2017: The Year in Preview

(this was a first draft of the year’s-end post, but i realized i couldn’t actually center my experience of the whole year around it and say something useful because the first half of the year was so different)

I got up from the couch in our lounge and headed back to my room to retrieve a large bag of sour candy I had purchased earlier in anticipation of the night to come. On my way back out of the room, candy in hand, I glanced at the mirror to see if my hair was frizzy, as had become habit. HARK: A GIRL! Not different, but different enough. Just a few years older than me, though looking perhaps a bit younger. (HRT will do that to you) She had a tight-lipped seriousness expressing experience where I have a tired half-frown expressing exhaustion, and her hair was beautiful. I saw her face, unmistakably mine but more mature and stubbly no more. She had learned to take care of herself! I knew what she wanted for me: to see past the same-old, same-old depression and anxiety and nights spent up desperately wondering if the world was still young enough to sustain her newborn confidence.

2017 was the first time I wore a dress since I was three or four years old.

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it

you don’t need to have dysphoria to be trans or transition, you can just do it and be a girl or a boy or both or neither or anything else. but for those of us who do have dysphoria, it can be hard to explain how that experience specifically can drive someone to transition. David Foster Wallace gives a very poignant description of feeling suicidal in Infinite Jest that also applies to what gender dysphoria can feel like at its worst. this is the “psychotically depressed person” passage (bottom of page 696 in mine):

The so-called ‘psychotically depressed’ person who tries to kill herself doesn’t do so out of quote ‘hopelessness’ or any abstract conviction that life’s assets and debits do not square. And surely not because death seems suddenly appealing. The person in whom Its invisible agony reaches a certain unendurable level will kill herself the same way a trapped person will eventually jump from the window of a burning high-rise. Make no mistake about people who leap from burning windows. Their terror of falling from a great height is still just as great as it would be for you or me standing speculatively at the same window just checking out the view; i.e. the fear of falling remains a constant. The variable here is the other terror, the fire’s flames: when the flames get close enough, falling to death becomes the slightly less terrible of two terrors. It’s not desiring the fall; it’s terror of the flames. And yet nobody down on the sidewalk, looking up and yelling ‘Don’t!’ and ‘Hang on!’, can understand the jump. Not really. You’d have to have personally been trapped and felt flames to really understand a terror way beyond falling.

the gist is that there are a lot of parts of transitioning that people do dread, and that it is in many ways “the fall.” nobody truly looks forward to having their genitals surgically rearranged in the abstract; at least not in those terms. you either do it or you don’t, it involves a tradeoff. it’s unfortunately an enormous hassle, involving a complex bureaucratic dance, physical pain, and frequently not-insignificant financial expenditure. and yet: the flames. weighing the two in your head, transitioning comes out on top. or it doesn’t.

how to speak of the unspeakable

I cannot bring to words the emotions I’ve felt and the things that have happened to me in 2017. This is the first time in a while I’ve been able to say that, and it pains me that I can’t say more in longform, so instead I’ll collect here a bunch of angsty short things I started writing (during the second half of the year, when life became a trial by fire thanks to estrogen) and didn’t finish, like last time, but this time verbatim. They’ll all be tagged 2017, but I’m not going to paste them together, because I think that’s rather inelegant. I realize I may have exhausted people’s patience for low-effort posts with the last one, but I honestly don’t know what else to do and I want to share this stuff.

net mortality

one of the reasons i’m so into computers and computer science is because if you want to try out a new programming language or a new tool or read a paper you can use the internet to do it, almost anything can be downloaded and tried out as soon as the impulse strikes. the internet was and still is my gateway to science, radical politics, trans people and culture, and much more. this is the stuff you can’t find on facebook, the stuff that’s tucked away on a blog that hasn’t been updated since 1997 that you find after yet another all-nighter spent chasing a thread through dozens then hundreds then thousands of hypertext documents, all while trying to figure out who you are.

