Friday, April 28, 2017

My Final Coming Out Hurdles

Honestly, I don't even like hurdles. Or any sport for that matter. And yet here they are. A couple gigantic hurdles directly in front of my path and looming ever closer. So what are these final coming out hurdles? My in-laws. My partner Kath's parents and her family. Thus far this is the trickiest of them all. Previously, I came out to my sister and then to my mom. Both of those went really well and I feel like in both cases the relationships got a little closer after that.

Of course I haven't come out to my dad and my extended family on their side. For the most part I've already distanced myself from them quite a bit. Generally, I never really clicked with my extended family. Growing up, I was kind of an oddball, and I felt less loved and more tolerated at best. As I grew older this chasm grew wider until the point that I was actually quite happy to have a chasm there. I haven't seen them in probably ten or twelve years and I haven't spoken to my dad in over a year.

For the most part they are ultra-conservative, crazy evangelical religious and I'm, well, neither of those things. My aunt, for instance, works for Focus on the Family and is a quiverfull (a crazy Christian fringe belief that encourages having as many children as humanly possible). All my cousins were home schooled, as was my half-brother, so that they could be spared from unholy things like facts. You know, facts about biology, astronomy, cosmology, geology, climate change, history, etc. They are young earth creationists, they believe all the Founding Fathers were Christian fundamentalists who tried to create the US as a Christian theocracy, and they believe that climate change is a communist hoax. I grew up being told that people of all other religions were worshiping Satan, up to and including Catholics. My family, in a word, is fucking crazy. I'm happy to have nothing to do with these garbage people.

A part of me has considered coming out to them, just in case one of the many, many kids on that side of the family turns out to be LGBTQ. Then at least they would know that there was someone else in the family. Then again, I haven't actually been to a family gathering in over a decade, so I doubt they really remember me anyway. That side of my family is just not important to me.

My inlaws and my partner Kath's family are another matter. I feel like they are closer to me than my own family. I've spent countless holidays and important family milestones with them, I see them multiple times a year and I like them. What's more, while they are Christian, they showed me that not all Christians are crazy, bigoted assholes. That's important. My inlaws have accepted me into their family and I don't want that to change. They're good people and I like my partner's family a lot, including her siblings and their partners. I don't want to mess up my relationship with any of them.

Also, I don't want to hurt their relationship with their daughter. I don't want them to think their daughter was tricked by someone who misled her. I don't want them to see her as somehow suffering through this unbearable gender transition or see her as some failed woman who can't manage to land a "real man." So, this is super nervewracking because I'm not just outing myself as transgender, I'm also outing her as dating a transgender woman.

Thus, I find in my path, a gigantic hurdle, far larger than any I've faced before. Even worse, the inlaws are planning to visit in May and we're planning to visit them in June! So there's a deadline to this. It's been hanging over my head and I'm so terrified. Kath has been gently nudging me to come out to them because of the upcoming visits. Yes, I'm scared senseless, but I've been here before and one thing I've noticed is that all the moments I've been nervous for; coming out at work, to family, have all gone well in the end.

So here I stand. I've drafted a letter. It's similar to my others and follows this outline:
  1. Your daughter is the most important thing in the world to me. 
  2. I very much treasure my relationship with you. You are closer to me than my even my own family. 
  3. I very much want our relationship to continue or grow. 
  4. This makes me nervous. 
  5. I’m transgender. Yep. I know it’s weird. 
  6. I’ve been this way my whole life. Transition is not an easy decision. 
  7. I love your daughter more than anything. I love our life together. I treasure every moment with her. She is the best thing that has ever happened to me. She’s smart, funny, silly, adventurous, responsible, caring and all around wonderful. 
  8. I hope you can accept me.
  9. You are very important to me and Kath is very important to me. 
  10. Love, Faith! 
It's typed write now and saved. Before I send it I'll write it out on some nice stationary. Last year I actually went out and bought nice stationary and envelopes specifically for my various coming out letters. This one may end of being the final coming out letter I ever write. It would make me super happy to be able to let them see me as who I really am and to still be able to be a part of their family. And then I could totally get some great Millennium Park pictures in Chicago this June. Fingers crossed. 

Maybes my last coming out. Let's hope it goes well. Wish me luck.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Snow Days (Pics)

Life in NYC has it benefits.There's our beautiful skyline, a bajillion food options featuring the best of the world's cuisines, world-class museums, theatre and arts, a multitude of live music options that'll leave your ears ringing for days, lovely parks, history, new neighborhoods to explore, people who are accepting of weirdos like me. It's great to live here.

