I’ve been binge-listening to Beautiful Stories from Anonymous People, a podcast hosted by comedian Chris Gethard. The premise is so super basic: He “tweets” out the phone number when he is in the studio, and whoever ends up getting through talks with Chris, anonymously, for exactly one hour. Sometimes it’s just chit chat, sometimes the caller has an agenda and they want to make the most of this platform. Sometimes it’s funny, but more often, it’s sad, intense, and heartfelt. I’ve heard the experiences of someone in an abusive relationship, someone who escaped from a cult, someone who was a heroin addict, someone who was in an inappropriate relationship with their teacher, and so much more – including two episodes in which the caller is a trans-person.
What Not To Ask A Trans Person (Episode #54) In this episode, Chris deviated from the formula a bit – every so often, instead of taking a random call, he’ll ask people to leave a “pitch” as a phone message, and he will reach out to one of those people. In this case, the caller is a 28 year-old transman who is engaged to a transwoman… and, unfortunately, that’s about all we get to know about him as a person. The majority of the call is Trans-101 stuff – we are STILL only at this basic level with the general population. Chris puts his foot in his mouth a couple of times (he makes it clear this will be inevitable.) At one point he uses the word “transgender” as a verb, when he meant to say “transition.” Also, this exchange was super cringe-worthy:
Caller: “Even people who are not in any way transphobic, most people don’t know a lot about the experience being trans or the trans community, so they tend to be very curious. And this is fine, except that often it ends up that often trans people end up being … put in a position of having to answer all their questions, sometimes very invasive questions … like, what your genitals look like.”
Chris: [Talks super eloquently about mental health in the trans community, transphobia, and other vulnerabilities. Then says] “I do like that the first one you did mention was people asking you about your genitals. That’s gotta get real old real fast. That being said, on behalf of everybody who is wondering, I wonder what your, what your eh, your your…” and then he trailed off. DUDE. The caller handled it really well, making it super clear that that’s not a question that you ask people.
Chris: “Are there any stories… Is there any real life shit you can put out there and just make it eye opening of like, ‘yeah, this shit is real.’ You know?”
Caller: “You know, like, I think … the biggest thing is like, maybe stop murdering trans people.” He said this so casually that I laughed out loud.
One other thing that the caller pointed out that I’d never really thought about before was when talking about the high percentage of trans people who have attempted suicide – I always saw that as some concrete indicator of how outcasted the population is, how brutal society has been toward trans people. But for someone who is apt to brush that off and think that trans people are just mentally ill to begin with, that person will just cement it in their mind further that of course trans people want to kill themselves. They’re crazy. That’s demoralizing to think about.
Coming Out, With Katie Couric (Episode #77) This one also deviated from the normal format in that it was the second episode ever where Chris had a co-host. (The first one was episode #37 with Hannibal Buress.) Apparently Katie Couric reached out to him, really wanting to come on his show! The only thing I’d heard about her, any time lately, was that she botched an interview with transgender model Carmen Carrera in January 2014, asking things such as, “Your private parts are different now, aren’t they?” And then later, Laverne Cox stepped up, came on her show, and told it like it is, namely, (and yep, I’m reiterating this from just a few paragraphs ago) That’s not a question that you ask people!
Since then, I’d basically villified Katie Couric in my head, just assuming she’s too mainstream and out of touch. But, as she tells it, she had the opportunity to just edit all that garbage out, and she decided it was important to leave it in as a teachable moment, and admit her mistakes. And then! She went on to produce, along with National Geographic, a whole documentary called Gender Revolution, which came out in February of 2017. I had no idea.
So when the random caller for this particular episode happened to be a trans-woman (and she had no idea Katie Couric was there with Chris when she called), it feels serendipitous. And it’s a lot more interesting and personal than the other episode I’m highlighting, largely because it feels more meandering and off-the-cuff. Chris, again, is a little off (he isn’t usually, haha!) and Katie Couric is super thoughtful and poised. I kinda like her after this, even. The caller is at the very beginning of her journey, as a 20 year-old junior in college, studying math and economics. She has only told 6 people so far, and she’s just dabbled in painting her nails, little things like that. She’s been on estrogen for two weeks. She’s not yet comfortable seeking out support from other trans people, experimenting with clothing in private, anything along those lines.
