We See Through You #13

April 1, 2013

Hey Maximum! How’s it going? This is my THIRTEENTH COLUMN which means it’s my one-year anniversary. Sick! Hell of thanks for letting me publish this thing, I’m pretty stoked about it.

For my one year anniversary I am going to tell you a story about my life.

2004 was a weird year to be trans. Like, widespread internet access made information about how to transition pretty much accessible, but most of that information was, like, written by middle-class and rich white women, for middle-class and rich white women. If you were looking you could find strap-on.org, which started off as the Chainsaw Records message board, which was a fuckin decade ahead of its time in terms of arguing on the internet and all the social justice stuff the kids can’t get enough of on tumblr these days. But if you were a dumb kid and the social justice language on strap-on scared the shit out of you, and you thought you might be trans but you didn’t want to grow up and be a Gap-shoping mom, it was a bleak scene: it was mostly internet tests that boiled down to “do you hate math? you are probably a girl.” It sucked.

I didn’t know what to do so I moved to New York.

I was like, I dunno, maybe moving to New York will turn me into the kind of person who’s able to bravely resist gender norms or whatever. It didn’t though. Moving to New York just meant everything was expensive as fuck and the bars didn’t close til 4 AM. I moved there with a girl I was dating, she broke up with me pretty much immediately, I got a job at the Strand, and then I spent all my time blogging about gender and feelings.

Dude, I blogged hard.

(I was listening to a bunch of abrasive electronic music right around then- like Kid 606 and this guy Poisson D’Avril, who I don’t think ever put out a record- and a friend gave me some electronic music software for my dumb old computer and I spent a few months trying to be a tough electronic hardcore musician- it’s pretty funny, I put the complete and inept thirteen-minute discography up at fighterhayabusa.bandcamp.com if you wanna laugh at me from eight years ago.)

I was like, how the fuck am I supposed to be trans, trans women are all either, like, boring and hungry for respectability, or else they are way cooler and more self-assured than my dumb punker doofus idiot ass is ever gonna be. Some friends were like, look, come to this thing called the Trans Health Conference in Philly, it’ll be cool, hang out with trans people, maybe it’ll help. So I was like, uh, okay.

The Trans Health Conference is still around and it’s become this big deal thing every year and I’ve done workshops there and stuff and from the perspective of a radical/punk/queer/gross/hesher/dumbass trans woman who’s been exhausted for years by the way dyke, queer and “trans” communities bend over backwards to be inclusive toward trans men without giving a single half fuck about trans women, it gets worse and worse every year. But even back then it was pretty busy and multiple workshops were scheduled at a time. The friends I was with were going to some workshop that I don’t remember anything about but lo and fucking behold, dude, somebody was literally doing a workshop called The Trans Punk Perspective!

I was like, uhhh, okay, I guess I’ll see you all later, and stumbled up the stairs on shaky baby deer legs, terrified that everybody there would be so cool I’d get laughed out of the room for looking like a herb. But what the fuck was I gonna do, not go to this thing? So I went into this little room and sat in the back and the two women who were leading it passed around a zine that one of them had made specifically for the workshop and then spent the next hour making fun of each other. They were covered in tattoos and they both seemed kind of surprised that they were in charge of a workshop, and they both had weird hair and dumb glasses, and like, I found out later that Sybil was hella stoned and drunk. I didn’t talk to her then but Anne Tagonist, who had written zines about being trans in the nineties and who basically is this smart wingnut who I look up to even though I don’t really look up to anyone, she was totally there too, talking about anarchy and bikes.

But that was it.

That was my sun coming out from behind the clouds revelation moment.

I was like hold up, I can dye my hair stupid colors and cut it weird, cuss a lot, be a fuckup, get tattoos and make zines and be trans? Are you… are you sure about this? Suddenly this whole other life was possible.

I grew up and now I’m friends with the presenters. Alyssa told me that she did that workshop because she didn’t know any other punk trans women except Sybil and she wanted to make a thing finally fucking happen and Sybil was like, okay, I’ll do it, but then right before the workshop Sybil got nervous so she got all stoned and that’s why the workshop ended up going off the rails and being a clusterfuck. But I guess that’s the magic though, right? You can’t kill it. And it worked- eight years later, I know hell of punker trans women! Who play in bands and mentor younger punk trans women and cultivate this, like, sub-subculture or whatever.

I guess my whole point of bringing this up is that I seriously literally owe everything cool that came up in my life to that dumb workshop they did in 2004. Punkers, man, bein all stupid and saving lives. That shit is real.

