Writing

Writing for me is very, very difficult. It does not come easy. It causes me anxiety and fear. Luckily in this blog, I can write whatever I want, so it is not so very scary. I feel that my writing has changed by being an academic. You may think it has made it better. But it has, in fact, made it worse for the kind of writing I want to do. My dream is to write a memoir. Being in academia for as long as I have has made my writing very analytical and critical. I have been forced to do academic writing for so long that it has made it much more difficult to do creative nonfiction successfully. I still have writing that I did from around Freshman year of college and it was very different from the way I write now. Writing a memoir is a life goal. Getting it published is a life goal. My hope is that by writing this blog I will be able to write a memoir. This blog is practice. It is exercising my writing muscle. I have actually come to like writing the blog, but have a long ways to go. December 31st will be the true victory party!

Writing is a practice of freedom. Writing is revolutionary, emancipatory and empowering. Writing is liberation. The best writing evokes feeling. It invites people to be their best self. It cajoles people into becoming change agents. It encourages people to keep going. It demands that they tie a knot and hang on. The best writing is what changes hearts and minds. This is what I want my memoir to do. I do not believe in writing just for writing’s sake. There needs to be a larger purpose to putting these words down on paper.

I once saw Dorothy Allison speak and she said that writers write because they want to live forever. I never forgot that because I know exactly what she meant. Writing is a form of archival work. Especially if published, it can last forever. Look at the authors from hundreds of years ago that we are still reading in the present day. When you think about it that is an incredibly powerful thing to pull off. I think everyone wants to make their mark upon this world and writing is certainly one way to do that. Writing really can make you live [on] forever. This is why I want to write my memoir. Not so much to stroke my own ego but to write something of considerable weight that it moves people. Transgender people are one of the most hated and vulnerable minority groups in the U.S. and in many places around the globe. If I can write a memoir that increases empathy for transgender people than I have accomplished a great thing.

In my view, there is nothing glamorous about writing. It is hard work. It is exhausting. It is frustrating. It is lonely and isolating. The voice of the oppressor is always sitting on your shoulder telling you it is not good enough. You are prone to perfectionism and to doubting your talent or competence as a writer. This is another reason why I am writing this blog. It is not only to keep myself accountable but also to increase my writerly self-esteem. I will write that memoir and it’s going to be great. If writing is a practice of freedom, then I am going to write myself free.

 

 

 

 

Religion

Religion gets a bad rap. I consider myself religious and a person of faith. I am incredibly thankful for all that religion has given me. It hasn’t always been this way. Although I was raised in the church, by the time I hit Junior High School I had pretty much dropped out of religion. For most of my life, I considered myself an “atheist.” About 4 years ago, I returned to religion and have been very happy with my decision. I put atheist in quotations because I don’t think I was really an atheist so much as it was a placeholder for me figuring out my spiritual journey. For some of us it takes a long time.

When you type in the words “Religion Is” into a google search box, this is what comes up:

  • Religion is the opiate of the masses
  • Religion is a lie
  • Religion is dying
  • Religion is a cult
  • Religion is poison
  • Religion is bad
  • Religion is ridiculous
  • Religion is for the weak
  • Religion is a mental disorder
  • Religion is a disease

It saddens me that everything that pops up is so terribly negative. I recognize that many people have had bad experiences with religion. I recognize that people often experience dissonance between their personl/political ideology and their faith tradition. But classifying religion as a mental disorder or a disease helps no one. In fact, it is incredibly insulting. Here’s the thing: religion is part of diversity. For some people, religion is a central part or THE central part of their life. For somebody else to classify them as ridiculous or weak is bigoted and untrue.

I have no tolerance for what I call atheist fundamentalists who cast aspersions on all people of faith and who demand that others abandon their religion and become non-believers like themselves. I watched the film Religulous by the wretched Bill Mahar and I was horrified at the venom and downright hate he had for all people of faith. I respect the rights of atheists and agnostics to believe what they believe. They should extend the same courtesy to people who do believe in God. We need a big tent approach that takes everyone into account, both believers and non-believers and people who have had good, mixed and negative experiences with the church.

I also hate the Marx “religion is the opiate of the masses” quote. This is especially true today where there are MANY things which could be seen as diverting people from revolutionary struggle, so it is unfair to single religion out. In addition, I do not see a conflict between being a person of faith and being a socialist or a revolutionary. Religious identity and political affiliation are two different things. I am a Christian and politically I am progressive/radical. While this does create dissonance for me, it is not a deal breaker. There are plenty of progressives in my religion and I think Christianity in its true form is very much wedded to social justice.