It’s super interesting to hear from someone who is just starting to feel out her gender identity, as opposed to many of the voices from the trans community who seemingly have a lot of it figured out / are much further along in their journey.
Highly recommend these episodes!
Thank you to Self Made Originality for including me in another round of the Liebster Award! It’s been a while. Looking back, the last time I had a go-around was 2 years ago! So, the way this chain-style, community based award system goes is, if you’re chosen, you then choose a bunch of other blogs you like, and it branches out from there. I imagine the pattern of these awards swirling, dead-ending, and splintering/multiplying, over time, forever and ever. It’s a great opportunity to find out about other blogs and connect with one another.
I tend to not follow the rules completely, but if I do nominate you, here’s how it’s supposed to go:
1. Acknowledge the blogger who nominated you and display the award logo.
2. Answer the 11 questions the blogger gives you.
3. Nominate bloggers who you think are deserving of the award but also help promote newer bloggers with less followers.
4. Tell the bloggers you nominated them, in a comment on their blog.
5. Give them 11 questions of your own.
So, when answering the questions posed, I’m going to do a combination of questions from a couple of sources, just answering the ones I feel like answering (if I nominated you, go ahead and answer these, and/or make up your own to answer. And if you wanna display the award logo, just google image search “Liebster Award.”)
- What inspires you most when writing/blogging? Real life experiences, and a self-imposed “quota.” Basically, if I haven’t written 2 blog posts in a month, minimum, I start wracking my brain for something to write about!
- Are you religious? No.
- If not, why not / What holds you back? I grew up in a religious household and went to church regularly. (Episcopal church.) As I got older, I found other things to fill that same space in my soul. Volunteering for various things and creative endeavors let me explore spirituality without the rigid rituals.
- Did you enjoy your education? (high school, university, etc.) No, I did not. I would not trade it for a different path at this point because who knows where I would be without that structure. But I would say my high school and college years were the worst, in terms of mental health issues, loneliness, and just feeling very very lost.
- What is your dream job? Honestly, the job I have right now is pretty ideal. I don’thave to interact with people much at all, I listen to podcasts and radio shows all day, I stay physically fit… I guess my dream job would be phasing out working full time and making a living out of working part time, plus DJing and/or writing.
- Boxers or briefs? Boxer briefs. Although, today I wore boxers (one out of only a handful of days I’ve worn boxers, and it was pretty great.
- What important values do you live by? Everything in moderation, avoid debt, help others when you have energy and it feels good (otherwise don’t worry about it), try to leave a record of things that are important, connecting with people is one of the most worthwhile things to put energy into (even if it’s often hard), just do your thing.
That’s about all I got for now.
Check out these awesome blogs:
One other thing I wanna mention: I used to pore over many many blogs. I probably spent between 1 and 2 hours every day, reading other blogs that were written by people who identifiy as transgender. And in recent months, that has tapered off. I’ve tried to pinpoint why, exactly. Maybe I’m not searching for myself in others’ experiences as much as I used to? I have made it, in a lot of ways, to the other side of my journey (getting on hormones, getting top surgery, legally changing my name, coming out at work, etc.)?
Maybe. I guess what I mean to say is that I miss connecting with other bloggers through shared experiences. And I’m not totally sure why I’ve slowly gravitated elsewhere – it seems like a natural progression, at this point. As of now, it hasn’t affected my interest in writing blog posts. I hope that doesn’t waver, and I do hope I again become interested in checking in with other bloggers more frequently!
