(an)other human

January 29

I am playing with fire, Les

even with flame smoking

                         out of sight.

                    *

I woke up from a dream

to a dream of texts

composed, never sent,

but received:

I told her “sentiment is waiting”

and she replied about her girlfriend

as if I was referring to us

and how she was glad we had a boardgame to sit

and play because she was waiting

for their anniversary

                     *

What “sentiment,” what “boardgame,”

and         why?

                       *

Why these words after repeatedly

telling me about her crushing—

                       *

When did I become an other human,

not just another human? I break

my rules, Les,

I said never to this happening.

                       *

I am stone and sticks broken

by words

or words broken by stone

and sticks.

                        *

She may be poly, but I am monogamous

with a history

of running. I am not good

with commitment

because I am afraid

of settling

                                      now    or     then

                          *

And I had told her sentiment is waiting

because I am soft

but far (too) stone

for her to receive warmth and flame

from me.

                      *

My limbs are only kindling

cluttered by ice.

Getting through the Gates: Travel and Transphobia

January 26

Les,

After reading much of Trans Liberation today, I’m thinking about travel, transphobia, and colonialism. I’m lingering on your love of/yearning for travel but inability to actually engage in international travel the way many non-trans individuals can. I wanted to also talk about colonialism and the ways in which tourism (mostly by more affluent individuals from wealthier countries) can be its own form of imperialism, but I’ll limit my focus to airports today.

During your address to the Texas “T” (transgender) Party in 1997, you talked about your struggles with M-or-F boxes on document applications, sharing:

I would like to live in a world in which I would be described as “Les Feinberg.” But I live in a society in which I will never fit either of the little stick figures on public bathrooms signs, and I cannot shoehorn myself into either the “M” or “F” box on document applications.

…So I – and millions like me – are caught in a social contradiction. It’s legally accurate to check off the “F” on my driver’s license permit. But imagine if a state trooper stops me for a taillight violation. He (they have always been he in my experience) sees on “F” on my license but when he shines his flashlight on my face he sees an “M.” Now I’m in the middle of a nightmare over a traffic infraction. So I marked down “M” on my driver’s license application for my own safety. I can be fined and jailed for that simple checkmark with my pen.

I am someone who loves to travel. There isn’t a single spot on this planet I don’t long to see and explore. But the M-or-F boxes on passport applications kept me under virtual “house arrest” in this country for most of my life. (20)

You ended up ordering a short-form birth certificate without a gender box which enabled you to apply for a passport as a “M” with your gender ambiguous birth name. In that moment, you became a felon. But, you declared,

I’m not afraid. If I am arrested at any time because of my identification papers, I’ll let our communities everywhere know. We are all vulnerable where our identification documents are concerned. I think we could make a hell of a fight out of such an arrest by demanding the M-or-F boxes be removed from documents like passports and driver’s licenses. (21)

I have many privileges, Les, including past experiences traveling overseas. As a child, I studied Japanese in an immersion program in Portland* Public Schools. With the help of years-long fundraising efforts, my classmates and I were able to travel to Japan twice. Once at the end of fifth grade, and once in eight grade for a short research residency. I turned 11 during the first trip. I was 13 during the second.

During both trips my gender confounded many. With my short hair, I was regularly mistaken for a boy. In one Fukuno elementary school classroom, I realized my US peers’ name tags were colorcoded by gender when the teacher tried changing mine to blue. Because I didn’t yet know I could be something other than a girl or boy, I simply defended my gender, repeating 男の子じゃない!私は、女の子です!— “I’m not a boy, I’m a girl!”

My color changed a couple times.

As someone who enjoyed confusing others (I realize now it was a relief for someone to not be so certain I was a girl), this was a funny experience. But I understand how these experiences can quickly become old and/or demoralizing, especially after passing out of childhood when people are cut more slack for looking androgynous.

It would be humiliating to answer invasive questions about gender and genitalia, and endure pat downs, strip searches, and X-ray scans by people who have no business touching our bodies, especially with so much ignorance or revulsion. The system does not need to be like this. Our gender, nor a tiny box, should not influence our ability to get through a gate.

