Sunday, February 28, 2010

Me and My Vagina, Special Anniversary Edition: Part II of an Infinitely Reductive Series

Today is the anniversary of my surgery. In fact, as I type this now, I am about a year removed from my first full day of having a vagina--Thailand being twelve hours ahead of my local time, and the six or more hours of my surgery having started at noon Bangkok time. (I don't remember how long the surgery lasted, as I slept through it and for a long time afterwards, only waking up for a brief moment to say goodnight to my significant other of variable and often fabulous gender.)

In fact, there's almost a week of time that I have very little recollection of--the five days I had to stay immobile in bed, according to my surgeon's regimen. Not everyone does this; had I gone to the Canadian surgeon I first considered, I'd have been up and walking around after about a day or so. Everybody does things differently. But I'm somewhat glad for being immobile; during that five days I only moved once, and that was because I'd thrown up on myself the first day after my surgery--juice boxes and opiates don't agree all that well. The only way to get me clean sheets was to move me to an entirely new bed. Which meant I had to crab walk over to it. Now, even under normal circumstances, that would be both uncomfortable and ungraceful; but I had to not only contend with the pain from my brand-new down there, with the attendant catheter and surgical drains, but since I'd also opted to have my boobs done at the same time, I could barely move my arms; the surgeon went in under my armpits, and to be honest that pain was more omnipresent and inconveniencing than the other.

But other than that, and my SOOVAOFG saying goodbye to me to fly home--we'd spent ten days together bumping around India and Cambodia prior to my surgery, and vacation time is precious nowadays--I really don't remember much. I slept a lot; I was too out of it to even watch TV. Every so often, they'd bring me a thick creamy soup and some juice boxes to eat and drink. I rarely ate the soup, but I drank the juice. (As an aside, Thai sweets of all kinds tend to be sweeter than American sweets--probably because they use real sugar.) I've come to realize that it wasn't so much that I was drugged out of my head--Thais don't practice American pain management, and I didn't even have a morphine drip--but because nothing changed. There was me; my bed; my room with the blinds drawn; and the occasional ministrations of kind Thai nurses who spoke little English. (My Thai was suspect at its best and no match for my pain and grogginess.)

But eventually they packed me up and sent me home, after giving me a huge, cumbersome, old-fashioned bra. It was trimmed with lace and looked like something from the "18-hour bra" commercials I'd seen as a kid. And then I was dumped back in my hotel room, just me and my catheter bag--they didn't take the catheter out until the next day, which was a little scary and gross. On the other hand, it was pretty convenient for lying in bed and drinking stuff, which was about all I was up for.

But it's surprising how quickly you can heal. I was moving around the hotel room that, night, had enough energy to make breakfast the next day, and even hosted a pizza party for some of the other patients of my surgeon a day or so after that. (We had a couple of these affairs. They were interesting; we'd have a great time for about an hour, and then everyone would be in too much pain to continue. But they were fun while they lasted.)

That was all a year ago.

Things have changed. For one thing, I now only have to dilate once a day for about 30 minutes. That will mean I can actually get up at the same time but still get to work earlier, which will help me have more time and energy to write in the evening. I've had sex, by which I mean--this being America and all--PIV sex, so now I know how much I've been missing. My recovery has been remarkably hassle free, even with the UTI I developed a month after getting home.

There's more, of course, much more. But how can I put it all in words? There are days when I forget that I never had a vagina, and there are days when I forget for a second that I do. There are many days when I am astonished by the miracle of it all, and many more days when I simply take it for granted. And most of all, I feel like what I am supposed to be. I feel like a woman.

And I felt that way before. I am not going to play pussy politics with you and engage in zero-sum games about the proper anatomy a woman needs. It's reductive, and cruel, and ignores the economic reality of far too many trans women.

But there's no question that I like myself better this way, that I feel a peace with my body I never felt before. That I had to wound myself to heal.

Not that I'm completely healed. None of us, I suppose, ever really can be--and I'm not just talking about trans people. If we measure lives by ideals, then we're all a little broken, all in need of some kind of healing. And I've come so very far.

But there are still times when I resent that passage; when I resent all the things that were taken from me, all the things that I never had--even the bad things, even the things that in a sense I was fortunate enough to miss: if I feel the omnipresent judgment of every damn TV commercial on how I should look, act, think, and feel simply because of my gender, can I really long to have had that drummed into my head from the moment it poked into our world? Do I really feel sorry for myself for not having spent three and a half decades as a victim of sexism?

No. Not really. But I do regret the necessity of it all, the long slow struggle to find out who I am, the summoning up of awful reserves of energy just to survive each day, and then the ultimate effort to make myself into the person I desperately needed to be. And so I regret that passage; but I am grateful, oh so very grateful, to have survived it.

