Are we male yet?

[Image: Pax , the author, runs on a trail, grinning and making a “V” sign with their fingers. They are wearing a “no meat athlete” shirt and race bib. Photo by comerphotos.com]

Today marks one year since a San Francisco judge granted my court order to change my name and gender. (Although I’m agender, my sex is male, so I wanted that legally recognized.) I’ve had nearly all of my various identification documents updated now, with the notable exception of my birth certificate, as my home state of Pennsylvania currently requires surgery for that.

And surgery is something I am not willing to have at this time. When I first contemplated transitioning, I felt that I wanted a hysterectomy and oophorectomy. But after I went on testosterone and my monthly periods finally ceased, I eventually decided I didn’t want to undergo the risk and expense of surgery. As long as I’m not bleeding, I’m not actively thinking about those internal organs.

I would still prefer to have a cis-typical penis instead of a vulva and vagina, but that kind of surgery is really problematic and expensive. Testosterone therapy has helped there too, as my clitoris has grown to the size that I now think of it as a penis, albeit a very small one. I no longer feel the need to get a prosthetic, which is another thing I thought for sure I’d want before going on T. (I did wear a packer at home for awhile, but don’t currently feel the need to do so.)

One of the more disturbing things about my transition is that while my physical dysphoria has decreased significantly thanks to the hormones, my social dysphoria has actually increased. Part of this is due to my breasts. Unlike the vast majority of trans men and nonbinary female-assigned people I’ve encountered, I do not bind and am not seeking top surgery.

I neither love nor hate my breasts, but I do hate the feeling of constriction. After I lost a significant amount of weight a couple years back, I stopped wearing bras, even for running, and it felt great. I felt a little bounce at the beginning of each run, then didn’t notice them anymore.

But I’m sure other people do, as you can see in the featured photo at the top of this post (which this blog theme conveniently cropped to focus on my chest). This was at last September’s Beat the Blerch half-marathon, near Seattle. I was wearing a tank top under that thin shirt, but it was cool out, and I have rather prominent nipples regardless.

So every time I go for a run, I’m convinced that everyone is staring at my chest. This, plus my continued resentment that I can’t run topless without facing additional stares and harassment on top of the misgendering, has resulted in me running less and less frequently since my transition. I ran today for only the second time in a month, and only because I got up early enough to get out by 7 a.m., when there were few people about.

My therapist, who has been listening to me complain about not being able to run topless (safely) since well before my transition, finally said that I can either change the world, or I can change myself. At that point, I was starting to consider top surgery. But I simply do not want to surgically remove parts of my body that I don’t have a problem with.

Having breasts does not make me female or “female-bodied”. Cis men have breasts too, unless they’ve had them surgically removed. Cis men can get breast cancer. Cis men can suffer from gynecomastia, which causes breast enlargement independent of body weight. In fact, some of the most popular binders for trans men were designed for cis men with this condition.

The only difference between my chest and that of a typical cis man’s is the size, shape, and position of my breasts, nipples, and areolae. The “free the nipple” and “top freedom” movements point this out, though they are geared toward cis women, not transmasculine people. The problem with how I’ve seen these important movements marketed is that most of the people pictured are thin, light-skinned, and small-breasted, with small areolae and nipples. Look at this widely-circulated photo for example, which I believe originated on the Instagram page of Cara Delevingne (though it’s not clear if she’s the one in the photo):

"Male" and "female" breast comparison
[Image: The torsos of two people with words written on them labeling breast tissue, areolae, and nipples.]

Notice in the above photo that both chests are hairless, both have fairly small nipples and areolae, and the person on the right has their arm lifted which makes their breast appear even smaller. A lot of breasts, belonging to both assigned-male and assigned-female people, look nothing like the above. See this gallery of self-submitted, non-sexualized breast photos for example (geared toward cis women; contains cissexist language). Top freedom means freedom for everyone with visible breasts, regardless of their assigned sex or appearance.

Ironically, in many cities, including here in San Francisco, it is legal for women to go topless in public, but few do so. In New York City there’s a co-ed topless book club (some of their photos contain full nudity). I’ve mused about arranging a topless fun run, but the permitting process and security would probably be a nightmare.

So, do I change the world or do I change myself? If I didn’t want to change the world, I wouldn’t have become an animal rights activist, and I certainly wouldn’t have gotten involved with DxE (Edit, Sep 2016: I left DxE a year ago). I’d just be content to be vegan. But this kind of activism – top freedom – has more risk to me personally, and is probably not as important from a global perspective, though it’s something I care about deeply. Regardless, the idea that I should cut off parts of my body that I’m not personally dysphoric about is really unacceptable to me at this stage.

