My Life In Neon

Sci Fi / Fantasy writer Autumn Nicole Bradley – Dream in digital, live in neon

Archive for the category “Transgender”

Resetting Reset – Call for submissions for Reset: Expanded Edition

Deadline: Feb 2nd, 2013

(I have to put a deadline on this because classes will be starting and I want to be able to get this all done)

Turtles All The Way Down

“Turtles all the way down…”

First off, I’m glad so many people enjoyed Reset!

One of the things I heard most was that it was too linear. Mea culpa, I was working within the time constraints of the Big Chaos Twine Jam so I made the choice to limit how far the story could branch. After all, I had a very particular story I wanted to tell, and finding clever ways to branch and then still reach that ending isn’t a trivial task! After all, one of the best things about Twine is its accessibility for people with limited spoons (or another metaphor of choice).

That’s where you come in.

There were breadcrumbs of subplots scattered throughout the game. I want you to pick one and develop it further, and submit your work for inclusion in Reset: Expanded Edition.

Submission Guidelines

1) Download the source.

2) Choose one of these three nodes as branch points: “your apartment”, “wrong”, or “turtles 2”.

  • turtles 2: If you choose this node, you are going to write an alternate loop. Essentially, this means the player will play through an entirely new loop designed by you that will in turn lead to “recurring”, closing the loop and continuing to the ending. The first node in your submission will be where a link in “turtles 2” (that I will add, don’t worry about this) lands.
  • your apartment: If you choose this node, rather than following the Alison breadcrumb, choose one of the other breadcrumbs and take the plot that way. Your first node in your submission should be where you land after clicking a link from your apartment to your first node.
  • wrong: Branching from here means allowing the player to refuse Alison entirely. Your first node will be reached by a link in “wrong” that provides an alternative to the forced acceptance.

3) You must end on “Turtles all the way down” in some form, whether kink or not, in order to kick out of the loop you’ve created.

4) Do not modify any of the existing nodes. Instead, create your nodes below the existing nodemap.

5) You do not need to worry about scripting anything fancy, but you may if you wish. If you have something minor that you can’t figure out, feel free to simply include an explanation of what you think the code should do.

6) Style Guidelines: Italics are reserved for first person memories and communications with and via headware. Communication follows the format //[ message ]//. Use single brackets, double brackets will create links and we don’t want that.

7) I encourage you to expand beyond the realm of kink.

 

I reserve the right to make edits as needed to ensure the story flows and is able to be completed.

 

Completed submissions can be sent to AUTUMN (at) LIFEINNEON.COM

Good luck!

 

<3 Much love. Take care of each other.

_-*

Reset: Code Snipets and Source

Node map of your apartment

Your apartment, as seen from above

“So, can I trust you with my source code?”

In the interest of sharing resources with others using Twine to create, here’s the code snippets for all the things that used javascript in Reset:

Color Changing

This is what is used to create the color changing effects. The passage they were placed in was called “Style Changer”. The macro layout here was modified from the Timer script by Stefano Russo (right click to download).

The macros were then called by <<display “Style Changer”>> <<typical>>, <<redgreen>> etc…

<<silently>>
<<set $StyleChanger = 
function()
{
 macros['typical'] =
 {
 handler: function(){
 document.getElementsByTagName("body")[0].style.backgroundColor="#333";
 document.getElementById("passages").style.color="#ddd";
 }

 }
 macros['redgreen'] =
 {
 handler: function(){
 document.getElementsByTagName("body")[0].style.backgroundColor="#333";
 document.getElementById("passages").style.color="#ddd";
 }

 }
 macros['cb'] =
 {
 handler: function(){
 document.getElementsByTagName("body")[0].style.backgroundColor="LightSteelBlue";
 document.getElementById("passages").style.color="DarkSlateBlue";

 }

 }
 macros['badcolor'] =
 {
 handler: function(){
 document.getElementsByTagName("body")[0].style.backgroundColor="#b38201";
 document.getElementById("passages").style.color="#009900";
 }

 }
}>>
<<print $StyleChanger()>>
<<endsilently>>

Prompt Box

Rather than just show off how to create a prompt box, this is the segment in which the result the user types in is actually used immediately to determine which of the color schemes should be displayed. Since the user is given one of the Ishihara plates and asked which number they see, the two common answers are 29(typical) and 70 (red-green deficiency), and I also included a guaranteed answer in case either they saw nothing or entered something other than the two options. This is from the “erozha gnuj” passage.

<<set $numberSeen = prompt('#?')>>Not-you see you. Not-noise.
<<if $numberSeen eq 29>>[[Two touch things. Five-and-four touch things.|typical]]<<endif>>
<<if $numberSeen eq 70>>[[Five-and-two touch things. No touch things.|redgreen]]<<endif>>

The useful thing to note about this is that you can use a variable collected in a prompt on the very same screen the prompt appears.

Alert Box

For the alerts, I wasn’t able to find a macro to simply display the alert. So I set it to dump the result into a variable which means it has to be evaluated as JS. You can find this in the “Plug it in.” passage.

<<set $alert = alert('Warning: Attaching device could allow unauthorized access to digital as well as biological function.')>>

I think(?) the value  $alert will evaluate to is true if the player clicks “Ok” and false if the user escapes/closes the box without responding. But I’m not certain on that.

