A Queer Girl Takes a Walk In Guyville

This June 22nd will mark the 25th anniversary of the release of Liz Phair’s Exile in Guyville. Besides being one of the five best albums of the 90s and one of the best albums by a woman singer/songwriter ever, it’s what got me thinking about pop culture and being queer. If there’s an album that would seem to have little for a queer girl to connect with, it would be an album with a song about one night stands with guys. That and a confession of taking advantage of men. All sorts of straight girl stuff, yet a queer girl could wrap her arms around it all.

A big reason is the very thing that wrinkled quite a few noses when the album came out. It’s a woman being very frank about herself, in every possible way. It’s frank, explicit and as such completely unlike anything else. Liz is a woman who is owning being a woman and everything she is, even the stuff she might be insecure about. She might pine for some perfect idealized boyfriend but she also sings of how she wants to be a a guy’s blowjob queen. And such a declaration of womanhood, is going to appeal to any girl who wants to stand as herself and not apologize for it. Plus Liz gives not a care about the old idea that “good girls don’t about/like that”. Which to girls who can’t say much if anything about anything about themselves, in any way, makes her damn near a hero.

Then there’s how even a song that is about something you don’t want, you still get what it’s getting at. I never once thought about having one nights stands with guys. But Liz singing about it in “Fuck and Run” is something I get. Because that feeling of “shit, this again” when you’ve found yourself in another situation where they say they’ll call even though you know they won’t, isn’t limited to straight girls. And anyway, isn’t like you don’t have a straight friend or two who talk about the same thing Liz is singing about.

Not that “Fuck and Run” is only something to relate to that way. When Liz sings,

          I want all the stupid old shit,
Like letters and sodas, letters and sodas

she’s singing about wanting all those little things that if you don’t have in a relationship, you might wonder if it’s time to check out. Plus if you’re like me you find yourself on both sides of it. You want for someone who would do it for you who you can also do it for.

But there’s plenty about stuff you just get because it’s just things you get. Songs like “Divorce Song”, “Never Said” and even “Girls! Girls! Girls!” are about stuff that’s pretty well universal regardless of what kind of girl you are. “Divorce Song” is a song about not liking someone any more and how things don’t work out. That’s as relatable as it gets. And plenty of queer girls have chewed their lip while saying “I have no idea what you’re talking about, I never said a thing”. Basically living what “Never Said” is about. As for “Girls! Girls! Girls!” and taking advantage of men, you might not do it how Liz does it, but you’d do it or at least might. Plenty of situations where you find the ends justify the means and oh well, a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do.

Even when it comes to a song that would seem way too straight for a queer girl to get, we get it. “Help Me Mary” might be about a straight girl with guys basically taking over her space, shit talking about her, seeing how far she’ll go, but that hardly makes it unrelatable. Getting shit talked about by guys? Welcome to being every girl ever. Either you’re on the receiving end or you hear it and think “God, just don’t have that ever be about me”. And going along with things, even things you don’t strictly want to do but you do anyways? You’ve done it, will do it, you hope you never have to or you thank your lucky stars you won’t ever have to. Or at least not that way. Not all the way, not your knees are red when you’re done all the way.

And with “Flower”, it’s Liz singing very frankly about getting turned on and what she wants to do. That’s not a thing a “good girl” is supposed to do. Talking about being aroused, talking about lusting after someone? Wanting to fuck their brains out? Oh that’s not “proper”, it’s supposed shameful. And here’s Liz not giving a single fuck. She’s not just owning it, she’s not the least bit embarrassed let alone ashamed of what’s going through her head. Which makes it so absolutely awesome. And the line,

  Every time I see your face I think of things unpure unchaste

is relatable no matter who you lust after.

But there’s one more thing about Exile in Guyville and Liz Phair. Specifically for someone who found themselves in the spot I was in. When reality was the girls that were an option had very little chance of working out and the girls that could work out, weren’t an option, Liz made for a nice crush. A nice, safe crush. After all she’s pretty, looks like my type and is totally unattainable, out of my league and all that. Plus, girls like her aren’t just there. You have to find them, get to know how they are, no “I have a friend that’s like….” to deal with. Liz was a nice straight girl to have an open crush on. Since back then, openly crushing on a lesbian was not exactly going to work.

So it wasn’t just the album I loved, that I cranked way up and still think of as one of the best things ever. It was Liz too. A straight girl with an album that sounds as straight as can be. Except it’s not really. For this, at the time, closeted queer girl, it was perfect. And so was Liz.

Pop Culturing While Queer

So June has come around and with it, Pride. A month of celebrating everything LGBT+. With it scores of ruminations on queer influence on pop culture. But what about how us queers relate to pop culture that isn’t giving us a nod? To all that pop culture that is seen as a heteronormative and no attention is given to the fandom of those outside of that.

There’s no book entitled “A Queer Girl’s History of Boy Bands” (there damn well should be). There’s no podcast called “Dykes On Metal”. Who has ever given thought to why a closeted gay girl would know the lineup of N’Sync? Or how a decade earlier another one navigated the Aqua-Net and spandex of bands like Poison. Or why would some random queer girl think Top Gun is actually a damn fine popcorn flick?

There are, of course, no universals. The medium matters. The time frame matters. The specifics of who we’re talking about matter. After all a bi woman could find Eddie Vedder dreamy while a lesbian goes “Yes, he’s a dude. Definitely a dude”. There’s the matter of the impact being in the closet or out makes. And there are a whole lot of other variables, some of which wouldn’t even occur to me. After all my experience of pop culture is as a trans woman and lesbian, others have other experiences.

As with any dive into pop culture there’s the temptation to say “so what?”. Well it’s Pride, and if we’re going to dig into all manner of queer stuff, this should be part of it. Especially as it’s ignored historically. And oh I can hear some people go “but no lesbian is into/cares about…” in regards to certain things, yeah talk to some of us. Just remember, pop culture is everywhere, after all it’s pop culture, so isn’t like you can be a queer girl or woman and not interact with it.

I also have my own motives. Like it gives me something to blog about and it’s a topic that I can say a lot about Something different and hopefully worth reading. There is so much I could cover, even if I were to write two posts a day, at the end of the month I’d still have a lot left unsaid. So might as well spend as much time this month covering what I can. As well as some other stuff I want to cover.

In the end, it’s about how each of us experiences widely shared culture aka pop culture. The stuff you talk about at school, at a friend’s house, at work or wherever. You can’t really understand and relate to someone, if you don’t know how they relate to the every day stuff of life, like pop culture. Without that, good luck with furthering equality. So sharing is important, because every little bit matters.


On Being Trans Pt. 2 – Some stuff I missed the first time

So a couple weeks back I posted about being trans and as I mentioned, there were things I didn’t get to. And of course as soon as it was up, I realized there were things I didn’t talk about that I should have. So welcome to the second installment of me talking about one part of myself. This time not covering as much ground, but getting a bit more into some details. Also I’m sure this won’t be the last post on the matter.

First up and I can’t believe I didn’t include this, was how/when I knew I was trans. Like when was I first aware that oh hey, who I am and who people think I am isn’t matching. I’m not sure when I was first aware of it to be honest. My earliest memory of it is standing in my kindergarten classroom wondering “Why does everyone keep calling me a boy?”. I’m sure it hit me before then, but that’s my earliest memory of it. Five year old me wondering why I was being called someone I’m not. I’m not sure why it was right then that I remember.

If you’re wondering, and I don’t blame you if you are, how I forgot that the first time around, familiarity. It’s something I’ve mentioned before so many times, I forget there are people who don’t know. Also with so much to talk about, that I want to pay attention, it just sort of slipped through the cracks. Oops.

