They Beast

Last night, I had just returned home from a huge personal moment. I had regained the joy in singing before and with other people. I had sat in a room full of my trans and gender non conforming siblings and sung songs of unity, pride and defiance. So when I got home, after a joyful cry, I made a pizza and settled in to watch a documentary on the history of rock climbing in Yosemite. I love adventure sports. I have always found them enticing and inspiring. I got to thinking about my love of urban bicycling, of riding like a maniac and doing the things most people are afraid to do with a self assured ease. I began to think about penning a piece on the topic. I had in the past. Even had a blog on the subject. But then I turned to social media. I was reminded of the real struggle of my life. That of the drive to authenticity that has left me and so many like me vulnerable to a very real hate. This poem is a result of that tiny moment in my small life.

They Beast

 

I wanted to write about urban biking

I wanted to write about the thrill of traffic

From my perch on two spinning pedals

About adrenaline and danger

Taking massive risks

Pitting myself against one ton behemoths

And the petty laws of cis men put in place for my “safety”

About how I know better because

I measure heavy traffic’s motion in milliseconds

I, the they queen of derring-do

 

But then I woke up to the world around me

To my trans sisters who can’t ride a subway

Without being assaulted

Who can’t walk down the street

Without death threats

Hurled at their faces

 

I woke up to the days

When strangers tell me

That they hope I get raped

 

I woke up to the rage that boils in the world

And calls out for my enby sibling’s blood

The very real fact that there is no rest for their weary hearts

No port or potty in a storm

That they can call a safe haven

 

I woke up too to the fire that we are all filled with

That raises us up

And tells us we are good

 

Before I transitioned

I learned to ride my bike like a pro

Because I wanted to be killed in traffic

But I awoke to the reality

That I was letting the cis lords win

That I was throwing away

Every part of me

That my loved ones said was so special

 

I had to face the people

Who would try to kill me

Try to run me off the road

Who would curse my soul

And tell me it was their God’s will

That I burn for eternity

The very same God

Who had supposedly

Put me here

In this trans body

In this world

Where I don’t fit

Where my trans brothers

Are called “faggot” and “it”

 

What have we done but let our little lights shine?

 

When do I get to write about

The joy in just following a line

Through heavy traffic

Totally aware of my immediate world

At peace and pumping hard

On my tube steel steed

Where is my opus

On the power in me?

 

Damn it all if it isn’t in just living the risk

That is my bare existence

Knowing full well

That the next time I go to the store

And some cis lord sees a hint of

My symphony of genderless defiance

proof of my lie

My trick aimed at him

And his sexual interest

And decides it is my time to die

 

I do not need to race through traffic

I do not need to surf big waves

Or to climb huge walls untethered

Or to jump from those self same walls

 

For I am an abomination

A monster

That makes the cis lords crumble in fear

Because they are not strong enough

To face their own truths

For fear

Of the truth

That they,

Made in the image

Of the same deity as me,

Are my mirror

 

I still ride

Because I want to

I still make young cis men

Feel weak and unskilled

Because they know they can’t pass me

Or pass as me

And I revel in it

Because I am a they beast

An enby trans woman

 

I am too much an angel

To be dragged down to their earthly domain

They Beast

Danny

Oh Danny

You called me “she” when my back was turned

When I was trying

So very hard

To be the young man I thought I had to be

 

That day at work

When I saw you in your dress

And cute brown wig

That you usually only wore for your drag act

I thought you were so gorgeous

So very elegant, long and slender

Like a six three goddess crane, oozing femininity

I just had to tell you

And when I asked you why you didn’t dress that way

All the time

And you said

It was because you would get your ass kicked

I knew it was true

I knew it was true too

That if

I let myself free

They would try to kill me too

 

Oh Danny

I have often wondered

What became of you?

Are you still trapped in your man skin?

Or have you shed yours too?

Did they kill you Danny?

Did they beat the life from you?

Or did you survive?

