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Saturday, December 16, 2017

On "Lesbian" Identity and the Cultural Construction of Sexual Orientation

I follow a page called Social Justice Ninja that posts comics.  There was one I screencapped a couple days ago that I've been cringing about ever since:

Frame 1: "You're not REALLY a lesbian! You date trans men, and that makes you BISEXUAL!"
Frame 2: "You're not REALLY a lesbian! You date trans women, and that makes you BISEXUAL!"
Frame 3: "There is NO SUCH THING as a lesbian! God created Adam and EVE!"
Frame 4: Can people please stop telling us how to define our sexual orientation?"  "Right?"
This comic is making a lot of trans men (including myself) really uncomfortable, and I wanted to talk about that... with my article on newbish queer tendencies as a suggested prerequisite text.

When I wrote that essay, one of the takeaways is that the language our community has historically used is extremely messy.  It was not long ago that most trans men started out in the butch lesbian community and were there for a very long time, and similarly, trans women regularly traveled through crossdressing and drag performance communities before transitioning.  While that by no means indicates that these identities should be conflated, we need to understand that finding resources for such things has historically been really damn difficult, and trans people do not spring from the womb understanding how we, as we get older, will be expected to describe ourselves.

Nowadays it's very common to find trans guys like myself who were never lesbian-identified, not just trans guys like me who have always been into men, but hetero trans guys who were able to see trans men outside of queer communities in a way they may not have been able to fifteen or twenty years ago.  And in some respects we kind of forgot that this was how our community originally developed, and we grow these really hard-line "if you call yourself a lesbian when you're dating a trans man you're transphobic bullshit" stances.

I used to have a hard-line stance like that.  I mostly dropped it because I eventually met a lot of lesbian-identified partners of trans men and realized that the issue is way, way more nuanced.

On a pedantic note, not everybody defines "lesbian" as exclusively attracted to women.  There are people who concurrently consider themselves lesbians in addition to "bisexual" or "pansexual" or some other mode of attraction that isn't monosexual (I don't have an opinion on it, as I am not a member of that community, but I do occasionally own "gay," and it is definitely a thing that happens).

We also ignore the many people who transition while in an already-existing relationship whose partners stay despite already-existing identities.  Is somebody who has called herself a lesbian for ten years, who has only been interested in women that whole time, somehow fundamentally changed if her partner transitions and she chooses not to leave him?  Women who have maintained lesbian identities also have occasionally fallen for cis men, and plenty of them are reluctant to stop using that terminology for themselves... but nobody looks at this and thinks she's misgendering her partner for it.  They might think other things, but not that she's misgendering him.

Finally, sexual orientation itself is something I think we get way too worked up about.  The idea that our attractions can be expressed in "I'm straight," "I'm gay," "I'm bi," "I'm a lesbian," "I'm pan," etc. is ludicrous... every single one of us is attracted to people based on hundreds of factors that are not gender and yet we have singled out this one that's supposed to define us and constructed the concept of "sexual orientation" around that.  Not only have we constructed this whole concept, when we deviate from whatever we've labeled ourselves as (whether by picking a different label or sticking with one that you've been attached to for ages that other people don't think applies) we're socially punished over it.

Because of all this, when it comes to lesbians dating trans men?  My opinion is pretty much "meh."  I choose not to expend that much energy on that sort of thing, because there's more to it than just "cis people being garbage."

So what about this makes me uncomfortable?  The framing of this is just terrible, as you have three scenarios that aren't even close to each other in terms of offensiveness being presented as if they're the same thing.  I think there are solid arguments both for and against allowing people to identify as lesbians while dating trans men... there are zero for saying women (cis or trans) cannot call themselves lesbians if they date trans women, and zero for saying homosexuality is wrong.  It's an apples and orange comparison that means absolutely nothing.

Anyway, that's enough soapboxing for the day.

Happy trails,
-- Jackson

Saturday, December 9, 2017

The Article On Newbish Queer Sensibilities I Wish I Could Read

I'm, well, not a young queer.  I'm not old enough to have experienced a lot of things older queer people have, like Stonewall or the AIDS crisis, but I have been out for almost fifteen years, long enough to have witnessed quite a few dramatic shifts in what constitutes appropriate language and praxis.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.  So a while ago some friends and acquaintances who attended Northland college started posting something their professor posted on Salon, called "Has queer culture lost its edge?"  With a title like that, I always hope I'm going to find something I really resonate with, because I identify strongly with the frustration that comes from dealing with younger and newer queer people and more importantly how they enforce an ahistoric, super sanitized version of queerness.  But I'm always disappointed, because what we wind up getting is the queer version of "Are Millennials Killing The Beer Industry?" in which younger queer people are wrongfully accused of being "oversensitive" and talking derisively about how they're "triggered."  I wrote a really long Twitter thread on it in (it's a great thread, you should read it) which I talk about the super shitty parts of this article, but I keep going back to something I thought I tweeted but apparently didn't, which is this that I really, desperately want a piece to exist that talks about the sanitation of queerness... but without treating queer youth like they think they're fragile little victims.  You can read the thread in order to learn why I don't consider queer youth fragile.  This, instead, is the article I wish I could read.

