gender non-conformity is enough

In a world that requires everyone to 'pass' within two discrete categories of 'man' OR 'woman' what would it mean for gender non-conformity to be regarded as beautiful, desirable, legitimate, and worthy? 

What would it mean for gender non-conformity not to be dismissed as an interim, as an in-between, a phase, as an other, third, or pre-, but rather to be treated as already sufficient unto itself? 

What would it mean for gender non-conformity not to have to be oriented toward transition (always having to go somewhere else, become something else, move on) but already as a legitimate (non-)destination? 

What would it mean to experience gender non-conformity not as a failure, not as a success, but simply to experience it without a moral and competitive framework? 

What would it mean for gender non-conformity to not be a spectacle, a transgression, a subversion, a dilemma, a crisis...and instead for it to just be? 

We are so, so far from that reality but I refuse to lose my dream of what could be! I have been and will continue to be degraded, demonized, humiliated for navigating the world as I do (I know that). But what I also know is that constant harassment makes me feel like my body isn't mine, so sometimes all I feel that I have left are my dreams. 

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go and find it

the other day this kid kept following me around the street & asking their parent, is that a man or a girl?" & their parent told them to "keep quiet" & my heart broke for them, for me, for us. it's there lying somewhere on west 34th street. go and visit.

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i can love everyone

yesterday at my workshop a participant said after an exercise that they "remembered they could love anyone" and i wanted to cry because that was such a pithy way of articulating what i want to accomplish in my life. then i thought about this stranger who asked me for directions at the train station and i used the opportunity to strike up a conversation and they told me they loved reading novels and i asked if they ever thought about writing one and they said they had nothing to say and i was so hurt by a world that makes people feel like they having nothing to say. and i told that person that i wanted to read their stories, even if they were mundane or simple. i told them they had plenty to say. which was my way of telling this stranger, i think, that i love them. and they said "thank you" and -- for a moment -- i, too felt like i could love everyone.

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memorial for my grandmother

Champa Rani Vaid was a painter, a poet, & a feminist who also happened to be my grandmother. She died last weekend in the same hospital I was born in 26 years ago. She was surrounded by family & community singing her favorite songs. This scene: her, surrounded by a motley crew of adoration & sleep deprivation in small town college station -- was just one of many masterpieces in her life. 

She always possessed a distinctly femme power of willing things into being, creating everything out of nothing: a man into a husband, a country into a home, a word into a prophesy. It's a form of magic she channeled later in her life when she started writing poetry to say all of the things she was never allowed to. later when she started painting hundreds of paintings after her arthritis got so bad she couldn't leave the house. 

Convention would have me say that she "left behind" a husband, three daughters, four grandkids -- but it is still to be determined if "I" am still here by which I mean so much of who I am was constituted -- willed into being, if you will -- by her. I used to sit with her for hours & talk about history & politics & gender and we would struggle through it everyone used to say "she won't change" but I had to do it, had to keep going, just like she had to do it, had to impart her blessings & judgment & tradition. & I adored her most in that collision, that clash of ideology, because I now understand it to be the 'stuff' with which art is made, I mean memory, I mean love, I mean me. Later we would call each other say, "have you been writing?" by which we meant, "try better next time." On the other side, in the absence of her which still feels like presence, i find myself most grateful for the struggle, the stubbornness, the contradiction. Most blessed by the tension -- the collapsing of borders & cultures & genders, most grounded & resolute in the instability of it all. 

At her cremation ceremony i read her poem aloud in "men's" clothes & i heard her voice in mine & it was separate but still the same & there I stood on the other side surrounded by her art smiling through the tears because she found a way, once again, to do the impossible: to live after death.


our natural state is water

hello my name is alok and i believe that feelings are real and that gender is not. i believe that loneliness is an international state of emergency. i believe that crying in public is political. i believe everyone in the world is mourning the disconnect between who they are and who they pretend to be. i believe that performing is the closest i have ever come to being honest. i believe that i am weak and scared and confused and i believe that is ok. i believe that everyone in the world needs someone to have hot chocolate/mango laasi/coffee (your choice) and just talk about it. i don't know what "it" is but I believe it haunts you like it does me. i believe it has the capacity to unravel you at the seams. i believe we want to fall apart because water is our most natural state. i believe in falling apart routinely -- every once in a while. like a forest burns and a heart bends, i believe in breaking down just to see what was waiting there underneath.

