interest, apparently successful in feigning insouciance, aided by my casually-cis female spy outfit (jeans and tank top), my recently acquired transtastic accoutrements safely ensconced under the table, but quite ready to …um, create a “teachable moment”. Turns out they were talking about a recent stop by the RuPaul Drag Race tour. So, drag queens. Are drag queens considered “trannies”? (The Bad Boys Club claim differently.) Never having seen the show, and not sure if there had been a further evolution of the word, I opted to let it go. As far as I’m concerned, if drag queens want to lay claim to the word, they can have it. But they have to have it entirely. No using it for trans people. Any abrogation will result in action by The T-Team.

Before that, I had just done a two-hour interview with Dr. Stephanie Budge from the University of Louisville. Dr. Budge is doing the first large scale qualitative study of positive trans experiences. She and her team of student researchers had come up to Chicago and lined up at least 14 interviews for that one day. Dr. Budge’s study was motivated by the exact same concerns as this site. As she wrote here earlier: “One of the basic aspects of being a therapist is learning how to provide and instill hope in our clients. It is very difficult to instill hope when there isn’t much positivity being publicized.” I’m very eager to see how the study develops, and the impact it could have.

On my way to study I went to my local coffee shop, Kitchen Sink, one of those precious, small, totally independent and utterly unique cafes out of which I’m quite certain a significantly disproportionate percentage of any community’s great art, ideas and activism is born. Plus, you know, great coffee, which is a significantly disproportionate percentage of my blood. I would love this place anyways, but by happy coincidence, the previous manager of the cafe was a wonderful trans man I became friends with, and who, as a volunteer for the Transformative Justice Law Project, personally walked me through every stage of getting my name and gender marker changed, from literally “sign this here, give it to that smiling clerk”, to being the one person in court with me on the final day. Damn, I’m starting to think I live in a trans fin de siècle.

Oh, but wait … this whole thing started with my walk to the cafe. About half a block away from me I spotted an older man talking to a woman. Being trans in public does endow you with one clear superpower: vigilance. Spidey sense ain’t got nothing on a trans person’s ability to quickly assess every person in view, and their assessment of you. I could tell the woman, who had already gone on her way, didn’t know this guy, but he didn’t look like a panhandler either. He looked rather cheery actually. Living in a city forces a constant battle between a desire to engage others with compassion and openness and the raw reality that even kindness can be a disarming weapon. As I approached he told me how beautiful I was and that he loved my dress.

I replied with a sincere, “Thank you!”

“I just moved here from Mississippi and Chicago is just amazing.”

“Oh, I’m actually from Mississippi!”

“No!”

“Yes, I was born in Natchez, but I moved …”

“WHOA! Are you a man or a woman?!”

[sigh] “I’m a woman.”

“But your voice …”

“I know, I have a low voice, but I’m a woman.”

[now following me and shouting]

“NO! Tell me truth! Are you a man or a woman?”

[I duck into the cafe.]

And this is the reality of living while trans. This was not the first time I’ve been harassed in public. It will not be the last.

But here’s the thing folks: as I waited for my coffee, I realized something. I wasn’t shaken, I was … disappointed. We could have had a nice conversation. We could have talked about Mississippi. I could have told him about the neighborhood. None of that happened, because he had an issue. And it was his loss. Maybe time only seems to move forward, and the following 24 hours were already reaching back to fill me with the kind of affirmation and sense of community that makes such a truth clear. Because it was.  And my day was just beginning.

[Note: I’m next working on a blog post about trans people’s experiences at “Pride” events.  Please contact me with your stories.]

 

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