Confirm Box

Ah, yes. Turning yourself over to Alison’s control. I wanted to use this moment to mimic the normal experience of having to explicitly permit a different user to use administrator or root privileges.

The way this works is that clicking “Ok” sets the value returned from confirm() to true, while clicking “cancel” or “X” sets it to false.

<<set $confirm = confirm('You are about to grant user [Administratrix] ALL access privileges. Are you sure?')>>
<<if $confirm eq false>><<display "wrong">><<else>><<display "surrender">><<endif>>

Again, just like with the prompt box, you can use the result of clicking “Ok” or “Cancel” right away. In this case, I have two other passages, and whichever gets displayed depends upon whether the user accepts Alison’s control or not.

Full Source

You can download the full source of Reset here.

With regard to the license, this was a tough one for me. 99% of the work of this lies in the writing, not the code, though the interaction between JS and Twee code makes some obvious things in JS not so obvious in Twine, which is why I wanted to share those insights here. As far as the “code” stuff, I don’t really have any particular attachment to it. Use the JS stuff as you see fit, since much of this is so trivial (from a development standpoint, not necessarily a learning standpoint) that protecting a function call under copyright seems a crass assertion of that power. The CC license is meant to protect the prose, setting, and story arc from unattributed use before I turned it loose.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Complete nodemap of Reset

Complete Nodemap

Reset: Post Mortem

Rediscovering My Art

So, I can’t even start this without mentioning CYBERQUEEN by Porpentine. There’s really nothing I can say specifically besides this: it pushed all the right buttons in just the right order at just the right time to remind me of something terrible I had forgotten: I actually really love games and writing. For the past two years, transition and school have taken up so much of my focus that I, essentially, forgot why I love them.

Frankentwitter’s Game

This is the fateful tweet that started this game:

LifeInNeon: In the future, "I'll let you play with my source code" will be the ultimate offer of dom-sub trust

“I’ll let you play with my source code”

See, Reset started out as a bunch of ideas cobbled together from mostly-sometimes-joking replies to Porpentine on twitter. My usual conversations with her go something like this: Porpentine posts some decontextualized short-form genius, I invent a context and reply with an equally decontextualized statement that presumes we’re inhabiting the same context. Powerful emotions ensue, one hopes. Or just laughter, camaraderie, and the erotic validation that only nice hard faving can supply.

Then I have a moment of:

Other Lydia: Hey Lydia.

Lydia: Yeah, Other Lydia?

Other Lydia: We just came up with something really cool.

Lydia: *Blink* *Blink* *Scrambles to find a pad to scribble an idea fragment down*

The words are scrawled at an angle to the lines of the paper. It feels proper. It's your way of signaling to yourself that this was an idea you wished to be reminded of so you could develop it further in longer, with-the-lines writing.

Reset: the Crumpled-up note

In fact, there’s a scene in the game that reflects this:

I actually have a bin in my cube shelf just for collecting notebooks, note pads, torn notes, and all the other things on which I have scribbled idea fragments. (Fun trivia fact: the text of the note is from an idea I had nearly 7 years ago for a different story. It fit perfectly, and also foreshadows the situation the character is trapped in before the player realizes the nature of the trap.)

The inclusion of the note the character couldn’t remember the significance of was yet another idea fragment spawned by twitter banter:

 

The emotion of finding something you had written down but realizing it no longer means what it meant then

A very complex emotion

 

The Horror of the Transhuman World

My relationship to my body has changed a great deal in the last two years, but in doing so, it has also changed my relationship to the transhumanism movement. I grew up on stuff like Neuromancer, and the fastest way to hook me into your story was to provide a world where body replacement was feasible and accessible. Now, don’t get me wrong: I only see this as a trans thing in retrospect; back then, transsexual was not something I even remotely associated with myself—I just wanted to be free of my bodily limits entirely. However, these days, now that my body is sliding into alignment and *gasp* I actually like it from time to time, my pressing “need” for settings to include body replacement is gone, but in its place is a different need:

I don’t need body replacement to like your story, but if you include it, you must also tell a more mature story.

If you simply project modern day forward and add this one aspect, I want to hear the stories of the people who don’t have access to all the cool stuff because capitalism has prevented them from getting it, or the ways in which enhancements become tools of exploitation to serve the needs of the still-at-the-tops. I want to hear the stories that don’t just sweep disability away by saying “we fixed that”, but rather the stories that talk about the new disabilities created by technology when someone comes a long that it doesn’t work for (after all, every disability arises in a social context) .

So I spend a lot of my time these days fantasizing about the nightmarish horrors of the transhuman future, not the idealized dreams. Dreams are easy. Horrors are hard to face, and if we don’t, they’ll be what we get.

But there’s another aspect of meditating lovingly on the horrors. For some of us, the belief that we can overcome these nightmares keeps us looking forward to this future. This game is not meant to be a Luddite warning that brain hacking is too scary of a possibility and therefore we should halt all progress (impossible, but folks try). I do not raise the spectre of the worst that can happen in the hopes of frightening others away from the future. If I’m being candid, in this hypothetical future, I imagine the absence of scarcity will remove much of the threat of unwanted violation, such that violation as expressed in the game becomes an erotic and dangerous but ultimately recreational act engaged in consensually,  not a selfish or criminal one.

