Friday, January 24, 2020

Burn Out and Checking Out Are Also Parts of Transition

So, I am about to turn 40. Not only is that a major milestone, it also means that my official transition started five years ago. And, back in 2015 when I started this process, I dove right into it head first. Not only did I start updating this blog twice a week, I also started doing weekly Gender Rebels episodes with my partner Kath. Then we started our Patreon page which meant generating patron-only content and we also launched the Gender Rebels YouTube channel. With all that going on, I was starting to grow my hair out, deal with hormones, and get laser hair removal on my face. Beyond that I was also writing novels and, oh yeah, working my normal 40 hour a week day job.

For three years, I think I just rode on this new transition high. Everything was so new and exciting. It was an adventure, eagerly waiting for hormone effects, coming out at work, starting full time, getting rid of all my boy clothes, changing my name, changing my gender marker, getting new paperwork on everything. It was wonderful. It was heady and something full of endless possibilities.

Then, as I reached my two years on HRT, I decided to go in for the surgeries. And I think this is where that excitement hit a big wall. Thud. First there was bureaucratic gathering of letters and paperwork, making consultation appointments, figuring things out. It was starting to sap my energy a little, but I soldiered on.

But then came the emotional roller coaster that was my fight against my health insurance company. They had denied my FFS and I was determined to fight them on it. My FFS surgery date got pushed back and back multiple times as I dealt with endless paperwork, denials, appeals, a deposition, accepting that I was going to lose, and...then finally I won. I won eleven days before my FFS date.

Then I spent time recovering from my FFS. For a month I looked like an absolute ghoul; covered forehead to chin in dark, black bruises, one eye droopy, a head so swollen it looked like a bowling ball full of surgical staples. My numb mouth that meant I couldn't drink from a cup from a normal person and had to use a straw for a couple months (it's still not quite there). Plus my ear-to-ear head wound scabbed over like crazy until the scabs got intermingled with my hair and decided to just stick around permanently. Thankfully, a couple dermatologist visits and some creams got that normal again.

Just as I was nearing the end of the healing on my FFS, it was time for my breast augmentation! Thanks to the legal battle pushing the date back, my FFS and breast augmentation ended up being about 90 days apart. That's about as close as you can get surgeries. I mean, the doctor signed off on it. But it still felt super quick. Then, there was the recovery from that, which I'm still dealing with as of this writing.

Needless to say, it's been a lot. And I found myself with no energy at all for creative endeavors. My blog fell fallow, and I Kath and I had to stop doing weekly Gender Rebels episodes. I just didn't, as they say, have enough spoons. Two surgeries and a legal battle wore me down and left me exhausted.

And that is something that I never really realized was a part of transition. It's been five years and so many changes. It burns you out. That is where I am right now...kind of burned out on the whole thing. and yet, there's still miles to go before I sleep because my next surgery is coming up in about 100 days.

When I first dipped my toe in the trans community over twenty years ago, I remember feeling for the first time that I really wasn't alone. I absorbed it all like a sponge. I talked to everyone I could and met so many cool, amazing people. Many of them I've lost touch with over the years, but at least once a month I get an email from someone who happens upon the podcast and tells me that they remember me from some old forum or another. I needed the community. I need to read other people's stories, their successes, their advice.

One odd thing I do remember from that old online community was that there existing something of a hierarchy. Crossdressers were right at the bottom, part time trans-women were only a little higher, full timers were higher still, people who had actually started hormones were higher than the HRT-less full timers, out trans-women were higher up than them, and post-operative trans-women were the true queens. Back then I was kind of at the bottom and looking up.

In about 100 days, I will reach my queendom, at the top of the heap. Not that anyone really cares about that hierarchy anymore. In about 100 days, my transition will be "complete." There will always be some more electrolysis, but I will, for all intents and purposes, be done. I will have transitioned. Ages ago, I would sit on the subway, young 22 year old me, and write out these plans, these transition checklists. Well, my checklist is almost done. What does that really mean?

For the past few months, I have found myself needing to check out from all of it. I unsubscribed from all the trans subreddits I used to read. I've found myself unsubscribing to trans YouTubers I've enjoyed for years. I honestly don't know why. But I don't think that it's because I'm "done" with my transition. I think that checking out of it all, taking a break from it all, is something that you need to do some times.