Except for one thing - the weather. NYC has the worst weather. It's cold and dark for half the year, it's scorched and humid for the other half and it rains constantly. We probably have around seven or eight perfect days each year. And of course those'll always happen on weekdays when you have important projects at work.

But, bad weather isn't all bad. Sometimes it can bring unexpected fun. That's right. The snow day. Snow days are great because you get up and suddenly don't have to go to work that day. And unlike a sick day you don't have that nagging Calvinist guilt about taking off (does everyone get that or is it just me?). It's usually too gross to go outside, you can't order in food, and you're basically just stuck in your house for a good ten or twelve long hours.

This year I ended up getting two surprise snow days. Because I'm me, my first thought was "Let's play around with makeup and get pictures!" Yes, that's what I did. Actually, the weekend before some friends of mine and I had gone thrifting all over the city and I'd found some great items like my new jean jacket and a perfect black A-line skirt from Theory. First thing, show those off for some nice pics!

Also picked up a new work skirt too. Because you can never have too many skirts. Then again, I actually have all my skirts doubled up on skirt hangers so maybe I do have too many. 

In my drawer, I had a pair of false eyelashes and though I didn't have anywhere to go, I thought it would be fun to try them out. Long, long ago I did fake eyelashes a lot more. But I lost interest after a few days pics' were completely ruined by me having applied one the lashes incorrectly. Luckily, this time I managed okay so I might try again some another time.

Also I thought it would be fun to try out one of my absolute favorite dresses. It's red, white and black chiffon and feels fantastic to wear. Unfortunately it's a little too dressy for work and it really only works in warm weather. But, I'm crazy, so I thought a snow day would be a fun time to try it out. So I did and also added in my Coach heels, which I also absolutely love, even though I can't quite wear them all day. Kath was nice enough to take some pics while I mugged for the camera.

When I attend the Spring Fever event at Callen-Lorde, I'm thinking of this outfit. Of course, that event is after work, so I'm not quite sure if I should wear this dress the whole day at work or try to change in the bathroom or what. No matter what I do, I'll definitely change into my heels outside the party so I can walk over in comfy shoes. 

Of course, Kath and I decided that, since we were looking pretty cute, we should make some Gender Rebels videos. We did and aren't quite sure what to do with them yet. Maybe a Patreon page goodie if we ever start a Patreon page. 

And of course because I'm crazy, we went out in a snow for a couple of pictures. And yes, I did this without a coat. Because, as I mentioned, I am crazy.

Then we later donned all our winter great because, while I am crazy, I'm not that crazy. 

Well, I hope you, my dear readers, don't mind this giant wall of photos. But I had a bunch and thought'd share. Hope you enjoyed them and don't worry, I'll post walls of text in the future too.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Silence of the Lambs: A Transgender Girl's Thoughts

Silence of the Lambs won the 1992 Academy Award for Best Picture. It became that oddest of commodities; a pop-culture phenomenon that featured kidnapping, cannibalism, sexual taboos and serial killers. It was parodied on Rosanne, The Simpsons and Animaniacs. It was the movie that made X-Files possible and launched a thousand procedural shows like NCIS, CSI and Bones. I remember being twelve or thirteen and joking with my parents about the fact that there was a kitchen wares store in the mall called Lecter's.

Because it was R-rated and featured so much content that was not for kids, I didn't see the movie until probably 11th or 12th grade. It was a great film; creepy, violent and with lots of suspense and surprises. It became one of my favorite movies. I love watching as Agent FBI Clarice Starling unravels the clues surrounding the identity of notorious serial killer Buffalo Bill with the help of the terrifying and enigmatic Hannibal Lecter.

But this movie is in a lot of peoples favorite movie lists. What is it like watching this movie as a transgender woman? Is the serial killer Buffalo Bill transgender? Does this movie imply that there is something inherently creepy and weird about transgender people, transgender women in particular? Does it paint us as freaks, mentally ill or even killers?

Gender is one of the major themes of Silence of the Lambs. This is established in one of the earliest scenes when we see our protagonist, FBI agent-in-training Clarise Starling sharply contrasted with her male peers. Here and throughout the film she is shown from a high angle designed to show her diminutive size as well as her vulnerability and powerlessness.

This deliberate choice continues throughout the film. We constantly see Clarice as she is treated as an object, as less than her male counterparts. Even the "nice" guys like her friends at the Smithsonian entomology department hit on her. Clarice can't walk through the airport without getting checked out as a object. Hannibal Lecter's presents her with a creepy niceness. In their discussions he alternately abuses her by talking about her sexually in an uncomfortable way or treats her nicely.

