We See Through You #18

September 1, 2013

Hey livejournal. I’m having some feelings this morning so I want to tell you about them. 

Maybe you knew this about me and maybe you didn’t, and maybe this is true for you too or maybe it isn’t? But I don’t feel like I’ve ever had a community. I’ve had friends and lovers and family and stuff but when people talk about, like, finding themselves in a town they’ve never been to, spotting some punkers or queers, and ending up with a place to crash or some folks to go to the pizza spot with? I’ve never had that. 

Part of it is the way I grew up: not trusting friends enough to let them get close to me because I didn’t trust myself enough to get close to me. I was like, intently oblivious about my own queer and gender stuff until I was out of high school because exploring that shit at that point would have been heartbreaking and dangerous. I didn’t even learn to trust myself enough to know what I was feeling until, like- well I’m 34 now and I’m still working on it. It’s hard for me to trust anybody. 

Another part of it is the fact that I’m a woman. Look, I know that I’m painting a target on my forehead saying this in MRR, but it’s hard for me to trust dudes. A lot of women feel this way. We live in a patriarchal culture that doesn’t give men a lot of tools to, like, not be dicks- and in fact gives them, like, every incentive to feel entitled to women’s time and energy without feeling obligated to give back in the same way. All dudes aren’t jerks, obviously, and a lot of guys realize this and do a good job with it- but like cops, there’s no way for me to know if a dude is One Of The Good Ones when I see him walking toward me or wherever.

With queers it’s kind of a different thing because there’s a lot of talk about not being jerks, and about being accountable, and about support and diversity or inclusion or whatever, but it’s been my experience that that stuff is often a lot more theory than praxis. See I’m trans, right, and in queer communities, there’s this narrative that being trans is about Liberation From The Gender Binary- but in practice, because my queer community grew out of the Lesbian/Women’s Communities of yore, what this often means is “liberation from having to be a woman.” Which like, that is great for people, I’m glad you’re feeling liberated from that. Being a woman sucks in a lot of ways! But like, I’m trans and I AM a woman. Being trans is not about that kind of liberation for me at all.

This is why I don’t trust queers I don’t know. I’ve had so many experiences where some cool queer punker who Knew About Gender wanted to explain to me about how cool it was that I seemed cool because trans women are usually awful for this reason, that reason and that reason- and then couldn’t understand why that made me feel fucked up; or just couldn’t get their head around my not wanting every rando on the street to know I was trans (I don’t want to blow your mind but it’s because people treat trans women poorly); or every time a white trans guy or female-assigned genderqueer person made a thing explaining about how dangerous it is to be trans because of all these statistics when, actually, it is mostly dangerous to be a working-class Black or Latina trans woman, not a college-educated white trans* person; or every time I’ve entered a space full of queer folks and had to prove that I was cool or okay or whatever, just because they read me as a trans woman and then had no idea how to talk to me like a human being. 

I lived in the bay for four years and felt all fucked up pretty much the whole time. I was like, I keep going to these house shows and performance nights and readings and there keep being trans people talking about being trans, people keep trying to be nice to me but I keep feeling all alienated and invisible, what is going on? Every collective house in the east bay had at least one trans guy and no trans women. It wasn’t until I moved away and started to parse out the way that, like, everything about being trans that I was seeing was about how masculinity is cool, and talking about how packing a cock in your UnderArmour boxer briefs was like brave and empowering. Or endless performances by cis femmes who viewed femme as a kind of trans identity, who wanted to talk about how hot they were for masculinity in their partners. This wasn’t being cool about trans stuff, this was being cool about trans stuff in female-assigned trans people, and then assuming that that coolness was relevant to male-assigned trans people too. If you do the math thing where there’s a four on each side of the equals sign so you can erase both of them, then look: this is expecting patriarchy to affect men in the same way that it affects women.

(Meanwhile, the guys behind the counter at the E-Z Stop on Shattuck were laughing at me to my face while I was buying a sandwich and then calling me a tranny when I left. Those were pretty much the sides of the leaving the house coin when I was in the bay.)

Eventually I had to start framing The Queer Community and myself as broken up, just in order to be able to get through a day. I was like, the queer community is my ex, we see each other at shows and stuff but I’m still mad, she hurt me pretty bad and I don’t trust her to change. 

And obviously we don’t need to talk about attitudes about trans women outside queer communities, right? I’ve already told you in this column about how shitty it felt to read Kim Gordon chuckling with Chloe Sevigny about what “freaks” they both think trans women are. We don’t get to have heroes and all that but still it’s just like… okay, world, I get it, I don’t get to have a community, I get it, you can stop telegraphing that shit at me. I promise: I heard.

