Insomnia

I have to teach my weekly tutorial in five hours. I can’t sleep. Tutorials are routine, I’m not worried about them, but still I’m here, heart pounding and thoughts racing at 5:30 am. Granted, I did consume a prodigious amount of caffeine in an effort to alleviate stress and listlessness a few hours ago so I could finish up prepping my tutorial plans. Still, I feel cheated of sleep.

Beyond just putting words onscreen, I don’t have much of a goal in writing this other than one fear: I know that insomnia is a potent trigger for self-harm and other impulsive and harmful behaviours. Never, ever, do I feel more alone, more worthless, more isolated than when I’m deprived of sleep and dreading the next day’s coming responsibilities. My brain won’t let me sleep! How could I ever finish any assignments?

Tomorrow, in all likelihood, I’ll wake up too early, do a sleepy but competent job and attend my office hours with vigilance. Then I’ll once again fail to get to sleep until the sun rises, be too tired to do anything the next day, and so on. It’s a pattern that repeats itself over and over. Once in awhile I’ll have a week or two where laundry and cleaning get done, dishes are washed, clothes put away, efforts made to further long-term projects. But most of the time, to be honest, my brain doesn’t let me do those things.

I can’t even sleep. How am I supposed to achieve anything when the sun comes up and I’m on the hook for more lost hours, forced to go to caffeine sources again and again, the stress compounding and, throughout, a creeping sense of sickening worthlessness creeping in?

I just hope that next week will be better, and there’s no planning for that. There are ways of coping, ways of adjusting slightly, ways of attempting to improve my situation. And I keep all those in mind. But there’s nothing I can do right now––the sleep is already lost, and I’m once again facing down a sickening sunrise wondering if there’s anything, anything! I could do to make it better.

I lost six months of my life, can you help me find them?

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Goya–Incendio de un hospital (~1808)

Losing time is not quite what I expected it to be. In hindsight I should have thought it through better, should have realized to truly lose something I have to remember that I lost it. But time, time presents itself as uniquely precious. Time, whatever it is, structures the very meaning of words, the order of words, the phasing in and out of consciousness and dreams. Nevertheless, it turns out that losing six months of time is not so different from losing a pair of headphones, or the memory of your own phone number, or a line of verse.

It’s astonishing that I can remember the last six months because it is also utterly lost. Likewise for much of the year before that. I can see sunrises and hear conversations and feel the dread of nightmares I know I had during those times, but it might as well be sand sculpture. Un-grasp-able.

Even more frustratingly, I understand why I lost all this time. A misdiagnosed mental illness, a pill for depression that turned me into a marionette, a disastrous five-month labour strike at my university–they all chain together link on link. But again, unlike the vividness of many of my other recent memories predating this misty span of time, these memories are all cobwebs, fog, and stasis. I know I had those times, and I can even see them, but finding them is beyond me. I’m not even sure of what the difference between seeing those memories and finding them is, except that in the former I’m just a third-party observer, stern and spiritual as the Law.

Historical work demands a skillfulness in braiding strands of time into a discernible shape. It’s a learned craft, one that I take great pride in maintaining and advancing. Nevertheless, when it comes to my own life, none of the old trade secrets are any help. I’ve looked at the records, written and otherwise, delved for evidence, applied the necessary theoretical approaches. And? And?

Unfortunately, the result of any personal history that is still in the thick of it–distinct from an autobiography or biography that reflects back on a thing already done–the result is not a tidy paper but a human body. And bodies, whatever I might claim at dinner parties, are not part of my training. So it’s no wonder that, as I’m sifting through historical information, composing essays and chipper correspondence, I misplace a few of my bodies. That wouldn’t be such a problem except–well–once you’ve lost a few of your own bodies, once that trace of physical continuity doesn’t make sense anymore, and your personality seems to be a flitting free agent, and your legs seize up for no physical reason, it’s hard to get any perspective on the body that’s here, now, and soon.

