Trans on the Internet Part 1Posted: May 26, 2015
Last July, I submitted a proposal for an essay to a new and exciting anthology all about the ways transgender identities inform the internet and vice versa. My proposal was accepted, and I submitted my piece for editing in December. I was stoked! Unfortunately though, I just heard word that the editors are not moving forward with the project (due to workloads and paid work vs. passion filled but unpaid work). So I figured I’ll publish it on my blog. Not nearly as exciting, but still something! (I’m breaking it into two parts because it’s pretty long).
I am right on the cusp of Generation X (slackers) and Generation Y (millennials). I’m on the borderlands of a trans identity. I’m on the verge of grasping/rejecting technological innovations. I’m comfortable right where I am, hanging out at the edge of all these precipices. Due to my age , gender identity, and complex feelings about technology, I find myself neither here nor there in terms of what feels best. I continue to mix and match as I go, remaining critical along the way.
I was born in 1981, which means I most definitely did not grow up with cell phones or internet access. Even though they were available in the 80s, we didn’t have cable television, a microwave oven, or a portable telephone either (picture a tan rotary telephone mounted to the wall, with a long, coiled cord). I have always been wary of new technologies as they slowly embed themselves into our collective landscape and my individual lifestyle. The transitions never feel seamless. They always impact me greatly, imprinting upon my memories…
The first time I used a microwave: I was a kid. I was at the grocery store with my dad, and there was a station where you could microwave your own bag of popcorn. Like many people do all of the time, even after 20+ years of practice, we burnt the popcorn, popped open the microwave door, and let the stench waft out, affecting shoppers within a 100ft radius. I felt mortified and ashamed. My dad seemed unfazed, but we didn’t try again.
The first time I used a cell phone: It was 2003, and I was a senior in college. My parents had given me a cell phone during our visit with no further discussion really, other than it was covered under their family plan. I buried it somewhere within my apartment and continued to use my landline (however infrequent that was). My mom later commented to me, “We can never get ahold of you! Why don’t you answer your cell phone?” Honestly, I can’t say. It just felt anxiety inducing. At some point, I must have gotten the hang of it – of being forever accessible – because I now am the proud owner of a Samsung flip-phone and I carry it everywhere. I see the benefits of this, but I’m only partially on board. I rarely text, I keep my phone on vibrate, oftentimes I let a call just go to voice mail, and I call back when I am ready.
The first time I used the Internet: We had a super slow dial-up server called Prodigy. It was 1998. Again, I can’t recall any discussion amongst my family about what the Internet is and what can we do with it – suddenly it just was. I recall going on a message board to talk about music. I talked about REM with a stranger for a while before he abruptly asked me what size bra I wear. I felt a mixture of complex emotions before simply replying, “an A cup, I think. I don’t really know.” He replied, “Oh, that’s alright sweetheart, that’s enough for me to work with.” How did he know my gender? How did this space for nerds and fans devolve so quickly into a space for pervs to jack-off? I didn’t engage; just signed off. I don’t remember going back on the internet much after that until I got to college; my usage was very limited, and remains, in many ways, fairly limited, even today.
The ways I use the internet has definitely progressed and shifted, but I am far from the seamless IRL/virtual world many people appear to inhabit. I do not have a smart phone nor do I plan on ever getting a smart phone. I have “online time” and “offline time,” and I need those two to be separate. You’ll never see me walking down the street, seemingly talking to myself or staring at a screen.
My trans identity has shifted along with the ways I view the Internet, over time. It has blossomed and bloomed, halted and shriveled, sputtered and shuddered and begun to bloom again. In terms of deep soul searching, the Internet has never been my go-to place to glean information. The library was that place. I spent countless hours (hours enough to rival Internet time) in the “HQ” stacks of my college library. Specifically HQ 71-79: “sexual deviations, bisexuality, homosexuality, lesbianism, transvestism, transsexualism, sadism, masochism, fetishism.” For all that time spent searching, I didn’t do a whole lot of actual reading – many of these books were so dense and research-centric. I would often just go there to try to clear my head. Just sit. One particular book does stand out above the rest though: Loren Cameron’s Body Alchemy. Filled with stunning photographs and personal stories, I could find glimpses of myself amongst these pages.
Stay tuned for Part 2, where I flesh out these ideas, fill in some gaps, and really get into my trans-identity a lot more.