Tag Archives: trans

Not seeing eye to eye

[Image: Self-portrait of Pax wearing glasses with red and black frames.]

Today I went to Optical Underground in San Francisco to pick up the new eyeglasses (pictured above and also on Flickr) I ordered last week. I got my previous frames there nearly three years ago, before my legal name and gender change, and was overdue for an eye exam and new prescription.

I like OU because they don’t separate the frames into men’s and women’s sections. Eyeballs have no gender, at least as far as I’m concerned. I chose these frames because they were in my favorite color combination—red and black—and were relatively inexpensive. Though out of curiosity, I looked up the brand and model number when I got home, and found out that the manufacturer apparently does consider these to be a women’s style.

Eyefunc frames[Image: Screenshot of Eyefunc eyeglass frames, with a conventional “female” figurine highlighted in red.]

This story so far would be unremarkable, except for the fact that when I went to pick up the glasses, I was yet again misgendered as female. As soon as I entered the shop, a friendly woman at the counter greeted me and asked if I was picking up frames. I said yes, and she asked a co-worker to get frames for “her” (as she was in the middle of helping another customer). I responded “Actually that’s ‘him’ – I’m a guy,” with an apologetic, nervous laugh. She smiled broadly in response; I’m not sure if she actually heard me, or perhaps wasn’t sure how or whether to apologize. I wasn’t angry with her for making an honest mistake. But, as always, it put a damper on my day.

As I’ve written frequently, I don’t normally have the energy to explain being agender during one-off encounters with strangers, so I’ll settle for being addressed as a man. But I will not stand for being addressed as a woman, and it really irritates me how often that still happens after over two years on testosterone therapy. I’m beginning to think that if I never manage to grow a full beard, I might have to live with this for the rest of my life. There simply aren’t any further modifications to my appearance or mannerisms I’m willing to make to mimic the persona of a gender I don’t even fully identify with to begin with.

I’m realizing that not being able to pass as a cisgender man or woman is probably one of the main reasons some trans people de-transition. Conservatives and TERFs (trans-exclusionary radical feminists) like to point to detransitioners as supposed proof that transitioning is harmful or ineffective, but it is our cissexist society that makes it impossible for some people who don’t conform to binary notions of gender appearance to fit in.

As much as I dislike my biweekly testosterone injections, I can’t imagine ever going back to having an estrogen-dominant body, but realizing I might never pass as a cis male is one of the many reasons I’m reluctant to have top surgery. My chest was fully covered up most of the times I was misgendered recently, so my breasts aren’t likely what’s causing the problem. Even if I wanted to just say fuck it and go back to wearing the low-cut tops I prefer, since I’ll likely be misgendered regardless, I couldn’t do so without compromising my safety.

Anyway, at least I have new glasses, and have confirmed that my eyes are still reasonably healthy. It will be interesting to see if I get misgendered even more now, with these new frames. Though I’m honestly not really looking forward to finding out.

Teaching children about gender diversity

[Image: S. Bear Bergman speaks into a microphone.]

In the wake of relentless trans-antagonism in the USA, cisgender allies often ask what they can do to help support trans people. While I am childfree by choice, I believe that educating children to not only respect, but actually welcome gender diversity, is key to creating a society that treats people of all gender experiences as equals.

One trans activist who is a parent and writes books for children is S. Bear Bergman (pictured above), who I blogged about recently. His micro-press, Flamingo Rampant, offers “feminist, racially-diverse, LGBTQ-positive books for all children and families.” In response to an ugly threat (which Bear responded to by making it into his Facebook cover photo), the company is offering a flash sale on picture books, through Sunday, April 10.

Another trans activist who writes books for children is Sophie Labelle of the web comic Assigned Male, who I wrote about for International Women’s Day. Sophie has an Etsy shop where she sells coloring books and other materials for children, focusing on “gender identity, trans-related stuff and art!

While I prefer to recommend trans authors for materials on trans issues, one cisgender parent to check out is Marlo Mack of gendermom, mother to a young trans girl. Marlo maintains a blog about raising a transgender child, and has created several videos and a podcast with the help of her daughter.

If readers have other suggestions of trans-inclusive materials for children—preferably created by trans or non-binary authors—please leave a comment below!