Scars and all

To become the long

And elegant bird of grace

That you were always meant to be

 

If you made it, perhaps I will see you again

All these years later

You saw the girl in me when no one else could

You saw right through my mask of fears

You called me “she” when my back was turned

Our coworkers didn’t know why

You knew though

You knew too

Not to say it to me directly

That I was still too scared

You called me “she”

To my best guy friend though

And he told me Danny

All these years later

Now that I have let myself be

The trans woman that I am

 

Oh Danny

I hope I run into you someday

And we can talk about the bad old days

When girls like us

Had to hide in man costumes

Just to survive

And we can look ourselves over Danny

And remark on what beauties we have both become

 

Oh Danny

I hope life hasn’t been too hard on you

That it hasn’t left you sick and scarred

It nearly killed me Danny

I hid so damn long

I had always held out hope for you

The strength you showed

In being you

If only part time

I looked up to you Danny

 

Oh Danny

I know

I just know you can hear me

You called me “she”

You were the first person ever

To get my gender right

And I never had to ask you

We are girls of a special kind

And you knew your sister

As soon as I spoke

I can’t believe it has taken me so long

To say “thank you Danny”

 

Oh Danny

Do you remember?

Back then

The two of us

In our baggy men’s jeans and shirts

And big army boots

With our shaved heads

Our ridiculous man costumes

What fools we both looked

And damnit, if we didn’t both know it

Danny

Confronting My Closet Walls

Yesterday was New Year’s Day and for me it really was a new year. 2015 was the biggest and hardest year of my life thus far. I had begun it knowing that I wasn’t a man, but I was still presumed to be a cis man by everyone I knew, and I was unsure of how to proceed. By the end of it I was fully recognized as a feminine soul by all the world around me. I had faced so many of my biggest fears in life and though not unscathed I had come through it all a stronger and happier person. I was relieved to have that behind me and excited to begin my first full trip around the sun as myself. Only promise lay ahead.

Then, an hour or so before the end of this first day of my new year I got an email. A painful echo from my past. It was from a friend, one of the five people to whom I had come out in person. She had helped so much in the past few years as my life fell apart. She was there supporting me as I got sober and as I came out as asexual. She was one of the first people I came out to for a reason. But there had been a snag…

I had had a problem for a very long time. When I was a kid I always had at least one good female friend. Another tomboy to hang with, go outside and play pretend with and be goofy with. Somewhere around the second grade that stopped and for a while the other girls wouldn’t talk to me. Somewhere around the fifth grade that changed again, I was paid attention but it was of a kind that I couldn’t comprehend. It was often cruel and mocking. Then, in my first year of high school, in my favorite class (Creative Writing) I got a friend again. She was cool and smart, a couple years my senior, I figured I could learn from her, we started bonding. But she started to get awkward and one day turned her back on me. I then saw her with a boy her own age, being romantic and realized that was what she wanted from me, not friendship. I was not an equal, I was a potential mate, a guy. That began a long and painful string of such relationships. All I wanted was a friend, all the women I met wanted was a man. So before it happened again in my early twenties I asked out my best friend. I had been told by my other bestie (a guy as I always have a guy friend too) that she had a crush on me. I ended up in that relationship for eight years trying desperately to be the man everyone wanted me to be. It nearly destroyed me and hurt her to no end. I will always feel bad about that. She had been my third girlfriend, I had expected the relationship to last as long as the first two, less than a month. I had also told myself that I would face my fears on the other side of that relationship. In our darkest times she would often ask me why I wouldn’t leave her, I couldn’t answer her but the truth was that I was so very scared.

So here in 2016 I got a message from this friend, a sister tomboy. She was a good friend, a source of hope. We were the same age and had grown up in the same part of New Jersey. My father had known her in school in his capacity as a substitute teacher. We had worked for the same museum. She knew some of the people I had known going all the way back. She wrote to tell me that I only mattered to her as a man. She had tried to accept my transition, even gave me some of her old clothes. But as my transition had progressed she saw that the man she knew was gone, that whatever she had hoped for from him was never to be. She hadn’t allowed herself to see that his best qualities were mine and that I was still here. I was not the man she wanted anymore. So she told me that she could not be a part of my life anymore.

Even though I had seen it coming for a long time it still hurt, it saddened me. But it was okay too. It finally put to an end that long string of women with whom I wanted to be friends but who could only see a man to date. One of the other people I had come out to face to face was a former roommate, another tomboy, with whom I had had a glancing friendship. I was always worried about how she saw me. Our friendship has been growing since I came out, she says that I “make sense now”. So all is good and right.