i owe the fact that i’m not still that confused little girl who everyone thought was a boy today to nearly unfettered internet access (in my case, i had to rely on my family) which i hoped would someday be secured by our society for the benefit of all. the problem of net neutrality is often couched in terms of free markets and level playing fields for starting an internet business, but more critically it’s a problem of who has access to what information and which resources and who they become or don’t because of that, and how society and culture changes or doesn’t because of them. this is a world where all those bookish liberal firebrands will never become comrades, where young women of color and girls who could revolutionize the field will never learn that they can start programming in haskell in ten minutes, where trans people will no longer have a comprehensive encyclopedia on the metaphysics of identity and the material aspects of trans culture or an entire universe of “people like me” to communicate with and learn from or discourse created by and for trans people at their disposal when they figure out that they need it.

all because the interests of capital have realized they can charge people for access to these resources, further exploiting the labor of those who release their work on the web for free. they’re inhibiting access to a resource that has the potential to liberate humanity, as the printing press did before it. such potential needs to be safeguarded from the exploitative cynicism of capital, lest it become a tool of the latter’s perpetuation as so many resources have before it. what we truly need and want is an internet owned and controlled by the people, whether proletariat or precariat, and it’s clear that the FCC cannot provide even a semblance of that future in its current state.

seeds of an idea

this is not exactly my trans day of remembrance post, though if it helps you to think about it that way please do so. instead it is a palette of ideas about transness and trans people that have come into my head recently and which i might want to expand into something more at a later date but which i do not have the energy or spoons to nurture further at the moment. i make no claims as to the originality of these ideas as many of them are appropriations of other concepts or even probably flat-out paraphrasing of stuff i’ve read elsewhere but which i have forgotten the origin of. (n.b.: if you’ve heard what i’m talking about elsewhere and i didn’t credit them, link me and i will update the post) i will do my best to cite sources in both cases, or at least give references to similar ideas. they are arranged roughly by ascending relevance to what TDOR is actually about, that is, the trans lives snatched from us violently by transmisogynists and transphobes and in particular violence against trans women of color and transmisogynoir violence (directed at Black trans women).

trans impostor syndrome

this one practically writes itself and much ink has been spilled on it elsewhere, but near as i can tell i came up with it myself and it’s just a popular concept. tl;dr: am trans but actually? etc. sometimes everyone else’s transness feels infinitely more legitimate than mine, especially on those dark and stormy nights when i get the bad dysphorias. why is it worse now? simple explanation: the fog of emotional blunting has lifted, and now it’s a lot easier to see that yes, i do hate these parts of my body, and no, i wasn’t imagining it. highly unlikely and much more convoluted explanation courtesy of depressed cognition and a pervasively cissexist and transmisogynistic society and culture: i’m actually a man, and what i’m experiencing now is “real” dysphoria at being forced to live as a woman. reasons this is unlikely: i really love being a girl.

QED.

if you’re dealing with similar problems my favorite framework for externalizing validation is natalie reed’s appropriation of a somewhat Bayesian framework in the context of trans identity, as expounded in this wonderful essay. briefly: stop thinking about the chances of whether a random person is trans, because you’re not a random person, you’re you. given all the knowledge you have about yourself right now, is it more likely that you’re trans or cis? (hint: that knowledge includes the fact that you’re questioning in the first place, especially if that process is really eating you up. cis people categorically do not spend their lives agonizing over whether or not they’re actually trans, and it took me a while to learn that.)

trans identity as a subculture / collective cultural identity among transgender people

here i’d like to think about what it means to be part of the “trans community” in its manifold incarnations and permutations. what is the “trans community?” who inhabits such a place? what does it mean to identify yourself as a member? what do you give up to join this community? what do you gain in exchange for what you give up? and so forth. (pardon the stylistic butlerism of this paragraph, i can’t control myself)

the direction i’m thinking of is one which would actually enable a more grounded and materialist conception of trans identity because i find many of the present depictions to hew to a sort of idealism and metaphysics that i find grating. a lot of trans spaces also carry with them a specific brand of philosophy, politics, ethics, and psychology, and i would like to investigate the ways in which the use of those disciplines in the trans community (and perhaps even the original description of a trans community as such) regulates who is and isn’t allowed to be trans.

