Saturday, October 2, 2010

Suicides and Coming Out - part I

It's been a tough couple of months for queer and trans youth and those perceived as queer and trans in the United States, right? Suicide after suicide caused by bullying and harassment has hit the headlines and it seems like the effects of homo-, bi-, and transphobia on our country's young people are finally starting to be noticed.

I'm far from the only one to point out that these suicides are not actually evidence of a new phenomenon, and that issues affecting people with non-normative genders and sexualities often don't received widespread media coverage until they affect white and/or socioeconomically privileged folks. And my friend Rebecca does a far better job than I could of critiquing the most visible response to recent events over at her blog (which I'm also going to go ahead and add to my blogroll). I do want to reiterate her point that perhaps the best way of supporting youth at risk is to listen to them. Listen to them and hear what they're going through, what they need, hear what they want, and respond accordingly. Because I'll tell you a great big secret: youth can, do, and are helping themselves. The best way for adults to help is to support youth-led efforts.

While I don't want to go on at length about this recent spate of suicides, I will acknowledge that it's saddened me: that LGBTQ youth are killing themselves, that they have been killing themselves for as long as I've been alive, and that it took this look for almost anyone outside our community to care or even notice. In the context of a rough couple weeks around issues of sexuality in my own life, I've been starkly reminded of how frequently and deeply challenging it is to be a queer person in a brutally anti-queer and -trans world.

Have you guessed by now that this might not be my most upbeat post?

It has, as I mentioned, been a tough time. If you're reading this you likely know that I struggle with depression, which has the unique ability to make me feel both lethargic and anxious at the same time. I spent a while in August and September sleeping half the day and worrying the rest, without actually accomplishing anything. And it was frustrating. But I'm sorry to say that what jolted me out of my funk was the unexpected and unwanted outing of my girlfriend to her family.

Although I was lucky enough to tell my family that I am queer on my terms (for the most part), I know that being outed is painful, scary, and unsettling, especially when you are not ready to come out, don't identify as queer, or are depending on your family for support. Unfortunately, my girlfriend was in all three situations. Even so, I would have hoped for her to get a better response than her mother asking about her "problem" (i.e. dating me, and whatever her mother implied about her sexuality from the newfound knowledge of our relationship) and whether it was "psychological or physiological."

And that, dear readers, is where I'll leave off for now, with promises of a part II as soon as possible. Sometimes when I'm gathering my thoughts on a difficult matter, I need to take a break to make sure I can get through it, and that's what I'm going to do right now. Goodnight.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Just Say No

I know, I know, two posts in one day...Don't get used to it! This one's just a quickie and, like the last one, I can't promise any great insight - just wanted to share something really great that happened two days ago.

So I'm in love with this really great girl, and she's really good to me, and I'm just getting used to that. Here's an example: The other day we were snuggled up in bed around 11, deciding what to do with the rest of our evening before going to bed. She suggested watching the end of a porn we'd enjoyed the night before (review forthcoming shortly) and I assented although I wasn't in a particularly sexy mood. Of course one thing led to the next and she started kissing me and before I knew it we were on the fast track to sex. I just wasn't feeling up to it after a long day and I summoned the courage to do something that should be mundane: I said no.

As a sexual health and pleasure activist and educator, I realize that I have the right to say no at any time, in any situation, without judgment or retaliation. But that intellectual understanding is not always borne out by my physical/sexual self, and I often have trouble saying no in gray situations (ones where I don't particularly mind having sex but don't particularly desire it, either, or where I'm not entirely comfortable but I can go with the flow anyway). This troubling behavior is partly influenced by a long, difficult relationship that dominated two years of my life and still deeply impacts my thought processes. How so? Well, my ex would routinely opine that anytime I didn't want to have sex, I was contributing to his low self-esteem, and that my diminished sex drive (which resulted from my exhausting caretaking role in our relationship) was a clinical issue that, when I wasn't able to medically solve, implied a moral failing on my part. Drastic, I know, but there you have the whole tangled story of our declining sex life.

In contrast, my current partner and primary lover responded casually but respectfully with an "okay, sure." In other words: she respected my discomfort and didn't pathologize or dramatize the situation. Sometimes, it's the absence of drama that makes a single moment so groundbreaking. This, I realized, is what a relationship should be like. This is what respect and communication mean. This is what I want - this is what I deserve.

In sum: Consent is an active process integral not only to casual encounters but also to ongoing relationships. Honest communication deserves validation. You should be able to take respect for granted.


