Book Review: Female Masculinity by Judith Halberstam

I just finished reading Female Masculinity by Judith Halberstam. This book explores masculinity as embodied by women. She notes that most studies of masculinity talk exclusively about men – often specifically about white, middle class men, as if they have sole claim to masculinity. Halberstam notes that this is extremely incomplete. She focuses her study on dykes, inverts and other queers, making the dubious claim that straight female masculinity is more tolerated. I think she just wanted to focus on lesbians because she is one, and that’s fine, but I wish she hadn’t justified her focus by pretending that manly straight women don’t face many of the same oppressions that manly dykes do.
She starts, in her introduction, talking about public bathrooms. She had me right there. She talked about having security called on her several times when she tried to pee in airports on some trip. Man, I thought I got bathroom grief, but I’ve never gotten security called.
Much later in the book, she talked some about FTMs and specifically about the Butch / FTM “Border Wars.” I don’t know if she coined that term, but it’s one I’ve seen other places and I think her writings on the topic have been influential. Alas, as of this book, which is now ten years old, I think she furthers misunderstandings more than clears them up.
The so-called border war has to do with suspicion and mistrust which can exist between butch dykes and FTMs. Some dykes fel threatened and or betrayed when folks they know as dykes decide to transition. Maintaining a butch dyke identity is often difficult, given the invisibility in popular culture. Every other butch dyke that disappears can make this seem more difficult. Butch dykes can also resent the privilege that (white) FTMs acquire and may get pissed off by media articles which appear to favorably contrast FTMs to lesbians. On the other side, many FTMs are eager to establish themselves as male and don’t want to be seen as a butch dyke and thus take some efforts to distinguish themselves. Many FTMs get annoyed when they perceive butch dykes as refusing to accept them as men.
Halberstam’s chapter on this is somewhat undermined because she doesn’t really address the issue of passing. Passing, in this case, means being taken for male and can happen to both butch dykes and to FTMs. She notes in the introduction that passing can be life or death for people using the men’s room and indeed, even acknowledges elsewhere that some butches need to pass to survive. More than survival, though, passing is directly integral to the identity of some FTMs. They need to embody their masculinity as men. Failure to pass, for them, can mean psychic harm in addition to physical. So when Halberstam makes hay about a FTM passing guide which specifically addresses how to avoid being taken for a butch woman, she is failing to account how extremely important it is for some FTMs to pass. Not wanting to be perceived as a butch woman doesn’t necessarily indicate hostility, just a need to pass and not to be taken for any kind of woman.
Halberstam questions whether FTMs would also want to avoid being mistaken for a Republican or for a gay man and notes the conservative style of dress recommended. Many FTMs actually do worry about being taken for a gay man – they don’t want a second look. They don’t want to stand out. They don’t want to take on additional risk when visiting the men’s room or walking down the street or just trying to live. Some FTMs are homophobic. Some are just very aware of the risk of violence which can surround them. Some are gay.
Being trans can include a lot of worry – about passing, about violence, about coming out, etc. Some FTMs retreat to misogyny to underline the differences between themselves and women, but most (I hope) do not. The FTMs that are “jumping ship” from being butch also tend to try to maintain ties to the dyke community. Maybe that’s just a San Francisco Bay Area thing.
Finally, most FTMs that worry about passing are either no-ho or haven’t yet started hormones or have started very recently (or are stealth in a conservative area and have reason to be concerned for their safety). They’re a part of the trans community, but not the biggest part and don’t yet feel secure in their transition.
Halberstam goes on from passing guides to an unfortunate article in The New Yorker in which Amy Bloom interviews some trans men and finds out *gasp* that they’re men. Halberstam points out a few phrases from the article which positively compare FTMs to butch dykes and seems to conclude that the mainstream press is more ok with FTMs. I think this conclusion is largely in error. The mere existence of the article speaks to a discomfort with FTMs. Why would an investigative journalist need to do field research to discover that men are, indeed, men? Halbertsam writes, “Would Bloom, in a smilar article on butch lesbians, comment so approvingly on their masculinity?” (p. 157) Given how Bloom feels the need to point out that one of her interview subjects – a man – eats “like a man” (ibid), I’m not sure that’s a fair comparison. Bloom is condescending in the extreme. Halbertsam quotes a longer passage from Bloom:

I expected to find psychologically disturbed, male-identified women so filled with self-loathing that it had even spilled into their physical selves, leading them to self-mutilating, self-punishing surgery. Maybe I would meet some very butch lesbians, in ties and jackets and chest binders, who could not, would not accept their female bodies. I didn’t meet these people. I met men. (p. 158)

