Tonight at 10PM (9PM central time), PBS is screening a documentary called Real Boy. If you’re hanging at home tonight, check it out!!
I had the opportunity to see this film twice now:
Last fall, my neighbors and I went, as part of the annual LGBT film festival where we live. I’d have to say that I was a little bit jaded at that time – here is yet another story about young, white, binary, trans-masculine people. Seen that / heard that!!!
The parts about his (Ben’s) mom, and family dynamics were what held it together for me. My neighbor was really touched by it in a different way – there was a lot about singing/songwriting/creativity, and also about recovering from substance abuse and other destructive behaviors.
Then, two weeks ago, I went with my spouse and her parents. It was a free showing, and the two main “characters” were there in person to answer questions and play some of their music as well. I felt really happy that we all saw it together – we then went out to eat and talked about how we related or didn’t, with the movie. Awesome conversations.
I would say that, for me, the second time’s the charm, haha. For one thing, closed captioning was on, so we could all listen and read the dialogue simultaneously, which was kinda necessary because some people mumble more than others. I got a lot more out of it – the way that Ben’s navigating his new life / roles / perceptions as a very young person (I can’t imagine transitioning at that age!!! Hormones are already on full alert and then to mix it up so drastically, must be stressful – both positive and negative stress.) And the male bonding that was going on between the characters felt a lot more touching to me this time for some reason. He has a mentor / protegee dynamic going on with an older musician, and then a housemate / brotherhood with a trans-guy he met through mutual friend.
In terms of content notes, I would give this warning: Topics that are potentially sensitive to those in recovery are brought up: mostly grappling with drug and alcohol abuse, as well as self-injury and family issues / rejection. Also, we follow along as Ben and his housemate move forward with getting top surgery with Dr. Garramone in Florida.
I’d say catch this movie if you can! Although it didn’t really speak to me the first time, I came around to really like it!
A couple of weeks ago, I was contacted by a singer/songwriter from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, named Evan Westfal. He said, “Thanks for sharing your blog with the world,” and he directed me to his website where you can stream his music. He recently put out a new EP, called “Gay Pirates.” He says, “I was hearing a lot of love songs, but none of those love songs had any queer representation. I wanted a narrative that spoke to my identity as a gay man. So that is how gay pirates came to be. I describe the EP as a series of lamentations and exaltation of a very gay love.”
You can check it out here: Evan Westfal
The music is fun and catchy; the lyrics are full of stuff like coy promises and sweet deceits, treasure chests and booty, tight shirts, resiliency, and a “raging sea of hormones.” My favorite is probably the title track.
I asked him a couple of questions, because he’s got a lot going on behind the scenes, and because I was really curious what it’s like to live in Edmonton. He said,
If I had to explain Alberta to an American, I would say that, culturally, it’s the Texas of Canada. Politically Alberta is fairly conservative, and it’s also a Province that is rich in oil. A lot of our citizens are tradespeople that work on oil rigs. As for my city, Edmonton itself is a really cool city. A river valley runs through the centre of the city, it’s rich in wildlife and flora. The city has a fantastic pride centre, and lots of other queer organizations. To answer your questions regarding weather and topography, Edmonton is really cold in the winters, and really hot in the summers. You are correct, the surrounding areas are prairies.
The pride festival is really cool. Edmonton had it’s first parade in the 1990’s, and it was very small, and most of the participants wore bags over their heads to hide their identities. Flash forward to the millennium, and things have changed quite a bit. In the last few years our city hall has raised a pride flag, the Edmonton public school board was a marshall for the parade, and the Canadian Forces Base in Edmonton raised the pride flag. Each year over 30’000 people attend the parade. This year the pride festival’s theme is “one pride many voices.” The festival says they’re taking strides to become more inclusive. I think this is a great approach, as pride could definitely stand to be more intersectional and welcoming.
I asked what his musical background was, and also what instruments he plays / does he collaborate? He said,
My background with music begins with my schooling. I am a graduate of the Canadian College of Performing Arts, it’s a musical theatre program in Victoria, British Columbia. I think you’ll notice some heavy influences of musical theatre in my songwriting. I then decided to focus on commercial contemporary music, I achieved that through matriculating at MacEwan University. As a musician I’ve had the opportunity to sing backing vocals for Josh Groban, to play for the opening ceremony for the Edmonton Pride Festival, I’ve performed with Opera Nuova (an Edmonton based opera company), and I’ve produced and performed in many cabarets. Right now I’m working on a music video for my song “Gay Pirates,” it should be out in a month or two. As for instrumentation, I play the piano and sing. On my track Gay Pirates, I wrote all the song, but I had some great musician’s record with me. I have to send a thank you to my drummer Julissa Bayer, guitar player Andrew Brostrom, and Bassist David Pollock.
He also mentioned that he volunteers with an outreach program called fYerfly, so I asked him to elaborate on that too:
fYrefly is a great program. The name is an initialism that stands for: fostering Youth resilience energy leadership fun leadership yeah! You might notice the Y is capitalized, that’s because youth are the most important part. fYrefly originated as a summer leadership camp for LGBTTQ2SIA+ youth between the ages of 14-24. I attended the program as a teen, and it changed my life. For the first time in my life I got to be surrounded by people like me, I got to share a sense of camaraderie, and I got to feel pure acceptance. I loved the experience so much that I spent over a decade volunteering for fYrefly. Every year it’s a treat to see the difference the camp makes for youth.