Now it wasn’t just that I was wondering why everyone kept calling me a boy that was an issue back then. I had to deal with things like being told to go play with the boys during break time, while wondering why I’m being told to play with the boys. To say nothing of the fact that playing with boys was kind of boring to me. Unless it was tag, freeze tag or red light green light, playing with boys just didn’t do it for me. It was more fun playing with the other girls. For one, it was collaborative and cooperative, it wasn’t about good vs bad or beating someone else out or some sort of recreation of those things. Plus I could interject my own creativity into it. Alas, I found myself being told to go play with the boys and as time went on it happened more and more until I just couldn’t play with girls at all.

That I just wanted to play with the girls wasn’t however the thing that would most or could most have been a huge clue something was up. That would’ve been what happened when we were told to line up with boys in one line and girls in other. If the teacher said “girls over here and boys over there”, I’d just start heading to where the girls were told to go. If the teacher flipped it around? I’d just started heading to where the girls were told to go. If we were told to lineup alternating girls and boys, I’d go stand between two boys. Because we’re supposed to alternate girl and boy. It was something that happened without any thought on my part. No thinking “I’m going to go stand with the girls because I want to be with them” when it came to lining up with girls. Just me going where I was told to go.

Of course each time it happened I’d get corrected and I’d go to the other line or change my place. And it did get to where I was told to listen better because it happened again. But I was listening, I was going to where I was told to go. An instance of that could well be why I was standing there wondering why everyone kept calling me a boy. Or could’ve been being told to go play with the boys. Or something else.

I did eventually come to in effect condition myself to deal with it. Before heading off to stand in line, I’d wait a second and see where the boys were going. Then I’d go there to stand with them. Granted it might make me look like I was waiting for no reason or something, but hey I’m going to where the teacher thinks I should. So that was better. Of course there was having to deal with the fact that my delay left me to end up one of the last to line up. Even if I could’ve been one of the first. And so often ending up towards the back of a line wore on me. Being up front meant you got to go first, if you were playing a game or something have a chance to name your side and so on. Way in back, you just have to wait and don’t get much say so about things.

Now my little bit of self-conditioning wasn’t foolproof. I had plenty of cases of heading off to line up with girls before it would hit me “other line”. And this would continue though first grade and later. Course as time went on there was less lining up girls in one line boys in another, so less chance to end up heading to the “wrong” line. Not that it didn’t stop. I can recall it happening in fifth grade. And the last time it happened, was in high school. Of course when you go ages without lining up girls here, boys there, the old conditioning slips away.

Then there was something that wasn’t really school specific though it would be a bit of an issue in high school. From fairly early on I never really liked being without a shirt on around other kids. I just didn’t quite like it. I would put up with it when I went swimming and stuff, but it wasn’t exactly something I much liked. Then when puberty came around, it turned into something stronger. To the point I wouldn’t go swimming at the pool, wouldn’t take my t-shirt off at the beach and so on. My sense of myself was that taking off my t-shirt in public was not something I felt was entirely okay. I didn’t want guy friends let alone strangers seeing me without a t-shirt on.

For the most part it wasn’t an issue, save for a mercifully very few times when playing basketball with friends someone would decide on shirts versus skins (one team with their t-shirts on, the other with them off). And I always ended up on the shirts side. But there was one place where it was an issue or at least required some creativity, my high school locker room. Between two semesters of PE, three years of track and two semesters of pre-season track conditioning work outs, I was in the locker room a lot. Which meant changing in the locker room. And that meant facing having upwards of a few dozen boys see me without a shirt on. Which was not something I wanted.

So to deal with it, I had to come up with a couple things. For PE class since there was no way I was wearing my PE t-shirt under my shirt, I would just duck over to the next row of lockers. No one was using a locker there so it was empty and I’d undo my shirt and put on my t-shirt there. And then after class, same deal. Oh there were a few times when I didn’t do this, just thinking “oh I can manage it, I think”. But nope, just couldn’t get past it.

Track practice and pre-season workouts were easier, not as many guys to avoid. Also I could wear whatever t-shirt I’d wear for practice or to workout in under my shirt. So just get to he locker room, take my shirt off, and done. Easy. Unless I was wearing a turtleneck, in which case had my t-shirt in my backpack. So then it was grab the t-shirt, head to a stall in the bathroom, and change tops there. The reason for heading to the stall was after school the flow into and out of the locker room meant I could never be sure that in the few seconds I needed someone wouldn’t pop up. Also there were coaches coming through. You know, men. And if I wasn’t comfortable with a 15 year old boy seeing me without a top on? There was just no way I’m about to have a man see me that way.

And a last thing, and this pertains to what I mentioned earlier, but also goes for other things, like making up jokes. Part of the issue with playing with boys, especially when it came to things like playing with G.I. Joes or Transformers, was a matter of frame of reference. The boys had this somewhat shared frame of reference to inform the scenes we’d play out. I never had that frame of reference, so I was only ever going along with what the boys were doing. They would go back and forth over things and I’d just go along with it.

And as it is for playing, it is for telling jokes, specifically guy jokes. Those jokes that center on guys’ experience, point of view etc. I could laugh at the guy jokes my friends made, but I couldn’t tell similar jokes and be funny with any regularity. My frame of reference, the way I perceive the  world, the way I place myself in it, meant I couldn’t just come up with a joke like the guys could. I’d sometimes get it right but not often. There was other material, I did way better with. Thankfully. Also an upside I ended up understanding how jokes work, how jokes are constructed, without having to go learn it. Never bad things to know.

So there you have it, what I didn’t get to the first time around. At least what came to mind. I’m sure there will be more. Because I know things will start coming to mind. It’s just how it goes.



So, about that month of not posting

As some may have noticed, or you scroll through my blog posts, I didn’t anything for a month. That wasn’t intentional. Wasn’t work related or because I was out of ideas. Wasn’t because of any of the usual reasons for a gap in posting on a blog. The reason for me not posting for a month, I sort of messed up at self-care.

Now let me say right upfront, it wasn’t anything physical. I didn’t go on some extended bender or just not sleep enough for a long while. Though I did have days when I definitely didn’t get enough sleep. So my physical health was just fine. What wasn’t fine however was my mental and emotional health. That’s why some days I didn’t sleep much.

It all started with following the victim impact statements in the Larry Nasser trials. Which as the victim of child abuse, I knew I might have some issues with. So, no watching the live TV coverage. Just follow things online, on Twitter, Facebook and sometimes some other sites. That way, I’d only get some transcribed snippets and reporter accounts of what was going on. I should be fine, or so I thought. Turns out, I thought wrong and ended up not entirely fine.

Even though the abuse I faced as a child was emotional abuse, something different from the victims in the Nasser trials, it’s still abuse and abuse just does certain things to you no matter what kind it is. It’s why I wasn’t going to watch the live TV coverage, hearing one woman after another talking about how she was abused and the consequences, I knew was more than I really could handle well. If it was just a few, no problem. But dozens and dozens? No way. That’s just way more than I would even try to handle. So no watching the live coverage.

And the first couple days I was alright. It was hard to read the little snippets I saw and things like how the number of victim statements kept going up. But I was keeping myself together and I wasn’t following through the whole day. Just a few hours and that was it. That should work ok through it all. But it didn’t.

After the first couple days, as the statements built up, the number of victims kept going up, it just started taking a hold of me. As I read more things I related to, I started thinking back to my own abuse. Going through events one after another, the way I felt, how I felt afterwards. Bit by bit I couldn’t keep from digging into every little bit of my own abuse. And with that feeling all the hurt and everything that went with it. It all started feeling so raw, stripped of whatever distance or cushion I had.