Before I go on to Halberstam’s response to such drivel, I want to take a moment to give a big “fuck you” to Bloom. What is she saying here? ‘Oh my gosh, they actually passed! Passing is everything! I thought I’d see a man in a dress woman in a binder and be forced to deny his identity, but I’ve decided that these individuals actually might deserve to have their identities accepted by ME. And I certainly am the gateway for normativity and passing!’ Fuck you Bloom.
Halberstam is justifiably pissed at that passage. She writes, “What a relief for Bloom that she was spared interaction with those self-hating masculine women and graced instead by the dignified presence of men!” and goes on to note that many FTMs ID as straight, which Bloom approves of. But while Halberstam catches the queerphobia and butch phobia, she seems to miss the transphobia. Bloom’s article there is hardly tans-positive but just notes what should already be obvious: some FTMs pass.
Unfortunately, a lot of this chapter is about MTFs and their narratives which are assumed to mirror the narratives of FTMs. This book is from 1998, so I think this more speaks to a lack of published material by and about FTMs more than a real assertion by Halberstam that the cases are mirror. I’m going to look into whether she has published more recently on the topic. That chapter talked largely about a previous essay on the topic and what she had learned from that, so while she sometimes misses things, she seems eager to learn and I imagine that the problems I’ve noted have certainly been addressed in the last 10 years.
Part of what was most fascinating for me about this book is the way labels have shifted over time. Inverts would not have IDed with lesbians. Butches of the 1950’s were excluded from the definition of ‘lesbian’ that was current through the 1970’s – 1980’s. (Indeed, being butch was still controversial when I came out). FTM is emerging as a new label. People like me, with more ambiguos/ complicated views on their own gender would have been excluded from transitioning until recently. Past FTMs have IDed as “men.” The idea that “trans” would form a more permanent part of a label is new and is being picked up by trasgender or genderqueer IDed persons.
There used to be the idea of a passing woman. That’s a woman who looked like a man and passed for one. I don’t know how different a passing woman is than a genderqueer ftm, but I can say that the label “passing woman” has always made me nervous. I like the label “dyke.” Not ‘lesbian,’ which for a while was specifically defined to exclude me and not ‘woman’ passing or no. What does that make me? A transdyke? A FTM/dyke? It makes me feel better to have a label, I think. It also makes me feel better to be able to place myself within a history. I don’t want to reject the label ‘dyke,’ as I’ve been attached to it for so long. When I watch a movie like Go Fish, I’m watching something that impacted my life. Dyke culture has shaped me, formed me. I felt at home in it and I feel at home in it. At the same time, I really like taking T. I like what it’s doing to my body. I like how I feel to see myself in the mirror, looking gradually more manly. And I really like that I don’t need to choose. There might be some sort of border war going on, but I like being parked right in the middle of it and I have no intention of moving.
(This post is also a test of the Flock web browser blog functions)Blogged with Flock

I don’t want to be whiny, but

. . . but since I cut my zoloft dose in half a few days ago, I’m starting to experience negative emotions like a normal person. Er, yeah, only minor headaches from withdrawl, so that’s good. And in other health-related news – (I used to think that getting sent to hell would mean spending an eternity at a dinner party where the person next to you described all the minutiae of their health concerns in great detail. I hope my blog isn’t too much like that.) I went to SF yesterday to learn to give myself my own needle sticks. I was thinking maybe I could just look it up on wikipedia and try it that way. I mean, how hard can it be? Yeah. so the nurse showed me how to do it, but I didn’t do it myself at all. Actually, I was kind of freaking out when she jabbed me with the needle. She seems to think it will take me a few months before I’ll be able to do it. Alas and woe. Not only is it a pain to get in to the clinic, but I’m paying out of pocket for getting somebody to prick me.