Simultaneously, I’ve been playing a lot of Deus Ex: Human Revolution. So I have a lot on my mind regarding the shortsightedness of Get Augments -> Become White Upper-class Demigod Corporate Enforcer in a setting beset by racism and poverty, and virtually defined by the way everyone except the player needs a drug, Neuropozine, just to survive. I had a very involved conversation recently with Merritt Kopas about that very shortcoming. So that genre was already tumbling around my head when the Big Chaos Twine Jam came along. (I’ve also been working on another game that deals with this: Cuts, which I hope to finish by the end of January, that deals directly with the issue of access and affordability in the era of print-on-demand organs.)

The Mechanics of Sensory Control

One thing I wanted very much to include in this game, as fitting with the “mind got wiped in a cyborg kink scene” theme is the idea that when a person’s brain computer got switched back on, it would need to be recalibrated. With a text based game and no 2D art talents to speak of, I had a limited palette of senses to play with. I chose to focus on two: color vision and language.

Luckily, one of the themes of the challenge was CSS formatting, so I decided to use some fun javascript to alter the colors on screen throughout the game. I chose to make the text onscreen deliberately difficult to read before the calibration takes place, and the color scheme makes it even harder for people with red-green color deficiency to play without highlighting the text on screen. Very early in the game, I alleviate this strain (I made it the first recalibration so as not to go from immersion to punishment of the player), and I do so using one panel of the Ishihara test. A pop-up box appears asking for what number the player sees, and depending upon either of the typical answers (29 for full color vision, 70 for those with r-g deficiency, nothing for full color deficiency) it recolors the game to something more tolerable.

The macro for the color changing:

<<silently>>
<<set $StyleChanger = 
 function(){
     macros['typical'] =
     {
          handler: function(){
          document.getElementsByTagName("body")[0].style.backgroundColor="#333";
          document.getElementById("passages").style.color="#ddd";
      } 

}>>
<<print $StyleChanger()>>
<<endsilently>>

The CSS for anchors (links) and backgrounds were set to “inherit” from the body and from the passages, so changing one background and one text color overhauled everything relevant. Since Jonah loads the page once and just fills in the passages <div> each time a new passage is loaded, styling it once each time does it for the entire page until the next time the player hits a style point.

Update: For those looking for more code snippets from the game, I made a followup post here.

I used a reversed rot-13 cipher to garble the text and simulate aphasia. I chose a cipher instead of simply random text strings because language has a structure, and just because the character doesn’t understand the language being used doesn’t mean that structure disappears. I have auditory processing problems; occasionally people speaking to me sounds like wordless babble. I could even repeat the words back to them, but they have no meaning. So I occasionally have to ask people to repeat themselves even though they might be the only person in the room with me and no other sounds to distract me. But there’s still some sense of meaning that gets through: I still understand tone of voice, I still understand that I am being spoken to and not the wall, I might have an inkling of the subject being discussed. But the words themselves are incomprehensible for a few seconds. Like a mental hiccup. So I leaned on another test: the Rorschach test, to “re-align” symbolic language processing, allowing the player to freely input whatever they saw in the ink blots.

I wanted to simulate that experience of aphasia: the words being said by the doctor still have a structure and a meaning; there is still a purpose and if the player chooses, they can actually use a translation tool to decipher the text. It’s just like I have to in my real life: I think about what was said to me, playing it back from memory like a recording, and “re-hear” it, just as the player must (if they are dedicated) re-read it to translate it.

Likewise, the narrative has a greatly reduced vocabulary palette to choose from: concepts like “touch-thing” for finger, or “not-you” substituted for any person that you recognize isn’t yourself. It felt incongruous to use a full linguistic spectrum when simulating a scene in which the character-as-player-as-character has no access to their words. “What would it be like to be reduced to the vocabulary of a 2 year old?”

The color vision one is dipping into dicey territory because unlike the language, I do have full color vision (and from what I’ve been tested, on the high end of my ability to discriminate colors). So I absolutely could not go forward with that in the game without providing a safe way out: there is a color-fuckery-free way to play the game because as hard as it is on those with full color vision to look at the absolutely garish color palette, it’s even harder on those with color deficiency. Likewise, the intended compensation mechanic—using the mouse to highlight the text—is not available to players who play on many touchscreen devices or who have difficulty manipulating the mouse. (Full disclosure: as a stimming method, I compulsively highlight and unhighlight any text I am reading, so it still forces players to play as I would in a roundabout way.)

The Kink Metagame

Both of these things constitute a metagame layer: the game is playing with the player as much as the setting is manipulating the player character. Since the second-person article “you” is used throughout, it seems appropriate.

That makes the kink scene a lot more complex, because I’ve already established a dialogue with the player that they are in fact the one experiencing what the character is experiencing. I wanted to provide incentive to keep going with the kink scene: the further you go, the more the story gets revealed in memories. Likewise, to emphasize the submission and control held by the Administratrix, I realized I could undo the re-calibration done at the beginning. This also bookends it, giving the sense that it was a scene like this one that led to being in the hospital in the first place. Indeed, one could end the game on that belief when it loops back to the beginning.

