Well Hello Cruel World

‘Cause what the world needs now is another folk singer…. or another blog by a tedious transitioner — here’s my four-volume set and the boxed DVD set — but enough of my Facebook friends have found my posts and essays useful that they been bugging me to  have a blog they could reference, so here goes…

It’ll be a combination of essays about Teh Tranz, and “public journal” entries about my transition (I socially transitioned at the beginning of the 2017), which I was pretty transparent about. For the latter, it’s going to take awhile to retroactively post stuff from the past two years. So I’ll be filling that in as I get a chance.

I Am Still A Dyke…

To all the TERFs from other states and other countries who’ve descended like flying monkeys on the 25th SF Dyke March – Calling All Dykes: Take Up Your Space page to tell the locals how we’re doing it wrong:

I am a trans woman. I am still a dyke.
I am a late-life transitioner. I am still a dyke.
I still have my original factory-installed equipment. I am still a dyke.
I am a pansexual woman. I am still a dyke.
I’m not a gold star lesbian. I am still a dyke.
I am a late-life entrant to lesbian spaces. I am still a dyke.
I am a burlesque performer (not sex work per se, but still “sexy work,” of which I’m sure you also disapprove). I am still a dyke.
I perform as a drag queen. I am still a dyke.
I am a femme. I am still a dyke.
I am all the things you hate. I am still a dyke.

You’re the ones who are doing it wrong: your cult-like gender essentialism, your rabid hatred of anyone who’s not exactly like you, your outing and doxing my trans sisters.

The SF Dyke March is — and always has been from day one — inclusive of all women who identify as dykes. As their official 2017 statement says: “It’s a political identity. It stands for community. It stands for solidarity. It stands for radical fight. It stands for trans*, black, brown, queer, bisexual, lesbian, disabled, chronically ill, fat, femme, butch, indigenous, gender expansive love. It does not stand by erasure. By displacement. By appropriation.”

Today I will don my rainbow-colored dress and take my rightful place among my dyke sisters. I will be taking up space with them. You can crawl back into the holes you slithered out of. We will be busy being fierce and fabulous.

Get Out of My Head!

OMG, so many of these were/are me.

Transgender Artist Illustrates Her Gender Transition In 10+ Emotional Comics

Julia Kaye is a 28-year-old cartoonist living in Los Angeles. She’s already famous from her webcomic ‘Up And Out’, but last year a big change came to her life – she became a transgender woman. This was clearly a very hard step to make and Julia went and is still going through many challenges that bring both melancholic and optimistic feelings.

With encouragement from her friends, Julia started to make comics about her transition. The series focuses on her feelings, moments of insecurity or triumph while reaching important personal milestones, such as buying a dress for the first time, learning how to use eyeliner, and talking about her transition to her family and friends.

The artist found this process very therapeutic – “It got me to set aside time at the end of my day to reflect on how I was feeling. And because I was making the comics for myself, I allowed myself to be more honest than I might have been otherwise.” Eventually Kaye decided to share the comics publicly, realizing she could give other trans people content that they could directly relate to, and the feeling that they’re not alone, as well as give others insight into what it’s like to live with gender dysphoria. Check them out!

Keeping Burlesque A World Where Women Feel Safe

I hadn’t spoken up about the Russell Bruner controversy engulfing the burlesque world because I wanted gather my thoughts first.

For those of you outside the burly world, numerous women collectively wrote and yesterday released an open letter saying that a prominent performer and producer had engaged in serial sexually predatory behavior against them, ranging from verbal sexual harassment to criminally punishable sexual assault. Bruner has admitted there have been “incidents,” but claims to have been forgiven by those in involved.

I believe the women. I’ve been sexually assaulted myself, and I know how hard it is to speak up — particularly if it’s a person of prestige and power. Want to know why women don’t report being raped and/or sexually assaulted? Look no further than the Cosby mistrial.

Needless to say there’s no room for sexual predators in the burly world (or the dungeon, or the world at large for that matter). But particularly in the burly world, which today is an art form created by women, where the vast majority of the performers are women, intended primarily for the women in the audience (who make up the majority of our audiences). It’s a space where women can celebrate their sexuality without being slut shamed, without having to worry about Schrodinger’s rapist, without having to constantly watch how we dress and what we say for fear it will result in unwanted sexual attention.

As someone who’s lived on both sides of the gender binary, and who’s had careers in both the burlesque and drag worlds, here’s some thoughts on keeping burlesque a world where women feel safe.

There are men in burlesque — performers, producers and photographers — many of whom I love. That said, Mama’s got some advice.

You are working in a predominately “women’s space.” Much of like bachelorette parties at gay bars, and straight people at Pride, are in someone else’s space. We welcome you, but we also expect you behave with respect and well-learned politesse.