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Traveling While Brown & Trans

the acrobatics i am forced to undergo while traveling brown, gender non-conforming, and bearded are so exhausting & demoralizing. i am of course almost always *randomly* selected, i am of course almost always groped & violated. often i am forced to be pat down, instructed to lift up the soles of my feet, show every part of myself in front of crowds of other passengers. there's almost a sense of pleasure in the officers desire to humiliate me in public, to perform "security" & "safety" by dealing with the problem of the brown gender variant freak for a white & cis audience. my job requires me to travel a lot so most of the time i just numb myself to how much this hurts: how painful it is to smile constantly, to act excessively polite as i am actively being violated. how devastating it is to have to think about shaving & butching up every time i need to go somewhere -- all the strategies we do to correct & compensate for other people's racism & transmisogyny. i think that's why i need performance so bad. the stage is really the only place in the world i can talk about that pain, work through it publically, say "this hurts!" say: racial & gender profiling made me scared of my own body. one day i looked in the mirror and didn't see me, but saw what they told me i was. i am crying here on the stage because i am trying to remember who i am. i am trying to remember what it means to love a body, a people who i have been taught to fear.

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Writing to Live

navigating the world as a gender non-conforming transfeminine person of color teaches you that this world has been primed to hate you, be disgusted by you, & reject you. it is to experience the antithesis of desire. we have to carry the shame of our racial communities, the shame of cisgender gays, lesbians, & bisexuals, & the shame of binary trans people -- we become emblematic of both their failure & our own. hatred & distrust of us is a sacrosanct tradition: one enshrined & fortified at all levels. there are no safe spaces when we are harassed every day wherever we go. there are no safe spaces when we are not believed for the violence we experience &, indeed, are most often blamed for it. we are persecuted not only by cishet men, but also by cis queer people and cis women who are constantly scrutinizing us to confirm the preconceived colonial stereotypes they have about us (imposters, villains, parodies, freaks). in the very places we are told we can find refuge, we are misgendered, dismissed. when we speak about our pain and the violence that engenders it, we are told to "think positively" (not "i will fight for you") as if we can somehow self-love ourselves out of structural racism & transmisogyny alone. often the only way to keep going is to numb oneself, is to keep quiet, is to internalize. but when i sit down to write my poetry all of the wounds throb. i remember all of the places i have been groped. i remember all of the times i have feared for my life. i remember every time i have been most afraid of the people who are supposed to protect me. when trans people voice our concerns about being lumped into "LGBT," it is because we have been harassed by cisgender people, regardless of their sexual orientation. is because we know what we experience is unique & deserves its own language & attention. to exist in this body and in this world is to know a type of loneliness that comes from everyone staring at you, but never seeing you. people clapping for you, but never caring for you. is knowing that all of the worlds you create for yourself crumble when you walk outside or go online & are told to die. i write to remember why i chose to live. choose to live. 💔

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The Grief of Having No Language to Express Your Grief

do trans women and transfeminine have utility beyond our aesthetics? or do we exist simply to be reduced to symbols and metaphors for inspiration and transcendence for other people? the condition of trans femme existence is one of constant anxiety, isolation, and loss -- knowing that we must undergo constant harassment from many genders with a smile (or else), knowing that when we speak openly about what we undergo we will be dismissed as exaggerating and/or playing the victim card. we must constantly navigate a world that actively abuses us while simultaneously stripping us of the language and frameworks to even articulate it. it is to suffer not just the physical and psychological pain of being constantly scrutinized and punished, but also the grief of having no discourse with which to legitimate it.

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Transmisogyny Is a State of Emergency

Originally Published Winter 2016

I'm feeling concerned about the way that people are speaking about the flurry of anti-trans legislation popping up all over the country. There seems to be a sense of surprise like, "How did this happen?" "How did things get so bad?" As usual, "conservatives" are being demonized: the prototypical white straight southern racist becomes the straw man for all of the virulent transphobia and backwardness more generally. As always the liberal establishment is quick to produce a foreign enemy responsible for all of the hatred rather than taking responsibility for driving an agenda that not only disenfranchised trans people, but made us even more susceptible to violence.