The Safe Words and the True End (SPOILER ALERT)

Because of that metagame layer, because the game was telling the player they were experiencing the kink, I wanted to provide the player as much as the character a safe way out. So I made the choice to make everything from beyond the beginning of the kink scene entirely optional. Like kink off-screen: it’s there if you enjoy it, but if you don’t, no worries, mate. Likewise, it ends when one of the players says it ends.

Therefore: the safe words are always available to the player from the initiation of the kink scene to the end.

If a player ends at the initial loop back, thinking the Administratrix reprogrammed their head and put them in the hospital, I think that is a satisfying-ish ending as a story, but it says some deeply fucked up things about kink (or what folks might think I feel about kink).

It was very important to me that the game actually end without it being some nefarious plot: there was no murder, no jealousy, no cheating, no revenge fantasy, or any of that. It ended when the player/character said it ended, and reaffirms the trust placed in the Administratrix. If anything, I feel I was a little rushed with the ending and may not have provided enough aftercare in the form of confirmation that the player/character is back in the “real” world.

Recursion, Foucault, Soc1ety

Obviously recursion is a big deal in this story. The player/character is breaking out of consecutively deeper loops until they arrive at the real world. This is echoed by the very safe phrase used: turtles all the way down, a concept of cosmic recursion when one postulates that the universe rests on the back of a turtle. What’s the turtle standing on? Well, it’s turtles all the way down.

If you haven’t read anything by Foucault, you probably should. If you enjoyed this game enough to reach this line of this post mortem, you ought to know what the man had to say about the nature of power and control and structures to maintain them. Even if you can’t get through his full-length works (guilty), get the notes from someone who has. And grab a strong drink and prepare for some soul-searching on how to get by in such a deeply fucked up world.

Soc1ety is, of course, a panopticon qua social network service accessed through one’s headware. The analogues to it in our present world should be obvious. But I had to include it, since this entire game was spawned by a transhuman version of “Hey everyone, I lost my phone. PM me your number!”

Thank you

I’m glad you enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed making it.

Much love. Take care of each other. <3

_-*

My Patient Indulgence

Originally posted 8/15/11 on the old My Life In Neon

There’s a common refrain heard by trans people from those around them with regard to transitioning in the presence of others: “Well, you have to give me some time to get used to it.”

On it’s face, this is a perfectly understandable request. For a long time this person has known me one way, and now I am asking them to think of me another way. I’m asking them to do this even when I know that I don’t look quite like a woman, and when I know they have religious issues with it. I’m asking this of them when I know they don’t have a problem with “the gays” but they don’t like how they can be all “in your face” about it.

Clearly, I am imposing my eccentric lifestyle on others, therefore, I should be thankful when they offer their patient indulgence because not everyone will. Because they are better than some ignorant folk who will never understand it. Because they know how much of a struggle this is. Because they’ve earned their invite to the tolerance party. And because they’ve been so close to me they should be allowed a little more time.

“After all, you are kinda asking a lot of us.”

Wrong.

What people who use this language fail to realize is that they are receiving the benefit ofmy patient indulgence. Because it’s never just them. To them, I am the odd thing they need to adjust to in their day, and I’m not on their mind all that often, so they expect a little patience when I’m around because they’re still catching up. But it’s a little patience for them. And a little for my friend at the bar. And it’s a little for my mom. And it’s a little for my dad. And it’s a little for my boss. And it’s a little for my hairdresser. And it’s a little for my doctor. And . . .

Eventually, I have none left to give.

If any of those I listed were ever misgendered, or called by the wrong name, they have every right to expect a simple correction to end the matter firmly and finally. If someone told them they needed to get used to seeing them as a woman(or man), they’d rightly feel insulted. If anyone ever referred to their style of dress as crossdressing or drag because they looked too masculine(or feminine), but excused it by saying it’s “growing on them”, who would blame them for scoffing at the sentiment?

What woman needs to be patient with people calling her a man? Who would not stand up and call that out as the misogyny which it is?

Why am I expected to be patient with you about it?

Here’s the facts:

  1. If you claim you are close to me so you still need time, someone closer is already on board with this. In fact, someone closer was on board from the start. Why aren’t you?
  2. I know what I look like, and we both know it is changing because I already know. (Duh, right?)
  3. I do not need your permission or your blessing. My gender and my identity do not exist at your pleasure.
  4. Mistakes are understandable and excusable. But if I see no effort I will not assume you have made a mistake. You are solely responsible for what comes out of your mouth. I cannot speak correctly for you.
I have yet to insist upon my name or gender being correct. I have not corrected anyone, and I will not for some time yet. It’s not my style.
But remember that this is my sacrifice for others; this is what trans people put up with for those who “need more time”. We should not be expected to be thankful for someone “making an effort” when they so clearly are not. The ones in my life who have made an effort have now been calling me by my new name for months, and most of them are people I don’t even see every day. I was quite patient with them and still am; they are getting used to things.
It gets easier for them every day because they have actually said my name out loud. They’ve joked about bras, and invited me for girls’ nights. I can see it in their eyes that I’m not passing yet. I still hear a hiccup of hesitation before my new name comes out. But they’re doing their best, just like I am.
That is what I am thankful for. I am not, will not, and should not be expected to be thankful for the “patient indulgence” of those who simply say they are adjusting; I am not lucky to merely have their tolerance when others have shown more acceptance in the first six minutes of me being out to them than these people have in the last six months of “needing more time.”
They’ve crossed their first Friedman Unit of acceptance. How many more “another six months” will it take? One? Two? Ten? And will it just be them? Or is it another six months for mom, and another six months for dad, and another six months for each of my professors, and another six months for each of my coworkers? How about another six months for each of the members of the trans community who won’t get it right until I’m post-op? How about another six months for each of the members of the LGB community who thinks trans people are really just confused gays?
Each thinks theirs is the only ball of intolerance I am juggling. Eventually I will get pushed over my limit, so if a person doesn’t want to be one of the balls I sacrifice by crushing to ease my frustration and lighten my load, they need to be part of the solution and not the problem. I can’t keep juggling well-meaning bigotry forever.
Post Script (12/25/12)
I wish I could say things have changed in the 15 months since I wrote this. My father still routinely gets it wrong, and repeatedly fails to correct himself when I am not in the room. I have to wonder if he has given up even trying, at times. He refuses to acknowledge that it is hurtful and disappointing. All the more disappointing due precisely to his insistence that it is wrong of me to be insulted because he didn’t mean it. How very Kantian of him, though it doesn’t solve anything.