I slept on all of this, feeling oddly at peace with it but when I woke up today, the 2nd of January, there was a nagging doubt. After watching a couple videos about a dead rock legend and comedy super star I realized there was something else from way back when that I had as yet to face. I had used comedy and punk music to suppress my true self and I realized it had all begun with one band. I had their genre of punk tattooed on my forearm. I had done the tat myself in a drunken rage during my last drunk winter five years ago. A winter I had barely survived. It was the music of the British skinhead branch of punk known as Oi! The band were a jokey laddish bunch of blokes known as Peter and the Test Tube Babies. I still had a couple of their songs in my playlists but there was one song that I had been avoiding for years.

It had haunted me since I first heard it. One of my buddies from Creative Writing back in high school had started a punk band with his friend and they needed a singer. I had the equipment, the love of the stage and a good loud shouting voice. I didn’t know much about punk except for what I had learned from corporate music television so I asked my new bandmate who looked very punk and tough, to make me a mixtape, so I could learn what was expected of me. On it was this song by the Test Tube Babies, “Transvestite”. In it the oaf of a singer describes bringing a girl home for the night singing “I am gonna screw the arse off you!” It quickly devolves into shock, revulsion and horror at the physical discovery that the girl to whom he had directed his lust was assigned male at birth. The song finishes with the jeering chants of “I’ve been cheated tonight, transvestite!” and “Is this some kind of a joke, you’re really a bloke?” I had already learned that the world hated folks like me but upon that first listen I learned my friends hated me too. If I was going to survive I had to be the manliest man around, so I became that jeering skinhead. I held desperately onto that image, the anti-racist skin, until I finally put down the bottle in my early thirties in a punk house somewhere in Lower Allston, MA. Not such a long way from suburban North Jersey.

Now, back in Jersey, in my Mother’s home, I turned to an internet video site and looked up that same song that had taunted me for so much of my life. At first, my morning dose of estrogen still melting under my tongue, I started to weep. But then, just as with the letter from my friend, I got angry. I stopped letting the world hurt me just for existing, for wanting to be who I am. I listened to the whole tune and felt a source of strength, of self confidence and worth. I pressed the “dislike” button. I was the only one who had. I then went back to the search results and went through every other iteration of the song on that site, pressing “dislike” I was the only one on every version and the only rater on many of them. I saw the lads, and heard their hateful crowd, I heard the transphobic rants they introduced the song with and sneered back at them. Cowards. When I was done, having disrespected every piece of it I could find on that site I went to my own music library, to the two of their songs left in my possession, I had listened to them recently, trying to look past the hate I knew they felt toward me. It was just jokey punk right? No, hell no! I gleefully pressed delete.

I have no space in my life for those who hate me or those who can’t accept me. I am a proud aromantic asexual transsexual non-binary tomboy trans woman. I am worth just as much as any of you and I have a hell of a good year stretching out before me. One hell of a good life too. I hope you all enjoy this trip around the sun as much as I plan to. This is your life, live it freely and joyfully. Never forget to give others the same chance because we all deserve to know and love ourselves. Happy New Year!

Confronting My Closet Walls

Tomboy! A Declaration 

When I began gender transition, like many other folks, I assumed I wanted to be the opposite gender from the one assigned to me at birth. I had spent so long feeling trapped by everything male that escaping it was my paramount concern. I declared to all who knew me “I am a woman!” and began seeking the sage advice of the transexual people who had come before me. As I absorbed their stories and ideas I was struck by one concept in particular and found myself so bowled over by it that it became my only goal in transition. I was moving away from assumptions and toward authenticity. I was leaving my maleness behind and becoming me. My transition was about one word, one embodiment of gender that had always held me in its grasp, from the instant I first heard it at five or six years old. Tomboy. I was becoming my true self, a trans tomboy.

All my life up until not too long ago the world was busy telling me what boys don’t do. I was a person of don’ts. Hemmed in and dying on the inside, constantly checking my every second against the norm and endlessly correcting myself. I was exhausted, fed up and depressed. So I accepted and declared my trans nature and began to face the opposite chorus that told me what women don’t do. The world still told me “no” but my life was becoming “yes!” The people I had looked to all along, through all of my years, who seemed to have the best grasp on their identities were this multifaceted gang of cis women who called themselves “tomboys”. They expressed a wide variety of styles, gender expressions and activities. Some were simply less conventionality feminine and others were outright masculine and every combination of those two expressions. They were every sexuality too. They were asexual, heterosexual, bisexual, pansexual and lesbian. The one common denominator was this deceleration of “no!” If there was a feminine or masculine role or expectation that agreed with them, they embraced it but if something didn’t fit, they rejected it. They were all so cool. I saw too that as a group they seemed to encompass the largest swath of women and girls.