In case you’re wondering how to give yourself an injection into a muscle . . . first wash your hands. Then swab off the top of the bottle containing the injectables. Draw some air into the needle. Stab the bottle with the needle. Push the air out into the bottle. Draw back (a lot) to suck the sesame oil into the needle. Stare at the needle as the oil slowly trickles in. Push up on the needle until the black plunger is even with the 1 ml line (or with whatever line you need). Flick at the needle to get out big air bubbles (these aren’t such a big deal when you’re trying not to hit a vein). Take the needle out of the bottle. Fine the “belly” of the target muscle. If you’re covered with freckles and moles, you can use these for navigation. Clean the spot with rubbing alcohol. Relax the muscle. No, really. Try exhaling. Relax it. Really. They tell me this is possible. Hold the needle perpendicular to the skin to be stabbed. Relax, damn it. Jab yourself. Stay relaxed (ha ha ha). Slowly push extremely thick oil out and into your muscle. When you push the plunger all the way down, the needle will suddenly (and somewhat painfully) retract. Put on a bandaid.
Yeah, so as soon as the needle stabbed me, I clenched up like a mofo. This is undesirable because it means that I won’t absorb as much and because it really smarts today. The needle starts tearing up my poor muscle when it’s all clenched. Ouch. Once every two weeks isn’t all that often. This isn’t overly traumatic or time consuming. Using the jell would probably be more hassle. But, alas, this is annoying.
Anyway, I went out for lunch today with an old friend. And when he asked “what’s new?” I took a deep breath and said, “not much, how about you?”
October 11th is National Coming out Day. Once, in the 90’s, I played a concert with the LGBT marching band on that day and the conductor gave a rousing speech about how everybody should come out. It was such a big deal in the 90’s! You don’t even know. But at some point, I just sort of, well, stopped. I haven’t come out in ages. I mean, it’s one of the advantages of being visibly queer. I can mention my girlfriend once and folks look at my wardrobe and then we all rely on common sense. So I’m not in the habit of coming out.
I got my haircut last night and I worked up the courage to tell my hair dresser and she squealed her delighted support. (I love San Francisco.) And then, I was at a bar after wussing out on my injection and I told a guy I know and he said, “really? That’s awesome!” (again, I love San Francisco.) And, I mean, it’s a big deal, but it’s cool and stuff. Like, I dunno, coming out always seemed so serious, like some sort of civic duty. I guess I could say to folks, “hey, I got a new girlfriend! She’s awesome!” and that might be coming out. And that’s more what this is like. So I get all worked up and don’t want to come out because it’s intimidating, when it should be more like having an awesome new girlfriend. But, alas, I’m still intimidated.
I called my brother today and asked if him if he was keeping up with this blog. Yep, he is. (Hi Paul.) On the one hand, it’s kind of impersonal, but on the other hand, it’s a really awkward conversation. Traditionally, people send letters, but that seems to dramatic. This is the 21st century. I think most folks might tend more towards being surprised than shocked. Writing a letter makes it seem more shocking and scandalous than merely surprising. Anyway, my brother was really cool, which is what I hoped for.
And I called my dad today and . . . we debated whether or not waterboarding is torture. And then my head exploded. I’m going to tell my dad in person. (My brother said, “doesn’t he read your blog too?” Um, I don’t think so?) Then I can hear his theory on the difference between the left and the right in America. He seems to be very pleased with the theory and wants to disclose it in person. It has something to do with evolutionary theory.
I still have no mail form my letting agent. I’m starting to suspect that I won’t be able to get on my booked flight back to England, since I still don’t have everything I need to apply for a visa and it’s less than a week form xmas.
It’s been raining like crazy and apparently, my building had construction defects related to the water proofing. So we just started getting those fixed, like, the day I got back here. This is not the best timing to be peeling the skin off the building, since it’s actually raining a lot. Predictably, it started leaking a couple of days ago. Today, the leak was fixed. And then it started raining again and now there’s more leaking. The water has punched a hole in the ceiling, which is dripping in earnest. And the plasterboard of the wall is getting all messed up.
Oh, yeah and when I tried to install Mac OS X 10.5, it said I had a bad master boot record and refused to mount my hard drive and then some files disappeared when I rebooted in 10.4 and I fear my hard drive might be dying again.
And xmas shopping? Barely started.
So yeah, my home, which I own, is leaking. I have to come out to my dad. And all of my friends who don’t read this blog. (BTW, if you’re reading this, you should feel empowered to tell people. I mean, I should probably tell my dad myself and also my godmother, but friends and acquaintances can gossip to their heart’s delight – just as if I had an awesome new girlfriend.) The conversation with my brother went really well, but was still stressful just to have it. I have to be able to stab myself in the leg while keeping it relaxed and have pain from failing to be relaxed last night. My immigration status is still in disarray. My computer’s broke (maybe), and I don’t know what to get you for xmas. And I wanted to whine a bit about these things: *whine* ok, thanks.
Um, on a more positive note, I had my second shot. There was a blog several months ago called “The Man Project” where the writer gave herself a dose of T and chronicled what the two weeks were like. My experience was very similar to hers. After two weeks, your body is still treating it like a one time fluke. The first sign of non-flukiness is zits. I started getting them in earnest on Sunday or Monday. (I know I said my voice was lower. One of my friends says the lower pitch is in my normal range for when I’m relaxed. So it’s only a sign of happiness, which is nice of it’s own right.) I’m all, like, happy to have zits. I bet the novelty of that won’t last overly long! Ha ha ha ha!

Reality Check

So the other morning, while I blearily stumbled into the shower, I got just a glimpse of myself in the mirror, looking the same as always. All this stuff I’ve been talking about happening are, um, not really all that evident. Or, rather, they’re present, but in very small quantities.
I replaced my razor blade with a new one, and my miami vice-like roughness went away. So I dug the old one out of the trash. I am such a n00b.
I want to talk about trans guys who don’t pass. This is a topic laden with all sorts of baggage. But, it is true that there is some population of people who go on T, who get various surgeries, who do all kinds of things and yet do not pass. This could happen to me – it’s something I have no control over and, indeed, might not even notice happening. This used to give me pause, but now, really, I can’t complain about looking like a dyke, so if it happens, it happens.
I was reading some crit theory about how body transformations are perceived through the lens of gender. Specifically, it was talking about a reality TV show called the Swan and also about a documentary series about trans youth. These depictions subscribed to a cultural myth that femininity is artifice and masculinity is internal. The women on the the Swan, who underwent extreme plastic surgery, get to look in a mirror only after it’s all over and all exclaim that they’re not themselves. The trans women in the documentary are coached on how to move and act in a more feminine manner. By contrast, the ftms look in the mirror and see what they felt was always lurking there. I AM myself, rather than I am NOT myself. The ftms get no classes in how to move and act like men.
There’s some truth to femininity being artifice – I mean, look at all the props! But masculinity also has that element. Boys are rigorously drilled on how to move and act like men. You run like a girl, you throw like a girl. They undergo training as well. Training that ftms don’t usually get.
And so part of the reason that some ftms don’t pass is because they move and act like dykes. I want to hold on to my dyke roots, but I don’t know how much or in what way. Do I want to try to adopt a more manly affect? Do I move like a dyke now? Do I want to change that?

Lake Woebegone

I just started getting the podcast to the American radio show “A Prarie Home Companion”. It’s patriotic Americana for the left wing. Or rather, the slightly less right wing. People who theoretically favor rights for gay people and women and immigrants, but want to dream of the midwestern heartland, populated by lonely Norweigan farmers and their foibles and aren’t we all struggling in this together, all of us straight, white, christian liberals?

