Les, after hours of thinking and writing, I posted the following on Facebook.
I wanted to write something on Transgender Day of Visibility on Friday but missed it. I’m posting now because I wanted to last year but wasn’t yet out to some of the people I really needed to be.
I wish I’d had the words for being neither a boy or girl as a kid. Because I never learned it was a thing, I didn’t know that I wasn’t a girl. I just knew that I was frustrated with the different options and rights for boys and girls, and felt an overwhelming urge to defy gender norms, and be myself. Sometimes I wish there’d been books, fiction and otherwise, featuring characters whose relationships with gender matched my own or otherwise ignited me. I read a lot of LGBT literature in middle school and high school, but didn’t linger on the few transgender characters I stumbled across, mostly because binary transitions (FTM or MTF) weren’t relevant to me. I still haven’t read a book or watched a movie with a character I truly identify with in terms of gender.
Can you imagine that?
With a personal history of vocal feminism (forever this) but also comfort with being called girl, sometimes I feel self-conscious about my past. I feel afraid that because I was comfortable being “girl-ed” in the past, people will disbelieve my nonbinary identity. But this is a fundamental truth: regardless of my education, I was just as nonbinary and genderqueer as my 5 year-old self twirling in dresses or pestering my mom for things to carry in my pockets as I was in 6th grade when people asked if I was a boy every week. Or, didn’t ask—just called me a boy, or wondered what I was in not-so-quiet whispers to their parents or friends in 8th grade.
I could tell you that at no point in my life have I been any less or more nonbinary than I am now, but honestly, there is a time seared into me: because of the ways it made me feel out of place in the world and my skin, the night I was crowned Homecoming queen in high school is the queerest and most transgender I have ever felt. Being queer and trans is never a problem, but feeling like there is no space for you to exist as you truly are is.
We get an inadequate education on gender and sexuality in schools and the media. The best education is everyday life but often it doesn’t feel like it’s easy or right or safe to ask questions or say to someone: neither girl or boy feels right to me, or sometimes my body doesn’t match how I feel on the inside, or I like my body but it makes people assume things about who I am that just aren’t true.
Or: I don’t see myself growing older in this society as it or I currently am.
And that last one is something we really need people feeling comfortable sharing. We need changes so that everyone, regardless of their gender, can live open and comfortably. We need a society with an emphasis on respect, inclusivity, and dignity. We need more conversations about the limitations of the gender binary system of man and woman, and the society that is structured around it. A binary system transgender people are reminded of daily on survey forms, in department stores, when we need to pee, join a soccer league, or are being Sir-ed or Ma’am’ed on the phone.
From a young age, we don’t get many discussion on the either or the neither or the both or the whattheheck of gender. It’s assumed that we are what was written on our birth certificates when we were born.
We aren’t given many safe spaces to ask and learn about gender and sexuality, regardless of what’s in our hearts or between our legs or who invites butterflies into our stomachs.
Because I grew up around families that didn’t match my own, and because I had parents who let me wear what I want, and let me chop off my hair even when they weren’t thrilled, I got to learn and grow and feel better about myself sooner than some. I got to like different things at different times and mostly not feel ashamed. Some shame, of course. That shouldn’t be an of course.
Because of some advances in education and policies, and sheer need to live authentically, more people are coming out as trans. Thanks to beautiful and brave humans like Laverne Cox and Parinya Charoenphol, there are are more openly famous transgender people. More, even, than when I was a kid. But we still have progress to make, everywhere.
There are about as many experiences with gender as there are people in the world. My trans, my nonbinary, is nobody else’s. One transgender identity isn’t representative of all, and I think that’s important to note. We need many representations of trans individuals in literature, film, and the public and private sector. We need people feeling safe, comfortable, and proud to be themselves without hiding or lying or avoiding the careers or people or sports they really want in their life. We need visibility and inclusivity as a habit and rule, not the exception.
Here’s to visibility.
I’m housesitting for my sister, and found some photos on her coffee table. She’s a photographer and actually just said bye to years in the service industry to really give things a go so it was extra special to discover some film prints lying around.
I found this one and was a little confused. I didn’t recognize the setting, didn’t remember ever sitting in a chair like that or why I would. I wondered why she’d use film on me when I was full on cowlickin’ and carrying large bags under my eyes. When I was so quiet, and probably struggling with my thermos.