This may take some getting used to. I get it, men — especially white men — are used to going anywhere, saying anything. When I was living as a man, I got that indoctrination too. It’s an example of privilege, which is typically hard to see *precisely* because you don’t have to think about it.

It can also feel unfair to feel like there may be an undercurrent of suspicion until proven otherwise. Yeah it sucks to be prejudged for who you are — welcome to the world of women, of trans people, of people of color. There’s a reason why many women are wary, because we move through the world it is definitely #yesallwomen.

You may think you understand the level of sexual harassment women face. Trust me, you don’t. You just don’t. I had only an intellectual understanding of it myself until I began living as a woman in the world. It’s wondering how quickly it will take for “Come on give me a smile” to turn into “Smile bitch! It’s walking to your car late at night and wondering if you’ll need to use your heels to defend yourself against the guy who’s following you. It’s dealing with the daily messages from collectors who want to friend you so that can save your photos to their personal spank bank. It’s ever-present, it permeates down into your bones.

Obviously not all sexual predators are men — in fact the person who sexually assaulted me was a random women, and sexual abuse within the lesbian community is sadly unreported. But most of them are.

So yeah, you *do* need to be on your best behavior. Think about it. You’re in a space where women are nearly naked on stage, and often fully naked backstage. Watch what you say, watch what you do. Know that, despite your intent, what you say may be taken the wrong way. I know it might feel onerous — welcome to what it’s like being a woman in a man’s world. I’m not saying you need to completely self-censor — I’m a bitch who loves bawdy banter myself. But be mindful of where it’s appropriate and who it’s appropriate with (i.e. best to start with only people you know well).

Some special thoughts for the gay men, who perform as drag queens, who are crossing over into burlesque.

If I hadn’t already made it clear, you’re in a different culture now, with different cultural norms. I’m a lesbian-leaning bisexual, but I’ve spent more than a decade performing in gay bars and other gay spaces as a drag queen (who at the time was thought to be a man), and let me repeat: *it’s different.* Gay culture can at times be a bit sexually… direct… not only cruising but also on the mic, and unfortunately fairly tolerant of people getting handsy with performers. I’ve been groped so many times in gay bars I’ve lost count and people expect to brush it off with a laugh. “It’s not like they’re real” as I ask them to remove their hands from my boobs and my ass. (Yes, they’re my boobs and ass, I paid good money for them.) “What’s the big deal, I’m gay,” they tell my women friends who perform there after groping them. Nope. Just nope. Without consent, it’s still sexual assault.

We drag queens love innuendo and teasing others (and ourselves) about being promiscuous and/or sec workers. But remember women’s sexuality is viewed — and policed very differently. Yes women MCs may make similar comments and jokes on the mic, and the women in the audience go wild. But that’s because burly spaces are one of the exceedingly few places women *can* do that. Those sorts of comments can be heard very differently when coming from a may, gay or not.

Again, I get it, it sucks to feel restricted by problems caused (mostly) by straight men. You want more freedom? Become known for shutting down sexually harassing comments/actions by straight men, and confronting sexually misogynistic comments in gay spaces. In another words, someone known as an ally by deeds not just words.

Actually, that’s good advice for all men.

To all men, it’s not that hard. There’s concrete things you can do every day. If you’re a photographer, before going into a dressing area, ask if you can come in (someone may prefer to get covered by you enter). If you’re a producer make it clear you take sexual harassment (by any gender) extremely seriously. If you’re a performer and see another performer getting a little out of line, pull them aside.

As said before, we welcome you to our house — be good guests.

Post-Transition Blues

So I’ve been a bit absent while I’ve been dealing with some pretty nasty pinched nerve pain (I’m out of pain and doing a lot better, thank you.)

But another a big reason is frankly I went through some post-transition blues.

Admittedly with the health issues, I had a pretty hard few months immediately after transition. Especially in contrast to how smoothly things went beforehand. (Obviously other people have hard transitions, losing family, jobs, etc.)

But it was more than that. I’d like to think I went into transition with very little pink fog and realistic expectations about what life post-transition would be like. My attitude was the life pre-transition was chop wood, carry water, and life post-transition would be chop wood, carry water.

And yet…

Don’t get me wrong, it is definitely better.

The background static of my social dysphoria is pretty much gone. And while there’s a big of slog ahead, it’s nowhere near the amount of stress and anxiety I had during last year’s run up to transition. I tell people that I spent the last half of 2016 running on coffee and adrenaline. I’m only half-joking…

In a way it’s a bit like “top drop” in the dungeon. It’s truism in the kink scene that in a scene bottoms get off on endorphins and tops get off on adrenaline. So if you’re topping, at the end of the scene, you’re pumped full of adrenaline and quite literally the best thing to do is go run around the block to burn it off. But you can’t, since you’re responsible for your bottom’s aftercare. Hence you typically get an adrenaline crash, which usually sucks a bit, but you just have to push through it.