And you could say, maybe, that my vagina is a symbol of that: a physical manifestation of not just my womanhood, but my struggle to achieve that womanhood, a signpost showing how far I've come and how much I had to undergo to reach it. I suppose that would be fine; I'd hardly be the first woman to eulogize my vagina, and I doubt I'll be the last, cis or trans.

But I don't really do that much. Because most of the time it's just a vagina. And believe me, that is more than enough. In fact, it's perfect.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Is YOUR Muffin Bluffin'

What's that? Yes, ducks, we are still a going concern, though lately that seems to be...going away!

(Thank you, I'll be here all week.)

The truth is that the day job from hell--currently consuming 50+ hours of my week every week--while allowing me to do useful stuff like eat and pay off both my credit cards in a year, is Not Conducive for the whole writing thing, especially when I don't get any sleep.

That said, I still do try and do stuff, and I'm hoping to pick up the pace at Tiger Beatdown, at least, where Sady and I have been talking about stuff of late! Some of it will even be cool!

Anyway, if it's Wednesday Thurday, it must be Below The Belt! This week, I write about one "Lady GaGa," whom, I hear, is all the rage with the kids these days!
I am almost terminally unhip when it comes to popular music. It's not that I have snobbish pretensions, or at least I try not to--I'm a firm believer in Duke Ellington's maxim, "if it sounds good, it is good," and there's room for both Mozart and Garbage on my iPod, Radiohead and John Coltrane, Bjork and Kanye "I'm going to interrupt this playlist" West. But the fact is, I don't watch MTV--not that they have much to do with music nowadays, but I'm dinosaur enough to remember when they did--or listen to much top 40 radio, so I almost never have any idea of what those kids, thesadays, are listening to. (And they need to get off my lawn, too.)

It's so bad that about the only way I hear popular songs is when they're background music for a TV show. (When my ex made me watch "Smallville" or "The O.C." with her, I used to parody the way that they would have a constant churn of hot bands: "Hey, I hear {BAND_OF_THE_WEEK} is playing at the club tonight! I love {BAND_OF_THE_WEEK}." Of course, Buffy the Vampire Slayer is immune from my scorn, since a) it's awesome and b) all of those bands are safely a decade behind us.)

But even a pathetic stick in the mud like transfeminist has heard of every queer's new best friend, The Lady Gaga. 
 Ba-ba Lo Lo Lo Bel Bel Below the Belt!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Songs of Love and Hate, and Mascara

Sady at Tiger Beatdown has been running guest posts on breakup songs in honor of Valentines Day, and was kind enough to ask me to write one. So I did, and it's over here. I wrote it on Leonard Cohen, who you might have guessed is my favorite songwriter, but of course I touched on other stuff. Trans stuff! (I know, I know, jeez lady can't you ever not talk about that?) But it was an interesting assignment and I ended up getting personal in a way I don't always do even over here, so you might find it good reading. Meanwhile I'll hang out here muttering the "Dress Rehearsal Rag" to myself.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Many Returns, Happily Confused

Who dat saying they going to beat Below The Belt? Who dat? Who dat?
I had my birthday last week, which beyond the reminder that I am a) one milestone closer to ultimate mortality and b) so much older than so many of my internet comrades, was a true blast: I took the day for myself, finally caught "The Hurt Locker," and had dinner with the hardest core of my friends. And friend gave me "Leonard Cohen: Live From London," which takes me back every time I listen to it (which is constantly) to the concert of his we both had the good luck to be blown away by last year.

So, hey, yay for transfeminist. Pass you some nachos and maybe you'll care, right?

But wait, things are going to get complicated.

On y va, cherie!

Hiram Monserrate Watch: Then Fall Caesar Edition

In our ongoing quest to track the downfall of New York State's douchiest public servant,* this story brings a smile to us:
The State Senate on Tuesday expelled a senator convicted of domestic assault, the first time in nearly a century that the Legislature has forced a member from office.

The Senate voted 53-to-8 to immediately oust the senator, Hiram Monserrate, a Queens Democrat convicted last fall of a misdemeanor for dragging his companion down the hallway of his apartment building.
Monserrate has vowed to fight the expulsion, and his lawyers are expected to file a restraining order today, if they can make it through the snow. Sadly, one of them is Norman Siegel, past head of the New York Civil Liberties Union and candidate for Public Advocate; a guy, in fact, that I voted for. Not so happy to see his name there.

Still, the Senate voting to expel somebody for a misdemeanor--normally in Albany, you get a mulligan on your first five or six of those--is a welcome change, and the fact that it was mainly because of the specific crime he was convicted for--battering a woman--is an even more welcome change. This being Albany, however, who knows how this will end. Probably with the Monster Rat as majority leader.