And look, I named this column We See Through You With Imogen Binnie instead of Being Trans Is Hell Of Alienating With Imogen Binnie (or God Shut The Fuck Up About Trans Women Already, Imogen Binnie, We Get It) because I don’t fucking care, I’m used to it, I’ve made my peace with the fact that people do a shitty job with trans women. This is old news and it’s boring and like, last night demoed a new song for this mysterious new band I’m starting. I just scored a copy of the Daïtro / Sed Non Satiata split, which is apparently kinda rare? I don’t know, I don’t know shit about collecting records, but can we just talk about French screamo that sounds like it came from the Emo Before Guyliner era? 

Nope. ‘Cause Maximum ran an interview with Kathleen Hanna a couple issues ago and I need to PROCESS.

Before we go further: I’m not going to tell you not to listen to your old Bikini Kill records, or that you’re an asshole for ever liking anything she’s ever done, or literally, that you need to do anything. The Julie Ruin record was my favorite for a while too, and it rules that Maximum ran an interview with Kathleen Hanna by a sixteen year old. I just want you to know that Kathleen Hanna is a major reason that I feel like I can’t trust queers and I can’t trust punks, and therefore a major reason that I feel like I don’t get to have a community- but you can do what you want with that. 

Look, there’s no reason for anybody reading this magazine to care about the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival, because that shit is not punk. Basically MWMF is this week-long women-only music festival that has been happening every summer since the seventies, except the only women who are allowed are cis women. (Well, and trans men.) But definitely not trans women. For like a decade and a half there was a protest that happened nearby called Camp Trans, where I organized for a few years. It was rad but it didn’t work, Michfest still doesn’t want trans women to attend.

Who cares, right? Some stupid festival. Except this thing happens where I meet somebody who seems like a cool queer, talk to them for a while, find out eventually that they go to Michfest, and end up realizing: I cannot trust anyone. Nobody has to be accountable to trans women about this shit anywhere, ever. It is this insidious thing that sneaks up on you every time you go to a party or a reading or something: one of these queers to whom I’ve just been introduced goes to Michfest. I mean, I think it is clear how that would make a trans woman feel fucked up, right? “Oh yeah I am good friends with someone who spends hundreds of dollars every summer to support a group that defines ‘woman’ as ‘not you.’”

Kathleen Hanna’s band Le Tigre played at Michfest in 2001 and 2005.

Now, whatever. I could write off this tacit endorsement of the idea that trans women are not women and get on with my life, if EVERYBODY IN THE WORLD didn’t love Kathleen Hanna so much. Over and over this reinforces my mistrust of queer people: if I come over to your house and you’ve got a framed Bikini Kill 12″ on the wall, I’m like, that’s cool, I’m stoked that band spoke to you that way- they spoke to me for a minute, years ago, too!- but what you are communicating to me is that you don’t care enough about trans women to, like, have at least a sort of complicated relationship to Bikini Kill. You know? I understand that Kathleen Hanna has done a lot of cool work and is really smart in a lot of ways, but what you need to understand, with your Bikini Kill record on your wall, is what your apparently uncomplicated relationship to this artist’s work says about your newly complicated relationship to me. Or maybe more specifically: my new mistrust of you. 

Just so you know, this is the background noise of my life and the lives of a lot of my friends.

Take my life, please!

ENDNOTES

1. My blog is called keep your bridges burning and my email is imogen at that blog, if you wanna talk about it.

2. Confidential to Kathleen Hanna: You’ve said that you think trans women are women, but your actions have clearly shown otherwise. If you’re reading this, would you please just fucking apologize for playing at Michfest? Apologizing’s easy and until you do you’re a hypocrite. 

3. You can still buy this book I wrote called Nevada at topsidepress.com/nevada.

4. My band Correspondences might play some shows again even though we all moved away! There are free mp3s at correspondences.bandcamp.com. 

5. Next month’s column won’t have anything about gender. It’s straightup just gonna be two thousand words of Robocop fan fiction, I promise.

August 2013

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Amoon September 1, 2013 at 4:26 pm

I want to hug you just for pointing out the hypocrisy that exists within the liberty of gender. So, thanks; for wording it so perfectly.

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Vaughn September 1, 2013 at 9:22 pm

Wow, that just hit multiple nails on each of their respective heads, simultaneously.