For the time being, I think I’ll  just stick to running in the early hours when I’ll encounter fewer people, but I’ll keep my shirt on. For now. Stay tuned…

Transgender vs transsexual

[Image: Side-by-side self-portraits of Pax, the author, wearing a black tank top, holding a camera and looking in the mirror.]

This summer marks several milestones in my transition. Last week, July 3, I passed a year and a half on testosterone; a photo comparing my current appearance with that on the day of my first injection is above.  Tomorrow, July 10, is the one year anniversary of getting my court order for legal change of name and sex. And next month, August 23, marks my second anniversary of publicly going by the name Pax Ahimsa Gethen and identifying as gender-neutral (later amended to agender).

In the course of my transition, I’ve been reading a lot about gender terminology, and tweaking my self-description to better match my identity. One of the most influential authors for me was Matt Kailey, a gay trans man who sadly died last year at the age of 59. Matt, like me, did not realize that he was trans until middle age. He was exclusively attracted to men, and (unlike me) had a very feminine presentation pre-transition. Matt had a great advice column, Tranifesto, and in it he helped me decide how and when to reveal my new name.

In Matt’s book Just Add Hormones: An Insider’s Guide to the Transsexual Experience, he explains that transsexual people “change their physical bodies to match their gender identity.” In the FAQ on his web site, he explains that not all transsexuals identify as transgender; transgender refers to anyone who deviates from binary gender norms, whereas some transsexuals simply identify as binary men and women post-transition, and don’t want to be known as trans.

I’ve since read a number of comments suggesting that we should get rid of the term “transsexual” altogether, as it is stigmatizing, outdated, and presents a medical-centered view of gender. In contrast, I’ve read people who are sometimes known as “truscum” or “transmedicalists” saying that only people who wish to physically transition from one binary sex to another are trans; they want nothing to do with the expanding “umbrella” of transgender, which may include people who do not experience physical dysphoria at all.

My opinion, which is still evolving as I’m always learning, is that anyone who does not identify with the gender corresponding with the sex they were assigned at birth can identify as transgender.* This can include nonbinary-identified people, although some such people identify as neither trans nor cis. This can also include people who do not experience dysphoria, physical or otherwise. (This article by Sam Dylan Finch helps dispel misconceptions about dysphoria and identity.)

Ultimately, it’s not up to me to decide who is or isn’t transgender. I can understand the pain and frustration of trans people with binary identities and significant dysphoria who just want to be recognized as the “opposite” sex, and don’t want to be lumped in with people who have a much different experience of gender. That’s where I feel it makes sense to have a separate “transsexual” label, but again, it’s not up to me to decide who can claim that term.

While I mostly agree with Matt Kailey that most transsexuals “change their physical bodies to match their gender identity,” many are not able to access hormones and/or surgery, for financial, health, or other reasons. Also, I have a different conception of gender identity than most people I’ve read on the subject. When I say I’m a transsexual male, that’s what most would call my gender identity, but I actually see that as my sex identity.

The distinction between gender identity and sex identity is made in the article Gender in 12 Dimensions.  I don’t agree with some of the assertions in this article; I no longer see masculinity and femininity as opposite ends of a spectrum, and changing gender appearance is certainly not as easy as putting on a dress or a tie (especially here in San Francisco). But this article provided a more useful way for me to think about sex and gender than what was generally presented in the mainstream media. In particular, being transsexual is defined as “having a sex identity that does not match your sex appearance,” which suits me; I am male, but I currently have physical characteristics that make me appear to be female.

So if I am a transsexual male, how can I also be agender? I’ve seen few other people who have a distinct sex and gender identity in the way I describe. Marilyn Roxie is one; their sex is male and their gender is genderqueer. (Their site is one of the most useful I’ve found on nonbinary identities.) Identity is separate from gender expression, however. As I talked about in my article on agender fashion, having a nonbinary gender does not presume having a neutral or androgynous presentation.

I have sometimes wondered if I should just drop one or the other of my identifying terms, to make things less confusing. If I’m male, why can’t I just be a gender-nonconforming man? Or if I’m agender, why can’t I just be that and not also insist on a binary sex identity?

The answer is that defining myself as an agender transsexual male just feels right to me. I realize that many people will always think that I’m a special snowflake, and many others will ask why we need labels at all. To the first group, I say that each one of us is unique, and no one can define anyone else’s identity. To the second group, I say that is coming from a place of privilege, similar to the (mostly-white) people who say “I don’t see color.” Labels for gender identity (and sexual orientation, as I wrote about yesterday) are useful to help us understand ourselves better, and to find other people who are like us for mutual support.

I expect that my understanding of gender, sex, and my own identity will continue to evolve, as I’m always learning. What’s most important is recognizing that each of us should have the right to define our own genders, and express ourselves in the way that we see fit.