I remember listening to a christmas episode and they were talking about the town Christmas pageant and the kids dressed as Mary and Joseph and the lights and the feeling of community and it made me feel terribly lonely. Because this community was not for me. I didn’t know the word “heteronormative” yet then, but I knew this imperfect paradise of essentialist americanism was not for me.
And my patience for it and longing for it has since been replaced by annoyance. What makes white, heterosxual christians more american than black people or gay people or atheists or costal people or queer, atheist costal black people?
I’m really tired of Americannes being defined regionally such that minority populations are more likely to be excluded. If we stop and think for a moment, we know that Lake Woebegone is not only inhabitted by white, straight christians. People migrate within the US. Even people born to Christian families drop the ID. 10% of the kids will be queer. But the continuing refernces to Norweigan farmers implicitly excludes atheists and queers and explicitly excludes jews, latinos, black people etc. Garrison Keeler’s America is not so different than Rush Limbaugh’s America. Except in Rush’s America, the enemies are at the gate. In Keeler’s, the same people Rush calls enemies just don’t exist at all.
And this is the choice for us in America. We can be normative and blend in, we can be invisible or we can be reviled. This kind of “choice” eats into you (and by “you” I mean “me”) even if you try to reject it. Square peg, round hole. Trying to make your identity fit into the grid provided for it. Being a queer alone is suxxor, because you just don’t exist. You have no mirror to reflect your existance. Affinity groups are essential for maintaining sanity, imo. Also, NPR sucks. Can we stop calling essentialist erasism “liberal?” Because it’s not, and I’m tired of it.


Online Dating

This rating was determined based on the presence of the following words:

  • pissed (3x)
  • torture (2x)
  • queer (1x)

Ok, maybe “pissed” is a (sorta) bad word. And I can see how political discussions involving American application of torture in prisons (at home and abroad. Let’s not forget that prison rape is so tolerated that it’s practically officially sanctioned.) might alarm small children. And everybody else too, I hope. But “queer”? My very self is inappropriate for kids?
I thought this was the 21st century, but, um, yeah. Maybe the perl script thought I was using it as a pejorative term.
Speaking of queerness . . .. Well, somebody was speaking to me of queerness last night. She wanted to talk about gender theory, but was really drunk, as was I. This could have been amusing, but then she wanted to switch clothes with me. At which point it got more stressful. She got a cisgender guy to put on her clothes. Hilarity ensued. I mean, he was kind of funny being all hairy-chested in that frilly shirt. But on the other hand. I mean. Is it automatically funny if somebody is cross dressing? Cuz, yeah, I do it every day.
And many folks wonder why I do it. Is it some sort of political statement? Is it the result of a theoretical position? Do I do it because I am brave and strong?
Let’s be clear: I am neither brave nor strong. If I were brave and strong, my sense of self would be able to withstand any choice of clothing. That it cannot speaks to fragility. I dress the way I do because of an internal imperative. I don’t know why, but I know it’s not negotiable. If I were brave or strong or theoretical or political, switching into frilly clothes on a lark would be nothing more than a lark. The suggestion would not make me want to flee.
And what about other baggage? Pip of Great Expectations writes:

Are there white middle-class butches? If so, where are they? I found Judith/Jack Halberstam’s book, Female Masculinities, particularly disappointing in this regard. It seems that J/J identifies as butch (??). But although she shows how butch history has been ignored by middle-class feminism, she doesn’t admit that being an academic means that working-class butch history doesn’t simply belong to her. She doesn’t use this opportunity to share her own experience of butchness, and instead uses the (often extremely personal) stories of others to illustrate this story. It’s this kind of behaviour that allows white middle class men/women/butches to claim a rich history and identity, while hiding our privilege over others of the same gender (just like white women using pictures of black mothers to symbolise the fertility or spirituality of all women).

I don’t know about claiming the word “butch.” I mean, butch women all have way more gravitas than me. And I’m really scrawny, which is a strike against it. Also, women who are actually, indisputably butch intimidate me no end. But all that aside, what Pip is talking about here is female-bodied masculinity, which is something I think I can claim.
The class baggage surrounding it has been on the periphery of my vision. When I wrote my post about how to cross dress, I stated, “You have two goals when it comes to clothing: 1. Pass, 2. Avoid getting treated like dirt . . .. Therefore, you want to convey not only masculinity, but also . . . social status. Simply put: life is easier if you look rich . . .. Therefore, you want to avoid dressing in a sloppy manner. It will drop your status . . ..” In those ellipses, I was talking about ageism. On the rare occasions that I pass for male, I’m read as a teen boy, which has drawbacks. But when I don’t pass, I’m also treated as a low status person (followed around stores by security, that sort of thing) if I’m dressed in an overly casual fashion. I knew that dressing as a businessman tended to help, but I didn’t quite make the class connection there that Pip does.
Obviously, gender expression and class are not as linked in their incidence as Pip suggests, or I wouldn’t exist. But if people are subconsciously making the connection in their minds, this explains why folks think I’m a thug. Because they’re homophobic, transphobic, classist asshats.
(Be nice to me, or I’ll call you names on my blog.)
Anyway, I think real lesson here is that I shouldn’t try to talk about gender theory when I’m drunk. Or maybe ever. It’s ok when I or people in my general position theorize about my life, but when people from outside do it, well, that’s different. For me, it’s my life, which makes the stakes somewhat different than a casual person who wonders about the meanings of gender statements. I’m not making a statement, I’m just trying to get through my day.