Five years. For five years I have been living and breathing and drinking and eating transition. Transition has been the central part of my life. And it seems like I will be doing that for at least another year. I think the reason I've kind of checked out of the transgender community is because not only do a need a break, but I just want to be "normal." After five years, I'm over transitioning and just want to live my life.

So that's where I am right now. I'm checking out and burning out and I'm not sure I like either. I do want to be part of the community that has brought me so much strength and encouragement, and to which it turn, I can provide strength and encouragement to the next generation. And I want to be be burned out! have the energy, all that lovely restless energy, for weekly podcasts and blog posts, and writing, and trying to get published. I still want to write and direct my own Frances Ha style mumblecore movie. It's something I've always wanted to do.

But, I think that burn out and checking out are parts of transition. There's no escaping them. Transition is hard! It takes over your life for years! It's an energy and attention vampire. At some point burn out and checking out will catch up with you. I'm not sure if anyone ever told me that, but I think that it's something unavoidable. Well, let me get through this next year. And then, I think in 2021, I'll have all my spoons back and be ready to hit the ground running creatively and community-wise too.

And don't worry, I'll have plenty to post this year too. Wishing you all the best. 

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Trans Love: A New Book

New book featuring not one but two pieces by me! Be sure and check it out and also buy a copy too!

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Colette: A Transgender Girl's Thoughts

There's a moment in Colette when our protagonist, the toast of fin de siècle Parisian society, returns home to her rural town and the embrace of her mother. Exciting though life in Paris may seem, she lives under the thumb of a controlling and lecherous husband. Colette laments "I must get used to marriage," only to have her mother respond "Better to make marriage get used to you." We follow Colette as she does indeed make marriage, her husband, and Paris get used to her.

Colette tells the story of the Nobel prize nominated French novelist of the same name. She was a young farm girl when she married writer and literary critic Henry Gauthier-Villars, better known by his nom de plume of Willy, who was fourteen years her senior. He takes her to Paris where he introduces her to the salon set; the intellectuals, writers, artists, and performers. Unashamed as she is by her farm girl roots, Colette struggles to fit in and suffers through the boring parties. She quickly discovers that her husband has chosen to ignore their marriage vows, openly flirting with and having affairs with young women. When she confronts him about this, he shrugs her off and tells her that such behavior is expected of men in his station.

Willy's opinion of extramarital affairs is much more traditional when he sees Colette seated with a couple at a party, happily having her palm read by the husband. Hypocritically enraged, Willy demands that Colette leave the party with him. On their ride home he chastises her for flirting with another man. It's then that Colette surprises him. It wasn't the husband that Willy should be jealous of. It was the wife that had caught Colette's eye. Unsurprisingly Willy isn't bothered by the idea of Colette having lesbian affairs. And so Colette finds her first taste of the freedom she has been longing for.

As the perpetually broke Willy is unable to pay more ghost writers, he enlists Colette to begin writing a novel for him. She pens Claudine à l'école, a semi-autobiographical novel about her school days. Due to its honesty and feminine style it begins flying off shelves, becoming especially popular with the young women of Paris. Frustrated as she is forced to watch Willy take credit for her novel's success, Colette begins an affair with the young Southern belle Georgie Raoul-Duval. Ultimately Willy discovers this affair and, in a selfishly sadistic turn, begins his own affair with Georgie. Upon discovering her husband's actions, Colette is enraged and heartbroken.

Throughout the film we see Colette's need for personal agency, be it romantic or professional, repeatedly denied by her husband Willy. This is a struggle that LGBTQ+ people often face in their lives. Those who say that they love us, or who have promised to love unconditionally, are often the same ones seeking to control our behaviors and to deny us the freedom to be ourselves.

Colette's own coming out is represented realistically. The path is almost never clear for LGBTQ+ people and we see that Colette's path is winding, hesitant, and exciting. We see how absolutely delighted and satisfied she is to seethingly tell her husband that she is attracted to women. This is perhaps the first time she has ever admitted this to anyone in her life. We see her nervousness as she calls on Georgie for the first time, timidly walking up to the door unsure is she is really going to do this. We see her excitement at finally finding another woman to share herself with. And most importantly we see how her confidence grows as she begins to really find herself. 