* But see also this article on intersex identity by intersex trans professor Cary Gabriel Costello, who makes the distinction between “cisgender” and “ipso gender” for intersex people.

 

Bi, pan, queer, ?

[Image: Smiling people parade along Market Street in San Francisco. They are holding a large banner reading BISEXUALS, in pink text on a black background, with pink and blue triangles.]

It seems not a week goes by that I don’t see the Bisexual vs Pansexual debate flare up somewhere on social media. I have many thoughts on this issue, but they are too detailed and nuanced to share as comments whenever this topic comes up. Hence, this blog post.

Soon after I entered puberty at the age of 11 (while being raised as a girl), I realized that I was physically attracted to both typically-male and typically-female bodies. This was 1981 and I was living in West Virginia; I didn’t know any openly gay or bisexual kids, and I couldn’t just jump onto the Internet to learn about sexuality (or gender identity for that matter). We moved to Pittsburgh the following year, but even in high school I didn’t make any openly non-hetero friends. I also realized that romantically, I was really only attracted to boys.

By senior year of college, I had still only dated men, but my attraction to women hadn’t abated. I decided to come out as bisexual. I moved to the San Francisco Bay Area in 1992, and began dating women as well as men. I also came out as polyamorous. I became active in the local bisexual community, attending meetups and marching in the Bisexual contingent of the Pride Parade.

All this time, I understood bisexual to mean “attracted to men and women”. This definition did not necessarily exclude trans people, as binary trans people are simply men and women with a different birth designation. But I knew very few trans people at the time, and nonbinary identities weren’t even on my radar. However, I did know a few people who identified as pansexual, which I understood to mean “attracted to people independent of physical sex characteristics”.

Remember, this all was before widespread Internet access; I couldn’t just browse Tumblr or other social networks to learn how others defined these terms. But I was also living in the San Francisco area, not West Virginia anymore, so I wasn’t completely sheltered from people with non-mainstream sexual orientations or gender identities.

Meanwhile, I wasn’t having much luck with women romantically, and realized my attraction to women almost purely sexual, and limited at that. Living as a cis woman, I might more accurately have described myself as heteroflexible. But the word “hetero” just did not work for me. I simply could not imagine myself as straight. And trying to break down my orientation into components like “bisexual but monoromantic” seemed too cumbersome.

By the year 2013, I realized that I was not a cis woman; I was a trans male with a nonbinary gender identity (which at the time I described as genderqueer and transmasculine, before later amending that to agender). As I still thought of bisexual as meaning “attracted to men and women”, I saw that label as unacceptably binary, for myself. Coupled with the fact that my attraction to women was almost purely physical, I decided that term didn’t fit me anymore. For purposes of sexual orientation, I announced, I was basically a gay male.

Only then did I start seeing bisexuality defined as “attracted to same and other” or “attracted to two or more genders”. I saw some bisexuals saying that there was therefore no point to the pansexual identity. I also saw some bisexuals saying that pansexual was an identity under the umbrella term of bisexuality.

This bothered me, not so much that bi people had this expanded definition of their orientation, but that some implied that bisexuality had always been defined this way, and that anyone who thought otherwise was being biphobic. I could see a young person who never knew life without constant Internet access maybe thinking that way, but I was middle-aged and hadn’t grown up with this privilege.

I especially didn’t like bisexuality being defined as an umbrella term that encompassed pansexuality. People who defined their orientation as pansexual under the thought that bisexual is a binary term might not so readily embrace the idea of being labeled as bisexual. It seems similarly problematic to using “genderqueer” as an umbrella term for nonbinary-identified people, though in the latter case there is the added problem that “queer” was a slur, and not everyone has reclaimed that word. I’m fine with bisexuality being defined in the ways that it is now, but I think that it is still valid to have a separate pansexual identity.

In my own case, I finally decided to just identify as queer. Gay male was too limiting, given my nonbinary gender identity and the fact that I am still physically attracted to typically-female bodies. It’s sort of academic as I’m not seeking new sexual or romantic partners currently, though my spouse and I remain polyamorous. But I’m not willing to throw out all the labels. Labels for sexual and gender identities are useful, but they must be self-chosen.

Agender fashion, or lack thereof

[Image: Pax, the author, stands on a balcony wearing a colorful print shirt and holding a matching mug. A cable car goes by in the background.]

I’ve been really getting into Kat Blaque‘s videos on sexism, racism, and gender issues. Check out her latest, explaining (among other things) that gender expression is not the same thing as gender identity or sexual orientation:

In addition to what Kat explained in her video, people need to understand that having a nonbinary gender identity (a more inclusive umbrella term than “genderqueer”*) simply means identifying as something other than a man or a woman. It does not mandate or preclude any particular gender expression.  As an agender trans male, I reject associating clothing or hairstyles, mannerisms, or hobbies with gender. I’m a trans male because my body functions better on testosterone, not because I prefer to wear jeans instead of dresses.