During my first year of transition I have walked in many people’s shoes. I began 2015 being seen and treated by the world as a man. I had a shaved head, stubble on my face and dark utilitarian clothing. I was addressed as “sir, man” and “bro”. Then I slowly discarded my male clothing and replaced it with women’s clothes, I began to let my head hair grow out and shaved my face clean. I was becoming a queer man in the world’s eyes and I received the abuse reserved for them. I became a “faggot” or I was called “sir” in the most sarcastic tones. I began hormone replacement therapy and electrolysis on my facial hair and my body began to shift with my ever more feminine presentation. To the world I became an open ended question. I was stared at, mocked openly, jaws hung open at me, double takes were taken and fingers pointed while faces laughed. The world had no words for me. As my body shifted again I became feminine enough in appearance that the world began to see a woman or maybe a man, a perverse deceiver, this brought an end to my male privilege and I was threatened on the street. Attempted physical assault was followed by demonization. I was told that I was going to “burn in hell”. Next came the absolute assumption that I was either a very butch woman or a trans man. I was called “bitch, homo, buddy” and “dyke”. The epithets had returned. A month or two later and the hateful began to see an object of desire, a woman for them to own. I was gawped at by men and they tried to coral me and my attention. I was “ma’am, miss” and “girl”. When I ignored the cat calls I was again just some “bitch”. I realized too that all of those stages of humanity I had passed through could fit under the umbrella of tomboy. Effeminate men, androgynous folks, butch women and trans folk of every stripe embodied this concept. The word tomboy was central to so many of the stories of the people I had found empathetic siblinghood with.

Eventually I was a woman to the world. And I found myself hemmed in by that too. My body had changed but the way I walk and talk was still basically the same. The clothes I put on when I turned my back on maleness were the same ones I was still wearing. I was loving being able to express my femininity and I was finally able to embrace my masculinity. Nail polish on calloused hands. Having it presumed that I was a cis woman irked me though. I had been through a lot in my life and I wanted the world to recognize that and celebrate it with me. So I began to head back to a more androgynous style of dress. I began to enjoy when someone called me “sir” and then “ma’am” in the same breath. I wanted to be that obstinate question mark, that tomboy. I decided too that my birth name was too important for me to relinquish. Publicly I am Chris Jen but legally, and privately, I am still Christopher. I never did have legal dysphoria. I have too little respect for authority to care how I am seen by those who believe they have power. I saw at that point too that not only was my gender expression tomboyish but my gender identity was trans tomboy and that until my gender marker on legal documents could be changed to reflect that (a T perhaps) it did not matter if the system saw me as M or F. It gave me power too, which is something I have never really had. Sure, I was once offered the power of a white athletic man, but that felt so wrong on me it was no privilege, it felt like a burden. Now in the world I am seen as a woman, perhaps a questionable woman but a woman nonetheless. When I need to use a debit card or show some form of identification I get to find out who is a bigot and who is not. The cool folks shorten Christopher down to Chris without me asking. Some folks enter into conversations about gender with me and I get to learn from them and they sometimes learn from me. The bigots call me “sir” and refuse to look at me or speak to me. I have successfully challenged their assumptions and disrupted their view of the world forever. I have created change.

To me that is what being a tomboy is all about. Yes, there are the two binary genders. The girly girls in their hobbling footwear, skimpy clothes, caked in makeup basking in their weakness. There are the macho men too. All stubble, dirt and funk. Reveling in their power and prowess, dominating all comers. Those are well and good. They are reference points for the rest of us, the bulk of humanity. They help us define and explain our endless variations, subtractions and combinations of gender identities and expressions. Cis, genderqueer and trans. Binary and non-binary. Those who say “this is what I am” or “also this” and those who prefer to say “this is what I am not” The multitudes of different bodies and minds that experience the world in a way that no one else can. The tomboys. 

