The Tiger Manifesto

Criticism with claws

Category: Trans Struggle

Surgery and Sterile Futures

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Trans surgery in Canada involves years of waiting lists, consultations, and institutional scrutiny. What makes this process especially difficult is that there is currently only one clinic in the country that is able to offer official services, i.e. ones that are covered by first-payer insurance and thus accessible to the vast majority of trans people. This very short essay outlines what I would call the eerie nature of this process, the way in which bodies are rendered uncanny and disjointed by gatekeeping and forced visibility.

For me, the sheer impregnability of the system creates a sense of foreshortened future and bodily dread. Because trans people are a tiny minority of the population, our bodies are the subject of a great deal of state scrutiny, especially because our physicians do not have any direct sympathy with our situation. Despite all of our visibility as oddities or freaks, however, our bodies are not well understood and medical procedures and treatments for us are heavily restricted and, in the case of estrogen-based hormone therapy, administered with tools designed for cis people first.

So surgery for me, despite the fact that I want it and need it for my mental health, is attached to so much baggage and bizarro-world bureaucracy that it takes on a horrific aspect. The abject uncanniness of wading through so many forms, so many appointments, so many opportunities for any spiteful physician to deny me access to care, creates a warped sense of how attainable surgery even is. And because of past trauma around my body and because of depression, my sense of the future has been dramatically compressed. The future is so uncertain that, under the lens of depression and the eerie oracular and suicidal feelings that I have, I am utterly convinced that my body will be destroyed either in surgery or well before. I am tutored by despair, possessed of a sense of grim finality.

Of course, my intellect assures me that many other people have gone through the process and come through happier than they were before. Of course this does not make me change my mind about wanting surgery. This is still my choice and I still dream about it. Even though I’m aware that surgery is not necessary for all trans people and rejecting surgery would not put my lack of gender in doubt, there is a sterility and hopelessness that dogs me throughout, an eerie desert where future possibilities either lie dormant or cannot be trusted because of persistent mirages.

I suppose there is no way through the desert except through it. And with luck I will participate in abolishing the system that creates such dread and unease. For the sake of trans people now, the gates have to fall and the bureaucracy must be abolished, along with all other impediments to real bodily freedom.

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Out Like a Lamb: Day 18: The Bod and Nothing But

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Trans bodies are caught in many weird, unsolvable tangles. We’re both hyper-analyzed and poorly understood, occluded from the census and other documentation but the subject of immense reams of public policy, highly visible on the streets but reduced to awful fetishes and stereotypes. A trans body is something many cis people simply can’t make up their minds about, which has a number of disturbing implications. But I don’t want to just focus on these often traumatizing knots. I want express the bright side of being a trans body.

Though people love obsessing over trans people’s genitals, I want to start by saying that, yes, I have a penis and, yes, I use it responsibly once in awhile. The strangest part of the whole matter is that our genitals seem to pervade discussions of us, to the point where it’s truly a wonder how fixated cis people are on people’s nether realms. Our very presence is overwritten by a hyper-attention to genitalia, like when people on a desert island start to look like hot dogs and pizza to their ravenous companions. With that in mind, we usually have to insist on our asexuality or lack of eroticism to be considered appropriate for public discussion, despite the fact that straight male sexualization pervades mainstream media, even those marketed to children.

So a trans body is, by definition, outrageous to some. But I promised to attend to the benefits of trans embodiment. And one major one for me is the freedom to experiment with extravagant fashions that accentuate aspects of my body that I couldn’t before transitioning. Dressing well is certainly a pleasure in itself, but it also alleviates some of my deep-seated anxieties about looking wrong. Since I am beautifully tall, I have problems being perceived as unambiguously feminine even on my most “passable” days. My feet are large and my long arms and legs make some fits of clothing difficult to pull off. But to me there is no sense in not trying! And if I’m going to be judged inadequate no matter what I do, I might as well go all the way out there with bold colours and blatantly “artificial” colours in my makeup.

So my body is one that is sexual, that is oriented towards being flashy and attractive. At the same time, it’s important to emphasize that my body, although it’s implicated within a lot of different systems and environments, is my own. No matter what kind of body it is, it deserves respect and autonomy. And that’s probably the most valuable contribution that trans people have to make to all political tendencies that aim at liberation of people as a whole.

