“You guys know about vampires? … You know, vampires have no reflections in a mirror? There’s this idea that monsters don’t have reflections in a mirror. And what I’ve always thought isn’t that monsters don’t have reflections in a mirror. It’s that if you want to make a human being into a monster, deny them, at the cultural level, any reflection of themselves. And growing up, I felt like a monster in some ways. I didn’t see myself reflected at all. I was like, “Yo, is something wrong with me? That the whole society seems to think that people like me don’t exist?” And part of what inspired me, was this deep desire that before I died, I would make a couple of mirrors. That I would make some mirrors so that kids like me might see themselves reflected back and might not feel so monstrous for it.”
As an educator within trans communities I am tasked with holding story.
I hold my own stories and do what I can to use the platforms I have access, share and shine light on the stories of others with experiences different than my own. For example, the quote from the beginning of this piece, while written by a brown poet talking about lack of representation, obviously is different from my experience as a white person, but I chose this quote because I feel that it helps communicate an idea that impacts trans people across lines of racial experience.
I am working to find ways to bring a complex diversity of trans stories to the awareness of those who are taking my Resilience Building for Trans Folks & Our Allies online course, which is starting on February 2nd. I invite you to read more about my process of putting this all together and to sign up here.
I know the ways that I live in a middle place. My gender, ability, class experience, my age and my sexuality all find me in places that are more complicated than a checkbox on a list. They are long stories, with rich juicy details, hard lessons and much gratitude woven throughout.
The Mirrors are Beginning to Appear..
Some of the times in my life that I have looked for the mirrors I needed, finding them was tricky. Underground productions, personal blogs and faded old xeroxed zines were gold.
I have noticed in the last little while that I don’t have to look as far to see something that comes closer to my experience. Trans people are getting all kinds of attention in the media, our stories are starting to surface, and we are even starting to see stories that involve trans people having character details and stories that extend beyond their transness. Critical dialogue about the role + representation of trans people in media production is the hot topic of the minute.
I DJ small parties in the rural community I live in. It’s something I got into doing a couple of years ago and has become a piece of what I contribute to creating the type of community I want to live in. It gives me a special glow to throw artists that are trans, genderqueer and agender into the mix when I am playing parties. Songs that go beyond hinting at queerness, and lay it out on the table. I consider DJing to be a special responsibility that I try to take pretty seriously. I like to think about how the mix of artists I am playing serves to define the moment, the culture, the tone- as well as keep the vibes on point. I am too aware of the ways that the defaults of our toxic culture can unintentionally replicate themselves in our subcultures, scenes, and party spaces. We can participate our own erasure in space and history. This is something that I continue to work on, giving myself the gentleness to have room to learn and grow.
You can listen to my sets here.
I’ve been starting to see more trans characters coming up in TV and movies, and of course I watched Transparent. I highly recommend watching the docu-segments that Rhys Ernst produced as a part of the project if you haven’t already. One of the things that I am most impressed by with that show, is the amount of trans folks who are getting a big step up in their careers with the opportunities the show has been offering. Trans people are involved at almost every level of production, on and off screen and the work of trans people in film is getting a big boost. I look forward to seeing what sort of stories they are able to get into in season 3- building on a really refreshing shift wherein season 2 offered much more story that while not separate from Maura’s transness, moved beyond her transition.
Trans actors are starting to get more gigs, and we are able to see our stories being told in rich and juicy ways. The ways that this has changed within my lifetime is almost immeasurable.
Not Quite Right: better than nothing, but not really enough
When I was 20 I came across Loren Cameron’s Body Alchemy while perusing the shelves at Venus Envy in Halifax. The internet was not yet a really integrated part of my life yet. I saw someone who was not like me, but was in other ways more like me than I had ever seen before that. I remembered watching Priscilla Queen of the Desert. Bernadette wasn’t really a mirror either, but drag performance was definitely a part of how I related to my gender. Was there a word for someone who had been born in one sex, had a curiosity about living in the other, to then dress back around into a higher femme than the initial starting point?
I goldiloxed my way through gender conferences and doctors appointments and social support groups. I tried on many identities along the way. Dyke, Not-woman, genderqueer, butch, transman, fag, genderqueer, trans, non-binary, femme. Sometimes dropping the out-of-fit classifiers and sometimes compounding them into new hybrid combinations of possibility. Sometimes the words and classifiers I’ve used have involved compromise, an erasure of a part of myself, in exchange for clarity from another angle.
I learned recently that my mom, who does support with parents of trans kids through PFLAG, has used an image from a poem that I came out with about 10 years ago. It uses the imagery of a train, pulling into a station and says:
So now I have finally found the brakes
Pulled into a stop that feels right
where I can settle in, set up, kick back and relax
and I thought I’d tell you
cause nobody told me
And I thought you might want to know where to find me
“I Didn’t Tell You” a poem from my self published chapbook Sharing Stories from 2005
I didn’t know at the time of writing this or performing it at the queer showcase with my mom in the crowd that I wasn’t really going to sit back and find comfort in a singular fixed identity.
I knew queerness and gender through an understanding that places our narratives on linear trajectories.
Many of the stops that my train has pulled into since are named with words that I couldn’t have even known at the time. When I have been outlining this part of my history for involvement in the BC birth Certificate Challenge, I have been asked about what initiated shifts in my identity.
My answer pretty much always comes back to the words. How could I have know that I was a non-binary femme genderqueer before I knew those words? How could I see myself reflected in stories of transition that were hinged on the old standby plot devices and tag-lines?
Born in the wrong body.
I always knew.
I was always like this.
I know what I am, I just need my body to match.
I hate my body.
These are trans stories. They are real stories. And they are not the only stories.
Telling Our Own Stories – making room for complexities
Many of us who complicate these stories are starting to learn the words to describe our experience. We are utilizing social media to continue an old tradition within our path, the practice of telling our own stories. We are poking holes in the boxes, or just smashing them altogether. Our existence and our increasingly visible presence in the world is changing the game. Some describe it as a tipping point; but I see it as a time when we are beginning to have a larger platform than ever before to play our part in the necessary cultural shift that our world is experiencing.
Those I consider elders in struggle within the trans community, including those who are no longer on this plane have busted ass through a world that was horrid to them. I hold gratitude to them when I feel free to wear a mix of clothes, fashioning my gender presentation with the flexibility and fluidity it needs to be it’s whole self. I hold in my blood and bones the recent experiences of my ancestors in path being jailed, beaten, killed for living their truth. I hold an awareness that my safety and freedom exists in a way that it doesn’t for folks with different intersections of oppression. Years of trans representation limited to shock value and being the butt of the joke can have some pretty serious impacts on the ways we have been able to be ourselves.
Those who are coming of age now are starting to be able to see themselves, and learn the words to describe themselves, tell their own stories at ages that astound. Parents are given the opportunity of getting on board the train with their gender explorative kids, without necessarily knowing what stops it may pull into or where it could maybe settle. More parents are starting to do that, supporting their kids, giving the the love and space and encouragement to grow into their beautifully complicated genders.
I hold so much gratitude to parents like mine who have supported us and continue to support others to do the same. We know the cost of parents’ not supporting their trans kids. The homelessness stats affecting our youth are out of control. Isolation, rejection and abuse are all pieces that play into our high suicide stats too. When parents choose to get on board in practising unconditional love for their kids and learning along the way these numbers go down
It’s statistically proven.
I want to personally thank all of you who have taken to learning the words. The words to my story, and the words to yours. I want to thank you for engaging in the heart of this human experience thing, trying to find the right tones and nuances to communicate our beautiful intricacies.