Fonzi Gets Chomped

September 5, 2015, Avonia Beach Pennsylvania, Lake Erie.  We spend an hour or so picking up beach glass while trying to coax Fonzi into learning the joys of water.  He does not mind getting his feet wet, at least.
Nearby, a group of people has five Labradors frolicking in the surf.  Further down, a couple plays with an exotic looking Australian cattle herding dog.
Back, closer to the parking lot again, where Avonia creek scribbles sideways through the sand, another young couple plays in the water with a large, tan, pointy eared dog (This is probably a 100 pound dog.  Fonzi, by comparison, is about 25 pounds). As we wade across the stream with Fonzi, suddenly the dog is on top of Fonzi in the knee deep water, jaws locked on Fonzi’s body, then neck.  The big dog’s owner jumps in, and wrestles her dog away from our dog.  I pull frantically at the tail end of her dog.
In thirty seconds, the chaos is over.  The girl’s boyfriend leads the dog, who is still lunging aggressively, back to their car.  The girl is balling, upset by her dog’s behavior, and clearly worried about Fonzi.  Fonzi, meanwhile is wiggling all over as if he just had the time of his life.  His collar falls to the ground, severed, as he shakes the water and sand from his coat, then rubs back and forth against me as if to ask what fun comes next.
I am still shaking, after imagining the disaster of the injury of my dog, and my spouse.

If I were Jamie, this is where I would relate my dog’s behavior to some aspect of my own condition in life.  If I were Ellen, a gull with the queen’s accent would swoop down and carry Fonzi off.  If I were AnExactingLife, I would use this event as inspiration to inventory my dog snacks.

Instead, I will continue my story.
I am in Erie for the weekend to visit my parents.  This means a certain amount of stress.  But I have seen a lot of my parents this year, and that is good, because it allows us all to get through the surface pleasantries, and to spend some varied time with each other.  My parents still use the name for me that they gave me at birth, and the gender words too.  Possibly, they always will.
There are many aspects to this.  Although they still use these words, they undoubtedly know and accept me as female now.  They hear my friends, and even strangers in public referring to me this way.  Last winter, when I visited them, their neighbor stopped over, and said to my mother when she saw me “I thought that you said your son was visiting.”  So, in private, I am not hurt too badly by their words.  Especially since my mother occasionally lets a “she” slip out accidentally.  These accidental accuracies are even more significant than forced ones.
What I really anticipated with dread is to be mis-named or mis-gendered in public.  But, happily, we spent the weekend amongst ourselves, and the situation never arose. (I have to admit that I am partly to blame for the situation with my parents.  I have never been good at asserting myself with them.)
The other reason that I am thinking about all of this is that I am finally reading Stone Butch Blues.  Leslie Feinburg’s widow has made the book free for download in honor of the late Feinburg (thank you TheFlannelFiles for making me aware of this).  I have seen people reading this book, and heard them speak of it, for years.  Somehow, I avoided reading it.  Despite the fact that my own life is radically different from Feinburg’s, and Jess’s (her protagonist), I find that the book speaks giantly to my own life, and I would suspect to the lives of many other people.  While the specifics of her life are so different, she yet captures specifics of my lived experience on every page.
Here are two great quotes that make me step back and re-evaluate the way that I am viewing my life:

I care which pronoun is used, but people have been respectful to me with the wrong pronoun and disrespectful with the right one. It matters whether someone is using the pronoun as a bigot, or if they are trying to demonstrate respect.
Leslie Feinberg – A Communist Who Revolutionized Transgender Rights, By Minnie Bruce Pratt posted on November 18, 2014, Worker’s World, worker.org

For me, pronouns are always placed within context. I am female-bodied, I am a butch lesbian, a transgender lesbian – referring to me as “she/her” is appropriate, particularly in a non-trans setting in which referring to me as “he” would appear to resolve the social contradiction between my birth sex and gender expression and render my transgender expression invisible. I like the gender neutral pronoun “ze/hir”? because it makes it impossible to hold on to gender/sex/sexuality assumptions about a person you’re about to meet or you’ve just met. And in an all trans setting, referring to me as “he/him”? honors my gender expression in the same way that referring to my sister drag queens as “she/her”? does.
Transmissions – Interview with Leslie Feinberg, July 28, 2006, by Jamie Tyroler , kampkc.com

I got both of these quotes from Feinburg’s Wikipedia page, but I then went and tracked down the original sources.

Both quotes speak to me, and will help me to get my head on straight the next time that I am squirming because someone has called me “he”.  I live boldly out and loud as “other”.  I have for all of my life, even when I was trying not to (there is no more backing down now).  Although I am uncomfortable being interpreted as male, I cannot deny my femininely manerismed gay and straight male brothers with whom I share so many experiences of growing up, nor my transgender sisters.  When I am seen as “she”, yet labeled as “he”, I am at my greatest strength in breaking the barriers of gender.
Still, my identity is confidently female.  If I need to earn the right to that, I think that I have by now.  And, I have earned the legal right to it as well.
Yet, I still identify most closely with butchy females, with trans males.  Adopting too many stereo-typically female traits goes against everything I believe about feminism.
In short, I am making a political statement every time that I walk out my door.  This statement is more important than my own discomfort that people sometimes interpret me as male.

