Tag Archives: ‘equality’

You can do it!

check out my interview with Art about acquiring surgery not testosterone on DUDE 2 EXTENDED:

You can do it!

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The Power of Politeness

Being gender ambiguous means that I don’t get the opportunity to interact with people the way most people do. Nothing is a given. In every (however minimal) social interaction – from ordering in a restaurant to asking for directions – I’m clocked as abnormal. Androgynous, queer, trans, a gender pirate: people decide whether that’s ok or not, and treat me accordingly: well or ill. It’s a subtle kind of mistreatment, but a constant one. With each polite or kind interaction (of which there are many), I’m relieved. But the relief never lasts.
Feminist sexual politics demands a certain nonchalance in regards to “female masculinity“. Hence, I can’t mind if people think I’m a boy or a girl so much (though I clearly have a preference). Mostly I’m seen as genderqueer “first.” And it is this gender ambiguity that precipitates the unkindness of strangers. This is a form of social sanctioning that acts to preserve the boundaries of gender; individuals are punished or rewarded according to our adhesion to social expectations (especially of gender). We’re taught early and persistently that transgressing these stipulations is punishable by humiliation, violence (including sexual violence) and death.
I don’t think it’s ok that women and people with female bodies are forced to look a certain way in order to get by; that it’s not ok to look queer. I also don’t think it’s ok that maleness and (for the most part) masculinity are reserved for people with certain body types and/or assigned “male” at birth. Men should be able to be as femme as me; I should be able to be read as male. But feminist movement has shifted gendered expectations (rightly) so that women, too, should be able to look like me (and they do). So, really, what’s a boi (like me) to do?
All those dirty looks, short replies and general rudeness hints at the possibility of more severe mistreatment, suggesting that such mistreatment is justified; that the violation of gender deserves punishment. In order to resist these stringent concepts of binary gender (and a gender hierarchy), all you need to do is stop playing a part in policing it; be a little kind, considerate, polite.

Historically, manners evolved as a way to make social interactions less awkward. Everyone knew what to do: shake a man’s hand, kiss a lady on the cheek. Things are certainly different now, and there have been important critiques of the cultural and gendered privileges and problems that come with this type of  “appropriate-behaviour” manners. But politeness in a more general sense remains a valuable, and too often overlooked, way of communicating.

Politeness can also act to disseminate power. Rather than one party taking control of a situation (with rudeness) to put down someone else, politeness given and politeness returned can level a playing field of power. This doesn’t mean people should get away with behaving badly, not at all. There can (and must) remain space to call people out. But being critical doesn’t need to be rude, and being rude is a pretty poor way to be critical.

Kindness and politeness can pad over more than just social awkwardness and anxiety. As I’ve been arguing, greeting gender ambiguous people with politeness (and respect) actively resists the social regulation of gender (stability and “coherence”); allowing a space for gender (and social) transformation.


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On Being Defended

A Femme Alliance

Probably the most obvious, and unfortunate, commonality between women and trans people is that we know what it’s like to be abused, and for the threat of abuse and [sexual] violence to be constant. But I do think the shared experience of brutality can be used to shape us into a wilful force of resistance; to defend each other and let ourselves be defended.

I used to be quick-witted when harassed on the streets or in bars. Two to seven words were usually enough; shouted out before an open car window could be wound back up. The men would just snigger in reply but there was something satisfying in fighting back. It took the edge off the humiliation of objectification. But somehow, somewhere, my ability (or desire) to defend myself was worn out.

I just want a break.

When you stand by and watch someone being abused – verbally, physically or (in a longer term sense) emotionally – I do think you’re complicit in it. I think we all have a responsibility to defend each other. And it’s not without risk. I’ve watched so many men and women get high and mighty about their feminist cred; thinking they have all the knowledge (and/or ontological right) to put other people in their place without interrogating the ways they themselves are fucking people over. There are political implications to acting as though someone can’t protect or defend themselves, or that you can do it better. [If you plan on doing it, ask first if that’s what someone wants].

For a long time I thought independence meant self-sufficiency. But the stockpiling of abuse I have taken taught me that having people around to stand up for me was not only a valid survival technique (and what a privilege it was to have ever thought I could persist alone), but a complete pleasure.

Watching my femme friends or lovers verbally rip apart the guys that hassle me is a freakin dream. It’s so unexpected. She’s sharp and witty and seethingly mad and he’s so taken aback and confused he’s stunned into a retreatful silence. Violence always escalates. When I push some guy off a friend, it’s not so unlikely he’ll turn around and punch me in the face. On the contrary, the political – gendered and subversive – (and practical) power of a femme offensive like that shows up the deficiencies of any other kind of recourse. But I do what I can. And this is something we can ask each other for.

