The Soul of History: Breaking the Silence of Biography

This post was originally going to appear on Nuclear Unicorn first, but evolved into something written for Questioning Transphobia very quickly. Still, it has more than earned its place here and is part of the project of confession and catharsis that “The Daughter Also Rises” began, in the hopes of telling a true trans story- my trans story- and illuminating just how complicated this whole thing is. Enjoy!

I was not so happy as I looked in the pictures on my parents’ walls. It was something that resonated with me as I read a beautiful, radical poem by Jo Carillo ‘And When You Leave, Take Your Pictures With You’ which used as a leitmotif pictures of Latinas working under the sun that might hang in the livingroom of a blanquita radfem. Like so many things in the anthology- This Bridge Called My Back- that poem is immortalised in, it made me think, not just about its own very important subject which is, alas, an all too salient issue even today… but about the pictures that were once on my wall too.

They were windows into a very particular past, a past that is assuredly a minefield on multiple levels. Much has been said, including on the pages of Questioning Transphobia itself, about those pictures. How they can oppress, or how they can liberate. It vexed me because as a budding sociologist I’m easily entranced by questions of meaning, and constantly working upon my mind was a need to decipher the meanings of those pictures in my own life. Not just the meanings of the photographs themselves, but what they represented.

And to begin the, perhaps necessary, use of ten guinea words in this piece; what the past those pictures evoked could say about my subjectivity.

What it means to be trans is one of those existential questions that excites and puzzles as surely as other such questions about the categories of human existence, the lines drawn in flesh that mark us off as one thing or the other. In the more evolved discourses of identity politics and its modern intersectional incarnations, there is an understanding that being trans carries with it a certain experience, a certain perspective on the world that only trans people have.

Certainly the vagaries of this can be disputed but one question that I’ve had and felt very troubled in answering is this one: Is my lived experience as someone who was forced to be male part of my subjectivity?

Let me be clearer still: I was never a man, no, but I lived as a male per the directions and encouragement of every social actor in my life up until the age of 21. In moving through the world in that utterly ill fitting skin, that imposed disguise whose existence tantilised the very edges of my conscious mind, I still ended up seeing things a certain way and being made to undertake certain actions, think certain thoughts. Such for me provides rich perspective, and informs my participation in discourses on misogyny. But can I talk about what that meant for me and what it felt like? What the specific experience was for me as a young trans girl- a woman forced in very deep ways to put on what society deemed a male persona? Can I say that this taught me something about male privilege or provided me with some perspective on what being a young man might be like?

Not without siring a world of trouble, that much is for sure.

I cannot speak about my past and lend a voice to those pictures that were once on my wall. I was not living as I wanted then, I was indeed battered into silence- sometimes quite literally- and I did not yet fully understand the essence of who I was.

But I was a person back then too, goddamnit. I lived. I breathed. I experienced life. I saw things. Felt things. Oh Goddess, the things I felt.

Transition is not going through life as a passive, unreceptive automaton until a switch is flipped and suddenly “YAY I’M A WOMAN/MAN!” and then suddenly all comes to life and now you live a life worth documenting and recounting. I was a person then too, in all those long, interminable years before transition. I was Quinnae-in-waiting, in a sense, but I was also Quinnae-in-progress. Despite this reality, this unshakeable duality, these contradictions held together by the insistent fact of my existence, I still feel immense fear speaking about my past with authority.

It’s a legitimate fear we’ve all felt, of course. We fear the slings and arrows that can come from any direction- from family, from radical feminists, from conservatives, from MRAs, and any number of people anywhere that might be invested in attacking our identities. We fear, with good reason, that the minute we say in a discussion “I used to live as a man/woman” that we remind people of a spectre we had hoped to banish, remind them that we are different- and in a way that often unsettles cis people. We fear we may shatter the selves that we have worked so tirelessly to build, shedding blood to make whole because we place before our potential tormentors the irresistible red meat of discussing a gendered experience as our assigned-gender, rather than who we really are.

We are often silenced because of this, and inhibited on speaking to the immense complexity of transgender experience. We fear that speaking of our pasts will court that tiny but vocal claque of radical feminists who will simply go “Aha! You DID have male privilege! We win! We win!” We fear people’s inevitable confusion and their bigotry. All with good reason.

In a recent article, Lisa spoke of the acceptable narratives of trans-ness, with a focus on the element of the acceptable liberal narrative that holds we are totally and forever happy after transition, the end. What I will focus on here is what comes before that, the hegemonic discourse surrounding pre-transition life. It is, in short, that everything is bad and terrible because you are “trapped in the wrong body” and waiting for deliverance as you sit in a swirling vortex of darkness. To a large extent this is true in its way- who among us does not remember deep depression and self loathing? I had suicidal ideations, virtually no will to live, and by the time I hit 20 my energy to do anything productive or meaningful had at last become the latest casualty to the dysphoria.

But the problem with the dominant narrative is that it tacitly insists that that’s all there is to pre-transition life, and my story was always more complicated. Talking about that isn’t easy because it upsets the prefabricated story that most cis people have about us, even when they want to be supportive, sympathetic, and mean well. The “trapped in the wrong body” cliché sums it up very aptly. The perception is one of a binary switch and also part of the same he/she media trope that bedevils so much ‘journalism’ about us (wherein the wrong pronoun will be used to refer to the trans person in past tense while the correct one is reserved for the present, post-transition person, which speaks volumes about how we are seen).

Perceptions of transition presume that you are exactly like a cis person in every way until one day you wake up and decide you want a sex change and BOOM, now you’re a man or woman. But the fundamental truth, as we all know, that our personal biographies are much more unified and complex than that.

I didn’t play with dolls when I was little, not because I felt like I couldn’t, but because Lego was fucking awesome. On my bookshelf right now, just above my copies of Whipping Girl, Women, Race & Class, and Gender Trouble, is a huge Lego starship I made and have carefully preserved. I was raised on and still adore video games. When I was a wee tyke I’d always get excited at seeing monster truck rallies on TV (my favourite was Bigfoot). To the cis observer, I didn’t fit the stereotype of the insistent five year old demanding the stereotypical trappings of femininity. But it didn’t change the dysphoria I would feel. So I was a bit of a tomboy growing up; doesn’t mean I’m any less of a woman for it.

That’s the other problem with the hegemonic cis narrative- it forces trans men and trans women (and excludes genderqueer folk, naturally) into a highly gender stereotyped fable… and then turns around and blames us for reinforcing their gender binary.

What I would experience as a trans girl was distinct to being me-who-is-trans, if that makes any sense. It’s my story and is not The Transgender Experience, but it is an experience of transness. What happened to me was that many parts of myself began to pull at me mercilessly as though my soul were being drawn and quartered. I fought against my gender socialisation as much as I felt compelled by it. This lead to contradictory postures in high school. I understood and fought against rape-apologism at age 16, earning the admiration of many female classmates, but also ended up employing entitled views about women. I became what I would come to loathe the most, a Nice Guy ™. All of this informs how I see gender politics today because, among other things, I feel I can testify to the fact that I saw certain gendered phenomena from the inside and could say with the kind of confidence that comes with that kind of knowing how remarkably troubling and disturbing it is.

Yet the reason I reject a simple male privilege analysis is because what I experienced as a trans girl is quite simply not really the same as what a cis boy might have. I internalised enough to act out some male socialisation, yes, but that has its own very distinct consequences that imbricate with the issues of potential privilege. It’s that male gender socialisation makes you utterly despise yourself as a woman, loathe who you feel you are deep inside, and worst of all compel you into a kind of ritual debasement that is a special form of torture: objectifying yourself. I strained so hard to accept I could have female role models and want who they were, their strength, their passion, their intelligence, and in some cases, yes, their fashion sense. But relentless pounding from my father, my peers, the media, all made me feel there was only one acceptable avenue for admiring women and femininity: sexual attraction.

I can’t begin to describe how that fucks you up as a woman. There are no sesquipedalian words for this, no academic prettifications I can conjure to lessen the blow of how intense I mean that to sound. It is deep and it is troubling; its enactment profoundly deepened my self-loathing and was part of what ultimately sent me spirialling downward. I owned nothing about myself, my dreams, my sexuality, nothing.

Talking about that is difficult, not just because of the shame I still feel sometimes, but because I fear that it will lead people to armchair psychoanalysis. More than a few right wing types and “men’s rights activists” have claimed trans women are just self hating men who mutilate themselves. That line of bigotry also has a silencing effect, because in talking fully and faithfully about my past I need to be able to say that acting out such and such male socialisation was like inflicting wounds on myself daily. It was deeply ingrained self hate and I need to explain a lot about my pre-transition subjectivity in order to fully explain that. I have to remind you of my past, and entreat you to step into that picture that once hung on my wall.

I also have to navigate the unyielding and craggy shoals of transgender politics. The perpetual fear of “making us look bad” stalks my mind, as I’m sure it dogs many of us here. I fear sometimes that if I say “when I was forced to live as a man, I didn’t get harassed in the street; now my life is completely different and my relationship with the outdoors is fundamentally altered” I will earn the ire of those who demand I stick to The Narrative for the good of the community and not try to give voice to my past self because it will just confuse people and undermine my identity. I don’t fully blame other trans people for doing this; the fears are very real, unfortunately. Part of the appeal of The Narrative is that it’s simple and easy to remember. It could probably fit into a limerick I don’t have the patience to think up right now.