An intersex trans blogger from the UK explained the over-representation of DFAB androgyny in nonbinary communities, coupled with a “beard + dress” aesthetic that is the main representation of male-assigned nonbinary people. I could definitely see this when I first came out as trans and spent a lot of time on Tumblr, and saw that genderqueer communities celebrated female-assigned people who dressed like this:

Jacket and tie[Image: Pax, the author, poses on a balcony wearing a black hat, purple shirt, colorful tie, and black pinstriped jacket.]

But while it can be fun to wear a suit jacket and tie for special occasions, that’s really just playing dress-up, not  a reflection of who I am. I normally prefer dressing like this:

Denim jacket and T-shirt[Image: Pax, the author, poses in front of flowering red bushes wearing a denim jacket and navy blue T-shirt.]

The denim jacket in the pre-transition photo above was bought in the women’s section of a secondhand store, and is still one of my favorite pieces of clothing. I don’t wear it to look androgynous. I wear it because it’s comfortable, fits well, and has lots of pockets. I switched to wearing “men’s” jeans for the same reason: Deep pockets, enabling me to finally stop wearing a fanny pack after 20 years. Plus, sizing for men’s pants is based on waist and inseam measurements, rather than some completely arbitrary number.

Basically, I don’t care about fashion, but I do care about comfort. I’ve resisted wearing more button-down shirts, even though they hide my breasts quite effectively; I find T-shirts much more comfortable, and I have a lot of trouble with small buttons. I refuse to bind or even wear a sports bra, but I have compromised by wearing more crew-neck T-shirts rather than the lower necklines I prefer. And I nearly always layer, with a men’s tank top like this underneath:

Tank top[Image: Pax, the author, poses with their arms folded, wearing a black ribbed tank top.]

I recently learned of another female-assigned agender person, Tyler Ford, who, like me, has mixed black and white/Jewish roots, and like me has also struggled with gender expression and identity. It’s difficult to live in a society that conflates expression, identity, and sexual orientation so relentlessly. I’d love to live in a world where there were no “men’s” or “women’s” clothing sections, and everyone just wore whatever the hell they liked, without worrying about being taunted, attacked, or kicked out of gendered spaces like restrooms. (Restroom policing is another topic entirely…)

Meanwhile, I’ll keep wearing my jeans and T-shirts. For a colorful unisex selection, check out Kat Blaque’s all-over print shirts. She featured a photo of me wearing the one at the top of this post in a recent sales promo. Show some support for an awesome black female vlogger and graphic designer!

* “Genderqueer” should not be used as an umbrella term for nonbinary identities for the same reason that “queer” should not be used as an umbrella term for LGBT+ people: Queer was a slur, especially against gay men, and that word has not been reclaimed by everyone. I identify as queer in terms of sexual orientation, but as far as gender identity, I prefer the terms agender and nonbinary.

We are all animals

[Image: A group of people holds up signs with photos of animals, the words “WE ARE ALL ANIMALS”, and the Direct Action Everywhere logo.]

Update, July 2016: Since publishing this post I have left Direct Action Everywhere (as has Saryta Rodriguez, who is in the top center of the above photo.) My points about animal liberation and the intersections of oppression still remain.

Yesterday my partner and I participated in an action with Direct Action Everywhere. I’ve been involved with this animal liberation group for about a year now, ever since having a falling out with Gary Francione, whose writing first got me interested in becoming an animal rights activist. Though I’ve been vegan since 2011 and vegetarian since 1992, it wasn’t until last year that I was convinced I should actively speak out against animal exploitation.  Welfare reform isn’t the answer, as “humane farming” is a myth. The answer is abolishing the property status of animals, or to put it in a more positive way, animal liberation.

Direct Action Everywhere protest at Whole Foods Market[Image: A group of people marches outside a Whole Foods Market, carrying a colorful banner reading “WE ARE ALL EARTHLINGS” and featuring the eyes of human and non-human animals.]

I like Direct Action Everywhere (DxE) because the people I’ve met in that community are more diverse and outspoken against human oppression than many of those in larger animal rights organizations. I’ve learned that all oppression is interconnected, including racism, sexism, heterosexism, cissexism, ableism, and speciesism. I won’t support animal rights groups or individuals who use sexist campaign tactics, like PETA, or say hateful, violent things about women or ethnic groups, like Gary Yourofsky. The ends do not justify the means.