It took me several minutes to realize that this photo was from March 1, 2016, and we were waiting together with my mom at Providence for my dad to get out of cardiac surgery. I had stayed up late the night before, and wakened early to at least see my parents off to the hospital. I didn’t know if I’d see my dad again. I don’t take much for granted.
We all got to see my dad again. We had him for Father’s Day in June, our summer birthdays, and his birthday in October, when I treated him, my mom, and Elizabeth to pizza and Hunt for the Wilderpeople at the Academy Theater, where we all laughed louder than anyone else in the theater, and Elizabeth and I cried.
And I got to come out as nonbinary to both of my parents together in June the night before I turned 24. I had waited weeks for my mom to return from the east coast so they’d have each other when I told them. I couldn’t begin another year of life with the wrong nouns attached to me.
Just today I got to confirm that he didn’t subscribe me to the mysterious copy of Seventeen I found on my bed with my name this afternoon (I’m not their target audience, the mystery continues).
The thing about life is that it’s precious. It’s discarded McDonald’s wrappers on the sidewalk and sunsets that pull stranger neighbors outside to admire together. It’s friends losing parents and you carrying them letters with stickers and doodles or editing their grad school applications or helping them pick out a cardigan for a funeral. Not because someone precious to them has died and you feel pity but because goddamn you are tied together by tiny threads, colorful, translucent, there’s love, and simple decisions to be there. They will not be alone, even if you cannot share everything they are feeling.
It’s chronic illness, and watching inaugural season soccer games with your buddy’s mom in a bed across town from where they’re happening because it’s better to watch the games together, even if on a computer screen.
It’s even forgetting that a day is the five year anniversary of a day you decided not to write down your assignment’s due date if you weren’t going to live to see it—and not remembering until you see a reminder on Facebook, of that, and your promise to live.
It’s a friend coming out to you as queer from over a thousand miles away, because they feel safe enough to share their truth with you.
Life is not giving anyone the permission to take your fire, not even you. It’s jumping across puddles and still sloshing water on your shoes. It’s screaming with joy at the mess of storms and thunder during a downpour with your friend after you didn’t receive the Fulbright you applied for and her mother woke her up at 0700 with news of a divorce.
Life’s not a wide open plain, but maybe it is. It’s broken glass glittering in the sunshine, shards that could so easily slice us open, beautiful against gritty pavement. It’s mosaics. It’s what you have to say of it, love, some gummy bears, stale croutons, and more.
I’ve got some doubts about life sometime, but I think it’s something to lean into. In the waiting rooms, in the downpours, or on top of hills in the Gorge with wind ripping through your hair.
I show up, and I’m an average student with perfect attendance until it isn’t. I hope you keep showing up, too. What a ride, bumpy and smooth. What a gift to have so many options and stars in the sky, even when we can’t see them.
It is odd to return to this blog, even for a quick second, even for a short post, and find that it has just as much traffic as ever, if not more. Most of that traffic, after scrutiny, is for a url delivering folks to a pdf of your words, a pdf of Jess Feinberg, of Stone Butch Blues.
It’s 2017 and there are many stones, many butches, many queers, and many with the blues clamoring for recognition. Clamoring for hope and good news. Hoping and itching to see themselves on pages.
I’m not butch, I say it again. I don’t identify with butch or femme, masculine or feminine, but I’m still strung up and over the binary, still fighting the gender on the little band placed around my premature wrist twenty-four and a half years ago in a hospital after doctors and nurses saw what was between my legs. Tiny holes, tiny folds.
It’s 2017 and I’m speaking. It’s 2017 and there are some things too heavy to say.
Les, I hope you are well. Wherever you are, if you care to, please send energy to the resistance.
Somehow it’s been months since I wrote with regularity, and
I can’t give you a solid reason why. Perhaps
because coming o u t [to my parents]
was a big focus of mine, and now that I started
I don’t know how to proceed. The stress
of the initial conversation has lifted, and I am left
with the regular, daily work, and the need
for further conversations. But sometimes,
it’s just nice to breathe, and hunker
I’m not done. The work is not
done. But I’m alive, and perhaps
that (continuing) is as how it should be.
Did I tell you a year ago I learned a favorite author has Lyme?
I know I did not tell you
a friend was diagnosed with Lyme.
They keep shining, Les,
and every day, I think we all try
to do the best
we can at the time.