Freedom to discriminate in Mississippi

Add Mississippi to the list of states making it clear that people like me do not deserve equal rights. The governor has signed into law a “religious freedom” bill, protecting the right to discriminate against people in same-sex marriages, transgender people, and people who engage in “extramarital” sex. As someone who falls under all three categories, I am triply sure I will not be visiting that state anytime soon.

As the linked article points out, LGBTQIA+ people are already discriminated against in Mississippi—as well as many other states—in employment, housing, and other accommodations. Anyone who thought that legalizing same-sex marriage was the greatest victory of our time needs to wake up to the harsh realities faced by any non-hetero person who is not also cisgender, white, able-bodied, and financially secure. This conservative backlash in state after state is just going to keep coming, as long as people with cishetero privilege remain silent while our personhood is gradually eroded.

Whether or not you live in one of the affected states, you can help stop this cancerous spread of hate and fear by speaking out. Don’t wait until the entire country officially declares open season on queer folks, especially queer folks of color. You might think I am exaggerating for effect, but I assure you I am not. The lives of millions of people are under threat, for no reason other than our distance from the inner “charmed circle” of straight cisgender monogamous whiteness. Don’t allow this situation to continue.

Trans visibility in San Francisco (and beyond)

[Image: Event emcees Lexi Adsit, Mia “Tu Mutch” Satya, Shawn Demmons, and Nya (from Transcendent) stand on a stage in front of a screen reading (in part) “Trans Day of Visibility – Embracing Our Legacy. #TDOV”]

Last night I attended a San Francisco event celebrating the Trans Day of Visibility. Unlike the Transgender Day of Remembrance, which honors lives lost to trans-antagonistic violence, the TDoV—an annual, international event since 2009—highlights the vibrance and vitality of the transgender community.

The Singing Bois at TDoV[Image: The Singing Bois – three singing into microphones, one playing guitar – perform on stage.]

Breanna Sinclairé at TDoV[Image: Opera singer Breanna Sinclairé – the first trans woman to sing the national anthem at a pro sporting event –  sings into a microphone on stage.]

Our Lady J at TDoV[Image: Our Lady J (the first openly transgender writer for Transparent) sings into a microphone while playing keyboards.]

This event featured video presentations, comedy, and musical performances. Awardees for 2016 were the Fresh Meat Festival, Ms. Billie Cooper, St. James Infirmary Clinic, Annalise Ophelian and StormMiguel Florez for the documentary film MAJOR!, and—to her surprise and delight—HIV/AIDS awareness activist Tita Aida.

Tita Aida at TDoV[Image: Tita Aida speaks into a microphone while holding a trophy on stage. Others on stage are smiling in the background.]

As uplifting as events like this can be for the trans community, violence is the flip side of visibility. The non-binary performance art duo Darkmatter had some sobering words to say about TDoV on Facebook; in part:

On this day of trans visibility so many of us are left uneasy and conflicted. Yes, of course, visibility has been helpful and transformative. But visibility is not the same thing as justice. What has become increasingly evident is that the system is, in fact, much more willing to give trans people visibility than it is to give us compensation, resources, safety.

Telling our own stories is part of how we can dismantle the cisnormative framing of gender, and counter the ignorance, hatred, and fear that lead to discrimination and violence.

My full set of photos from TDoV SF is available on Flickr. Please credit me as Pax Ahimsa Gethen if you use any of them, thanks!

Making connections at Whidbey

[Image: A large group of people of color stand together outside the Whidbey Institute. Photo by Ziggy Tomcich.]

This weekend, Ziggy and I attended the Intersectional Justice Conference at the Whidbey Institute in Washington State. As I’ve written here previously, I was invited to be one of the speakers, and my presentation was on “Welcoming gender diversity: Trans, non-binary, and intersex inclusion in activist spaces.” I also led a workshop on gender identity and related issues. The event was a rewarding, challenging, and overall positive experience.

Striving with Systems at IJC[Image: Christopher-Sebastian McJetters, Aph Ko, and Justin Van Kleeck stand together in a hallway at the Whidbey Institute.]