Like I said, I'm not an old queer.  But I'm not a young queer either... I've been out for almost fifteen years at the time of this writing.  A lot can change in fifteen years... and it has.  If I talked today in the way I did in my late teens and early twenties I have no doubt people would brand me as irredeemably problematic, even though it would have been considered normal--or even preferred--when I was younger.  And had you told me at that age that when I would get into my thirties I would no longer feel comfortable calling myself a "tranny," I would have been really offended, because owning "tranny" was considered radical and inclusive by many trans communities at that time.  And no, it wasn't just trans men.

Back in my day, we used a lot of slurs as well as other words that weren't necessarily slurs but were definitely coarse.  We called ourselves "fags" or "dykes," we were "genderqueer" and "genderfuck," we used "tranny" and derivatives like "trannyfag," and practically nobody used singular "they," favoring neo-pronouns that twisted cis people's tongues into knots.  "Transgender" didn't just include trans men and women alongside nonbinary folks, but was a full spectrum including crossdressers and drag performers and all sorts of other people who Tumblr posts derisively call "cis" now whenever they say something Tumblr doesn't agree with.  The folks I knew who hated to be called "queer?"  It wasn't because it was a slur, or even because they were trying to be sensitive and inclusive to the much older people who hated that term, they just preferred different slurs, like my friends who hated being called "queer" because they hands-down preferred to be called "faggot."

And quite frankly, it was fantastic.  We were fucked up, messy, beautiful, sexy people... if admittedly very problematic in the way we chose to express that.  Gradually most of this terminology became sanitized and de-sexed, and entire identities were re-written, often by choice and personal growth but also often by the shame and force.  And people started applying this stuff retroactively, as if we all must have known back then that this was "bad" language and deliberately chose to use it anyway.

Suddenly it was a faux pas to call people "drag queens" or "transvestites" who had called themselves such their whole lives.  The blurred lines between these identities and historical trans women and the language people used were sharpened and binarized by people who weren't even born until after many of these people had already died, and so misconceptions wind up proliferating until you get some nineteen year old queer person performatively educating a history scholar for talking about drag queens at Stonewall or lecturing Kate Bornstein (who transitioned way back in the 1980s and has contributed to saving countless queer and trans people's lives) on her use of "tranny," a word few would have cared about as early as ten years ago.

This sort of attitude winds up burning contemporary queer and trans people a great deal, because not only are younger and newer queer people forcibly shoving the language and praxis escalator faster and faster, the internet has given us the unprecedented ability to harass and shun people for the most menial of sins, as well as people who continue to defend them.  And listen, it may sound gross, but shunning has its place... a very specific place, reserved for people who do actual harm to queer and trans people through their political activities combined with outsize money and power; think Caitlyn Jenner or Milo Yiannopoulos.

But most queer and trans people are not Caitlyn Jenner or Milo Yiannopoulos.

As I put the finishing touches on this essay, a couple of days ago there was a trans woman who made a silly pun joke on Twitter.  It was since deleted and I don't want to contribute to the storm of call-outs, but it went something like:
"Remember, Christmas without HRT is just Cismas."
It's a clever wordplay joke, but also problematic in that it made a lot of pre-HRT and non-HRT trans folks uncomfortable.  After all, people aren't cis just because they don't have HRT.  But the response to this was ridiculous, with people throwing tweet after tweet at this woman.  There were some particularly egregious comments (like a trans man who called her joke "TERF-y," which is as offensive as it is nonsensical), but mostly a sea of people who felt it was their duty to expose this woman and call her out for her terrible crime.  A lot of people unfollowed her, making sure to be extremely performative about it.

Another particularly egregious and slightly older example was Leelah Alcorn, who committed suicide due to her transphobic parents and a bigoted society.  This was a child who killed herself over transphobia and yet people--queer and trans people, not our enemies--saw it as necessary to root through her blog digging up dirt, declaring her "truscum" and somehow believing it was necessary to "expose" her for being anti-otherkin (in other words, she needed to be exposed for sharing an opinion with like 99% of the world).