But the fact is that we’re far more complicated- like any human being might be. That’s not good for a bumper sticker, but it is reality. As the comments here demonstrate there are a multiplicity of transgender perspectives and experiences. Being trans is a bodily experience too, and yet even that differs. When I stand up and say that I never felt ‘trapped’ by my body, will someone think I’m making us look bad or confusing people? What might people think if I tell them that for me changing my name was far more important to me than anything about my genitals? That it was less my penis and more things like my name that clawed at me and made me feel empty inside, defined by others but not by myself.

How might I describe that? I might put it in the terms I put it to a cis friend of mine who listened rapt:

“In the past, when I wrote my name or signed it, it felt as perfunctory and connected to me as a serial number. An assigned thing that signified this entity known as “me” but had no connection to my soul otherwise. It was just a thing for a form.”

She is enthralled by this and ‘gets it’ more than many cis people do. Yet I’d fear saying this to a broad audience, I would fear leaving myself to misinterpretation. The fear of that, of doing wrong by the trans people I love, silences me oftentimes. Yet I still try, on my blog and in comments sprinkled here and there, to say ‘this is my experience’- and I have found many people who, much to my surprise and pleasure, seemed to understand and welcome the complications I added to the transgender stories they had heard.

The real power of this, however, is in the person I will never forget, who read a blog post I wrote where I spoke of the tomboyish aspects of my youth and how I didn’t fit the stifling “classic transsexual” narrative that is so often repeated in news outlets right around the world. She came out after reading it because she at last felt she wasn’t alone in having that unique childhood. She didn’t play with mum’s dresses and high heels either, but she is no less a trans woman. It makes you wonder how many more of us suffer in silence and are having their pain prolonged by that ciscentric, cis-friendly narrative of transition that leaves them feeling “not trans enough” to save their lives.

I know in some way, we have to start breaking this vow of silence. How, I don’t know. But I feel like the answers lie in those pictures. I wasn’t as happy as I looked in them, no.

But nevertheless that was a woman and a human being.




Author’s Note: Some of the flourishes at the beginning and especially the end of this piece owe themselves to Jo Carillo’s beautiful poetry, which I sorely wish I could have linked in this article. As I came to accept myself as Latina I wanted to elevate these voices and add their textures to my contributions to trans discourse, but I want there to be no mistake about who they belong to.

State of the ‘Corn, Update!

Brief posts on this site are very much like unicorns. Rare, nigh on mythical beasts whose appearance occasions the weavings of stories to be told to your mates over a few drinks.

Anyway, what’s this post about? Well as some of you may have noticed my most recent blog posts have been me reposting classwork, albeit with commentary. Fully original articles will be returning soon, however. But the other reason my creative energies have been a wee bit absorbed has been because I’ve been taken on as a writer at Border House where I’ve recently published a few things. Their editor liked a piece that originally appeared here (my ‘World of Warshaft’ one, about Blizzard and their rather flighty relationship with the concept of privacy) and I’ve been taken on as a staff writer.

If you’re interested, my two most recent articles can be found here:

  • Ain’t I a Gamer?, about the issues surrounding the invisibility of women in gaming spaces and the subconsciously perpetuated ideas that entrench that lack of visibility.
  • Problematically In The Voice of a Night Elf Woman, which is an introspective piece about how I felt returning to World of Warcraft post-transition. This piece may also appear elsewhere on the Internets, so stay tuned.

My attention is split many ways lately, and as the articles point out, yes I’m finally back in WoW (caricature of me with Night Elf ears is forthcoming) but I’m trying to do something much more productive with that this time, and that’s why I’m writing about it and applying the many things I’ve learned over the last couple of years to it.

Feminism and I

In my recent writings I have taken great pains to criticise elements of feminism that I believe are failing the women this movement purports to serve. I stand by those challenges and will repeat them so long as there is need for them.

But I should also dedicate this space to my own robust support for the ideals that undergird feminism and there is no better place to begin with an introductory question: what does feminism mean to me? What follows is my answer to this question, a modified version of which appeared on Reddit in a thread of the same name.

I will not simply trot out the radical cliches about how “feminism is the belief that women are people” and it would take only a few seconds for an observer to note that I most definitely believe in equal opportunity and equality between the sexes. These two statements, for me, go without saying. The deeper definitions for me have more to do with the following: love and respect for yourself as a woman and a willingness to confront unfairness.

But Feminism is, above all, the standard to which I repair.

When times are at their hardest, it lends me strength. It lent me strength for much of my life, even when I did not think it my own. It gave me an enormous amount of courage, the strength to not hate myself for wanting to be a woman, the strength to see something positive and worthwhile in it, and the strength to face transmisogyny; strength I didn’t know I had.

Because above all else it is the term ‘repair’ that matters most. Feminism gave me the strength to not simply sit down and shut up or hide in a dark corner, but to forcefully assert my dignity, rights, and right to exist. It gave me the ability to repair my strength when it was left mercilessly battered and tested.

When I came out it gave me the strength to stand up to my father, who groped me and demanded to see my underwear. The strength to know this was not only wrong, but why it was happening.

It gave me the strength to stand up to radical feminists who said I had no place in the movement, and to find the courage to never doubt my own womanhood.

But it’s not just about my own life. My mother is not a self identified feminist, yet in making certain things clear to her she began to realise she had a right to self respect as a woman. She began to wake up and see that no, it wasn’t okay for her husband to withhold medication from her in exchange for sex or to dismissively tell her to take a cab on a night she needed an ambulance, it wasn’t okay to force himself on her the night before her father’s funeral after she said no dozens of times, it wasn’t justified or excusable that he used to hit her, it wasn’t right that he constantly put her down, it wasn’t hers to accept her role in his deluded fantasy…

To many men, especially, it is hard to see why it would take something like feminism to get someone to realise those basic and essential things. Well, that’s why it’s still very necessary. Because even in this day and age it is so easy to beat a woman down into self-loathing hopelessness.

That is why I say that feminism is not Michfest. It is more than a building, or a convention, or a sign, or a Women’s Studies Department. It must be that place where you discover it’s okay to have dignity. It must be the ideal that equality is more than a word, or an airy thought, but a reality that you can live.

It’s about more than material political battles, it’s about the battles you fight in your own life.

It is about developing the habit of freedom.

It’s the battle one of my closest friends fought to find self worth as a mother after spending several years in sex work just to raise her child and pay for medical treatment. It’s the battle another friend had to accept that she could be into BDSM. It’s the battle my mother’s still fighting to find the strength to divorce herself from a man who controls all of her savings. It’s the battle my trans women sisters fight every day to see themselves as people of worth, in a society that dumps on them twice as hard because they are women. It’s about the time I launched myself out of my chair to condemn a man speaking to my classmates with pride about how he kicked his pregnant daughter to the curb, with the child of her rapist, because she was a ‘slut.’

This is more than politics, it’s more than a gathering of opinions; it’s my life, and the lives of the people I love.

That’s why I identify outside of the wave system. The whole Third Wave et al. series of designations is useful academically but I do not like to box myself into one mode of feminist thinking. I let my experience, learning, critical thought and observations inform what I believe.

Because as I said, feminism is more than anything tangible; more than something that can be corralled in the neatest of confines.

In all of this is my rejoinder to the ceaseless and witless suggestions about “equalism”. Those experiences are why a separate word is needed. But I am an equalist too. Feminism is about standing up for yourself as a woman, in addition to equalism and humanism.

It is the standard I hold proudly, and I’ll never let it go.

Castles in the Air

In the many debates I’ve had about the truth of my existence the question of whether one can ever truly be trans is a pressing one. How do you know you’re a woman? What does this mean about gender? Does the fact of my existence better support biological essentialism or the theories of social constructionism? Thus it is that again my life is reduced to someone else’s ideological pawn. Must I validate anything by existing? Other than the already obvious fact of human diversity, of course. But nestled in this tangled mess is the burden of my own past, which I’ve recounted in some sketchy detail here recently.

How to see it and how to understand it is an ever pressing question, the answer to which evolves over time. How we reinterpret our biographies is part of how we live our lives and how we measure its progress, in a way. One is often considered mature when they can look back on the relative immaturity of their younger years- a time when they were sure they were absolutely right. So what do I see when I look back on those days when I was younger and when I was still struggling to know myself?

Pivoting off of this thought provoking post over at Sugar and Slugs I thought its particular timeliness in the wake of Daughter Also Rises (Part I, Part II) meant this would be a good time to re-examine some of what I said.

I was impressed most of all by the fundamental honesty of her post and I think it touches on a fundamental question that dogs us all, not just trans people:

How do we know what we know?