The above photo features three of the participants I was most excited to meet in person: Christopher-Sebastian McJetters, Aph Ko, and Justin Van Kleeck, all contributors to the intersectional blog Striving with Systems. Christopher-Sebastian was my initial point of contact for this conference, and we both wept tears of joy on first meeting. Aph I have to thank for inviting me to the advisory board of Black Vegans Rock (which she founded and maintains), and we were thrilled to be housed together for the event. Justin has continually inspired me with his dedicated sanctuary work at Triangle Chance for All, as well as his writings on veganism and anti-oppression.

pattrice jones[Image: pattrice jones speaks at the Intersectional Justice Conference.]

Another inspirational sanctuary worker and activist who attended the conference was pattrice jones of VINE, an LGBTQ-run sanctuary. Christopher-Sebastian had begun the conference by reading an “Activist Bill of Rights” he created, which started out with “Fuck respectability.” pattrice took that instruction seriously, and at the beginning of her presentation she called out our host venue for housing chickens on the premises under unacceptable conditions. Other attendees throughout the conference called for the prisoners to be released to a sanctuary, and I am hopeful that the Whidbey Institute will agree to do so.

Black love and healing[Image: Aph Ko and Christopher-Sebastian McJetters comfort Dr. Amie Breeze Harper during her presentation at the Intersectional Justice Conference.]

The need to confront and dismantle white supremacy was a recurring and important theme of this conference. Aph Ko and Dr. Amie Breeze Harper both included images of lynchings in their presentations, to illustrate the very real and ongoing impact of racism, both in the animal rights community and the USA in general. The subject was so painful that both broke down in tears during their respective talks, and were comforted by each other, as well as by Christopher-Sebastian.

This moment pictured above illustrates to me the fundamental purpose and value of this event. Anti-oppression work is messy and uncomfortable and downright painful—and absolutely necessary.

The large number of people of color participating in this conference—as featured speakers and facilitators as well as attendees—was a welcome change from the mostly-white faces generally seen at vegan and animal rights events. A number of people featured on the Black Vegans Rock blog attended, including myself, Aph, Breeze, Christopher-Sebastian, Seba Johnson, JoVanna Johnson-Cooke, Brenda Sanders, Keith Tucker, and Unique Vance.

WoC at Whidbey[Image: A group of women of color stand together outside the Whidbey Institute.]

Carol Adams[Image: Carol J. Adams speaks at the Intersectional Justice Conference.]

Women—white and of color—were well-represented in featured roles as well. One of the featured speakers was Carol J. Adams, whose books on feminism and animal rights, including The Sexual Politics of Meat, are well-known and respected in the field. Her multimedia presentation was a fascinating and disturbing tour of the patriarchal and often blatantly sexist nature of animal product marketing. (Carol updated her presentation at the last minute to include a video of the Whidbey chickens, whom she also called to be released.) I was honored that Carol attended and actively participated in my breakout session on gender diversity.

Marnie and Dylan[Image: Marnie Jackson-Jones sits with her arms around her daughter.]

Marnie Jackson-Jones, who extended the official invitation for me to speak at this conference, did a heroic job as a facilitator. One of her young daughters attended many of the sessions with her, and was delightful.

This conference, while somewhat exhausting physically and emotionally, exceeded my expectations. I am hopeful that future iterations of this event can be improved in several areas, with more careful vetting of sponsors and venue to minimize speciesism, and more accommodations such as ASL interpretation. (I was very happy that the organizers implemented my suggestion to make restrooms gender-neutral for the duration of the event.) Regardless, these shortcomings did not diminish the impact of the anti-oppression work that was accomplished and the connections that were made this weekend.

While I was not the official photographer, Ziggy and I did take a number of photos, which are available on Flickr. If you use any of them, please credit me as Pax Ahimsa Gethen unless otherwise stated in the photo description (most of the photos that I’m in were taken by Ziggy Tomcich). The slides and notes from my presentation are also online, and I’ll post links to the videos of the speakers as soon as they are made available.

Social justice mages head to Washington

[Image: Banner reading “Interspecies & Intersectional Justice – Animal Rights, Human Rights, Just Society, Healthy Planet.” Animal footprints – non-human and human – adorn the sides of the banner.]

Tomorrow Ziggy and I are heading to Whidbey Island in Washington State for the Intersectional Justice Conference that I’ve been writing about. I’m excited about this event, and especially looking forward to meeting Aph Ko and Christopher-Sebastian McJetters*, whose work I’ve linked to frequently.