Out Like a Lamb: Day 17: Femme Sees, Femme Does

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Queer and trans politics are often tied into visibility, becoming politics not just of the body but of the eye in particular. Practices like “coming out,” staging mass public spectacles, and creating signals and fashions that allow us to more easily identify each other are all to some degree constitutive of this politics of the eye. Since our oppressions often revolve around being obscured from view, pressured into conformity with exclusive cis and hetero-norms, or transformed into empty spectacle by straight pornography and other media, wresting control of our own individual and collective aesthetic presentation is a way to create power for ourselves. Broad and deep social change requires other forms of action, of course. However, being visible on our own terms is a valuable and necessary goal if we’re going to reclaim public space in human communities for queer and trans people.

For me, femme is one of the most valuable forms of communal aesthetics. While it emerged in opposition to butch in the early and mid-twentieth century and continues to have a close connection with femininity as a whole, femme is not reducible to just a pole for either of these binaries. It describes a particular commons or reservoir of resources, a way of expressing ourselves for our own benefit. Femme involves individuals, and it is a means for individuals to express themselves, but it’s important to recognize that no one expresses themselves in a solipsistic void.

Doing femme, being femme, expressing femme–for me, these are acts that bring me closer to people, that make me more legible to those close to me. It’s a way of sharing myself, gifting myself, even, to ones I love and lucky people who see me on the street. Think of femme as a way of improving public and private spaces, of making our existence more beautiful! Of course, it does so using some of the tools and styles associated with womanhood and femininity, but when femme emerges in a more liberating, less confining world where genders don’t map onto binary notions, it can use those tools with an experimental and radical edge. It’s not avant-garde, and it’s not revolutionary–or it’s not necessarily those things–but femme is a term that captures my personal favourite attempts to make ourselves beautiful.

People who prefer masculine or butch aesthetics (since butch does not map directly onto masculinity as such), I suspect, experience similar pleasures. With that said, it’s true that masculine presentations are often seen as the default or preferred mode of expression in a capitalistic, cis and heteronormative world. Even within feminist circles, androgyny or masculinity might be preferred over femininity because the latter is more thickly “gendered.” Gender as a judgment or insult sticks much better to femme people than it does to those who present in a masculine fashion. I do not suggest that masculine-presenting people always or even mostly occupy an oppressive position over femme people, only that this dynamic, this was of seeing gender only in femininity, is a significant barrier to be overcome in our intimate and political circles.

As I continue to develop in my understanding of gender as a system of naming and classifying and my own position in that system, femme remains a touchstone. Though I recognize that being femme is, to some extent, the only way I can be perceived as feminine at all given my body shape and size, I remain attracted to it and excited to perform it in new and different ways.

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Out Like a Lamb: Day 16: Pink, Blue, Black, and Red

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As we draw close to the end of Out Like a Lamb, my thoughts turn to some more urgent and serious matters. I am talking, of course, about revolutionary left politics. By its nature, these politics have a universal scope within my life. I would be a fundamentally different person without my commitment to revolutionary politics.

Despite how obscure and general that sounds, I want to make sure that I communicate exactly how immediate these politics are. Ultimately, as arcane and contested anti-capitalist politics can appear, they emerge from the most elemental parts of life. This post will address where my revolutionary politics intersect with trans and queer issues, so it won’t cover anything. But, well, we have to start somewhere.

At its most basic level, communism is about removing every barrier between people and the resources they need to thrive. Capitalism is one system that acts as a barrier, since it bars people from accessing the goods they need if they don’t fit a very narrow profile of a “productive citizen.” It drains all the joy from work since it coerces people into jobs. It also treats people as mere factors in a machine, as a means to an end. States, as guarantors of private property and the locus of violence and conformity, enable capitalism to function while also disciplining those who are deemed, for any reason, socially undesirable. Whatever rights people have under a state are conditional and subject to being revoked at any time the state finds convenient. Fundamentally, people should be really enabled to make their own choices, to associate with whomever they choose, and to make collective decisions about issues they are concerned with.