There is so much to say about religion but the main thing I wish to get across in this entry is that people of faith should not be made to feel guilty, should not be told our religious practice is a waste of time or a diversion from political struggle or assumptions made about our politics based upon our level of religiosity. No one should be made to defend their religious practice or relationship with God. I would like to see more room made for progressive people of faith and less judgment about people being religious or spiritual. Religion is a vitally important part of diversity and social justice and needs to be seen as such. To close, I wish all who observe them a very holy and blessed Ash Wednesday and meaningful and peaceful Lenten Season.

Pets

I have a 10+ year old dachshund mix named Jamaica. I say 10+ because I have had her for almost ten years and when I got her they said she was between 1-3 years old. She is black with white tuxedo stripe at her neck. She is really the love of my life! Her and I make up a tiny family and she is always there for me. She is sweet, loyal, docile and cute. She is loyal and she is so dedicated to me. She LOVES food and always begs for whatever people food I happen to be eating at any moment. She also can be slightly stubborn and prone to melancholia. She definitely throws shade when I leave for the day but I can understand why. She has periodic tummy problems and she is definitely a couch potato just like her human/parental unit. I can’t imagine life without her and hope she lives to 20 at least.

As someone recently said: the problem with animals is tha they don’t live as long as us. In 2012, I experienced the devastating loss of a dog. He was Jamaica’s best pal and a sweet but nervous little guy. He was a bichon frise and just as cute as you might imagine with his soft, fluffy white fur with a slight curl. He got sick quickly and severely. I brought him to the vet and he died on the examining table right in front of me. I never found out what his diagnosis was. It was one of the devastating things I have ever gone through. He was only around 6 years old. He came from a puppy mill and his first year was a sheer horror show. When I got him he was understandably terrified and it took him a long time to come around as a more friendly and secure dog. I will never forget Simon and hope he is up in doggy heaven playing with other pups without a care in the world.

Pets are magical. I am thankful for all the pets I had growing up and for the ones I have had as an adult. I am a total fan of little lap dogs. I also like cats very much. What is so difficult is when they leave us. I try to remember that this is why it is so important to love them why they are still with us. We live in a society that is filled with speciesism. Humans are seen as superior and as having dominion over the earth. This is especially rich given how human beings have royally fucked up the entire world. Animals are the innocents. And they have had to deal with the horrific treatment they have received from humans.

Jamaica came from Ohio. I got her when I was a graduate student out there. They tell me she came from an animal hoarder that had up to 100 dogs. They were all rescued and adopted out. I wonder sometimes if Jamaica misses having a sibling given that she used to have 100 brothers and sisters. I know though that she is my little princess and it would probably be hard for her to adjust to a new dog at this advanced age.

For those of us who have pets, we are blessed beyond words. They bring so much to our lives and yet they are generally treated so poorly by society. Give your pooch or kitty an extra squeeze and thank them for all that they give you. And remember that they will not be around forever so to enjoy them and treat them well while they grace this planet.

 

Performance

There is something very special about performance. Unlike film or TV, it is live and in person. There is something unique about the live-ness of performance. When people gather together to see a live performance, to me it represents hope. And our society certainly needs way more hope. The live-ness of performance elicits an emotional response that is hard to find in pre-recorded media. I rarely see live plays but when I do I am very much transfixed and brought right into the present moment. I would like to start seeing more performances because there is nothing like them.

The other thing I would like to talk about in relation to performance that queers the subject is the way in which gender is a performance. In 1990, queer theorist Judith Butler wrote the groundbreaking academic text Gender Trouble. It is brilliant, difficult and foundational. She applied a postmodern lens to gender and took social constructionism to the next level. In the book she interrupts the specious notion that gender is constructed while “sex” [the category] is real and essential. Both sex and gender are thoroughly constructed and imbedded with multiple cultural meanings. “Gender is performative” has become a common slogan now within the fields of women’s, gender, sexuality, queer and transgender studies.

What does it mean? If we think about drag, we can easily see how someone of one assigned biological sex/gender is performing the expression of the “opposite” sex/gender. Drag performance highlights the constructedness of gender. Gender is not a real, stable or coherent essence. It is something that is filled with social, cultural and political meanings. The meaning of gender is constantly being created by social actors. It is constantly being made, remade and unmade. Its meanings differ across cultures and across historical periods. But drag is simply the more obvious manifestation of the performativity of gender. It is literally performed on a stage. We see an exaggerated version of femininity or masculinity that the drag queen or king is typically portraying on that stage. So while it highlights the constructedness of gender, it should be known that this “drag” performance moves beyond the stage to the realm of everyday life. RuPaul said you’re born naked and the rest is drag.

Some misunderstand the performativity of gender to mean that it is as easy as wearing a suit one day and a dress the next. While that may be true for some non-binary or gender fluid people, for others it is not that simple, including many trans people. Judith Butler states that this mistakenly see gender as voluntarist. In Philosophy, voluntarism is the doctrine that the will is a fundamental or dominant factor in the individual or the universe. What makes people perform gender in a particular way is not entirely known. Just like we don’t know why some people are trans and so thoroughly dis-identify with the sex/gender assigned to them at birth. Gender performativity for everyday people is usually not done in a willful manner like it is for drag performers.