Here it is, finally! Photographic proof that my name plate finally arrived the way I want it, after many delays and a mix-up. If you want to read about the backstory, here are two past posts:
From December: The “Mx.” got way delayed
From last January: I came out at work, cont’d
The short version is that I asked for the Mx. a year and 3 months ago, following my legal name change. A full year passed before anything happened, and it came through as Kameron [last name], which was not what I wanted. So I talked to the principal again, and luckily, she was pliable. A month ago, I saw a name plate in the admin. assistant’s trash (only because I empty her trash), that said, Ms. [last name]. Meaning, that Staples messed it up even though it got submitted the way I wanted it. Another week passed (during which time I was wondering if I’d have to check back in with the admin. assistant or not. Glad I just waited.) and, finally, there it was, on the custodial door.
Within a week of me coming out at work, a new protocol had been put in place for how we should go about cleaning bathrooms. And for the first time, it applied to all cleaners in all bathrooms, not just guy cleaners going in women’s /girl’s bathrooms, or gals going in the men’s / boy’s. The timing of it was not lost on me.
1. First, call out to see if anyone is in there. If they are, wait.
2. Next, take a sign that is now velcro-ed to the back of all bathroom doors, and velcro-adhere it to the front. This sign reads, “Do Not Enter. Cleaning in Progress.”
3. Close the door, and then do whatever you’re doing, whether it’s just loading more paper towels or full-on cleaning the bathroom.
Before this, we only had to be conscious if we were in bathrooms that were opposite to the ones of our gender/sex.
When I came out to the principal and assistant principal, one of the first and only questions they asked was about bathrooms. Which bathrooms did I plan on using? If she (the principal) could make a suggestion, it would be best if I only used the gender neutral bathrooms. I was polite in response, even though I had not thought this through, and at the time, I used both the women’s bathrooms and the gender neutral bathrooms. All I said was, “A lot of people are worried about bathrooms when it comes to trans-people.”
As it is, a year later, I really only do use the gender-neutral bathrooms because different people within the school have different perceptions about where I’m at, and I want to protect myself and also foster the idea that I am neither male nor female. I didn’t plan on this. I thought I’d be continuing to use both women’s and gender-neutral ones. But I’m not.
I clean one set of bathrooms in the “centrum,” an open plan area where the first graders are taught – there are 3 regular classrooms, 2 resource classrooms, a big open area, and two bathrooms. These bathrooms don’t have doors on them, and also therefore, there are no, “Do Not Enter, Cleaning in Progress” signs accompanying them. Since I do get a head start while the first graders are getting ready to go home, I always yell, “Anyone in here?” even before just dumping the trash / cleaning the sinks. (Due to placement, there’s no way I’d encounter someone using the restroom from the sink area.)
A few days ago, I was doing my routine and called out like always. No one answered. I was putting in a new roll of paper towel. Then I heard a toilet flush. Also a bunch of kids were to the immediate right of this bathroom, putting on their winter coats and boots. I finished loading the paper towel, deciding that it would have been a bigger deal if I had just left it half loaded in my paranoia to escape the bathroom. The girl washed her hands and then I ripped off a piece for her to dry her hands.
Kids who were right there had a very lively conversation!
“There are no boys allowed in the girl’s room.”
“And also no girls allowed in the boy’s room.”
“But why is he in there in the bathroom then?”
“He has to be in there because that’s his job.”
“He’s putting more paper towels in there.”
“But still are you sure he can be in there?”
I just cleared out without further fanfare, but I felt kinda flustered. Personally, I still feel like I half belong in the girl’s / women’s bathrooms. Indeed, those are the ones I use the vast majority of the time when I am out in public.
I was intrigued that these first graders gathered that I was male. I honestly have no clue whether kids at the school I work at think I’m male or female. Whenever I’m asked (this happens so rarely), I do make a point to say, “I’m neither. I’m a little bit of both.” But short of that, I don’t have a clue what conclusions they come to!
One other thing that is tangentially related, I feel, because it concerns personal space: Since I’ve come out, had top surgery, and been on testosterone for long enough that my physique and how I carry myself has changed, I get touched a lot more at work. Some teachers pat or gently tap my shoulders and back. A few days ago, I was thrown way off when a kid patted my midsection for no apparent reason! It’s definitely different, and I don’t respond likewise with anyone, but I gotta say that I do think it’s a positive change – I think people can tell that I am more comfortable in my skin, and some of them act accordingly.