Beyond that there were the things I’d see being said online which just swirled together with what I was already feeling. People asking why didn’t someone come forward sooner, how could they have not realized it was abuse when it happened, things like that. Things I am far too well aware of the answers to. There’s no one to come forward to, or you fear getting in trouble for coming forward, you tell yourself that it’s bad but it’s not abuse, and so on. And as I read it, responding to some people’s comments, how raw everything felt, just got more intense.

I knew that I should just try to get out and away from it a while. But, just a little more, just a bit longer, just one more. I couldn’t get myself away from it even as I knew I should. Even when it got to where I’d go lay down and just start crying, I couldn’t get myself to get some distance. At that point it would hardly make much difference. I was just going to ride it out until it was all done.

All while this was going on, after I’d get some sleep, I’d be fine more or less. I was feeling drained, but if I didn’t tell you, you wouldn’t have known. So as far as the world would know, I was getting along pretty well. I might have said something about how hard it was to see some things, but nothing that gave any clue to how I was actually doing or processing everything. Or not. No clue of how I was actually feeling inside.

And among the things that wouldn’t show at all, was that my mind turned to jello when it came to the sort of thinking it takes to write. Or write much of anything beyond the usual Facebook and Twitter update stuff and such. So even if my mind was full of ideas it just couldn’t get things together to write. And even after all the victim statements were done and it was over that didn’t change. Even as the days passed and I started feeling emotionally more stable and well, still couldn’t get my mind together. That would take a bit more time.

And in the end it was a few weeks before everything was back together. Now, everything is back to working. The words I’m writing now just flowing out of my fingers. So all is good. I know I should have something to say about how if something else comes along, when it does, I’ll take better care of myself. And I do plan on it, or at least hope to. But, I can’t even come close to a promise that I’ll handle things how I know I should. Because as much as I know to handle things better, I know how easily that can slip away. I can only hope that next time I’ll handle it better.

So there you have it, why there was nothing on the blog for a month. Oh as for the couple week break after the first post back, that was just a bit of life being a pain. Nothing bad. Nothing that actually left me not being able to write. Now I’m in that nice space where writing just comes to me. So can really get myself going on everything I’m working on, what you thought this blog was it? It’s not. But it’s damn sweet to be back to it.

The Problem with TERFs

If there’s one constant to being a member of any minority/marginalized group, is that there’s someone out there who seems to have no purpose in life but to make things worse for you. For trans women and men, though in practice it’s almost entirely trans women, that someone are TERFs, Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminists. Whose entire thing is basically coming up with an endless series of reasons why trans women aren’t women. Also they can get very upset about being called TERFs, even though by their own actions they are trans-exclusionary and label themselves radical feminists (which itself is a label that could justify an entire blog post). They will claim it’s a slur even while being exactly what it says they are.


And while I could go on about various statements, ideological claims and so on, better to look at what’s underneath it all. Where the foundations of what they think and say are. How it is they come to be so toxic not just to trans women but our allies as well.

To start with take this quote from Australian feminist Germaine Greer, one of the pillars of TERF thinking,:

“No so-called sex-change has ever begged for a uterus-and-ovaries transplant; if uterus-and-ovaries transplants were made mandatory for wannabe women they would disappear overnight”

Now let’s for the start leave out the factual validity of what she’s claiming and look at what she’s saying. She’s saying trans women would disappear if having to get an ovary and uterus transplant was mandatory. Which is rather illuminating as to her own feelings about them. In the larger context of what she’s said, having a uterus and ovaries is essential to being a woman. It just is. Somehow this isn’t meant to be a slight to women born without either or both. Yet declaring those are essential to being a woman can’t be read any other way. Even as Greer claims trans women see women as defective males, she posits a definition that implicitly declares women born with certain conditions are also defective women.

But there’s another part to it, and it’s in what she doesn’t say. She never says why a trans woman wouldn’t accept a uterus and ovary transplant. She never, as one might think she would, argues no trans woman is strong enough to endure having to deal with having an ovaries and uterus. Or that at the least no trans woman would ever agree to having periods. Which starts getting into a key part of reading her statement, that having a uterus and ovaries, is just awful. Something so awful no trans woman would ever actually agree to it. After all, why else claim no trans woman would go along with a transplant?

And if it sounds like Greer has a not too great view of women, her recent comments about #metoo are certainly illuminating. Instead of praising women for coming forward she castigates women for trying to fix past wrongs and even tosses in a defense of Woody Allen. Also if you think I’m reading too much into what Greer has said in declaring she thinks a functional uterus and ovaries are essential to being a woman, a few years back she said:

“Being a woman is a bit tricky. If you didn’t find your pants full of blood when you were 13 there’s something important about being a woman you don’t know. It’s not all cake and jam”.

So any girl who at 13 isn’t bleeding, because she can’t, can’t really be a woman. Because she doesn’t experience how awful periods are. Why else posit that being a woman isn’t “all cake and jam” if not to say they’re horrible? And why the imagery?

Though Greer herself doesn’t base her work in it, her statement about uterus and ovary transplants fits with a view of some feminists labeled as radical feminists and accepted by TERFs as axiomatic truth. Specifically that women’s oppression is entirely centered on their biology, that it is having a uterus and ovaries, is the nexus of oppression of women. And the view of oppression comes to dominate all else. Everything flows from how men oppress women purely because of their biology.

Now for the other part of Greer’s statement, the factual validity of it. Currently medical science doesn’t make such uterus and ovary transplants possible. Though uterine transplants have been done on cis women, so far no one has gone forward on performing the procedure on a trans woman. So even if a trans woman begged to have them, it’s not currently possible. So the absence of the begging doesn’t change anything. So the first part of the statement can just be written off on account of the limits of medical science.

It’s the second part that’s far more illuminating and also creates a bridge by which to look at the most toxic part of TERF ideology and conduct. She declares that if the transplant were mandatory trans women would disappear. Yet by what basis does she declare that? It’s pretty clear she’s never actually engaged with trans women in any sort of dialogue. Because if she had? She’d find some of us, would have no problem with that transplant. Oh it’s mandatory? And? Where’s the problem?

But a woman who so openly holds all trans women as contemptible as Greer does, and that’s all TERFs, is not going to find that out. Save for possibly some musings online they won’t even encounter the idea of a trans woman who wouldn’t have issue with the transplant.And they aren’t even aware that there’s something they don’t know, it doesn’t occur to them something may not be as stated.

There is however a further thing, that a trans woman would not only accept a mandatory uterus and ovaries transplant, but were it just an option, she’d go for it. If you’re wondering what trans woman would choose it, well I’m one. And yes there’s the initial reaction of “You’d want to bleed?” some people have. It’s not however really about wanting to bleed, it’s that bleeding, having a menstrual cycle, is a fairly typical part of being a woman. And if it were an option, why not? One of the hardest things about adolescence as a trans girl is dealing with that you’ll never experience that. If I could correct that, why wouldn’t I?

Then there is the other side of it, that having a uterus and ovaries also brings a potential. The potential to give birth. Which is something I once brought up online and watched as TERFs attacked it as perverted and other things. I didn’t even mention, they didn’t ask of course, if it’s something I’d do. But it’s not about actually doing it, but having the option to. Having that choice. And while the idea of a trans woman as innately maternal isn’t something that comes up, well why couldn’t a trans woman be maternal? We’re women after all.

