Public Affirmation

I experience constant and unyielding street harassment. It pervades every realm of my life.

To cope I remind myself that people who harass haven’t received enough intimacy and affirmation in their lives — they have been misguided to believe that hurting other people helps them heal.

We are inundated with violence. Over saturated with critique. At every level we are encouraged to tear each other apart.

I’m trying to do something different with my life. 

Recently to challenge a culture of harassment I have been practicing public affirmation. I tell passengers next to me on the train that I am rooting for them and grateful they’re alive. I tell strangers walking next to me on the street that I am glad they are trying their best and to have a great day! I try to tell as many people as possible that they matter to me and that I need them and that I am so blessed to experience their presence. 

People are often shocked.

We are so much more familiar with critique than compassion, aren’t we?

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Thank You, Next: The Spectacularization of Trans Life

“THANK YOU, NEXT” is the media relationship with gender non-conforming and trans people every November. they only reach out to us twice during the year: Nov for trans awareness week / TDOR) and June (for Pride). This is the polarity of trans existence: we only matter in so much as we are subjects of tragedy or subjects of triumph.

This binary of violence / empowerment prevents us from capturing the every day experiences of queerness & transness — it’s part of a transmisogyny that constantly reduces us as spectacles for cis consumption. What is needed urgently is to reject the logics of spectacularization that disappear us as they ostensibly visibilize us. What about the parts of ourselves that exceed our tragedy & triumph? What about our quotidian, our ordinary, our becoming outside of binaries?

Why don’t you see gender non-conforming people forecasting weather on the news, baking cakes on TV, on programming not related to our personal identity and appearance? it’s because the only value we have for this society is how much we can be extracted from: for disgust, for desire, for inspiration, for repudiation. We are cordoned off as we are invited: relegated to the runway, the gallery, the awareness week, the photo opp.

I want something more constant, enduring, sustainable. less fickle & ephemeral. it’s ironic that they dismiss our genders as a “fad” as they simultaneously render us into one in their programming! the violence we endure, the lives that we live, the movements that we create, the looks that we serve, the art that we gift...happens 24/7. It’s not as if we wake up the day after and stop...being. unfortunately we only have audiences 2 times a year! this needs to be stated & addressed. to media, news, beauty, fashion industries: do better !

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#WeWontBeErased: Beyond Conditional Acceptance

To ensure that trans people #WontBeErased in light of recent attacks on trans rights we have to be critical of conditional acceptance. For too long LGBT people have had to say that we are “just like” cis straight people in order to be recognized. This is because by & large cis straight people have only extended sympathy in so much as they can see themselves in us. This is part of a historic pattern where dominant groups only accept marginalized groups for their own selfish interests, not out of a practice of justice. Identification should not be a prerequisite for justice.

In the trans movement those of us who are visibly gender non-conforming &/ not on hormones are constantly told that we are not “legitimately trans” or “trans enough.” This is because in order for (white) binary trans people to get acceptance from cis culture they have to say they are “normal men & women” “brothers & sisters” like you. Shame & stigma are displaced on the next available target, not challenged all together. Visibly gender non-conforming people are collateral damage in this pursuit of normalcy.

Conditional acceptance is not justice. This isn’t what freedom looks like — having to disappear our difference. This ends up hurting all trans people because acceptance is dependent on conformity, not simply for being. Ideology is prioritized more than dignity.

During times of crisis often the most palatable representation of a marginalized group is uplifted because their narratives & appearances are seen as digestible by the mainstream. But how how much of us is left for ourselves after we are finished being consumed? In the face of erasure outside we erase our differences inside. The mandate of “trans people will not be erased” rings hollow when gender non-conforming people continue to be erased by the trans community itself. 
Now more than ever we need to center & celebrate gender non-conformity. We need to abolish the idea of “trans enough.” We need to fight not just for trans rights, but for the end of heteronormativity & gender binarism. We need to reject logics that link our worth to our appearance. 

Justice should not be dependent on what we look like.

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Trans Justice is Not A Minority Issue

Trans people are not a minority, we have become minoritized. There are actually many trans people who cannot express themselves today because of rejection & violence. How then can you look at us — we who had to compromise safety for authenticity — & call us a minority? We just don’t know. Trans politics then is about fighting for the unknown, for the people who one day might.

While the memo especially affects trans & intersex people, this is not just a “trans issue.” We all— regardless of our identity —deserve the right to determine who we are. We all deserve to be trusted for our own experiences, not other people’s assumptions. This gives more power to the doctors & the state to dictate your identity. 
Even if you accept the gender & sex you were assigned at birth, that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t have been consulted in that decision. You deserve the right to come into your womanhood, manhood, non binary existence on your own terms. We deserve autonomy of our own bodies. Resisting this memo is about fighting for self-determination.

Pigeonholing this as just a “minority issue” underplays what’s going on. This is a historic pattern where trans issues get sidelined because we are seen as insignificant — at a distance, always apart. Trans & intersex people will be particularly devastated by this memo, but I also reject a solidarity that does the work of stabilizing sex & gender categories as fixed (which is antithetical to intersex & gender non-conforming lives). We are not just fighting for “trans rights,” we are fighting for the recognition that gender & sex are fluid. At the end of the day all of us have the potential to change our genders. Life circumstances can shift the way that we understand ourselves & that should be celebrated, not condemned.