The sociology of knowledge, such as it is in its very theoretical and airy form, exists to try and answer this question and is generally at the basis of what we know as social constructionism. This was best epitomised by the groundbreaking text The Social Construction of Reality by Thomas Luckmann and Peter Berger that, while dense as a brick and an extraordinarily wonky read,  is nevertheless worth considering. We do, to a great extent, invent our knowledge. Male and female are loose biological concepts that have been reified into socially constructed genders and identities. That is to say that the gender expressions of males and females and all who exist outside of that binary have at least some societal grounding. What we consider the ‘trappings’ of male and female are socially determined.

But then other things come into it. Why, for example, would I find such peace from taking hormones if biology didn’t somehow become part of the mix? There are many interlacing layers of complexity to be found here.

But that aside, what we understand as gender has a largely socially constructed definition that is reified by the existence of what a layperson sees as two mutually exclusive sexes (and I say ‘layperson’ because biologically speaking things get considerably more complicated than that). Thus all of that said, how do I know I’m a woman?

I just know. How can I describe how this feels? I really cannot imagine the alternative any longer and with each passing day I feel more and more at home.

This raises another question, however. This life is a hard one, one that is complicated by the many externalities of womanhood in a patriarchal society. The latter creates a welter of problems before one even gets to the part about being trans. Some particularly dense radical feminists ask why on earth one would want to be a woman in this society with all the problems we face, when one was born with a one way ticket into Male Privilege. Why indeed.

The answer lies back in World of Warcraft.

One of the details I ought not to have skipped over in my telling of that story and which I may edit in later was how I handled my first Bad Female Experiences. I was flirted with, even against my expressed wishes, stalked, had photos demanded of me, heard and rolled my eyes at innumerable sexist jokes, and so forth. The first two were especially bad. A lot of people tend to blur the lines between fantasy and reality in these games and more than one person who I roleplayed with, even for just the briefest of times, felt we had “a moment” and sought to declare their undying affection for me.

My stalker felt very much the same and he was quite determined to be my betrothed, regaling me with tales of how I’d lay against his bare chest while he played the guitar and held roses. I’m honestly a bit unclear on how that might’ve worked physically. This was something wholly new to me that I had not really experienced at all in high school. Suddenly I was surrounded by men who wouldn’t take no for an answer, who felt entitled to my time and attention, who stalked me, and who underestimated my capabilities.

Did this suck big time? Absolutely. But something else happened in that crucible. I found the strength to fight it. I certainly didn’t enjoy being treated like a woman in this respect, but I found a sense of pride in standing up for my dignity against it. When I lived as a male I didn’t ever really want to stand up for myself. I never had the energy or desire to do so. Even though I came under fire as a woman, I found I had the sense of pride I needed to find dignity in battle, so to speak.

This is not to spin my WoW experience as some kind vortex of misogynist misery; in my two years there I had some great times and met some absolutely wonderful people, men and women alike, who treated me as a friend and comrade. Suffice it to say, we kicked the arse of many a raid boss together. But the gendered experiences were instructive. When men foisted gifts upon me in thoroughly unwarranted contexts I felt hopelessly put upon and burdened. But I also found the strength to not indulge in the commodity model they were buying into; I knew I owed them no attention of any sort, least of all sexual, and learned to not feel pressured into accepting unwanted gifts or advances.

In summary, being a woman has its problems but I had the strength to deal with those challenges, drawing on a well of dignity that was somehow unavailable when I was struggling to be a male in society.

Sugar and Slugs makes an interesting point here:

“If womanhood comes, as many transsexuals seem to believe, from some kind of internal knowing (which itself seems like a form of mental essentialism), I have no way to know that my experience of “knowing” that I am a woman is the same as the “knowing” that other people experience. It’s nonverifiable.”

It seems like a wash but I can answer it, I feel. How we know ourselves, as individuals, and then vis a vis our various group associations, is an individuated self-knowing that is likely as vicissitudinal and unique as a fingerprint. So, naturally, my self knowing as a woman is different from my female best friend’s self knowing, which is different from my mother’s self-knowing and so on.

Thus while my self knowledge is unique, it is not invalid.

That knowledge is coloured by experience and how we grow into ourselves. Some of it is self knowledge based on our physical form, and the distinctive ways that hormones can interact with our brains, as well as consciousness of our particular social location in the broader world.

“If, on the other hand, we take a stance that “existence precedes essence”, and that as Simon de Beauvoir wrote, “one is not born a woman, but becomes one”, we can see womanhood as something that arises from the form and capabilities of the adult female body and the way in which that person is treated by the wider world.”

Thus this becomes a part of self knowledge for some, if not self knowledge en toto.

How do we draw the line that bifurcates essence and its prototypical ‘existence’? We cannot. Aside from simply being unable to know the consciousness of another person, we also have to account for individual variance. Shared experience is not analogous to identical experience. Thus how we see our individual womanhoods (or manhoods, or other identities as the case may be) depends on who we are as individuals based on a very diverse matrix of individual stimuli, variables, and experiences.

In my own case when I look back on my childhood and my teen years I know that I was not fully a girl, and that particularly in many of my interactions at school and in the outside world I was socially located as a male with the many things that implies. But I also know that I was not fully a boy in any sense. I was someplace that was less easily categorised. The rise of my own feminine essence, to use de Beauvoir’s term, can probably be traced back to my tentative steps into gaming.

Was I not a female before that? My self-understanding says that I was, just heavily repressed. I have no way of proving this, naturally, but that’s what it seemed to feel like. The reason I can’t prove it is a very simple one.

Womanhood isn’t any one thing.

I’d have to say I was a woman because I did or didn’t do x, y, and z. That makes no sense whatsoever and is incredibly reductive. The constituent parts of my experience, taken by themselves, and compartmentalised into bullet points, do not amount to a definition of womanhood, any more than a brick adds up to the Empire State Building. But taken together and arranged in a certain way, all those experiences I delineated, great and small, added up to something I understand as womanhood.

It would be wrong to say that just because I played female characters in video games or tried on my mother’s clothes, I’m therefore a woman. Those are just building blocks of my tower of womanhood, so to speak. Essential parts, but mere parts all the same.

In short, I was not a cis girl growing up, no. But neither was I a cis boy. I had what best approximates as a trans girl’s childhood. One of a million different kinds but a distinctive experience all the same, during which one internalises the mores and ideals of a patriarchal society and during which one can build up the same amount of baggage many cis girls have to unpack by the time they hit 20.

Constantly being told to be insecure, to hate yourself, to see yourself as less; to see yourself as less beautiful, less capable, in need of constant improvement conveniently provided in small doses by expensive products, on and on. How many times did I watch television or some movie and wonder why it was always “the hero gets the girl” and not the other way around, or wonder why every even remotely independent woman had to get hitched to a man as part of the boilerplate “happy ending”?

Figuring all of that nonsense out actually took years of slow and steady intellectual growth. It was on my road to feminism that I began to discover this, and on this path I’d begin to unravel what was within me as well.

Nebulous Persona is fundamentally correct that we have no solid, firm, incontrovertible proof of our womanhood (and presumably trans men of their manhood, or nonbinary people of their identities) at least in terms of something that could be written and considered as inerrant and objective as a physics formula. But then… neither does anyone about any of their identities or self-understanding.

No matter what I or anyone else says, I know those who are convinced that I’m somehow disturbed or evil will continue to see me as such. I’m quite sure that any fundamentalist, MRA, extremist feminist, or general, run of the mill hater will read my story and ‘pick holes’ in it. I cannot convince these people of my identity in any rational, logical, or Socratic sense. There’s just an element of decency that many people have which allows them to take a leap of faith and understand the personal truth of my womanhood, to understand what I mean when I tell my story to them, the way many of my mother’s relatives seem to ‘get it’ more or less.

But they do not do what they do because they were presented with a flawless argument.

Such attention is paid to trans people, and such harsh absolutist questions (“How do you know who you are!?”) are asked because who we are still seems to upset a great many taboos. Yet we all, each of us, somehow upset the templates laid out for us at birth. In some little way, we stand out and engage in our own unconscious acts of rebellion. Why? Is there a test that confirms some cosmic veracity of one person’s taste in fashion, for example?

Of course not. Nor will there ever be. Why should there be?

Why should my rights depend on such? It is one of the reasons why I consider the growing body of research into homosexuality to be academically useful but politically flawed. Why should it matter if it can be biologically ‘proven’ or not? Our democracies defend the choice of religion- no one argues that Christians needed to have ‘Christ-like DNA’ before they were accorded protections under our laws. No one argues that political speech must have a biological origin before we bestow the blessings of liberty upon it. So why do I have to prove myself in that way, with anything other than what I feel is my own lived experience? The obvious answers of heteronormative and cisnormative social standards leap to mind, of course.

Thus it is that while I consider these questions to be useful to consider from various academic and theoretical standpoints, I feel that they above all constitute castles in the air. To whatever extent they are solid and tangible, they’re far out of reach, occupying an almost mythical space in our collective conscience.

When I was a wee one I loved The Phantom Tollbooth and it remains my favourite children’s story. Few tales were such an elegant celebration of education and knowledge.  Toward the end Milo ascended to the beautiful Castle in the Air, high above the Mountains of Ignorance, where the exiled twin queens of Rhyme and Reason were locked away, and freed them that their wisdom might again reign over the land. To my mind, on this subject and quite a few others, we could do a lot worse than to become Milo and spring Rhyme and Reason from these aerial castles of ‘proving one’s gender.’

