Monday, 4 June 2007

The Transgender Republic (is also a colonial state)

On a different (though not unrelated) note, I've spent the weekend at a Transgender Conference, right here in Wellington(!!) Which has been incredible. I cried quite a lot from relief, to be among people who casually asked for my pronouns and weren't fussed when i didn't haven't any, who joked about toilets and genitals, who understood the brutality of doctors and official documents. and were interested in me. who were all so fucking beautiful.

Being enclosed in such an array of people and genders, gave me momentary relief from the struggle to define myself, against, around, through other people. It was a rest from trying to find the words to describe something that has been kept deliberately out of my tongue's reach. When I didn't answer questions about pronouns, people really looked at me, listened to me and made up their own minds how to relate to me.

I did skip out at the bit where the conference divided into MtF, FtM and Significant Others, but at least i wasn't the only one who found these words inadequate.

Others who might have found these words inadequate (apart from genderqueer types like myself), is the huge section of the transgender population in NZ who would identify as either Takataapui (Maori) or Fa'afafine (Samoan). They weren't there to complain about being left off the caucases, however, because they'd also been left off the invitation. They've also been left off the list of identities defined in the introductory leaflet of Agender ("the New Zealand support and lobby group for transgendered people" and the group running the conference). This didn't seem to bother anybody there, and no one was taken by the idea one guy suggested, of meeting sometimes on the turf of Transgender sex workers (many of whom are takataapui or fa'afafine) to make our groups more inclusive... sounds like a bloody good idea to me.

I also cried continuously for about an hour, during Mani Bruce Mitchell's presentation on taking the film Black and White to Texas, and about life as an intersex person. I'm going to write more about this soon, because Mani is one of my all-time heroes. but s/he talked about allsorts that really hit home for me. About trying to live in a space between genders and beyond language and how important images are if we want to survive there; about keeping people at a distance to protect them and ourselves (and how genderdeviants tend to be experts at this); about travelling back to emotional literacy from this great distance.

And perhaps the most intense lesson for me was about the price our bodies pay when they are loaded with shame. Mani said that Queer communities in the USA have the worst health statistics of any demographic (??) There are all sorts of reasons for this, but a major factor is the embarassment and often disgust that keeps doctors from paying proper attention to our bodies, and keeps us from seeking help.

This feels really fucking important. It feels like a basic premise that we have to get right before any of our queer activism will flourish.

Sunday, 3 June 2007


I want to draw out something that keeps coming up for me in my posts and other's comments.
I agree with Maia that "conversations with people who are as (or more) secure than me can be really frustrating, unless they first acknowledge their security." But I don't think we have to choose between being aware of our security and being aware of our vulnerability.

In fact i think we desperately need both. In the comments on Visibility, Jen is talking about the experience of being exoticised as a white person while travelling. It would've sucked if she hadn't acknowledge that being exoticised is different when you have power to go with it, but she did. I think it also would've sucked if she'd thought, 'no I am not at all vulnerable, because I'm white' and missed the opportunity to learn a little bit about what it feels like and what other people have to go through in a much more full-on way.

I agree too that, "some listening, and some imagination goes a long way." And the closer we get to someone's pain, oppression and vulnerability in our own experience, the easier that imagination becomes. When I stop to think that I'm actually living week to week on the benefit, that i can only afford to do that because I've got a council flat, that what with childcare and gender ambiguity my job prospects are not so hot, that things with WINZ are unlikely to get any easier in the current political climate and that climate change (among other things) is endangering global food supply; i get an inkling of the fear that many families in south Auckland might be facing.

And when I have the space to consider all this, to feel sorry for myself, and to remember that I deserve more, I am able to listen to other people's stories. I have the generosity and the clarity to assure them that they too deserve much, much more. And to stand up for their rights. Our rights.

Which brings me back to who it's ok to whinge to, since I've gotta work through this stuff, but starving families don't gotta listen to me.