this would be working from the thesis that there is no trans identity without other trans people, and that there is no trans subjectivity without other trans subjects.

when is trans life grievable?

yup, this is the butler one. well, more than the others at least. the linked article at the verso books blog is a shorter version of an argument judith butler makes in Frames of War about the nature of grief and the impossibility of grieving a death when you never understood the deceased as alive, originally in the context of the largely anonymous and unknown and ungrieved victims of US imperialism overseas. this is what inspired what i eventually wrote on pride’s TDOR event poster: “what’s in a name if we only hear it when someone is dead?” the bolded parts are supposed to convey the idea i had that a list of names on a TDOR poster is only a list of names when in fact no, it’s not a name that has been brutally murdered, they’re a person.

and it’s nearly impossible to feel that pain and grieve as we should when all we have are numbers and names. the sheer invisibility and precarity of trans lives, particularly that of trans women of color, cannot be quantified. how can i grieve properly for the lives of 25 trans people, especially when the only reason i know of their birth is that i know of their death? even worse is when murder is the only exposure we have to the existence of trans people of color in the first place and what should be the inviolable legitimacy of their bodies and struggles. it must be ensured that white trans people cannot hide from our complicity in white supremacy behind a veneer of superficial grievance for the violence perpetrated against trans people of color. i think it’s not too much of a stretch to say that butler’s conception of grievability is a powerful one in this context.

sometimes

sometimes
when i am feeling sad
and alone
but not lonely

and my body is telling me to
rend flesh from spirit
blaspheme spinoza
exalt descartes

i
like
to
press
myself
up
against
the
side
of
a
large
wall
or
tall
building,

feel the breasts that i don’t have
pushing up against the life that i do

in medias res

discovering gender dysphoria is sort of like getting a load of salt rubbed into a wound you’ve had since birth without realizing it. it hurts like hell and yet for the first time something actually does, instead of just sort of rebounding off the painful and tired banalities of your existence with the dull clank that everything else does from a death in the family to a stubbed toe. finally more like an “oh FUCK” than an “oh fuck” if that makes any sense.

blade runner 2049: trans edition, now with more cis people

at times shatteringly brilliant, at others confusing, obscure, and disappointing.

(spoilers ahead)

i liked Blade Runner 2049 for the most part but it seemed there was a pervasive misogyny to the whole thing that was very poorly justified. i could be misreading it but several scenes featuring violence against women were extremely difficult for me to watch and one of them left me hyperventilating and feeling nauseous. it seemed like all the women existed either to die to prove how evil their murderers are or to advance the plot for the white male protagonists while being perfectly self-effacing. the resistance leader might be an exception though.

of course my trans headcanon machine kicked into full gear with the whole “everyone secretly wishes they were a girl” thing among the revolutionaries even though it seemed completely unintentional. oh and also “that’s not a name, it’s a serial number” is painfully close to the connection i have with my birthname, which for me at this point is a label for a legal abstraction that doesn’t exist as a body and persists in this role solely because the state demands a consistent means of control. it might as well be a serial number.

it is almost unquestionably the most beautiful movie i’ve ever seen, and the philosophy is still interesting for the most part, but i can’t help but wonder whether the questions about what makes an identity, what makes you real, what does it mean to be authentic, can you convince yourself you’re real when society tells you you aren’t, what is a soul, etc, could’ve been better handled by a trans person or someone else for whom these questions aren’t allowed to be airy meditations on existentialism but questions for which wrong answers can and do get you killed.

this isn’t to say the director and writers have no understanding of or right to speak on these issues, just that at times it felt a little distant and a little impersonal and a little hypothetical and i fear it risks becoming another depoliticized cult adventure flick with a cool plot twist because of this. it can be so hard for people in dominant positions of power to understand that it often has to be blatant and carefully spelled out. (i’m mostly looking at men when i say this, particularly men in SF/F fandom) the film is dealing with questions faced by large groups of real people on a daily basis, yet what we have in the replicants of “2049” seems to be white, cis people but with trans people’s problems.