That ignorance, which carries to everything about trans women, is what makes TERFs so toxic. They have their own explanations for why trans women are as we are, what we are and so on. And they’re taken as axiomatic. A trans woman stating something contrary is stating something invalid, lying, or obfuscating etc, take your pick. And as a trans woman’s own words are never valid, there’s no chance to really explain anything. That trans women will as a group declare gender identity has nothing to do with sexuality, TERFs declare it does. TERFs will attack trans women’s own statements out of a lack of critical thinking of the limits of language. After all, how else to describe one’s own internal self without the word “feeling”? Which is turned to declare being a woman isn’t a feeling. Which it’s not, but if you only get hung up on words without thinking of what’s actually being aid, you can go that way with it.

The insistence that nothing a trans woman says about herself or trans women in general is never truthful, as well as the persistent ignorance among TERFs, isn’t something that comes out of nowhere. Indeed, despite what they may say about how horrible men are, it’s something TERFs share with men. That anything they can’t relate to, that they don’t understand, is inferior to their own status and being and therefore not worth any bother. Men have used the threat of violence, as well as actual violence, to subjugate entire populations they viewed as inferior. In some cases they’ve just wiped the populations out of the existence. All because those populations are seen as inferior, because they are different, and not something the men can relate to and not someone they understand.

So it is with TERFs, the experience of a trans woman is something they can’t relate to. What we trans women say about ourselves is something they don’t understand. Now add in some texts declaring trans women are already horrible (sound familiar?), and they end up no different from men. Indeed they’re taking on what is historically the most destructive part of men. To declare anyone unfamiliar, anyone not understood, as inferior and at best only worth subjugation. Anyone not understood is inferior and therefore not worth understanding. And anyways, how can someone whose experience, whose being, you can’t relate to be equal?

It never occurs to them that the same things that have caused men to wipe out populations is why they treat women as they do. Just as they invent and spread superstitions about native populations, they invented and spread superstitions about women. It’s not women’s biology they hate, it’s that women experience things they can’t relate to, things they don’t understand, therefore women can’t be equal. And here they are, happily doing what men have done to them.

And if you think pointing out historical analogies would help, they don’t. Even pointing out how what TERFs do to trans women is the same as what men have done to women, goes nowhere. After all, they’d never do something as vile as mimic men. Except in all the ways they do. And insisting upon equality, well how dare a marginalized person demand to be treated as equal?

There’s a lot more that could be covered, but it all comes from the same place. A place in which TERFs attempt to be the gatekeepers of what it is to be a woman, feminism and other things. A place in which no one except them is right about anything. A place in which any attempt at self-explanation or even self-defense is viewed as a sign of being every worst thing TERFs say. In the end, like with any group that holds to things as they do, only thing to do is get on with life. All the while knowing, that life is being made harder by someone who wouldn’t sit down to have dinner with you as an equal.

On Being Trans

Now that you’ve made it past the pretentious title, a bit of the obvious. Not only can I only speak of what it’s like to be a trans girl/woman, I can’t even speak to the experience of each one. At best I can speak to the experience of an athletic, extroverted, gay trans girl with certain tastes and preferences. Namely, me (and this is mostly about childhood and my teen years in the interest of length). If you want something about thoughts of having boyfriends and such, I’m not going to be any help there. On the other hand, if you want to read up on the experience of being trans while still in a fair number of ways fitting what people expect of someone’s assumed gender? You’re in the right place.

In thinking about this whole issue, I hit a big barrier. I only know what it’s like to experience childhood and teen years as a trans girl. So how do I describe what it’s like to be something I can’t compare to anything else? I know my experiences weren’t the norm, but I don’t know what normal experiences are actually like to experience. I never did. I mean I know descriptively how they differ but not in terms of lived experience. So how do I really get at what it’s like to be trans?

It dawned on me that getting at what it isn’tor that certain things aren’t necessarily how they come across, would be a good start. Like no not every trans girl is hyper feminine and wants to wear nothing but dresses and have a ton of dolls or whatever. Oh sure I wanted some Barbies and would’ve killed to wear a dress, but when I was 6 I wanted to play ice hockey and baseball and to speed skate.  As the years went on I wanted to play pretty much every sport I saw  (more on sports later). I may have liked Barbie, Strawberry Shortcake and Care Bears, but I also liked Transformers. I wanted to get a motorcycle when I was older. Yeah I wanted long hair (more on that later also), but frilly stuff and all that wasn’t my thing. Which isn’t to say that never changed. But then that sort of stuff changes for a lot of girls as they get older. And that thing about Barbies? Barbie has a Corvette and a girl with a sports car? That is awesome.

Then there are two other things, which aren’t what they sound like. Ask me how I knew how it felt like to be a girl or feels like to be a woman, and I have no answer. I’ve only ever felt like myself. Sure I could push certain things off to the side (bad idea for long term emotional and mental well being), but I was only ever me. It wasn’t ever anything I felt, just my own sense of self. After all, who would find it frustrating to be called a boy over and over and find being told to behave along some sort of boy ideal rather upsetting? Yeah, a girl. Also the whole “want to be a girl/woman” thing is just shorthand for the outer part of it. What it’s saying is having an outside to match the inside and not get taken for someone I’m not.  It’s a way of saying “I want people to interact with me as who I actually am”.

Now beyond stuff like that that, there are experiences that are if not universal then common enough to work as showing some difference. Like one of the most ubiquitous assignments in school, especially the earlier years. Write about yourself. For most people not a problem. Sure there may be some anxiety about not thinking you’re not interesting or stemming from socio-economic issues or other things, but you know what to write. And more to the point, how.

For someone like me? Well not so much. For one, a fair bit of myself wasn’t an option. Certain interests, likes, reasons for those likes were not things I would really be writing up in a school assignment. I did luck out a bit on account of my aforementioned love of sports and such. So I could weave some threads together and have something. Of course there was the other issue, tone. Boys don’t think of things like girls do. They don’t write about things like girls do. And here I am trying to write something that comes across as written by a boy. When I don’t think like they do. Which means I wouldn’t write like they do. But I had to fake it. So I had to basically reverse engineer what I could of boys’ intellectual and emotional states. And then hope I got it close to right.

If you’re thinking “that sounds like an awful lot of work for a kid to go through”, it was. But what choice did I have? Just write away and I risked hearing teacher say “I need to see you after class/school”. Because, there’d be questions. Questions I wouldn’t want to deal with. To say nothing of the worry of the potential of being called out in class. “You write like a girl” wouldn’t be doing my social status any favors. Plus the risk of having to re-write it. So I just had to try to fake it. And well. Being good at writing was basically an essential life skill. It wasn’t just that it kept me from sticking out, it in a way kept me safe. Though being good at it would leave me conflicted. Here’s my good grade and praise for how I wrote about myself, but I hadn’t really. And for some versions of the assignment I had to lie by omission or tell a white lie or two. It’s hard to feel good about your work when on top of the feeling of “I wish I could really write about myself”, you have the pangs of discomfort coming from not being honest. Even when you know you can’t be.

Not that it was all weighty stuff like that. There was listening to every woman on the radio that I could. The Go-Gos, Madonna, Cyndi Lauper, Stevie Nicks, Heart, The Bangles, Janet Jackson so on and so on. Not just because I loved the songs but, they’re women. I was going to crank up Madonna just like most girls did. It was something of an experience that I actually did share with the girls I went to school with. And oh sure I had to hide some of my fandoms a bit, but that wasn’t so bad. Plus I still remember the lyrics to all those songs.