If you’ve paid any attention from wherever you are, I think you know lots of us are scared, hurting, and rolling up our sleeves, wondering how best to move from grief to action. A demagogue is president-elect. After waking up on election day on the brink of an anxiety attack (with fear of this election’s outcome), I took care of myself all day and didn’t “tune in” to the news until vote tallies were well underway. Even with some hints from friends that things were not going well, I organized my thoughts and posted this beforehand. It’s about moving forward.
As a nondriver and someone who enjoys being outside, I spend a lot of time walking. I walk to buy groceries, pick up prescriptions, rid my dog of some of her tissue-thieving energy, grab a bite to eat, return library books, drop off my ballot, and simply listen to the wind rustle leaves. Often I just walk for the heck of it.
Much of this walking takes place at night when the earth has already spun so that we don’t see the sun. In the dark, walking in residential neighborhoods, I can see when folks have left their car’s dome lights or headlights on. Growing up, my brother and I made a great team whenever we noticed this. We’d guess which house the car belonged to, and one of us (often I) would go knock on the door while the other waited on the sidewalk with our dogs. I’d knock or ring the doorbell, ask if it was their car with the lights on, wish them a good evening, then continue into the night.
Alone on my walks, I do the same.
Most times, someone does come to the door, and although they are confused and/or stressed upon answering the door for a stranger, they are surprised and grateful once they learn my reason for knocking.
Doing what I do is very simple but it’s layered in complexity. In order to save others from dead car batteries, one must feel comfortable seeking out the owners at night. Night is a time I feel very comfortable in my skin, and hopeful. It’s something I refuse to cede. So is my faith in others. What I do also requires that people have enough trust in the unknown and faith in others to not just answer their door, but listen.
A sad truth is that one of the reasons many people likely immediately cancel “threat” from their minds when they encounter me on their porch, is that I’m white, small, and routinely perceived to be a woman. Due to centuries of systematic and interpersonal racism often only enhanced by divisive national rhetoric, I find it highly unlikely that someone of color, particularly a black man, or someone who is perceived to be transgender, would be as safe as I am knocking on a stranger’s door. Safe in both the physical sense, and from seeing doubt and prejudice flit across the resident’s face. As someone living in a body with breasts and a vagina, as someone who learned like water is life that I needed to be cautious around men, I know I’d be nervous about opening my door to a stranger at night, particularly a man.
For many reasons, that is a shame. Regardless of the outcome of tonight’s election, despite the months of angry rhetoric, I hope we wake up to a world tomorrow in which people suspend their fear (or better, analyze and resolve it) and open their doors to each other. I hope, no matter whom we elect, that we allow ourselves growing faith in others, trusting that we could possible mean and do well for each other. Trust that it pays to listen, and pays to speak up, even if it just means a saved battery sometimes.
I’ll keep walking tomorrow and the next day and the next night after that. As long as my legs allow me, I’ll walk, and I’ll gently offer help. I’ll keep my faith, placing myself at the mercy of those whose doors I knock on, because it’s an investment in my community, and I need that faith in others like I need water and I need air. I need to believe we can be good to each other. And I promise you, I’ll do my best to open my door with an open heart. I hope you will join me.
What’s a queer
up in the ether
in the basement sweeping cobwebs
or admiring clouds past a steeple
what’s self love and honesty
what’s advertising and marketing
on a smartphone for hand
snacks with somebody
What’s looking through ads when you never even
used to know about Black Friday
I couldn’t tell you a penny from
a sigh, couldn’t tell you
a nickle from a dime, and nope
I’m not placing a value
I’m wondering about lots of things
including tinder, and
why it feels like
I’ve stacked kindling
to burn artery and vain
with a lick, with a spit of flame
it’s difficult to swipe right or left
when you are shy
about swiping right on yourself
I’ve built this ship to do things other than sail
and swipe right
or swipe at all
Back to the beginning—
spiders weave clouds that catch
instead of give
once you see them
Fish flit below the hull of this ship
and I’m a queer up in here
what of it
While scribbling about zizi and gender neutral family titles last week, I also scribbled the following.
By asking others to honor my identities, I’m in a way asking them to come out to others by putting themselves in the types of uncomfortable conversations that result from one saying a person is neither a woman or man. It shakes some people’s realities—the teller’s, and the tellee’s. Although I don’t mean to, I’m asking others to help me feel more comfortable by using language that may discomfort others.