To our non-trans allies: Are you only supporting us from a distance, or would you embrace your transness if it gifted your life? Do you recognize how we are intertwined with your own liberation? Until you recognize your own stakes in this we will never get free. Why do you fear the very things that have the potential to set you free?

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This Is Not Just About Trump, This Is About Transmisogyny: The Anti-Trans Memo

With the Trump Administration’s effort to narrow the category “sex” to invalidate trans rights we need to be careful to not frame this as simply a “conservative” agenda. The selective depiction of “gender” as constructed & “sex” as biological is WRONG & is perpetuated across party lines. 
Feminist movements still mobilize around the category of woman to the exclusion of many non-binary & intersex people who experience patriarchy. Trans people who do not take hormones are still dismissed as “less real” even within trans movements themselves because of the hierarchy of sex as real/embodied & gender as constructed/aesthetic. 

But both sex & gender are recent historical & cultural constructions. 

In the past I have called this “liberal transmisogyny:” a situation where cis womanhood is maintained as the norm & trans feminine people are seen as less legitimate & parodies in comparison. Our genders are regarded as aesthetic (outfits, makeup, etc.), & not a fundamental dimension of our selves. We can self-narrate our pronouns but not our body parts because those are seen as fixed. 

This dismisses trans people like me as “men in dresses” or “biologically male with feminine gender presentations.” Actually my body is not a “male” body, my sex is not “male,” I have the right to narrate my body on my own terms. The contemporary scientific notion of “male” and “female” is ALSO a historical construction with roots in colonialism & racist eugenics that has been universalized without teaching people their historical origins. For example: for hundreds of years white people believed that only they could be males & females, which they saw as the peak of civilization that Black & brown people had not achieved. 

Trump defining these terms is not an aberration, but rather the continuation of what the majority of the world still thinks: cisness is natural & trans & intersex people are aberrations. Implicit transphobia enables moments like this. Consider how you, too, perpetuate transmisogyny & intersex erasure by permitting gender to be fluid while stabilizing sex. These ideas have & will continue to exist across society to dispose of trans & intersex lives. 

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violence against GNC people slips through the cracks (RIP Ms Colombia)

friends: i have been struggling. a few days ago gender non-conforming icon Ms. Colombia was found dead in NYC. receiving the devastating news amidst the kavanaugh trial was overwhelming. gender non-conforming people like ms. colombia always slip through the cracks. despite the fact that non-binary & gender non-conforming people experience disproportionately high rates of sexual violence (some reports suggest 1 in 2), we are erased in the rhetoric of #believewomen(how about — #believesurvivors ).

despite the extreme physical violence we experience, we are rarely counted in statistics of trans death (especially if we are not on hormones). we don’t have data to describe the conditions of violence we experience because we are almost always misgendered by the reports. this misrecognition is part of a larger project of disappearing us.

they say that “there are only two genders,” but they don’t show you the work they do to eliminate us to create this mirage. when we are acknowledged we are constantly reduced to our entertainment value, rendered into spectacles, hypervisible on the streets & invisible in movements, campaigns. i confronted the reality of our disposability — how it so often feels like no one cares about us. i didn’t want to go outside. i didn’t want to face the harassment. something felt more sinister than ever about people gawking & laughing me. & so i stayed inside and i wept for ms. colombia & all of the unaccounted deaths, and all of the gender non-conforming people who are lost & disregarded by feminism & trans & the world. i wept for the people dismissed as ridiculous, excessive, too much. i wept for the loneliness of having everyone stare at you but no one seeing you. i wept because in the few times that we shared space i felt like ms. colombia saw me. we smiled at each other with a fundamental sense of recognition — like we were in this together. but then today i put on the most ridiculous & most excessive & most me dress. & i did it for them. & I smiled with tears in my eyes at the people who laughed at me.

& i wrote this to say: do not forget about them, do not forget about me, do not forget about us: we who are neither women nor men. RIP 💔💔

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queer impossibility

the day after walking in new york fashion week i was called a faggot/freak/tranny by seventeen different people on the streets of new york city. this is a dissonance i know well: the disconnect between a runway & a subway, a stage & a street.

we talk about how social media creates a distorted perception of the lives of the people we follow (people are just sharing their highlight reel), but i think for gender non-conforming people it takes on another dimension. the harassment we endure is constant, unforgiving, getting worse. our triumphs can be translated on here, but very rarely our tragedies. how to capture chronic pain? a structural suffering? that even while writing this post on a train there are people gawking me. how to let you know yes this great thing happened to me but then i was assaulted on the way home, yes i sold out a show but then i got spat on after it, yes i have more followers online but i am still getting followed outside. 

the work i am doing here is desperately ironic: look at the image & consider what you do not see. think about everything around the photo: what did it take for us to get there? how are we getting home? do you support us even when we aren’t inspirational, beautiful, or fashionable. would you have defended me or watched idly? 

after the @openingceremony show queer theorist @sashavelour reminded us that the goal is not just having queer people recognized in fashion, but everywhere — being able to exist in a fundamental sense in public. fashion & beauty then are launchpads to something more essential — let’s call it dignity, maybe even personhood. 

this is an art form queers have been practicing since the beginning: redeploying the very technologies that erase us to emancipate us. & that might seem impossible but i remember that every day i go outside knowing that i will be hunted. but still i go. i remember that queers have always lived in the realm of the impossible. for us: it is just another opportunity to prove you wrong.