I’ll take it!
If you’d like to see what I originally wrote about this topic, back in January of 2014, here it is:
Bathroom anxieties: a genderqueer janitor’s perspective
I decided to write a Part 2 because this one felt outdated. And I still haven’t covered everything, not by a lot shot! (probably part 3 will appear in the future…)
Back in November, I lamented about not being able to find much writing out there that really portrays what can go on in someone’s head while they are in the middle of a psychotic episode. In the past few weeks, two such books sorta fell into my lap, so I want to mention them!
My spouse picked up a book called Mental: Lithium, Love, and Losing My Mind from the library last weekend. They pointed it out to me, like, eh? You’ll want to read this! This weekend, I was super sick, and I binge read it in 2 days, while trying to stay warm on the couch. It was compelling for so many different reasons, one major one being that I could relate to so much of it. The author, Jaime Lowe, was also hospitalized for a good chunk of her senior year of high school, and she also just took the pills without much reflection for years and years. Like, it’s something that is a thing now. (Although, for me, it was Depakote, and not Lithium.) She had another manic / psychotic episode when she tried to get off Lithium at age 25. I successfully(?) did get off all my pills in my early 20s, and that was my new normal for a long time, until I had 2 subsequent manic / psychotic episodes in my 30s. She had to switch off of Lithium because it was killing her kidneys, and she had a really hard time stomaching Depakoke, but she finally did get through it.
Having to switch sent her on a spiritual journey to learn about Lithium as not just a psychotropic drug but as an element, super common in nature. Which made the book encompass much more than just her mental health trajectory. The best thing about it though, was how thoroughly and deeply she gets back into that headspace of being so completely out of her mind. The slightest suggestion toward a minuscule thing could send her on an all-day (or longer) journey to do and/or be that thing. She devastated every aspect of her life that second time around. I was surprised by the fact that everyone around her wanted to keep her out of the hospital for a second time because she was no longer an adolescent and the adult ward was apparently to be avoided at all costs. As a result, she was in that state much longer – days, weeks… I was brought to the hospital like, BAM! So fast my head didn’t get a chance to spin out too far too fast with too many repercussions.
The second book I’m reading with a portrayal of a breakdown is called The Petting Zoo, by Jim Carroll (of The Basketball Diaries fame). He wrote this book in 2010, and according to the forward by Patti Smith, he died at his desk while writing. He had finished it at the time of his death, but it was still in the editing process. A few people had their hands in trying to edit as close to Jim’s style as possible. It’s fiction. It’s hard for me to get through (probably largely because it’s fiction – I almost always gravitate toward non-fiction and memoir). The book opens with the main character, Billy, in the midst of a manic frenzy. I didn’t know the book would be about that at all – nothing about that on the back cover summary – I bought it on a whim from a record store that was going out of business. So it was interesting to get thrown into that unexpectedly, but I gotta say it felt lacking in… something.
Billy has some kind of crisis over an art opening at the MET and how what he saw of this one artist affects how he’s approaching his art for his own upcoming show. He careens off down the steps, on his own, into the Central Park Zoo, more specifically a side spectacle, an outdated petting zoo. From there, he flees down the street, in his tuxedo and fancy shoes, to a building that reminds him of an Aztec temple. He then hits his head and his eye on branches or something and starts shouting something about a knife. He has a momentary black-out and the cops pick him up. At which point he comes back to reality, and that’s it. Although the aftermath ends up taking longer, red tape and everything. He has to stay overnight in a mental ward, which is just kind of looked at as a novelty, a curiosity, a stop-over.
In conclusion, real life is zanier (or at least more compelling to me) than fiction.
Today is a year on T-injections, 50ml / week. I’d been on Androgel prior to this – from March 2013 to November 2015. During that time, I didn’t experience many physical changes at all, which was what I was looking for at the time. And it’s kind of the reason I stopped too – it became unclear what the purpose was, as if it didn’t make much difference whether I was on the gel or not.