Gender Therapy in the Low Lands

I’ve been putting off posting about this for a long while, so I’m hazy on the details. But how many Americans can give a first hand account of gender therapy in the Netherlands? I feel a duty to post. This kind of meanders into TMI a bit, though. Be warned.

Ok, so when I last spoke of my therapy issues, I’d seen a regular shrink who wasn’t sure what to do with me and who did not speak very fluent English. (I want to clarify that I’m not criticizing anyone when I say they don’t speak English well. It’s not like I speak Dutch well, which is the language of the land. When I mention that somebody doesn’t have high English skills, it’s just to clarify that communication was not overly clear. This is a sub-optimal situation to have with a shrink.) She asked me about going to see the gender specialists at the university in Amsterdam. There was back and forth. Finally, she referred me to a center in Voorburg.
Several days later, a letter came in the mail giving me a date and time for an appointment. Fortunately, my assigned time did not conflict with my class schedule. I biked the several kilometers to the PsyQ building there. PsyQ is some sort of organization that deals with people’s mental issues. I don’t know if they’re public or private or some mixture thereof. People seem to largely have private insurance in this country. Anyway, so I showed up and walked through an automatic door to an entry alcove. There was a large glass window with a woman behind it and a microphone. There was no opening in the window at all. It was solid glass (or whatever). I had to show ID to the woman behind the glass and also present my appointment letter. She pressed a button and the automatic glass sliding door to the lobby opened.
Of course, they deal with crazy people, so they need security to protect themselves. From people like me.
The woman took my insurance card (they only reimburse and don’t cover anxiety, which is specifically mentioned on my appointment letter, but whatever) and asked me questions so she could fill out paperwork for me. Because my Dutch skills are too low to fill out any of the forms by myself. People are generally very nice about my inability to communicate in their language. Anyway.
I went to the waiting room and a woman came to meet me and explained that she was filling in for whomever I was actually supposed to meet with. She asked me all the stereotypical shrink things while taking copious notes. How did I get along with my mother? My father? What was my childhood like? I told her about coming out in Catholic school. The first girl I kissed. blah blah blah. She wanted to know about my earlier childhood. At home, I played with boys. At school, I played with girls. My parents and grandparents always got me girl toys. I had a collection of Barbies, but found them to be dull. You dress them up? Who cares? Until, one day, my friend Christy from school came over one afternoon and wanted to play with my Barbies. She pulled off their clothes and a bisexual Barbie orgy ensued. Apparently, what you do with Barbies is make them have sex with each other.
“So she taught you how to play with Barbies?” the shrink asked, very seriously. Um, yeah, am I paying for this? Because I suddenly feel like I’m stupidly wasting everyone’s time.
She changed the subject. “So what makes you think you might be -”
“I don’t know.” I cut her off. I said “I don’t know” a lot. She asked me if I would rather talk to a man or a woman. Was this a trick question? If I say woman, then I’m really a lesbian? If I say a man, then, I’m really a man? Which way should I go? Ack. I asked for a fluent English speaker. Then I started coughing and couldn’t stop. I went home and felt crappy and got a fever and was sick in bed on my birthday (I’m 31 now, btw) poor me.
A week or so later, I went back to the same place, still feeling like I had a cold. I met a different woman, the head of the sexology department. She explained that the woman I had talked to previously was no longer employed by PsyQ and since they are having a staff meeting on March 5th to figure out what to do with me, somebody there should have met me in person. I was very careful the whole time not to say the word “transsexual.” (Because I am totally logical.) She asked me a few times the same question that the other woman had asked more than once. Did I have problems during sex? (Problems only in that the ladies can’t get enough of me. heh heh.) I asked her to explain herself. Well, my lack of a penis might make it difficult. (good lord) Then she asked me how I felt about my period. (um, well, questions about it make me feel uncomfortable.) I don’t think I dislike it significantly more than anybody else I know who has it. She asked me why I hadn’t stopped it with birth control. I explained that I really don’t like taking pills or whatever and don’t want to mess too much with things like that unless I have to for some reason. I’ve heard women talking about birth control side fx and stuff and always have felt glad I don’t have to mess with it. Emotional messes. Mojo killing. No thanks. “But it’s possible to stop it. Why don’t you do it?” she pushed. Yeah, but it can make your breasts bigger, I pointed out. She accepted that. She wanted to know why I hadn’t gone to Amsterdam to the university. Hey, I’ve just been going where y’all have been sending me.
I got the vibe that if I had asked for a referral for testosterone, she would have been willing to write one right then. (Actually, normally, they make you get 5 appointments in Amsterdam and then you carry forward. I don’t know if the appointments are to get a note for hormones or for surgery.) She clearly thought I was – that word that I was carefully shying away from. Which, I mean, what did I expect? A pat on the back and a “good for you being genderqueer!”? If I was fine just the way I am, why am I seeing a shrink anyway?
Then she talked to me about what she’s going to recommend they do with me. Anxiety therapy is the first priority.
god help me, I’ll get off Zoloft soon.
I’ve been off school for the last week. No classes! I didn’t go anywhere. I did an application for Birmingham (UK, not AL) and sat around. Today, I had a duo recording with a improv guy from the composition department. I took a deep breath and screamed “I don’t know who I am” as loud and as long as I could, though my tuba. (Metaphor, but not really.) Blat blat blat, I screamed, inhaled, bellowed improperly attacked breathy notes that don’t know where they’re going, what pitch they want to be, how they will resonate, where they are now, what valves are pressed or how much. Wail, blat blat blat.
Afterwards, I felt so much better. I didn’t even know I felt tense, but afterwards, I just felt so like I’d worked something out. so maybe the key to getting off Zoloft is playing loud, angsty tuba? I came home and actually mixed a piece of music. this entailed both me getting Ardour to work and having the attention span to mix something. Tuba is key.
I’m trying to be proactive. I used to tell myself to wait on things. I didn’t need to worry about my mental health problems as long as I could walk and eat and stuff. In the book Breaking Silence, I read about lesbian nuns developing stomach problems from stress and what I got form that was that I could wait until I had stomach problems. Yeah, last summer counted. I always wait like that. I went to a support group for FTMs once in San Francisco. One old guy there said that if you have to transition, eventually you’ll have to. In She’s Not There, Boylan writes of her experience at age 41, just being totally unable to carry on without taking action. I don’t want to be a mess in 10 years. I don’t want to delay and have my first stubble come in grey. I want to deal with this now and take action or put it behind me. I want to move forward from where I am now.
I know that’s it’s not a path of discovery, that it’s a path of creation. I have agency. I apply technologies of the self to create my own identity. It needs to be an identity I can make some peace with. that might require some more therapy. Or more tuba.