*At the state level. There's a lot of competition above and below him.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Dilemma Of Having a Long Tail

Now, ducks, before you think that I mean that my surgeon had some, er, interesting ideas about anatomy, by a long tail I just mean: I have a past. It was not particularly unaccomplished, although--duh--it wasn't exactly fulfilled. But I did some cool things, was on (syndicated) TV a few times, got married, got divorced, wrote a couple dozen books, learned to speak French, even learned a little aikido.

Oh, the books? Yeah, you might have guessed that's what I wanted to talk about.

Now, before you search the ISBN catalog (and begin speculation that I am actually John Irving, finally over his castration issues), let me hasten to say: as writing goes, this was pretty assembly-line stuff. I wrote, mostly as work-for-hire, not-quite-textbooks. For 8th graders.

I say not-quite textbooks because they weren't text books: that is, you wouldn't teach a class using them. Instead, these were the books you'd read to do a book report on, say, Gold. (I didn't write one on gold, but I kinda wish I had--it was more interesting than some of the stuff I did write about.)

Now, I'm telling you all this because a few months ago I got something from my publisher. I was rather astonished--it couldn't be a royalty check, those dried up years ago. But I was even more surprised when I read what was inside:

Fan mail.

It seems that a young boy had read my book about a famous sports figure of the previous century, and written me a letter.

Well, not me exactly.

Me, just before. The other me., you get the picture.

So, I've been trying to figure out what to do with this: it was a nice letter, though it asks some interesting questions (did I play football as a boy, for example), and rather charmingly lets me know how cool it would be for an author to write back to him.

But--and this is the dilemma of me and my tail--how on earth do I go about this? Write back using my old name? No offense, but I hate having to do that; I still have a few accounts under my old name and I never call their customer service anymore, because I'd have's too gruesome to contemplate.

Or do I write back and say that Old Name was a pseudonym (not exactly a lie) and I'd be happy to correspond but I am, you know, a girl. Not super honest, but maybe more palatable.

Or do I do evangelism? Say, hey kid, here's an update about me: and maybe open his mind up to queer and other possibilities? Is that too heavy to dump on a kid? Sheesh, I don't even know how old he is!

(Hmm, maybe I could write to his parents. Hadn't thought of that.)

Anyway, I've been going back and forth about this; I've kept the letter pegged to my apartment door, so I see it every time I leave. And it was a nice letter, and maybe deserves a response.

Then I realized: hey, I have a smart readership. Small, but smart: you guys are like the elite core of my future dominance of a tiny little corner of the trans internet! So, I thought I'd ask you all to weigh in, ducks: I put it up as a poll at the upper right. Or answer in the comments. Or ignore the question--trust me, I sympathize.

Monday, February 8, 2010

A Room of One's Own: ID Required For Admission

Well, ducks! It's been a week since I did my little UK stomp and kicked over a fair-sized, even by Guardian standards, ant hill! Such fun!

Let me be serious. For a change. A surprise! A first! C.L. serious on her own blog!

I want to talk about one of those very tricky things that come up when trans folks, and most especially trans women, get talked about. Pretty universally, I should hasten to add, when cis folks talk about trans folks; but then I said people, and don't we all know that people means cis people? Silly ducks.

The bugbear in the room is, of course, "women-only spaces." In its most extreme form, this resolves to the old "bathroom libel": the idea that, say, allowing trans people to use the rest rooms that match their gender presentation will open a flood of rapists donning drag in order to rape unsuspecting women. That no trans person has ever done this, and that women get raped in women's rooms by men not wearing dresses, never seems to make a dent in this argument; but then it's held by only the most set in their way anti-trans folks.

Sadly, this includes a large number of otherwise noteworthy feminists. Google it; I'll wait.

A less extreme version of the "women's spaces exclusion" doesn't have a problem with trans folk in the ladies', (perhaps because being booted from your stall for looking too masculine can happen to cis women too), but still make an exception for other spaces: women's spiritual circles, social groups, and, most--notoriously isn't the right word, but bear with me for a second--rape crisis centers.

Yes, that's right--I'm bringing Kimberley Nixon into this again.

For those of you who don't know, a precis: Ms. Nixon is a trans woman who lived in Vancouver. She applied for a volunteer counseling position at Vancouver Rape Relief, and passed their initial phone interview. When she showed up for training, however, she was read as trans and told that she could not be a counselor because of VRR's woman-only policy. Ms. Nixon eventually sued the center, won one trial, but the decision was overturned on appeal.

That's the basics. VRR claimed that the legal fees put them in danger of closing. Julie Bindel and many other trans-exclusionary feminists castigated Ms. Nixon.

But when you go deeper, it gets a whole lot more complicated.

For starters, Ms. Nixon herself had been raped and battered by her male partner. After receiving help from a different group for battered women, she entered their counseling training course, and did very well; she would later be described as a "superior" counselor. But the first group wanted her to wait a year to heal before she became a counselor, which led her to VRR.

