first entry in my new journal

December 30

On the cusp of a new calendar year, I still do not know what to call myself. Gritz hangs, caught between two expanses of creamy white on the opening page of this new journal. Besides the words on the next page (creativity, curiosity, pursuit), and all of the meanings they conjure and contain, I want to find my name this year. What a year to claim a new name.

The time has come for new vowels and syllables. The little boat with wooden oars has been here for a while, in fact, sloshing algae water at the dock. It is time, it seems, to find them.

on writing, and not

November 15

Les,

I feel bad for writing after such a long absence. Have I any right to? Or write? Maybe it would help to share that since coming out to my parents, I feel a less urgent need to express myself and sift through gender and sexuality online. I’ve been doing more processing offline, such as contemplating changing my name. The poem I posted today was written in September. I forgot about it until seeing it in my drafts today. Since then, I’ve stopped introducing myself by my first name, outside of work settings.

I write now because I have a 3,000 word essay due tomorrow for my wonderful class but the words are not falling into place. Not for a lack of content, but for too much. The words and feelings are jammed in my heart, throat, and stomach, and so knotted they perhaps do not belong on paper just yet. I’m still trying to make sense of things to even begin writing. But maybe I just need to write a tangly mess.

It’s like this road, and in part caused by it:

The road is becoming overgrown. And I know that much of the debris, such beautiful red and brown debris, is from autumn calling leaves and needles to the ground, but there is more to it than that. This logging road in Mt. Hood National Forest has been blocked to vehicles, which serves the purpose of both preventing motor and recreational vehicles from continuing onward and inhibiting folks from easily shooting firearms at signs, bottles, and ornaments. The bridge sign is actually gone now. Maybe shot too many times. Maybe taken as a keepsake.

The road is also overgrown because people like my family haven’t been walking down it much.

And despite 9 years in the making, I’m having a difficult time saying goodbye to my favorite place in the world, my family’s cabin in Mt. Hood National Forest.

2017 has been a big year, bigger than paper or a blog, and the year our cabin was put on the market.

I don’t have the words out in the open quite yet for loss of place and certain traditions.

what my name is

September 8

is not a question I can answer or

sentence I can finish.

It’s a tightrope from you to me,

you could say. Or a rope to follow

in the haze of a blizzard. Heck,

I’d say. It’s the blizzard.

So we dance—

you want to know, and I don’t want to say.

Away and up, we sashay

around the outskirts of my name.

Away from vowels and letters,

I lead.

visibility

April 2

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 keep walking

November 12

Dear Les,

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.

trying for patience, compassion, understanding

October 25

Les,

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.

Zizi? Not a Girl, Not an Island: Finding Gender Neutral Words for Family

October 20

Les,

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.

 

blood in the papers, streets, pumping from our hearts

July 9

Racism is woven into the fabric of our nation.  At no time in our history has there been a national consensus that everyone should be equally valued in all areas of life. We are rooted in racism in spite of the better efforts of Americans of all races to change that.

Because of this legacy of racism, police abuse in black and brown communities is generations old. It is nothing new. It has become more visible to mainstream America largely because of the proliferation of personal recording devices, cellphone cameras, video recorders — they’re everywhere. We need police officers.  We also need them to be held accountable to the communities they serve.  —Reddit Hudson, July 7, “I’m a black ex-cop, and this is the real truth about race and policing”

Les,
From Orlando to Istanbul to Baghdad to Falcon Heights to Baton Rouge to Dallas, I can’t remember a month of such constant, horrific acts of violence from so many corners. This is a time for healing and reconstruction. This is a time to listen to communities tell us what they need, and for us to support them. Black, Native, brown, queer and trans folks all over are hurting. The families and friends of the five slain Dallas officers are hurting. Istanbul and Baghdad have gaping wounds. This is not a time to build higher walls. This is a time to open doors.
 
Love yourself, love your neighbor. Take care of yourself. Take care of your neighbor.
 
There are times I shut my eyes and wish I could split myself into pieces of quartz to send to others for protection (Why have I been so safe thus far- privilege, privilege, privilege and luck. Why can’t I share?). Be safe, I wish. Be well, be well. I would die gladly if I knew no other human would kill another.
 
If only things were so easy. If only systematic oppression and personal prejudices could be solved so quickly. Fortunately, these things are not absolutes. They do not have to be forever.
We do not need to allow ignorance, pride, shame, and greed to keep us from seeing each other.