My letter to Michael Savage

Dear Mr Savage,

On the 26th of February, you stated on your radio show, “You say there are people who are sexually confused, who think that they’re men when they’re women. They’re not normal.” These comments were in regards to explaining to a child how it was that Melissa Ehteridge was thanking her wife.

I would like to comment to say that you seem to have confused lesbians with female-to-male transsexuals. While it’s true that some lesbians do eventually decide to transition to male, the vast majority do not. As Etheridge has given absolutely no indication that she plans to do so, I think you are in error regarding her gender identity.

Furthermore, while you are right to insist that transsexuality is unusual, “normal” is something of a loaded term and not one that’s easy to agree on. For instance, it’s more typical to be right handed than left handed, and for a long while it was considered “unnatural” to be left handed. Now it’s just considered to be less common. This word is even more in dispute when the “natural” (non-human) world cannot even be taken into consideration. As far as I know, there are no other mammals with the ability to change their sex and certainly none that have to power to do surgery or produce artificial sex hormones or even any that wear clothes. One could therefore conclude that since transsexuality as currently understood by humans is unavailable to animals, this somehow clinches it’s unnaturalness. But /all/ wearing of clothes is unnatural and I certainly wouldn’t use the nudity of animals to argue for general human nudism. Furthermore, as we do not understand the communications of animals, it could be quite possible that some have managed to transition from one gender to another within their animal communities and we would be completely unaware of it.

I hope this letter has cleared up some confusion for you regarding transsexuality and lesbianism. If you would like some recommendations for books that could clear this up further, please don’t hesitate to reply.

Thank you very much for your time,

There are people who are not normal, who have a confusion in their head, and they think they’re a man even though they look like a woman.

SAVAGE: Portland, Oregon, [caller], KXL, you’re on The Savage Nation.

CALLER: My wife was sitting on the couch with our 7-year-old daughter when Etheridge got up and did her piece thanking her wife and four kids, and our daughter looked over at our — at Mom and said: “Was that a man?” And how do we answer our kids when we’re forced to [sic] — this homosexuality upon us?

SAVAGE: I will tell you how you answer it: You say there are people who are sexually confused, who think that they’re men when they’re women. They’re not normal. Normal people are not like that. Normal people are like Mommy and Daddy. Mommy and Daddy are normal. There are people who are not normal, who have a confusion in their head, and they think they’re a man even though they look like a woman. That’s what you have to say to them otherwise the child will grow up confused.

Previously on the same broadcast:

ETHERIDGE: I have to thank my incredible wife, Tammy, and our four children, Becky and Bailey and Johnnie Rose and Miller, and everyone —

SAVAGE: Turn it off. Get her off my show. I don’t care what her name is. I don’t like a woman married to a woman. It makes me want to puke. How’s that? I want to vomit when I hear it. I think it’s child abuse. That’s my opinion — one man’s opinion. If it’s illegal, tell me it’s illegal to have an opinion in America. Maybe I can be excommunicated for having an opinion.

I want to puke when I hear about a woman married to a woman raising children because, frankly, I think that it’s child abuse to do that to children without their permission. What does a child know? Ask them when they’re 16 whether they want to be raised by two lesbians or two men. What are the two men doing behind the other wall? You think the children don’t hear it?
It’s fair to wonder why I am reprinting hateful garbage on my blog. Before I answer that, I’m going to add even more hateful garbage:
“The only thought that pops in ur head when u think ‘feminist’ is a fat, manly, tall lesbian who wants to take control over everything….”
” I don’t want this blog to be about the fact that I’m NOT one of those angry, hairy, lesbian feminists.”
“Maybe she had some notion that feminists are all lesbians, have hairy legs, and hate men.”
“Despite how ‘feminists’ have been portrayed, most of us don’t hate men. We aren’t hairy, unwashed, bosom sagging, shrill harpies who want to destroy families.”