But we must not stop the analysis there. Why is gender expression so automatic for so many people? Is this due to something essential within the person or due to the fact that the binary gender system is so ubiquitous and so tyrannical? Gender expressions that do not conform to one’s assigned sex are heavily punished, even to the point of violence or murder. If all gender expressions from A-Z were routinely accepted, I doubt if people would feel so boxed in to the gender role expectations of only one rigid category. In fact, I believe expressions of gender would become so variegated and multiplicitous that gender would cease to have any meaningful existence, hence my desire for gender abolitionism.

Performance is live and agentic. It gives spectators hope and inspiration. With gender, however, gender is performative but not voluntarist. We do not know the limits of gender performativity because we live in such an oppressive binary gender system that punishbes people for transgressing assigned gender roles. If we lived in a radically different culture, there’s no telling what gender would look like and how its expressions would multiply due to a lack of fear of reprisals for stepping outside of the narrow box.

 

 

Music

In my apartment, I have a bunch of framed record albums of gender-variant music artists. They include: Boy George of Culture Club, David Bowie, Marilyn Manson, Prince, David Bowie, Robert Smith of The Cure, Big Freedia, a photo of Whitney Houston in a suit and tie, Poison, Marilyn, The New York Dolls, Grace Jones, RuPaul, Divine, Sylvester k.d. lang, Michael Jackson, Annie Lennox from vintage Eurythmics, and Pete Burns from Dead or Alive. I call this my Androgyny Wall of Fame. The amount of androgyny in popular music is well-known and well documented. Growing up in the 80s, there was a tremendous amount of these artists and they each changed my life, Boy George chief among them.

In addition to the queerness that music has offered me, it has also offered me tremendous comfort. There have been so many times when music has saved me from suicide. I know this sounds hyperbolic, but it is genuinely true. I suspect it is true for more than a few others. What is the power of music to literally save lives?

I believe it is both emotional and physiologic. Unfortunately the side of my brain that deals with math and science is broken. So I can’t explain the physiologic effects with any level of sophistication. All I can say is that hearing is a powerful sense. Something about the mellifluous nature of music takes over our hearing sense and shakes us out of our melancholia. Then there is the emotional reaction to a particular song. There is a strong emotional connection based on nostalgia. At least for me, whenever I am severely depressed, I do not reach for new music but always for a blast from the past that is one of my favorite and most well-known songs and that I can preferably sing along to.

Can you imagine the world without music in it? I certainly cannot. I thank the Goddess for the existence of music and what it has provided for me in my life. I love pop music, dance music, new age music and new wave music among others. I am so proud to be a kid of the 80s and of the culture that was created during that intriguing decade. While we had a horrific leader at the helm politically, we had some amazing music being made, as well as TV, films and art. Sometimes I will put a song on with a driving dance beat and it has an electric pull that says: keep on fighting. I move my leg to the beat and become transfixed on the beat. It can take literally minutes to pull me out of the funk and get me to a new place: moving forward. Shoot, it can work even better than all the many anti-depressants I take. It is no wonder we see so many walking around with their headphones or earbuds in listening to music. It can be a way to literally drown out the negativity of the universe.

Music also has the ability to bring people together. It can transcend racial, ethnic, religious or national borders to unite diverse communities. Given how polarized our world is, there is not a lot of things that can do this. But music is one of them. From queer and androgynous artists to bringing people together to making people dance, music can do it all. But for me the most potent thing has been how often it has saved me from the brink of self-harm. I will be forever grateful for that and hope musical artists understand how transformative what they can create can be in people’s lives.

 

Icons

All my icons are dead. Well, that not quite true. But most of them are. And they died much to soon, in their 40s and 50s.

On June 25, 2009, I was working on final edits to my dissertation when I heard the news that Michael Jackson had died. I immediately broke into tears and called my friends to come pick me up because I did not want o be alone. I was in a state of shock. Growing up, MJ meant everything to me. He still does. “Thriller” was one of the first albums I ever bought. And I practically wore it out. I remember a white female in my class consistently dressing up as Michael Jackson and playing his music on the bus on a portable tape recorder. While I see this as horribly insensitive now [cultural appropriation], it showed how much he was loved by young people in the early to mid 1980s.

Next was Whitney Houston, which was yet another mind-blowing tragedy. If MJ was the king of pop, Whitney was “the voice.” I remember singing along to her songs so often and it being part of my queer development as a youth. She was a diva like no other and I just adored her diverishness. I want to be a queen diva like her. She was beautiful and fierce and ultra talented. A talent ordained directly by God. Her voice has carried me through many a trouble and I am thankful for the music she has left behind, but said it ended far too soon. The fact that her daughter died not long after her is another tragedy of epic proportions. I only hope they can be together now in peace and serenity. “I didn’t Know My Own Strength” as performed on Oprah is my go to picker-upper.

