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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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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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Conformity is not Community

the problem with categories is they have to exclude in order to work. we spend more time saying what we are not than what we are. the category has to be policed in order for it to be cohesive. this requires a constant sense of anxiety: am i enough? am i real? & a constant sense of threat: what if i fail? what if they don’t believe me? your worth is dependent on your ability to disappear.

there is loneliness to that: the isolation of being surrounded by people who call you family that you don’t even know. constantly afraid that the people who hold you close will come for you, too, say “we are not that.”

i think a lot about how much work & energy goes into maintaining the gender binary. it’s exhausting. how it restricts movement (don’t walk like that you look ___), voice (don’t speak like that you sound___), creativity (don’t dress like that you look___), romance (don’t love like that you look___) behavior (don’t act like that you seem ___) i spent the majority of my life trying to be a category because i wanted to have community. i compromised my difference because i didn’t want to be alone.

i was terrified that if i was truly myself people would leave me behind.

but then i realized that i was lonely already: identities, categories, norms, assumptions all were barriers to meaningful intimacy. they cared about a word more than they cared about me. they cared about a norm more than they cared about me. & so i gave up & i said i am “_______” ! & i became nothing and found everything. in that emptiness i found the intimacy i had been searching for my entire life: people who loved me for me not my category, worth determined by my creativity not my conformity, beauty by from my art not my erasure.


the more i became myself the more i found the people i had been waiting my entire life to meet.

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permission to express

today they stared. today they laughed. today they photographed. today they tried their best to make me go inside. today they pointed. today they jeered. today they whispered. today they tried their best to make me go inside. today they repressed. today they projected. today they lied. today they tried their best to make me go outside. but today i went. but today i strut. but today i held my head high. but today i remembered. but today I forgave. but today i loved. but today i went outside. .

the policing of gender non-conformity is part of a larger project of policing creative expression. taking the “art” and cordoning it off in galleries, on runways and stages. making the art finite, temporary, inaccessible. we live in a world that dispossesses us of our creativity because if we were in touch with our self- expression we might imagine something else than the status quo, we might dream beyond the parameters of the now, we might remember ways of loving & living in harmony. art is a mode of living, not just something we do. it is who we are. and so i adorn this body. and so i come to you live and in color — always in color — because i want to give us permission. not just to express, but to be. not just to express, but to be.

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sisters not cisters

with the interruption of pride marches across the world this year (london, auckland, baltimore, the list goes on...) by trans exclusionary feminists it is time more than ever to establish that feminism without respecting trans women & nonbinary people is just patriarchy. reducing women to their genitalia & reproductive capacity is just misogyny. fortifying gender and sex binaries is not radical nor progressive, it is racist and conservative.

i believe feminism should be about liberating all people from the constrictive & coercive gender & sex binaries & norms that were imposed on us. i believe that feminism starts with intersex people of color, nonbinary people of color, trans people of color and all of the people they demonize & exclude.

in their efforts to resist male supremacy, these “feminists” have not accounted for how they are actually partnering with cis men to denigrate women (who happen to be trans).

this is not unprecedented or confusing, this is how the gender binary works. in the past decade we have witnessed hundreds of anti-trans policies introduced to criminalize & disappear gender non-conforming people advanced in the name of feminism.

now is the time for all of us to publicly denounce trans, intersex, & nonbinary exclusion. now is time for us to resist the manipulation of feminism in the service of anti-gender non-conforming discrimination. i have been harassed, ridiculed, & maligned by “feminists” for having the audacity to exist, let alone speak out against the pervasive violence me & my siblings endure. i have suffered in silence for too long! i need YOUR help — all of you! — in resisting the gender & sex binary and creating a world that affirms nonbinary people, trans women, and intersex people.

i need your help in ushering not just a new era of trans inclusion, but one of trans liberation! sisters not just cisters! sisters not just cisters!

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Illustration by  Ashluka Draws

Illustration by Ashluka Draws

our lives are the art

  • there’s this moment in a conversation where you ask a question & they start tearing up a little bit. their eyes glisten. time freezes. they look away. & when they speak it’s like the first time they are naming something. & there is nothing more beautiful than that moment: that dawning, the shedding. bearing witness to that. in that moment that something is the only thing that matters to me. this is my definition of joy: the collapsing of borders, the re-unification, us. the revelations that come from being together: every feeling dependent on its predecessor to exist. the things we don’t get to talk about, but need to. why is it the things that are most important & dear to us are the ones we rarely get to say? i like those moments because they remind me that we need each other to learn, to feel, to realize, to be. i don’t do small talk because i am tired of feeling small — i want to overflow. when i was in high school i used to turn on (mediocre, but deeply charming in retrospect) indie music & have conversations with my girlfriend & we would eventually stop talking & just look at each other in the eyes & start tearing up. we would say that one line from perks of being a wallflower: “in that moment / i swear / we were infinite” & we would feel like we were in a movie or a music video, which made us feel important & greater than ourselves. something about the simulation of it all made it feel more real. i swear i never loved her more. what i like about a good conversation is it is cinematic: the lives we live are expansive, dramatic, whimsical, dynamic. my favorite actors are my friends. & our living is the art. our living is the art! so i just want to take out everyone in the world for hot chocolate or dinner or both & i want to ask all of the tough questions & i want to figure it out together, take out a second to feel the poignancy & urgency of our becoming: how we got here, what we lost along the way. the things we know & need, everything. nothing. infinity.

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