i spent time talking with my counselor today, and i realized whilst doing so that i don’t let myself think about being transsexual very much. when my kids are around, i think about all the wholesome and wonderful things i want to do with them, and how to foster their growth, and how to create a strong, healthy bond with them. none of which should be incompatible with the fact of my trans-ness.

and yet i do feel horribly split from that part of myself, so much so that often it is almost like there is Katie-the-good-mother and Katie-the-woman-who-is-also-transsexual. i carry a lot of shame that i don’t let myself feel. there are a lot of uncried tears for the daily indignities (and worse) that i or my trans sisters suffer.

i cried some of them today. that was a hard sentence for me to write. in fact all of this is. i can picture so clearly the well meaning statements mama friends of mine might make when and if they read this: “oh, i don’t think about you being trans!” or “i don’t think it makes you less of a good mother!” or a dozen or so other things when really most of them speak from a position of relative comfort as people who are not daily seen as an abomination.

when i spend time in public spaces with children, i have to worry that people will think my presence is inappropriate, or a threat, even though those who know me will speak up and say i am a “good mother.” i remember that even if no one around me consciously thinks that, they could think that and there are people who would think that legitimate. a too long stare at our co-op from a new person makes me wonder… is my very existence unsettling?

that’s just the surface manifestation. all my life i have been split apart. as a young child, before i came out at 13, there was my public face that garnered a certain level of social acceptance (i was considered a sissy though) and then there was what was going on inside: i wanted so badly to be seen as the girl i was, even as i knew that that desire made me aberrant on two levels. valuing girlhood and femininity was uncool, and being a trans girl was disgusting. once i came out, all of this was on display, and the trauma of the constant judgement and disgust and fear and hatred is something that i still touch only from a cold, withdrawn distance. the girl i was at 13 is so hurt that it feels like approaching too close is dangerous. so she stays alone. when i discovered feminism shortly after, and became a riot grrrl and later a lesbian avenger, it seemed there was hope for finding acceptance and love for the girl i was, but i quickly discovered that even there both my femininity and above all my transsexual girlhood was incredibly suspect and even sketchy/disturbing to people. i was often provisionally accepted as a “good” transsexual girl, but this always meant keeping my mouth shut while other, older, less “passable” trans women were bad mouthed… all of which hurt me, too, because if they were disgusting or “smelled like boys,” what were my “friends” not saying about me (to my face)? aren’t i guilty by association?

in adult life i have gone through so very many phases where i’ve ignored my transness. this works to a point, in that by identifying strongly with what is perceived as good and normal (in queer woman spaces or out in the straight world), i don’t have to be actively experiencing my own reviled status. but it can never be even close to perfect. not only do i have the wounds i carry inside, but there are many little things that happen that remind me of my place within any social milieu as fundamentally an outsider. i can attend shakespeare in the park with friends, and be confronted with raucous laughter at the portrayal of a female character by a man: funny because femininity itself is ridiculous to so many, but doubly funny because there is nothing more shameful and silly in this society’s eyes than someone assigned male at birth attempting to embody that femininity. i am always the only one not laughing. and i know always that i am “over-sensitive.”

and so i push the feelings away and divide myself again.

when i sit down to write, i am faced with another dichotomy: if i write about this stuff, if i write about being a trans woman, or about characters who are, i know that i should expect the reputation i earn by doing so to affect me both socially and in my writing career. i can’t imagine a world in which the writer who explores this stuff (and the much deeper things that need expression) is allowed to be the same writer who writes and publishes the things i write for my kids, and potentially for all kids. There is no intersection of Beverly Cleary and Kate Bornstein (and, yes, fellow trans women, i know kate is a controversial figure at the moment… i’m just trying to pick someone who epitomizes bravely writing openly about one’s life experiences as, for lack of a better term and in society’s eyes, a “freak”).

i usually try not to ramble so much in my blog posts (that’s what my ‘zine was for!), but i don’t have the heart for editing today. it takes a whole heart to give a shit and for too long mine has been split apart. there is no glue but a total recreation of our society to eliminate trans misogyny. since that’s not going to happen, we must be brave of heart with whatever part of our heart is left to us.

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for the single mothers.