Certainly there are many factors driving these policies (the rise of right wing nationalism being one of them), but what gets lost here is the complicity of cisgender lesbian, gay, and bisexual people and their political organizations and allies. 

Never forget: there is no gay victory without trans backlash. The history of the gay movement is a history not just of trans exclusion, but of forging the very ideas, conditions, rhetorics, and politics that contribute to trans violence. This movement made a series of strategic choices that contributed to increasing the vulnerability of so many trans people (and especially gender non-conforming people.) "Gender identity" was defined (medically, legally, socially, politically) as separate from "sexual orientation," because "love" is more palatable than gender non-conformity. 

Trans people as a group, as a symbol, as a rhetoric -- were construed as a threatening and abhorrent character foil (read: failure) for acceptable and friendly cisgender gay people (read: success). We cannot understand the ongoing criminalization of gender non-conformity without understanding that #LoveWins precisely because #GenderDoesn't. 

This is the time and place "somewhere over the rainbow." This is where frameworks of "equality," commitments to "love," and pleas of "we're just like you," reveal themselves to be morally bankrupt. This is the moment where those of us who have never had the privilege to escape the condemnation of our difference are left behind. 

So the solution is not just about educating conservatives about trans people, it's also about challenging progressive liberalism for its inability (and in fact refusal) to seriously account for the historical & continued demonization of gender non-conformity (especially against transfeminine people). 

Let's be clear: that if these policies were targeting cisgender gay, lesbian, and bisexual people there would be a very different sense of urgency.

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Beyond Trans Visibility

Originally written on Trans Day of Visibility 2015

1) “Trans” “Visibility” is an oxymoron. Trans is who we are, not what we we look like. We shouldn’t have to look like anything in particular in order to be believed for who we are. Visibility often is a form of (nonconsensual) labor that we have to in order to make our experiences coherent to others.

2) Trans Visibility is a cis framework. Who are we becoming visible for? Why do we have to become visible in order to be taken seriously? Non-trans people will congratulate themselves for our visibility but will not mention how they are the ones were responsible for erasing us in the first place. The trans movement isn’t about trans people moving forward, it’s about cis people catching up with us.

3) Invisibility is not the problem, transmisogyny is the problem. Trans people are harassed precisely because we ARE visible. Mandating visibility increases violence against the most vulnerable among us. The same system that will require trans people to be visible will not give institutional support to us when we are harassed precisely because we are visible.

4) Visibility often means incorporation. Often the only way we are respected as “legitimately” trans is if we appeal to dominant norms of beauty, gender, race, and establishment politics. Trans people should not have to be patriotic, change what we wear, undergo medical or legal transition, really should not have to do anything in order to be respected. We were and already are enough.

5) Visibility is easy. Organizing is hard. Sharing photos of trans people and calling us “resilient” and “beautiful” does little to address the persecution so many of us face. We cannot love ourselves out of structural oppression alone. How come media visibility of trans people has not resulted in the funding and support of our organizations, campaigns, and struggles?

Let’s push harder and demand more.

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We Should Not Have to Be Women To Be Feminists

Originally composed in April 2015

The other day as I was walking into the restroom an older, white, cisgender woman accosted me and said, "Excuse me sir. What do you think you are doing?" I responded: "Going to the bathroom." She looked disgusted and pointed to the symbol on the door, "This is the women's restroom, what do you think you're doing." I said, "Your point being?" and she said, "This restroom is for WOMEN!" and in this moment I was faced with a dilemma. I knew that if I responded, "Your idea of 'woman' just like your idea of 'man' is a colonial fiction that was assigned to my people to keep us down" she would have spit on me. I knew that the only way she would let me go is if I said, "I am a woman." So I did and she responded "Oh you must understand why I was concerned" and backed away apologetically.

And even though I got to pee I felt defeated because in so many levels trans femmes have to claim *womanhood* or else we are -- politically, physically, ontologically -- denied entry (to the bathroom, to the movement, to the narrative of violence). I wish that our gender justice movements would recognize that femininity does not have to be attached to womanhood to be legitimate. I wish that we would stop rehearsing a trope that womanhood is more sacred because it is *real* gender while other femininities are just artificial. I wish that we could understand how (trans)misogyny enacts violence on bodies that are not cis or trans women.

We should not have to claim the identity *woman* to be worthy subjects of feminism, (trans)misogyny, and let alone restrooms.

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