Well, that was fun

Not that there’s anything wrong with being a hairy-legged lesbian.
What’s the common thread here? Gender normativity. Lesbians want to be men. Feminist are lesbians and want to be men. None of these people are conforming enough to gender stereotypes. I’m not going to go dig up comments on the other side of this, but it wouldn’t be hard to find examples of men getting called “fags” regardless of their sexual orientation, but because the speaker feels they insufficiently conform to gender stereotypes. Men are men and women are women and people who seeks to redefine or expand those roles clearly want to change their sex and that’s a bad thing.

What started this

I heard the Michael Savage rant and I winced. Yeah, there are lesbian-IDed folks who do want to be men. Augh, it’s all true! But then, I thought of the lavender menace. Some feminists really are lesbians. Augh, it’s all true!
The problem isn’t that some feminists are lesbians or that some lesbians are ftm or anything like that. The problem is the insistence that there’s something wrong with this. The insistence that gender normativity is right and good and natural and all transgressors, no matter how small or minor their transgression are unnatural and bad and wrong.
Lest this all be too obvious to justify the mad amount of quoted text, I want to go on to address radfeminists. (Doesn’t it sound like it should be the “fun” kind of feminism what with “rad” and all. It’s not.) Some straight women thought the way to address the charge that all feminists were lesbians was to throw them out of their groups. The lavender menace had to go. Not that there was anything wrong with lesbians, just their experiences and socialization was so different, they should respect the space needed for straight women and butt out. This is why lesbians are not allowed access into the Michigan Women’s Music Festival.
The same reasoning is used to exclude mtfs from women’s spaces right now. When you classify trans people as their assigned-at-birth sex, you’re agreeing with Mr Savage. Because you are denying the legitimacy of transition. Saying that mtfs are men who want to be women is awfully similar to saying that lesbians want to be men. In both cases, the possibility of successful, intention transition is dismissed. In both cases, transition is condemned. In both cases, gender is seen as essential. And really, when Michael Savage and radfeminists are agreeing on something, there’s is something going woefully wrong. This guy makes Rush Limbaugh look moderate. I used to joke that if Reagan said that oxygen was important for breathing, I would start demanding definite evidence for the oxygen thing, because he’s wrong so much of the time. I can’t agree w/ him on anything. Double that for Savage.


Back from France. I miss it and I miss living in the 10th arrondissement and walking to get cheese from the fromagerie and baguettes from the boulanger and produce from the little vegetable market around the corner. It had it’s stresses, certainly, but man, the food was better.
Nicole has learned how to roll a joint! huzzah!
Today, in class, we listed to All the Rage by Bob Ostertag (he has some free downloads on his website, you should look for this piece, in case it’s available). The recording we listened to was the Kronos Quartet playing with a tape that consisted of a guy talking about being called “queer,” getting gay bashed, his friends dying of AIDS and internalized homophobia. Intermingled with that were sounds from a riot. I asked the teacher if he knew if it was the White Night riot (I know KPFA recorded it) or Stonewall or something else, but he didn’t know. The piece is extremely powerful. It’s the sort of thing that you have to give your full attention to and then you spend the rest of the day and some of the next day thinking about it.
So after the student concert this afternoon, I was thinking about it and walking by the train station on the way home. A guy paused from rolling his joint to spare change me in Dutch. I said “sorry” (conveniently, a word in both languages) and a short guy next to him took it up again in English. I said sorry again, but he persisted and merged into sexual harassment. “Have you ever been with a man?” he asked. “You should try it at least once.” Gee, thanks for your offer, but no. Yeah, not exactly friendly when somebody is shouting it across the (bike) parking lot at you.
The Ostertag piece starts with (quoted from memory) “I remember the first time I heard somebody say ‘queer’ and knew they meant me.”
Yeah, French folks thought I was kind of weird and they got that across subtly, but I was in a little bubble of foreignness. I was the eccentric anglophone. Clearly not French. Old ladies gave me mildly disapproving looks on the metro once in a while. Men did not give me the eye. At all. Ever. I was more or less outside of the male gaze for a year. Nobody called me queer. Nobody laughed at me (except for my terrible language skills). Nobody refused to sell me clothes. The bathrooms were more or less gender neutral and the dressing rooms at clothing stores were explicitly gender neutral.
The Hague is a lot like home in some ways. I feel unfriendly male laughter following me around here. FWIW, this not coming from people who ‘look’ Dutch, but from people who might be other immigrants. I would type more about this, but Nicole’s joint rolling skills are starting to effect my typing.
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I stayed up late the night before working on my symphony thingee, which nobody commented on, which must mean that you all hate it as much as i do. I’m thinking maybe i should move some of the brass stuff over to the bassoons or something, cuz brass is loud.

