Friday, March 31, 2017

To Pen Name or Not to Pen Name?

A couple weeks ago I had a nightmare where I was doxxed. In the dream it was kinda my fault 'cause I stole someone's laptop, but it was terrifying to watch the screen as some anonymous person mocked me with my own personal information as they found more and more. Sadly, doxxing isn't just a nightmare. It's a real possibility especially when a woman speaks her mind and especially when she speaks her mind online.

Online I've generally always used a pen name. At first this was because I wanted to present female on the internet and it's normal for the people in the MtF and related communities to do so. At the time Buffy the Vampire Slayer was my favorite show and was in its third season. One of that season's main villains (though not the Big Bad) was Faith the evil vampire slayer. As I was a big fan of the show and a big fan of Faith, I decided to pick the name Faith.

Better than Drusilla at least.

Da Brooke (or De Brook, or some variation thereof) was the last name of an acquaintance in college. I just always liked it. It sounded fancy and foreign and sophisticated. So I adopted that and became Faith DaBrooke. There never was a middle name. 

Faith DaBrooke worked for me and still does as a pen name. I've self-published a book, run a blog, a YouTube series and a podcast all under that name. It's how most people on the internet tend to know me. But, I'd never planned for Faith DaBrooke to be my real, legal name. When I finally decided to complete the name change process, I picked a new name, one that was right for me. I thought long and hard about it, especially about the middle name. I like my real name. It's a good name. And I even decided, after a long internal debate, to keep my last name. 

Now that I've legally changed my name, more and more people online are starting to know me as my real name. In fact I no longer have a Faith DaBrooke email address so when people email me I usually reply with my real name. Hopefully it's not too confusing for people.

Recently, I was asked to take part in a local event to celebrate the LGBT community and the organizer who had invited me asked me how I would like to be listed on the invitation. And I had to sit there and think "how do I want them to list me?" As my real name since I'm the real person who's been out and involved in the trans community or as my fake persona pen name which far more people would recognize? It's a tough call and it's what really got me thinking on the pen name situation.

There would be some benefits to ditching the pen name. For one, I've not yet shared my Faith DaBrooke persona with a lot of friends and that makes it hard to share my writing, podcast and other things. Then again I don't really want to share all my writings or my podcast or my videos with my mom. It would definitely simplify things quite a bit for me. Plus there's something I like about simply being known for who I am now. I don't have to pretend any more. This is me. This is who I am. When you read my blog or watch my videos or listen to my podcast that's me. It's not a character I'm playing. It's just who I am. When I march in a protest or write my representatives or speak out as a transgender woman that's me. That's who I am.

Now there are potential issues with being out as just me. My real last name is fairly unique and unfortunately it makes me really easy to locate. Right now with my pen name it would take a fairly determined doxxer to figure out my personal details. I certainly wouldn't want to make it easier for them. And I don't really want my extended family (who I virtually never talk to) harassed with messages about their transgender daughter.

Partly, I just want to be me. But I also want to be safe. So I'm not sure how I want to go. For now I'll probably keep erring on the side of safety. The thing about it is that once you're out - you're out. There's no putting the toothpaste back in the tube. But we'll see.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Why I Dislike the Term "TERF."

If you've spent any time in the transgender community you've probably heard the term TERF at least once. And no, it's not the transgender equivalent of the toy gun that shoots foam darts.

Like all girls, transgirls use Rebelle brand foam dart guns.

TERF is an acronym for "Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminist." You can read a little more about in on the Geek Feminism Wiki or the Rational Wiki, but the essential idea is that some women who self-identify as feminists believe that gender is more inherent to birth and that gender transition and transgenderism are invalid concepts. They believe that transgender women are decidedly not women and that transgender women are just men who are invading the last bastions of female safety. The women who espouse these beliefs do not like to be called "TERFs." Though perhaps it was best summed in this tasteless and ignorant comment by Germaine Greer “Just because you lop off your dick and then wear a dress doesn’t make you a fucking woman.”*

First off, they don't actually lop your dick off, I mean, they actually disassemble it and reassemble into a new shape. It's like a Transformer! Okay, but I digress.