So for that whole next year, I was trying to square away other elements of my transition, not sure whether I’d get back on testosterone or not. It just felt like I wanted to get top surgery, change my name, and transition further socially before I would potentially want to pursue a level of hormones that would definitely change things in a noticeable way. In the summer of 2016, it started to feel like the next step. I was still pretty regularly seen as female everywhere, and more than anything, I wanted to be more firmly planted in the middle.
It took about 6 months to get an appointment and get started on injections. I was doing intramuscular injections at first for about 9 months, and not liking it. The need to get psyched up in order to jab in the needle was not fun. When my endocrinologist gave me the option to switch to subcutaneous, I jumped at tat. I am loving this method. I wrote about making the switch here: 9 months on T-injections
I like being on this dose of testosterone a lot more than I thought I would. The only aspects I’m not liking are the facial hair growth and the loss of a sense of smell.
I would say that I am seen as male more than I am seen as female, now. That’s huge. I don’t want that to tip too far in that direction, but so far, so good. I’m still legally female, and I still almost always go into women’s bathrooms and dressing rooms. I’ve never been stopped or questioned.
There are a lot of changes I could write about in depth, but right now I feel like focusing on my voice. When I started Androgel, I was overly anxious about my voice changing, in particular. I think it dropped ever-so-slightly, and I freaked out and lowered my dose even further. And that worked – it didn’t change any further. When I started injections, I was aware that my voice would probably be the most noticeable thing changing, early on. And I was OK with that – something had shifted over the years.
I’m a DJ on a free form community radio station, and I’ve done an hour-long show regularly every week for the past two years. It’s been a total blast. And, it’s been a way to effortlessly track the changes in my voice. When I hear pre-T recordings, my reaction is total cringe. Which is quite the shift, since I used to want to “preserve” that register. Now I really hate it! And I love how it’s changed. I can never go back, and I’m totally fine with that!
Aaaand, here’s my face:
My spouse, spouse’s mom, and I were sitting in a “farm shop” at Aillwee Cave near Ballyvaughan, Ireland. We had vague plans to go into the cave, but more than anything we were just exploring the west coast by car, stopping at the side of windy narrow roads for pictures, looking at all the sheep, stone walls, castles, and stone-house ruins. When we arrived at the cave and realized it would be 18 Euros each, to tour it, we opted to just take a break instead: drink some Americanos, and sample all the cheeses that were made right in the shop. We picked up tourist maps and brochures, spreading them open on the counter in front of us. I noticed one point of interest, the Burren Brewery at the Roadside Tavern, in Lisdoonvarna, which just happened to be en route to our way back.
My impression of Irish beer so far had been that there are essentially three kinds: a light lager, a red ale, and a dry stout. The blurb about this brewery confirmed that: “The Roadside Tavern which was established in 1865 as a pub, was expanded into a bakery and now harbours a micro-brewery under its roof. Stop by and sample the taster menu of Burren micro-brewery beers: Burren Gold, a delicious colourful lager; Burren Red, a spicy, slightly sweet ale which even features a hint of smoke; Burren Black, a smooth and full-bodied stout.”
The town was so small that we just parked on the main street and walked up and down, looking for the Roadside Tavern. When we found it, it looked closed and there was a sign on the door that food was not being served for the next couple of months – the off season for tourists. We tried the door and were surprised to find that it was in fact open. An old gentleman was tending bar, and there were three locals just shooting the breeze. It was only 4pm, but it had the vibe that it didn’t really get much more crowded than that, even on a late night in January. It was already getting dark out, and the place was dimly lit. I ordered one of each (my spouse’s mom got the Gold, I got the Red, and my spouse got the Black.) We found our way into a second room, where a fire was blazing, giving off a warmth and a glow.
This was also an opportunity to go on our phones – WiFi was spotty throughout the trip; our airbnb didn’t have a connection. Since I don’t have a smart phone, I just stared at the fire, trying to overhear the conversations. I couldn’t make out a whole lot, but the language was definitely colorful.