How do I know I exist?

Because I am here.

The Daughter Also Rises, Episode II and III

(Parental Advisory: This post discusses penises and sex. Please dismiss all children and small animals from the room and fill out your form letter to Focus on the Family in advance to save yourself some time; cheers!)

This might just be one cliché all too many trans women of a certain age can relate to.

When I first saw the anime character Ranma my first thoughts were: “damn you to hell, you lucky bastard.” That was back in seventh grade. This is the part of the story where I tell you things you might have been expecting, where I tell you how I snuck into my mother’s closet every time my parents were out and tried on her clothes.

It’s also the part where I tell you that I had a strange sense of envy every time I saw a character on TV that somehow managed to change sex, and how even as I didn’t acknowledge myself I thought that was really cool. It’s the part where I tell you about the high school classmate who made me extremely jealous of him by coming to school dressed as a princess for Halloween.

A lot of that stuff is what fits into the more traditional narratives that cis people are likely to be familiar with.

Despite remembering little else about either the movie or the year in which I first saw it, the part of Ace Venutra: Pet Detective I most recall was the ending where the police lieutenant was shown to have a penis. The ‘jokes’ that followed, and indeed the gag that the revelation of Ms. Einhorn’s identity represented were quintessential transphobia. Yet I was fascinated by it. The same was true of the movies in which crossdressers and drag queens appeared, which were often bedevilled by bigotry and mockery.

If you’re a young trans woman growing up, do you think that’s going to fuck with your head? Just a little? Remember too that this is specifically on top of the broader female-oriented socialisation you’re already receiving which screws with how you perceive women and femininity in general.

Despite the fact that the characters in question were not designed to be sympathetic, however, I still liked them. I was fascinated by them and the fact that what they were doing was even possible, despite the fact that I was being taught each and every time that it made one an object of ridicule and derision. It isn’t fun to contemplate, especially when one feels so drawn to it. That was the only avenue presented to me, as it were. The only way I could do what I wanted and live the way I wanted was to put on a huge blonde wig and a tonne of makeup, it seemed, which was part of how I was denied my true self. Society seemed to say this was my only option. I was made to feel ashamed of any possibility of being trans, as well as made to feel ashamed of my womanhood.

It’s a curious feeling, envying Bugs Bunny for crossdressing. Even stranger to look at a young Eric Idle and envy him for looking pretty in women’s clothing.

The relationship of trans people to clothes is an intriguing one because it’s often the locus of a great deal of hatred against us. Trans women are endlessly vilified as “men in dresses” or “men who want to wear high heels and bras” and so forth. Our clothing is a symbol of a great many things, and oppression is one of them. But clothes also became the symbol of liberation to me. The very things I could not wear, could not do, couldn’t express myself with. If you’re a cis woman think about why you wear what you do. That’s the same reason I wanted to wear certain things. To express myself the way I wanted to.

I was under no misapprehension that clothing would make me a woman.

I also had no ‘fetish’ for them.

My awareness of my dysphoria didn’t light up until I was in my early teens, really. Why? Because honestly I was too busy when I was younger, escaping, building spaceships and cars and cities and Super Mario World and teaching earth sciences and conducting Beethoven’s Fifth and reconstructing the International Space Station from what were then artists conceptions. That’s why. I spent a decade escaping, already, and it wasn’t until I was around 12 or so that I came to realise what I was escaping from.

It began with raiding my mother’s closet and underwear drawer when my folks finally began to leave me at home alone. I’ll never forget my first proper outfit, a black button down blouse with a grey pencil skirt. I walked around the house thinking about how funny it felt to walk around in stockings. Despite being a tomboy a skirt had a certain allure because it was what was restricted from me, I was raised to think it was taboo to touch, much less wear, and as such these types of clothes were completely mysterious to me.

I marvelled at how they fit and liked how I looked in it. I looked at myself in the mirror for many days, weeks, and even years after imagining myself as a cis woman.

What most stands out in my mind was when I confessed this to my mother, out of guilt. The shame and intense self-loathing I felt was too pressing to ignore. I definitely knew by then I couldn’t ever, ever tell my father. I remember distinctly telling myself I’d take this secret to my grave in regards to dad. But mom? Perhaps she’d understand, perhaps she’d not be mad at me for doing this terrible thing. The bedroom was dark because she was watching television in it and I came in, crawled onto the bed and told her quietly, taking advantage of my father being out of the house.

I’ll never forget how she just stared forward, unblinking and unthinking and eventually just brushed it off, not saying much else. I wanted so bad for her to tell me that it was not only okay but normal. I wanted so bad for her to tell me that what I was feeling, what made me want to try on that blouse, was just part of growing up and nothing to feel ashamed about, whatever the TV might say. But the non answer she gave just lead me to mumble that I wouldn’t do it again and she sent me on my way. My mother, these days, feels a lot of guilt about that moment. She regrets sending me away like that, silencing that one oblique cry for help.

I don’t hate her for it, not at all. Today she’s one of my biggest supporters in all of this and she’s damned as hell proud of her daughter; I’m proud to call her my mother.

But back then, neither of us knew what was going on, and I was looking desperately, I realised, for someone in authority to tell me why the hell I was feeling like this. Most of all to tell me it was okay. Why I’d envy some anime character who turned into a woman if he stepped into cold water. Why I utterly despised getting my hair cut with a fiery and virulent passion.

High school, as I discussed last time, provided me with some clues to this rather intricate puzzle of identity.

But I still graduated without a whit of serious understanding concerning my situation.

The year 2004 proved to be a watershed in a variety of ways because it was a year of firsts and a year that represented my first tentative steps into real adulthood- and into an awareness that would prohibit me from ignoring the urgency of my womanhood any longer. 2004 was the year I met my first real girlfriend, the year I went abroad for the first time and visited Toronto, Canada, and the first time I had anything approximating sex.

I say approximating not because of my usual fetish for qualification but because I actually wouldn’t have coital intercourse until some time later. I had no desire to penetrate my then-girlfriend, something that saved us a mint on condoms, in retrospect. She was largely fine with this too. But the fact was that I felt no desire whatsoever to stick my cock into anything or anyone. I didn’t think that meant anything though something in the back of my mind dimly alerted me to the possibility that this wasn’t exactly a frequent occurrence among the male-bodied.

I didn’t feel like I missed anything, though. I still don’t. I have almost no desire in that direction, something that I learned the hard way years later after actually attempting coital sex.

What my ex-girlfriend taught me about myself as a person was much more profound, however. I came to realise both my own emotional immaturity and the fact that I was uncomfortable with the expectations placed on males in heterosexual relationships. It is no lie to say that when I was with her I felt the best when I was naked. Not because it meant we were having sex, but because I didn’t feel disguised by or hidden in my clothing. Through it all, she was a sweetheart; she didn’t burden me with anything and was very accommodating to my many flaws at the time. But I knew she was looking for something in me she wouldn’t find.

When she broke up with me I was left a gibbering mess owing to my aforementioned emotional immaturity and my lack of understanding of how romance was supposed to work. I was still labouring under the assumption that there was a rulebook somewhere and I’m not proud of the things I said or the asinine thoughts I indulged at the time. It was late 2004 and I was in the midst of completing my first semester at the University of Connecticut, wondering how I was going to carry on.

It felt that dire, I thought, because I needed some sort of romance in my life to live.

Childish, no?

Extremely so. Again I’m not proud and some of this hurts to write and commit to the Internet but I’m trying to paint a very particular picture here with more brushstrokes to come. I was 17 at the time, about to turn eighteen and I felt life was over because of a silly puppy love break up (dutifully splashed all over Livejournal. Bet you didn’t see that coming!)

I ought to have been past that, certainly, or at least understood that life went on and that I was still very young with all the time in the world. But there was a lot I had been sheltered from, both by my parents and by my own fears and anxieties. I was so sheltered that I didn’t realise my ex-girlfriend’s perfectly reasonable decision to break up with me was not the true cause of my problems. Being with her allowed me to put a sort of spackle over them that enabled me to make emotional ends meet at a vulnerable point in my life, but that was gone when she broke up with me.

She may well have saved my life in doing so, dare I say. It caused me to examine the serious emotional problems I was keeping under wraps, the problems that made me nearly fail my best classes, had me sleeping in until four or five in the afternoon and entertaining very dark fantasies involving my head and a shotgun.

Did she see any of this in me? Maybe. We broke up because of distance, chiefly. But it did shake me out of the reverie of denial I had luxuriated in for the prior six months.

Despite the fact that I was in college and living on my own, technically, there was a lot I hadn’t done. I had never arranged a doctor’s appointment on my own, never mailed something from the post office before, never shopped for clothes on my own before, never realised I was wearing my shoes a size too large, never realised I wasn’t in fact a medium in letter-sized clothes, didn’t take care of my own financial business with the school and with the federal government, had never went to a pharmacy to fill out my own prescription, didn’t know how to drive… The list went on.