Then there was the perhaps the most complicated thing, sports. I wanted to play pretty much every sport I saw, and anything I got a chance to play I did. One byproduct was that it meant I could blend in. But that was never why I did it. It was always a case of I’m just going to play and oh hey this keeps people thinking I’m a boy, that’s cool. Granted I didn’t always totally blend in. Like there were numerous times when I’d be playing baseball with some friends and say how I wish there were some girls playing with us. After all girls play Little League baseball so girls who play baseball are a thing. One time I did get asked why I keep bringing up wishing there were girls. To which I just said that I thought it would be cool, it would be fun.

And while it might sound like at least that was fairly simple, it wasn’t really. As much as I didn’t have an issue playing with boys, I was always wishing I was playing with girls. Plus given boys volleyball wasn’t much of a thing where and when I grew up, I missed out on something I really wanted to play. Then there was tennis. Which I could, and did, play for hours. And yet, I’d look at girls playing and feel these pangs of wanting to be with them. That they played in skirts was I’ll admit a decent part of it. A sport you play in a skirt? Oh yes please. Though, at least in my head, there was a sort of work around. Mixed doubles. Something I desperately wanted to play, after all I’d have a girl for partner, perfect. But no one much thinks of kids or even teens playing it. In high school the girls’ and boys’ tennis seasons aren’t at the same time, so not happening there.

Which gets to track, which of all the sports I could’ve done in high school, was  emotionally the hardest. The only sport where the girls’ and boys’ teams practice in the same place at the same time. I could look across the track and see the girls’ team. Then have them run by and a couple minutes later run by them. All the while a part of me was just constantly going “I should be over there with them”, “I should be in that group that just ran by”. Also one of the events I did, triple jump, was an event that back then in Illinois wasn’t a girls’ event yet. So I was getting to do something I’d wanted to do going way back and yet, I’d be lying if I said I never felt a touch conflicted. I’m getting to do something just because of who everyone thinks I am.

And that brings up one of the hardest parts of everything. It was mostly a thing with sports but it applied to other things at well. I knew that girls could catch all sorts of flak for being athletic, even then, and that athletic girls still weren’t regarded the same as athletic boys. Yet I’d never have someone see me shooting hoops for three hours straight and go “Shouldn’t you be at home helping your mom?” or some such nonsense. And it’s not just that I felt it was super unfair girls had the risk of dealing with that. It’s that it felt really unfair I never had any risk of dealing with that. I was catching a break I didn’t earn, simply because of who everyone thought I was. And I didn’t like that. If girls are going to be treated a certain way or have the potential of being treated a certain way, then that’s what I wanted. Why should I catch a break because something I have no control of?

Speaking of control, there’s one thing I never had control of that really hurt. My hair. Every few months there I was in a barber’s chair getting my hair cut short. And it’s not just that I didn’t want it, it’s that I had no control of it. Which if you think about it, it’s my hair on my head, is an issue of bodily autonomy. And consent. I’m being told it’s not ok for someone to do something to me I don’t consent to, yet here I am being forced to get hair cuts. Everything I get told about my body and consent all of a sudden disappears when it’s my hair, because of societal expectations and things like school rules (fun of going to Catholic school).

It didn’t help that when I brought up hey it’s my hair on my head, I was treated like I was just being a pain. Like I was just trying to be difficult and find a way around the rules. And my sense of not liking having my hair cut because it’s part of me was just there. I can’t even remember when I first wanted long hair. I wanted it and my sense of bodily autonomy and consent that made me deeply dislike having my hair cut were just innate. But it was never respected. No one ever heard me say I don’t want a hair cut and went “Ok, if you don’t want to get your hair cut, then that’s fine”. Which did a bit of a number on me. After all, if the absence of actual consent could be so easily excused away, what do I do if something actually bad happens? Trust the adults? But they’re the ones telling me about consent and then ignoring it when I don’t. And there was no way to plead around it. When I was younger and got asked “don’t you want to be a pretty boy” saying I didn’t because I don’t want my hair cut, didn’t change anything. Later on telling me I’d look like a girl if I didn’t get my hair cut, well so what? Just don’t touch me.

There were also other things that would set me off in ways. Like when I’d be playing with friends and someone held my hands behind me back and didn’t let go fairly quickly. Or I got pinned to the ground. Even though it would be done by a friend who I knew was just playing around, after a little bit my mind would just go “this isn’t good”. And I’d start reacting. In my mind I’m thinking no good can come of a couple boys pinning me down or one holding my arms behind my back while another one or two stand out in front of me. What I could think went right out the window. Same went for certain social settings or encounters. My guy friends would think everything is just fine while I’m feeling very different. I could tell myself nothing would happen, because nothing would happen, while deep inside I was noticing everything and feeling “I’d rather not be here. Rather not be around some guys who might violate me”.

And that would sometimes fly in the face of how extroverted I am. I can be around people all day no problem and then all of a sudden I get a bit quiet and start wanting to check out. Just because of wherever I’ve ended up something is making me feel a bit off. And since it wasn’t like I could exactly easily explain myself, things could be a bit awkward. And not wanting to look like unsocial didn’t help either.

But even absent things like that, being trans and an extrovert can be a bit taxing. Part of it is that I knew the way I reacted to certain things as is wouldn’t fit what people would expect. It’s not that I didn’t recognize social cues, I just didn’t, because I couldn’t, react to them the way you’d expect a guy to. I mean I could try to fake it, but so often the response happened before I could think about it. Then there’s thinking over what I’ve been saying, looking for anything that I might have said that wasn’t right. Which together with replaying every reaction and interaction makes for a fair bit of anxiety. And there’s no way around it. No way to keep myself from feeling it. Once I got to where I started drinking alcohol, there were plenty of times I drank and drank just because it calmed my nerves a bit. And then I’d feel bad for getting totally wasted. Because I was trying to keep up appearances. Which would make me feel worse about myself. Which would just increase the anxiety I felt. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Which gets into what was the worst part, going back to early childhood about being in the closet for me. That thing that would be the answer to “So what about your gender identity causes you distress?”. For me it was social stuff. Which went as it did, because of who everyone thought I was, because of how they saw me. So even if the actual issue was social interactions, it still tied in to my body. Deal with that and other stuff fixes itself. At least that’s the hope (and is actually the solution). And it wasn’t just general social interactions. It was that I was in effect locked out of certain things or that they could be a bit problematic. Which as things build up over the years, makes for a bit of a hopeless feeling and some depression. And the social interactions I could have, could be a bit tiring. Having to try to be super duper on point, just wore me out after a while. Plus, given I relate to things differently than guys do, in some cases I don’t even get why something is such a deal, and it gets even harder to deal with.

It’s also in social interactions where I could sometimes be a bit obvious. Like in high school I’d be talking to a group of guy friends, when a group of girls would come around and I’d just peel off and go talk to the girls. Granted no one ever said anything of it back then, even if it turns out they did notice. Also how I’d hang out after school just to talk to a group of girls. Just because it was just me and them and no guys around to complicate things. Complicate things by assuming I’m trying to move my way into hitting on one of the girls. Though I will admit in the after school group of friends, there was one girl I had a crush on. Which was another reason for hanging around. I’d get to talk to her.

Beyond just the day to day issues the worst event to deal with was puberty. And I know it’s just about a cliche for trans people to talk about how horrible puberty was. And I’m no different. It was horrible. Stuff I didn’t want was happening. Stuff I desperately wished for wasn’t. Plus there’s the sort of physical finality about it all, that this is it. With all that, isn’t easy to keep together emotionally. It wasn’t just crying myself to sleep night after night, wishing that when I woke up it would all be over and everything would be how it should be. There’s also things like the added isolation that can happen, and things like having my motives questioned just because of who everyone thought I was like if I wanted to be alone with a girl.