There is one other important aspect of coming out that the film portrays accurately; the importance of meeting like minded people who can help guide you as you discover your true self.  Colette find this in Mathilde de Morny who his better known by her nickname Missy. An artist and aristocrat, Missy flouts convention by dressing in masculine garb and being an open lesbian.

Colette is immediately drawn to Missy and the two begin a serious romance. One afternoon at Colette's country house, Missy opens up to her about her gender dysphoria. She explains how one day as a child she tried on her brother's school uniform and felt right for the first time in her life. This a moment that many transgender people go through as they discover themselves. The film portrays Missy as a real, complex character who is capable of loving and being loved. It's a wonderful portrait of a transgender person.

Later Colette even corrects Willy when he refers to Missy with female pronouns. Colette insists that Willy use he/him and gender Missy correctly. In the film this presented within the greater context of Colette's rebellion against Willy's manipulative and controlling nature. But it was wonderful to see a film stress the importance of correctly gendering trans people. Willy also states that in the world everything is either feminine or masculine (perhaps using the French language as a basis). So if that is the case what to make of Willy? 

Despite Willy's insistence, Colette rejects the idea that everything must be either masculine or feminine. Like Missy, she begins to crossdress, wickedly flaunting a man's suit while Willy rolls his eyes. Colette even goes out on the town while wearing the suit, risking arrest for crossdressing. We see her beginning to find the power that comes with blurring gender lines and taking control her own presentation. She'll now longer acquiesce to being Willy's little farm girl or school girl.

Throughout the film, Colette journey to discover and accept her true self sexually and gender-wise is fully intertwined with her own rebellion against her husband's authority over her. Colette finds herself suffocated by the legal situation she's in. As a woman she has no rights; over her work, over her household, over her finances, over where she goes and who she sees. She has to depend on her spendthrift gambler of a husband for financial support, even as he makes all his money off her writing and refuses to give her credit. As she begins to accept herself as a queer woman she becomes more confident, bold, and rebellious.

In a satisfying turn of events, Colette finds the strength to divorce Willy and leave him for good. She and Missy go on tour with a dramatic performance of their own creation. The play is openly queer, so much so that it causes a riot on its opening night (caused by some agitators who came specifically to cause trouble).  Queerness and agency go hand in hand in Colette. Ultimately her story is one of finding her true self, a journey which also gives her the courage to break free of her controlling husband. In the end Colette owns her work, her presentation, her gender, and her sexuality. 

It should be stated though that the film looks only at the rich and upper class of Parisian society. While there are maids or clerks in the background, we don't learn their stories or follow their journeys. The characters we meet are all members of the upper class. While the salon society of fin de siècle Paris was more or less accepting of queer people, entry to this society was provided only to the upper classes, and the wealthy. They accepted queerness only within certain class limits. We see Missy, a transgender woman as well, and male characters who are coded gay (although it's not explicitly stated). But these characters are all wealthy and white. Missy's unconventional gender presentation is only accepted because they are titled and descended from royalty. Colette, the child of rural farmers, is only able to be openly queer by marrying into this society.

Colette is an exquisitely shot film chock full with beautiful scenery, elegant costumes, and fantastic performances. I personally love the idea fin de siècle society; all salons and creative people at parties with a simmering queer undertone. Like Weimar Berlin in the 1920s, I think that I am naturally drawn to periods of time and places where people were creative and queerness was open and accepted.

While I think that Colette presents a realistic portrait of queerness and coming out, I am unsure of exactly how realistically it did present the the actual people's lives, unfamiliar as I am with the real people the film is based on. I sympathized with Colette. There were times when I found myself infuriated by Willy. I wish there we saw more of Missy as that would have been a really interesting character to explore.

Still, I enjoyed the movie and its depiction of LGBTQ+ characters. I loved that the film portrays not a strict "queer" role but rather that messy smear of a rainbow that LGBTQ+ people often exist in. Is Missy a transgender man? Gender queer? Non-binary? It's left somewhat open and it is the same with Colette's queerness. Often as LGBTQ+ people find themselves they try on various roles or blend the roles as needed to find their own place. And the film shows that coming out is, ultimately, about agency.

My only real issue with the movie (and it's a tiny one) is that it almost felt like a little bit like superhero origin story. We follow a young and naive farm girl as she discovers her queerness and agency. I wish we would have spent more time on the older, more confident, more daring Colette. Because she was amazing. Here's hoping for the sequel.

Colette with Missy. 