We, the audience, are meant to notice how sexism impacts every part of her life, as it does for most women in our society. It's the rare film that puts this on display and invites us to feel uncomfortable along with a female character.

As the film deepens the sexism is taken to the point of extreme vulgarity. In the prison, Multiple Miggs makes degrading comments about Clarice's genitals. Later Clarice is shown to be the object of Multiple Migg's masturbatory fantasies. He even goes so far as to assault her by throwing his semen on her in a humiliating and dehumanizing attack. We see Buffalo Bill's complete misogyny in the way he strips the humanity from his victims. He even uses the object-pronoun "it" to refer to them. To him they are nothing but objects to be used in the way that he sees fit  the ultimate misogyny.

Professionally, Clarice is not treated fairly and she encounters a great deal of sexism within her workplace. Her male boss chooses her to interview Lecter, putting her in a difficult and dangerous situation, specifically because of her naivety and vulnerability. They send her in blind, using her as a tool. Her naivety and vulnerability then ultimately don't belong to her. Her emotional state is something to be used by her employer when her male superior deems it necessary.

Throughout the film, Clarice is not taken seriously by her male counterparts. Her coworkers joke about female murder victims in a dehumanizing way. When visiting a crime scene in a rural area her FBI supervisor deliberately leaves her out of key discussions, justifying this by saying the local sheriffs wouldn't take her seriously. As a woman, Clarice must struggle to be seen as a competent professional.

As a transgender woman, I deal with institutionalized sexism just like any other woman in our society. I've dealt with having sixteen year old store clerks manspain things and talk down to me like I'm naive and ignorant. I've had many guys deliver their "niceness" with a good dollop of creepiness and a threatening undercurrent. Even in my own short five months working as a woman I've encountered new situations like men attempting to take credit for my work, my ideas being questioned - things that I didn't encounter when I presented male. Every day I deal with stares in public, with being an other, and you don't have to look any further than the editorial page or a comment section to know that trans women are quite often dehumanized in our society.

But I have lived with male privilege for a great deal of my life. While I've dealt with sexism, I've also been on the giving end of sexism, both intentionally and unintentionally. Upon repeated watchings of Silence of the Lambs I really started to notice how large a role gender and sexism played throughout the movie. It helped open my male privileged eyes to the pervasiveness of sexism and how it can effect people. As a transgender woman I've had the opportunity to watch and learn what not to do, but also to watch and relate with Clarice more as a character.

Now, the greater questions is, can I, as a transgender woman relate to the character of Buffalo Bill? Otherwise known as Jame Gumb. He uses a fake cast to make himself appear weak and lures women into his van. There he incapacitates them, takes them back to his basement and keeps them in a deep well. We come to learn that he is actually killing women in order to harvest their skin so that he can sew himself a "woman suit." He longs to put on this suit so he can become a woman. Certainly he is a horrible individual, but is this person presented as transgender?

While the above plot line is developing, we watch Gumb in his free time. He's shown putting on makeup and dancing naked with his genitals tucked between his legs. Though it looks less like he's attempting to present female and more like he's doing David Lee Roth cosplay. A similar scene with a character doing naked tucking was used in the little known film Different for Girls, It seems to be a sort of visual shorthand for a character's internal transgender thoughts. I know as a trans woman I've never danced in front of the mirror with a naked tuck, but maybe I'm abnormal (let me know in the comments).

Clarice and Lecter have a conversation about Gumb's pathology and potential transgender nature. Of course this was filmed in 1990 or 1991 so the word transsexual is used rather than transgender. Transsexual was more commonly in use at that time. Below are two Hannibal Lecter quotes from that conversation:

"Look for severe childhood disturbances associated with violence. Our Billy wasn't born a criminal, Clarice. He was made one through years of systematic abuse. Billy hates his own identity, you see, and he thinks that makes him a transsexual. But his pathology is a thousand times more savage and more terrifying."

"Billy's not a real transsexual, but he thinks he is. He tries to be. He's tried a lot of things I expect...I wouldn't surprised if Billy has applied for sex reassignment surgery at one or all of them, and been rejected." 

Okay, so the movie doesn't quite say that Jame Gumb is transgender, but it also leaves us with a potentially non-existent condition of "thinking you're transgender." In 1992 the current psychiatric bible was the DSM III R, which identified Gender Identity Disorder as a psycho-pathological condition with three subgroups; transsexualism, non-transexualism and other. Now, I'm not a psychologist or psychiatrist but then again neither is Silence of the Lambs author Thomas Harris. Is this character in the 'other' category?