When it comes to people who espouse ideas like Ms. Greer's I definitely disagree with them for a variety of reasons. I think that like many attacks on transgender people, these are coming from a place of ignorance where the attacker seems to know virtually nothing about the reality of transgender experience. Let me also say that I vehemently disagree that anyone has the right to claim themselves as the sole gatekeeper of womanhood.

But, I wouldn't call them a TERF. The term TERF is a pejorative and its a term that those people reject to the point of taking offense. Calling them any derogatory name is an unnecessary ad hominem attack that dehumanizes them, groups them all, makes them easy to dismiss and shuts down any possible conversation. If we want these people to see us as complex individuals, then it's only fair that we endeavor to see them the same way.

I do think there is validity in the idea that cis women have a different experience than trans women. Yes, I think we are all women, but we are different. Many trans women have experienced male privilege and this does color our perception of the world. Trans women do experience the world differently than cis women do. And I would vehemently disagree with any trans women who claims that trans and cis women have the same experience. Though I also disagree that this fact means that trans women aren't real women.

Poor women and rich have a different experience. American women and Mongolian women have a different experience. A woman with cerebral palsy experiences the world differently than an able bodied woman. Our different experiences do not make us more or less worthy of being called women. There is no platonic ideal, some imaginary "woman" to which all other beings claiming to be women must be compared and judged to pass or fail.

So, with that in mind, I would never begrudge anyone's desire to say that there is meaning in their experience. A woman like Ms. Greer finds value in her experience as a cis woman. But that value shouldn't diminish anyone else's ability to find value in their own experience as any type of woman. Each of us has a unique experience and each of those experiences is special. It's a perspective on the universe that will never exist again. But not one of us is in the right when they say that their experience is more special or more valuable than another's experience.

If a group of cis women who have shared similar experiences want to have a meeting or a group where they can get together and share their experience with similar people I find it hard to disagree with that. So when cis women want to have an event for only cis women (say a music festival in Michigan), I am hard pressed to find a reason to say "no, you have to include me." I would of course point out that policing such a policy presents a huge opportunity to make a lot of blunders in how they treat people and I would disagree if, in their attempt to create a space for themselves, they start treating people, anyone, badly.

Now, I'm sure many transgender people are going to disagree with me. I think the most common argument would be that any situation that excludes us simply because we're transgender helps create and fuel an environment where we are discriminated against. Trans people, they'd argue, are already discriminated against quite a bit, and we should fight against anything that can contribute to more discrimination. It's a powerful argument.

So, what? Do I agree with both sides? You can't do that can you? Isn't that just a cop out? Here's why I don't think it is. I think that cis women (or any group of women) have the right to have their own spaces so long as they don't create a policing policy that hurts people and so long as they don't deny the validity of anyone else's experience. You want to call it the Michigan Cis Women's Musical Festival and make it invitation only? Knock yourselves out. But when you call it an event for women and then deny trans women entry because you deny that they are women? That's where I think the line is crossed.

And I think that trnas people should absolutely fight against discrimination. But I think they should also take a close look so they don't, in their zeal, deny someone else a safe space to celebrate common experiences. Inclusion is a fantastic thing. We should all be more inclusive. But sometimes people do need a space where they can share with people who have had a similar experience. Just as an able bodied person like myself shouldn't demand inclusion in a space for people with cerebral palsy, sometimes trans people shouldn't demand inclusion into every single cis woman's space. And so no one comes after me with pitchforks, let me it clear that the exclusion is not always discriminatory, but it absolutely is discriminatory when trans women are denied a space that is clearly described as being for "all women." It helps our cause to know the difference.

It's my opinion that we all, cis women and trans women, have way more in common than we might realize and we have much bigger enemies than each other. I will always argue for listening to each other, respecting each other and trying to work together. Calling each other names and denying each other validity, dehumanizing each other - none of this helps anyone. The world is nuanced and so should our dialogue be.

*And I should just say, this is going off what I've read. If I am wrong, please point me to a better source of information.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Transitioning in My Mid-Thirties

Yesterday, I broke down crying and my partner held me and comforted me. It had been a really hard day and a really hard week. I felt like I didn't pass which reduced my confidence to abyssal levels.  I was feeling overwhelmed, I was feeling like I was a freak, that people were staring at me, that people thought I was a pathetic joke, that I'd never pass or be a real woman. I felt like I was still faking this, faking my life, and forcing friends and coworkers to have to play along with my delusions. I had basically stopped going outside unless I absolutely had to, turning into a bit of an agoraphobic recluse.