Someone one the My Husband Betty forum once wisely noted that hopefully transition resolves your gender issues — but all your other issues remain. And if anything, something else now gets promoted to be your new #1 issue. Which in my case was very true. There’s some other aspects of my life that I’ve wanted to change that are at the forefront.

For me it’s dealing with a lifetime of armoring up. I don’t have many close friends, and the ones who are don’t live locally. And all my more casual friends live 30 miles away in SF and Oakland. I’m single, and while it meant I didn’t have to deal with transition issues related to spouse and kids, it also means on the whole my support system isn’t anywhere what I want/need it to be. All of that was compounded by the nerve pain that kept me mostly housebound.

I’m also having inertia for different reasons. Extreme burn out from 30 years of workaholism to obscure the holes in my life. Not only at work, but 20 years of volunteerism that usually took at least 10-15 a week. Not to mention trying to have a performing career on top of that. People told me frequently they had no idea how I did it all — and in retrospect neither do it. Well, actually I do sort of, a big part of it was sacrificing any sort of personal life.

One reason for the let down was that my work was kind enough to allow me to take an extra two months of (unpaid) medical leave (and yes, I know how incredibly privileged I am to have been able to do so). Which would finally give me a much needed chance to decompress.

But it didn’t happen. There was an unexpected opening in the retirement community my Mom wanted to go, so I had to spend two weeks helping her move. Then the nerve pain really ramped up and I spent weeks in uncontrolled, extreme pain. Not exactly relaxing.

Then finances got really tight. My company switched Jan. 1 from paid-time off to discretionary time-off — so the several weeks of accrued vacation pay I was counting on were frozen (to be paid back when I leave the company). Then California’s EDD, which is supposed to pay short-disability after surgery (even cosmetic surgery) denied my claim on a bullshit technicality, and I’ve not heard anything about the appeal I filed ever since. (Yes, California’s EDD is proof that black holes exist, and they make the DMV look efficient and cheerful.) I didn’t starve, but it wiped out my liquid savings and I couldn’t pay all of my taxes.

I also came back to find out the roof leaked during the torrential rains when had, and needs to be repaired, as well as the interior water damage.

And so on. Sometimes it felt like I was being nibbled to death by ducks.

I tell people that the horrible irony is that the least stressful month I’ve had in the past year is the month I spent recovering from two rounds of major surgery because the only thing I had to do was focus on getting better.

Plus, while my social dysphoria is significantly better, my body dysphoria got significantly worse. That’s a whole post in itself, but short version is that now the stakes are very different from part-time living.

Why I Smile…

I smile because it’s part of my social jujitsu toolkit for dealing with situations where I’m misgendered, or I can tell they’re trying to figure out my gender, or they realize I’m a *trans* woman and trying out to figure out how they feel about it. When I see a woman giving me “the look” — the glance held too long, where I can see the gears turning inside their head, I give her the social smile that woman are trained to do automatically. It may look friendly, but as is often the case with other forms of woman-to-woman communication, there’s subtext: It’s the “I know you’re looking at me, and now you know that I know you’re looking at me” smile.

I smile at small children because now I can. No longer does smiling at strangers’ children make people presume I’m a potential pedo-creeper.

I smile because there is a casual camaraderie among women. By no means do I want to romanticize that — women can be just as aggressive and nasty as men, and far more micro-aggressive in ways that most men don’t even perceive. But I can’t count the number of casual conversations — in line at the store, in the woman restroom, etc. — that I never had as a man interacting with other men.

I smile because women are trained to smile automatically, practically instinctively. To be nice, to be pleasant. Of course I, like other women, learned the nuances of when and where to smile. Smile at a man you don’t know and he’ll likely think you’re sexually interested in him. Smiling in the street invites sexual harassment. (And even if you don’t smile, catcalls of “hey baby, looking good,” all too rapidly turn into, “why won’t you smile, bitch.”)

I smile because now society allows me a vastly widely range of emotions. In Norah Vincent’s flawed, but still worth reading book, “Self Made Man” (about the 18 months see spend posing as a man to try to better understand masculinity), at the end of the experience she had a nervous breakdown, which in part she attributes to the stress of trying to living within the emotional straightjacket of masculinity.

I smile because why the fuck not. Emotions are contagious, and with all the shitty stuff going on the in world, if I’m feeling like it, why not randomly smile and brighten someone else’s day. Of course, there’s a huge difference between feeling that one *can* smile and and feeling obligated to do so, regardless of how one is feeling. So I someone doesn’t smile back, I don’t take it personally. Maybe they’re having a bad day, maybe they’re from a culture where it’s not acceptable (it’s notable that the thing that reliably identifies Americans overseas is how frequently we smile at strangers), maybe they just don’t feel like smiling back.