one can imagine a voight-kampff test for transness, (probably administered by TERFs to unusually tall women at feminist gatherings) and i wonder whether the movie might have had more to say about our current cultural-political atmosphere if it were more direct about the consequences of treating some people as less authentically human because they lack intrinsic characteristics. for blade runner the essential characteristic is a soul, which apparently derives from a womb. however this definition (and perhaps the entire concept) is shown to be total bullshit when Joe (don’t you dare deadname him goddamn it) starts acting like a fucking human being merely because he thinks he has a soul.

whether or not i’m “really trans” in a transcendent (no pun), platonic, essential sense is not something i agonize over much these days, and i often question whether it is a useful question to ask in the first place. i had a problem, and i eventually solved it in part by believing i was trans and acting on that belief, and it’s working out pretty well. identity is at least as much what you do as what you “are.” how many cis people do you know who defy gender stereotypes? how many non-replicants do you know that despite their obvious humanity don’t fucking act like human beings? (hint: we call these people “normal” and “republicans” respectively) if acting like a goddamn human being is proof enough that you are, should we care if you’re a replicant? if changing your name and clothing and pumping those hormones is going to make your life livable, should we really care whether or not you have a specific gender identity in your DNA? i don’t think so, and i think Joe would agree.

reading list: an evening of left transphobia

here’s a list of what i read tonight while i was supposed to be studying, and a few thoughts of my own, because i want to have something to show for this for once.

the question posed by all this thinking is essentially, why does transphobia seem to be such a great litmus test for “Left Conservatism”? is being trans and defending trans rights inherently reactionary? (well, no.) did trans people exist before postmodernist theory? (yes) did being non-binary exist before tumblr? (of course) are people still different without the false consciousness of identity? (yes again) is it because i’m trans but otherwise hold a lot of social power over others, so i notice transphobia and not other vectors of oppression? why does transphobia overlap with theory-hatred so strongly in this sphere? why do all these people hate judith butler?

the following writers are crudely labelled pro- and anti- “identity politics” to make the discussion afterwards simpler.

pro
“Left Conservatism: A Workshop”
http://ccs.ihr.ucsc.edu/past-conferences/2836-2/

anti
“Journey back into the vampires’ castle: Mark Fisher remembered, 1968-2017”
https://thecharnelhouse.org/2017/01/16/journey-back-into-the-vampires-castle-mark-fisher-remembered-1968-2017/

pro
“All hail the vampire-archy: what Mark Fisher gets wrong in ‘Exiting the vampire castle'”
https://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/ray-filar/all-hail-vampire-archy-what-mark-fisher-gets-wrong-in-exiting-vampire-castle

anti
“Postscript on identity, intersectionality”
https://thecharnelhouse.org/2013/11/27/postscript-on-identity-intersectionality/

anti
“Deleuzeans of grandeur”
https://thecharnelhouse.org/2013/10/30/far-too-easily-impressed/

anti
“INTERSECTIONAL? OR SECTARIAN?”
http://www.metamute.org/community/your-posts/intersectional-or-sectarian

anti
“WHERE HAVE ALL THE ARGUMENTS GONE? Notes on the smugification of intellectual life”
https://terenceblake.wordpress.com/2013/10/30/where-have-all-the-arguments-gone-notes-on-the-smugification-of-intellectual-life/

pro
“Bela Lugosi’s dead: A Reply to Mark Fisher”
http://www.thenorthstar.info/?p=11364

pro
“Against Vampire Slaying: Reflections on Identity Politics, the Left and Monstrosity”
http://www.thenorthstar.info/?p=11382

anti
“‘American Thought’: from theoretical barbarism to intellectual decadence”
https://adidasmarxism.wordpress.com/2017/08/25/american-thought-from-theoretical-barbarism-to-intellectual-decadence/

(here’s where it gets interesting to me, if you’ve made it this far. trigger warning for rape and transphobia)

anti
“Telling rape victims how they *must* process their rape is inherently anti-feminist”
http://elegantgatheringofwhitesnows.com/?p=2310