Which is an interesting question on the interweb, cause how do I know who I'm whinging to?

Saturday, 2 June 2007

getting out more

i'm having trouble understanding that someone actually died in NZ ... because our health system sent her home with an oxygen machine but no back up power, because a privatised electricity company didn't think that her life was worth more than an unpaid power bill, because our welfare system is set up to give you less money than you need to survive.

there are lots of places to put the blame, but Folole Muliaga is dead and she isn't the only one.
As Maia says, this happens every day.

just as distant from my reality are the dawn raids that have seen migrant workers woken at 5am, bustled out of showers, stopped at roadblocks and deported in Northland.

we call our habitat in central wellington the "activist ghetto" and it's oft said that we need to get out more. But calling it a ghetto ignores the fact that we are the privileged ones. Many of us have university educations and will be able to get a job when we eventually need one. Many of us have parents who would foot the bill if we needed urgent medical care. Most of us have enough visible class and pakeha privilege, that if we said 'when you cut our power someone will die,'
we would be taken seriously.

i'm generalising, there are activists in our scene who have much less privilege than me, and they often have a hard time of it. But the predominance of the white and middle classed creates a culture that is very very far from the struggle for survival that families like Fololie Muliaga's face.

There are also activists doing amazing work, fighting for everone's rights to healthcare, to food, to survive winter (and many of them are the ones struggling for their own survival) .

But I see on indymedia, that spies in our midst warrant 64 comments, while a woman dying from poverty (and a hatred of the poor) commands about 20 all up. I'm part of this too, i've certainly spent more time talking about spies than poverty in the last few days. That's why I'm writing, to try and figure out why I feel so distant from a woman's death that is geographically pretty damn close (and I'm sure there have been plenty more even closer).

I gonna leave this for now, I've got a lot more thinking to do.
Though i do reckon that forcing ourselves to talk less about spies is definately not the answer.
But maybe we should force ourselves to get out more, to make relationships that help us understand what survival really means. And force ourselves to admit our own vulnerability, our own fears (reasonable and not) about staying alive under capitalism.

Monday, 28 May 2007


A bisexual man i know whose been only sleeping with women lately, was complaining that his sexuality is invisible. Which got me thinking.

It ties back to what i was writing about "middle-class butches(?)", cause i think our invisibility is actually a sign of our privilege. It leaves working class butches to shoulder all the weight of representing Butch (which isn't a super-fun job in this culture).

Female Masculinities (a book i was dissing a couple of posts back) makes the point that while white middle class lesbians complained about their invisibility, non-white and working class lesbians were extremely visible and were/are getting beat up on the street for it.

which isn't to say that having no visible role models, (either in your life or on tv, or in books, or walking down the street) that having no one see you as you really are - is easy. It's not, it's like looking into a mirror and seeing nothing there (i got that from adrienne rich) and it's crazy-making. It's just that you have more choices and more power than those who are noticed as deviant.

On any given day I can wear the t-shirt that says 'gender dysphoric'. Or Not. It's not written all over my walk, my haircuts, my clothes, my speech, in a language that everyone can read, as it is for some people. And my bisexual friend can declare his attraction to other men, or not. depending on how many bigots are around, whether he's trying to get a job etc.

Which led me to conclude that it's all about who you're complaining to. I should definately be whingeing at other middle class masculine women to front up with descriptions of our specific experience, confronting people who refuse to recognise my masculinity, and challenging middle-class parents who don't give their daughters the chance to express their masculinity... but i shouldn't expect working class butches to have much sympathy for my invisibility. And i shouldn't present it as the greatest challenge facing butches today.

Monday, 21 May 2007

Prom Queen Syndrome

My girlfriend recently came up with this diagnosis, after enduring serious bouts of precious behaviour from some of our white middle-class friends, and from me (also white, middle-class).