It is not my desire to be read as a woman but as an assigned female at birth (AFAB) person usually misgendered as woman, and white, I can comfortably wade through security and customs. Any gendered address from an airport employee would bother me, but I do not enter airports expecting my appearance or ID to set off alarms. I make it through just fine. My middle-class upbringing may play a big part in this, Les; I move with confidence that I deserve to be there as much as anyone else, and I speak fluent standard English. Far more privileges than I will ever realize cushion me in this life.

What are some places you would have visited, Les? If your passport didn’t involve committing a felony? Even if it did?

Will I ever be read as someone not female or male in a respectful way by non-trans folks? What is trans enough? What do others see when they look at me and why? What have they been taught not to see?

To anyone else who may find these scraps of words, what are your experiences navigating airports? Traveling domestically or internationally as a trans person? What do you think holds you up? What allows you to pass through gates?


*I’m always hesitant to mention Portland by name because it’s rapidly gentrifying.  Non-trans and trans folks alike are moving here in droves and outside developers are in some cases drastically changing neighborhoods. While there are of course some pleasurable changes, Portland is the most gentrified U.S. city of the 21st century and it hurts to see so many communities pushed to the city’s fringes, if not out entirely, including Black Portlanders. Raised in what was not so long ago a far more working class neighborhood, I don’t see how I’ll be able to remain in my own neighborhood let alone area of town after moving out of my family home.

Rainshowered, Rejected, Celebrating: On not getting a Fulbright but still laughing at this beautiful mess of life

January 21

Dear Les,

In October, I applied for a Fulbright grant to pursue a master’s in creative writing at University College Cork in Ireland. After learning of the opportunity on Fulbright’s website in September, I spent a month working on my application with extra attention to my three statements for my UCC and Fulbright applications. I compiled about twenty pages of notes for my one-page Fulbright personal statement as well as twenty minutes of voice memos on my phone. A mental block existed, but I completed the statement on 4 am the day it was due. I submitted my applications and prepared myself for the three month wait for Fulbright’s decision. Just two weeks later, University College Cork offered me a spot in their program, but the wait for Fulbright’s decision continued. While waiting for my bus to take me to the train station where I was to board an Amtrak bus to visit my friend Z in Salem last Friday, Fulbright informed I had not been chosen for the grant. Before reading the email on my phone, I had been smiling at the bus stop. Afterwards, I simply stood still wondering what this decision meant for me. While a long shot, the grant had been my only potential plan so far for next year. Now I was still a young, underemployed, living-at-home college grad, but without any clear potential plans for next year. Not interested in mourning, I nodded my head, accepted the decision, and put my phone away. When the bus wheezed alongside the curb minutes later, I boarded.

I had an excellent weekend in Salem. As soon as I arrived in Salem, Z and I got tacos with her girlfriend, were joined by her brother at a fancy cake place, then went to bars and a cafe downtown. In all of it was laughter, conversation, and room for thought. Back in her apartment that night, Z and I sat on her couch and talked about adulting and dating. I told her about the Fulbright. The next morning, Z was woken by her mother calling to say she and Z’s father were getting divorced. I didn’t want to be anywhere else in the world. We made tea, miso, danced to T Swift, and went to Minto Park along the Willamette River where we were caught in a huge downpour far from her car. On our way back to the parking lot, dancing carefully through mud and puddles, I threw myself into the wet— lowering my hood and feeling my head get soaked. I stamped my feet up and down, and with Z and I the only humans along the muddy river, called “Goddamn, goddamn!” savoring the profanity and savoring life—the rejections, splits, laughter, and soaked clothing.

And maybe that’s life:

stomping, laughing, screaming, drooling, and snotting, giggling at too wet jeans and sloshy shoes, watching the water meet water in a river dreaming of flooding, giving bad hugs (awkward and bony) and good hugs, straining your arm during air hockey and foosball and laughing about it for the next two days, flirting in a nickel arcade, knowing you didn’t get the grant you applied for—your one maybe plan for next year—or lying on your friend’s couch when she gets the call her parents are divorcing, drinking tea, making miso, dancing to TSwift even though your muscles are tight and joints are stiff, unconsciously slipping into a drawl, racing alone on the bank with feet slapping mud, with fists clenched yelling “Goddamn, goddamn!” and shaking your head “This is a great time to be alive!” knowing this: that we enjoy life, turn the flavors on our tongue, let it cascade yet still pull ourselves forward. Knowing I cannot truly say I am pleased I did not die years ago, perhaps because death is no enemy, yet also do not regret staying alive. This, this is life.