As much as I’m looking forward to this weekend, regular readers of my blog know that my mind is heavy lately, and the current political climate does nothing to assuage it. Mainstream news channels are covering “Terror in Brussels” 24/7, a level of concern not expressed for the victims of recent attacks in Istanbul, Ankara, and the Ivory Coast. Republican presidential candidates are calling for closing our borders and patrolling Muslim neighborhoods.

The same sort of conservatives who are predisposed to Islamophobia are introducing bill after bill to dehumanize trans people. After efforts in South Dakota and Tennessee** were thwarted, North Carolina joined the list of states attempting to force people to use restrooms matching their “biological sex” (wasting a great deal of taxpayer money in the process). Meanwhile, Ziggy and I will be arriving at the airport two hours before our scheduled (domestic) flight tomorrow, because the TSA treats trans people as potential terrorists.

Islamophobia, racism, sexism, and cissexism are all prevalent in animal rights and vegan messaging, and will be among the topics discussed at the Whidbey conference. Vegans and non-vegans alike often derisively label folks who care about these issues as “social justice warriors.” As I’m a pacifist, I like activist vlogger Kat Blaque’s comeback to this charge: “I’m a social justice mage.”

I likely won’t be blogging again until after the conference, though I’ll still review and approve comments if I have time. I believe the presentations will be filmed (though not live-streamed), so hopefully those who cannot attend in person can watch them later. There will be an official photographer, so I’m not planning on taking many photos, but I will post any good ones that Ziggy and I take for sure. Here’s to a successful conference!

* Whose arm I will be gently and lovingly twisting until he agrees to set up a web site of his own to host all of his brilliant writings. I hate linking to Facebook!

**After posting this entry, I learned that the anti-trans bill in Tennessee has not yet been killed. I wish I could say I’m surprised.

One million views

[Image: Screenshot from Pax’s Flickr account, with the current total number of views, 1,000,045, circled.]

Today, my Flickr account reached a milestone: One million views of my photos. While I’ve been on Flickr for nearly ten years and some celebrities probably have millions of views every day, it’s still a fun number to celebrate, so in this post I’ll tell the story behind each of my ten most popular photos on Flickr.

Now, my Flickr account, unlike my photography web site and professional galleries on Zenfolio, contains a mishmash of casual snapshots, screenshots, and photos taken of me by other people, in addition to some of my professional photos. (I began posting all of my photos to Flickr last summer; before that, I kept my professional work primarily on Zenfolio, and posted some personal photos only on Facebook or Google+.) So as it turns out, two of my top ten viewed photos were not taken by me, and five of them are not photos at all. As a skilled photographer I find this irritating, but also amusing, given the nature of the content.

Flickr top ten views[Image: Screenshot from Pax’s Flickr account, heading “All Time views”, with columns showing photo thumbnails and the number of views, favorites, and comments.]

1, 2, 3, 8, 9: FarmVille levels 22, 20, 29, 36, 28

Numbers one, two, three, eight, and nine on my top ten list are screenshots from the Zynga game, FarmVille, which I played from 2009-2010. For those of you who were fortunate enough to miss this phenomenon, the original version of FarmVille was a crudely animated but extremely popular Facebook game, where players grew and harvested crops in “real” time. Animal farming was also involved, which I’m now firmly against even though no animals were killed in this typical pastoral fantasy.

I started playing FarmVille solely because my friend and music teacher Steve Kirk, a very talented musician and video game composer, wrote the original theme song for it. Here’s a video I shot of him performing the complete song live:

I’m guessing that my screenshots were popular because I put some effort into making my farm look attractive and realistic, rather than just planting the highest-value crops to level up quickly. I was also fairly active on the game’s forum for a time. Regardless, I grew sick of it after a few months and ultimately blocked all Zynga games on Facebook, as that company relies on players spamming their friends to gain popularity.

4: Stradivarius cello, detail

Stradivarius cello, detail[Image: Side view of a cello, showing ornate detail.]

I photographed this Stradivarius cello at the Museum of American History on the first day of 2009, during a trip to Washington, D.C. with Ziggy. From a technical standpoint, I really don’t think this is a good photo; in contrast, the photo I took of the violin in the same display case is much better (and, to be fair, just missed the top 10 list, at number 11). But people seem to like the cello, so there you go.