Got too early (well, actually, late, but it seemed too early), to go to the extra session of Ron’s Recoridng Culture seminar. He’s gone for two weeks, going to china to adopt his daughter and maybe do some skiing. Apparently she’s right next to China’s largest ski resort. Anyway, I crawled, slug-like to ron’s class and than aftwerwards met with Ron and Jascha to discuss TA duties for leading workshops in ron’s absence. I’m not at all clear, but I think Jascha is. Spacey normally, now spacey and tired. I think they’re supossed to do a mix of some sound file to come up with a CD that they could shuffle play in their room for 24 hours without being driven to suicide. Jascha and I gave them sound files of a german guy playing billiards and some Maggi Payne and Brenda Hutchinson sounds. Maggi’s sounds were BART, filtered BARt and something airplane-ish. Brenda’s sounds seemed to be a maybe a close miced vacuum cleaner, perhaps and what sounded like it could have been a field recording of the exploratorium, which would be logical, since she works there.
Then, after that and doing some other non-essential stuff, I took a nap from 2:00 pm till nearly 8:00. It took me a long time to wake up. My neighbor knocked on my front door to complain that there was dog poop “all over” the back yard. My front door is broken and will not open. I called the landlord a week ago. She called me back. I didn’t return her call. (ok, I just returned her call) Nor have I paid the heating bill, the phone or the electricity. I did however go out a few days ago and fix my cell phone and buy my textbooks. But I haven’t read the textbooks enough. I’m behind on my reading for last wednesday, for a class that I skipped. I’m so not on top of things.
[you may wish to skip this paragraph] So I went out to the backyard and found one small piece of neglected poop. Xena is evil. If you walk up to her while she’s pooping, she’ll stop and then wait until you aren’t looking and go someplace else. This is more than you needed to know about poop. As Renee once said, if you’re talking about poop, you’re a mom. So I went to pick it up and damned if wasn’t completely frozen to the ground. I’m not a fan of this “winter” thing. I dug it out with a snow shovel. I’ve been peering around the backyard today in the daylight, and I’m not sure about this “all over” claim, all though there are a lot of chunks of frozen mud wich might confuse you if you need glasses.

Gay Bar

[This paragraph is ok again] So I ate all the leftovers and some canned soup and then went to Angela’s house and then we went to the Polo Club in Hartford. The Polo Club was reccomended by Tom. He’s het, but his girlfriend is bi and he’s the only person I know who is actually from Connecticut and exists at all outside of the tiny grad community. He’d never been there. He’d go with me, he explained, but it was his 8 month anniversary with his gf and they had to have sex.

Male strippers

So angela and I show up and there’s thumping techno music and the guy charging us the cover explains that the drag shows and male strippers have three shows at 11:00, 12:00 and 1:00. oic. The woman checking IDs is clearly a dyke, but the bar is full of boys (duh) and the woman who gets us a table and beers (budweiser) is not a woman.
Gradually, the place begins to fill up and the percentage of females starts to increase. I look around and decide they’re either fag hags or straight girls who want to see naked gay boys. I go to pee and there’s a conversation about whether getting your stomach surgically reduced is a good diet strategy. “Yeah, but she looks great!”
Angela is getting increasingly excited. It’s her first drag show and mine too (unless you count Fairy Butch). Finally, the show starts and out comes a big, bitter, middle aged drag queen. “I’m in so much spandex that if it blows, it will take out the front two rows.” she explains. “Four rows!” somebody shouts. “fuck you.” she replies.
She starts making fun of the het boy in the audience and then turns to the women I had pegged as het. They’re not het. They’re all lesbians. I have no gaydar in CT. There were actually a lot of lesbians around. Who knew?
After mocking everyone who is not a gay man, she disappears and the first stripper comes out. He’s wearing a police shirt, dark blue pants with handcuffs on them (definitely not police pants, tho), designer sunglasses, and bright, white tennis shoes. He undulated for a while and finally stripped down to small black boxer briefs. Angela kept whispering to me that he was crappy dancer. then he disappeared. The next performer was a man in a gold sequined dress lip synching some song. Angela was so moved that she had tears in her eyes. Actually, I saw many people with tears in her eyes. People kept comming up and tucking dollar bills into her dress or handing them to her. (and by “her” i mean the man in a dress, not angela. pronouns are slippery in drag.)
Then a guy came out in tiny white boxer briefs with a big tub and sat in it and pretended to take a bath while the song “rubber ducky” played. Then her got out of his tub and started stretching and squeezing a big sponge over his head to “rinse off.” He removed his briefs and was wearing a white, not quite opaque, g-string. He was happy to see us. I shifted uncomfortably. Guys were stuffing dollars into his g-string, as this was a stripper sort of thing. He held up a towell to his waist and off came the g-string. He was sort of flapping his towel around, tittilatingly. la la la
Then the MC was back, in a blonde wig, wearing several layers of tutu, lip synching to Cindy’s Lauper’s Girls Just Wanna Have Fun. She strutted around and revealed her grandma underwear. She caught sight of me and jumped in my lap to give me a lap dance. I was a bit taken aback, so she ground my head into her fake breasts. ack. Angela was falling over laughing. I gave her a dollar afterwards. then the 11:00 show was over. angela wanted to leave to go to the grad party, so we left and did not see the subsequent shows, nor did I talk to any lesbians. alas.

Grad Party

We showed upa round midnight. Everyone was pretty drunk. this one guy was very drunk. I hadn’t talked to him since the start of the last semester. He went to wesleyan as an undergrad. Wes boys want to be sincere. They want to be your friend. So he touched my arm gently, perhaps to steady himself, and slurred that he was very sorry to hear of my recent breakup. I explained that I needed a beer right away and got a can of budweiser. It was a budweiser kind of night. I eventually caught up to the party’s level of inebraition and was dancing to Abba’s Dancing Queen and then It’s Raining Men. campiness was all around me, everywhere I went. So we danced to 2:30 in the morning and Deborah explained that one of the astronomy grads, who was not at the party, wants to sleep with me. I have my own pimp now or something.
Tom just emailed me today asking if I want to go to the Polo Club with him tongiht. I think I’ll say yes.