There was another thing to it, which I know isn’t often brought up and as far as I know isn’t even super common. That is that that for me as I went off the cliff of puberty among the things that were hardest to take was what I’d never get to experience. And even if I knew since years before puberty I wouldn’t experience them, puberty just made it more real and final. It wasn’t just a matter of “oh well….” any more but something that actually hurt. For me what hurt the most was when I’d see a woman with a baby and just get hit with that I’ll never experience that. Even if before I’d never given it any thought, now physical reality hurt. If things were different, maybe I wouldn’t even want to have my own, but at least I’d have that choice. But not having that choice, hurt. And I know, I could still have kids, but thinking of it that way would always just seem depersonalized, like I was thinking of someone else. Trying to get into someone else’s head.

But among all that stuff, there was one thing that wasn’t horrible, didn’t hurt and actually made life a bit easier. Along with puberty comes sexuality and I only ever felt anything for girls. So as far as anyone would see, I’d just be another straight boy. I did for a hot minute one day have a flash of “but girls are supposed to like boys” but just chucked that aside. I was aware that lesbians exist, so being a girl into girls wasn’t something I didn’t know existed. I would also end up on a few occasions falling for a girl that would somewhere down the line come out as gay. Actually most of the girls I fell for ended being that way. I chalk it up to coincidence, though not all my friends have been willing to chalk it up to luck.

And what I said before about being a bit obvious? How I’d peel off to talk to girls, wasn’t all there was. When I was 13 one day I noticed that oh hey I’m getting hair on my legs and my next thought was I need to start shaving my legs. That was it. No hesitation, nothing. It was just a thing I needed to start doing. In high school, I did have a few people ask if I shave my legs and I said I did but it was on account of all the cycling I did (road rash with hair getting caught in it is a bad thing). And I figured those few friends were all there was. Find out years later, nope, everyone knew I shave my legs. But no one ever made an issue out of it.

There’s also how it turns out that for all my efforts, not everyone had been buying what I was selling. As in, I wasn’t really that close to managing to fit in with or rather emulate the guys. But no one ever made a deal of it. Even when at times I’d say something that was off the mark. Like when I was asked what I liked about a particular girl, and I said I loved her voice and how she laughs. The guys didn’t quite get that. But that was that, no one made an issue of it. Which means I was lucky as hell that I was somewhere I could blow it badly and no one made a big deal out of it. I could totally screw up trying to act like a boy and no one really cared. Oh sure there were some laughs, but they weren’t directed at me as a person ever.

And that thing about trying to act like a boy was when you take everything together the hardest thing. It’s where all of everything that was hard, that sucked, came from and came together in. I had to try to be someone else, basically living an act, playing a character I made up as I went along hoping it worked. Or if you want to be more blunt, I had to live a lie. It wasn’t that I had to lie on some school assignments, it was that who I was, was in effect a lie. Oh sure me being an extrovert is real. My sense of humor is real. But the person they were woven into, wasn’t. I was someone that only existed because they had to. Because there was at least then, no other option. It was a matter of self-preservation. Life was a never ending improv, no script, me just making it up as I went along hoping everyone went with it.

I know this is all a bit of a patchwork, but that’s sort of the nature of the beast. In a way that’s what life used to be like. And to be honest, part of it is trying to figure out what to write about.  There are always things where I just take them as nothing much and either realize or have someone tell me it’s a bit of thing. And there are things I’ve left out, like how I was emotionally abused growing up. For while it did tie in to being trans, a fair bit of it was due to how I didn’t have the emotions of a boy, it’s a thing unto itself as well. No real way to bring it up without getting into all of it. Which I have no problem with doing, just that it would make this even longer.

So there you have it, a definitely not thorough or exhaustive, let alone complete and final, look at how life was as a closeted trans girl. And if at some point you’ve thought that save for the complications and such I sound like a pretty average girl, well I was. That’s the thing, underneath the act, the anxiety and everything else was just another girl. That wall in between her and how things were and had to be, is really what it was to be a closeted trans girl.





A Human Consequence of “Moral Objections”

So last week the Department of Health and Human Services announced they were starting up a division to shield health care workers who object to providing certain types of care on account of “moral objections”. Among the covered refusals would be refusing to treat LGBT people. Put simply, a doctor could refuse to treat an LGBT person just because of who they are as long as they can muster some claim of it being against their morals.

For me as a trans woman, having to worry about access to care wouldn’t be just about possibly facing longer times looking for a doctor. Not just about the possible consequences of an infection not treated as promptly as it should be. Not the possible effects of having to skip on preventative care. And keep in mind outside of two prescriptions and blood work to monitor hormone levels, any care I might need is no different than from the care anyone else might need.

What it would be about, is another consequence. One that doesn’t come up in discussions of larger society. Something that goes for me and many others in the LGBT community. Take a look at the map:


The red dot is Chicago, where I live. The blue dots are New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland and Seattle. Those would be the places where I could live and work and be pretty sure I’d not have to worry about access to medical care. As well as not having issues with trans specific care.

Now you could think I’m overreacting a bit. After all plenty of other cities are places where I wouldn’t need to worry about finding regular medical care. That may be true, but there’s another issue, housing security:



All those states in grey? Those are states where it would be perfectly legal to deny me a place to rent because of my gender identity and sexual orientation. The light yellow? In those two it would be legal to deny me a place on account of my gender identity. Between the grey and light yellow, that’s 30 states.

There is one more issue, employment:


The states in grey are where I could be denied or fired from a job for being trans or gay. Indeed it’s only the dark purple states where I could not be fired from any form of employment for being trans or gay.  The other shades offer varying level of protection but not full protection in all jobs.

Take those two maps together and there are 20 states where I couldn’t be denied housing or a job on account of being trans or gay. That’s just 20 states where I could live and work and know that legally I have equal tanding. Now factor in things like ready access to trans care, and what’s left is the cities I named. That’s it.

I know it would be easy to say that I’m being overly cautious or irrationally afraid of being denied a place to live or job. That just because someone could, doesn’t mean they would. But that’s the issue, I wouldn’t want to live somewhere it could happen. No matter how unlikely it is that it would happen. It’s a matter of basic security and not having extra things to worry about. Which the move by HHS adds to.

It’s worth remembering that for those of us in the LGBT community there’s also what we know has happened. Partners thrown out of homes after a death when the deceased’s family doesn’t approve of their “lifestyle”. Issues about child custody when a partner dies, no matter how much paperwork was drawn up. Having a marriage that was valid in one state but not another. That and myriad other things is why it’s hard to have much faith in “just because someone could do it, doesn’t mean they would”.

What makes the issue of medical care access particularly troubling is that it enforces a second class status upon the LGBT community. That we can’t count on getting care from any doctor of our choosing like others. That our health can be seen as not worth dealing with if someone can drum up some objection they claim is based in morals. That treating us as second class is seen as morally acceptable. That our potential lack of well being is not seen as contrary to someone else’s claimed morals.

And while yes large cities are generally better than other places, even their own suburbs, for LGBT issues, it would be wrong to think they’d all be equally fine places. Just on the subject of health care, a city in a conservative area could find itself with access to health care curtailed for LGBT people. To say nothing of what some states might do with things. So while on a social level a city might be alright, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a possibility of other issues.