Melissa Harris-Perry: Transgender In America

From six months ago, but it remains a class act.

Melissa Harris-Perry, April 15, 2012 – One of the best explanations of cis/trans out there, and a fabulously straightforward display of being an ally without making any kind of big deal of doing so.

Spaces

So, a friend of mine asked me the following question:

Do cis women deserve a space to talk about the ways in which misogyny and issues that uniquely affect FAABs (like reproductive rights) intersect?

Yes. If you ask if any marginalized group deserves space to discuss issues specific to them, yes. Absolutely. So long as we live in a society in which patriarchal structures leave a pregnant or potentially pregnant person’s control over their own body as an open question fit for debate without them present, there is absolutely reason to create and maintain spaces to discuss ways in which they are affected by that control and organize the means to unravel that system away from interference by that system.

However, I want to ask a question of those who would specify that this hypothetical space is for cis women only: what purpose is being served by making that that explicit declaration?

Would you also make an explicit declaration that cis women who, for whatever reason, are known to be infertile are similarly not welcome to share stories about how presumptions about their fertility have led to misogynistic treatment; or stories about how learning they were infertile led them to question core assumptions about their womanhood; or raise the issue that their body autonomy is in jeopardy because men have already made laws blackmailing pregnant people into allowing themselves to be forcibly penetrated in a twisted caricature of medical care, and they show no signs of stopping at that law?

Would you declare any infertile cis woman to be out of bounds for raising those topics? Would she be accused of imposing herself on the group, of centering the debate on infertile women and distracting from the conversation, of triggering participants by reminding them that they can become pregnant (possibly against their will)?

Or would she be thanked for sharing her struggle, welcome in the knowledge that everyone there understands that when women are reduced to their presumed reproductive ability, when they are reduced to their parts, the misogyny catches all women in the blast regardless of their ability to reproduce?

When laws about marital partnerships are intended to reduce women to chattel for birthing children, where does the issue of reproductive rights stop affecting all women and start affecting only those who know they can become pregnant?

Fertility is a presumptive quality, not an inherent trait. No one knows they are fertile (or virile) until they succeed in producing a viable zygote that is carried to term and born live. Even then, we only know in retrospect that they were fertile; there is no biological mandate or metaphysical certainty that their body will ever be fertile again. All qualities associated with fertility are presumed based upon having anatomy that appears fully functional and has not been proven otherwise, or removed or altered by surgery or medication.

I am not demanding the floor at a reproductive rights rally, nor am I demanding a seat at a support group for people who have chosen to abort a pregnancy. I will never know the fear of having control over that aspect of my body taken away by men I will never meet. But I am questioning the true intentions of any meeting that must explicitly declare it is for cis women only on the premise that there are some issues that only affect cis women. Unless the issues discussed are firmly restricted to only those people who are, have been, or have no reason to assume they could not become pregnant, then I put forward that the space’s organizers are being disingenuously cissexist at best, and openly transphobic at worst.

If someone expects infertile cis women to either: A) not be interested enough to attend, or B) behave appropriately if they do, or C) leave when the moderator asks anyone who is unaffected by the issue at hand to please leave; and if you would not attribute to their infertility any hamfisted attempt to center the conversation on them, then that expectation ought to extend in the same manner to trans women, as well as trans men and non-binary CAFAB people. When the sign on the door preemptively declares an event is for “womyn born womyn living as womyn”, it advances a biologically essentialist standpoint. When that standpoint is defended on the grounds that there exist some topics that are only relevant to CAFAB people—reproductive rights, menstruation—the space had better be dedicated to those topics or else it shamelessly exploits people who need space for those topics as human shields on the front line of a woman-on-woman war that doesn’t need to be fought.

I want to be clear about something: if you have a space dedicated to survivors, no one ought to be trying to recenter it on how hard the abusers have it in the justice system; if you have a space dedicated to queer issues, no one ought to be trying to recenter it on how hard it is for them as a straight person to accept their bisexual child; if you have a space dedicated to people of color, no white person should be trying to recenter it on how awesome of an ally they are. Those are actions that drip with patriarchal, colonial entitlement and are rightfully condemned as such when someone has the gall to do them.