That I had come as far as I had despite both a crushing vortex of naiveté and self loathing, as well as my own sheltered inexperience was remarkable in its own way. I graduated with honours from one of New York City’s best high schools, I won a scholarship to go to U Conn, and I was- from all outward appearances- on track to a successful life.

Yet all of the preceding was a sign that something was amiss in my life. I didn’t want to get up in the morning. Or the afternoon. I looked into my future and saw only either a void or me reflexively and perfunctorily discharging the duties of a life I didn’t want to lead.

Part III:

How did I tie all of this into womanhood?

The connection isn’t always easy to draw. A lot of this is based on feeling and the fact that I simply grew more passionate about life the more I accepted my womanhood.  I am quite confident that any raging transphobe or “sceptic” out there would read my words and walk away unconvinced that any of this has anything to do with a desire to transition.

Well, to hell with them. They’re not who this is for.

I can’t convince people I’m a woman anymore than my mother could convince someone she is by telling her life story vis a vis gender as best as she can phrase it. There is a point where her story is what it is and must be taken as such.

I do not believe womanhood is any one thing. I do not believe womanhood is something made by clothing or other accoutrements. I do not believe there is any right way to be a woman per se. There’s an element of self knowing that went into it and this story is about the dawning of that consciousness and that understanding.

It is about how I launched myself out of my chair when a preacher bragged to an audience I was a part about how he kicked his own daughter to the curb because she had been raped while wearing revealing clothing, even as she would learn she carried the rapist’s child. Even as a youth audience cheered for him I stood, darting out of my seat, for the shocked young women around me and voiced my anger at such hatred being passed off as a matter of pride. I did so yet again not only because it was the right thing to do but because it tugged at my very dignity. I felt a sense of empathy and kinship with a young woman who I’d never met and whose face I’d never see.

In many ways my journeys to both feminism and womanhood are intertwined, each wrapped around the other like a double helix.

When I first stood up to my father as he verbally abused my mother and treated her more like a child than a partner, I felt the same sense of dignity. The same was true when I lectured him about teaching my little brother to catcall at women from the car. As I got older my father realised that I was slipping out of his control and influence. Our arguments about women’s rights became more frequent and more personal as I reminded him of his abuses of my mother. As I went on another withering speech against him on some forgotten day a few years ago he interrupted me as he so often did and asked me:

“Are you a woman?”

He would often ask me this angrily, as he thought men had no right to advocate for women.

Yet every time, since that first day he asked me that, I always wanted to scream “YES!” Without fail, that crying affirmation sang through my thoughts each time that question was asked of me. It was personal for me, not just because I was fighting for my mother, but because it was just plain personal.

Even during high school I had these fights with my father and even then he began to question my sexuality. He thought I was gay. He caught me shaving my armpits once and lamented the fact that I never, ever stood up to pee. I still don’t know if it was a ‘sign’ or not, that. It just felt more comfortable and less messy. You have to admit, sitting on the toilet can be pretty relaxing.

But all of this set the stage for 2005.

I would quit UConn and return to New York City in the hopes of rebuilding my life at a local college. Why? Well because I thought I had found the reason for my depression: the campus. I thought going to school in rural Connecticut was a major downer for someone who was a city girl at heart and that going home would fix everything. I ignored the fact that my depression, among other things, could trace their roots back to my years in middle and high school.

2005 was the year that I discovered Neverwinter Nights and with it, Dungeons and Dragons.

On August 30th of that year I joined a player run roleplaying server and stepped for the first time into the messy and cacophonous world of online roleplaying games. I had been brought there by a pair of friends who, knowing that I loved to play female characters, asked me to roll one so I could RP as the daughter of one of their characters; I felt flattered and eager to try my hand at this world.

So it was I stepped into a rabbit hole that I haven’t quite found my way out of yet.

This only reinforced my sense of contentment in playing female characters. Not only did I get to simply play as one, I got to truly roleplay as one and act in society as a female, both in character and out of character. I was introduced to a myriad of new sensations in this. One was the fact that many people were surprised to discover I was “male” (as at the time, the ongoing guilt I felt made me feel compelled to tell anyone I got to know moderately well) and two was the fact that I was very flattered by that fact. I came to call it one of the highest compliments another player could give me, despite the endless apologies of players who thought that such statements would offend my manhood.

Oh, if only they knew.

Within months I started life at a public university in New York City and in a single semester I made the dean’s list and achieved a perfect average. It seemed I was correct in thinking that returning to a major city would help me feel at peace with myself. But by mid-2006 I began to crash again. Suddenly my motivation was sapped and my drive became a distant memory. Depression returned, arguments with even my mother of all people became frequent and I found myself possessed of a distaste for life once more. Again I chalked it up to hormonal emoness but the difference was that I was 20 years old. That excuse might’ve flown at 16, but at this point it was getting worrying.

What happened next was the beginning of a two year love affair with World of Warcraft; I’ve often wondered if I delved into WoW because of my malaise or if it was WoW that made me lazy and lethargic, in addition to deepening that malaise. In the end I believe that it was both, with more emphasis on the former. I escaped into video games for the same reason I escaped into paper mache and single player RPG fantasy as a child and a teen. Now I had found the world of online roleplaying where I could get a reasonable substitute for a social life and where no one knew me by a male name I hated or by a past I wanted to hide.

The name. Oh, my name, yes…

Many narratives focus on trans women who want their penises somehow excised from their bodies and I don’t deny that this sensation has gripped me many a time. Especially when I’m trying to buy pants. In my particular case though what I wanted more than anything was to get rid of my name. I was named after my father, a man I loathed, and that made me a Jr. which simply layered on the indignities. I fantasised ever since I was young about having different names. First I went through male identities like Michael, Scott, or my favourite: Selmester Quayle. Yes, when I was 8, I preferred that mish mosh to my given name.

But as I played through online games and adopted female names I discovered I just really adored those. It was in World of Warcraft that name Quinnae was born.

At this time I was also getting to know someone who would become my mentor, or my ‘familiar’ as she’d often describe herself. She was the one who brought me to WoW and who sensed something in me that needed nurturing when we first bumped into each other in NWN. If I had to bestow the title of lifesaver to one person it would be her. For the sake of her privacy which she guards jealously I’ll not say much more about her, other than to point out that whatever wisdom I would gain over the next four years could always find its origins in things she taught me. She gave me the strength and confidence needed to confront my innermost hidden and deep-rooted problems, as well as the knowledge to do something about them. She also helped me come up with the name and character of Quinnae.

But all other names I’d come to be called by… Qeraeth, Qera, Qerawen, Lorrainess, Zoe, and more… all resonated with me better than my given name. When people in chat referred to me by the gender of my characters I felt my heart sing for some reason. What’s in a name? For me, everything. To be freed from my old name is a joy I cannot relate with the poor power of words.

But in World of Warcraft something else changed too. Rather dramatically.

Despite still being unmotivated and depressed in the real world when I played these games I felt a sense of overweening confidence and even arrogance for the first time in my life. I stood up to people, I spoke forcefully and powerfully, and I actually made people respect me. To be certain, something must be said for the power of the Internet’s anonymity and the fact that I wasn’t in the same room as any of these people, but I knew it also went beyond that. Being known as Quinnae, rather than by my old name, and being understood as a female, rather than the male persona I’d been socialised into, suddenly and somehow gave me confidence for reasons I didn’t fully understand.

People looked up to me, I debated many a fool on the games forums about issues great and small. I became known as an intelligent and even wise woman that people were proud to call ‘friend’ or ‘guildmate.’ Even when I revealed my then-male identity (something I hated doing with a passion) people still looked up to me because they had seen the Quinnae side of me, the part that was unleashed upon entering the game’s society as a woman. I cannot rationally explain why I felt this way or what this means for any generalised concept of manhood or womanhood. I can only relate how it made me feel.

How it felt was, again, like pure liberation.

I would learn a lot, and do a lot of growing up between 2006 and 2008 but my life would also come to a veritable standstill. Those two years were necessarily lost. In that time I played WoW, Lord of the Rings Online, and Warhammer Online, all getting the same general feeling. I loved being my true self online.

It was not a desire to wear pink, or any frilly things, or to don glitter, or play with Babrie, or whatever else it is the media says about us that motivated transition. It was being myself that did so. The characters I played were oftentimes how I envisioned myself as an adult. A confident, intelligent, and mature woman who could command the respect of others and hold her own. It’s hard to put into words how and why that felt so right.

I did not transition to be a parody of womanhood; I transitioned to be an empowered woman.

It was in World of Warcraft that I met the first out trans woman I would come to know, and it was through her that I came to one of the links over on the right: The saga her and I shared is a long, winding, somewhat sad, somewhat romantic tale defined by us both coming to terms with ourselves and discovering who we really were and what we really wanted. While I never told her during much of our relationship I was poking around that TSRoadmap site more frequently than I felt I had any right to, and even as early as December of 2007 was discussing it with a female friend of mine tentatively. She told me once a few years ago that between the two of us she had the boobs but I was a bigger woman than she was.

Ah, I love ‘er.

That floodgate thus opened, it was only a matter of time before I would at last work up the strength to take the plunge and transition.