I smile because I’m happy. Despite all the trials and tribulations of being a woman, being a trans woman, in our patriarchal society, I’m much happier than I when I was trying to live life as a man.

Getting “Sir”ed Yet Again

So I got “sir”ed again tonight… It’s happening several times a week, and although it always appears to be unconscious and unintentional, it’s still a bee sting to the heart every time it happens — and enough bee stings can kill you.

It’s usually people who I’ve never met before — store clerks, restaurant workers, etc. — so clearly it’s reflecting their first impressions. Whenever it happens, my reaction is: FFS, I’m wearing women’s clothing and shoes, women’s jewelry, make-up, painted fingernails, and sporting a pair of D-cups — what the fuck else do I have to do to get people to realize I should be gendered as a woman?

As you might imagine, it’s fucking disheartening. I’ve spent an enormous amount of money, time and pain over the past year reshaping my body, and still it happens. Don’t get me wrong, the vast majority of people treat me like the woman I am, and yes logically I know that I shouldn’t let a small number of people get under my skin. But the heart and the gut don’t think rationally.

There’s practical concerns being a trans woman who — like most of my trans sisters — who wasn’t blessed by the androgyny fairy, and who probably will never look like the “typical” woman assigned female at birth, and who won’t always blend in as one. Probably the biggest concern is safety, particularly since I like to travel, and the vast majority of the nation, let alone the world, isn’t nearly as trans-friendly as the Bay Area. (Right now, even the U.S. there’s a number of states that have become no-go zones for me.)

But more than that, the incidents have been kicking my body dysphoria into high gear lately. It’s just a constant low-level reminder of the gap between the body I have, and the body I wish I had, but never will. Just I’m reminded whenever I try to look for size 13 shoes, extra large sizes in rings, necklaces and clothing, dresses that always 2-3 inches shorter than intended. Or when I’m in photos with other women and look hulking and towering by comparison.

I agree with Laverne Cox that I should be able to love my large hands and feet, my height, my lower than average voice because they’re beautiful, because trans is beautiful. But — and I mean no disrespect toward her own long struggle towards self-acceptance — it’s much easier to love these things when you have a body that’s otherwise considered extremely attractive according to hetero cisgender standards.

As Sam Dylan Finch says in his excellent essay, “I’m Transgender and I Need Body Positivity Too” my body

“tricks others into seeing me as something that I’m not. And no amount of self-love and validation can change the fact that, when I step out into the world, my body precedes me and erases a very important aspect of my identity.”

I’ve been working with my therapist to shrug off this sort of misgendering, to maybe not love my body as it is but at least reach a detente with it. But it’s a hard place to get to right now.

(And before anyone chimes in with comments like “you’re perfect just the way you are,” or “love your body, no matter the shape or size, exactly as it is,” fucking read Sam’s essay about why those sort of comments are more than a bit… off-putting… to many trans people.)

The Long Coming Out

So today I ended up needing to work with some co-workers who I’d worked with three years ago — and didn’t know about my transition.* After the meeting, they came up to me and said they thought we’d worked together previously. I said yes, and that I did look a bit different back then. Which addressed the question that was hanging implicitly in the air.

Unless one “goes stealth” — cutting all ties to one’s past — social transitioning is rarely a one and done. Instead it’s been an ongoing series of coming outs, as I run into people with whom I have only casual connections.

* There’s several hundred people in my office, and back in December I only came out to my immediate team and other people that I worked with directly.

A Relief From Stubble Bummed

Yesterday was my 150th hour of electrolysis, and today was the first Saturday (more about that later) that I haven’t felt the need to shave.

My electrologist says I have some the thickest and most stubborn hair she’s ever seen, the only good side is that they’re practically transparent — while it makes them harder to find and kill, means they’re not very visible.

Which is a really good thing, since my electrologist needs two days of growth to be able to find them, and the stubble drives me crazy. I’m doing three hours of electrolysis a week on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, so Saturdays have been the only day I can shave and not have to feel the stubble, which is really gender dysphoric for me.

But this week we’ve been hitting the remaining patches of untouched facial hair, hit them hard. My throat is dotted with tiny electrolysis scabs bearing witness to the battle.

So when I felt my face this morning, it was largely smooth. There’s scattered hairs here and there — it’s amazing how sensitive one’s fingertips are to being to feel an isolated hair.

But it was smooth enough to forego shaving today without feeling dysphoric (although I may regret the decision tomorrow), and it will help on Monday when I go back under the needle again.

Will some of the hair grow back? Undoubtedly. (Fortunately when the hair follicle is partially dead, it becomes finer and downier.)

But it’s clearly the beginning of the end. I’m not sure how long it will take to get there, but I can’t tell you what a relief it is to know there is an end in sight. Because with everything else going on, personally and politically, I could definitely use some hope.