The Tiger Manifesto

Criticism with claws

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!

Out Like a Lamb: Day 9: Pride in Being Trans

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For various reasons related to schedules and lack of enthusiasm, I decided to forgo writing the promised journal on my relationship with the state . So today, I will resume my daily journaling with a brief reflection on the issue of pride. Pride has an important and enduring place in the history of LGBT people because most of us grow up and reach adulthood in a state of shame or disillusionment. It’s a point of personal pride, at least for me, that I was able to escape the harmful situation I was in and find a chosen family, friends, and colleagues who formed a tight-kniot community around me.

Pride is nost just used in this broader and more commonplace sense, however. Rather, iLGBT people use it as a descriptor of our positive affirmation of ourselves and out identities. Since we are widely stigmatized by religious organizations and other mainstream social structures, we are often treated poorly, as if our very being should be a source of shame and self-hatred. In fact, whole institutions of “re-education” were founded on these principles.Pride is, therefore, not just a passive sense of contentment or self-affirmation but a deliberate and political act, a small way o counteracting the influence of this social stigma on us. In the same way that coming out, establishing ourselves as visible and present, is a form of political activity, asserting our own pride is a way of giving minor support to people like us, hoping to help younger people realize that their parents’ or peers’ denigrations are utterly false and unfounded.

Even in their most degraded and corporatized forms, Pride parades and associated events still serve the ongoing purpose of establishing that we are just people capable and indeed predisposed to living happy and productive lives. They can have the effect of masking the harsh reality of being queer or trans, of course, but just as there are feasts of mourning and feasts of celebration, we use Pride as a ritual culmination for another hard year lived, a recognition that we have endured much and yet lived.

There are various reasons why I don’t enjoy mainstream public expressions of pride, from social anxiety to my political objections to the commodification and depoliticization of these events. Personally, however, my own sense of pride is a hard-won aspect of my personality. It’s a way of marking my own accomplishments, whether in my transition or just in day-to-day activities. In spite of the fact that people’s refusal or inability (these are often one and the same) to accept and affirm me has caused me a great deal of pain and hurt, there is, at the core, a sense that my life is worth living and that I am valid. Whether I express this in vocal or aesthetic ways (as in this blog) or just whisper it to myself when I feel like life isn’t worth living anymore, pride in being trans, in being other-than the norm, in looking for and at last finding another, better life each day, is a cornerstone of how I exist in the world today. And, luckily, I get to share that sense of pride with a beautiful group of people who understand and love me. These are the people I hold fast to in moments or periods of bleak depression, the ones to whom I owe my very life.

And now the next three days’ worth of posts. Let’s hope there are no more interruptions!

March 20: A counterpoint to today’s focus on pride and love, tomorrow will be about those dark moments, the times where I have felt depressed or anxious or even self-destructive.

March 21: This post will be a look at my relationship with religion and religious institutions. It will be somewhat longer than usual but it will have some insights I haven’t fully expressed to most people before. So it will be fun!

March 22: At last, I will dedicate an entire day’s entry to my favourite hobby of the moment, Magic: The Gathering. Nerdier than you can properly express and a source of aesthetic and even personal fulfillment, Magic has become an integral part of my life in many ways.

Out Like a Lamb: Day 7: Academic Trans Girl Blues

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I had a rather trying day today. One of my classmates, an older fellow who attends the same environmental history seminar, misgendered me in front of the rest of the class. This is not only embarrassing, since I had to interrupt him to correct his mistake, but deeply tiring. Whether the problem arose from ignorance, carelessness, or malice, the event dragged my mood down and cast a pall over the rest of the day.

My relationship to my classmates is uneven and somewhat odd. Only one person has come up to me and asked if I’m trans. Though I think many of the students in my seminars understand, I’m not sure that everyone does, and there are odd moments where someone I rather like refers to me as if I’m a guy. This is despite presenting in an overtly feminine way, having visible breasts, wearing makeup pretty well, etc. etc. Again, I am left unsure of the source of these instances of misgendering. They’ve only known me by my actual name, and I’ve repeatedly and obviously used she and her to refer to myself in jest. Though I make little effort to shift my voice, I would think that the message would still sink in.

Rather oddly, in fact, I have had a much better time interacting with my professors and supervisors. Actually, the university itself recognizes me by my actual gender and name and not my dead one––though for legal purposes they keep my legal dead name on file for now––making it, on average, better at understanding who I am than my classmates are. Not everyone is able to experience even this limited form of autonomy and security, of course, but in my case it’s greatly appreciated.