With that, I end this phase of the story and will let this sit for a while. The final chapter, which will summarise the events leading up to me coming out, will be placed under a new and even wittier title whenever I feel like it. But I hope this elucidated some of the things I felt and experienced. There’s a lot of detail left out despite the fact that this post came up to 8 pages in MS Word. The essence of it all is that this felt right and I never identified with the male identity that had been foisted upon me. Why not carve out my own male identity then? It’s hard to explain other than answering with a question: Why not carve out my own female identity?

When I thought of presenting as female I felt at ease with myself. But when I was younger and my parents, noting my detachment and my troubles at school with both making friends and dealing with bullies, did their best to give me new identities to try on- new disguises, as it were- I resisted furiously. I wore shirts and ties chiefly because of their bland neutrality. I didn’t want to wear modern menswear, even the brighter, leaner formal stuff. I just wore the same bland khakis and white striped shirt every day with a different bland tie. I wanted no other masculine identity. I wanted to be me.

So it was that she was born.

The Daughter Also Rises

It isn’t unusual for a new year to inspire reflection. Though it sucks when it gets caught on your blazer.

We are the masters of our own stories as human beings and our understanding of the world around us rests, in part, on how we rationalise where we’ve been. In other words, how we remember and understand our lives as they have been so far. This is true of all humans, not just trans people, but it takes on a special significance for us sometimes because when you get right down to it, our pasts are what sire the discrimination and othering that we face.

For the last two weeks as some of my entries here have indicated, this has been on my mind. I’ve done a lot of reflecting on where I came from and how I understand myself as a trans woman. It is enough for me to say that I just know this is the right course, naturally. I cannot argue with the results: my future is now impatiently awaited, my energy feels boundless at times, I can actually envision myself doing something worthwhile in my future. I cannot, and do not argue with how I feel and the rightness of it all. Yet I still feel compelled to write about this, to tell the story such as it is so far.

Perhaps it is just that after having subjected myself to so many cis narratives of late, I want to put my genuine story of trans womanhood out there to counteract the lies.

Perhaps this is just something I personally need to do on the eve of my return to college, a day that marks the beginning of a life I want to live.

[I should emphasise that this is my story and mine alone. Any comparisons to certain cliches about trans life are to better illustrate my own story by contrast, not to diminish anyone else’s. If it is to be taken as any sort of instruction on trans identity it is to say we are not all the same, but neither are all trans people like me.]

So, now to the beginning…

I was a child of the 80s and born into the infamous brown bricked projects of the South Bronx where I spent the first 4 years of my life before moving to condo in a slightly less poor neighbourhood. The stories most often told about trans people where a five year old child adamantly refuses to play with toys of a certain gender stereotype is not my story. I have virtually no memory of those years except the faintest clip of me running down a hallway in my pyjamas and then staring at a line of rat poison in a corner thinking it was candy.

Given that I’m still here I don’t think I ate it.

But Barbie was never my thing. She still isn’t. I loved me some trucks and Lego. I never once felt like I was playing with the wrong toys. Indeed,  I almost can’t blame my father for not seeing my transition coming. When I was a wee one I used to get all excited at Bigfoot, the large Ford monster truck, and quickly took to Nintendo NES like a duck to water. Or a duck to hunt, mayhaps. It wasn’t until I got a bit older that he began to call my masculinity into question.

In retrospect I was one hell of a tomboy and I have no regrets about this. Why should I? The story that is most often told about us involves little trans girls insisting on playing with dolls and walking around in mom’s high heels. Does this stuff happen? Of course it does. Even I played with mum’s shoes. But it is not the only definitive trans story. It certainly wasn’t my story. For my money Lego are the coolest toys ever for all genders. I felt comfortable with how I was raised, in that respect. Despite my father’s abusiveness I had a more or less enviable childhood. I thought nothing of the fact that there were times when I was little that I’d look in mirrors with my penis tucked between my legs.

There are phrases that are often bandied about in regards to us, such as “woman trapped in a man’s body” or vice versa. Even I’m guilty of using that to describe myself. But that is not my phrase, it only very imprecisely describes how I felt, and it is but the faintest approximation of many trans lives I’ve read about and know personally: including my own. I never felt trapped in my body, even as it masculinised. I didn’t like it, certainly, and I hated my facial hair but I didn’t shave it out of laziness. But trapped? No, not quite. Even to this day, with everything I now know and despite the occasional envy I find myself feeling of certain cis women or other trans women, I do not feel trapped in this form. I’m more grateful for it than anything else, oddly.

To say I was trapped in a man’s body would be a very old fashioned and ciscentric way of putting it. A way to help the uninformed more easily understand my situation. In reality I came to understand the fluidity of gender identity, gender presentation and an understanding that my body did not limit me to one way of life or one way of being. How I came to that knowledge was part of a long and often circuitous journey that took place mostly in high school. How and why did that happen? Because little Quinnae lived in her own world.

If there was ever any indication that I didn’t feel quite right with the world around me it was my intense desire to escape from it. All children are imaginative, and often beautifully so. But in my case there was a clear desire to utterly disassociate from the world around me as often as possible. For me, every day brought a new symphony of imagination where I was something else. I loved my stuffed animals loads and often played with them, pretending they were real, but their roles in my life were not to attend a tea party, no. They were players in my orchestras and students in my classrooms, with instruments and implements I had made using paper and spaghetti noodles. Oh how I loved spaghetti noodles…

I would use them to reinforce everything I made from paper, to keep it together.

Then there was the paper. Paper everything. I put traffic lights and street signs all over the house and pretended to drive around it. I built mockups of paper cities combining elements of London and Seattle and New York into my vision of a super metropolis. Over and over and over again for years. I built the Mushroom Kingdom. I built Ancient Rome. I destroyed them with earthquakes and space invasions and built them right back up again. I begged dad to get me a whiteboard so I could teach my classes with it and one day he obliged me by getting a huge one he’d found one day in the garbage. After that I just went to town on teaching. I used the textbooks from all my classes at primary school and unsurprisingly I aced all of my tests without studying.

There’s nothing unusual about a child flying away into their fantasies and their imaginations, and maybe that’s the point of all of this. So many trans narratives as articulated by cis people focus on what’s “wrong”. Being imaginative isn’t gendered, of course. Some psychiatrists might say I wasn’t really trans because I pretended to be James Bond for much of my middle school years.

You should see the cool gadgets I made. The cell phone car remote, the laser watch, the gadget laden briefcase. I did it all. I played James Bond, M (male and female), Moneypenny, and the Bond girls and villains. I was a one girl show with every fantasy I enacted, often talking to myself in a variety of voices. I still smile and flush with embarrassment all at the same time when I look back on it all… and also feel a sense of pride in all the laminated ID cards and credit cards I made.

There are moments now when I lament what I might have missed had I been raised as a girl, and yet looking at what young women are made to go through in their youth I feel almost glad I missed it, for I might well have hated it all.

My style these days is feminine and formal, the caricatures of myself that often accompany my posts are a good approximation of my button down blouse and skirt style. But I think I’d have been an overalls-girl as a kid and would’ve resented anything that compelled me to wear a dress.

I often feel ashamed to admit that as if that makes me somehow illegitimate as a trans woman. Yet I know in my heart it doesn’t. My road was unique and to see myself as lesser is to accept the cis stereotype that all trans people must be just so. So I was a tomboy, sue me. I live under the whim of no psychiatrist and I thank the goddess every day that this is so, for I know that some might look askance at me were I to relate this tale of my childhood. Some would have said that I was not truly trans for that, or that I might have been ‘just a crossdresser’, and sought to make my life a misery.

I made that. ...When I was 20
I made that… when I was 20.

Yet what I got out of my childhood was a zest for independence, and I know I’d never have been happy had I accepted the whims of those who thought they knew better.

But something else happened in my childhood as well.

We are often told, usually by transphobic cis women, that because trans women didn’t grow up as girls they cannot truly know what it’s like to be a woman. Needless to say, I always disagreed with that, though I found it hard to put my response into words until I really sat down with my childhood and gazed back through that dusty looking glass. When I was a kid I internalised the social messages being doled out for both sexes. While my parents insisted I was a boy and I believed them, I still looked with curiosity at what was meant for the girls at school and came to internalise other things as well. Things that would eventually come to make me hate myself.

I saw how my father treated my mother, how he hit her, yelled at her, belittled her. I saw her weep and I saw her appear to be powerless against the man who was eight inches taller than her. I remember my own father would berate me for crying or talking about my own feelings and how men ought not express such things. I saw the way girls were portrayed on television in the 90s as squealy, fashion obsessed herds in rhinestone and pink and wondered “is that what being a girl is supposed to be?” I saw all of my favourite TV shows and their male protagonists and figured men were naturally more interesting than girls with their one-dimensionality.

I internalised these things and so much more, as many young women do. It took its toll by the time I reached high school where I finally began to come to grips with the absurdity of gender stereotypes, and especially how wrong and demeaning the ones about women were. But it was entirely the truth that by the time I was 15 I hated myself for reasons I didn’t fully understand. My desire to transition was born sometime in the 10th Grade, though I wouldn’t really know it for what it was until many years later. But it had nothing to do with the fact that I was desirous of Barbie dolls or pretty dresses. It had everything to do with how I was feeling, and it was granted its first utterances when I went on feminist rants in History class against young men who asserted, ever so politely, that women who dressed a ‘certain way’ should take responsibility for their rapes.