This is why commitments to autonomy/anarchy and communism are mutually beneficial to each other. This is especially true, I think, for me as a trans and queer person. Under the current Canadian capitalist state, my right to express the way I want to, to do the work I want to without fear of exclusion and personal injury, are all at the mercy of the state. Political parties use us as a tool to gain leverage over people and to promote imperialist politics (save the gays by invading x country!) and promote tourism (especially in my home city).

Ultimately, trans people under capitalism are at the whims of doctors and a profit-gouging pharmaceutical industry who, again, don’t see us as fully human but rather as means to an end. Consumer products for trans people specifically are often expensive or inaccessible, and if they were made accessible under the current system they would continue to be used to forge a false trans “community.” In this case, it would be a community of consumers. But our worth as people, as ecological, physical beings in relation to each other, is not in our usefulness to one person or another but rather is intrinsic to us, just as it is for all other living things.

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Cover of a great zine  I can recommend heartily about this issue.

Revolution does not imply the ultimate resolution of all these problems, but rather a commitment in a particular direction. It is a method of looking at the world and a means to realize a more desirable, better world. It is necessary, unfortunately, because reforms are always recaptured by the system, as necessary as they might be. We can’t just get by surviving on scraps that other people give us forever. If trans people want to see a world where we can have a more fulfilling and less anxious life, with much less possibility of losing all of our gains, social and political revolution are what we need. Revolution is food, it’s hormones, it’s clothing we enjoy and want, its a beginning to healing rifts in our communities, and, perhaps most importantly, it’s creating a more healthful way for human beings to act within nature.

These are the ifs and needs that animate me when I think about revolution. Capitalism is a major support for transphobia, underwriting the sense that we are unnatural, that we cannot form “real” families, that we are useless to society, a “drain.” It’s far from the only barrier to our self-liberation as individuals and groups, but it forms the basic logic within which other oppressions weave and strike. Without capital, with our own autonomy, it becomes possible to build the worlds of solidarity and happiness we imagine.

Next three posts will be:

March 28: A post about femme things! Femme is a curious form of identifying yourself, and, I would say, not all that well understood. Bit of a history lesson before moving onto my own personal business.

March 29: About body image issues and ways that I try to sculpt the way I look for other people.

March 30: About my body itself, its permeability, the way I inhabit my environment, all that good stuff.

Out Like a Lamb: Day 15: Relationships and Lurv

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Human beings affiliate with each other for a variety of reasons, from building houses to playing sports. But when we talk about “relationships” we are usually talking about people who affiliate with each other for mutual pleasure, intimacy, and conversation. Sex, of course, is a focus of many of these relationships. Another subset of relationships get defined as “romantic,” which is a vague term I admit I don’t quite understand. For the purposes of this short post, though, “romantic” will refer to a relationship that is particularly intense, though it should not be located apart from friendship.

My personal approach to relationships and sexual affinity can be named as a practice of “relationship anarchy.” Though this is a somewhat broad and nettlesome word, it accurately describes the kinds of attitudes and practices I want to take in any given relationship as well as series of collective values that I want to see actualized on a general level. In other words, it’s a personal set of concerns and ethics while also being, I think, a loose norm towards which we should work in society as a whole. In any case, let’s see what this so-called “relationship anarchy” implies. (Keeping in mind that this is my own interpretation of a set of ideas that already existed)

At its most basic level, relationship anarchy recognizes that, while our time and space might be limited as people (and this will connect what I’m saying to broader social goals around the built environment and economic/ecological systems), our capacity to give and receive love is not. To me, it has a close cousin in the term “free love,” though the latter term has been somewhat compromised by notions of generalized promiscuity—even if that was not its original intent. Romantic and sexual love should be organized by mutual agreements and personal preference, with relationships being structures made to serve people rather than vice/versa. And every relationship is a structure that needs to be custom-built because every person at every time is a unique being. So relationship anarchy includes, depends on, an openness to change and flexibility, which makes it a challenge to implement in times where people have to work for a wage in order to survive. Our friendships and interactions with people often suffer because of worries over money and other basic subsistence concerns, complicated by the fact that we’re raised to see relationships as institutionalized, exclusive, and regulated by state bodies.