Confounding Blues: Why My Spirits Fell After Coming Out Even Though it Went Well

July 5

Hey Les,

This will be hopefully be short post because I want to shower then hop in bed with my book (The New Jim Crow) before sleeping.

It’s been a week and a half since I came out to my parents and I’ve been struggling. Rather than feeling emancipated from the stress of not being out to them (and I guess I am free from it now, in big ways), I feel caught in a valley. As if working up to coming out and actually coming out was climbing a mountain, but after catching my breath at the summit and seeing clouds shadow the sun, I realize that I am somehow in a valley alone.

My gender hasn’t really come up in the last week and a half and for the most part my parents haven’t misgendered me—both have had at least a couple of slip-ups, which is to be expected. On the morning of my birthday (the day after coming out), my dad’s first words (sung) to me were: “Happy Birthday to you, Girl.” Not knowing if he knew what he was doing, I kept a blank face and descended the basement stairs to obtain my dog’s morning snack. I didn’t know if he said girl unthinkingly or if it was intentional. He let me correct him during grace, however (my family isn’t really religious but we say grace every night…I leave God out). The correction was a bit abrupt but I wasn’t about to be misgendered during my birthday dinner.

No, other than those fairly isolated events, things have been pretty smooth. I’m thankful for this. A couple of times, I’ve just hugged my parents without explaining why. I’m grateful that conversation went well. So thankful. As well as it went, I don’t feel ashamed of waiting so long or fretting so much in the run-up. If I’d come out earlier, even a few months beforehand, I don’t think it would have gone as well. We all had growing to do. I needed to get myself in a better frame of mind. Previous conversations I’d had with them about P and Ellis, both nonbinary, had helped, whether they knew P and Ellis were actually nonbinary or not. During our conversation in which I came out, my dad asked if Ellis was nonbinary too. Being able to say yes, and talk about the ways in which P, Ellis, and I are similar (in that none of us identify with the gender binary), but also different, because every single human’s experience with gender is different, was very helpful and affirming.

So why have I been subdued? Why have I felt like crying at times or just finding a little nest to curl up in? Why am I sad even though I have a family that loves and supports me, as well as a Facebook community that showered my coming out post with likes, loves, and well wishes?

Here are some reasons I’ve identified:

-Daily anxiety about interpersonal and/or systematic rejection and discrimination due to one’s identity is draining.

Living with concern, for years, that my two biggest supporters would reject the validity of my nonbinary identity/or would otherwise really struggle to accept it was draining.

Not coming out to some other members of my family and other individuals and/or communities because of this was also stressful. I’m a very open person about this kind of thing. I like throwing it on the table then moving onto the next, more important thing.

Surveys, bathrooms, job applications, etc. Gender gender gender. Everywhere. For what reasons?

-After coming out, I’m feeling the weight of that build-up. I feel the weight of what I carried. Systematic stuff sticking around, and there will still be little challenges with my fam, in addition to sharing my gender with other folks and future employers, etc, but now that I can let some of my stress go, I realize how stressed I’ve been as both a nonbinary person and someone who loves and worries about trans folks.

-I expended so much energy preparing to come out to my parents that now that I am finally out to them, I’m left looking at the rest of my life through a magnifying glass. It’s not making me feel that great. It’s sinking in that I only have one part-time job now. I’m underemployed, struggling to identify work I can comfortably commit to and find jobs in, and I live at home at age 24. My city is rapidly gentrifying and even if I obtain full-time employment soon, I’m not sure I’ll find a place to live where I won’t have to live paycheck to paycheck.

-My depression is flaring. I’ve been feeling a little hopeless about not seeing either a short-term or long-term future for myself. Ashamed that after centering my work and studies around communities and social justice for years, now that I’m actually out of school for a time, I haven’t yet felt healthy enough for the work I want to do. Community-oriented work requires a lot of emotional stamina, and I’m an empath. I’m also interested in so many things, I’m not sure what to focus on. Voice in my head says quit dallying, just dive in. Volunteer, volunteer, volunteer, apply, dive in. Whom are you serving?

-I didn’t exercise enough this past week. Looking at the fitness tracker on my phone, I realized that for the last week or so, I’ve walked at least half as much as I normally do. I’ve barely biked.

 

How am I lifting my spirits?

-Actually picking up books I’d been excited about but then too blue to read. I’ve been committed to reading The New Jim Crow since I first heard about it and have owned it for a year. Last night, I picked it up and started. It’s time to get myself back into my zone of living, loving, and working with a commitment to helping my local communities. Criminal justice reform, with an emphasis on racial justice, is one of my greatest passions.