I want to be up front about this: I'm not doing very well. I'm in a definite slump, although I'm not sure why. Possible reasons include the general post-college funk, lack of employment to keep me busy and fulfill my professional/intellectual ambitions, uncertainty about the future, and general 20-something ennui. I realize I'm a pretty privileged person in ways too numerous to list here, but that doesn't stop me from feeling depressed, and it doesn't get me any closer to finding a solution.

I'm finding solace in music (especially the Indigo Girls) and books (Love in the Time of Cholera and Prozac Nation in particular), and in my lover and a few close friends. But I'm also feeling antsy and eager to get out of the town where I went to school so I can start building my new life on the west coast. Yesterday I walked through the square and tried to avoid its dozens of bank employees offering me free water, cookies, hand sanitizer, keychains, and lord knows what else. Inevitably, one caught my eye and asked, "are you a student?". I don't think she was expecting my triumphant "no!" and I hope she didn't take it as an insult.

The main lesson I think I can draw from my struggles, especially as of late, is that depression is a multi-faceted thing. I'm coming to the realization that my efforts to attain good mental health are going to last a while longer, if not my whole life, and that's both overwhelming and helpful to know. As my depression takes different forms I will have to react in different ways, and basic steps like getting enough sleep, exercising, and eating well are going to lay a solid foundation for physical as well as mental health. But as my resources and self-awareness grow, I know I'll find different ways to make myself happy, energetic, and stable: for instance, right now I'm finding that going out dancing is a great way to be social, blow off stress, and generally relax, but sometimes what I really need is to curl up in bed with a cheesy movie and a glass of wine. In any case, the search for stability and wellness continues, and I welcome all suggestions for how to cope with (and prevent) anxiety, listlessness, and general unease.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

thirty-two flavors

i am a poster girl with no poster
i am thirty-two flavors and then some

I am going to indulge in something I haven't done in a very long time, which is to stay up late writing about myself. Worse (better?) yet, I'm going to do it while listening to the one Ani DiFranco song I actually like - still enough, I'm afraid, to win ridicule from both my dyke and straight-man friends. All in all, this is feeling like a very lesbian moment.

I'm feeling tired these days. It's one part activist burnout, and I know there are ways to deal with that, but there's a lot more to this feeling that's crept up on me. Actually, I'm exhausted.

I'm tired of college. I'm tired of staying up late and always having more work to do. I'm tired of organizing events and campaigns and leading meetings and taking too much on. I'm tired of failed attempts at non-hierarchical leadership, of delegating but knowing that I'll end up doing the work anyway, of having to choose between my health, my grades, and my activism. I'm tired of the impossible standards and unceasing competition that have characterized my four years here. I'm tired of not having enough money and too many expenses. I'm tired of not making "me" time, of running around all day but not having time to go for a run, and of the constant back pain I get from this pace of life. I'm tired of being in a place that doesn't facilitate my surviving, much less my thriving.

I'm ready to be done here. I don't care if I don't have a job, I don't care if I'm too broke to pay rent - I'm going to move to California in seven weeks, whether I should or not. It's hard to explain why I need to get out of here so badly without hurting my friends' feelings; the truth is, I do have a few great friends here, and a few more good friends, but I need to move across the country to give myself a fresh start. But I'd be lying if I said it's "just" Harvard that's worn me so ragged.

someday you're going to get hungry
and eat most of the words you just said

It's time for me to start taking lessons from the relationship I've been in for these past two years. I've already moved on in so many ways from that part of my life, but I think it is going to take a very long time for me to really understand why I stayed in something so unhealthy for so long and how I can take the good parts of it with me and move forward. I do genuinely mean good parts - in the midst of an intense, sleepless, sad, tearful time that went on for years, we had some of the tenderest, most loving, and most intimate moments I've ever experienced. I hope for many more times like that in my life, and I am grateful to my ex-partner for all that he gave me, when he was able.

But it was also an ugly time in which I withdrew not only from my friends but also from listening to my own needs in any meaningful way. I was trying to fix not only my depression and failure, as well as my relationship with my parents, but also someone else's depression and deep feelings of failure. I was trying to be everything for another human being: caretaker, therapist, ally, partner, peer, support, and, at the end of the day, lover. It was a mistake so huge I couldn't recognize its magnitude until I was out of the relationship, and his total dependence on me (and, at times, mine on him) made it impossible for us to separate in any way that didn't involve vitriol and violent separation - it's as if we had to kick off from each other in order to re-learn our independence.