In those moments I felt personally threatened for some reason by those words, and when the women behind me cheered I felt a sense of kinship that I didn’t understand at the time either.

This was the dawn of my awakening as both a woman and a feminist. The realisation, slow as it was, that there was power in fighting. I didn’t want to suffer in silence, I wanted to act, and to speak up, to stand and take charge of my life in the face of injustice. It’s just one more thing that doesn’t fit with the agreed upon story, for we are ever supposed to relish our silence and passivity. In my case it was that I was coming to realise such passivity was yet another lie about womanhood I’d been told. Women could stand and fight.

It was during this time that I wanted to really get to know other women, and I never fully admitted to myself why I felt more comfortable walking to the train station with a young woman than with a group of men, why I felt like a third wheel in every last group of boys I ever travelled with, or why I felt much happier at a mixed gender lunch table than even the one for nerdy guys. I did, however, using my socialisation come up with a particular rationalisation for it.

I wanted to date all of those women. At least, that’s what I told myself. After all, my father was insistently raising me to “go get ‘em tiger” and I had a penis, therefore I must be a man. Despite everything I felt and was beginning to realise about how bullshit all of that was, I knew nothing else. Happiness must come from dating and sex. Combine this with the rush of hormones that the onset of puberty brings and, well, disaster would strike oh so many times as I struggled to figure this all out.

I admired many women for many reasons. I admired Captain Janeway for her strength and leadership (and a voice I secretly and desperately wanted). I admired some of my female teachers for their skills. I admired some of my classmates for being something I couldn’t, or being smarter than I. I even admired several for their sense of fashion, wearing things I wished I could try, that I was inexplicably drawn to. In all of these cases the admiration was platonic and at times, even noble. Yet I funnelled it into sex for fear of what it meant. I could only be attracted to them in the strict sense. I could desire nothing feminine and even female role models were bad because, well, they’re female and I wasn’t, right?

Even as my father denigrated my female friends for being ugly and telling me to have more confidence in myself so I could go after “hotter” women I felt something was deeply in turmoil inside of me. I thought it was teenage angst over not getting girls, something I surely wasn’t alone in. But that was how I made myself understand it. As I reflected on all the sappy letters I wrote and my hysterically emo diary entries, I came to realise I never really fancied any of those young women or my teachers. I did not want to sleep with them, I wanted to be them. The way I had ruthlessly objectified them and shunted all of my feelings into pure carnal attraction was born of socialisation. It wasn’t just from how I was raised but from how my male peers kept trying to reinforce the idea that cross gender friendships were impossible, along with hosts of other signals.

Even through all of this some might say that this only would add up to me being a gender non conforming male. But again, there was a self-hating that emerged from all of this which was, I realised, me hating my feminine self.  It was all due to how I had been raised to see women and womanhood. When I spoke out for it, as I did in class, I felt at peace with myself. When I forced myself to deny it and to act as male as possible, I loathed myself. The simplest way to describe it is that I felt more in line with my true self the more I identified as a woman, not just as an effeminate or nonconforming male.

Even in high school when I was largely oblivious to this and thought “transvestites” were jokes I played games like Knights of the Old Republic and Morrowind to rush into the alternate realities I had so craved as a child. “Why am I always a woman in these worlds?” I asked myself. Eventually, my friends asked as well. So did my father, quite angrily.

By the time high school had rolled around I’d grown out of my desire to build fantasy out of paper, crayons, and noodles, but still craved escape. So it was that I did, into every RPG I could get my hands on. I still distinctly remember the one time I tried to play a man in Morrowind I just couldn’t continue after barely reaching level two (in a game where it’s possible to get over level sixty). But then I rolled my short brown haired Breton woman and went on my merry way, fireballing and slashing my way across Vvardenfell. So it was too in every Star Wars game where I had a choice.

Suddenly, I realised, a woman could be the hero and could kick ass.

It seemed such a trivial and elementary thought. But I was raised in a sheltered environment. I was terribly asocial, my friends were the aforementioned stuffed dolls, and my parents did little to change this. I was brutally bullied in middle school and was a touch misanthropic by the time I got to high school. Through it all I’d been raised on certain media images and by my fathers’ insistent stories about the way the world was.

Which was why it took Star Wars and Star Trek to show me women could own. And it was why it took role playing games to show me that I liked being a woman who could own. I grinned with a strange sense of pride when my Knights of the Old Republic character got to call another one a “sexist pig.” A little stab of rebellion, the same way I felt back in history class when my female teacher gave me a warm smile when I stood up against the sexism of other students. It felt so right and it felt so just, despite everything I was raised with.

Each time I didn’t feel like a feminist male, I felt like a woman who was standing up for herself and her dignity. I ask cis women to remember how it felt for them as they may have felt many a time in their youth, how terrible it must have been to reckon with the fact that they were raised to hate themselves as women, or to see themselves as lesser. That they were raised with preconceived notions about who they were supposed to be that ensured they had to expend enormous amounts of energy to just untangle the lies and discover who they really were.

I had to do the same thing.

It was so strange that it took video games to cause this awakening, and perhaps it was fitting that my father constantly threatened to break the CDs and engaged in Jack Thompson-esque rantings about the evils of gaming. Yet I persisted and became comfortable with female characters, honestly lamenting other games where I didn’t have a choice. By senior year there was an abundant sense I didn’t want to acknowledge. The reason I played as females every chance I got was because I was a male every day of my life, why should I waste time in epic fantasy worlds pretending to be who I wasn’t?

I never had the courage to say that, instead coming up with circumlocutions about how I felt more in touch with my feminine side or how the female character looked better, all those old chestnuts.

I didn’t want to say, in part because of all that shame that still stalked me:

“I am a woman.”

Stay tuned for Part II, coming soon to a monitor near you.

State of the ‘Corn, 2010

Needs a name badly.

I present to my loyal readers (all 4 of you) a once in a lifetime rarity on Nuclear Unicorn: A short post! As some of you may have noticed, the theme of the blog has changed considerably to something I feel is cleaner, more readable and more professional. As well as wider. With the monsters I tend to write, the extra width is a huge help.

One of the bigger changes recently has been the new and improved About Me page complete with illustrations and the new resting place of the old banner that once graced the top of the front page, for those of you who thought my bad colouring was just the bees knees. The main purpose of the about me page’s expansion was to provide an explanation of the tortured logic that led to this blog’s name, and to provide a permanent home for the slug family since their appearances are rather rare (drawing pastries with eyestalks on them is hard work, yo.)

Pictured above is a scratchy sketch I made of what it is I envision when I think of a nuclear unicorn. While some may argue that it’s a nuclear narwhal, they will be banned from this blog forevar and their views don’t count. But if you want free pastries with eyestalks on them, name the bomb with a horn on it!

Here’s to a ‘corny new year. ::raises coffee mug::

I’m With You

I Am A WomanHaving been inducted into the Femmisphere by my good friend over at FemmEssay it is perhaps worth meditating once again on the unicorniness of the whole Nuclear Unicorn thing. So let’s get down and funky with it while I drop some serious verbal groove.

Or funk. Or whatever. The point is that as the convenient illustration to the left shows, I am a woman. But we wouldn’t be here if it were that simple. I think that if I had to give a piece of advice to transsexual people who were just coming out, one that would be regarded as a rare gem of insight, it would have to be a warning, I am sad to say. We expect our enemies to come from the religious right and from the social conservative movement, and we are often reminded of why we must always be wary of them. But a trans person also must look over the left shoulder as some of our worst enemies are unabashed liberals.

That’s been very hard for me to swallow, without question. My own ideological commitments, as the rest of this journal has heretofore shown, are quite liberal. My heart beats Left and I ain’t ashamed to say it. But I know that self identified liberals will try to convince me I’m a male for various reasons, when it suits their needs. At best you might get some diversity obsessed tosser who gleefully tells you “Wow, you almost look like a real woman!” and tote you around to prove how tolerant they are. Most cuttingly, however, some feminists will simply deny me. That’s been the bitterest pill of all.

For years I always found myself sympathizing with other women and never quite getting the doodz who were supposed to be my comrades in arms. Whenever the cry of “pfah, women!” went up, I raised my glass only halfheartedly, knowing that something was wrong with my participation in this exercise of social separation. It was only in the last couple of years that I at last accepted I’d been pitching for the wrong team. It doesn’t mean that my feminism didn’t burn me hard in the past, however. Many male colleagues and acquaintances were made just a little uncomfortable at how I guilted them for their crass, casual sexism.

My own father struggled vainly for years to get me to come around to his entitled view of the world, to teach me to “love women” in the way that he did. He often got angry at me for not catcalling with him, often noted that I’d not leer at attractive women when we were out in public, and even berated me for fancying girls at school who he deemed unattractive. He certainly wasn’t the only one who attempted to socialize me in this way. Against him and all others I argued vehemently and with a passion that I never knew was so deeply personal.