Friday, March 30, 2018

Lady Bird: A Transgender Girl's Thoughts

When watching Moonrise Kingdom recently my partner noted how much the character of Suzi reminded her of me. She said she could image that if I had been cis I would have been like her when I was twelve. Suzi loves music, her cat, and loves to read. She is also rebellious and has trouble behaving and fitting in. She's a misfit. So like me in many ways.

That conversation reminded me of my first viewing of Lady Bird. After watching the trailer, I bought tickets for the first ever public screening of the movie. This is because my absolute favorite genre of film is independent drama/comedies with a female protagonist. Plus I love Greta Gerwig's writing and actress Saoirse Ronan. Because we were the first to see Lady Bird, we even got to take marketing surveys.

Lady Bird tells the story of Christine "Lady Bird" McPherson, a high school student growing up in Sacramento, California where she attends an all-girl Catholic school. While she dreams of one day moving away to somewhere exciting like New York City, her family's money struggles make this unlikely. This is only one source of conflict between Lady Bird and her mother, a nurse who is constantly working hard to provide for the family. The film follows Lady Bird as she navigates her senior year of high school and a deteriorating relationship with her mother.

Even on first viewing, I loved Lady Bird.  It was the movie that let me, for a brief moment, get a glimpse of what my teenage years would have been like had my chromosomes not screwed me over. The character of Lady Bird is much like teenage me in so many ways that watching it was almost eerie. I grew up in the boring town of Augusta, GA and dreamed of one day moving away to somewhere more exciting. During my teen years my family was struggling with money and I was often in conflict with my own mother. Beyond that, Lady Bird's own personality, her style of teenage rebellion, and the way she handles school, dating, friends, and family was quite remarkably similar to how I was during those tumultuous years. As a transgender woman who never got to experience my teens as a girl, Lady Bird gave me a glimpse into what that might have looked like had I been cis.

When we first meet Lady Bird she's in the middle of an on-going argument with her mom about college. The two had just finished a visit to check out the nearby State school where tuition will be affordable for the cash-strapped family. This is abhorrent to Lady Bird. None of this is what she wants. She wants to go to public school instead of Catholic school. And she wants nothing more than to be done with high school so she can get out of her boring hometown and go somewhere exciting.

One of my most common arguments with my parents involved my religious schooling. I wanted nothing more than to go to public school like regular people did. My senior year was filled, not with bittersweet nostalgia like so many of my classmates, but with an incessant itch to get the heck out of high school so I could leave "Disgusta," Georgia and could go somewhere more exciting. For Lady Bird it was New York and its culture, and for me it was Athens, Georgia and its music scene.

The movie kicks off at the beginning of the school year, Lady Bird's senior year. She has been sent to the principal's office in response to her campaign for student council president. A perennial losing candidate, Lady Bird's campaign is mostly a way to show off her weirdness so she can stand apart from the other students. Her campaign posters are bizarre and I can't help but be reminded of my own weird student council runs. Like Lady Bird, I often found myself in the principal's office to explain my not-quite-against-the-rules antics. While my posters didn't consist of googly eyed lady birds or birds with human heads, they did have drawings of winged bowling balls and penguins dancing with spoons.

Being a teenager is really hard. What makes is even harder is that no one tells you how to do it. When you're slightly weird and don't fit in well the other kids can be brutally merciless. You can either emulate the popular kids and aspire to be one of them, you can be hopelessly out of touch with cool, or you can rebel against everything popular and embrace your weird side. You can forge your own identity that says to the popular kids "You're not so great. I don't even want to sit at your lunch table." You feel like you have nothing but your own weirdness to set you apart so you embrace it as a way to cope. Lady Bird portrayed this perfectly.

Of course Lady Bird, like all teens, is not immune to the allure of popularity. When her brash attitude and penchant for getting in trouble catch the eye of the school's richest, prettiest, most popular girl, Lady Bird takes the opportunity to lie about her family's income so she can work her way into the popular crowd. Ultimately though, she realizes that she doesn't feel at home with the popular kids and rejects them, preferring to go back to her true best friend back in the unpopular camp.

Lady Bird is, like many a frustrated teenager, rebellious. But she's not a bad kid either. We see her shoplift a magazine, smoke cloves, cigarettes, and pot, and drink. She also steals a teacher's grade book to help cheat in math class. She lies, she fights with her parents, but she's not really bad. They're all pretty normal teen actives. What I most loved about this was that Greta Gerwig managed to capture just the right level of rebelliousness and badassery.