Direct Action Everywhere protest at Chipotle[Image: A group of people hold signs with photos of animals and the words “WE ARE ALL ANIMALS”. A woman in the foreground holds a white rabbit. Another woman speaks into a megaphone, a large dog standing next to her.]

Total animal liberation means everyone, humans and non-humans alike. Other writers and activists outside of DxE who get this include A. Breeze Harper of Sistah Vegan Project, Sarah K. Woodcock of The Abolitionist Vegan Society, lauren Ornelas of the Food Empowerment Project, Corey Wrenn of Vegan Feminist Network and The Academic Abolitionist Vegan, Christopher-Sebastian McJetters of Vegan Publishers, and Will Tuttle, author of The World Peace Diet.

Direct Action Everywhere protest at Chipotle[Image: A group of people stand outside a Chipotle restaurant, holding signs and a banner. In the foreground a man is speaking into a megaphone. Behind him a woman is holding a large white rabbit.]

As a queer black trans person, I feel safe and respected at DxE. In addition to taking photos at their events, I’ve written several entries for their blog, The Liberationist, on the topics of masculinity and aggression, dairy and racism, and gender identity and respect. I also participated on a DxE-hosted panel of queer-identified activists discussing the links between LGBTQ and animal rights. The organizers and most of the panelists were people of color. It was an empowering experience.

Direct Action Everywhere protest at Chipotle[Image: A group of people stands outside a Chipotle restaurant, carrying signs including a colorful banner reading “WE ARE ALL EARTHLINGS”.]

Lately, I haven’t been as active in DxE or other animal liberation activities as I would like, as depression and dysphoria have made it difficult for me to leave the house much of the time. I’m glad I made it out to this weekend’s action though, as it was in downtown San Francisco (so I could walk there and back), and I wanted to get photos of the companion animals the activists were encouraged to bring along. I especially couldn’t get enough photos of my friend Lisa with one of her beautiful rabbits, Aster.

Lisa pets her companion rabbit, Aster[Image: A woman with straight brown hair, rabbit-shaped earrings, and a blue T-shirt smiles while petting a large white rabbit sitting in a carrier.]

Rebeca and her dog friend Lexie[Image: A woman with curly brown hair and a blue T-shirt smiles while kneeling and petting a large brown-and-white dog.]

Pat and her dog friend[Image: A woman wearing a straw hat and brown jacket smiles while holding a small white dog.]

I’ve uploaded the full set of images to Flickr under a Creative Commons license, so they can be freely shared for noncommercial use with attribution. (I also posted the photos to Facebook, but I’d rather not drive traffic to that organization currently, in light of their harmful, ongoing “real names” policy.) Looking forward to spending more time with my friends, human and non-human, at DxE.

 

 

Identity, equality, and oppression

[Image: Two men walk side by side carrying rainbow flags along a crowded Castro Street in San Francisco.]

Last week I posted some thoughts on marriage equality, as I was concerned by commentary I’d read that the legalization of same-sex marriage primarily benefits white cis gay men. While I still don’t believe that to be true, an article published today, “Will Gay Identity Really Disappear Now That We Have Marriage Equality?“, both infuriated me and shed more light on this issue.

This article contains quotes from other authors such as “What do gay men have in common when they don’t have oppression?” and  “There is something wonderful about being part of an oppressed community.” The author also opines that “Justice Anthony Kennedy’s opinion makes it clear once and for all that we are equal members of society.” He wonders, “Outside of the bedroom, will being gay become more like an ethnic identity?”

These statements are troubling on many levels. First of all, this whole discussion is centering gay men in an issue that affects people of many genders and orientations. As I pointed out in my earlier piece, it’s not “gay marriage” that was won, it’s marriage equality. This includes not only gays but lesbians, bisexuals, pansexuals, asexuals, queer and trans people, all of whom may be in same-sex partnerships.

Second, the Obergefell v. Hodges decision in no way makes gay men “equal members of society”. Maybe a white, cisgender, able-bodied gay man who is “raising kids, caring for elderly parents, living in the (gasp) ‘burbs, working in office cubicles,” can believe that he is equal to his straight counterparts. That is , if he’s lucky to live in a city that bans housing and employment discrimination based on sexual orientation. The article does touch on this, but vastly underestimates the distance we have left to go, saying “it seems like the final chapter is being written.”

There’s also some pretty disgusting nationalism in the article, saying the marriage equality ruling puts America decades or centuries ahead of the rest of the world “with the exception of Europe,” and hoping that Americans will use social media to “help outcasts everywhere.” Marriage equality or not, I know that I’m sure not feeling patriotic about being a US-American right now.