So it is with that understanding in mind that I ask fellow feminists to ask themselves whether they are being honest with themselves about the intentionality behind a space that supposedly has a built-in need to exclude trans women.

We Happy Trans – Seven Questions

I decided to record a video for the folks over at We Happy Trans:

Why I Love Being Trans

Transgender symbolI wasn’t always ok with being trans. I’m certainly not ok with where my body is at, and where my life and financial security are at, or what impact that has on my ability to complete the work I want done. But the actual being trans part is something I have come to love about my life.

I would not trade being trans for being cis.

There, I said it. I said the thing no one wants us to say. I mean, we’re “supposed” to not just wish to be male, or female, but to wish we were born that way. Right? It solves all the problems, doesn’t it? We’re expected to want to be cis so that we never had to mess around with any of this trans stuff.

Because who would want to be trans?

Me.

I didn’t start out that way. Just as recently as two years ago this was an idea that would have horrified me. That alone should tell you how much damage our society can do to a person. Though I don’t think I need to tell any of my trans brothers, sisters, and siblings this, cis people might be surprised to learn that the jokes you make can actually harm trans people.

By laughing, you teach us that we are hated. By laughing, you teach us to hate ourselves. By laughing, you teach us that the proper thing to do is to laugh at people like us. By laughing, you teach us that we are the joke. By laughing, you teach us to never want to be someone like us.

It is little wonder that in a world that has taught us to hate ourselves and everyone like us that the most hurtful things ever said directly to me came from other trans people. I can forgive that. I can forgive that because the hateful words they are spewing aren’t words they learned in a vacuum. I learned those words too. And I didn’t learn them from trans people.

But I also learned not to use those words because they do harm. And the way I learned that was that I experienced the harm. I have done the harm to myself because of those words, and the ideas those words represent.

I considered myself a feminist prior to my transition. I considered myself a radical gender abolitionist. As an atheist and a skeptic of religion in general, I didn’t have to reconcile my transition with any deity beliefs. But I did have to reconcile it with my feminist ideals.

Being trans with that history in feminist thought means being able to look at this wave of anti-trans radical feminists and (even though they will not believe me) tell them that I understand why they fight the way they do: women who eschew femininity are the women most harmed by the rigid binary. I understand because men who eschew masculinity are the men most harmed by the rigid gender binary. It is unfortunate that that is such a taboo thing to say because the bullying is real. The trauma is real. And the privileging of masculinity—not synonymous or inseparably linked with maleness—means that much vaunted “male privilege” can be revoked in an instant the moment you are not seen as a man. That is a perspective too many refuse to accept.

I accept it because I experienced it. I experienced it again when I transitioned. When I turned in my man card, I didn’t get to keep the male privilege. Or the masculine privilege. In many ways, I never had the male socialization that is so often held up as “why” trans women somehow retain male privilege. [I wrote about that here] For the first time I experienced the full weight of misogyny. I experienced the full weight of transmisogyny.

Most importantly, though, I have been on both sides. I have experienced what it is like to have both testosterone and estrogen flowing through my veins and I know how potent their effect on emotion and thought can be. I no longer have the luxury of presuming biology has nothing to do with socialized behavior as a means of condemning behavior I disapprove of.

The biology is inseparable. Hormones matter. Ask any woman who has been on the “wrong” birth control how much control hormones can have over a person’s state of mind. And those who have experienced it know exactly what I mean by “wrong”.

This is not an excuse for misogyny. This is not an excuse for violence. As moral agents with a cerebral cortex built to overrule base urges, it is not acceptable to allow “it’s my biology” to excuse behavior. But we cannot close our eyes to the matter of the biology and expect it to go away if we ever hope to solve the problems of gender oppression.

I love being trans because it means I have first hand experience with altered hormone levels that I can directly relate to a change in emotional state and thought processes.

I love being trans because in experiencing a loss of privilege, I understand what it is like to have it, what it is like to be blind to having it, what it means to lose it, and what it means to be without it.

I love being trans because it is a first hand experience with every reason why we must work together to make things better.

Experiences matter. I don’t have a choice about whether or not I get to understand what it feels like to experience injustice, dehumanization, violence, sexualization, trauma, self-loathing, self-harm, fear, hopelessness. I’ve experienced it.

It is the cruelest form of gift, but while there are others out there who still suffer these same things, I would not sacrifice the understanding I have gained for the comfort of having been cis.

I choose to love being trans. I refuse to pity myself for not being cis.

It is not a choice I made one time. It is a choice I make daily. Like forgiveness, it is work. It is empowering.

It means I can look a woman who just got talked down to like a child in the eye and say, “I understand your anger.”

It means I can look a survivor in the eye and say, “I understand why you can’t confront them.”

It means I can look someone with triggers in the eye and say, “I understand why you walked out on that movie.”

It means I can look someone with scars in the eye and say, “I understand what it means to have so little control over your environment that controlling your body is all you have left.”

It means I can look someone who doesn’t understand in the eye and say, “It’s not right that you try speaking to my experience just because you think you can imagine it. And now I know why, when I’ve done that in the past, I was wrong to do so.”

It means I can look my trans brothers, sisters, and siblings in the eye and say, “It’s time we stopped taking this shit with a smile.”