Going out: choice between guys laughing in your face just to buy soda etc., or cool queers who talk to you like they’re approaching that intelligent blob monster from old Star Trek. Yes, exactly.
Not getting to have heroes. In anything you do or like. In theory it’s liberating, I guess. But not really. For me sometimes, not wanting to know what they’re really thinking, almost? So I can keep one or two comforting illusions around.
Not trusting your emotions with friends, for way too long. Yes.
And IME, being called cold and distant for this by people who would pretty much use me as their shrink without reciprocating anyway. Processing their feelings. Can’t win.
Sometimes I look at people who don’t respond to the world much, who seem dazed and spaced out, and think how I could be even more like that. Because secretly I believe that not reacting = not feeling the sting.

thanks, -V

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Claire Cramer September 6, 2013 at 1:57 pm

On behalf of my cis sistren, I apologize. It’s really shitty how not only does this happen, they’ll do something like read this whole piece and refuse to believe you. I’m listening and I believe you.

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Christine Massey September 6, 2013 at 5:22 pm

I love you dearly Imogen, please keep writing. The world thirsts for yr knowledge

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Es September 6, 2013 at 6:06 pm

Claire brought me here and I’m listening & believe you too. & I also still remember when Kathleen Hanna played Michigan those times and at the time thought, WTF? Also, you are right in that no one seems to acknowledge that that happened. Do people have very short memories?

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Mira B September 6, 2013 at 8:06 pm

Isn’t a cistern a part of a toilet?

Great piece, Imogen.

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Ada September 6, 2013 at 8:07 pm

as a trans woman in the east bay looking for a room at the moment this is hitting pretty fucking close to home. responding to “queer and lgbt friendly” spaces over the last few weeks, co-op and non, has netted me a grand total of…. One response. One.

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Claire Palermo September 6, 2013 at 8:32 pm

This AFAB genderqueer person believes you, and agrees. Riot grrrl has done a lot for me; on some level I’m always going to think it’s cool. And many parts of it genuinely are, like the whole DIY ethos and making your own fun. But there’s no reason why we have to prop up this fake pristine vision of folks who have inspired us as if they can do no wrong, or have done no wrong. I’m sorry that so many cis and/or AFAB folks insist that if you’re going to love Kathleen, or Kim Gordon, or whoever, you must never acknowledge that they, too, have privileges and flaws.

Someday I want to create a space in my Los Angeles queer/DIY punk community for cis and trans women to come together, a show or a regular night or something. Just need to figure out how to go about it without fucking up. I would hate to further reinforce the feelings of alienation you describe in anyone.

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Kristin Craig Lai September 7, 2013 at 12:38 am

Ever since I heard about Michigan’s transmisogynist policy 15 years ago I have been apalled everytime I hear someone talk joyfully about it. When I found out about Le Tigre I was so disappointed, I can’t listen to their music anymore, it’s like a visceral reaction when it comes on. So, yeah i hate that you need to be so vigilant. Also, I loved Nevada.

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Alice September 7, 2013 at 1:52 am

You’re still the coolest and this is the coolest and best. I’m always so scared of bringing up KH/Le Tigre/Bikini Kill stuff because I’m afraid it’ll just get called out as petty (AGAIN), so this is so cool to read. xo

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Jayinchicago September 7, 2013 at 11:19 am

I know this isn’t the point and is basically the easiest and most throw away comment I could make, but seeing ‘hey livejournal’ warms my heart.

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Michael September 8, 2013 at 11:00 am

Came here from a twitter link… I’m a white/male/cis so obviously do not have an experience to relate, nor do I grok the back history.

You write well.

Just wanted to express support. That in itself doesn’t mean much of anything but don’t know what else to say.

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roberta twist September 9, 2013 at 7:55 am

Your courage and your honesty are rare and beautiful things. There are communities that are worthy of your considerable charms, Imogen. You will find them. Kathleen Hanna is an abomination, until she can praxis what she preaches.

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Trish September 10, 2013 at 2:25 pm

Fucking love you and love this, Imogen.

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guinnevere September 10, 2013 at 11:39 pm

Hey, I’m not punk and I just got here because a friend linked this article, but I wanted to say I see you and I love that you exist. And I’m queer as fuck and if we’ve lived nearby you’d be totally welcome in my group of queers. <3

(Also Robocop fanfic sounds amaze.)

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ls September 16, 2013 at 10:46 pm

Yep… you’re great. It really resonated with me to read this article. Thank you.

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