The notion of nostalgia for that “wonderful” time when all gays could unite based on a common oppressed identity is frankly appalling to me. There is nothing “wonderful”  about being seen as a pervert, a molester, a person who is less than human. As I lived up until recently as a woman and have always had relationships primarily with men, I’ve been fortunate to avoid homo-antagonism directed at me personally. But once I am read consistently as male, there will be places where it is unsafe to walk hand-in-hand with my spouse. The fact that our marriage is now legal everywhere in the US is irrelevant to someone who thinks that homosexuality is a mental illness, a crime against nature, or a perversion of God’s will. (Nevermind the fact that neither of us is actually homosexual; I’m queer and my spouse is bi.)

Perhaps I would feel differently if I were a gay cis man who was active in the movement in earlier decades. But I can’t imagine that many black people who were active in the civil rights movement in the 60s are now deciding that there’s no point in having a black identity. The Black Lives Matter movement has shown that racism is still thriving, despite blacks supposedly being legally equal to whites. And being black in the US is more than being oppressed; it is a culture, an identity of its own.

On being gay possibly evolving into an “ethnic identity”, as the author suggests, that sounds suspiciously like the whole Rachel Dolezal mess. Yes, sexual orientation is separate from gender identity (gender identity being the purported issue in comparing Dolezal to Caitlyn Jenner), though the two are often confused. But neither of these is an ethnicity, nor a race (terms that are also often confused).

So what do gay men have in common, besides oppression? What is the “gay identity”? I can’t tell you. Despite being legally male and married to a man, I’m not gay. I thought I might be a gay man when I was in early transition, but I realized that I’m not; I’m queer and agender. I personally struggle to fit into any culture revolving around gender identity or sexual orientation (or ethnicity for that matter).

But these cultures absolutely do exist, and will continue to exist for a long time. And so will oppression. Erasing identity is itself oppressive. Assimilation is not the answer to ending heterosexism. Marriage equality was a necessary, but not by any means sufficient, part of gaining full equality for all.

 

 

Whose holiday is it again?

[Image: The face of a steer, Brahma, partially superimposed over the face of the author, Pax.]*

Tomorrow, many US-Americans will celebrate the birth of a country that was founded by and for the benefit of  white heterosexual cisgender theistic men, on lands stolen from indigenous people, with the forced labor of black slaves.

Many will feast upon the flesh, milk, and eggs of non-human animals, who did not and could not consent to having their lives and children taken away from them. Many vegans will feast on plant-based treats right alongside them, but few will say a word about animals.

Some will drink too much alcohol. Some will get behind the wheel of a car, intoxicated. Some of those who make it home safely in this drunken condition will turn on their spouses and children.

Many will enjoy fireworks that scare the living daylights out of companion animals, as well as many humans with posttraumatic stress and sensory processing disorders. The show will often conclude with a song celebrating military victory.

America, fuck yeah.

* Brahma was rescued from the dairy industry by the humans at PreetiRang Sanctuary.

Pride and pictures at the Trans March

[Image: Pax, the author, is outdoors on a sunny day in a crowded park, back to the camera, looking over their shoulder. They are wearing round sunglasses, a faded black baseball cap, and a purple hoodie containing the words “trans march” and a star.]*

Last week’s landmark Supreme Court ruling on marriage equality came just in time for the annual Pride celebration here in San Francisco. I’d attended Pride weekend festivities numerous times, often marching in the parade. I had a great deal of fun dancing on a float with the Bisexual contingent years before my transition, and singing along with the Lesbian/Gay Freedom Band while carrying the Transgender flag last year.

But each year after I finished marching down Market Street and waving to the thousands of cheering onlookers (which, I’ll admit, felt awesome), I would be overwhelmed by the crowds, corporate branding, and abundance of alcohol. (I haven’t had an alcoholic drink in over six years.) I felt that Pride had become a giant beer-soaked sellout, catering more to gawking tourists than to the needs of the LGBT community.

So this year, I did not attend any official Pride events. Instead, I went to the Trans March, an officially safe-and-sober event organized and run entirely by volunteers.

Chris and Pax at the Trans March[Image: Chris and Pax, the author, smile for a photo along the route of the Trans March, on an overcast evening in San Francisco, with many other marchers in the background. Chris is wearing a pink V-neck T-shirt with the words “HAPPY HEN CHICKEN RESCUE” in black and the silhouette of a chicken. Pax is wearing a faded black baseball cap, round eyeglasses, a purple hoodie with a star, and neon rainbow striped arm warmers.]

I’d first attended the Trans March last year with my partner Ziggy. This year he was out of town, but my friend Chris came along (and also took the two photos of me in this post). I was particularly interested in getting good photos of the pre-march performances on the stage this year, as my friend Diana was playing a set.

Diana Regan performing at the Trans March[Image: Diana Regan plays ukelele and sings into a microphone on an outdoor stage. She has long black hair, rectangular black-rimmed eyeglasses, a black tank top with a colorful design and black polka-dotted camisole underneath, and multicolored bracelets.]