-Tonight I ran nearly five miles, and in different neighborhoods. I worked my way to where my great-grandmother lived and where my dad spent much of his childhood, in the Foster-Powell neighborhood. A residential area with mostly single-family homes that doesn’t receive as much support from the city as neighborhoods like mine do, but a comfortable neighborhood that has also undergone much rapid change. I had never run in that area before. I felt like I was running through time. Not knowing that less “inner southeast” area well, I felt my privilege as I ran, I felt the stories the houses and streets told, I felt my roots. I felt the whispers of migrations of people who have been pushed from their homes.

I don’t remember the last time I ran more than 3 miles at a time—and I haven’t even done that much recently. I was extra engaged tonight, though, because I was (re)discovering more of my home on foot. I intend to work up to running further east, and to the north, to where my grandparents lived.

In observing and relearning some of my roots, and in observing the changes Portland has undergone, in addition to what neighborhoods have managed to retain, I imagine I’ll gain greater physical and mental health. I feel a little hope and humility.

This post was a little rambly, but it’s what I’ve got tonight. Time to shower.

 

Boob-Bearers, Top Surgery, and the Freedom to Go Shirtless

June 29

Hey Les, the other day, I found a message request on my Facebook. It was from someone named Jess who had just read my Boobed and Not-So-Dangerous piece on Neutrois Nonsense.

Jess wrote:

Hi Emily, this is totally random and maybe a little bit creepy – and I really hope this is the right person, but I’m pretty sure it is..anyway, I’m a queer stranger who just saw your guest post on Neutrois Nonsense from February and I just wanted to say that you’re SO BRAVE and I love you for it. I gave in. I actually had top surgery preeeeetttty much so that I could go publicly topless. And now I do. (Though since I still have a very feminine body, I attract a lot of stares and it always requires a lot of mental energy to do it…) The freedom is great, but I always have a little niggling sense of guilt for having abandoned other boob-bearers for my own selfish plane ticket to freedom in the process. Nobody really talks about this issue much and I wish they would. So that’s it. I just want to say I wish I’d had the courage to just go fuckin’ topless breasts and all, but I didn’t. But you did/do and you’re awesome. Cheers.

I was moved. I know I write letters to you on the Internet and anyone can read them, but it’s still surreal to have strangers reach out and say my writing resonated with them. Because I was still reeling from the hugely positive response to my nonbinary post the previous night (so much love!), I let Jess’ message sit for a day, then responded last night.

Hi Jess, that’s not creepy at all. Thank you for your very kind words!
Also, please don’t feel guilty. You don’t have an obligation to other “boob-bearers” to keep yours if they cause you discomfort. That you had the means to have a surgery you desired and went for is wonderful. It’s incredibly brave and beautiful. I wish you much comfort, confidence, and freedom in your body.
And I may not go topless as often as much as I’d probably prefer (I also just get cold often and shirts are great), but when I do, it is thrilling and sass-inducing. One day, I hope none of us will be made to feel shame for the decisions we make regarding our own bodies. Thanks again and best wishes. Cheers to you!
                                                                            ***
Most important to me was expressing that they shouldn’t feel guilty for decisions they make about their body. Outside of protecting the health and safety of others (through wearing condoms or the like), we don’t owe anyone certain decisions about our body. While Jess may feel that they have “abandoned” other breasted individuals by undergoing top surgery, the truth is that there are multiple ways to arrive at the freedom of topless expression. Most people are physically capable of removing their shirts. The main deterrents are laws, social norms, and discomfort with one’s body—sometimes dysphoria. If this dysphoria extends from having breasts or not being able to go topless because one has breasts, surgery may be a great option if one has the means.
But top surgery just isn’t for everyone. Most ciswomen probably don’t want their breasts removed. Neither do some transmen, or some AFAB nonbinary individuals like myself.  The path to comfortable freedom from shirts for those of us who are fine with our chests most likely lies in changing social norms and laws. That’s something that everyone, including folks who’ve had their breasts removed, can participate in.
At the end of the day, I hope that we can all find some comfort in our bodies in societies that do not marginalize or objectify us for our bodies.

***

Here’s a photo from Portland’s World Naked Bike Ride last Saturday. My sister, a ciswoman with breasts, P, my nonbinary friend who’s had top surgery, and my nonbinary boobed self rode shirtless together. It was excellent.
IMG_0823.jpg

What would you say to Jess?