Like Lady Bird, I wasn't a bad kid, though I did rebel plenty. But it was also mostly in normal teenage ways. I smoked cigarettes and cloves (it was the Nineties, cloves were a thing), drank but not too often, cheated in school but not too often, fought with my parents, and the only drug I ever touched was pot. It's so rare that a film captures just the right level of teenage rebellion. So often teenage rebels are depicted as truly bad kids who live to break every rule. But most teens aren't like that. Lady Bird is realistically badass. She rebels not because she's bad, but because she's frustrated by rules, by her parents, by her own struggles with school, and by her family's working class situation.

Money is something that's always on the mind of Lady Bird's mom. And she never lets Lady Bird forget that the family is on a budget and having trouble making ends meet. The family's economic situation is a constant source of tension. Her mom won't let Lady Bird go to an East Coast school because local schools are more affordable. Lady Bird's mom has taken it upon herself to be the disciplinarian and hard ass in the family, something she does with loads of guilt-inducing, passive aggressive comments about Lady Bird's work ethic, appearance, habits, and friends.

As I grew up in a family that was struggling with money, I find this easily relatable. My own mom took on the exact same role and never let up with passive aggressive criticisms or attempts to make my sister and I feel guilty about every little failing. I knew well what it was to feel out of place and rejected by my peers because my family didn't have a lot of money. Like Lady Bird's family, we shopped at thrift shops, drove older cars, and lived with a mom who never let us forget how much she was always sacrificing for us (whether we asked for it or not).

When Lady Bird does finally get to college, her dad gives her a gift that lets her realize, perhaps for the first time, that her mom really loves her but didn't know how to show it in a way that Lady Bird understood. Ultimately, as I grew up, I came to realize that my own mother wasn't the horrible person I thought she was. She loved me in her own way but was in a difficult place herself and unable to show it well. I was able to come out to my mother and she has accepted me as her daughter. And I think that Lady Bird, once she grows up, would be able to have a similarly improved relationship with her mom. 

Lady Bird is amazing movie; a funny, honest, realistic, and emotional look at coming of age and how that effects the relationship of a mother and her daughter. As a transgender woman who transitioned as an adult, I didn't get to experience coming of age as a girl or a mother-daughter relationship. That's why Lady Bird resonated so much with me. The character of Lady Bird, her personality, and her family, reminded me so much of myself that it was eerie. It was eerie how closely it mirrored my own teen years. Watching this movie was like looking into an alternate universe where I could see what my life had been like had I been cis. No other movie or media had let me see that and so Lady Bird will now be one of my absolute favorites.

Friday, February 16, 2018

3 Generations: A Transgender Girl's Thoughts

3 Generations tells the story of Ray (Dakota Fanning), a sixteen year old transgender man living with his mother (Naomi Watts) and grandmother (Susan Sarandon) in New York City. Despite presenting and living his life as a male, Ray longs to start hormone replacement therapy so that he can truly be who he is. Unfortunately for Ray, the doctor won't prescribe HRT without both parents' approval. In order to get his father's signature on the form, Ray seeks out the dad who has abandoned him and his mother to start a new life with a new family. 

As the story unfolds, we get a long look at Ray's everyday life. In this the film presents a fairly realistic depiction of gender dysphoria. We see Ray wishing, longing for the time when he can really live as his true self. He feels the need to fit in and pass. And he loves the idea of people who will only ever know the real him. We are also shown Ray struggle with bullying and violence, both serious issues facing transgender people in the real world.

It was also interesting to see the parent's point of view. In the film, we see a mom that is trying to both cope with her new son's reality while simultaneously mourning her daughter. When I transitioned, it was surprising to me that cis people in my life felt like they were both losing and gaining a person in their life. In my mind I would always be the same person. Still, the mother in 3 Generations is supportive, loving and it's realistic to show that she is able to be supporting and loving while still struggling with the idea of her child's transition. 

3 Generation's Ray is one of the most realistic depictions of a transgender character I've yet seen in media. His strong desire to start HRT so that he can live as his true self is handled well and easily relatable for any transgender viewer. The depiction of his dysphoria is quite well done and I couldn't help but smile when (spoiler alert) he is finally able to start HRT and celebrates the important milestone with his family.