*phew*

ok. yes, the authors are mostly men, yes, they’re mostly white. however the exceptions here still fit at least one different pattern (transphobia) even when the author is a woman or a person of color, as happens occasionally. there are probably others too but i’m most experienced at recognizing transphobic rhetoric and philosophy. i’ll get to that at the end. the charnel house pieces are all your sort of typical brocialist-lite, chapo trap house type leftists. you know the brand. identity politics is ruining the left, they’re just painting over neoliberalism with a gloss of “intersectionality,” they’re fostering division within the working class when what we need is unity, they hate white men instead of capitalism, they’re never satisfied with how radical someone is, they’re infatuated with postmodernism whatever. if you don’t know me, i’m solidly on the pro-“IDPOL” side of things in these debates, if you can call them debates. i don’t actually have a problem with these people a priori, (they’re still comrades after all) and i do get a kick out of chapo excoriating reactionary youtubers and recipients of wing nut welfare in particular. but i think most of their arguments against “intersectionality” are bad, and in particular very repetitive. some of the pro-“IDPOL” writers above (sam kriss, at least) share variations of the following critique; my critique.

the standard criticism rests largely on so-called IDPOL leftists hating the metanarrative of traditional marxism and traditional marxist leftists (the effective philosophy, and white men, respectively) while eschewing them in favor of bourgeois individualism, the false consciousness of identity, and neoliberal guilt-and-shame tactics that divert attention from structural problems transcending the individual. it doesn’t quite divide along the theory-anti-theory line that we find when discussing politics with liberals, but it’s close in a lot of ways. there are the familiar shibboleths — judith butler is incomprehensible/secretly a neoliberal, poststructuralism is elitist/”common people” can’t understand it therefore it’s anti-leftist, etc. these are people who like their marx and think that nobody else has read it, and that leftist theory largely took a turn for the worse in the post-war era. they mostly think they’ve taken the “off-ramp from philosophy” offered by marx, and are confused that others haven’t.

the problem i have with this is that the most radical people i know personally would all probably be considered “IDPOL leftists” by this crowd, and none of the criticisms of us are accurate, at least from my perspective. the object of their critique is a straw leftist akin to the pink-haired feminist of 4chan reactionaries. i’m anti-capitalist. i base my criticisms first on structural factors and materialism. i don’t think that “diversity” or “inclusion” are inherently revolutionary (a hollowed-out caricature of intersectionality, to be sure). i don’t think “identity” transcends economic class (just look at the vitriol for caitlyn jenner among radical trans women). if the proletariat rose up tomorrow, i wouldn’t criticize it for being started by white men if those white men actually understood what they were doing and understood that the oppression faced by these “identity”-based minorities was legitimate even if our methods aren’t. the last part of that is a position that the above authors do not reject, as far as i can tell. the oppression is a legitimate social ill, it’s our ostensibly counter-revolutionary methods of callouts and such that are the problem for them. it is only communism that would entirely satisfy my political goals, and nothing less. this isn’t to say i’m completely anti-reform though, even as these writers accuse us of being against “slow boring of hard boards”-type change because it’s executed primarily by white dudes and doesn’t go far enough or whatever.

the pattern of transphobia i alluded to in the first paragraph is the part i can’t crack. it’s the one constant between all of these writers on the other side of the IDPOL problem, chapo trap house not included (they’re better on this than they have a right to be and i don’t get it). the last link is essentially the typical TERF complaint that trans women want into “women born women”-only safe spaces because women are raped by men and trans women are “socialized male” and (shocker) some of us have penises so we must secretly be men, or at least our inclusion would lead to admitting men pretending to be trans women. angela nagle (author of “kill all normies”) thinks the tumblr left has overrun real praxis with a proliferation of ridiculous non-binary identities, adolph reed wonders why trans women are so upset about being excluded because TERFs (real women) are scared of including us so they must have a point, jokes about trans women getting angry about conflating gender and genitalia abound. surprise surprise, the anti-intersectionality crowd is not very intersectional.

i already asked all the questions about transphobia at the top, but after about three hours today and countless more in the past, i still don’t get it. why are so many otherwise radical people of different genders and races and ethnicities almost universally transphobic?