belief beyond the word

in one telling of the story i could say that i am back “home” in New York. but to do so feels ludicrous. how we come to words for meaning only to recognize that they are often obstacles to meaning. like running into a wall over & over again. just because we can call it a wall doesn’t mean we stop hurting. these words they have egos and things to prove themselves, don’t they? we plant them & as they bloom we become intoxicated by their fragrance — so much so that reality shifts. in reality we created the word & yet it creates us. like we created the computers & they us. like we created the distance & it us. how silly it feels to say that i miss india & miss my achamma & miss the warmth...does a body miss the heart when it’s removed? it does not function. there are some forms of loss that carry no potential for nostalgia. they just itch. and haunt. forever. so no i am not functioning. i spend hours lying down looking outside windows in my apartment & windows on my screen furious that we haven’t found ways to apparate & eclipse time & space & all of the things that keep me from her and from you. the first thing she said when she saw me was that my hair made me look like a girl. and then she said. so what. it looked nice. “recognition” doesn’t cut it. i cut it. i left. i did not let her see me cry when i drove away. how to say: i was birthed again that afternoon? how to say it felt like home or rather made me believe in it. how to say that belief is something i am trying my best to hold on to. to give body to. to say there are these things that i may not have the words for but i still believe. or rather: i do not have the words for them & that’s why i believe.

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they extract from us to become themselves

for the past week i have been receiving non-stop rape threats, death threats, been ridiculed & demeaned, called a monkey & monster, told i have a disorder & need to be exterminated...simply for posting a photo of myself in a swim suit.

several memes have been made out of my image: there is something so degrading about an empowering image of yourself getting repurposed to humiliate you. it’s like getting spat on in your favorite outfit: the extremities of joy & the enormity of pain.

this harassment is coming from both men & women, many of whom are south asian like me. they tag each other to make fun of each other: this is your boyfriend, this is your girlfriend, this is you. essentially: they use me to become. become desirable, become straight, become humorous, become men & become women.

i am familiar with this encounter: being extracted from to create the norm and then subsequently being disavowed from it. being foundational to everything & then being erased from it. in times like these i want to disappear - delete the social media accounts that profit off of me but do not protect me, protect my art & my image & my creativity from a world which punishes me for it.

but then i remember that is precisely what they want me to do: erase myself so they can maintain the fiction not only of their relevance, but themselves.

it’s another unremarkable remarkable day of enduring the vitriol of transmisogyny. it is spectacularly ordinary & ordinarily spectacular. today i am here to tell the story of it, to say “this happens to people like me every day.” to ask: “what are you doing to stop it?” and perhaps: “how are you engendering it?”

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there are as many ways to be as there are people in the world

men are so lazy they make women do the work of patriarchy for them. straight people are so lazy they make queer people do the work of homophobia for them. cis people are so lazy they make trans people do the work of transphobia for them. because queer & trans people know the art of exclusion so well we practice it on our own, say: “at least i am not that!” our appearance should have no bearing on our legitimacy. we should be able to look different. we should be able to be different. we shouldn’t have to all look and act the same. we should be able to fight for our multitudes. we should recognize that there are as many ways to be as there are people in this world & that is our strength. if we are required to look a certain way in order to be accepted then they do not actually accept us. conditional acceptance is not justice. what would it look like for queer & trans people to love ourselves more than they hate us? or rather: what would it look like for queer & trans people to love ourselves more than we hate us?

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Change the Cistem, Not My Appearance!

Just a reminder that you should be able to look like whatever the fuck you want without having to fear or endure violence and harassment. This means we shouldn’t have to look “normal,” “beautiful,” shouldn’t have to look like “men” or “women.” Neither our physical appearance nor the way we dress should have any bearing on our safety. Rather than putting the onus on individual people to “change the way we look” to make other people more comfortable, instead challenge a system that links our worth to our appearance!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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thank you, stranger

the other day this beautiful person i didn’t know called me sister & talked to me about the book i was reading. at first i recoiled & slightly panicked. most of the time people are so rude to me in public — when they do acknowledge me it’s to make fun of me, call me a freak, or make me into some spectacle. i have become conditioned into a constant state of fear — i know how to avert eyes, how to make myself as small as possible, how to squirm my way out of crowds & camera lenses. but i reminded myself that there is something else out there for me & for us so i looked up & i said hello. i was having a bad day of harassment & this person just talking to me about my book...and not like my appearance or my gender...felt so precious & unfamiliar & refreshing that when they left i just teared up. it’s these fleeting gestures that keep me afloat — the delicacy of people i do not know but still love. the poetry in motion: the art practice of intimacy. that refusal of hyper-individuation, that insistence on something else, that life force of friendship. it’s so easy for me to be fluent in the language of pain, but i am trying my best to hold the belonging amidst it — thank you for helping me just someone reading a book & not some spectacle. you mean the world to me & i am so blessed by your presence. thank you for your honesty, for your world making, for your daily practice of freedom. i am grateful to have encountered you & i am changed from it.

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A Star is Born: Support Transfeminine Artists

trans women & femmes continue through the street with our heads held high as they laugh at & insult us (a star is born). trans women & femmes turn the most iconic looks of the era without a creative team or production budget (a star is born). trans women & femmes persist despite relentless transmisogyny from all directions (a star is born). what would our art look like if people invested even half of the love & support they do for cis hetero women pop stars in us? what would the world look like if it acknowledged the contributions of transfeminine people & its indebtedness to us?

internalized homophobia & transphobia looks like cis gay people living for cis hereto white pop stars, and not even caring if we live. it is a gross injustice that so many trans women & transfeminine performers i know struggle so hard to get people to show up for our shows & support our art. this needs to change! 

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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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