5: Mayan Palace pool

Mayan Palace pool[Image: Pax relaxing in a large outdoor swimming pool.]

Ziggy snapped this swimsuit photo of me during our honeymoon in Puerto Peñasco, Mexico, October 2004. I’m not surprised at this photo’s popularity given that I tagged it with “cleavage,” for reasons that should be obvious. As I’ve posted previously, unlike the vast majority of transmasculine people I’ve encountered, I’ve never had a problem with my breasts. When I was heavier, I showed them off frequently. I only hide them in public now because most people assume that anyone with visible breasts must be female.

I’m not ashamed of this or any other photo that shows off my body. I’m only sad that I haven’t been in a pool or any other body of water since I started my hormonal transition two years ago. Though I can’t swim, I do miss hot-tubbing. But I can’t bathe topless or fully nude safely unless I’m in a private space with a group of trusted friends.

6. Sculpture at UCSF Mission Bay

Sculpture at UCSF Mission Bay[Image: A large green geometric sculpture inside an office building.]

I shot this sculpture in 2005 while I was working for UCSF Public Affairs and taking video footage of the then-new UCSF Mission Bay campus. This photo was shot with the still mode of the video camera I was using, and the graininess is evident even to the untrained eye. The white balance is also off. Regardless, this photo has more “favorites” than any other I’ve posted to Flickr. I’ll give the sculptor, Liz Larner, all due credit for this.

7. Ziggy and [Pax] at Swingers

Ziggy and Pax at Swingers[Image: Ziggy and Pax sitting together in a restaurant, smiling.]

My friend Amy shot this photo of Ziggy and me while we were visiting her in Los Angeles in 2007. (The original title, as with many of my Flickr photos, contains my birth-assigned name; please do not mention it here.) The restaurant we were visiting is named Swingers. Most of the people searching for that term must have been disappointed to find this photo in the results. As a consolation prize, Ziggy and I are, in fact, polyamorous. Though swinging is normally associated with heterosexual couples swapping partners, the distinction between swinging and polyamory is a matter for endless debate.

10. Short shorts

Short shorts[Image: Pax standing in front of vertical blinds, looking to the side, wearing shorts and a deep-necked T-shirt.]

At last, a photo I’m actually proud of! I took this self-portrait in 2009, when I was in the process of losing weight, and pleased with my figure. I liked this photo so much that I included it on an early version of my business cards, but others convinced me that it wasn’t really appropriate for the kind of photography services I was advertising.

Here again, I’m not ashamed of my body, including the prominent nipples visible in this photo. I never liked wearing bras, though I usually did so in public before my transition, reluctantly. I would still wear low-cut shirts like this if they didn’t guarantee that I’d be misgendered as female.

So there’s my top 10. If you’d like to see more Flickr photos that I’m personally proud of, rather than screenshots of video games, check out my Best of 2011 and Best of 2012 sets. And if you like my work and want to support my efforts, please consider sponsoring me on Patreon or leaving me a tip. Thanks!

Gender-neutral shopping fantasy

Today, artist Sophie Labelle, the author of Assigned Male who I featured in my International Women’s Day round-up, posted a link to a Manic Pixie Nightmare Girls comic which  perfectly illustrates what’s wrong with so-called gender-neutral fashion. In short, gender-neutrality and androgyny are typically associated with female-assigned people wearing conventionally masculine clothing. Some formalwear shops have launched that cater to transmasculine people, but non-binary femmes are pretty much invisible.

As for me being agender has nothing to do with fashion, the discussion on Labelle’s page got me thinking about what kind of clothing or department store would make me feel welcome. As I’ve mentioned I absolutely hate going shopping, especially now that I’m faced with exclusion and erasure everywhere I go, so a truly gender-neutral shopping environment would be a welcoming space for people like me.