My Experience at CONvergence 2012

Quick review of my experience at CONvergence 2012:

1) I’m not used to being misgendered so frequently and so readily. The number of men in costume as female characters made it so that not only did I not stand out for gender bending, but I was assumed to be in costume. Which. . . so much side-eye. . .

2) Due to phone battery issues I had to find crash space at the Con the first night, and all I had to do was say the word to a fellow trans woman I met and she found yet another trans woman who had space. The sisterhood is strong.

3) The con itself had some amazing safety protocols in place. The Bridge dance/party/hangout room was a “Safe Space(station)”, a space-themed safe space right next to the center where attendees could report to volunteers any incidents that made them feel unsafe or unwelcome. They had numerous signs up saying things like “Costume is not Consent”.

4) I spent most of the con meeting other trans people and talking trans stuff. On the last day, there was an impromptu gathering of trans and gq people who met and squatted in a conference room. Informal plans were made to get a party room next year aimed at providing a trans-positive space and education for cis people coming through.

5) Partied in the Skepchicks/Freethoughtblogs rooms and hung out with their queer bloggers talking shop. Spent quite a bit of time talking with Benny which was a blast. Never felt unsafe, but I did feel put on the spot about a few things by some cis folks once a bout of misgendering forced me to come out to deal with it. I can chalk up indelicately asked questions to alcohol; I got indelicately asked questions about non-trans stuff too. 😛

6) Met with Rachel Gold for dinner and spent 4 hours talking about the split in the lesbian community, trans children, her book, her (overwhelmingly) positive experiences with trans women and how they taught her about empowered femininity.

7) I caught up with an old friend from college, and we joked about how we were both too shy to talk to each other before but I’m not that different, just happier.

8) Someone recognized me from my transition timeline montage photos on r/trans, which always makes me feel good that I’ve paid forward the benefit I got from seeing someone else’s timeline a year and a half ago (holy shit, it’s been that long…). The lovely and kind trans woman I spent the weekend hanging out with even had someone come up to her to directly state they were inspired by her. So awesome! (Also, we have the same birthday and we started HRT the same day. Eerie)

9) Finally, an androgyny win moment: “Someone said they met someone partying [in the Skepchicks room] with bright pigtails but they couldn’t tell what sex they were, just that they had the most amazing cheekbones.” I feel like I have achieved my goals when someone says “I don’t know what I’m looking at, I just know I like it.” 😀 I think it’s hard to explain why this was such a cool moment, but this was exactly the “spot” I transitioned to be in. I plan to keep going to the female side medically, so that I can more safely come back to where I am now.

10) Most of the panels were kinda bland. Comic universe reboots panel didn’t want to touch the idea of rebooting a universe to address current social justice issues because that’s too politically charged. So instead they redirected to style and storytelling and wiping away retconning. You know, cis white male problems. The strong female characters panel kept equating female strength with violence, and it was the only male member of the panel who consistently addressed other forms of strength as being just as legitimate. Catherine Lundhoff did a great job of bringing up the idea of protagonists with atypical body types, which led me to bringing up how viewing Charlize Therons’ character as an ideal trans portrayal was a fan headcanon that made the movie Prometheus far better. My point was that it informed all of her character choices and relationships without ever being addressed or questioned. One of the panelists thanked me for that afterward. Then a guy quipped about chainmail bikinis that they are more effective for “mobility and heat management”. Cue collective facepalm. Diversity in steampunk was still very white, very western, just not British Empire. Definitely not the most provocative conversations.

TL;DR: Very trans welcoming environment.

Being Emily by Rachel Gold – A young adult novel about a transgender girl

How often can you say that something made you uncomfortable and mean it as a compliment? After all, when I learned that Being Emily, the first young adult novel written in first person from the perspective of a transgender teen girl, was written by a cisgender lesbian, I was expecting something along the lines of another Transamerica. That was a film that accurately portrayed all of the worst stereotypes of trans women in a single 103-minute faceplant into the pavement. So when I say that movie made me “uncomfortable”, it was because it gave a dated, cisssexist outsider’s view of what our poor, pitiful lives must be like, all in the guise of being an ally.

Luckily I met Rachel Gold at a conference in the run up to the book’s release,  otherwise the bad taste still left in my mouth by that movie might have put me off even reading her book. It was there I realized she was someone who knew what the hell she was talking about, and most importantly I noticed how intently she was listening. So if there’s any fault for a cis person writing the first novel of its type, it’s on us for not beating her to the punch, because Being Emily hit the mark in every way Transamerica didn’t.

So this is where I say Being Emily was sublimely discomforting in the best way: rather than being a rehashing of tired tropes with no resemblance to actual experience, Emily’s story is instead too familiar to the journey so many of us embark upon to make for a comfortable read. Gold’s storytelling dances deftly along my rawest nerves, which tells me she took the time to really learn more than just the superficial fluff that often characterizes stories about trans people. If it were comfortable to read a story so eerily similar to my own, then I don’t think I could have enjoyed it as much as I did.

Being Emily tells the story of Emily, a high school student whose stable midwestern life is thrown into chaos when she begins the process of coming out as transsexual to her friends and family. When the rest of the world looks at Emily, they only see Chris, a sixteen year old boy on the swim team with a girlfriend, a little brother, and Catholic parents. But what Emily sees in the mirror is a body growing more visibly male each day, a body that she needs to save from the testosterone slowly poisoning her.