The bartender went into the back for a while, and I snapped a few photos. Then I started to wander around, looking for the restroom. I went up some stairs and through a door which led to a more of a dining area, completely empty. When I came back, my spouse said they were joking about how I was leading my own micro-brewery tour. I said I was looking for the bathroom (just called “toilet” in Ireland.) My spouse’s mom pointed to another door. “It’s always down the stairs.”
I went through and there was the bartender. I looked to my left, “ladies,” and to my right, “gents.” I made a move like I was going left, and the bartender firmly, simply, gestured me the other way. I thought to myself, “well, his place, his rules. I don’t feel unsafe. Here we go…” and I went in. While I was in the stall, another guy came in and approached a urinal. I flushed, washed my hands, dried my hands, and left. No problems.
This wasn’t the first time I’ve been directed to the men’s. It happened once in Turkey. And also at a clothing store, to the men’s dressing room. This felt more deliberate though, ceremonial almost. And although I don’t plan to continue frequenting men’s bathrooms, it felt validating. I really do feel like I am inhabiting a middle ground, finally.
Before we left, the bartender asked how we liked the beers. My spouse said of the Burren Black, “Better than a Guinness!” The bartender just nodded, knowingly.
Recently, while in the midst of yet another gender confusion stream-of-consciousness ramble, directed at my therapist, she reminded me, “You used to tell me that you didn’t think you felt like a man, but you wanted to be seen as a boy.” But that was like 15 years ago, when I was 20, 21 years old. At that point, it wasn’t that much of a stretch to be seen as a 15 year old boy. Right? Or at least, not nearly as much of a stretch as a 36-year old (me, now) wanting that same thing. Do I still want that? Not really, anymore. But, it is happening at this point, sometimes, more than ever before. (Well maybe not more than when I was 10 years old and there was no way to tell me apart from a boy of that same age..)
When I was first grappling with what it meant to be transgender, one of the first terms I latched onto was “boi.” It’s a deviation of “boy,” something that’s queer and edgy but also kind of just “testing the waters,” experimental, non-committal. Wikipedia has a whole slew of other meanings for “boi,” which is worth checking out, here.
It seems that this term has fallen out of popularity, similarly to how “hir” and “ze” have given way to “they.”
I gotta admit I don’t identify with “boi” anymore. Nor do I feel like I am a boy. BUT! There are certain things that are great about being seen that way. When people mistake me for a 16 year old boy, I feel like I will live forever! Hah, not really, but there is something exciting about it. I almost always get carded unless I’m at a place where people know my face. Fine by me!
Sometimes I have trouble inhabiting this body. it has gotten waaaaaaay easier since top surgery and testosterone. BUT! Do you know what’s cool about this body? The size of my body is exactly between “boy’s” sizes and “men’s” sizes, in every way. I love that – it’s kind of perfect. I can wear boys XL shirts (as long as the sleeves are long enough) or men’s XS shirts (kind of hard to find). Men’s pants start at size 28 waist, and boy’s pants end at size 30 waist. I fall right within that range – lately since testosterone, going more toward the 30. Boy’s size 20 means 30X30 which is pretty much perfect, if I can find them.
And shoes! Boy’s go up to size 6y (the “y” stands for youth). And Men’s start at size 7. Either of these fit me.
I wear unisex size small t-shirts. I wear both boy’s and men’s underwear, but gravitate more towards boy’s because it’s generally waaaaaaaay cheaper.
When I was 20, 21, a close friend and I strongly identified as “bois,” together. We played catch with baseballs and mitts, or frisbees, countless times. We peed in the woods, whenever we had to go, no big deal. We worked on an organic garden, we went camping and swimming in the lake in just our briefs and A-frame tank tops. We got free ice creams at the place my brother worked. She now identifies as a bisexual woman. And I identify as trans, as genderqueer, as non-binary, as queer.
But, although I have a history with it, I probably would not say that I am a “boi.”
I have not come up against very much resistance or ugliness as I’ve come out, in stages, in different ways, over the span of like 18 years. I’ve been called rude things out car windows. I’ve had uncomfortable and disconcerting medical appointments. I’ve faced silence-as-acceptance(?) from certain family members. I’m still dealing with people not grasping the right pronoun, or referring to my spouse as my “friend.” But these things have been few and far between, and although they do add up, they don’t feel terribly crushing. Most of the hardest feelings have come from within, and not outside forces.