Academia as a whole is something of a fool’s game at the moment, but for a young trans woman it has its pleasures and rewards. I have been able to spend a great deal of my time researching gender and queer theory, getting a broad view of what people like me in various contexts have said about our individual and collective lives. In that respect, my career in academia has been personally enriching. I’m also excited to be pushing boundaries within the historical profession, both as a trans woman hoping to achieve some notoriety and for my specific theoretical interventions. After all, even though my experience as a trans person shapes all of my experiences and interests, I’m not primarily interested in gender or transness as my scholarly topic (I actually specifically avoided it). Trans and nonbinary people should be able to make contributions to any of their chosen subjects, and I’m looking forward to living in a world where more of my colleagues and compatriots are trans. Despite knowing that that kind of identity politics is not ultimately productive, there is still a sense within me that my life would be better if more people who better understood me sat next to me in classes and lectures.

Academia as we know it is already slipping away under corporatization measures and the pressures of the institutions and communities it’s meant to serve. I will certainly contribute, in the future, to seeing how we can produce a new set of educational institutions that can serve students, local contexts, and workers much better than the current one. For the meantime, however, I’m content to avoid the windowless department common room and ensure I’m not just hanging out with other academics all the time.

The next three days of posts shall be:

March 18: My relationship with the state and the law. I break it all down.

March 19: How I take pride in being trans and attempt to build positive affiliations with people around our identities or lack thereof.

March 20: The big 2-0 will be a sad day, talking about my chronic struggles with depression, anxiety, and thinking in ways that are not recognizable to some people.

Out Like a Lamb: Day 6: Gender? Who Has One? Me? Why?

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Whenever I talk about my relationship to womanhood, I am splintering. While I have embraced my identity as a woman, and believe that womanhood is in some sense deeply intertwined with how I experience the world, there are thorny questions still unresolved. Before I dive too deeply into the reasons why this might be the case, let us talk about why gender exists and where it comes from. Has it always been there, sleeping in our house like a resident, did it slip in unbeknownst to us, or did it steal the house from under our feet?

The way gender works has a lot in common with how naming works, at least in a modern North American setting. And it might be easier to comprehend gender through an analogy with naming, so I’ll begin there before moving into more treacherous and confusing territory. Why do we have names? Well, names have different uses for different people. For most of European history, most people didn’t really have surnames, and would have been named different things throughout their lives, adopting, earning, and dropping names as they aged. Your name was often tied to where you lived or who your father was, and in a highly localized context that was all that mattered because everyone knew each other personally.

You could say “Teresa from the red house” and everyone you met on a day-to-day basis would know exactly who you meant. Now, when the taxman comes knocking on your door to do an assessment or collect what’s due, that kind of naming system just isn’t very convenient. What if Teresa moves into a green house, or a famine forces her to move to a neighbouring region? At that point, if her tax records were all put down as “Teresa from the red house at such-and-such corner” the tax agency would have no way of tracking that person except by asking around and doing all kinds of research that aren’t good for the state’s bottom line.

So the state starts giving everyone surnames and fixes your name in stone. Eventually, you are just given a name at birth, registered with a certificate, and that’s who you are barring some kind of legal intervention. The authorities, in order to govern you, have to know who you are regardless of where you live. Curiously, or not-so-curiously, birth certificates contain another precious bit of information that’s crucial for trans and cis people alike. That would, of course, be a gender marker. M or F, typically. (This is why renaming ourselves, for trans people, is so vital, and way of not just of shaking off our old gender but of choosing who we want to be in a broader sense!)

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Every human being born under the eyes of some official––whether a doctor or someone else acting in that role––gets categorized according to their gender. This act is, ultimately, one that is designed to sort people into recognizable populations that can be governed. In this case, gender is a system that’s intimately tied into what we can call “sex,” or the “physical” aspects of being gendered. No one has any say in their gender when they’re born. Your name is put on a form and, until you have legal agency, you must comply at least somewhat with that designation. A designation that was put in place purely on the basis of what kind of reproductive organs doctors and parents think that you have. Vulvas are for girls, penises for boys, roughly speaking. Even putting aside that there are a huge number of people who don’t have physiologies that work so “neatly”––namely intersex people––when we understand that gendering and sexing at birth are coercive, customary practices aimed primarily at regulating bodies and what they can/can’t do, making people superficially “easier” to manage, and that even now many people revolt against this system and have questioned it, we have to realize that it has no heart, no essence.

And as for those who are unlucky enough to either be assigned or choose womanhood or a nonbinary identity, the results are a higher chance of being marginalized, being paid less, saddled with extra work in the home, etc. etc. So our destinies are projected outward for us, at least partly, at birth. You can read the genitals of an infant child like the stars of the astrologer. What do these constellations of body parts tell us? It tells us what kinds of clothing “she” will wear, what kinds of jobs “he” will be encouraged to enter into. And on and on and on. It’s a con, one that’s all the more effective for being, to my view at least, absurd from a humane and ecological point of view.