Now hearken with me to the little lower layer. Above, I linked to an article about a butch cis woman who was unceremoniously tossed from a restaurant bathroom for looking too masculine. This is precisely what happened to Ms. Nixon. Yet Ms. Farmer would be allowed to counsel for VRR, and Ms. Nixon wouldn't. Even though they both looked "masculine."

Ponder that one in light of feminist principles, if you will.

Dig even deeper: it is a misconception that Ms. Nixon was demanding a spot as a counselor for VRR; what she wanted was the chance to prove herself on her own merits, and not be judged by her appearance. Furthermore, VRR claimed that her presence might traumatize other women, who might harbor fear or resentment or hatred towards men. Fair enough, I suppose, though one would think that this could apply to very butch cis women as well. But the thing is, we'll never know if Ms. Nixon would traumatize people; we'll never know if she could have fit in, if she could have provided healing services to women. We'll never know, because she never got the chance.

And neither did any of the women who might use the shelter; VRR made the decision for them.

I don't think there's any way to slice this that doesn't come up as prejudice. They could have done any number of things; had her help in the office and get training from the counselors, so that even if she didn't work out there, she would gain experience; have her act as a liaison to the trans community (one would assume that VRR would also turn away trans women who were the victims of rape as well); any number of things.

But instead they said, you look like a man. You are a man. You cannot come here.

Now, it may surprise you to know that I am ambivalent--very--about these situations. I can see many sides to these issues, and they're always tricky. And I do not dispute for a second that there is a very real difference in the background of trans and cis women, especially trans women who transition after, say, their twenties (present company included.) We, I, don't have the experience of growing up female; we don't have the same bodily experiences as the majority of cis women. (This is why I will never be teaching a class on Your Period and You.)

But--and this is so important that in needs to be said, again and again--the question remains: is that condition unredemediable? Is it so impossible to think that a trans woman who has spent 25 years living as a woman might have insight into women's lives approaching that of a 25-year old cis woman? Think on this: you could transition as soon as you were of age, have been on hormone blockers so you never experienced male puberty, spent your teens and twenties living as a woman, majored in women's studies, gone on to become a social worker specializing in the problems of battered women and rape victims, worked for ten years in public health--and you will be less qualified, in the eyes of VRR, than a high school drop out who happens to be cis.

That is to say, that not judging a person on her merits is discriminatory. Unless, of course, you're trans. Then it's totes feminist.

Next: I'll take this to Tiger Beatdown and do some feminism and gender analysis.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Where In The World Is C.L. Minou?

Well, for once, back here.

I do apologize, ducks. This has been a slightly weird week: I mean, I was in the Guardian, and the Carnival, and also work was busy (I was doing stuff at 10 pm on Tuesday) and oh yeah it was my birthday yesterday and so I had to go out and have drinks with my girlfriends (and one of their boyfriends: he was our Designated Boy.) And then back to work but oh yeah, my enormous cat, Fafhrd, the Grey Mouser, has been sick and I had to take him to the vet, which will set back my primary financial mission for 2010, the Payinge Off Of Ye Ginormous Credite Carde Debte.

So: I know! Wild!

The other thing is my job. I'm glad I have it and it's mostly not particularly hard (even if they're paying me a lot less than I'm used to), and it's cool to be able to work from home--but after spending over ten hours at my desk, I tend to be a little too burned out to sit down and write. At least this week. I think that will sort out eventually.

But there will be more stuff, eventually! Here and at Tiger Beatdown. I have some thoughts about the whole Bindel thing and Second Wave radical feminism that ties into kyriarchy nicely. And I will eventually write something about "Heathers." Also, Sophie had a really good comment that tied into my post on Mary Daly and I just want you to know, Sophie, that I noticed! And have been thinking about it! And will, one of these days, write about it!

So, stay tuned, you who tune in. And if you're not tuning in, why not try? Although, given that you're not tuning in, I'm not so sure how it is you'll hear me ask you to tune in. But it all comes out in the wash.

Monday, February 1, 2010

In Unexpected Delights

Hey, the takedown of that London Times article I did over at Tiger Beatdown got included in the 13th Carnival of Feminists! Drop by to read the other stuff, you know it's good!

And in other unexpected pleasures, I haven't been flayed to pieces in the comments section at the Guardian. And Julie Bindel replied to me! And I replied back! Wow!

C.L. vs Julie Bindel

Where in the world is C.L. today?
Over on the Guardian's CIFA!
I don't much care for Julie Bindel, unlike Beatrix Campbell, who defended her on this site yesterday. That does not mean I don't admire her. As a feminist whose radicalism would probably surprise her, I appreciate Ms Bindel's advocacy and the genuine good that has come for her work against violence directed at women. Yet in her long, lonely crusade against transsexuals she contradicts three of her own three feminist principles:
 Yes, I get to take on Julie Bindel and her belief that I have not been, and never will be, a woman! Comments should be fun!