I could go one about the health side of things, the deleterious effects of not getting prompt care, the consequences of further marginalization and so on. But while all that is a factor here, there’s something bigger. That without assured access to even just basic health care, the United States becomes a much smaller country not only for myself, but the entire LGBT population. Instead of increasing certainty, we’d rely on hope and whatever certainty sympathetic populations can provide. Instead of gaining in where we could be without worry, we’d lose. And that is something we desperately don’t want. We shouldn’t have to be afraid of what could happen on account of others’ morals. We shouldn’t have to be afraid.



The Problem With Aziz & “Good Guys”

So as has been well discussed to the point of repetitious repetition, Aziz Ansari went on a date and things didn’t go so well. Per what was reported by the date he managed to not only make her uncomfortable, but completely ignore her. And a lots has been made of her, after all why didn’t she leave, what was she expecting and so on. But wasn’t gotten as much attention is Ansari himself, specifically his own attitude that shows through in how things went.

The issue that has not gotten much attention in the whole thing is the reality of men’s entitlement to women’s bodies. It’s expressed in every comment of “What does a woman expect going over to a man’s place?”. As if the only purpose for a woman to go to a man’s place is for sex. That men have women over only for the purpose of their bodies. That when a man invites a woman over he’s saying “I’m gracious enough to do this now I get what I want”. And sure enough when Ansari got his date home, he didn’t really waste much time getting to what he wanted. To what he felt entitled to.

Now you could argue that it’s assuming too much to say he felt entitled. But if he wasn’t then the rest of everything doesn’t happen. If he didn’t feel entitled he’d have made sure his date was alright with having sex as well as what he wanted to do and have her do. His date would have been an equal participant not merely someone engaged in providing him what he wanted. Not only would he ask if she was up for what he wanted, but he’d ask what she’s into and what she’d like. Absent entitlement, she’s an equal partner so what she wants counts as much as what he wants.

Another sign of entitlement is how everything proceeded. Starting with fingers in the mouth. Who does that right off with someone their first time together? That’s not exactly going to make much of a mood for a woman or work her into it. And then it went from there. Eventually getting to where she pushed him away as well as pulled away from him. Now anyone who is paying even a sliver of attention to their partner knows both mean something is not right. Something is not right and needs to be addressed.

And that night there were a whole lot of things not right. All because Ansari felt so entitled to her body that he could only focus on himself. And let’s be honest, that sort of entitlement doesn’t come out of the blue. It’s been there. The immaturity of not engaging a partner to seek their ascent to what he wants and to know what they want, didn’t just show up that night. It’s been there. All because he feels entitled to a woman’s body. Not just hers. As his conduct wasn’t something to appear out of the ether so too would his entitlement not be limited to her body.

Where things turn odious is when the assumption of his entitlement and the implicit right of it is used to try to shame his date. Or to shout down criticisms of Ansari. Like if she didn’t want to have sex she shouldn’t gone with him. Which says women have to accept men’s entitlement to their bodies. You’d expect a guy to just hang out? Oh silly girl, you’re at his place, you’re there to put out, not hang out. He doesn’t want you to hang out. He expects to have his entitlement fulfilled. And there are those who’ve even said that if she didn’t want sex that her presence at his place would be a waste of his time. In other words her being is reduced to something of no interest to a man except as an object for sex. She is not a woman with her own agency, in a man’s realm she exists only as an object for his wants.

Also within every criticism of “Why didn’t she leave?”, “Why didn’t she say no?”, “She sent him mixed signals” is the seed of entitlement. That it’s not up to him to care about her comfort, her pleasure, it’s up to her to assert herself. And she most do so in a proper manner, for an entitled man can’t be expected to notice his partner. It’s in effect beneath him to pay attention to anything not directly related to his own pleasure.

And beyond that where the slut shaming, and let’s be honest that’s what it is, also turns bad is in the expectation the date act as others expect her to. That is if she doesn’t do what others declare, if not demand, she do then whatever happens is her fault. Her reactions, responses and conduct are no longer valid. Of course this assumes a woman who is a blank slate. Which no woman is. We know nothing of her history, her past experiences with men. Experiences that could lead her to simply just go along with what a man wants. To feel that if she’s ignored at first she’ll continue to be ignored so any further assertion of herself would be futile.

In the end the entire defense of Ansari, of the entire premise of the night at his place and of how men treat women in such instances, comes down to men’s entitlement. That men are entitled to women’s bodies and that the maturity to engage with a partner is not a requirement. That a man need no have interest in his partner’s agency or pleasure. She’s there, so it’s all on her, because her body is there for him. For his pleasure. Because he’s a man and that’s how it is. And taken to their conclusions that’s what every defense of Ansari gets to.

Of course Ansari isn’t alone in being entitled. It’s not even rare. The very existence of men whining about being “friend zoned” speaks to that. When a man complains a woman has put him in the “friend zone” he’s saying that she didn’t yield to his entitlement to her body. That without giving into it, she’s of no worth to him. Also often present is the idea that if a man does the right things a woman will yield. If she doesn’t do so, the man views her as flawed. Her offer of friendship of no interest, she’s doesn’t exist for him to be that. Indeed men will say it’s frustrating to be around a woman they know they won’t have sex with. Or even not worth their time, which is as great a declaration of their feeling of entitlement as there can be. Well, short of actually saying they’re entitled.

In the talk of being “friend zoned” what also emerges is men’s pleas of being “good guys”. That they behave well and properly, they do what a woman expects or what they think she expects. And that her refusal to yield is a rejection of them and terribly unfair to someone who is such a “good guy”. That a man reducing women to existing only for his pleasure may seem incongruous with being a “good guy” is of no consequence. He’s a “good guy” darn it and it’s so unfair another woman just wants to be friends.

Beyond the case of the “friend zone” there are plenty of other men claiming to be good in the absence of any justification. Perhaps the most common over the last few months is the men who by declaring they’ve never harassed a woman and never assaulted a woman, ought be seen as good. As if merely obeying general norms of conduct and not breaking the law qualifies as making them good. That not making things worse for women should count as if it were making things better.

For women, that rings hallow since not making things worse still means they’re not good. A man who declares his goodness by virtue of meeting minimal standards seems more interested in earning praise than in actually bettering things for women. It too is a form of entitlement. That by not acting badly a man is entitled to the praise of women. That his part in things being bad should be overlooked.

Of course they do have a part in it. They may not harass, but they say nothing when they witness a woman being catcalled. I’ve had a man tell me it’s not his responsibility to do anything about that. Another said he wasn’t going to get in a fight over “mere words”. Showing a gross ignorance of what catcalling is. In both cases, the men thought women just need to put up with the daily harassment of other men. That them not interceding, was not contrary to their status as “good guys”.

There is plenty more that could be said about men who claim there goodness and how it effects things for women. And how utterly useless it is as far as actually doing anything. That it’s merely a way for men to declare their expectation and even entitlement to praise from women. They are saying “Hey I didn’t shout you’ve got nice tits, now shower me with praise” or “I didn’t grab your ass, so now tell me how wonderful I am”. There’s no way to parse that but men feeling entitled to validation from women for not mistreating them. As if in the absence of that validation, why bother not mistreating women?

In the end, the defense of Ansari is of the same cloth as men claiming to be “good guys”. It rests on the idea of men being entitled to women’s bodies and praise. Ansari’s entitlement caused him to ignore his date’s own clear indications of how she felt. The entitlement other men feel causes them to expect praise for doing nothing. In both cases, without men’s entitlement being dealt with the rest of each issue can’t be dealt with. Because at the end of the day, both are about unchecked entitlement and the consequences of it for women. .