Such a store might feature:

  • Clothing separated into categories, not genders. i.e., pants, skirts, dresses, shoes, underwear, casual/formal, kids/adults
  • Handy size conversion charts (i.e., U.S. women’s shoe size 8 = men’s size 6.5 = European size 39)
  • Model photos and mannequins representing diverse body shapes and races
  • Gender-neutral single-occupancy restrooms and dressing rooms
  • Staff trained to say “May I help you?” and “Thank you, have a good day” without adding “Ma’am,” “Miss,” or “Sir” to these sentences
  • Staff trained not to read a customer’s name out loud off of their credit card or ID at checkout (important to respect privacy and avoid outing stealth trans people)
  • Bulletin board or table spotlighting local resources for trans people

You get the general idea. It would be so nice to walk into a clothing store that didn’t segregate merchandise into Men’s and Women’s, with no acknowledgement that non-binary people also exist.

Climate of hatred and fear

I have witnessed or read of a number of cissexist micro- (and macro-) aggressions lately that have bothered me to the point that I’m just going to spill them all out.

  • Since Caitlyn Jenner – a rich white conservative Republican woman – has made statements that she likes Ted Cruz and that Donald Trump would be “very good for women’s issues,” cissexist people who (understandably) hate her views have misgendered and deadnamed her in response. Many of these people likely consider themselves to be liberal or even progressive, yet think it’s OK to strip someone they don’t like of their authentic identity.
  • Since filmmaker Lilly Wachowski was harassed into outing by The Daily Mail, Chelsea Manning has come forward to say that she too was outed without her permission. This hit me especially hard as I announced my own transition the day after I learned about Manning’s, and didn’t realize at the time that she was not consulted about the timing of her own revelation.
  • In a recent conversation with a US-American woman who had lived in India for several years, I mentioned that the country was the first to grant legal recognition to non-binary people: The hijra. (Though I noted the sad irony of a country being progressive on trans issues while still criminalizing homosexuality.) The woman spoke of hijras positively, but referred to them as “men dressed as women.” I explained that they are not men, they are hijras; that was, in fact, the point of the law recognizing them as a “third gender.” She said that she meant “genitally.” I knew she didn’t mean any harm, but I was very upset by this all-too-common statement of biological essentialism.

During the question period of the talk with Julia Serano this week, I asked her how we could best counter transphobic bathroom bills. I mentioned that I used the word “transphobic” rather than “cissexist” here consciously, because these legislators are creating a climate of hatred and fear, specifically to paint trans women as sexual predators. She seemed optimistic, especially in the wake of the South Dakota veto, that cis people are starting to “get” trans people, and push back against this discrimination. I am not so sure.

Since the year 2013, not a day has gone by that the gender binary has not been foremost on my mind.  If you’re cis, I hope you appreciate what a privilege it is to be able to ignore it.

Julia Serano and trans activism

[Image: Julia Serano speaks at the GLBT History Museum, San Francisco.]

Last night I attended a talk by Julia Serano at the GLBT History Museum for the launch of the second edition of her classic book, Whipping Girl. I’ve written previously about this book, and how grateful I am to Serano for introducing me to the concept of “subconscious sex,” which finally explained the feelings I have about my own identity. Her book is an excellent read for anyone interested in gender theory, but of particular relevance to trans women, as the subtitle, “A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity,” indicates.

Serano read from the preface to the new edition, the main text of which is largely unchanged from the first. A lot has changed for trans people since she first published the book in 2007, however, as she pointed out. She’s kept her web site updated with a number of essays, one of which I linked to in my post celebrating International Women’s Day earlier this week.

Part of my motivation for attending this talk was to take a photo to replace the old, not-particularly-good one on Serano’s Wikipedia page. As a Wikipedia editor I’m always trying to improve trans and non-binary coverage on that platform, and frequently running into frustrations dealing with cis-privileged editors and vandalism. Taking newer and (hopefully) better photos is one way I can improve trans pages without (hopefully) inciting controversy.

Besides Serano, so far I’ve added photos of Ryan Cassata (musician and activist),  Monica Helms (designer of the transgender pride flag), Willy Wilkinson (writer and health care activist), CeCe McDonald (public speaker and activist), S. Bear Bergman (writer and performer), and, though she already had good photos on Wikipedia, actress Laverne Cox. I’ll continue to be on the lookout for local trans-focused events to shoot, as my energy levels and health allow.

The full set of my photos from last night is available on Flickr. As always, please credit me as Pax Ahimsa Gethen if you use any of them, thanks!