It’s not that we can’t defend ourselves, but what a relief to (even occasionally) not have to.

  • On Being Defended is a part of the series against self-sufficiency – an investigation of what is left out when feminist theory/art/movement avoids or ignores the specificities of ftm trans lives, and the ways in which we can work/resist/persist together.

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Relational Violence & Glorifying the Vampire

On Daddying Part 2

see Polyamory & Power Part 1

The current cultural trend of glorifying the vampire reflects – and works to construct – the normalisation and justification of a certain type of relational violence.

Power in relationships is not permanent but constantly shifting. In different contexts, different parties have different powers and access to power. Same sex couples often overlook the ways in which there are inequalities in their relationships because they see the sameness of their sex-gender as a level playing field. But there remain other histories, experiences and social inequalities that lead some people into positions of power and others into subordination.

The physical prowess of the vampire can be seen as a metaphor for varying power dynamics in relationships: that one party (always) has power over the other. The abusive potential of this relation is especially evident in the Twilight series, as Bella’s physical inferiority to Edward is not complicated (unlike in other vampire stories in which the female has some kind of super human powers to rival that of the vampire, as in Buffy or, to a lesser extent, True Blood). Here, his violent tendencies – his ability and potential to abuse that power – are justified as a part of ‘who he is;’ because he’s a vampire.

Polyamorous discourse too often fails to account for these factors when rules (often named ‘ethics’) are uncritically asserted, such as [the archetypal example]: ‘everyone is responsible for articulating their needs.’ Things would be significantly less high maintenance if everyone just did what they wanted. But not everyone feels as though they are entitled to what they want, or knows how to ask for it. And when someone has power over you – how do you (re)gain any kind of power except in denying yourself to someone: withdrawing or withholding your affection, your time?

I want to agree with Gauche Sinister that “it’s damaging and wasteful to withhold something you want, in order to punish someone else.” But it’s damaging and painful to be giving something to someone who wants it, when they are constantly denying you what you want. Not least because it takes a toll on one’s self-esteem. It’s not necessarily that someone likes someone else more, but that someone is always more likely to forfeit what they want for the desires of someone else (for a variety of reasons).

The potential for power to be abused is a part of all relationships, but too often (white, middleclass) queers refuse even to recognise that possibility. And that’s really dangerous. In our glorification of the vampire we accept relational inequalities as inherent, unchangeable and justified. Being aware of the ways in which people are likely to be accommodating to others, and taking care with that, is the only responsible way to relate to anyone.

see Polyamory & Power Part 3

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Daddy Green

POLYAMORY, POWER & POLICING DESIRE

The policing of desire (or ‘not’) is a fairly common polyamorous catch phrase, along with the ‘control of one’s body.’ Usually in the context of ‘I won’t police your desires or control your body’ the implication is: you can do whatever you want [and so can I]. But really, our desires are always policed. And I remain unconvinced that polyamorous discourse effectively overcomes this.

The fact is, someone always likes someone else more. And there is so much power in that. When it comes down to it, the person who most likes the other will forfeit their desires quicker and easier: the terms will always be set by the more nonchalant. And what is interesting and important (and too often ignored) is what the partner ‘in power’ does, how they use that power (ir)responsibly.

Thinking about power through daddying can help elucidate some of the complexities here. The power that a daddy has is surrendered to him (of course, a daddy can be a woman but either way I will use male pronouns) by his boy/orphan/girl. Put in a more general context, the top only has power given to them by the bottom. The way in which this power is respected – reciprocated – is by the daddy only doing what the boy wants. Doing something else, using that (daddying) power against someone who has given it to you; in a way they don’t want, is (always) abusive.

In a poly relationship, saying ‘we [or I] do what we [or I] want’ ignores this transference of power and the ways in which our decisions and actions impact those around us. It’s naïve and perilous. Being clear about what you want helps, but things are more complicated than that. The fact is, mostly you know when someone likes you more than you like them, or when your desires (often so very inappropriately termed ‘needs’) are overriding theirs. Highlighting the way power functions like this in relationships is of desperate necessity.

I don’t want to police anyone else’s desires, and certainly not someone I love. But if our desires differ, which they certainly will in one context or another, someone wins out. Power is always at play. Pretending that we’re autonomous, that our decisions and actions don’t affect others, isn’t helpful. All it does is overwrite and invalidate ways in which power is abused. Being a good daddy means taking care with the ways in which you have power. Please.