I don’t mean to cause discomfort. I just want to exist as I am, and have these basic truths be respected.
On National Coming Out Day last week, my sister texted me excitedly that her friend came out as genderqueer on Facebook, and that their friend’s new nephew will call them Zizi instead of aunt or uncle. My sister loved the name and wrote that perhaps I’d like to be Zizi Emily or something else one day! Zizi made her smile. I responded yeah, I could maybe be Zizi Em, Zizi Gritz, or just plain Zizi. Her texts gave me some much needed hope and joy.
None of us exists as a complete island in this world. We are connected through bridges, blood, households, offices, teams, and more. Although we are all individuals, we are also defined by who we are to others—who we love, bicker with, tease, and mourn. Our bonds with others and the roles we play in these relationships are integral parts of our identities.
One of the most difficult things about being nonbinary is how quieted I feel when thinking and talking about my family.
I don’t have words—not satisfying words substitutable for gendered ones—when talking about who I am to those I love. Sister and daughter, both important and strong words, make me unsteady. I may have some attachment to sister, but I can’t place an asterix on it in conversation with a footnote explaining I’m not actually a girl. I don’t want to offer fuel to anybody’s misinterpretation of my gender. Niece and aunt just have no business being used for me, outside of Niece being one of my middle names.
I don’t feel I can ask anyone to restructure their thinking of gender for me, so I spend a lot of my time quiet. As someone who rushes across crosswalks so cars can turn sooner, how am I supposed to feel comfortable asking for spaces made for me in conversation? How can I ask people to accept new words and ways of thinking? New words forged and new fabric sewn, so I can talk about being a child to my parents, sibling to my brother and sister, _____ to my aunts and uncles, and _____ (zizi?) to my sibling’s children? There are so many things I’d like to talk about sometimes but don’t, including how sometimes I daydream about someday chasing around my sister’s and brother’s future children, teaching them how to use the library and reading with them, and teaching them the names of trees and when different flowers blossom and bloom in spring.
Language is important. I exist and I’m someone to my parents, my siblings, and my aunts and my uncles, and I will be someone to my siblings’ possible future children, regardless of the letters that don’t exist in a dictionary for me. But not having words for who I am to others, and words reflecting the very important relationships between us, renders me invisible to myself and others in conversation sometimes.
My sister’s text touched me both because Zizi is a great possible idea for what my future nieces, nephews, and their possibly nonbinary sibling(s) can call me someday, and because the idea came from my sister. I was touched that my sister saw something she thought we could use, and came to me. It makes it so much easier to navigate the world as nonbinary when I’m not doing it alone. I really love my family, and family of friends, and I like being able to identify myself in relation to them, as do many folks who are trans and nonbinary.
None of us are islands. Not completely.
It’s true sibling is a gender neutral word, but how often does someone introduce you to another as their “sibling”? I’ve always thought it’s a rather strange word with the texture of room temperature wet canned dog food. I’m thankful this gender neutral word exists, but I’m not looking to get cozy with it on a regular basis.
This summer of devastating shootings and this tumultuous election season have been enough to throw a person off balance, and after a full year of adulthood post-college living (the most expensive, purpose offering security blanket I’ve ever had), I find myself floundering in both the way I live my life (how does one do it?) and digest the world around me.
This has been a summer of heavy sorrow and celebrations—I’ve seen whales, porpoises, an octopus, prairie dogs, crawled through caves, slept in multiple states, waded in the pool of a waterfall, canoed to hot springs, and walked on pumice and obsidian. Gifts of living.
But outside of those moments or days of vacation, I wonder where and when I’ll unpack my suitcase. I wonder when I will feel free of this suspension. Free from the not yets, maybe laters, shoulds, and if onlys. I wonder when I’ll lean in, and say, “I’m here.”
Life is extra dark chocolate. Sweet, but bitter. Near liquid in hot sunshine, and a rock in the winter. Meant for eating.
I posted the following on Facebook tonight. I think it’s important to acknowledge struggles with mental health. Our great love for life, but also, sometimes, the work it takes to hold onto it.
Love, I’ve worked a variety of jobs. Refereed soccer, cleaned toilets, changed linens, put mail in mailboxes, scooped ice cream, tutored writers, taken calls for a bookstore and a senator, researched markets, organized events, and opened packages. I can say with confidence the hardest work and best job I’ve ever done has been keeping myself on this planet.