Then on top of all that my 37th birthday happened. At the last minute I even cancelled my own birthday event because I didn't want to go outside and have people stare at me. I didn't want anyone to see me. I couldn't stand the thought of being the center of attention. Instead I broke down crying. And, with tears in my eyes, I asked my partner if coming out was a mistake, if I should have waited until my hair was long or if I should even have come out at all.

It's been a rough week. It's been a seriously rough week. And I'm reaching the end of my first hundred days living full time. In a way it's felt 100% normal, but it's also been difficult. The problem is that the difficulties seem to build up until I reach a breaking point and then I fall apart. It's only happened once or twice. And this got me thinking. I've lamented not coming out in my 20s, back when I was younger, skinnier, prettier. But I wonder now if I would have had the strength to deal with it back then. Was my mid-thirties the right time to come out? What's it feel like transitioning in your 30s?

First off, I do get jealous of younger transgender people, especially those who managed to transition early and are young and beautiful. I follow a few of them on Instagram, some post on reddit. I'm jealous that they're transitioning when they're still young and skinny, with that high metabolism and perfect skin that only youth provides. I celebrate these girls, I'll always upvote, but I do get green with envy every time I see them with the tiny dresses, perfect hair, perfect makeup. Then again I get jealous of lots of cis women too.

Secondly, I am thankful that I didn't transition too late in life. I'm 37 and that's not old by any means. That's still prime. When I was in my 20s someone in their late 30s did seem ancient. But I think I still have lots of pretty years ahead of me. Plus I live in New York where 40 is the new 25. We are, in a way, a city of Peter Pans and I feel like I'm in a good place in life age wise. I'm really glad I didn't wait until I was in my 40s or 50s or 60s to transition. Some people do and that's great, but I'm glad I didn't have a lifetime of dreaming of transition only to do it so late in life that all I had to look forward to was life as a matron or a little old lady.

There are of course challenges at my age. Generally your mid to late thirties is when your metabolism starts slowing down and the weight starts becoming really easy to pile on. For me it started when I was 30 and quit smoking. It seemed like within a month of quitting I had managed to put on 30lbs and, though it's down to about 20 extra, it's still an issue because I feel like the skinnier you are the better you pass. Oh yeah, I'm gonna sound awful and be accused of age shaming and fat shaming for writing this but these are my natural thoughts. I do worry about my weight and I worry that my skin will get wrinkly and I worry that my upper arms'll go flappy and my jowls will droop. That's the general part of aging, but for a trans girl new to transition I worry that every sign of age makes it harder to pass and blend in.

But, there are also a lot of benefits to transition in your 30s as opposed to your 20s or teens. Right now in life I'm financially independent which means no bigoted parent can block my transition and no one is holding the purse strings over me. At this age I have a more mature knowledge of the world and of myself. Perhaps, and hopefully, I've crossed that line you reach as you age, the border where arrogance finally becomes confidence. By your 30s I think most people have become more aware of what's really important in life. We can control our emotions a little better, use better judgement and view the world through more realistic eyes. I have a much better job now than I did in my 20s and I feel like I'm in a better place in my life.

A few months ago, when I told one of my oldest NYC friends that I was officially transitioning she said it was great and that she totally supported me. And I thought back to a conversation we'd had ten or eleven years before and I said "Well, wait. When I told you I was seriously thinking about transition before you warned me that you thought it was a bad idea." And she was like "Yeah. Back then it was a bad idea. You weren't ready but now you're in a better place in life." I think she was right.

Transition is hard and it's going to be hard at any age. It's a huge life change. A major life change. You know that Holmes-Rahe Life Street Inventory? You've probably seen it:

Now, this was made before lots of people were transiting so they didn't put it in the scale. I'd say it's probably somewhere near the top though. Probably not as had as divorce or the death of a spouse, but probably worth at least 50 points or so. And your 30s is a good time to deal with an extra 50 points of stress. You're better equipped because you've seen more of the world, you know more about yourself and you know the difference between a defeat and a setback. Chances are you have a more robust support network and a higher paying job. Now, you do miss out on some beauty, but you don't miss out all of the beauty. You get lots of opportunity to be pretty as hell. So it's good. There are setbacks and breakdowns, but it's good. 