Basically, a prom queen* has huge amounts of popularity, so much so that she** expects everyone to like her. Finding that anyone has problems with her (or is even disinterested in her)especially someone with less power, leads to much hand-wringing, and declarations that she is being ‘bullied’, ‘oppressed’ or ‘disrespected’ and will generally cause her to pack up her toys and move on to other friends.

Prom queens have no skills when it comes to resolving disagreements, because they have always been popular enough to find other friends, rather than ride out the tough times. They are almost always unaware of their own power and sense of entitlement, and are prepared to complain at great length to women whose lives are much harder than theirs. Their sense of solidarity is consequently impaired and their conception of feminism often involves other women giving them the numbers to advance their own demands.

*Of course it is possible to display symptoms of PQS without being a full-blown prom queen.
**No cases have yet been diagnosed among middle-class men, perhaps because they have to worry even less about what people think of them.

I haven’t followed the whole argument, but Jessica (of is displaying several symptoms of it over at feministe in the argument about whether or not her latest book does a disservice to women of colour. Eg. I’m not visiting your blog to discuss ways I may have used my privilege to hurt you because someone once said something mean to me there…

Sunday, 20 May 2007

White middle-class butch?

Well, after several attempts to write a first post that introduces me in all my glorious detail, I’ve alighted on the idea of just writing a first post (!)… on something I’ve been thinking lots about.

What I have wondered, ever since admitting that I was not the young woman everyone took me for, is whether or not I am butch. I don’t think of myself as a woman, but I do identify as a dyke; I suffer from serious discomfort about my female body, but I don’t want to become a man; I have a femme girlfriend who coaxes me to talk about my emotions… I can tick plenty of stereotypical butch boxes, but.
But I’m white and from a thoroughly middle class background.

I realised just how significant this is reading Stone Butch Blues for the first time. It was incredible for me, I felt like I was touching a tiny bit of my history, and Jess’s survival made mine seem more likely. But, realistically, if I were born in the early 1950s, would I have frequented butch-femme/gay bars? Unlikely. More likely I would have done what I did until last year, put on women’s clothes and lived in my mind. When people suggested I was a freak, I would have gone to the library and finished an assignment. I would have probably made it to university, joined the women’s movement, and taken refuge in androgyny, political lesbianism and manic activism. I would have written superficially convincing feminist theory that ignored working class women and secretly hated myself for hating my body and for wanting to penetrate my girlfriend.

The combination of having class privilege to lose, and the option of a disembodied academic/activist existence would (most likely) have been enough to dissuade me from coming out as masculine. In this way, a lot of my history hasn’t really been written. I can only guess how many of the radical feminists who wrote patronising/admiring/revisionist histories of masculine and passing women, secretly wanted to live their lives.

(None of which is to say poor me. Invisibility does hinder my self-realisation, but I have more options than working class or non-white butches about how out I am, which keeps me physically safer. And when I am out, I have better chances of maintaining attention and respect, because I speak the right kind of language.)

Are there white middle-class butches? If so, where are they? I found Judith/Jack Halberstam’s book, Female Masculinities, particularly disappointing in this regard. It seems that J/J identifies as butch (??). But although she shows how butch history has been ignored by middle-class feminism, she doesn’t admit that being an academic means that working-class butch history doesn’t simply belong to her. She doesn’t use this opportunity to share her own experience of butchness, and instead uses the (often extremely personal) stories of others to illustrate this story. It’s this kind of behaviour that allows white middle class men/women/butches to claim a rich history and identity, while hiding our privilege over others of the same gender (just like white women using pictures of black mothers to symbolise the fertility or spirituality of all women).

In the mean time, I’m adding middle-class to butch, every time I use it… and I’m looking for new words. Female Masculinities is actually quite useful in this way, perhaps I am more of an invert or a female husband. More on those terms later.

I’m surely not the first person to think about this. Do you agree I should get my hands off your identity? Do you know white middle-class people who identify as butch? Are you one? Talk to me, or direct me to more conversations. Please.