Unfortunately, the entire plot hinges on the idea that a kid in New York City is only able to get on hormones if both parents consent. This is an issue in 3 Generations because Ray's father is not in contact with him. In fact the father has moved on and is living in another town with a new family.
This felt rather contrived and ridiculous as there are plenty of single parents with sole custody. For some reason the idea of going to another doctor is never brought up so that Ray is forced into a confrontation with his absent father. It felt highly contrived and these characters deserved a more realistic and natural plot. 

Another issue that I had with the film was the grandmother character. She's a lesbian living with her partner in the East Village yet when it comes to transgender people she's downright hostile. Now, I get that some older people are not quite hip with the times, but they literally created a Blue State liberal stereotype of a character then make her act in a way that makes no sense for her background and surroundings. It would have made more sense to have her be straight or to perhaps set the film in another city if the filmmakers wanted that hostility to part of the script. It would have made more sense. 

Also, I should say that I am a fan of Dakota Fanning. I especially liked her in Neon Demon where she turned in an amazingly textured performance. So, I was disappointed that she didn't commit to the role by cutting her hair or growing out her brows. Throughout the movie she has perfectly plucked and shaped brows along with a terrible looking short hair wig. It doesn't affect the overall movie but I was disappointed in the actress's choice. And of course that's a separate issue from the possibility of the filmmakers casting an actual transgender man in the role. But that's a whole other discussion. 

Ultimately 3 Generations presents some remarkably realistic elements of transgender life, but it's a dull movie with a contrived plot and some unlikable characters. The screenplay could have used another couple of drafts and they could have hired a transgender man to play Ray. But the character of Ray is well-written and realistically portrayed. It's just a shame that he couldn't have been in a better movie. 

Friday, October 6, 2017

Supergirl: A Transgender Girl's Thoughts

Like I think a growing number of Americans, I'm kind of tired of superheroes. It seems like there's way too many TV shows and movies and  they're all pretty formulaic. But, I had run out of shows to watch, and I thought I'd give the CW's Supergirl series a try. At first, I thought it was a bit of a Buffy the Vampire Slayer wannabe (BtVS is one of my absolute favorite shows ever). But the performances on Supergirl were good, especially Melissa Benoist who you could just tell was having a ton of fun with the role, so I kept watching. There's no more Buffy after all, so even a watered down version was worth sticking with. Needless to say, I was wrong and I got hooked pretty quickly. And now Supergirl is a show I love. It's brought me to tears many times with its amazing portrayals of strong women. 

The biggest reason that I love this show is that it has used its story lines as metaphors to discuss important social issues like the refugee crisis, immigration, xenophobia, and of course, LGBTQ rights. With the third season of the show coming out soon, I thought this would a good time to discuss how I think Supergirl touches on the transgender experience in ways that really resonated me with me, even if that wasn't necessarily the intention of the writers. 

In the first episode we meet mild-mannered executive assistant Kara Danvers. The only thing is that Kara has a secret that she can't tell anyone. No, she's not transgender. She's actually an alien from the planet Krypton. Unlike her famous cousin, she's not out as who she really is. For her whole life, Kara has had to hide who she really is. But, when a plane carrying her sister threatens to crash, Kara realizes that she can no longer hide her true self from the world.

We then see Kara struggle to find the courage to come out to friends and coworkers. We see how being her real self changes her relationships with those in her life. She's overjoyed to be able to come out to her best friend Winn, but worries about what will happen if she comes out to her crush James or her boss Ms. Grant. Kara's own sister thinks it's a bad idea to come out, that people will judge her or that she won't be safe.

Kara struggles to accept who is she really is and to understand what that means for her identity. When her loved ones tell her hide her true identity, when the world seems to hate her for who she is, we see Kara work to meet every challenge with a smile.

As a transgender woman, Kara's story in the first few season one episodes really resonated with me. When Kara felt the joy of coming out and being her real self with her friends, that reminded me of the happiness I felt coming out transgender to my friends, or being able to hang out and let people see the real me. And yes, I know the fear and worry of having to hide who you are. If my boss finds out will I lose my job? If my significant other finds out will they dump me?

And of course, there's also something else that a lot of non-LGBT people don't see. Despite the challenges in our lives, we are often expected to face them with a smile. And that isn't always easy.