Max xx

see Polyamory & Power Part 2 & Part 3

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(Avoiding) Mardi Gras

“Faggot bisexual cunt!” was how I was saluted when I exited the train in Sydney‘s CBD for the 31st New Mardi Gras. I was gobsmacked. Not because I was being insulted on the one day of the year it’s supposed to be ok to be flamboyantly gay, (clearly not), but because never had such a whirlwind of terms I adore been used against me with such aggressive force. I laughed. He wasn’t wrong.

I was in for a long night.

I’ve never been in the parade. For a long time I’ve been disconcerted and troubled by spectacle. I am highly aware of its political uses (as mass distraction, especially fascist), which disables me from ever ‘enjoying the moment’ in a crowd. However, I realised that my discomfort has more to do with the fact that I’m a spectacle every day everywhere I go. My friends and I joke about being a gay pride parade. But we are. Every day. And I feel like if I enact that spectacle in a parade, then I legitimate all the things I think are illegitimate every other day.

Mardi Gras is important, absolutely. We have cause to celebrate, and reason to remember to keep fighting: a lot hasn’t changed on the other side of the fence.

Here are some of the other encounters I had at this year’s Mardi Gras in Sydney:

l        >while sitting by myself at the end of the parade, tears running the make-up down the sides of my face, a lovely gentleman gave me a plastic rose.

 

l        3 guys in a taxi stop at the lights while we’re waiting for the bus and scream at my friend and I: it blurs in my memory –  ‘fucking transsexuals’ was there ‘what are ya?’ There’s one empty lane between us and the cars aren’t moving. We stand there as they abuse us for almost 2 minutes. I march over to the car and the guy in the front quickly pulls up his window. The guy in the back doesn’t bother and as I reach into the cab, he grabs me and the guy on the other side gets out ‘Are we ok?’ are the words he uses but what he says is ‘Are you going to fuck off now?’ I walk back to the bus shelter and he gets back in the cab. They don’t stop shouting as the cab moves away. My friend yells at me for my violence. ‘It’s fine that it makes you uncomfortable,’ I say, ‘And I’m sorry. But being yelled at and not responding I can’t abide right now. And I had no words.’

Best of luck out there,

 

Max xx

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To T or not to T?

Facial Hair: Fantasy and Reality

What makes a man?

Sex is (most unfortunately) all too often heralded in popular culture as one’s initiation into manhood, but facial hair is a much more striking sign. A beard or moustache is such a strong signifier of maleness that little else can contradict it. I enjoy the parody and glamour of drag king make up, or eyelash glue  does do the trick (so to speak), but a lack of facial hair combined with a moderate height of 5”5′ means my gender is read as that of a boy, not a man.

cyborg-supermanI grew up from a generally accepted tomboy into a much less accepted tranny boi, but will I want to be a boy forever?

T is often regaled as the journey into manhood for the transguy, for precisely these reasons. Sometimes I long for the relief of passing. Although, of course, it comes with its own pains.

Physically it is not yet possible to trans ftm in the way it is mtf. And it is prohibitively expensive. This reflects the still misogynistic nature of trans surgery, which privileges the male body and creates it as ‘unimitatable’, while it treats the female body as easily (re)constructed, yet for the most part ‘untreatable’.

When someone ‘misreads’ me, I usually turn away in the hope they won’t reconsider as it is in the so-called ‘realisation’ that violence manifests. Or mockery. Or cruelty. The liveability of a genderqueer life is always in question. It can be straining, stressful, frustrating, and sometimes, well, terrifying. As well as daring, fun, fabulous, subversive and socially treacherous.

Hard muscles. A flat chest. Bulging pants. These are things I dream of. But what would it mean for my maleness, my manhood, to be sculptured by surgeons? Kate Bornstein argues that to move from F to M or M to F doesn’t reinforce a binary concept of gender, but rather creates transformation itself as the meaning of gender. Here she carries the legacy of Simone de Beauvoir, that one is not born a woman but becomes one: gender is the act of becoming. And I agree. But the fact remains that the maleness of my body would be crafted and re-created according to standards of gendered beauty that I, theoretically, disapprove of and have for so long openly rejected. This is troubling.

As I have said often to my fellows on the subject of embracing male privileges: one always has the choice about what kind of man one becomes.

Right now my masculinity doesn’t necessitate surgical intervention. But when I gaze at the flat, hard pecs of a guy at the gym, when I watch beads of sweat gather on his chest hair, his grimaced jaw shadowed with stubble – I wonder if I will hold out forever.

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