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trans body hair

one of the most painful things is when binary trans people tell me that “i am not even trying” or “not trying hard enough” because i don’t remove my body hair. “if [he] doesn’t want to be read as a man [he] could at least shave.”

really? trying??

the assumption here is that i am “lazy” & don’t experience the “real” struggle of “real” trans people. but: not removing my body hair doesn’t protect me from violence, in fact it causes it. not removing my body hair isn’t a passive action, it’s an active decision that requires constant justification amidst total & complete denigration: almost every day i receive threats to my safety both online & offline because of my body hair. i am followed, spat on, insulted, laughed at, groped precisely. because of my hairy gender non-conformity. and still i go outside & go online: brown, gender non-conforming, and HAIRY!

i know my life would be easier if i shaved & complied with society’s gender norms, but i shouldn’t have to change myself to make other people more comfortable. i am trying every day to manifest my own truth in a world that punishes me for it. i am trying to survive constant harassment, sexual violence, and physical violence. i am trying to fight for the legitimacy of gender non-conformity in a trans movement & a feminist movement that still excludes people like me. i am trying to prioritize my self worth outside of society’s patriarchal standards of beauty & desirability.

so yes i am trying very, very hard. trying to get everyone to realize that body hair is not gendered! that people of all genders have the right to look like whatever they want without having their identity be up for debate.

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spectacular hurt

the other day on a packed subway train this stranger came up to me & yelled “ARE YOU A CROSS DRESSER?” i smiled & nodded no. i didn’t want to go into it with them — i have learned the hard way that when i advocate for myself in public the harassment gets worse. so then this person started to talk to my friend next to me: “is he a cross dresser?” my sweet friend said “no she is a she” (i use “they” but in the moment this was the intervention to be made). then this person started to interrogate my friend about me: have i always known, that she knows a transgender, how she likes NYC because she gets to see different people like me. all the while she was yelling & the entire train was staring at me. i got so flushed and embarrassed i’m sure my face was as red as my dress. being made into a spectacle means that i am simultaneously made hyper visible while also being erased. i became an object — dehumanized — a subject of conversation, but not of personhood. to have someone talk about you like that — as if you’re not there... there is so much i want to say in the moment but i can’t because of the reality of violence. it makes me feel so degraded and powerless, totally ruins my day. my writing — specifically my poetry — feels like the only place i can be myself anymore. it’s where i can say “that hurt. i am alive. it matters.” it’s where i can scream, cry, demand my personhood — remind myself i am real. so i am just writing this here to say this happened; it hurt; and i am trying. trying to generate the confidence to keep going even though i am exhausted & scared.

runways / running away

a couple of weeks ago i went to a casting call for new york fashion week. when i got there the line was full of conventionally beautiful, thin, gender conforming women wearing all black. there i was in like 10 prints in all my gender non-conforming finesse. i want to tell you a story about triumph: how i strut my way to the top, how everyone lost their minds, but sometimes it’s not like that. 
i was overwhelmed by feeling ugly: in a deep & visceral sense. it overwhelmed me. i kept on spiraling, comparing myself to everyone else: who did i think i was showing up like this? mostly i felt stupid: “this is not for people like me.” i walked away. didn’t really know where i was going but i did not look back. 


we talk about runways but we don’t talk about running away. glow ups, not break downs. there are so many opportunities in my life i have run away from because i felt inadequate. what do you do when you can’t point at someone else to blame?

 
it has taken so much work in my life to believe that i should be here: alive & gender non-conforming. i know that i do not deserve violence...but i do not know in a fundamental sense that i deserve beauty. there is a difference between saying “don’t abuse me” & “i am worthy” & i felt it that afternoon at the casting call: knotted & thorny in my gut. 


but then i remembered sunsets: how one of the most spectacular moments in the day is a departure not an arrival. there is magnificence in the withdrawal. the iridescence of the retreat: leaving is another form of arriving, running is another way of finding. sometimes we have to lose in order to gain. & so i turned the street into my runway. & so i walked. away.


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photoshoots make me feel safe

the world i feel safe. the presence of a camera makes people more comfortable with me. transmisogyny means that most people just see me as a costume — as if i am playing dress up for some sort of event or production. the camera makes people feel like this is ephemeral, something that i can take off and go back to “normal.” the camera makes them more able to consolidate me into their world view: oh it’s for some art project, some film, something... there always needs to be an explanation, a context. gender non-conformity is never allowed to just be, to exist in its own terms. we are always made into a spectacle. when people ask me what i want what i am fighting for us actually quite simple: to be. to be.

dress: @flintjmcdonaldmakeup:@ogrebabe photo: @matthewarthurwilliams

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