I thought I was being a feminist male. I never quite knew that it was my own dignity I was defending against the tireless objectification of people like my father. But my own dignity it was.

What some radical feminists don’t quite get is that I am a victim of misogyny, just as they are, and that our beloved Patriarchy is no gentler on me than it is with them. It is at times even worse for one very good reason: Men will act out their worst misogynist fantasies on trans women.

For you see, we exist in that cosy netherspace of looking and sounding like women but, you know, not being women- according to them. When I first came out my father tried to grope me, in perverse fascination at my growing breasts, called me a “whore”, and demanded that I do “what a woman is supposed to do” if I’m so intent on being one which was, of course, cooking for him and cleaning up after him.

He explicitly said that’s what a woman was supposed to do. He never had the balls to say this to my mother (who looked at him aghast as he said it), but to me, a woman who was fighting against his perceptions for her femininity, he was more than comfortable saying and doing all of those things. He wants to treat women this way, he just feels constrained. I provide him with a convenient target to act out his sexist fantasies upon since I’m kind of like a woman but not a “real woman.”

Make no mistake, if this is transphobia it exists only as a subset of pure, unadulterated misogyny.

I have often said that when it comes to violence and bias against trans women it is not the fact that we’re ‘gender deviant’ that gets us attacked, but what gender we are deviating towards that earns the ire of people like my father. That is something that should alarm all women.

Should feminists be in the business of carrying water for patriarchs? I can think of no greater insult to our movement.

The mainline of their argument is unironically used essentialism. I am not a woman, nor can I ever be one, because I was born with a penis.

Let’s examine this for a hot second: Feminists have long railed against this society’s phallocentrism, and against a myriad of sexist presumptions dressed in the gown of science (think Freud’s Penis Envy), and long condemned the asinine acculturated idea that the penis carries with it any sort of innate power and entitlement, and that because we build world-ending bombs in their shape is no validation of the notion.

So how can one of their number suddenly turn around and deny me my womanhood on exactly the same basis as my father? Look at everything he’s said and done. If you bristled you did so rightly. Yet in denying my womanhood some radical feminists would say, verbatim, what my father has said: my little estrogenised cock is more important than everything else about my personhood, my life, my experiences, my personality, and the rest of my body.

What really gets me sighing and holding my head is when some of those same people come along and say that even a trans woman who’s had bottom surgery is still a man because they used to be penis-havers. I never thought I’d see the day when a feminist let the ghost of a penis define another woman. How sexist men must howl with self-satisfied laughter. They’re getting feminists of all people to do their dirty work for them, lock, stock, and two smoking barrels full of bullshit.

How could a feminist imbue that blasted organ with so much power in a way that is not at all different from how patriarchal men have done it for years? Treating it as an immutable birthright in whose veins is the essential privilege of manhood; this is radioactive water that I as a woman will not carry. No woman should. Our dignity should not permit it.

I am something that makes many men uncomfortable and with very good reason. I call into question the immutability of sex and gender; I call into question any innate concept of manhood’s superiority. I can do this with well reasoned arguments, but I call this pap and nonsense into question by merely existing.

If you want further proof of how misogyny has for so long stabbed us and tried to define us, you need look no further than that great gleaming edifice of purported objectivity: Psychiatry. Consider the following: as more and more trans people started coming out and going to therapists to be allowed to start hormone treatment and get the permissions we needed to transition, the world was rapidly changing around us all. The 60s were upon us and feminism was once again bursting through the dam.

When presented with a trans woman most male psychiatrists treated us with derision even as they allowed us to pass through their gates to access what we needed to transition. They stressed as they did so, however, that in order to be “real women” we had to be demure.  That’s right, if you were in any way assertive, they pegged you as a male. You also had to love makeup and pretty dresses. If you didn’t, you weren’t a “true transsexual.” You had to be the perfect fembot in order to convince them you were truly gender dysphoric and thus worthy of their help.

Maybe we can’t change all those radical women burning their bras, they thought, but we can have control over these very vulnerable women right here in our offices. Let’s make them into our image of what being a woman should be.

If that doesn’t come from sexism, where does it come from?

Many therapists these days have become more progressive, but others still cling to these ideas, like the notorious gender clinic in Toronto, at the Canadian Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. In a recent Atlantic Monthly article (one I have severe problems with) I was reading that discussed how trans people are coming out at increasingly younger ages, for ‘balance’ Hanna Rosin went there to interview the head doctor, Dr. Zucker, whose practises should raise wailing alarms in feminist circles of all stripes.

He purports to be able to “cure” us if we’re identified at a young age and get us to act in line with the organs with which we were born if we ‘act up.’ How did he do this with one ‘little boy who wanted to be a girl’?

Well, see for yourself:

They boxed up all of John’s girl-toys and videos and replaced them with neutral ones. Whenever John cried for his girl-toys, they would ask him, “Do you think playing with those would make you feel better about being a boy?” and then would distract him with an offer to ride bikes or take a walk. They turned their house into a 1950s kitchen-sink drama, intended to inculcate respect for patriarchy, in the crudest and simplest terms: “Boys don’t wear pink, they wear blue,” they would tell him, or “Daddy is smarter than Mommy—ask him.” If John called for Mommy in the middle of the night, Daddy went, every time.

This is the tip of the iceberg. Now think long and hard about this and this “curing” process. If the words “flagrant misogyny” aren’t flashing through your head in big, unfriendly red letters I don’t know what else to tell you.

Look at how trans women are treated in the psychiatric realm, among other things, see what is used to attack us, to other us, to un-person us. Every single time it’s a slight permutation of an argument used against women as a whole. Zucker wanted those parents to condition their child to hate women and to see his mother as a subordinate inferior. Is this how some radfems want trans women to be erased?

Do they want to drag womanhood through a very muddy gutter just to get rid of us? Or might there be more to all of this than a mere knobbly bag of flesh?

Do we really want to reduce womanhood to that thing? Do we want to say that trans women’s inability to bear children or menstruate invalidates us, backhandedly saying that’s all that really makes a woman? Note very carefully that innumerable patriarchal men reduce us to baby making machines. Is that water you want to carry for even five seconds?

This above all, however: We’re in this together, sisters. In our sisterhood there will always be a power no words can break and that misogyny cannot hope to breach.

Why Not Coal-Fired Unicorn?

Well, several reasons. One, it doesn’t quite roll off the tongue, and two it would be rather smelly. Who needs smelly when you can be radioactive?

Radioactive. It’s a marvelous word that encapsulates far more than the sum of its syllables, certainly. It’s one of those nice words this language bequeaths to us as a gift for minds to twist into new shapes like so much play-doh or taffy. It can be very literal, or very figurative. This unicorn’s radioactivity is best described as figurative, but with very literal consequences.

Why don’t I start from the beginning, hm?

Nuclear unicorn was something that a close friend called me not long ago as we were giggling about something both macropolitical and personal. The fact that I could, apparently, threaten the world. It was in response to some news story, one so generic that the specifics melt away in the sea of samey text and dogma. Another bull handed down from His Infallible-ness The Pope about how those who defy gender norms are as big a threat to the human race as loggers are to the rainforest.

Apparently I have the power to destroy humanity.

My friend and I found this wickedly funny and in a pique of her particular brand of womanly wit remarked “You’re a nuclear unicorn, Quinnae!” Rare, special, almost mythical, and yet evidently packing enough heat to destroy a large city and render it uninhabitable for centuries. Naturally my first thought was “…hot damn, I’m awesome.”

That covers the nuclear bit. But from whence comes the unicorn? Well, the story her and I were laughing about gave you a hint. I defy gender norms.

This is not something I say with smug pride or that I tote around like some perverse ideological iPod or political accessory. Some might think it makes me trendy. They’re idiots. No, I just say that this is what I do as a point of fact; a la ‘I breathe’ or ‘I use the bathroom’ or ‘when I fart it smells like almonds.’ It’s not something to be proud or ashamed of. It just is.

I defy gender norms because I’m a transsexual woman. Therein is another mere, if irritatingly relevant, fact about who I am.

That’s just something about me. Like my hair colour or height. According to some, however, by dint of that fact I can destroy the world. So the question becomes, do I use this power for good or for evil, for justice, sin, or for the last slice of pizza? Well, if my super special power is to destroy the world, a girl just doesn’t have many options, now does she? It’s like I got bitten by a radioactive nuke when I was a baby, and really, is there any other kind? How unlucky could I be?

But them’s the breaks, so let’s get to it.

I can be harnessed for good purposes and that’s the ultimate thrust behind this journal. (The word blog is so hopelessly trendy that I’m going to trap myself on a moebius strip of self contradiction by being anti-trendy and calling it a ‘journal’, capesce?) My life by itself gives me a lot to talk about that is, as Janis Joplin would say, of great social and political import. Of course, this spirally horn on my forehead, how others perceive it, and how it affects my life isn’t the only thing I have to talk about.

Feminism and women’s issues, healthcare and welfare, war, terrorism, sex, drugs (mostly Tylenol), rock and roll, death metal, and Hello Kitty, these are a few of my favourite things… to talk about. They’ll all get their turn, you’ll all get to know me…

And hopefully after a little while of hanging out with me you’ll all glow in the dark.