Later in season two, Kara's friend Winn began dating Lyra, an alien woman. After they hook up the first time, Lyra is worried that Winn isn't really interested in her a person, just as an experience. Apparently a lot of guys in the show's universe like to hook up with an alien girl just once as a fetish but aren't actually interested in treating them like equals. It reminded me of the guys in our universe who are quite affectionately called "tranny chasers." And I've known of many transgirls who have worried about being treated as an object or check mark on a list rather than as a human being. Thankfully Winn was not that kind of guy and actually liked Lyra as an equal.

With the story of Kara’s sister Alex, Supergirl gave viewers the most realistic coming out story arc I've ever seen. Alex develops feelings for another woman Maggie. And while Alex is pretty sure she knows she likes Maggie, she also isn't really sure what liking Maggie would mean for her life.

My heart broke watching Alex explain to Maggie how she had never really liked dating or being intimate with men and thought that that was just how she was. Slowly, we see Alex come to terms with her own feelings. As Alex comes out, we see how coming out means risking rejection from important people in our lives, be they romantic partners, family members or others. Actor Chyler Leigh did such a great job that almost every other scene in this story arc brought me to tears.

What Supregirl really did correctly, and I think uniquely, was show a character who was confused. Too often, when a character comes out we see someone who absolutely knows they're gay and fully understands what that means. But for many LGBTQ people, coming out is a long, slow process that starts with confusion, and then proceeds to only more confusion.

When Alex comes out to her sister Kara, she seems to answer almost every one of Kara's questions with a "I don't know." Coming out doesn't come with a guide or a road map and neither do our identities. I grew up knowing I felt something, but without having the language to really be able to express what it meant to feel gender dysphoria or be transgender. If I would have honestly answered the question "Are you gay?" I would have had to say "I don't know." Figuring out who you are is a long and difficult process and I love that Supergirl showed how messy and difficult this process really can be.

Growing up in a marginalized group, finding positive media portrayals of your group can be nearly impossible. In that vacuum, metaphors can become an important surrogate for a discussion on the struggles marginalized groups face. So I've always found transgender themes in music, or movies, or TV shows whether or not they were there on the surface. In Supergirl I found a show that I think really resonated with what I was feeling as a transgender woman. And I'm looking forward to seeing what the third season brings.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Being Transgender at Hogwarts

Harry Potter author JK Rowling has not shied away from her beliefs in LGBT equality. Though not mentioned in the text, she has admitted that she wrote key characters, such as Hogwarts Headmaster Albus Dumbledore, as gay. When asked by a fan if she thought that Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry was a safe place for LGBT students, she replied that of course it was. 

But is Hogwarts, and the rest of the Wizarding World shown to us in the Harry Potter series,  really all that friendly to LGBT people? Here, we'll focus mainly on transgender individuals within this universe. How are they they treated and how is their gender dysphoria addressed? Do transgender people exist in the Harry Potter books? There are no specifically transgender characters, and JK Rolwing has yet to announce such a thing on Twitter (though if she were planning to do such a thing, I would hope it was Luna Lovegood, just because she's my favorite character in the series). 

Rowling has, in tweets, hinted that transgender people exist in this world and that they might use magic to address their dysphoria. “All I’ve done so far this week is change three characters’ genders," she wrote "And I still don’t know whether their current genitalia are permanent.” Now, gender has nothing to do with genetalia, but the fact that she's stated that her characters' genders are not set in stone could imply that there are transgender kids in Hogwarts and that these kids are capable of using magic to deal with their dysphoria. I mean, you can't have LGBT kids Hogwarts without T kids right? But what it is like being one of those transgender kids? 

The Wizarding World of the Harry Potter books does seem quite conservative. Or should we rephrase that to "incredibly conservative?" Slavery still exists and is practiced even by Hogwarts. Minorities like werewolves are openly oppressed. The Ministry of Magic seems to entirely ignore the concept of human rights. Accused criminals are not given due process and the only punishment handed out is life in prison where the accused are subject to continued torture. In fact, the entire Ministry of Magic seems to be run with a Medieval  mindset, despite the series taking place in the 1990s. It's clear that the Wizarding World had not yet caught up with the rest of the UK when it came to liberal values such as equality.