What exactly does it mean that Jame Gumb only "thinks he is transsexual." It's hard to say, but I think it's implied that he is an individual who is deeply broken psychologically and has decided that becoming a woman will fix his problems. You could argue that, in the movie's world, Jame Gumb is a fake transsexual, but what does a real-life audience take away from that? I would worry that someone who already thinks transgender people are freaks may find it easy to ignore the "fake transgender" diagnosis and thus allow the character to reinforce their negative attitudes of trans people.

As a transgender woman, on my first viewing of this movie, my ears of course perked up at the mention of anything having to do with gender change. In a way that sort of made the notion of changing one's gender more real. It was in a movie. Big Hollywood actors were sitting around talking about it like it was a thing that was normal and existed and was spoken about by adults. As I've aged more, come out and embraced my trans identity, my attitude has shifted sort of more toward embarrassment. Now I cringe when I see Buffalo do his little dance and I sort of shrug at the diagnoses scene and wonder if the script really needed any mention of transgender topics at all.

Does this movie need transgender topics? That's something the author and script writer didn't necessarily have to include. This isn't the real world and both Jame Gumb and the psychiatrist-cum-murder diagnosing him are fictional characters in a fictional world. Though Jame Gumb is a fictional character, he is based on real individuals like serial killers Ted Bundy and Ed Gein.

Ed Gein was a killer active in Wisconsin ("America's Serial Killer Basket") in the 1950s. He was a product killer rather than a process killer, ie, he was obsessed with human body parts rather than the act of killing. More often a grave robber than a murderer, Gein was obsessed with human body parts and kept a grim collection in his house including women's head, vulvas, nipples, face and heads. Often human remains were fashioned into wearable items; leggings and corsets made from human skin or a mask made from a woman's face.

There has been conjecture, mostly on the internet and almost if not wholly by people who neither interviewed Ed Gein nor have psychiatric degrees, that Ed Gein was transgender. For the most part this is based on his obsession with his mother "he could become his mother—to literally crawl into her skin" and the fact that he appeared to have been crafting a female skin suit for himself.

Of course, these are not things that transgender people tend to do. Ever. So, it is quite conceivable that an author or script writer could write a story about a hunt for a serial killer, even basing said serial killer on Ed Gein, without needing to involve transgender topics in any way. Pyscho is based on the same killer and avoids discussions of transgender topics, focusing instead of its own dubious psychological diagnosis of multiple personality disorder. House of 1000 Corpses is another movie based on Ed Gein that also managed to leave out any reference to transgender people.

Silence of the Lambs's authors decided to include the topic. What does the movie say about transgender people? For one, transsexualism is only discussed in the context of diagnosing serial killers. It's presented as a psychiatric condition, one that is perhaps motivated by self hatred. Yes, it does try to say that Jame Gumb is not transgender but it muddles that explanation with pseudo-psychiatry that is designed less to provide realistic information on transgender identities and more to simply drive the plot along. Now, Clarice does say one thing that sounds positive "There's no correlation in the literature between transsexualism and violence. Transsexuals are very passive."

See? Trans people aren't serial killers! Honestly, I think this line must have been included late in the game after someone said "trans people might be mad if we say they're all serial killers. Let's include a line about how they're not." Yeah, so it now lumps all transgender people together and says we're "very passive." Very passive. What does that mean? Yes, it is true that transgender people are far more likely to be the victim of violent crime than to perpetrate it, but that doesn't mean that no transgender people are violent lawbreakers. I'm sure some are. We are a diverse group and the only thing we really share is our gender dysphoria. 

Ultimately the reason I think that transgender topics are present in Silence of the Lambs is that they're freaky and fringe, at least to mainstream audiences in the early Nineties. They make audiences uncomfortable. In 1991 this was certainly the case. Silence of the Lambs hit a lot of taboo subjects; cannibalism, murder, dismemberment, torture, insanity. These were designed to make audiences squirm, to frighten them, to take them out of their comfort zones. And unfortunately, they lumped transgender people and gay people in there with those subjects. I'm sure it made mainstream audiences back then squirm and think they were going to a dark psychological place, but in the end it just demonizes LGBTQ people, lumps them into the weirdo category with cannibals and murders, and reinforces the idea that LGBTQ people are part of the Other.

At the beginning I said that this is one of my favorite movies. And it still is. Movies are a product of their time and in the early Nineties transgender people were barely talked about, not taken seriously and often thought up as weirdos, perverts, or worse. Sadly, the societal view bled into what is otherwise a perfectly entertaining movie with some of cinema's most compelling characters. Silence of the Lambs is a great film but I do wish they could have made a couple quick edits to excise the transgender discussions that could have been left out without affecting the plot or the characters.