So here we have a set of basic principles: relationships are experimental, open to the future, value each member’s welfare rather than the relationship as such, and are negotiated from norms each person can assent to rather than abstractly imposed ones. I don’t say that relationship anarchy implies an absence of norms because the principles behind it are themselves norms, albeit ones that permit a more flexible idea of how people can interact with each other within a relationship of x people and those who are outside that x.

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Now we can move onto how the current, capitalist urban environment (since that’s the one I’m most familiar with) infringes on our ability to carry out these ethics. For example, say one of my partners came with me to a new city to work, while another partner met me later on and lives in a different part of the city. Even if we decide that it might be in our best interests to move into a shared space or to reduce the distance between us, rental markets and discriminatory practices put that kind of movement out of reach for many people. Lack of access to adequate food resources, time spent on commuting or in jobs that make us anxious, and the constant imposition of a built environment meant to facilitate life for people in heteronormative, monogamous consumer units (marriages, cohabitation, etc.) make realizing these ideas difficult. This is not to mention the difficulties incurred by people who fall in love or form relationships across national borders or who create relationships that are socially dangerous. I’ve attracted unfriendly stares and experienced a great deal of nervous tension when walking outside with a partner, for instance, and other people, especially those who are economically marginalized and racialized, experience far, far more heinous acts of violence.

The reality is that, although relationship anarchy could be considered by itself as an abstract blueprint for how to navigate personal affinities, its general realization depends on a social and political revolution as well as an overhaul of how economic goods are produced and distributed. Realizing this connection and working for it while also practicing good relationship ethics is vital because it will help those ethics from collapsing into a harsh moralization weaponized against anyone who doesn’t accept your standards. In the end, people’s flourishing is more important than any once conception or practice of loving and living together. None of us are complete units as individuals—to be complete is to be part of a healthy and freely chosen community, which starts at the most intimate level. But when you take a larger look, these principles lead to nothing less than the abolition of the current society and the construction of a better one.

Next three posts will be:

March 27: Politics and me. Basically about how I’ve grown through and into revolutionary politics and the kinds of projects I’d like to work on.

March 28: Femme-fatale, as I like to call it. Basically talking about what femme aesthetics and self-naming has to do with me, and why it matters on a broader scale (or doesn’t, wouldn’t want to spoil the surprise).

March 29: Third, I’ll be talking about body image issues and the ways I try to dress and trim my hair to look the way I want. How is this conditioned by coercion? We’ll find out!

Out Like a Lamb: Day 14: Let’s Talk Chaos

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OK, what does a trans person in academia like? Well, if you were to ask that question about me, I would reply with something resembling this post. It’s time to lay back and discuss some of my most cherished personal interests. In particular, I’ll be focusing on a couple of intellectual topics that are both interconnected and drive a lot of the scholarship I do both for school and for pleasure. Neither of them is directly related to my trans experience, but they both inform how I see myself, my body, and my place in the wider world.

1: Chaos and Complexity

This has been a preoccupation of mine for a few years now, though I am just starting to get a decent grasp of what theories of chaos and complexity mean for historical studies. This is mostly because I had not read as deeply in environmental history and the mathematical and scientific basis for complexity as I have now. In a nutshell, the reason I am interested in chaos (ways of describing very sensitive, non-linear systems) and complexity (mostly around the issues of predictability and what exceeds human control is because they are useful concepts for linking my sense of an unruly or unpredictable body to a larger set of relationships.

I find this especially pertinent since we are living in an age that is beyond purity. Our bodies are collectives formed not just of human bits but also of synthetic chemicals, organic agents, micro-organisms, and other products of a permeable and open body. Our skin, as it turns out, is not a good separator, but rather a bridge that, while it does filter out certain kinds of environmental detritus, also links us with the wider world, especially where chemicals are concerned. Learning how to think about humanity’s place within energy systems, air and water circulation, and other structures that we have built but have become an imposition or alienated from us like pollution is a vital task. We have to learn to cope with our own fundamental impurity and integration into our surroundings, as well as with fellow human beings and other forms of life. The politics of purity, exemplified by border security, policing, Christian morality, and racial logic, have bared their fangs, and defeating them requires a robust sense of how to live with and thrive with impurity.

