Friday, October 27, 2017

Deutschland- Tag Eins (Germany Day One)

Way back in 1980, I was born in the Federal Republic of Germany, or as we called it back then, West Germany. My dad was in the US military and was stationed in Germany. So, like many an Army brat, I began my life in West Germany. I was maybe three or four when we left so sadly I have no memories of the land of my birth. So I was super excited when Kath and I booked a vacation there for this September.

There is one problem with Europe and that is that it is far away. So, our vacation started with one eight hour flight with a two hour layover in Frankfurt am Mein. Frankfurt is actually where I was born, so I actually got to see a tiny part of my birthplace. Though it was mostly the airport terminal.

Thankfully I had no problems with the TSA. I put my breast forms in my carry on, so I always expect it to be pulled off the belt for a closer inspection. That happened this time, but the search was nice and quick. I've been lucky with the TSA thus far. Not sure if that's because I pass okay as female or if I look so bad that they tag me as male. Who knows. My passport and ID both have F for my gender, so who knows. Like I said, I'm thankful that I've yet to experience any issues with the TSA like many other transgirls have. 

Now, eight hours in a cramped tin can isn't my favorite way to spend time. But, for this trip I was less worried about being uncomfortable and bored, and more worried that a long plane trip would leave looking absolutely horrible upon arrival. We were departing NYC in the evening and arriving in Germany in the morning our time, but really early afternoon local time. I was worried my makeup would be smeared to hell and my beard hairs might be showing too.

After eight hours, I hit the restroom in Frankfurt and....hmmm...yeah, my face wasn't exactly looking its best. My eyeliner or mascara had smudged so I had dark circles under my eyes, my lip color was all worn off, and my chin was looking a little darker than I would've liked. So, I quickly touched up my makeup. I figured a quick touch up would be okay to get me to the hotel.

Being a transgender traveler is, I guess, not too much different from being a cis traveler. Getting there is less than 1% of the fun, but hey, you've got to get there, right? Plus I finally got a stamp in my brand new passport, so that was nice. 

Three or four hours after setting down in Germany we landed in Berlin. We had finally made it to our destination! Tagel airport is crazy because there's no U-bahn station there. Of course, being the stupid tourists that we were, we assumed that there MUST be an U-bahn somewhere in the airport. So we spent a fruitless forty minutes looking around, hauling all our gear up and down the arrivals terminal, until finally we gave up and went to the info counter. No, there is not an U-bahn stop at Tagel. But there is the TXL bus.

So we took a bus all the way across Berlin to Alexanderplatz, which was basically like the Times Square of East Berlin back during the communist days. Our hotel was in East Berlin, in the neighborhood of Prenzlauer Berg. We'd been told by my friend who lived in Berlin, that East Berlin was way, way cooler, so we definitely wanted to be in the east.

When we got out of the bus at Alexanderplatz, it was beautiful. The weather was perfect, albeit a little chilly. But after almost 18 hours of travel (counting various trains, busses, and aircraft), we had finally made it to Berlin. I snapped a pic below of Kath, looking super happy. She has made this face only once before...on the first day we got our dog. 

Our hotel was a ten minute walk from Alexanderplatz, and as we didn't understand the U-bahn or the trams, we decided to walk. See, in NYC, there are multiple MetroCard machines at every station so it's easy to get a card. In Alexanderplatz, a major hub where seven train lines meet, we eventually found exactly one machine. It turns out that you don't even need a card to get on the trains or busses. It's all on the honor system. The whole time we were there, we bought tickets, but we never got asked by an agent.

One of the reasons I think Berlin is so nice is that there's a sort of social understanding that we will all follow the rules. It just makes the city so much nicer than say, New York, where we often can't have nice things because of what a few jerks will do. Like in Berlin there are vending machines on the U-bahn platforms, but in NYC they'd be vandalized and torn apart. So, like gun control, separation of church and state, sane ideas about birth control, and universal healthcare, we just can't have nice things in America.

Well, we got back to our hotel and freshened up. It was late afternoon Deutsch zeit (German time), and we had been up for way over 24 hours, but we didn't want to get jet lagged. So we decided to go out, explore, and may be find some good traditional German food for our first meal.

Took a long walk around Prenzlauerberg and Mitte looking for German food and just experiencing Germany. We fell instantly in love. We kept looking for authentic German food for our first meal, but it turns out there is no German food in Berlin! Seriously. It's kind of crazy, but there are more German restaurants in NYC than there are in Berlin. I think they all must have gotten tired of wursts and moved on to doner kebobs and Vietnamese food. After a long while, and some Googling, we were able to locate a traditional place. It was mostly deserted and a little like an old man bar, but we had some beers and enjoyed our first German meal.

We wandered a bit more, debating how early would be acceptable to go to bed. We wandered around a while more, visiting shops, eating Haribo, and wandering around the Kulturbrauerei Berlin, which used to be a gigantic brewery but is now a collection of restaurants, museums, galleries and bars. Unfortunately, it was still early, so we had another beer at a mostly empty outdoor bar and took it all in before heading back out to Mitte to visit more stores and see more Berlin. 

We'd been up for almost 40 hours at this point, but tried to push ourselves to 10pm Berlin time so we could avoid jetlag. When my head finally hit the pillow I had an insanely restful sleep. And was up and ready for day 2!

Friday, October 20, 2017

My Halloween Costume

I don't care about Christmas, or Thanksgiving, or Arbor Day or even the Feast of the Blessed Thevarparampil Kunjachan (which, by the way is held each October 16th). No, the only real holiday I care about is Halloween. For me, Halloween has been a time that I could present female without worry or fear. 

Growing up, my dad was insanely religious. He believed that Halloween was a Satanic holiday and therefore my sister and I were not allowed to have costumes or to go trick or treating. Sure, some years there were church sponsored "Harvest Festivals" where kids could go dressed as Bible characters and collect candy, but it just wasn't quite the same. It wasn't until high school that I actually got to go trick or treating for the first time. 

As a grown up, I went as a "girl" a couple of times, but last year ended my ability to do that. Once you are a girl, going as a girl seems a little too meta, even for Brooklyn. So for my first year as a bonafide girl, I went as Rey from The Force Awakens, and so this year I thought I'd go to the Dark Side. 

I mean, any costume where you get to carry a light saber is a great one right? Plus I always loved steampunk, so I thought I'd combine them together and go as a Steampunk Sith Witch? No I don't like that. Sounds too much like a sandwich. A Steampunk Sith Lady? No, unlike lord, lady has become too generic. It doesn't sound impressive. Then I remembered that if I lived in the Star Wars universe I wouldn't want to follow Jedi or Sith rules. So I am officially a Steam Punk Rogue Jedi. Evil, but not following anyone's rules.

For steampunk elements I have my corset, along with a Victorian lace choker and some lace half-gloves. And of course goggles. I really wanted this one steampunk skirt and a lace cloak, but together they would have been $250.00, which is more than I really wanted to spend.

Maybe one day. But for today, I picked up a black vinyl skirt at H&M, along with some fishnets and wore them with a black tank top and some boots I already had. Instead of an expensive cloak, I instead used a bit of scrap black fabric left over from another project. Plus I had to get the red light saber that lights up and does the sound effects. Of course. 

On Sunday I put it all together for the first time. Kath and I tried to think up some good "Star Wars-y" places in Brooklyn, but couldn't really come up with any. Though I do think the big relief statue behind me looked like it could fit in Star Wars. 

Unfortunately, the lighting wasn't too great outside. So I figured I'd take a few pictures inside instead. 

Well, I now have my costume ready, two weeks early. Yeah, I'm really into Halloween. And I've got two parties coming up, so I'll have lot of opportunities to show off my character. And of course get loads of pictures. 

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.