Tomboy! A Declaration 

Thankful and Transgender

This time last year I was house sitting for a friend so he could go off to be with family. I spent the holiday alone for the first time in my life. Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday. It is so much about coming together, sharing and giving thanks. But I was nearing the end of a long confusing road full of hurt. I was about as alienated from my own existence as one can get. I was still in the closet and just thankful for the time to be alone without the assumptions of the world. It was just me and a couple of cats, they don’t assume they just merely expect. I also realized in that time alone that it was high time I confronted my deepest fears. It was time for me to learn to give thanks.

In the year that has followed I have found true acceptance of who I am as a person. I have found that instead of finding more pain as an openly trans person I have found a level of joy I didn’t know I could have. The other day I was looking through old photos. Often a hard thing for we trans folk. I found a series of photos my Mom had snapped of me, my brother and my father on the stoop of our home in New Jersey. When I used to look at it I would see my Pop and brother looking very male. And in from the side, baseball hat in hand as a token of maleness, I saw the awkward kid who I could never understand. I would wonder why I couldn’t be like them no matter how hard I tried. But now just before this Thanksgiving, I saw the same photo through new eyes. I saw the goofy tomboy I have always been, leaning impishly on my Poppa’s knee. I thought I looked cute!

  
My life makes sense to me now and quite frankly I have learned a lot from all the pain I have been through. My teens and twenties weren’t all bad but I have gotten to reconnect with that impish, goofy tomboy I had been so long ago, before testosterone and before I repressed my soul out of fear. Now I get to share that oh so important goofy tomboy part of me with the world every day. 

Yes, I am so glad to be trans. So very thankful that I have been able to embrace it at last and that I can celebrate it as a fact. I can look back on my life with joy and tears alike. I feel so complete! Even more so I can look to the future with a new hope and purpose of being. I truly am most thankful to have been born transgender.

Thankful and Transgender

Today I Mourn

Today I mourn

Today I mourn my fallen siblings

Killed by the hate that kept them trapped

In a world not kind

To those whose genders come from beyond

What cruel folks call

“Normal human”

Today I mourn

For my trans siblings

Who failed to meet 

Cis comprehension 

Whose lives were taken

In acts of hate

Today I mourn trans siblings killed

By those with whom 

They tried to share

Their hearts, their love

Today I mourn 

Those trans siblings lost

To their own hands

And to a violence

Made by the hate 

Of a world

That refused to understand

And bullied them

‘Till they could not stand

Another night, another day

Of ceaseless senseless pain

Today I mourn

Today I mourn

Today I mourn 

But I will not forget

The light that my trans siblings brought 

To this, our world

Today I mourn

But take what strength I have

And battle on against that tide

Of fearful retribution 

With my fire

I will turn that tide

To a glowing mist 

Of kaleidoscopic and multitudinous glory

Of gender claimed

And fought so hard for

I will try to share

With all who’ll listen

My tale of struggle

That is not mine alone

This valiant struggle to set all

Whose  gender strays

From what’s expected 

Free at last

So that this list of the dead that grows

Each passing year

Will one day end

And all human lives can be lived

In freedom and in peace

So that all humanity 

Can live unchained 

In celebration of one another’s glory

Today I mourn

But I will not forget

To do my part

To fix this world

So that none shall mourn

Like this again

Today I mourn

Those lights who shined

But all too briefly 

Today I mourn

My trans siblings

Whose souls fell like autumn’s leaves 

Sinking to cover

The graves of the lost

Today I mourn

But my hope grows

Out of the pain

And into the light

Today I mourn

Today I mourn

Today I mourn

But I will not cease to fight

Today I mourn

And today I remember 

All of my siblings killed

Because they were transgender

Today I Mourn

God Doesn’t Make Mistakes 

IMG_6133

“God doesn’t make mistakes!” is the intentionally judgmental and deliberately hateful way certain cis folks have of refuting the related personal experiences of trans folk. They have tied themselves to the “trapped in the wrong body” trans narrative which for the most part does not hold up. Some trans folk I know identify with it but most do not. I always just felt I had the wrong genitalia and that those organs were infecting my body with a flood of the wrong hormone. But my body? I like most of it and it is definitely right, definitely mine and not a mistake.