Next came Prince, the beautiful one and the purple one. What a gift he had and how wonderful his androgyny was. He also meant a lot to me growing up, especially the album and movie Purple Rain. I remember when music videos used to be shown on regular TV and I especially liked his video “When Doves Cry.” I got goosebumps when I heard he had passed because I knew that another legend had left this realm behind. and far too soon. I would have liked to see him making music into his 80s.

Finally, last Christmas George Michael died. I will never forget when I first saw George Michael sashaying down the runway in bright dayglow short shorts for his video “Wake Me Up Before You Go Go.” Later, his work became even more explicitly sexy and queer. While he was loathe to come out of the closet, he finally did and brought camp and fun to a thoroughly queer aesthetic. His voice was angelic and he lifts me up like few other musical artists can. He, too, was a musical genius, just like MJ, Whitney and Prince.

All of these icons were queer to me, whether because of their androgyny, their lyrical content or their diva qualities. I am heartbroken that they are gone but thankful that their musical gifts persist. I will never forget the mother of Notorious B.I.G. saying how much comfort she felt when she was on the street and suddenly heard her son’s voice come on when a song from a radio or whatever came on or car playing his music passed by. The voices live on, the music lives and the legend lives on.

I’ve cried about my icons that are gone. I include non-musicians in this as well like Leslie Feinberg, Audre Lorde and Harvey Milk. All we can do as the living is try to carry on the work that they were trying to do in the world. This is a responsibility but also an exhilarating possibility. Their music, spoken words or written words can make me filled with fire, the fire to be fierce and fight tooth and nail for a better world. They can remind to fight the fuck back. They can remind me to dance to get out the rage and let the beat overtake me. I love my icons and am glad to have many more. I salute them all.

 

Television

I love TV. I grew up in a household where the TV was always on and I am so thankful for that! My TV is literally on 24 hours a day. I leave it on “Soundscapes” at night and leave it on the same music channel for my dog Jamaica when I am gone so she has a peaceful environment. The only time I turn it off is when neither one of us is home. When I learn that other people don’t like TV or don’t own one, my jaw hits the floor. I could not imagine a world without television. I am hooked and am glad TV exists in the world because it tends to make me a lot less lonely. It is a kind of connection (literally and figuratively) and helps a lot of people. I like reality shows, talk shows, cable news, true crimes and documentaries and TV movies [Lifetime-YES!] best and generally only like a scripted series once in a blue moon [like This is Us].

With that said, it should come as no surprise that television often reflects the interests of the dominant class and of the status quo. It can be frustrating to see the way television, like film, social media or any other form of media can preserve hegemonic norms. However, they also contest these norms. The fact that there are now hundreds and hundreds of channels means that there is a lot of diversity to programming content. It is a question of finding the stuff that subverts the status quo. Further, what is very true is that most media both subverts and reinscribes the status quo. Thus you can find progressive elements within a particular television show and then be very disappointed when it has elements that are based in very conservatizing ideology.

Growing up, I remember being so into daytime television talk shows. This include vintage Donahue, Oprah, Springer, Sally, Geraldo, Ricki Lake and many more. At one point it seemed like everyone and their monkey’s uncle had a talk show. One of the reasons I was so drawn to these shows was because transgender issues was a frequent topic of choice. Given that this was pre-internet, there was so little out these for me to learn about being trans. The talk shows were both amazing and horrible simultaneously. They were amazing because I got to see transgender people on screen and realize that I was not alone. I got to see people engaged in the struggle to be themselves. Often they would have unsupportive family members on and they would fight with them to demand acceptance of who they were. These same shows were horrible because the trans people were presented in such a sensationalistic manner. There was almost always highly negative conflict and often a very tragic narrative. Audiences could be brutal and ask invasive and downright offensive questions. I would walk away from these shows feeling simultaneously affirmed because at least there was some visibility, and also awful because it made it seemed like my life was destined for misery and living on the margins. In the final analysis, it was a mixed bag, but I still am glad that these shows were around.

It has been great to see how television has transformed in more recent years due to things like Netflix and Hulu. With the advent of ever more sophisticated technology, it is no doubt going to continue to evolve. Viewers have more power to watch what they want than ever before. TV has been a close companion and friend. I absolutely see the problems with it but don’t think it is any more culpable than any other form of media and know that it is, after all, a commercial genre who exists to make money and thus is always already suspect. Despite this, TV can be at the center stage of cultural change and can truly push the envelope in exciting ways. I look forward to see how this medium develops and how new programming challenges the status quo in innovative ways. TV is here to stay, so as viewers all we can do is demand better and more progressive programming!