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Gender, in other words, is something that, at the outset at least, happens to you. It’s only later, after being raised as a girl or boy, with your future already mapped for you despite you being, you know, a child, that you begin to inhabit this role more consciously. Many people reject this gendering process at a young age, while others only recognize that gender has happened to them later. I inhabited a particular role for almost two decades before shaking it off and realizing that I had no attachments to it that weren’t black and toxic. Like a poison, I vomited up all the bile and sick of “manhood.”It is simply incompatible with my being.

I believe that this con, this system of labeling and divining as if by magic the futures of children based on our genitals, is fundamentally destructive. And yet I still embrace womanhood as my safe haven. This is a contradiction I am of course aware of and uncomfortable with. My nonbinary friends and comrades have another nettlesome problem to deal with, searching for forms of being that escape the usual binary ways of thinking about men and women. So I hold my gender gingerly, aware that my life can twist and change in many ways. The future is still uncertain. I do know, however, that gender as a system, as a way of regulating people’s bodies and their behaviour, has to go. Even men, though especially those who are not men and those whose gender is marked with racial discriminations or class oppression (gender is always a colonial system as well as a regulatory one), suffer under it. I can’t untangle all of this confusion right now, but I hope that my own life can be a source of hope for other young people who see the con for what it is. Despite all my failings, I want to be a light others can share in.

The next three days of posts will be:

March 17: Reflections on how I’m treated by and seen by classmates, professors, and university administration.

March 18: The bizarro world that is how I’m seen by the state and how I navigate situations where I need official ID, etc.

March 19: A happy post about my pride in being myself and in being in community with others like me.

Out Like a Lamb: Day 5: Putting the Me in Media

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Most media does not agree with me. I don’t scorn anyone’s cheap pleasures, but the reality of mass media today is dire. Even as we’re saturated with media, distracted on all ends––not always badly, mind––the vast majority of what we consume is boring stuff made to pad a bottom line. The dreamlike, idiosyncratic quality of most art makes it especially allergic to commercialization. Art made schematically, mediated according to a dozen whims sighing in their boardrooms…this is what I’m talking about. And this form of media, the well-endowed bastions of television, mainstream online video, film, the lot, are starting to discover transgender people. Or so many fan sites would have me believe.

I won’t lie. For most of the history of mass art, transgender people––or gender nonconforming people in general, often not recognized as trans or otherwise summoned from straight and cis fantasias–– have been open season for the comic and easy fetish material for dramatists. Yes, it’s impossible to encapsulate the trans experience (TM) in any one work of art, if you even believe such an experience exists (and if it did, it would be terribly lonely). But for the most part, there aren’t even bits or artifacts of truth in these uncanny marionettes. Speaking for myself, the most tiring bit players cis people trot out are the Trap and the Sacrificial Lamb. Visions of either comic/violent deception or endless, graphic suffering seem to be of some comfort to straight and cis audiences. I don’t find any pleasure in these tropes, though, in particular because they appear far more often than more sensitive or complex portraits.

Even then, trans people hold almost no decision-making roles in the media machine––at least of any consequence. So while I certainly appreciate the fact that tastemakers try to make their trans characters more palatable and, dare I say it, recognizable as fictional representations, I am not excited. In a sense, the Hollywood machine has only, haltingly and fitfully, started to process and portray avowedly trans bodies in a legible, recognizable way. For the purposes of extracting money from audiences no doubt full of sympathizers and well-meaning cis people who see these films and TV shows as “quite educational, thanks.”

Therefore, when I walk into a movie theatre or engage with other forms of media, I am hyperattentive for hints and innuendo. There is a strong trans fan community for The Legend of Zelda, for instance, that has grappled onto the blank neutrality of the character of Link, transforming them into an unofficial transgender icon. These are, to some extent, expression of powerlessness, since nearly all mainstream, well-known characters were not intended to be trans. We have, therefore, gotten skilled at scavenging and subverting cis peoples’ intentions, learning to treat canon lightly and refashion as we please. This somewhat anarchic approach to continuity and intent can have some chaotic effects on “fandom,” generating heated fights once in awhile, but I take it in stride. It’s far preferable to the monolithic manufacture culture of hype and obsession that characterizes modern mainstream fandom.

In the end, I had a difficult time deciphering my general impressions of how I experience media. It’s mostly a vaguely defined blotch of “meh.” Even acknowledging the desperate state of most media today (despite the proliferation of outlets and distribution platforms), I do get a great deal of enjoyment from film, games, TV, and books. But it’s hard not to be jaded right now, especially at this hour. Excuse me, it’s time to wax poetic about Night in the Woods.

P.S. Night in the Woods reflections and ranting will be here soon!

The next three days of entries will be:

March 16: How I feel alienated from gender, and how it’s difficult to define an experience of being a certain gender for me.

March 17: My relationship to academic, my professors, and some classmates. Could get sharp, we’ll see.

March 18: How I’m seen by the state, my fear of crossing borders and going into state buildings.

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