We see this also in the name of the school that Harry and his friends attend. It's the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Gender differences are highlighted in the very name of institution. Terms like wizards and witches retains a hetero and cis normative view of gender. Boys are wizards. Girls are witches. There's no option for non-binary or gender queer magic users. We don't see single use restrooms. Instead they are all divided into male and female. Perhaps a gender queer student could use the Room of Requirement when they wanted privacy, but that clearly seems unfair.

So in a world where the gender binary rules, where the bureaucracy is unwieldingly byzantine, and where people have few (if any) rights, how does a transgender kid go about becoming their true self? Would they become forever stuck in front of the Mirror of Erised, staring endlessly at a reflection of themselves as their true gender? Or would they more likely turn to magic and use one of the various spells, incantations, and charms that can bend reality itself?

First off, there are the healing spells. Episkey can heal minor wounds and Vulnera Sanentur is a more powerful healing spell that can be used to repair more grievous injuries. We also see the Oculus Reparo, a type of mending charm, used to quickly and easily fix broken glasses. Could a tap from the wand and an uttering of Genus Reparo fix a transperson's gender too? Would healing or fixing erase dysphoria, making the person happily cis, or would it transform them into their preferred gender? It might depend on the skill of the spell caster, so you'd be better off getting help from Hermione and maybe leaving Ron out of it.

Would a Switching Spell allow one to switch out body parts for more preferred ones? It does allow Neville Longbottom to turn his ears into cacti. Could it allow one to turn a penis into a vagina, for instance? Again, it might depend on the skill of the magic user in question. The more powerful spells do seem to be more difficult after all. Luckily, though, there are a few more powerful spells that young Hogwarts students could turn to.

Metamorphmaguses like Nymphadora Tonks are described as rare, but a transfiguration spell seems a good bet. In the books these spells are described as being extremely difficult and dangerous. One slightly incorrect movement could cause the subject to turn into something else entirely. Though it really can't be that difficult, as we see mere students using it for pranks. There is however, a risk of getting stuck in your transformed state, which would be great it you do a good job and transform yourself into say, a female version of you. But if it goes wrong, you could be stuck as something horrible forever. So perhaps transfiguration is better left to only the best transgender witches, wizards and other magic users.

One other option of course polyjuice potion, the magical elixir which allows the imbiber to assume the complete physical appearance of another person. It can change your age, your height, and even your sex. We're told that it's difficult to make, but, when brewed by a skilled potions-master, it can last for a full day or more. It can't be that difficult to whip up a quick batch of polyjuice though. After all, we see Hermione make an effective batch in only her second year. What transgender kid wouldn't want their own batch of polyjuice potion?

Polyjuice potion does however present a major ethical question. It can't turn you into, say a female version of your assigned-male-at-birth self. It only turns the individual into a copy of an already existing person. Not only that, but making the potion requires using the other person's body parts, usually hair. In the one case we see of someone living as another person, they had actually kidnapped their subject to ensure they had a daily source of hair at their disposal.

Even if no kidnapping were involved, how would you feel if a classmate, even a close friend, decided to live as you? What would you do if classmate asked for your hair so that they could look exactly like you? Would you be flattered or, more likely, completely creeped out? What if they stole your hair from the Hogwarts barber shop? Would it feel like a violation? I think it would.

Perhaps a transgender kid would need to have a particularly close friend they could ask. It would probably need to be a quite selfless friend. Maybe Ginny, stuck in a house full of boys, wouldn't mind if Ron approached her, explained his deep feelings, and asked if he could have a bit of her hair every day so he could live as her twin sister. It's a tough question, and I think that it presents a lot of challenges to any transgender kid who plans to go the polyjuice potion route. And it also presents some serious challenges to any donor.

So are there no really good options for a young transgender Hogwarts student? Though JK Rowling has never discussed it, I would hope that any good and decent professor like Dumbldore or Minerva McGonagall would be willing to help any young Hogwarts student who came to them expressing transgender feelings. Perhaps they would then send an owl to the student's parents, explaining the situation. I'd like to think that even if you had terrible parents like the Malfoys, Dumbledore would still let the student take on their true form during their time at Hogwarts, even if their parents didn't agree. That seems like something Dumbledore would do, perhaps with a sly smile and a "We shall keep this within the walls of Hogwarts for the time being, and of course Hogsmead too." Then he would would make a deft move with his wand and and say "Revelare verum genus!" And in the end, all would be well.