When I think about oversensitivity in the queer and trans communities, it's this sort of thing I'm thinking about.  Not people demanding trigger warnings and other accommodations for their disabilities and challenges, nor people insisting they not be misgendered just because their outward appearance doesn't match what people expect their gender to look like, nor people creating a culture where they ask each other's pronouns and refuse to use ableist words even though they are ubiquitous, nor any of the other things whiny old queers like to call "oversensitive."

It's the looming methods of silencing and disposing of large swaths of our population in favor of an ahistorical, sanitized fantasy.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Four Weird Things I Forgot About Being Estrogen Dominant

Site housekeeping note:  Due to Patreon's change of policy--which forces patrons to pay fees on every single transaction without giving creators any option to pay it instead--I took down my Patreon creator account and refunded everyone.  You can still support me through the CashMe link in the sidebar.

In this whole personal journey back to estrogen dominance, there were a lot of things I expected to happen that didn't (I didn't lose a whole lot of physical strength--not yet, anyway--and my blood pressure didn't go down a whole lot, either) and some things I didn't expect to happen that did (tendency to cry a lot, virtually non-existent sex drive).

Then there were the things--the weird things--that I totally forgot were a thing from my pre-T days that came back with eerie familiarity.  This post is about those things.

A couple notes... I don't mean to imply in this essay that these are actually connected to estrogen, although a couple of them definitely are.  They're things that were true for me before going on testosterone and after going off of it, but not being on it.

I fantasize as if it were a long-running soap opera.

I fantasize about romance again, something I didn't really do a lot on testosterone.  It wasn't that I didn't want romance, but it wasn't like now where I might lay in bed for a half hour picturing a very vivid, long-running scenario that I picked up from the night before.  One with a plot.  On testosterone I liked romantic gestures because I was there and could experience them, but there was a weird disconnect there where I couldn't as easily replicate those feelings in fantasy format.

I remembered pre-testosterone having the same thing, where I was basically able to concoct these really long, intense storylines and backstories for the imaginary people I fantasized about rather than mentally fast forwarding to something graphic, and most importantly that intense need to get to that point (I wrote about that in-depth in a different essay, though).

There are random pains in my abdomen that do not feel alarming.

One time when I was still on testosterone I went to urgent care because I felt something that vaguely--but not quite--reminded me of uterine cramps.  It only happened once the entire time, and I was overcome with this fear that there was Something Wrong (the doctor, I now believe, thought I was trying to score a free hysterectomy).

After going off hormones, when the ovaries were starting to kick back into gear, but before I started bleeding again, I suddenly felt this super familiar feeling in my abdomen... not a sharp pain by any means, but a dull and persistent pain in the ovary region that isn't comfortable but somehow feels entirely normal.

I remembered pains, but I misremembered them as being only during my period... they certainly aren't, though, and show up at seemingly random times.

I'm super into boys.

This isn't something that is well known to be an estrogen effect (I know there are lots of homophobic creeps who think it is, but... no).  Actually, stereotypically speaking trans guys tend to be more into men when we go on testosterone (especially if we were straight before, which I wasn't), but I didn't specifically crave boys so much when I was on testosterone so much as people in general.

Way back when I still identified as gay, there was sort of an understanding on my part that I probably could be physically attracted to women but not emotionally; I determined before testosterone that that's actually kind of sexist and am happy to report that I didn't go back to it (I have a girlfriend so that would have been super embarrassing).  But the number of women I actively am interested in versus the number of men I am actively interested in has tipped from the roughly 45/55% it was on testosterone back to like 20/80% (with strictly nonbinary folks being kept out of the numbers because my attraction to them exists but varies wildly).  It's pretty much sat at that point ever since.

I'm better at hunting and shooting guns.

I am a deer hunter, and can say that my entire time on testosterone was basically a giant deer hunting dry spot, and target shooting was a mess for me.  I got my first deer pre-T, and then my next after going off it.

It was... baffling.  "How did I get this deer as a teenager?"  "How come I could hit targets so well when I was a girl?"  I had a reputation for being a really good shot, only missing deer because I wouldn't take shots I wasn't sure about.

Then I went on testosterone and it was like I couldn't hit the broad side of a barn.  My brother blamed the gun... but I've shot the same gun since I was 15, so that didn't make any sense.

Back on estrogen, I'm suddenly better at shooting again... and I have no clue how that works.  It wasn't something I expected by any means.