Complexity and unpredictability are also an important aspect to this. Advancements in scientific studies of complexity and chaos, as well as biological and social applications of these concepts, have led to a greater understanding of just how much human beings could control even in an ideal scenario. Attempts to reshape the natural environment, or centralized attempts to reorganize human society and its relationship to nature, are often reckless and ill-considered. Even with perfect information, however, the sensitivity and chaotic nature of open systems makes planning every outcome impossible. Even acknowledging the value of large-scale social organization in some cases, as well as some forms of centralized coordination, our interventions require careful consideration and a more pronounced emphasis on flexibility and decentralized social power.

2: Oceans!

Environmental history is overall pretty great. It contributes some of the most vital perspectives within the entire discipline. Despite its many advances, however, most of its thinking has been dedicated to terrestrial landscapes. Since my heart yearns for the sea, I have taken on the challenge of studying the ocean, which is a challenging task for a variety of reasons. With some numerous but isolated exceptions, most human beings do not make permanent dwellings on the ocean. Though there are examples of oceanic nomads in history (golden age pirates being the most well-known in my circles) oceans are typically seen as transit points rather than places where events or large-scale processes unfold. Or else, as in a lot of spatial theory, the oceans and seas are treated as social or cultural metaphors. One or the other.

Oceans are, however, the site of both extensive resource extraction and scientific investigation as well as warfare. Though I haven’t read too deeply in oceanography or more humanistic oceanic studies, I think these bodies of salt water remain some of the least studied despite how vital they have been throughout recorded history. Not just as transit, but as sites of sacred fear or reverence, war, flight, and technological development. In other words, oceans are screaming at us to pay attention, but relatively few of us do. Rather than resent this fact, we’ll see what I can do about rectifying that.

OK, time for the next three posts! Getting into the home stretch:

March 25: Here I’ll be musing on about some issues related to how trans and queer people relate to each other as well as the concept of relationship anarchy. Serious issues, but full of potential hope for the future.

March 26: City mouse here talks about my affinity for cities and my struggles when I lived in a more rural area.

March 27: Left-wing politics have been a cornerstone of how I live my life for the last several years, so it’s about time I gave them their due with a journal entry.

Out Like a Lamb: Day 13: Designing for Life

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Today I’d like to do something a bit different than before. Since today’s subject is so visual, I’ve decided to make this entry much more image-centric than usual. That will entail me acting as a guide through a gallery of some of my recent design and artworks. We’ll do a couple of them and see where we end up.

Just a moment before we do, though, I want to spend a paragraph just musing about my general approach to art and design as well as a few words about where I got started.182459_1813035811537_2753526_n

One night, about seven or eight years ago now, I had a strange dream that featured the ominous, indefinable object you see above. I quickly sketched it out in my drawing book to make sure I didn’t forget. Now, most if not all of the time before that, my drawing time was spent on maps of fantasy worlds I wanted to write about–and did in some cases. But here I had a powerful image, and I actually drew it out before using Apple Pages to create the vector graphic above. I am still not sure what that whole dream was about, but it produced something so indelible that I had to preserve it. From there, I learned how to use Pages’ shape tools and other graphic editing and page layout to make more sophisticated images.

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These two are some of my favourites. Throughout my undergraduate years, I actually refused to upgrade to any software, like Illustrator or even a cheaper Photoshop alternative and stuck to the tools I knew how to operate. After all, I was able to do some pretty cool things with the techniques I had learned, and it was only very gradually that I realized how limited they really were, especially in terms of efficiency. 392371_2986425665550_1887808499_n.jpg

I still haven’t acquired a copy of Illustrator or anything truly sophisticated, but I get by using software called Pixelmator to make posters, sometimes employing the help of InDesign for particularly thorny or complicated projects. I’ve focused most of my time on making radical political posters, some of which you might have seen around Toronto if you look carefully. On the other hand, I also have dedicated some time to more casual and selfish projects, like the three below. Now let’s get to that gallery tour!

 

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Now that you’ve had a tour of some of my development, seeing where my computer art has gone and where it might go, I’m pretty happy with the results. I’m still learning and shifting the way I do things as well as the kinds of work I like to do, but with the exception of a few pieces I don’t particularly like (and no longer have, unfortunately), it’s been a positive contribution to my life over the past several years.