For Emily, puberty isn’t simply the more-or-less awkward time of waiting for one’s body to mature while worrying about test scores and crushes. What Being Emily captures so well is that for transsexual kids, puberty is the horrifying realization that no fairy godmother (or, in Emily’s case, Glinda the Good Witch) is going to come along and with a flick of a wand reverse the course her body is taking.

Emily differs from the typical LGB coming out tale because, like for so many trans youth, time is of the essence; when her parents react poorly, the message of “be patient, it gets better” is less than helpful advice. Her body isn’t waiting, and so neither can Emily.

Throughout the book, Gold remains mindful that her target audience is unlikely to be as familiar with concepts such as gender identity as her precociously educated protagonist. While some readers might find Emily’s knowledge distractingly improbable, I submit that yours truly knew more about sex going in to freshman sex ed than anyone coming out. (In fact, I would be in college before my Human Sexuality class caught up to my own autodidactism on the topic.) In short: when it is relevant to your life, you would be amazed by how quickly a person can consume all the available knowledge on a subject.

However, for the reader who is not personally affected by these issues, Gold weaves the necessary background information into the struggle of Emily’s girlfriend, Claire, to make sense of Emily’s transition. Some of these lessons feel slightly forced, but consider that whole books have been written to help explain the topic and still just barely scratch the surface. The few fact-heavy passages sprinkled in are easily forgiven in the face of Claire’s sincere realization that femininity isn’t a burden unfairly thrust upon Emily, but a truly welcome self-expression being denied to her. The idea that femininity is a gift and not a curse is a lesson that is rarely expressed with such clarity, even in the books in which it is a central theme.

What impressed me most was the way in which Gold captures the essence of the little, mundane aspects of life that take on a new, monstrous form when a person is a (closeted) trans girl: filtering thoughts to ensure sufficient masculinity before speaking them aloud, the need to pee forcing a person to choose between two wrong answers for which restroom to use, the way the choice of a character’s gender in a video game requires layers of justification to throw people off the scent. It was these moments in the story that rang most true, and the echoes of my own memories haunted me while I read each one. (Gold did miss one factoid that would not have escaped such an astute protagonist’s notice: spironolactone tastes like mint. It’s one of those pleasantly surprising discoveries we all make and no trans woman I know fails to mention it whenever spiro comes up. But I’ll let that one slide. 😉 )

While Gold does fall back on a few clichés, she goes to great length to dispel some of the more common ones (“X stuck in a Y body”, “just men in dresses”). The fact of the matter is, that is a battle she couldn’t have won to begin with. Many of these clichés exist not because they ring true for trans people, but because they’re the most about a trans experience that cis people can relate to. Beyond vague notions of “X stuck in a Y body”, or detailed neurobiological explanations of sexual dimorphism in the brain, there are precious few words to express with any success what it feels like. Because it doesn’t actually feel like being an “X stuck in a Y body”. I have no words to explain the physical discomfort I feel, or even how it differs from things like being dissatisfied with my weight. They’re absolutely different feelings, but when I try to put into words the way gender dysphoria feels, I know what cis people think because the next words out of their mouths are “Lots of us have issues with our weight/appearance/etc. Part of puberty is learning to accept it.” If that’s the dismissal, then speaking as someone who struggles with both weight and sex characteristics, I know for a fact you don’t realize I’m talking about something of a totally different nature. It truly is something that you can’t grasp unless you feel it, and if you do, you don’t need complex explanations or justifications to understand the difference.

The most important lesson, though isn’t the actual internal feeling of dysphoria. And as such, Gold only touches lightly on those aspects of the story. Instead, what the reader sees is a character who has an otherwise typical teenage life with this layered on top. What come through loud and clear is the very palpable fear and urgency that accompanies trans youth, coupled with the inability to put off either high school or transition. Adopting a “wait until you’re older and see” attitude isn’t a neutral choice*, because puberty doesn’t wait, and neither does graduation. Gold captures that urgency perfectly in the way small successes alleviate the burden for a time, but even minor setbacks to a typical teen can quickly become catastrophic for a trans teen, because until a person is on the right track, just holding ground is losing ground.

In the end, it is what Being Emily gets right that makes it such an uncomfortable experience for me. While it can be easy for hardened activists to dismiss it as yet another story about a trans person’s transition, it has none of the typical “freak show” spectacle nor does it elicit any of the “that must be so hard” pitying by the reader that so many do.

With good reason, Being Emily is now among the list of two books I have read in a single sitting. I highly recommend picking it up.

[Amazon Affiliate Link] [Author’s Website]

* The World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH) published in their 7th edition of their Standards of Care the following:

“Risks of Withholding Medical Treatment for Adolescents”, WPATH, Standards of Care V7, p21

Refusing timely medical interventions for adolescents might prolong gender dysphoria and contribute
to an appearance that could provoke abuse and stigmatization. As the level of gender-related abuse
is strongly associated with the degree of psychiatric distress during adolescence (Nuttbrock et al.,
2010), withholding puberty suppression and subsequent feminizing or masculinizing hormone
therapy is not a neutral option for adolescents.

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