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

The Things I'm Super Thankful For

Years ago I remember attending a transgender meeting/support group/hangout that was mostly populated by college students and graduate students. And I remember that being one of the first times I heard the word "privilege" used as a quantifiable attribute that people had in various amounts. At the time I thought it was kind of a silly concept  a suffering measuring tool to be used to determine who had suffered the most and who had suffered the least and thus to rank people accordingly. I felt like it was unhelpful and unhealthy to sit there and have discussions about who had accumulated the most suffering and who had the least privilege.

Then later when I voiced this to my partner she helped me understand it better. She explained that privilege isn't about that. It's a tool that you can use to help reshape your own thinking so that you can be more sympathetic to other people. Identifying your own privilege helps you walk a mile in their moccasins or imagine others complexly. Having privilege, she said, is like playing a video game on Easy. And when you think about other people you have to think about what level they're playing the game on. Are they on Medium, Hard, Extreme?

It's a really good tool and a really healthy way to look at your own life.

I've been lucky. Seriously. I've been so lucky. I'm dripping with privilege and good fortune. Now, this isn't something I'm trying to brag about, but rather I thought it important to lay out all the unfair ways that I've benefited in this life. Sometimes you have to stop and look at how:

  • I was born American at a time when America was a safe, wealthy nation with many resources and a high quality of life index. 
  • Born to parents who were of European ancestry in a society dominated by such an ethnic group.
  • Born male, the sex provided with greater opportunities in my society.
  • Born healthy, both without acute illness or birth defects that could limit my learning, mobility or independence.
  • Born into a two parent home where book learnin' and creativity were valued. 
  • Born into a family of healthy people who had access to health and dental insurance
  • Lived a comfortable life and never wanted for anything beyond unnecessary consumer goods.
  • My romantic and sexual attractions to people were socially acceptable.
  • I had the benefit of a free government programs that allowed me to attend school for free and that gave me a full college scholarship. 
  • I had the means to move to a large, expensive city with diverse people and liberal values.
  • I faced no discrimination when applying for housing or a employment.
  • I had access to health insurance through my various jobs.
  • I had access to Callen-Lorde and supportive medical professionals when I chose to go on hormone replacement therapy.
  • I found an awesome partner who accepted me even after transition.
  • I had access to a job that doesn't discriminate against transgender people.

This was all stuff that I lucked into. None of these things were accomplishments, none were things I had to earn. All these were given to me freely and without obligation from my parents, family or society. It was all luck and nothing that I earned.

There are so many people, in other countries, heck in my own borough, who didn't have these privileges or this luck. And their lives are different because of that. While I was handed things, they had to work hard for access to education or housing or health care.

And I don't want to get preachy or political, but I think those of us with privilege do have an obligation to be compassionate and more understanding to those without. I think that's at the core of everything; morality, politics, even comedy. Really, I think almost every political debate can be seen through the lens of "Do what degree do the privileged owe the less privileged?"

Immigration, taxation, whether to intervene in a foreign war or genocide, prison reform, suffrage, foreign aid, public school funding. All of it comes down the question of how much privilege should the highly privileged give up to help those with less? Heck, I think even the transgender restroom issue is about those with cis privilege not wanting to give up their idea of comfort for the betterment of transgender people with less privilege.

There's not always an easy answer to that question of how much the privileged should give up for those less privileged. Karl Marx said they should give it all up. Ayn Rand would answer none of it. The rest of us are somewhere in the middle, though probably leaning to one side or the other. Issues can be complex and there isn't always an easy answer.

But the important thing is that privilege is not a scary word and if someone calls you out for your privilege, don't take offense. Take that as an opportunity to examine what you've been given in life and to be thankful for it. Maybe before you judge another person, take a moment to make your own list like the one above and see where that takes you.

Sorry, I don't mean to get political or preachy. I just hope this is something to think about.