Another highlight was this adorable little girl, Emmie, singing “Popular” from Wicked.

Emmie perfoming at the Trans March[Image: Emmie, a young girl with long blond hair and a frilly blue dress, sings into a microphone on an outdoor stage. She is smiling with her left arm uplifted, while people in the background smile and applaud.]

Dancers from AsiaSF gave an energetic and exciting performance.

AsiaSF performer at the Trans March[Image: A woman outdoors in the sunshine leans back with her eyes closed and her mouth open in a big smile. She has long brown hair and is wearing a silver headband, long earrings, necklace, and a low-cut sparkly white bodice with black trim.]

The headliner was Ryan Cassata, trans male singer/songwriter and activist.

Ryan Cassata performing at the Trans March[Image: Ryan Cassata sings and plays guitar on an outdoor stage, with a harmonica around his neck. He wears a rainbow-striped headband, black-rimmed eyeglasses, and a red muscle shirt with the words LOVESTRONG and Gay-Straight (with other words obscured) in white. His right upper arm is heavily tattooed.]

But my greatest delight was a surprise appearance by the talented and inspiring Laverne Cox, trans actress and activist. She gave a great speech about the realities and hardships of being a trans woman of color.

Laverne Cox at the Trans March[Image: Laverne Cox smiles while standing in the sunshine, holding a microphone. She is wearing large sunglasses, a long-sleeved navy blue top, a navy blue buttoned skort, and fishnet stockings.]

I’ve made all of my photos from this event available under a Creative Commons license, so they can be shared freely for noncommercial use, with attribution. I’ve posted the full set to Flickr (Laverne Cox photos are in a separate gallery), and uploaded a few to Wikimedia as well, to support the Wiki Loves Pride 2015 campaign.

I’m glad to live in a city where events like this can happen. Trans and nonbinary people need more visibility, so that we can get the rights, respect, and resources we need and deserve.

Pax wearing rainbow stripes. Photo by Chris[Image: Pax, the author, is sitting outdoors on the grass in a crowded park on a sunny day. They are smiling and wearing round sunglasses, a faded black baseball cap with the AIDS Walk logo, black T-shirt and off-black cargo shorts, chain necklace with metal rainbow-colored triangles, and neon rainbow striped arm and leg warmers.]

* Inspired by Everyday Feminism, I am using extended image descriptions to make my blog more accessible to the blind and visually impaired.

Welcome, and thoughts on marriage equality

[Image: A rainbow flag partially covering an American flag.]

Welcome! This blog is a new home for my writing and photography, superseding my blogs on LiveJournal and Tumblr, as well as my longer posts on Facebook and Google+. Unlike those sites, this web hosting (at pair Networks) is paid for and controlled by yours truly, and will contain no advertising. (Though I will be exploring a new crowdfunded model to support my photography expenses; I’ll post about that separately.) My primary focus is currently disrupting the kyriarchy, including but not limited to cissexism, heterosexism, racism, and speciesism. So let’s jump right in.

Last Friday, June 26, marked a historic U.S. Supreme Court ruling: Nationwide recognition of same-sex marriage. As I chronicled the fight for marriage equality in California for years, and later (thanks to gender transition) wound up in a same-sex marriage myself, this was big news to me. I wanted to celebrate, but my feelings were tempered by those (correctly) pointing out that same-sex marriage is only one part of the struggle for LGBT equality, particularly for trans people like myself. Some felt that a disproportionate amount of resources were poured into gaining access to an oppressive institution, that allies will now abandon the LGBT community, and that marriage equality primarily benefits privileged cis gay men.

I share the first two concerns, but not the third. I do now agree that too many resources were focused on gaining marriage equality, though I didn’t realize this before my transition. (My spouse and I donated a significant amount of money to HRC back in 2008, when I was still gainfully employed; I now regret supporting this problematic organization.) And I agree that married couples should, ideally, not have benefits over unmarried people, particularly with regard to health care. I sympathize with those who feel that the legal institution of marriage should be abandoned entirely, as personal relationships should be none of the government’s business. (Though as an atheist, I would also not want religious marriage to be the only publicly recognized form of romantic commitment.)

I also recognize that many straight cis people will mistake marriage equality for full equality, much as many white people decided that electing a black president meant that racism is no longer an issue in this country. Such people are not actually allies, as far as I’m concerned, even if they might grant themselves that title.

We cannot do much about money and resources already spent. But as a queer black nonbinary trans person, I am highly motivated to make sure the myriad other issues facing LGBT people – including but not limited to violence, homelessness, employment discrimination, and inadequate healthcare – are not ignored, going forward. Indeed, that is a large part of the purpose of this new blog.