July 16, 2011

sometimes the washing machine is broken and the pipes in the basement have decided to rain shitty water on the dirty clothes and who knows what else and the reality is that those clothes must get washed and dried by hand or we will have a Public Health Situation on our hands, or the car is doing that thing again where the engine just turns off and we’re in the middle of traffic and i remember why we went car-free for so long but the reality is that with my two kids and my girlfriend’s three kids and my girlfriend’s busy job and my sometimes desperate scramble for money anywhere i can find it, two single mothers sometimes need a car. even if one of them is opposed to cars and car culture and breathing exhaust (or making others breathe it) and a frenetic lifestyle…

sometimes other mothers laugh and say they would love the break from their kids and joint custody sounds about right to them but the reality is that even two days a week can be too much when you aren’t asking for it and it doesn’t come at the time that works for you or your kids and maybe you need childcare some other time and there’s this event you want to take your son to on the weekend but those are the two days a week the Powers-that-Be have you on record as agreeing to, and you wouldn’t want to seem uncooperative, now would you? no one likes an uncooperative single mother.

sometimes your friends see those two days a week (or one, or three, or a weekend a month, or whatever), and they say “wow, s/he is so involved, you are so lucky, isn’t it wonderful that he pays for that class, isn’t it wonderful that she took her to the park or that birthday party” and nobody says “oh, wow, you are so involved, yr ex is so lucky to know the kids are taken care of, you pay for all the basic needs and then some, isn’t it wonderful you go to the park so much and play seven rounds of chess and go to every birthday party humanly possible, even the ones at Flashing-Lights-Loud-Sounds-and-Animatronic-Monster-Animals-Pizzeria” because that’s just what you do. you are the single mother.

on the rare occasions someone does try to valorize you, to praise you, there will be a voice raised to remind everyone that you get help, “support,” breaks… whatever it is. the speaker doesn’t know: it could be $9.35 or it could be $0 or a trip to court and you’d better pay for and bring your own lawyer. never mind that if a storm comes and your roof caves in you handle it alone for your kids. never mind that if the car breaks down and your kid has school/a doctor’s appointment/a homeschooling playgroup it is you who figures out how to get there or how to break the news… on the weekend it is rarely time to say “i’m sorry, we can’t make it because of this problem or we can’t buy that because of a lack of money or our values around consumption.” weekends are for leisure and during the week shopping has been done, for necessities and for presents.

behind many a stand-up-guy there is a single mother being told to sit down or sitting herself down in order to assemble dollhouse furniture for $1 a perfectly completed piece. working from home means you are so lucky! you set your own hours, and there are a lot of them.

you will do what it takes because that is what you do, and sometimes people will see what you were willing to do and they will judge you from the comfort of their almost-totally-owned townhome with the two kids and the two parents and maybe a dog whose shit no one wants to pick up, but just keep on keeping on, girl… it’s just what you do.

appreciating a femme.

July 2, 2011

according to a group of folks on facebook, today is femme appreciation day… i was considering writing my usual snark about female-assigned dominated queer communities (boring), maybe exploring my relationship to the femme visibility movement (umm, complicated, loooong, AND boring), or just ignoring the whole thing… i do, after all, have a cake to bake for my youngest kiddo’s birthday tomorrow! i was in the car with my girlfriend, though, and ranting on those first two topics and she reminded me that appreciating people is good.

so, in the spirit of femme appreciation day (even if 60%+ of what i read about it makes me want to turn on my snarky rant mode), i am going to appreciate a femme from my life.

when i was 15 or so, i was on the AntiJen e-mail list for trans youth (mostly trans girls), run by the wonderful Aunty Jenny. i was trying to cultivate a certain radical-punk-rock-dyke persona that appealed very much to me as a queer girl-who-didn’t-really-feel-like-being-trans (i would have greatly preferred being one of the “normal” (as i thought of them then) radical-punk-rock-dykes who populated the world of the chainsaw records message board), and the level of pink loving, fluffy-stuffed-bunny snuggling that was being talked about by a lot of my ostensible peers was making me nervous. nervous because i was in the process of disavowing those parts of my self that loved pink and fluffy-stuffed-bunnies and wanted to wear lipstick… i was cutting off the parts of myself that it was possible to cut off in order to try to fit my perception of a radical-punk-rock-dyke, cutting off the one part that seemed to distinguish me most from the “normal” ones having proven entirely too difficult and painful.

Aunty Jenny let me know at some point that there was a girl on the list, a little bit older than me, who lived near me, and i arranged to meet her in my neighborhood to go record shopping and eat nasty fast food.

as soon as she got out of her mom’s car i was fascinated, wowed, and mortified. she was so confident seeming, so in her body in a way that i am still struggling to be… neither of us was passing particularly well (we were babies, practically), but she was trying to do what i was trying to do when i was 13 and 14, before the radical-punk-rock-dyke dream swallowed me up with it’s whispered promises of carhartts and pomade and making out with cute girls wearing bandanas around their necks: being a “normal girl,” wearing cute jeans and barrettes, wearing lipgloss… the things that, when i tried them, got my ass kicked, got my arm held to the flame of an older boy’s zippo lighter, got death threats shoved into my locker repeatedly, and got boys interested in secret makeout sessions that no one could ever know about… or else.

she was funny and i wanted her to be my best friend. she was beautiful and if she had asked me to kiss her i would have imagined doing so for a thousand nights afterwards at bedtime, but chickened out on actually doing it. and yet…

i was scared. and embarrassed. i had decided that if i wasn’t going to pass all the time, i was going to claim a space in the world with comrades (the aforementioned radical-punk-rock-dykes, assumed to never be other trans women, of course) who would shout on street corners: girls can have any kinds of voices! girls can look all kinds of ways! girls don’t even have to pass as girls! and here was this smart, kind girl who didn’t seem to be taking whatever fear she had of this world and it’s violence and running home with it, reinventing herself to not get noticed or to get noticed as intentionally queering the discourse through her radical non-normative gender. she was just doing what she wanted to do with her body and her life. i imagined that if she had wanted to intentionally queer the discourse through her radical non-normative gender, she would have been doing that, too. and here i was, not doing that to be true to myself but to protect my true self from public mockery (the world has a special brand of plutonium poison for femme trans women, and it is distributed freely by queer folks as well as straight folks) and to present the world with a persona of devil-may-care toughness, as well as to claim allies it would later turn out didn’t understand my gender presentation as having much relationship to their radical non-normative genders.

we talked for a long time and for once i knew how my friends felt, the ones who were always telling me i talked too loud, that my voice sounded fake, that i was embarrassing them. i feel so much shame even now, and i certainly felt it then, but i felt like the eyes on her and on me were spewing their poison past the tough exterior defenses i had created… finding and killing my pink-fluffy-stuffed bunny.

fuck.

i didn’t return her calls or e-mails after that. i was, i told myself, busy with my work getting Riot Grrrl Chicago going, and then with my new membership in the Chicago Lesbian Avengers. and besides, we didn’t really have all that much in common, she and i.

i still sometimes wish she had been my best friend… i hope i would have learned to be a good friend to her and be proud of her, like i have learned to care about and respect myself in the last few years, even the parts of me that love pink and sometimes wear lipgloss. i am way more similar to her than i ever could have admitted then.

i appreciate that she planted the seed in me that would grow into a need to give real caring and support to other trans women, and to quiet the self-hating part of me that wants to be busy judging them so as to feel safe from thinking about myself, who i am and how i have failed to become someone entirely different. i hope she is out there being radness incarnate still and not taking any shit.

this one goes out to her:

p.s.-i know that there are a lot more radical trans women around these days, and that, on the internet at least, we have a tendency to buy into the transmisogyny that tells us unexamined, unintentional femininity is bad, at least in trans women, and that this often comes out in making fun of trans women who aren’t (by our exacting measurements and standards) “radical,” or who have websites with pastel pink cursive fonts on dark pink backgrounds, and i think we should stop. as long as we play the game of being the good, cool, hip, or enlightened trans women, cis feminists, trans guys, and female-assigned genderqueers are going to view even us “lucky” few who can play their game as lesser, faker, and generally an afterthought to their own amazing radicoolness. and i don’t just say this because my ‘zine is full of hearts, i like to bake in a cute apron, and i never wear pants.

some things can only be said with paper + gluesticks, things that start with heavy hearts and cold hands and hopefully end with light hearts and sweaty palms, mine pressed against yours… there is safety in numbers, in person and through the postal service.

there was a time when i could scam copies from a thousand places and mail my zine for one stamp and lose so little money on it that i called it sustainable. back then you did a zine, too, and when i got it in the mail i squealed with excitement and my children, helping me get the mail at the end of our long, dusty, rural driveway, knew that mailboxes were magic, that they contained connection even when we were so far from anyone, and half the time you sent something for them: shells from the beach near your house, a little comic, a letter about playing the drums without “learning how” first in a punk band my son loved when i told you he wanted to play the drums, too, coins from around the world: there was plenty of wonder for all of us.

you taught me i could draw even though i “couldn’t.” i meant to tell you that, meant to write you a letter and send my zine, but i was always a little bashful about it, wondering if, with a zine-turned-book as popular as yours, you would still squeal with excitement out there in Ohio… that was silly, but everyone gets to be silly sometimes. maybe i’ll send you that letter now.

i read about the death of your grandfather and cried with you. you spent a whole issue bowling back home in Chicago and i wanted to visit and go bowling and listen to polka.

this moment in time is so hard, and in some ways the least of that is that we can’t afford to copy our ‘zines: we struggle for food, to make rent, to find a place to rent, to keep the water and electricity on in any given month, to keep our heads not just above water but held up with pride… but your solidarity and companionship helped with that last.

and i wonder if you walk out to your mailbox sometimes and wonder what magic it will bring, and if, like me, too many days have gone by with it empty. i would mail you this love letter if i had your address. can we pretend that i did? and, since i don’t really know how to work a scanner, let’s pretend that next there’s a little drawing of my kids and me with a bow in my hair and we are riding our bikes to the post office to mail you cookies. mwah! ❤ ❤ ❤