When traumas snatch time from us–I believe time is rarely lost by accident–our work becomes like a historian’s. At some point I will probably shift my shoulders and realize that all that time I thought was missing was instead dead and pressing down on my shoulders, the remnants of all the bodies I left behind while my brain and the troubled lands were torturing me senseless.

I wish my writing could be returning on a happier note, but when I look back on the months since I last published here in November I see only a series of catastrophes. I want, so desperately, to use my writing to slow down, to find some of the fragments that are still distinguishable. I’m not hopeful. Here’s to a new me, and to finding the time I lost.

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

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

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

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

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

Out Like a Lamb: Day 13: Designing for Life

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next three posts coming up!

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

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

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

Out Like a Lamb: Day 10: Depression and Anxiety

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The next three days of posts shall be:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The next three days of entries will be:

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

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

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

Out Like a Lion Day 4: Walking in Public

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Many debates around trans people are not just absurd or poorly argued, but widely misunderstood. The “debate” around our ability to use the damn bathroom that we want to (and have to for personal safety reasons) is not a debate about whether women who are women should use the women’s restroom. It is not a toilet question as much as it is a question of certain people’s abject revulsion at the sight of us.

Because trans and nonbinary people are often visibly noncomformist, visibly unable to be fitted into the straitjackets that most people accept for gender presentation, our existence in public is undeniable and disgusting to many people. The reality is that there are people who don’t ever want to see transgender people out in public enjoying life. They support measures that deny us the right to use the bathroom we want to not just because of what their paranoid minds think we might do (though we’re much more likely to be victims, especially of cops who get called on us), but because they don’t want us to exist. Either we die or we have to become like everyone else, invisible and unable to disturb their comfy little worlds.

So when I am walking out in public, I am constantly––at the back of my head––thinking that someone might recognize that I’m trans and will not like that. What will they do? Scream insults at me? Push me or hit me? Throw me on the ground? Worse? When in my life will I catch the wrong person on the wrong day at the wrong place and be “corrected” out of existence? Even in a more (and I hate this word) “tolerant” city like Toronto, where people are most likely going to leave you alone and let you be anonymous, I have heard vicious arguments and insults thrown at vulnerable people just sitting there, being visible on the subway. While walking, therefore, I have learned to be cautious and conscious of how I’m walking, what I’m wearing, and how other people perceive me at all times. This enforced self-consciousness contributes to a general haze of anxiety around me that never entirely departs.

As I mentioned in yesterday’s journal entry, gender presentation is a major way around which people in my corner of the world organize the human beings they meet every day. The most dangerous points in walking outside are when my perception of my gender and perception are misunderstood or deliberately ignored by another person. A tension begins where, though am sure of myself and who I am, the terms I have presented are simply rejected. I walk into a subway car, and an older woman gives me a sharp look. Is it just because she’s ill-tempered? Did I step on here leashed cat? Or was it just because I’m presenting as a woman but standing about 191 centimetres tall? All of these rhetorical questions are tiring to think about, to be sure, and I’ve noticed that just being outside has been a much greater drain on my energy than before. I’ve even changed the way I walk––slightly and conditionally––in order to fit a more feminine profile. I usually walk in a more comfortable way when I’m not walking alone, however, which underlines the way in which gender presentation is often more premised on coerced social norms than free choice.

And even here, trans people are attacked by certain reactionary “feminists” who claim that we are reinforcing the very gender norms that oppress us simply because we don’t want to fight for every step we take. Clearly, we have a long way to struggle before we are able to claim our right to exist in public space without harassment. Our visibility is still controversial largely because so many people are trained from birth to react harshly to anyone who does not fit a certain mould, and I fear this will continue to be true through my lifetime.

Though at least I now look sexy going down the street.

The next three entries coming up will be:

March 15: Talking about how I perceive the media and how trans women are treated by film, games, and more.

March 16: A more abstract and thoughtful discussion about what gender really is––if it’s real at all–-and how I became more and more alienated from it.

March 17: A brief journal post on how I relate to academia, my classmates, and my professors.