New Stories and Voices Up Against Established Authority

There’s been a fair bit, or a lot in certain circles, made about having new stories and new voices. But not much about just where that comes from, or even how far from previous work do you have to go to be considered “new”. But more than that, little has been made of what really matters and that is who decides what gets read or seen. After all the writers are around, writing away.  It’s a matter of what are those who have the power to determine what gets read or seen actually willing to go with. How far from the established usual are they willing to go.

Perhaps the thorniest part of it is personal biases and internalized issues. Which could effect even usual stuff. Take for instance a story about workplace sexual harassment and the failures of HR department. A topic that’s been done, a topic of known general public interest. So can’t argue there’s a lack of audience. Now imagine this story has a primary antagonist, a secondary antagonist and some ancillary antagonizing characters (or don’t imagine it, that’s what it has). Oh they’re all men. And none is redeemed in the end. Part of the story is that in the environment and in light of their actions and words, they can’t be redeemed.

So now what happens if someone were to read it? Well a man might object to all the named male characters being or ending up not good guys. After all, “not all men” as the mantra goes. A man might also object to the absence of redemption. Why aren’t they allowed to redeem themselves? Can’t we have at least one man make himself look good? And this is all just internalized stuff for a great many men. They want men, because they are men, to be portrayed in certain comfortable and familiar ways. They don’t care for something that might make them squirm on account of being men. Or even something that might make other men squirm. Even if it’s in the service of driving home a point or trying to trigger some thinking.

Which leads to the next part, what happens to the story? Well if the editor or producer feels strongly enough about having their ego soothed, changes can be asked for. Like redeem someone. Which if it’s a novel, pad the ending a bit perhaps change a thing or two elsewhere and you have it. Not the ending intended and it breaks the mood a bit, but it could work. It also could be cat box liner. If it’s a movie, because of how things weave together in movie, changing the ending a bit and you are going to have to change other things. After all a character turning on a dime in the last 20 minutes in order to be redeemed is going to seem forced, fake, a consolation to men and/or other things. Never mind the mood is quite altered.

So a story that on the surface is pretty usual stuff, could end up altered into something watered down, minus it’s intended message and mood. Just because of someone’s own internalized feelings. And this without getting into appeals based on marketing potential, target audience preferences and a whole lot of other stuff rarely included in the public discussion.

Now what if a woman reads it? Well being a woman, she pretty likely can relate to the story at hand in some form. Just reading this post has probably made a few of my women readers go “Oh I’d like that”. Because, relatable content. A woman could see the story and think it’s great, it hits all the points she’d want such a story to tell. But. But there could be a man involved in the process who isn’t going to like it so much. Or she might worry she’s seen as endorsing ball busting or something. Which could have future consequences for her professionally. Or she might just feel that it could. So you’re back to making changes. Not necessarily the same changes as a man would want but still changes. Also a woman could be of the mind she has to treat the story the way her male peers/counterparts would for some reason.

So either way, a story that’s nothing out of the ordinary, mainstream as can be, might end up not being what it was meant to be. Simply on account of personal feelings someone in power can’t get past or won’t get past.

That’s a usual story, what about something that would qualify under the heading of “new stories by new voices”? Like say a character study of a trans woman who as she has various interactions ends up talking about what it is to be trans (I’m nowhere near naive enough to write out the full synopsis here. want it? Get in touch.). So it’s definitely not a trans woman version of Boys Don’t Cry and nothing like Dallas Buyers Club. Or much of anything else that’s centered on LGBT issues.

Show this to someone and right off the bat you’ve got an issue, they’ve almost certainly never read anything like it. Which gets into the whole “it can’t be worth it because no one’s done it before” self-fulfilling prophecy trap. Certain editors or producers would take someone else not going first as an excuse to not bother. In part because they like the security of someone else showing something works first. Even if they’re on the record of wanting new stuff, they didn’t mean this new. Or this kind of new. They’re not about to jump first. And this possibly without even reading the full thing, whether manuscript or screenplay, just an outline or synopsis.

But let’s say they don’t have that hang up or get past it. There’s the next one, who would want to read/see such a story? This especially because people tend to get caught up in their own social and professional bubbles. Though of all the hang ups, this one might be the most rationally amenable to challenge. Point to numbers, even back of the envelope stuff could point to a nice plausible case for getting enough people to read or see the story. Each would have different lines it would be helpful to demonstrate you cold reasonably cross eg copies sold or certain box office returns. But it could be done. If that’s what it takes.

Though before that might be the whole issue of it being a character study. Something where the person’s revelations are the point of the story and everything else just serves as a way to get them out. On the written side, character studies are common enough it shouldn’t be too much of an issue. On the movie side, well there’s always The Breakfast Club. And other movies to bring up. But there may still be the feeling you need something that revolves around plot, not plot in service of character development and nothing more. But along with the audience issue, at least there’s some rational way to stand for things.

Which leads to the issue of is whoever is reading it really into the whole new story thing or just treating it as a marketing/PR thing or relegating it to sideshow status? Because they’ll be looking at something that tells a story totally outside of their experience (unless you manage to get the Wachowski sisters to read it). And it may turn out that’s not what they want. They want something they relate to that just happens to be a bit different so they can label it something new. Or it may be there’s no real desire to make a big thing out of it with the idea it be treated as such met with some condescension. Or maybe no desire to follow through on whatever they’ve hyped as wanting and called the future. It was just cynical PR.

Of course with something seemingly outside of the mainstream, there’d be the temptation to go to a small publisher or independent production company/studio. Both of which could have issues the bigs don’t have, like everything has to conform to the tastes of whoever is in charge. Since that’s why they run it. Also there’s a different sort of audience size issue here, how many people would ever get to read the story or see it coming from here? Oh sure it gets published or produced, but how worth is it to have something on few shelves or on few screens? Sure some people see it, but not many and it can fuel the feeling that that’s the only audience there is.

I know I’ve left out the issue of changes to the story, but that’s because in this case it’s hard to imagine a scenario where some rewrites would turn someone from not wanting to publish or produce the story. No amount of changing settings or pacing is going to alter what it is. It’s just what it is, a character study about a trans woman. Making the dialogue a bit different is just different dialogue. It’s not like the first example where you can change things to make certain themes or characters more agreeable.

So in the end, it comes down to who is in power, who is in charge. Which is an issue itself these days in relation to other things. Though part of changing that has to do with that if you change it for other reasons, you could get new stories and new voices. But even if who’s in charge changes that doesn’t mean it changes how things get done. And while talking about new stories and new voices sounds great, makes for great copy and sound bites, it’s not the whole conversation. After all it’s been around a while now and how many new stories and voices have come out? Not very many, even if you use the most liberal concepts of new stories and new voices. But as with any thing to do with power, nothing is in a vacuum. And it’s well worth remembering that because it determines how real the desire for new stories and voices is, but also the futures of various participants in two industries may depend on it.


The Bridge

And as I walked I came to a precipice,
below only void and with another step my end
then under my feet the ground began to crack
and I felt as it started to move
walk back and it would follow until I was caught
then there as I stood I turned
and in the mist I saw a bridge
only the end,
I could not see how long or to where it lead
and as the cracks under my feet grew
I decided I would not stay.

I walked towards the bridge
until I stood at it’s edge
and as I looked into the mist I could not see the end
only the flicker of shadows out in the distance
but if there are shadows there is light
as I trembled I took in a deep breath
and a first step away from the only land I’d ever known
then a another
slow and uneasy
then another and then more
but each more sure than the one before
and as I crossed
in the distance a glow in the mist
that grew brighter with every step

As I came towards the bridge’s end
ahead was more light than I had ever known
then another step
and I set my foot onto new ground
I did not know what was ahead or around
only that there was light
and in the light, myself