Two weeks ago though, something came up that was deliberate, that would affect me long term, and that I can’t just let go. It’s my name plate at work.
I’ve worked at this school for over 10 years, and I’ve struggled to find my place within the rest of the staff. As a default, I’ve been distant and out-of-the-loop for the most part. It took me 6 years to get a name on the custodial door at all, and that only happened when a new person started and he got his name on the door. Then it was suddenly, hey, wait a minute! I had been fine without one, or so I told myself, because I’d rather not have one at all than be a “Miss” or a “Ms.” or later a “Mrs.” or even a “Mr.” All of those feel cringe-worthy and totally wrong for me. So when I was actually asked, and I said, “KT [last name]” and that was accepted, I was thrilled. That was the name I went by. It felt right. At the time.
And then it didn’t. I came out at work last December. Holy what, that was a year ago! Part of this included talking to the principal about my name and pronoun change. I also made it clear that I was not transitioning to male, exactly, and I’d like it to be known I identify as in the middle or as a little bit of both genders. She replied that that distinction was not necessary, and that was more of a private thing. PS- It isn’t. It’s my identity. Instead of deciding I needed to clarify in that moment though, I attempted to grasp onto other compromises and specifics. So that, when she asked me about my name on the custodial door, it was immediately a no-brainer. “Mx. [last name].” It’s another option, I said. It is in use. It’s a thing, I tried to assure her. I said, “If this is representing my name, then I don’t feel compelled to spell out [in a coming out email she was going to be sending on my behalf] how I am neither gender. The title will speak for itself, and people can ask me if they want.” The principal nodded. It felt very much like we had agreed on this. She had told me that it could say whatever I wanted although she would like there to be some uniformity with everyone else’s. Mx. seemed perfect. I assumed there was follow-through on this.
As the months went by and I still didn’t have a name on the door (my supervisor had ripped off my old one), I wondered what was a reasonable amount of time to wait before asking what’s going on? But then I was out of work in May for mental health reasons. And then it was summer, and stuff like that doesn’t get done over the summer. I again had a new co-worker. I decided I would just ride in on his coat-tails. It would be easier, and that was the route I preferred to take at that time. And sure enough, within the first couple of weeks of school starting back up in September, he got his name on the custodial door. And I still didn’t. It was Mr. [last name]. I went to the administrative assistant that day and asked about my name. She apologized for not adding mine to the order, and she said she’d order it right then and there. I gave her a piece of paper where I had written it out, so there’d be no confusion: Mx. [last name].
It took 2 months, but it finally came in 2 weeks ago, but it was all wrong. I checked the custodial mail slot like I do most days, and I was appalled to see two new name plates: one for me and one for my co-worker – both of them were our first and last names. No titles at all. My ears turned red, my pulse quickened. I paced around a little, trying to move forward with my work while processing this. The principal was still in her office, adjacent to the hall where these mail slots are. I started to gear up to approach her, but then I hesitated, thinking I should wait until I’m more levelheaded. I didn’t get a chance to decide because right in that moment, she left.
My first, more general thought was that this is disrespectful in a classist sense. Why should ours be the only names that don’t have a title with them. Other thoughts spiraled out from there, most prominently, “I don’t want to have to deal with this!”
When the name got put on the door, I told my co-worker that’s not what I wanted. (He failed to change out his name plate, so mine was the only one with a first name). I then told the administrative assistant, and she said this was the principal’s decision. Which I already figured; I just didn’t want to talk to her! For 5 days in a row, I gathered myself to go talk to her, only to be met with her on her way out the door right in that moment. So finally when passing her in the hall on the 6th day, I asked, “Can I talk to you before you leave today?”
That worked! I talked to her and it was no big deal on her end. I wrote out what I wanted, for a third time, and she said it’d be ordered the following day. Which was yesterday. We’ll see how long it takes this time around; at this point it’s been over a year!