Boobs, Binding, and Why I Like My Chest As Is

January 17

Les,

Raye wrote a really great piece about binders on January 4 in which they explored their feelings on binding. Lesboi and Janitorqueer both replied with some wonderful comments that made me think further about my own trans body and why I’ve never felt seriously compelled to bind my own chest. After reading the post and getting off the bus on January 6, my brain kept churning. During free minutes at work, I scribbled thoughts on a Sticky note—a note I later thought I may have lost and laughed about to a couple of male coworkers. Who knew how whoever found it would react when they read the word nipples! After lunch, however, I ended up finding it stuck to the back of my binder like a good sticky.

*   *    *  *   *   *   *   *   *  *  *   *   *   *   *  *   *   *   *   *   *  *   *   *   *   *   *  *   *   *   *   *

I’ve really only ever had a binder because my best buddy sent me their old one in the mail a couple years ago. It was white and looked like an Under Armour tank top with a tiny pink stain. A stain, unless I’m just remembering my smashed nipples.

About those nipples.

While staring at my slightly compressed self in the mirror that afternoon after unwrapping the package and squeezing myself into the tank, I made a startling discovery:

I was uneven. Asymmetrical. I hear this is standard but I’d had this chest for 21.5 years and had never realized that one areola was a smidge wider than the other and one boob was a bit larger and higher than the other. Under the sheer layer, this became clear. I stared.

I had already known I preferred the left side of my face (nothing against the right, I swear), but this was new. How could I not know this about the chest I at least glanced at every day? Also, why was I trying on this binder? What did it mean to me?

The binder was too loose to do any significant binding but I wasn’t actually disappointed. I ended up tucking it away to donate and never wearing it again—except to doublecheck the feel and make faces at my asymmetry in the mirror.*

Unlike my buddy with large breasts and significant dysphoria, I’m a slender human with small breasts and fairly narrow hips and I’m quite content with my body. It offers me some grief, sure, but I regularly give thanks for how small my boobs are—they travel easy. I’m a fast walker, athletic, and carry enough tension in my neck, shoulders, and back without boobs weighing me down. I also don’t connect with popular images of breasts—the sexiness, or the utility; I generally don’t want to play up my sexuality with my breasts nor do I see myself ever breastfeeding babies. I can feel sexy in a tight sports bra or lace bra, but generally disregard my chest. Still, I like having that softness.

When I think about having a completely flat chest, I’m unsettled. I like what I’ve got and don’t think a flat chest should signify androgyny. Why is it that no boobs is gender neutral?  This measure of androgyny is male-normative and less inclusive of communities with curvier/larger bodies. Also, WHAT. My whimsical, sassy nature and pixie build already make folks view me as more feminine (fine, but why gender pixies?), but if my genderqueerness is viewed as less valid because I don’t bind then that’s silly. I’m not cisgender and I should not have to do anything to my chest for that to be more evident.

There are countless transgender experiences and it should be noted that a person doesn’t have to experience discomfort with the parts they were born with to be transgender. Regardless of whether they are a trans man, trans woman, nonbinary, etc, they do not need to change their body or feel compelled to do so if they don’t want to. A man deserves to feel happy with his breasts and vulva if he wants to; he’s no less a man. Neither is a woman any less a woman if she has a penis. Similarly, genderqueer, genderfluid, and agender individuals deserve to have their identities honored regardless of the genders they were assigned at birth and the ways they prefer to present themselves.

There are so many reasons why a person may or may not choose to bind or pad their chest or undergo top surgery. Emotional and physical health reasons, as well as financial.

My contentment with my boobs has many reasons. For one, I’m self conscious of my slenderness insofar as it affects my ability to give good hugs; I worry about causing others discomfort with my boniness. I’ve been told this is a ridiculous concern. Yet because tight hugs with flatter-chested folks can kinda hurt me (hold on, nips!), I’m thankful I bring a little softness to my hugs.