The bad parents are right to steer their staring kids away from me in the supermarket.  But it is already too late, the kids are already corrupted: they have already glimpsed me, and now they now that there is something other than boy or girl or man or woman in the range of possibilities of life.
( The good parents satisfy their kids curiosity with a reasonable explanation of the wide variety of people in the world. )
(Sorry this post is still a little disorganized.  Conceptually, some of the stuff in the last few paragraphs is complicated, and I am still trying to get it just right.)

Lehigh Valley Charter High School For The Arts ( Vacation, Part 2 )

Lehigh Valley Charter High School For The Arts

Lehigh Valley Charter High School For The Arts

On Wednesday, August 19, 2015, I finally toured the new Lehigh Valley Charter High School For The Arts (Charter Arts), in Bethlehem Pennsylvania.  The old school was in a rented old industrial site (no windows in the whole school!) but it still blew me away.  Art, dance, and music was happening everywhere: in the classrooms, in the hallways, on the ceilings. The new school puts all of that in the most beautiful building: a building constructed especially for creating art, situated in a vibrant arts community, and positioned with dozens of unique and inspiring views.

Charter Arts pulls the students from 46 different school districts in eastern Pennsylvania.  Each student auditions to get into the school.  At the school, the kids do academics for half of the day, and their art (dance, figure skating, music, visual arts, theater, vocal arts) for the other half.  I have seen some of the art that these students are creating, and it is very impressive.

But here is the most wonderful thing, and the point of me writing about this school.  My friend who gave me a tour of the school made a point of telling me what a safe haven the school has become for students who are LGBT, trans, gender variant, or have just otherwise not fit in, in the places where they come from.  Charter Arts is like a college experience for these kids.  They are able to be welcomed as themselves, in a new school where nobody knows them, and where they are judged solely as artists.  The school is a place that works to transcend boundaries of socioeconomic background, class, race, and gender.  These are lofty ideals, but my friend is believes that this has really happened in her school.

My friend is super wonderful anyways, but I know that our decades long friendship has caused her to give extra thought to the students of her school who are outside of the gender norms.  I am so happy that our long friendship has led her to take a special interest in the well-being of these kids.

The school impressed me so much that I drove back up to Bethlehem twice to draw and paint the school.  My friend hasn’t seen the drawing yet, but I hope that she likes it enough to hang it in her office.

Reading Pride 2015

Pride Day It is the middle of July. There are many competing potential things to do on any given July weekend. Hence, this is my first Pride celebration in several years. I have almost forgotten the deep significance that Pride day has to me.

Here I am amidst hundreds of people with whom I share common visions of normal relationships, modes of gender expression, and ideas of gender roles. All of us here grew up with dreams that were not the ones found in most of the books, movies, television shows, fairy tales, songs, family histories, and holy texts that we were exposed to as children. Most of us have felt invisible. Most of us have feared rejection, simply for existing. Many of us have been ostracized by friends or family. Many of have been mocked, bullied, demeaned, stalked, and assaulted for what we are.

All of us are refugees.

Yet here, all of us refugees wash up on a common shore for a day. We look around, and are surprised to see how many of us there are. It dawns upon us that each day at work, on the street, and in the supermarket we pass many others of our tribe.

Pride Day 2015

We realize that, although the world has changed in revolutionary ways from the frightening days of our youth, when it still socially acceptable for our classmates and our teachers to call us sissies and dykes and queers and faggots, and when almost every media image of us was a mockery; that there are still kids growing up with families of the worst kind of haters. That there is still much of the world where we cannot travel. That most of us still live in places where are jobs are at risk. That there is still a need to stand in solidarity.

So, I sit here on a bench with my pen and notebook, in the mottled light though the oak trees, with the buzz of music and voices around me, and bask in comfortable oneness.

The Purpose of this Blog.

Because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spew you out.

Each time that I engage in conversations with others on the trans* spectrum, I think: I have something to say on this topic. I should be blogging about this. Blogging about what it is to live in the world as transgender, as neither male nor female, as both male and female, as non-binary. Writing about medical transition, hormones and doctors. Scribbling about threats of aggression and violence in public, the experience of having ones gender correctly or incorrectly read, acceptance from others, complications of relationships, gender stereotypes, and of the power of clothing. Talking of being a survivor of sexual violence. Speaking of feminism. Writing of the commonalities and non-commonalities of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender experiences. Complaining about public restrooms. Writing about existing as visibly “other”.

I will not be afraid to ask big questions like: how does the experience of being transgender speak to the universal experience of all humans, and of all sentient beings? What parts of the human experience are amplified by being transgender? What does it mean to be other, to be othered, to be in between?

I will be neither moping and griping, nor bragging and whooping about my experiences. I will try to illustrate myself at my weakest, and at my most vulnerable. I will attempt to be honest, and to not be a poser.

Into the Nitty Gritty of a Male of Transgender Experience

 “You cannot control what happens to you, but you can control your attitude toward what happens to you, and in that, you will be mastering change rather than allowing it to master you.”

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