When it comes to the claim that marriage equality primarily benefits cis gay men (and some have qualified that even further to white cis gay men), however, I cannot agree. I refer to “marriage equality” rather than “gay marriage” or even “same-sex marriage” for good reason. This decision means that people in the United States can get married independent of gender or sexual orientation. Lesbians, bisexuals, pansexuals, asexuals (yes, some asexuals have romantic partners), queer, and transgender people (regardless of legal sex) all benefit, in addition to cis gay men.

Regardless of race or income level, many couples now have rights that were previously denied to them. Marriage isn’t just about fancy weddings or tax write-offs; legal marital status conveys hundreds of benefits. Yes, many of these benefits should be available to all people regardless of marital status. But it is simply unfair to grant these privileges to some couples and not others, and that particular aspect of discrimination has now been formally addressed in this country.

To my mind, the Obergefell v. Hodges ruling is as significant as Loving v Virginia, which legalized interracial marriage nationwide. My parents were married in 1969 and I was born the following year, a mere three years after the Loving decision. In many states, my parents – a black/white couple – could not have been legally married before that time. They were young college students, and not well-off financially.  Many same-sex couples today, including interracial couples, are in a similar situation. These couples may still struggle financially and be oppressed in countless other ways, but at least now they have the option to marry, anywhere in the country, and not have an existing  marriage invalidated simply by crossing state lines.

So I do celebrate marriage equality. And I continue the struggle for true equality for all.

Pope Francis is no ally of mine

Originally published on LiveJournal.

It seems every time Pope Francis, the current head of the Catholic Church, suggests that we might not want to torture or outright kill people who don’t look or act like us, progressives fall all over each other to embrace him as an ally. Saying “If someone is gay and seeks the Lord with good will, who am I to judge?” landed him on the cover of The Advocate as “Person of the Year”. And now, saying “It is contrary to human dignity to cause animals to suffer or die needlessly” has garnered the praise of animal rights organizations, and even the “Abolitionist Approach” vegan anti-welfarist Gary Francione.

Let’s look behind the curtain at what this man is really about. As head of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis supports equal rights for one and only one category of people: Straight cisgender monogamous human males. He does not support reproductive rights for women (or anyone with a female-assigned reproductive system). He does not support same-sex marriage. He does not support gender transition. He does not support anyone other than straight cisgender men taking leadership roles in the Catholic Church.

In these regards, he is no different from any other Pope before him. Many individual Catholics feel differently, but it is the Pope specifically who is being praised by LGB and animal rights organizations. And as a queer trans person, I cannot tolerate this hypocrisy. This Pope, like all other Popes before him, is unapologetically sexist, heterosexist, cissexist, and speciesist.

I chose the words “heterosexist” and “cissexist” rather than the more familiar “homophobic” and “transphobic” to highlight that I don’t necessarily believe Pope Francis hates or is afraid of LGBT people. But whether he loves us or hates us is irrelevant; he is oppressing us. He makes theism, celibacy (in the case of gays and lesbians), and non-transition (in the case of trans people) prerequisites to his acceptance of us as worthy humans. Having compassion for someone and not outright condemning them is not allyship. If the Pope – or anyone else – does not support full and equal rights for all people regardless of gender or sexual orientation, he is not an ally.

In animal rights terms, the Pope’s language about “needless” suffering and dying is a welfarist smokescreen unless he follows it with a clear declaration that animals are not property for humans to enslave and kill for their flesh, eggs, milk, or any other purpose. Again here, it does not matter whether or not the Pope truly loves animals. I disagree with those who say that you cannot simultaneously love animals and be non-vegan. It is entirely possible, sadly, for someone to love an animal and still believe it is OK to enslave and kill them, because we live in a deeply speciesist society.

What matters is the perspective of the victim: The animal who is suffering and dying. And all farmed animals suffer and die needlessly, regardless of whether they are imprisoned in a factory farm or a backyard. As long as animals are considered the property of humans, this will not change, no matter how many encyclicals the Catholic Church releases talking about the value of animals in the eyes of the Lord. It is lip service, it is political, it is empty. “Humane” farming is the ultimate betrayal, visible in the terrified eyes of every fish, pig, chicken, calf, and lamb whose throat is slit for their flesh, skin, eggs, milk, or wool. Animal farming itself is, indeed, “needless”. But you won’t hear that from the Vatican.

I don’t want to hear about baby steps. Humans who make purchasing decisions are adults, not babies, and don’t need a religious figurehead to decide for them whether or not to enslave and kill animals for their meals, clothing, and entertainment. As a queer black trans human who seeks total animal liberation, the Pope is no ally of mine.

 

%d bloggers like this: