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. 

Monday, July 23, 2018

Some Old Favorites

Honestly I don't know how many photos I've taken over the years. From the time when I first started posting up to my Geocities home page, to my Myspace, to my current Instagram posts, I must have shared ten thousand pictures on the internet over the years. But I have also taken down quite a few. My old websites are long gone (though Wayback Machine still has some screen grabs), I deleted most of my photos off Flickr, and my shiny new blog doesn't have a deep photo archive. So, I thought it would be fun to post of up some of my favorite old photos from the vault and share where I was transition-wise when they were taken. 

This is from my first time ever going out as the real me in NYC. This was back in September or October of 2001. I had just moved up and thankfully had Rachel, an old friend from high school, to go out with. We hit up Lucky Chang's. I remember I was too afraid to go on the subway so I had to take cabs both ways.

This was taken in spring of 2003. The Matrix movies were recent enough that I bought these books thinking they were cool because they were like something that Trinity would wear. My aforementioned old friend and I went up to Inwood Park (near where she lived). I remember I was still afraid to travel from Astoria, Queens to Inwood in Northern Manhattan. I got dressed up at her house and then got back into boy mode for the return trip. 

For Christmas of 2003 I took the money my mom sent me and went straight to Trash & Vaudeville (then located back on St. Marks). I bought a cool punk skirt with lots of tulle and some goth boots with shit tons of buckles. By the way, the Scooby Doo curtains were free. I was kinda poor back then and had to take what I could get to give me some privacy in my first floor bedroom. 

I loved these tights because they made me feel good and goth. The dress is a black waitress dress (one of my favorite styles). This was the empty concrete spot behind my first apartment in NYC. It was a shithole, but at least I was in NYC. 

This was taken in the same empty concrete spot. It was full of trash, but I was kind of afraid to go out on the street to take pictures. This at least provided some privacy (provided my super didn't walk out to get the trash or anything). 

This was taken on my roof (another semi-private non-street location to take pictures). The silver dress was so great. My friend let me borrow it though I only ever wore it for one photo shoot. And I didn't even go out in it! 

This was taken at about the same time as the previous three. The roof became one of my favorite spots for pictures. And this photo is actually one of my absolute favorite photos of me ever. I was skinny enough back then to actually show midriff. That wasn't diet or exercise. That was poverty skinny. It's not as fun.

This photo was taken on Thanksgiving on 2004. Again this was the back of the building. My boobs were painted on with makeup but the illusion worked in this low cut (trashy- let's call a spade a spade) dress. Back in the day I smoked a pack a day. That helped maintain both skinniness and poverty. 

These clothes were borrowed from a friend I met on Myspace. She also lived in Astoria. She did my makeup, let me borrow some clothes, and took my photo. Actually she is the one who introduced me to Maybelline Dream Matte Mousse foundation. This was maybe 2004 or 2005 and I had actually started coming out to new people. Though I was still terrified of going out. 

On this one I was trying out some Photoshop effects. I remember buying a bootleg copy of Photoshop in Chinatown. At the time I was reading William Gibson and the idea of going through Chinatown to buy bootleg software seemed ever so cyberpunk. 

Look at me! I'm actually outside the house. This picture was taken in an alley way on my block. At the time I thought this look was  "normal, everyday girl." I mean, it was more normal than my goth stuff, but I wasn't quite at the point of being able to blend in fashion wise. At least I was getting out and starting to see these dress up sessions less as "dressing up" and more like "presenting female."

This was Christmas of 2005. I had gone out and specifically bought clothes so I could dress like an average, every day woman. This was an important moment for me. I was getting less and less interested in the idea of identifying as a "crossdresser" and was leading toward transition. I would sito on the subway on the way to work and write out transition plans or budgets. Sometimes I would do pro-con lists.

Pants and a winter coat! I was starting to actually get out of the house enough to need outwear. This was probably winter of 2005-2006.

I loved this dress because it looked so nice and 1950s. These shoes were actually borrowed from a coworker. Yes, I was getting to the point where I could start coming out to co-workers. I worked in a small office (just four of us) and the boss used to go to France for the summers. One of my coworkers (who was also my first NYC photographer friend) wanted me to come to work as Faith. But I was way too terrified of that.

This was in my apartment but it was a photoshoot I did with my friend Dresden. We had gone out shopping to Saint Marks and had actually got matching thigh high fishnets with red bows. I still wish I had this skirt. It was Tripp NYC, one of my favorite brands back then. I was starting to come out to more and more people at this point. 

This is from a party that Dresden and I attended. This was probably 2006 and I was comfortable to the point where I could present female and go out in the city for a night. I could even ride the subway! Sure, I felt safer when I was with a friend, but it was nice to be able to go out more and more as the real me. 

This outfit was one I wore for one of my favorite old videos. It was called "Things to Do on a Rainy Day" and was five or six straight minutes of me being silly. Doing my old YouTube videos was really fun. Sometimes I would have planned out ideas to film but other times I would just get dressed up and start the camera rolling. Some were meaningful, some were cringe worthy, and some were silly. I was glad to hear that so many people enjoyed them. Gender Rebels TV over on YouTube has some videos with a similar vibe for those who miss Thoughts from My Head. 

My second apartment in NYC had a larger bedroom so I took the opportunity to create a sort of photo studio. So I bought a few yards of black fabric. When I'd take photos I would duct tape it to the wall. This picture was during a time when I was experimenting with some serious padding, waist bindage, and boob tape. It's a good look, though not particularly great for blending in. 

This was an attempt to seriously blend in. I bought girl jeans and wore a sweater. This was (in case you can't tell from the tree behind me) a Christmas party. At this time, maybe 2007, I was really trying my best to be a normal, everyday, ordinary girl. These were the moments when my dysphoria would go into overdrive and I would think seriously about transition. 

This was another from the winter of 2007. Again I am doing my best to wear casual clothes and look like an ordinary girl (sans a winter coat of course). At this point I was already describing myself as genderflux online. Sometimes when I was really feeling bold I would identify as transgender. I knew that I wasn't a crossdresser but I still couldn't take the leap and transition. 

This is another attempt at being a normal girl. Heck at this point I had already started decorating my room in what I thought would be a female style. My goal was that if someone came in my room and were told that it was a girl's room they would easily believe it. Of course I was still wearing bright red witch wigs from Ricky's but still. Like many other trans women, it took me a while to start really understanding fashion and presentation. 

This photo was taken soon after I took the one above it. While a part of me wanted to be an everyday normal girl, another part of me wanted to be gothy as heck. For this shot I literally drew all over my face with eyeliner and used spring loaded earrings to give myself facial piercings. Yes, I still hadn't actually taken the step of piercing my ears or growing out my hair. That would come later. 

This picture found the middle ground between goth and normal. Also I loved this corset top. Wish I still had it. This was also the period back in 2008 when I would add a distorted glow to all my pictures in photoshop. I thought it gave them a pretty, dreamy quality. It does, but you have to use it in moderation. 

This was a pic that my friend Dresden took of me while I was getting ready to go out in Astoria. By 2008 going out in NYC was literally no big deal. This was during one of my normal girl phases - as evidenced by my wearing pink.

This is also one my favorite photos of me ever. I was wearing a jeans and an ordinary shirt. I love that I just look like a normal pretty girl in this picture.

This is me being super crazy normal, to the point where I'm even wearing sneakers. At this point in 2008 I kind of knew I was transgender. I was out to all my friends but not to my family or coworkers. But I was still afraid to transition. I imagined losing my job. I imagined being rejected by my family. Plus I didn't really understand how to navigate the mental health industry to get the psych recommendation for hormones. It was frustrating and frightening.

This isn't one of my favorite pictures, but I remember this night clearly. It was a Saturday and over my coffee I read an article called "The Second Most Beautiful Girl in NYC." It was about Jamie Clayton and her transition. This was 2008 and way before Sense8. After reading the article I literally had to get up and go for a walk to think. That night I went out with a friend of mine and told her that I was going to transition. 

When I posted this picture on my Myspace I got a bunch of comments about my new ink. It wasn't real ink. It was a temporary tattoo. In fact there were supposed to be two - one on each shoulder blade - but I screwed up the application. I still love this short blonde wig. I wish I could rock this style again. I was pretty cute. 

In 2008 I moved into my own apartment. I didn't share it with roommates. It was all mine. That meant that I could dress up and present female whenever I wanted. Suddenly the world opened up for me. This is also when I started doing things like staying in girl mode all weekend Friday through Sunday or taking a stay-cation and spending the whole time in girl mode. There was nothing quite as depressing as having to go back to boy mode on Monday morning. 

Also, in case you can't tell, I finally got my ears pierced! I still wasn't growing my hair out. But I had found a slightly punk yet still casual look. I was finding my style! 

One wall of my bedroom was kept bare white so I could use it as a photo background. 

It may not look like much, but this was me at work. Granted the boss and co-workers weren't there. I was not yet that brave. Instead, I had made plans to go out with a friend of mine after work. So I brought all my clothes and makeup to work and got ready. I tried to snap a few pics but the lighting wasn't too great. It was a fun day. 

This is me going out with my friend after a different day getting ready. We went out in the village. It felt really great to literally be out at happy hour after leaving work presenting female. It made me feel normal and ordinary.

Soon after getting my own apartment I started dating a woman who knew about my then dual nature. On one of our many thrift shopping trips, she got persuaded to me to get this black blazer. It was a perfect fit and it worked as a nice accessory to lots of different outfit, even a casual one like I was wearing in this picture.

Just for the fun of it, I tried to dress professional. In my head, I fantasized about going on a job interview as the real me. Of course I was still terrified of coming out at work and feared getting fired, but it was nice to dream.

This was Halloween of 2008. I went as Catherine Weaver, the T-1000 character that Shirley Manson played in Terminator: The Sarah Conner Chronicles. Really it was great excuse to go out with friends while wearing a black shift and heels. No, I didn't win the costume contest. In fact, I barely looked like I was in costume at all. In fact, I just happen to love this look. And this is basically how I look at work now half the time now. Either way, this Halloween was an amazing night and I felt amazing and beautiful.

This was my friend's Christmas party in 2008. It had just started snowing. I thought I looked amazing in this picture. Though at the time I always stood with my legs far apart. It would take me a while to figure out feminine posture. Still, I think it's a good pic, especially with the falling snow.

This was probably from the winter of 2009. At this point I had all my winter gear and never let inclement weather stop me from being fabulous. At this point I basically knew transition was right for me. I was living as a woman whenever I could. But I just needed that last push. 

For a while there was a gay bar in my neighborhood just a block from my apartment. When I saw that they had open mic nights I thought it would be a great opportunity to come down and try my hand at stand up comedy. I got a few laughs but thought I bombed. It was only later after talking to more seasoned comedians that I realized that a couple laughs is actually good. You just have to hone your bit to make it better. Ah well.

Look how skinny my arms are! Oh my gosh to be this thin again! Getting up on stage (or on a stage-like area) of a bar was major for me. This meant going out and being the center of attention. I was embarrassed though (mostly because I thought I bombed) and never went back to an open mic night. But it was nice to have a gay bar so close by home. It meant I could go out whenever I wanted and have a safe space. The Irish pub down the street didn't feel quite as safe. Though I did go to the Irish pub many times too.

This was spring of 2010. I was on my way to an early Reddit meetup. This was back when Reddit was a small enough site that you could get the top voted post with a few hundred upvotes. I don't think sub-reddits had been invented yet. So the national Reddit meetups would have about fifty people at most. I remember this felt like a huge thing because my one friend was like the only girl at most of these meetups. My going as Faith meant a lot of eyes on me. Thankfully it went well and I had a good time. 

I was on HRT when I took this photo in 2010. I had quit smoking and was sure that transition was right for me. But then I had a bad reaction to the hormones. They left me exhausted and feeling foggy. The fogginess lifted when I stopped taking them after a week or so. After that I started putting on weight. Quitting smoking will do that to you. And between the transition not happening and the weight gain I kind of just lost interest in being Faith. I figured that I could go back to boy me and just be happy with that.

For two years I didn't present female at all. But then I was out shopping with a friend and found an amazing dress in my size. I bought it and eventually started dressing again. This was from my first real shoot after decided to girl up again. It was in Brooklyn Bridge Park on a grey day. It felt good to be back.

And well, the rest is history right?

And oh my gosh I have so many new pictures (like this one above) to share with you. I'll post them up soon!