Let’s see what the next three days of posts will be:

March 24: This entry will cover my academic interests. I’m going to focus mainly on chaos theory and work around embodiment, since I wouldn’t be able to cover all of my interests in one post. That is subject to change, but either way, it should be fun.

March 25: Another fun one, this time focusing on how I understand friendships and romantic relationships, especially through the frames of relationship anarchy and ethics. A complex topic, to be sure, but one I think I can bring a unique perspective to.

March 26: This one is more basic, just talking about how I’ve adjusted to city life and, previously, how I coped with living in small towns or isolated areas, i.e. not very well.

Out Like a Lamb: Day 12: Magic: The Gathering

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I am a late bloomer when it comes to trading card games. Though I certainly fell into the stock market-floor madness of Pokémon card trading in elementary school and tried to teach my mother to play Yu-Gi-Oh on more than one occasion, I abandoned card games before giving Magic much of a look. My first memories of the game are vague recollections of playing it at age 5 or 6 with my cousins, having no idea what the hell was going on. It was not until the launch of Oath of the Gatewatch in early 2016 that I decided to learn the game and try to take it up as a hobby. It would not be until Kaladesh came out, later that year, that I began to amass a real collection and build fun casual decks at all hours of the night.

Magic is not the easiest or, depending on what you want to do, cheapest hobby to get into. I have still not dipped my toe in the local gaming scene, despite it being fairly diverse and well-established. Anxiety holds me back, of course, but I think I still fundamentally look at Magic as a fun tabletop game to play with close friends or partners. I do enjoy studying the more competitive aspects of the game, but my goal in building my heavily flavour-based control deck built around Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver is not to rack up wins. I love Magic not so much for its mathematical and competitive aspects (called Spike-y in Magic parlance) but rather for the art, the stories you can tell, and the immense modularity the game offers. If you like a particular character–maybe not as much as I love Ashiok, since that’s impossible, but let’s just say–there is probably some kind of possible deck to build. It might not win you a lot of money or renown in the tournament scene, but it will offer a huge amount of pleasure.

And this pleasure does not start on the battlefield. For me, at least, the act of choosing a theme for a deck, or maybe finding a particular card I like, and building a deck outward and upward from there, is immensely satisfying. There is a real craft to it, though the nature of the deckbuilding challenge varies depending on the competitive level of your play. In my case, there is little pressure to maximize value or win percentage, which means I craft around themes, narratives, or just interesting quirks. For instance, and I keep bringing them up:

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My favourite deck I’ve ever built is constructed around this card: Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver. They are a fascinating and mysterious character, which was the initial attraction. Their appearance and backstory–essentially an enigmatic sorcerer who can make nightmares come to life and wants to bring the mighty low through fear–got me hooked. On a closer look at the card, however, I realized that there was a themed deck I could build. And build it I did. To explain it simply, the deck revolves around removing cards from the opponent’s deck with Ashiok and various other cards with similar effects like Gonti, Lord of Luxury, using the opponent’s own cards against them. It’s not themed too strictly–there are a couple of cards included to save money, for instance–but after a lot of testing against other casual decks, I’ve been pleased at how well the deck can perform in certain circumstances. It’s not mechanically complex or especially tightly constructed, but the deck exemplifies the way Magic experiments with every aspect of the play space, not just the battlefield, and how that can leads to surprising outcomes.

I haven’t had as much time for Magic lately, but I’m hoping to bring some of my new friends into the hobby, maybe even setting up a regular play group like the one I have for Pathfinder. Properly contextualized and drained of competitive anxiety, the game is a powerful stress-reliever for me, channeling all of my attention into a complex and ever-changing state of play. I don’t know how I ever got by without it before.

Admittedly, my enjoyment of the game is not untempered by frustration and tension with its fanbase. Magic has the well-earned reputation of being a boys’ club, at least at the higher levels. Women do play the game in large numbers, but tend to be much less visible in the community, often relegated to casual play simply through social pressure and bigotry. It’s one reason I’ve been so hesitant to play at local game shops: there are a lot of misogynist jackasses in the fan community, and I don’t want to have my fun time be dedicated to raging against the machine.