I personally hold no specific doctrine above or below any other. I would not call myself faithful to any belief excepting my faith in the basic goodness of all human beings. I was baptized Methodist and was confirmed in the PCUSA however I don’t personally believe in God but I don’t deny the possibility either. It seems an unknowable to me so the agnostic label fits me. Some folks seem to have decided that not only is God real but their relationship with this God is so intimate they know this ineffable uber being’s mind whilst still insisting on God’s omnipotent and mysterious way of being. If one knows the mind of God in full one must be omnipotent and must therefore be a god. That goes contrary to what most theists put forth. They are but humble servants, lambs kneeling before the shepherd the one true God. So how can I take them seriously when they make statements contrary to their own faith? Well, I have seen the true value of organized faith groups, the community and beauty they can bring to our scattershot world. I have had some truly humbling moments seated in the pew of some church communing with the other souls around me as we think of our oneness together. Human kind forgets to seek the knowledge that we know nothing and instead begins to insist on concrete definitions far too often. Thus I will always be wary of doctrine or anything that claims to be “the word of God”. When cis folk insist that trans folk are calling the deity capable of mistakes they feel attacked. Their faith has given them much needed guidance through this world of chance and change that we inhabit together. I empathize wholeheartedly. The real trouble is that they never stop to consider that perhaps God might want to do things that they can’t comprehend or look up in a book. There is always more knowledge and new discoveries to be made. That is the human adventure. Perhaps there is a lesson that I needed to learn, maybe God has gifted me with a female brain in a male body as part of that lesson. It certainly feels like a gift!

They often go on to argue that we should not change what has been given us. That it is our burden to live in pain for whatever reason. This rule only seems to apply to trans folk though. Only certain religious groups actually avoid medical intervention or assistance for physical disabilities and difficulties, relying solely on the power of faith and prayer. For me my most sincere way of raising up and connecting with the divine is by loving life, the world and all my fellow beings. If I should not be allowed hormone therapy or surgery to change my body to be more like the one my mind expects, to free me from the second to second pain I lived in for decades then why should other folks be allowed treatment for their maladies? If I can’t have my estrogen then I insist that we all throw off our clothing, shoes, glasses, jewelry, makeup, wigs, hats, medications, prosthetics, mobility devices and surgical interventions. It is time to live in the way God intended, the way we were brought into this world. Sounds stupid right? Well yes, yes it does. No one wants to see a Catholic Pope without his vestments, long shaggy hair down to the ground, diseased and in pain trying to share the divine with us. No, that would make us beasts of the field. We were given dominion over them right? To do with as we will? To change them to suit us? Change is the only constant in life, it is the power, the burden and the glory. If a god has blessed human beings with anything it is minds to change our world with. Many faiths talk about life as mere preparation of the soul for an eternal afterlife, the body is a mere husk. A mutable ever changing form of multitudinous variety. My body needed to change in specific ways to prepare my soul for the next leg of my journey. If I am a sinner (and I do not believe in sin only morality) then why do we not let God judge me on the hour of my death? Stop throwing stones, abide your own moral system, do not use it as a cudgel against your neighbors.

All trans folk are asking for is the same compassion and respect any individual deserves. Isn’t that the central tenet of most of the major faiths in this world? “Do unto others as you would have done unto you.” and “Love thy neighbor as thy self.” Those are words I try every day to live by because we are not in this world alone. If a cis person can explain in detail just how seeing a wider spectrum of the light that God has shone on humanity will impact their lives negatively, I will listen. And I will do what I can to ease their pain. But I must be who I am and I must honor this life, body and mind I was gifted. No one but me can know my mind or my relationship to the divine. I transitioned to become a more honest person, to celebrate the gifts I have been given as well as to end my suffering. I was born with a female brain and the reproductive organs of a man. I was also born into a time in humanity when this incongruity can be repaired. I have learned things, as all trans folk have, that the cis world couldn’t know without us. It is time to listen and stop shouting us down. I know you don’t understand, let us explain and let us exist free from biased assumptions and you might. We all exhibit more gender variances than most cis folk may be aware of. There are feminine cis men and masculine cis women and every combination from there on out, gender freedom is for us all.

One last time I will insist that being trans is no mistake, just like all good people, trans folk are just folk who have been gifted with unique circumstances. None of us are the same but we are all one. We just need to calm down, breathe deeply and actually listen to each other.

God Doesn’t Make Mistakes