In the end, it was abusive. We used each other, I'm sure, and I was verbally harassed and threatened in ways that are simply unacceptable in any kind of relationship. I probably hurt him just as deeply as he hurt me. In some ways, I'm sure we know each other better than anyone else knows either of us - and that's a scary awareness to have, that the person who might know you best in the universe is someone who has used that knowing against you time and time again.

Of course, I talk about this in grand terms. But it is big, to me: my first relationship, and one that lasted more than two long years - the relationship that spanned the worst times of my life and that has defined my college experience. We went through some pretty heavy stuff, so bear with me.

and I would like to state for the record
I did everything that I could do

Part of this relationship (either a very small or a very large part) was my partner's transition. On one hand, his coming out, changing names and pronouns, thinking about and then starting T, rethinking his sexuality, and researching and preparing for top surgery were all minor issues - I completely supported him in each change from the start and had nothing but excitement and some minor jitters about how testosterone might change his personality. I was the ideal partner: I read everything I could about transmasculine identity, joined SOFFA groups, researched the medical science of transition, was supportive and unsurprised as each stage of his transitional process unfolded and he changed his mind over and over again, and celebrated his changing body and self every step of the way. I promised him and myself that I would be the best possible partner that I could, and I think I accomplished that goal on every level but one: I totally forgot about myself.

As in other ways, any sense of an independent self (that is, independent of my partner) became largely subsumed in what was going on with him and us. However, my own sexuality and gender identities and expressions were totally ignored, by both of us, as his gender and then sexuality came into focus. It's taken me until now - months since our breakup - to realize that, as a high femme friend puts it, "my gender is hurting."

What is that hurt all about? What am I feeling?

i'm beyond your peripheral vision
so you might want to move your head

Friends, I don't think I'm a femme. I identify very strongly with queer women's community, largely present as feminine, and find incredible companionship in my femme sisters who also date transmasculine folks. But lately I've been feeling like femme doesn't quite fit.

It's partly my gender expression: I don't wear makeup, and I feel very comfortable in andro-hipster get-up and a sweet pair of kicks (though I also revel in heels and a cocktail dress). The vision of femme I see most commonly has a lot to do with glitter and eyeliner and lace, but I don't really perform my gender that way.

Another part of the mis-match is my severe dis-identification with what I see as a pretty common trend: femmes declaring themselves to be victims or uniquely oppressed because they are not commonly read as queer. Yeah, I look like another preppy white straight girl. Yes, that may put me at risk for unwanted advances or even sexual assault or harassment in some situations where butches and transfolks of all kinds may not be at risk. But honestly, I also have tremendous passing privilege and am safer in many spaces and moments than all kinds of folks who don't look like "women" or "men" are "supposed" to look. I think femmes have a tremendous amount of privilege in a heterosexist society, and the awkward or frustrating moments of not being read as queer are far outweighed by that privilege - in my experience.

Okay, but there's something else going on, too. I feel most comfortable in communities and groups devoted to trans activism and/or questioning or pushing against gender binaries. I'm finding that, on my own, allowed to define my gender in exactly as feminine a way as I'd like to, and with the space and room to question it, I feel like a tomboy. I enjoy wearing pants that are a little bit too big, plaid, hipster glasses, kicks, my hair pulled back. I even thinking binding is kind of fun. Packing's not bad either, and I'd be curious to feel what T is like for myself.

I'm not trans-identified, and I don't feel like a boy or man or want to transition. But I have a gender that is not adequately described by "man" or "woman," a definition of genderqueer that I recently read in a controversial blog post. Given that post and the comments that followed, I'm really wary of labeling myself as genderqueer, and not sure that that's a word that feels like home in the same way that queer does and has. But it's at least heartening to know that there are other ways of being (besides femme) and that, given the freedom to explore my own gender, I'm settling into something that feels scary but genuine. Wherever I end up, I'm so grateful to have good friends and travel companions - one of whom blogs brilliantly and is about to be added to my blogroll - and that I can figure this out at whatever pace, and in whatever way, I choose!

and god help you if you are a pheonix
and you dare to rise up from the ash

So, that's it. I'm coming out as not-femme. I'm still queer. I'm single. I'm learning to love myself. I'm ready to move, and to move on, and doing okay. More later; less of it so self-indulgent. Thanks for reading.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Things I Get Excited About That Everybody Else Hates

Depending on where you work, NSFW. I should also take this opportunity to say that, over the next few weeks, I plan to post a few entries concerning my vagina (in the theoretical sense only! no need to worry), so if that makes you uncomfortable, watch out.