The game also has a history of questionably sexualized character designs, including some rather ignominious lapses of sensitivity around implied sexual assault. A few queer and trans characters have appeared in the game so far, including Ashiok and lone trans woman Alesha, Who Smiles At Death. Despite producer company Wizards of the Coasts’ attempts to open the game to more audiences (for capitalistic reasons, but still), however, the game’s fan community is host to some reactionary elements, including people who outright insulted a trans community member’s voice in Youtube comments.

Although this sobering reality persists, however, it has not prevented me from enjoying the game the way I want to. It has a stable and strong place in my daily life at this point, so here’s to many more years of queer spellslinging.

Also: bonus pin art at the bottom!

Now the next three days of journal entries will be:

March 23: Art! It’s time to show off a lot of my design and artwork that I haven’t shown in public before!

March 24: More nerding out about stuff, this time my academic and intellectual interests. Chaos! Ecology! Bodies!

March 25: Talking about relationships, relationship anarchy, and how I’ve navigated a new phase of my life. All exciting and positive things coming up.

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Out Like a Lamb: Day 11: Holy Light, Unholy Eye

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Though I have said in the past that this post would be about my relationship to “religion,” I was mistaken. In fact, it will be about my relationship to Christianity. Though Christianity bears certain family resemblances to all other supernatural beliefs and the ritual forms and institutions that shape those beliefs, it cannot be used as a proxy for all religion. Nevertheless, my rejection of all religious affiliation occurred out of the context of my Christian belief. It is a universal departure emerging from a specific experience. It could not be otherwise.

Since I was a child, I felt an intense guilt for never “feeling” spiritual. Though I certainly would have, and did, defend my belief in orthodox Christianity, there was never a sense either of belonging in a church community or the kind of transcendent experience people seemed to lean on in moments of doubt. What was left was the adherence to the ritual forms and institutional skeleton of Christianity–the outward, mushroom bloom of individual and collective Christian belief–and the intellectual frameworks of theology. The latter crumbled much more quickly than the former. I think the social appearance of religiosity substituted for its real existence, as I fumbled my way from conservative Reformed Christianity through liberal Quakerism and Unitarianism.

Because intellectual acceptance of Christian orthodoxy is, I think, fundamentally dependent on an emotional and social attachment to Christian ritual, the outward form of belief, that belief shattered without taking the compulsive attachment to churchgoing with it. I desired acceptance from family members and some of my peers: this was my wager, the benefit I hoped to get in exchange for conformity.

As I became more and more alienated from my assigned gender and all the rigidities that imposed on me, however, the value of that conformity, or, more precisely, the appearance of it, shrank and vanished. Why should I even pretend to support or claim as co-religionists those who were materially oppressing me and those like me? Eventually, even liberal religion lost its lustre as I came to resent the shell as well as the meat of Christian belief. I realized that I was just going to a church, any church, to maintain respectability and appearances. Like many others, my attachment to religion and ritual depended on a fear of exclusion and alienation. My decision to abandon religion altogether did not result from a purely free choice on my part, but rather was informed by a calculation. It was no longer in my best interests to pretend to be religious, and I left the liberal church to which my partner and I belonged.

I have no regrets about trying to create a vision of the world that is free of supernatural transcendence or speculation about gods and souls. I was personally liberated to think in different ways and to look honestly at the terror I had been living in before.  My actual renouncement was extremely quiet and simple. I woke up one morning and knew that I was done with Christianity. I didn’t even vocalize this until a few days later. So it’s important, as I go further in this de-conversion narrative, that I emphasize how gradual and painful the post-Christian growth process has been. Epiphanies are rare. For me, it took a long time to sort out exactly what I thought about the world, and the process is far from over. In fact, what I rejected that cold spring morning was not so much a particular religion as a way of thinking and being in the world. It’s a trajectory that I could no longer see working out in the future. What would have happened had I stayed, I don’t know. But at the same time, I am quite confident that travelling in this other direction has been immensely beneficial to me.