Another reason I’m pleased with my chest: I got my nipples pierced last May and feel like a champion with my barbells. It was a rather spontaneous decision during my busiest week of undergrad. The piercings make me want to go topless more often, but alas, it’s cold and location doesn’t always invite that. I kinda wish I had already been pierced when I sat topless in front of my university’s library last March—it was for a photography project and invigorating. At some point, I’ll have to do a piercing update in a non-university setting. Still a fan of posing with a topless magazine in a grocery store. Shock and awe, Les.

I may choose to bind occasionally in the future, particularly if I want to wear a collared shirt and tie, but no matter what, I’ll be myself. Genderqueer, queer, and nippy.

*For the record, I scrutinized my boobs for months afterward and eventually ceased noticing any unevenness. Maybe the binder just brought it out of me. Either way, what’s it matter?


An updated version of this (with a photo!) appeared on Neutrois Nonsense on February 9, 2016.

Not Your Pretty Girl (respectfully)

January 10

Les,

What is it about femininity and prettiness deemed so important

to the way dates flirt? The language dates use to get close?

I have a bag filled with brushed off words ready for donation,

“Girl,” “women,” “female,” and “lady,” spilling.

Am I more of a babe

if Woman and Girl can be attached to my sass and movements?

Are those words sticky,

attraction itself,

friction between bodies?

Am I less

of a catch, less ideal

if my words are different?

They flirt over my head, Les

and I duck.

Your Love is Enough

You walk into a coffee shop for the first or 846th time and laugh with the barista

You scratch your dog behind the ears in just the way they like

You talk to a stranger in a puffy coat on the bus on your way home from work. You chatter about jobs, schools you attended, and the ice storm and part ways knowing you may not see each other again but feel the warmth of this 10 minute blip in time

You sneak your fork over to your grandpa’s pie plate (he trained you well) and when his fork clashes with yours your faces both split in grins

You climb into your rubber boots when the streets flood with rain and clear drains with an old rake, waving at cars and cyclists that pass by

You roll down your window to call thank you when you pass others doing the same

In the correctional facility, you crack up a roomful of inmates with goofy self-deprecation

You refuse your inmate friend’s offered pen because policy says you cannot take home anything from them, but the next time you see each other you show you listened to their recommendation and bought your very own of that kind.

You say please and thanks, and take care. Occasionally you call May the force be with you, because you can and why not

You shrugged at your acne in the mirror last week and told yourself you are most definitely a babe, a hottie, a champion.

You held the door for a stranger this morning even though they were capable of opening the door for themselves

You carried yourself with dignity and self-respect even though you couldn’t open the door for yourself

You call your family, biological or chosen, as regularly as you can

You pushed for accessible, inclusive restrooms in your school/workplace/rec center, maybe not because you need them, but because you know someone does even if you’ve never met

You give compliments just because (you mean them)

You plant a tree

You don’t have much money and your stomach was growling a bit but you bought a meal for someone who hasn’t eaten much today

You’re quiet, reserved, but smile at the people you pass on your morning run along the river

You mailed a letter to your friend or an old teacher on Monday

You fell asleep after kissing your lover or

reading a chapter of your book and snuggling deeper into your blankets

You woke up this morning and got dressed

*  * * *

 

There are so many shades of love and care

and all of it counts for something

even if the chalk is too short to make tallies

or your brain has forgotten arithmetic.

It doesn’t matter if you’re in a romantic relationship or three

or have never kissed someone.

There are so many shades of love,

and yours is beautiful. What you’ve got,

it’s so much

postscript

January 5

postscript to last night’s letter, Les:

I’m not floundering. Just recollecting, I hope. Just sifting. I don’t wish to travel back in time or renew a relationship. Flowers have already bloomed, gone to seed.

Perhaps because I was writing about my relationship with P so close to going to bed, they were in my dream as their pre-T, pre-out as genderqueer self. Their bright and eager self on my front porch. At one point I sensed their present self or others approaching and felt protective—I didn’t want P to be seen as their past self if they didn’t want to be. Face rounder, younger, less touched by T.