Back in October, I was asked to be a part of a group performance art piece, an interpretation of John Cage’s Variations III. We were given a sheet of transparent plastic with 42 circles on it. Our task was to cut out each circle, take a 11 X 8.5 inch sheet of paper, drop the circles onto the white paper, clear any circles that landed outside of the paper and also any circle that wasn’t overlapping with another circle. Then we took a photo of our “circle configuration.” Mine looked like this:
We were then supposed to distill this pattern into a “score” that would span 2 hours (including 5 minute breaks for every “event.” According to the directions, “Starting with any circle, observe the number of circles which overlap it. Make an action or actions having the corresponding number of interpenetrating variables (1+n). This done, move on to any one of the overlapping circles, again observing the number of interpenetrations, performing a suitable action or actions, and so on. Some or all of one’s obligation may be performed through ambient circumstances (environmental changes) by simply noticing or responding to them. Though no means are given for the measurement of time or space … or the specific interpretation of circles, such measurement and determination means are not necessarily excluded from the ‘interpenetrating variables.’ Some factors though not all of a given interpenetration or succession of several may be planned in advance, but leave room for the use of unforseen eventualities. Any other activities are going on at the same time.”
So, in less dense terms, 24 performers were given a space of roughly 4 feet by 6 feet, all in one big room. And we could do any activity we chose, for a length of two hours, off and on, as was guided by our circle permutation. So, basically, I had 9 circles which meant 9 events, and I tried to have each overlap “dictate” how each of the 9 events was structured. The performance was on December 1st.
I decided mine would be about doing drag. There was really nothing else that made sense. Drag has been the only form of performance art I’ve done, and I was excited to, in a way, deconstruct and leave up to chance, the way it played out.
I brought an alarm clock radio with a tape player, 100 cassettes tapes all in a display case, 9 wigs & hats, 4 skirts, 2 pants, one dress, a bunch of shirts and coats and belts and cumberbunds, 4 shoes & boots, a makeup bag, 4 “microphones,” a mirror, a blow dryer, and a hair buzzer. I think I was the performer with the most “stuff,” and over the course of 2 hours, I proceeded to make a mess of all of it, within my space. This was reminiscent of any time I would do drag. After a show, my room would be a disaster of dress-up options.
So, for each of the 9 events, I threw “circles,” onto the ground (including cds, tokens, bracelets, and mason jar rings). I then pretended to have these circle formations dictate what I wore and what tape I played. In a vague sense. It all did work out in the end – I had 9 different outfits and 9 different songs, all chosen at random. Some of those included REM – Drive, XTC – Summer’s Cauldron, Tears for Fears – Shout, and Kate Bush – Jig of Life. I didn’t know these songs by heart, so I just pretended to lip-synch. Due to the cacophony in the room though, I was the only one who could hear the clock radio anyway – I had to hold it right next to my ear!
Other peoples’ actions included baking things, bicycling, playing instruments, creating play-dough art, playing video games, reading aloud, dancing, and much more! Observers just walked among us. It was unclear whether they were supposed to engage with us or not. One guy did come up to me and ask if he could talk to me. I said, “Sure.” He said he thought earlier I had silver lipstick on and now I don’t, so what happened? I said, “Oh, that lipstick was so old it didn’t go on right. It was all clumpy. So during one of my breaks, I went to the bathroom to take it off.” “Was that part of what was supposed to happen?” “No!” And we both laughed. He asked more questions about why did you do this, why not this?
Afterward I talked to a handful of acquaintances – it felt good to be social. That guy came back up to me and said, “You know, when you put on the lipstick, you really had me convinced.” “Convinced of what? That it looked bad?” “No, that you were a woman.” “Oh, whoa, OK, so, I’m a little bit of both. As is all this stuff.” I gestured to all my clothes and junk, still strewn about. My two friends I was talking to backed me up, which felt awesome.
I think ultimately, I was going for that response, for people to be confused about what genders I was playing out or not playing out. So even though his forwardness made me uncomfortable in the moment, it was an important element, or “takeaway,” from the night.