The second part of this column is that I want to tell you that I have a book coming out. I wrote a novel about this stuff. I mean, if you’ve been paying attention to this column for the last year, I have a lot of trouble shutting the fuck up about it, because I’m fuckin’ stoked. Seriously. I wrote this novel about trans women for trans women and it’s about this girl who is a borderline punker and about how hard it is to find a mentor and, like, if I may, I want to quote three hundred and fifty words from the 1970s classic of feminist psychology Toward A New Psychology Of Women by Jean Baker Miller.

Over time, we can see certain characteristics in the writings of an oppressed group. Initially, many writers work to dispel the false ideas which have been purveyed about the group. Dispelling falsities is very valuable. Along with it, however, a tendency often emerges to ‘prove’ that the oppressed group is ‘just as good as the so-called first rate people’ and should be treated in the same way. In seeking to prove this, writers often accept the standards and values of the dominant group, either wittingly or unwittingly. They often assumed that the dominant group’s method of advancing knowledge is the best of only method. Indeed, academic disciplines exert heavy pressure on everyone to believe this, and they tend to penalize and silence those who deviate from it.

Once the period of dispelling falsities is under way, the ability emerges to see the experience of the oppressed or “second-class people” in their own terms – and to see that these terms can open up a greater understanding not only of the second-class people but of everyone. It then becomes clearer that the categories and even the words used by the dominant group are not appropriate. The words usually tend to systematically downgrade and obscure the experience of the dominant group. If writers search for more appropriate terms, they depart from the usually categories and assumptions. They then see the experience of the dominant group in a new light, in terms that can illuminate that experience as well as the total human experience.

This new scholarship leads to the recognition that the descriptions of the events in the lives of the subordinate group were inadequate, as were those used to describe the dominant group. […] …the close study of an oppressed group reveals that a dominant group inevitably describes a subordinate group falsely in terms derived from its own systems of thought. These same false categories guide the dominant group’s explanations about itself. Once writers see the inadequacy of these terms, they have to find new ones. And once they begin to find new ones, they see that the systems of thought which contained such false terms are seriously flawed in their basic assumptions, which had previously defined everything.

I’m obsessed with this.This seems so applicable to where trans women are at right now- there’s hella trans memoirs and a bunch of trans fiction but I mean, not to dork out, but the central thing about most trans stuff that’s out there right now is that it’s designed to explain trans people to cis people. Like, it’s about the fact that being trans is a priori interesting. This reifies cultural norms in which trans people are other, are less than- are in a place where we need to explain ourselves. But I’ve known trans women who’ve been saying otherwise for over a fuckin decade and it feels kind of like, any day, this shit is gonna bubble over.

I’m not saying I’ve solved it or anything- I may in fact have written a fucked up book that’ll set trans women as a whole back a couple decades. I dunno. But I have this novel called Nevada coming out from Topside Press in April and it’s about a trans woman who’s smart but also a fucking catastrophe who has an ill-conceived personal odyssey of shitty mentorship or something… It doesn’t have much about her transition in it and all the sex in it is really bad so it’s kind of like, if you’re looking for a book that explains trans people to you, this might not be it. Like… I dunno, man, I feel like I got to write this thing that I’d been wanting to read for fucking forever and it’s weird and cool that Topside Press is letting me publish it and I’m not trying to be a capitalist asshole and advertise it here- if you wanna read it but you’re broke and wanna trade or work something out email imogen@keepyourbridgesburning.com, seriously, let’s talk- especially if you’re in prison- it’s just, like, I feel stoked that I get to do stuff in the tradition of the 2004 Trans Punk Perspective workshop at THC almost a decade ago. Like imagine if some kid was reading this right now and was like, fuck, nobody STILL ever talks about being a trans woman punker, I feel heck of lonely. How sick would that be! Dude, email me if that’s you. Let’s hang out, I wanna come to your town. Don’t get a tattoo of the transgender symbol. Trust me.

I’m gonna be touring on it from the beginning of March to the end of April and then again at the end of the summer I think and if you wanna come and hang out, that would fuckin rule. Tour dates are probably at topsidepress.com/nevada although I’m writing this a couple months in advance so if that doesn’t work, y’know, I bet you can work google.. I’m also tryna get RVIVR to play my reading in Olympia. How rad would that be? Haha. What the fuck. Book punk. Gross.

But I guess that’s all I want to say. I’ll shut the fuck up about myself (yeah right) and write about bands next month. And maybe tumblr? The kids are using tumblr right now in a manner that is punk as fuck, if you didn’t know. Also: check out this band Ragana, trust me.

(March 2013)

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