But there was nothing to be ashamed of, Les. Present dream P would have had no reason to be ashamed of seeing or having others see their past self. I loved them and could have been an ambassador

but in this dream, I was ashamed to be dreaming it, I think

so I hid

everyone from each other.

through the telescope, on the examination table

January 4

Les,

In another life, I was a 19 year old at the University of Oregon in Eugene. This was a life or two ago. It’s hard to keep track, but it wasn’t this one.  Not this one, where I graduated from Oregon State University in 2015, or realized that the stickiness on the back of my gender labels had dried, girl had dropped, and I no longer considered myself a girl, a lesbian, or much of anything easily defined.

After breaking up with my first girlfriend (whom that word no longer fits if it ever did, but I think it did ring sweet for both of us at the time), I was a wreck. Wrecks, my friend and sophomore year roommate Nata said of both my ex and I, when she and I went out for sushi a few weeks ago. She and I both spent silent minutes letting our giant sushi rolls dissolve slightly in our mouths before chewing. We pointed at our cheeks, and averted our eyes from each other, so as to avoid laughing and choking. We still laughed at times—I turned my face to the front door so the chefs and serves wouldn’t see the rice and fish nearly escape my mouth.

P, formerly K, they, formerly she, and I were both wrecks after the break-up. I nodded about my ghost self and looked away from Nata. I wondered about P. Beyond their first two weeks, beyond that initial shock, did they continue to feel the break? Did they feel it when I sat next to them in their bedroom five weeks afterward when we were back in Eugene, after delivering them my extra bike lights because I noticed they still didn’t have any? Did they still carry scrap metal as I noticed the small hickey on their ear and attempted to joke that the girl they were seeing should be careful? Careful with those ears I had loved so recently? I realized I couldn’t actually joke when they joked back. I was wrecked long before the break-up, Les. I just carried different types of numbness after the separation.

They wanted me to stay and eat the dinner they cooked. I sat on a stool then left just before they were done. They were upset—didn’t I know I was supposed to stay when someone offers food. They had a hickey, Les. I made them promise to use the bike lights, which I had visited the nearby drug store to buy batteries for although I didn’t tell them that. Then I left.

It was 9 months before I held someone else’s hand—once. It was 14 months before I kissed another person. I broke up with P because I was already totaled from depression even if it didn’t quite look it yet from the outside. I broke up with P because deep down I knew we didn’t belong together in the long-run. I broke us up because I was depressed, and I knew I needed to dig myself out alone. I didn’t want them to drown in dirt or water with me. It took years, Les, but I climbed out. I climbed a little everyday. Sometimes I just shifted my feet left or right; sometimes I dropped a couple of feet, but still, I climbed.

I broke up with them four years ago, today, I realize. I didn’t intend for today’s date to bear any significance. This post was unplanned.

We had two terms left in the year after our break up. I stepped carefully. The city was colored with our footsteps and our handholding. Where I accompanied them to peruse comic books, where we ate out when we did, where we would have eaten if I’d had more money. Where we walked. Where we sat on campus and they played the guitar. When I left Eugene for good, it wasn’t because the break-up. But leaving where I spent so much time living and loving with P—and it not being enough—was a plus.

At one point that year, I expressed interest in attending a rugby party a few blocks away. I was interested in meeting other lesbians, other queer folks. I wanted to get out. Nata told me they (the rugby players) would eat me alive. They partied hard, and I was myself. Was there a joke about me not being butch somewhere in there, Les?  Nobody has ever called me butch. Or maybe this: if anyone did, it was a joke. Or if they meant it sincerely, I looked at them stunned, or nodded my head and felt amused while rejecting its validity. I cannot imagine anyone meaning it sincerely. What Nata meant was this: I was a wisp. I was a pixie, I was innocent. I don’t know what any of us ever means by innocent. Also, anyone could lift me. I had 3 inches on both P and Nata, but they outweighed me. I do not like my feet to leave the ground, but many people I have met, including Nata, enjoy lifting me. Does anyone lift a butch?

I’ve had bike lights stolen. This summer or fall, someone came up on my porch and stole my helmet. Can you imagine safety being stolen?

Can you steal or protect safety?

Which life am I in now?