Anyway, I'm looking forward to something that fills most people I know with dread - a gynecological exam, complete with pap smear and testing for sexually transmitted infections (STIs, formerly called STDs). That's right, I actually like my annual check-up with the hoo-ha doctor.

I know that for a lot of folks, particularly trans and queer people, visiting a nurse or gynecologist and putting one's feet in the stirrups can feel pretty uncomfortable, even unsafe. Moreover, a lot of people don't have the kind of healthcare that allows them to get regular check-ups or even to see a doctor in case of pain or discomfort. I don't want to discount the fact that my excitement about getting my "lady parts" checked is totally enabled by the fact that I'm white, upper-middle class, in a city, cisgender, temporarily abled, femme/feminine, and privileged in a thousand other ways large and small. But excited I am, and I thought I'd take a second to write about why.

In my experience, scheduling and going to my annual gynecological exam is a chance to make good on my beliefs that people with vaginas and any of the associated organs, including many women, should know just how those vaginas work. I don't know about you, but after a lifetime of subtle and direct messages mystifying what goes on "down there," I want to know exactly how my body - all of it - works, what kind of shape I'm in, and what I need to know to keep myself physically and mentally healthy and happy.

I want to make informed decisions about cancer prevention, menstruation, birth control, and any other health and safety issues that are relevant to my vag. I want to learn about the risks and benefits of the HPV vaccine, I want to be able to tell my future partner(s) that I'm STI-free, and I want to know that my vagina's doing okay - and if it's not, I want to figure out how to take care of it!

I'll spend time researching any questions or concerns I have before I go see the nurse, because I want to be able to discuss my health with her, not just sit and listen. I'll insist that I get a comprehensive STI test because I want to take pride in my negative status. I will ask about the shot, the pill, the ring, IUDS...I want to be a resource for my friends and most of all for myself.

I'm not saying it's a transcendent experience, or one that's even particularly comfortable. But it does, in the end, feel empowering, in the kind of the-personal-is-political, Our-Bodies-Ourselves way. Getting a gynecological exam is one small, concrete way that I can educate myself and move towards making important decisions about my own body in the context of my gendered self.

Plus, it's always worth it just to see the look on the nurse's face when I come out to her...

P.S. Jezebel is obviously taking inspiration from me:

Wednesday, November 25, 2009


All right, I've at least learned better than to make un-keep-able promises about how often I'll blog. This fall has turned out to be a whirlwind, totally occupied by my five classes, the Trans Task Force, and my beloved Co-op. I do admire people like Alyssa Rosenberg (see blogroll) and others who manage to blog almost daily, but right now I think I'd have to have someone paying me to be able to find that kind of time!

Another issue I grapple with is how personal this blog should be. For instance, in my role as Good Vibes diva (aka brand ambassador), I'm asked to review products that the good folks in San Francisco send me monthly, including porn, sex toys, erotic games, and more. But I know some of you (my potential readers - sister included) might not want to hear about that stuff. That's totally cool, but it's definitely a part of my life and my academic and extracurricular work on female sexuality, gender expression, and trans and queer rights. So I'm starting to think I may just tag and title those entries NSFW ("not safe for work" for you n00bs) or perhaps RAYOR ("read at your own risk"). That way, I can write about whatever's going on in my life and you can just read or not as you wish.

That being said, I promise to make this entry safe for work, if not for family! I want to write about my thoughts on Tim Miller and his latest performance piece, "Lay of the Land." For those who aren't familiar, Tim Miller is a middle-aged, gay, white performer who has staged a number of one-man shows about his own experience. He is most famous for his membership in the "NEA 4," a group of artists de-funded (and thus effectively censored) by conservative senators in the early '90s for their works' content. This case resulted in the NEA changing its funding policies and Miller and his three peers (two of whom are also queer) gaining notoriety.

Since then, Miller has taken his censorship case to the Supreme Court and kept writing and performing shows across the country. He and his partner of 15 years, Alistair (an academic), live in LA, although they will have to leave the country next year since they are not eligible for federal protections that could make Alistair a citizen by marrying Tim. And that, my friends, is where Miller's latest show begins.

Find out what the hottest sex toys are today at Good Vibrations. These products have been proven to be the most popular with Good Vibes customers over the past few months.