Not that I am going to hawk atheism as a panacea or a universal solution to people’e problems. Indeed, atheists have garnered quite a reputation for cloying self-righteousness or, in more devilish forms, for forming a cult of masculine “intellect.” These bullies, often acting as shock-troopers for reactionaries online, fail to understand the true potentials of atheism. Atheism names a rejection, of course, but it is empty if fetishized and placed in a vacuum. Its liberatory potential can only be realized when it pushes in the direction of ecological, integrated, radical thinking. Rejecting God only to put gendered Man in his place is a recipe for disaster. Just as no Christian faith stands alone but is comprised of a vast concatenation of religious and philosophical traditions, layered and warped in often incoherent ways, every individual’s atheism is a multitude of small ways of becoming all pushing with or against each other. Rejection of god is, unfortunately, not always the affirmation of the good, even broadly defined.

And of course Christians and other religious adherents will always claim that atheists are in denial, that they are merely regressives who just worship “man” or “nature” in place of the real truth. Perhaps we cannot escape symbolic and sacred thinking, at least entirely. But given the generally negative impact of Christian institutions on the world, I cannot help but encourage people to disengage from them and find other avenues. Individual believers and even some isolated churches might do good, produce excellent scholarship, create vital radical theology, or otherwise enrich the world, but to me the reality is that Christianity is both unnecessary and false in its premises. We can and should live without it, while recognizing where it might, as a husk and a dead tradition, contribute to a better world.

For those who are still finding your way to live inside a religious community–even Christianity–I wish you all the best. That is a burden I could not hope to bear. Religion is complicated, woven into so many social situations and cultural traditions that it is not easily criticized or extricated as a whole. And for many it might still be nourishing, and we have much to share and speak about together. For me, however, church and religion are nothing but the names for bad memories and a kind of spiritual terror to which I was subjected. May we all find better ways, and end all oppressions done in the name of religion.

Next three posts coming up!

March 22: A post about Magic: The Gathering, current reigning champion of my hobbies and interests. Should be nerdy fun.

March 23: Discussing art is always fun for me, especially when it’s my own. This one will feature some old and new sketches and some graphic design work.

March 24: Though I’ve already addressed my position in the academy, this entry will be about some of my favourite research interests. Everything from chaos theory to economics.

Out Like a Lamb: Day 10: Depression and Anxiety

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This post will be even shorter than usual. Reasons for this are easy to come by. I don’t feel like giving a blow-by blow of my depressive episodes, nor is this topic one I feel much at liberty to discuss. So I will make this quick.

When I wake up every morning, there is no telling whether I will be able to get out of bed without extreme effort. Walking into a room with people I haven’t seen before, I can go into a panic attack and hide away. I feel awkward making eye contact, I have missed several appointments because of social anxiety and a hesitance to go outside (especially since it takes a great deal of effort to get my look together and feel confident). It’s easy to get me to cry because I slip into depressions where my self-esteem and will to move around evaporate. Even things I enjoy cannot entice, and life feels without worth.

And, guess what? I am fully capable of living a happy and fulfilling life. In fact, I manage to do just that much of the time despite my struggles. What I cannot abide is people telling me what’s best for me, as if they know what will make me happy, if I just listen to them. In no uncertain terms, to hell with that. I am the best qualified person to know what I need, even if I am not capable of solving all of my problems by myself. My input is the most important one, because only I can tell how I am actually feeling. Empathy and sympathy can only go so far, and what people need to get through their skulls is that they need to understand me on an intellectual and emotional level, and give me the autonomy to address my own issues, to reject the impulse that tells them that they know better.

Trans people, in particular, ought to be left alone to develop freely and form our own associations and ways of being in the world. Nothing makes me angrier than people who are trying to “help” but do the opposite because of their ignorance and emotional clumsiness. Good night everyone!

March 21: Tomorrow is my post dealing with all matters religious–at least ones that can be put in under 1000 words. that said, it will be one of the longer ones.

March 22: A lighter touch the day after tomorrow. Time to talk about Magic: The Gathering. My favourite hobby will come to my blog for the first time, at least in full post form.

March 23: Another fun one, this time on my art, especially drawing and poster design. Regular readers will already recognize much of the latter, but there will be fun for everyone in this post!

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Historical DeWitticisms: Environmental History and Random Musings by J.M. DeWitt

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