I’m just going to repeat that acronym: “fostering Youth resilience energy leadership fun leadership yeah!” Haha, I love that! Evan will be performing for the opening ceremony of the Edmonton Pride Festival, coming up on June 10th. If you’re able to get up there – I just looked it up, and for me, it’s 34 hours away, by car! It’s up there!
Also, related, here’s one of the first posts I ever wrote – an experience I had at a wedding:
Effeminate Pirate Orders Fruity Drink on Party Boat
My spouse and I attended more films than ever before, at the annual LGBTQ+ film festival in our town, recently. Most of these links are to trailers; a couple are to the film’s website directly. I highly recommend the first 6, and then I don’t recommend the 7th at all.
Suicide Kale – This film was shot in 5 days, with no budget. Even without stipulating that, it’s an intriguing and complex look into the dynamics between 2 lesbian couples at a lunch party, and what happens when one of them finds a suicide note tucked away somewhere. Sounds like it’d be intense, but it’s actually fairly lighthearted and humorous. Very well attended, mostly women in the audience.
Paris 05:59: Theo and Hugo – This film takes place in real time, as two men fall for each other in a love/lust at first sight type-of-way. Things start out in a laid back, sexually explicit environment / vibe, but quickly become complicated as the two grapple with an emotional twist, and whether the connection is worth working through it. Super well attended; roughly 98% men, 2% women.
Closet Monster – This might have been my favorite one this year. It’s a coming-of-age story of an 18-year old boy coming to terms with his gay identity, complicated by flashbacks of a hate crime he witnessed as a young child. There were body horror elements to the film, which I was really into. Plus, Isabella Rossellini’s voice is featured as a talking pet hamster! Well attended, very diverse audience, including young adults, which isn’t usually the case.
Strike A Pose – This also was possibly my favorite one this year. It’s a documentary about the 7 dancers who went on tour with Madonna in 1990, and where they’re at now. Not all of them are gay! Some of them had a lot of secrets at the time, and they are now much more open about things. Way more emotional than I would have thought, going into the film. Very well attended, diverse audience but definitely mostly men.
Girls Lost – A film from Finland. Magical realism. 3 tight-knit female friends, about 14 years old, are frequently bullied at school but find solace in each other and a greenhouse they regularly retreat to. Suddenly, a magical flower appears; they drink the nectar and turn into boys, for about 12 hours. One of them realizes he is transgender, and he becomes addicted to the feelings the nectar brings. At the same time, he is self-destructive, in an effort to understand himself. Really well attended, diverse audience.
Real Boy – This is a documentary spanning over a few years, as a singer/songwriter FTM person starts his transition. It focuses on the relationship between him and his mom, between him and a best friend who is also trans, and between him and another trans singer/songwriter who is a little older and acts as a mentor of sorts. Issues that are discussed: hormones, sobriety, top surgery, family dynamics. Also really well attended, diverse audience including young adults, which is not generally the case.
Lovesong – This was a flop. My spouse and I were attracted to it partly because it stars Jena Malone, and also it seemed like a complex story-line. It was fairly complex, but they characters were not at all likeable. Two female friends who go way back, dabble in acting on their attraction to each other, at various points spanning a few years. Kinda boring. Sparsely attended, mostly women.
My spouse and I diligently filled out audience participation ballots for each film, and a survey about the festival in general. My most important feedback: more films with trans characters please. And also, please make it more affordable.
Have you seen this thing going around right now? Where someone distills certain qualities of their personality and culls different characters from popular media to illustrate what they’re all about? (Or, they just relate with certain characters, or they meant a lot at a certain point in growing up, etc. …)
It was a fun mental exercise while I was working last Friday – I started thinking about what if I participated? The first thought felt like a no-brainer: Ziggy Stardust!! Androgynous, flamboyant, theatrical, other-worldly… Over the weekend, my spouse suggested Ed Wood (who actually was a real person, but seems like such a caricature in the film by Tim Burton) or Edward Scissorhands, both of whom seemed like they could fit. My super-close friend once compared me to Dewey from Malcolm in the Middle, so that also crossed my mind.
But I was thinking, I would like to pick someone who is openly non-binary. And I was stumped. I though and thought and thought some more. I started to feel like, OK, well if not non-binary, then at least gender-ambiguous. The character of Sally from Third Rock From the Sun came to mind. I loved that show as a teenager. The four main characters are aliens who inhabit the bodies of a “family” in order to study Earthlings. Sally is a macho military-type stuck in the body of a feminine model-type. Humor ensues. But then I honed in on Harry, the “uncle”? who is forever clueless. Which, might not be apparent from this blog, but if you knew me in real life, you’d realize that a lot of times, I just don’t get it. Like, seriously. I do not get it.
So, yeah, Harry stuck out (and plus he wore an awesome jacket a lot of the time, in the show). But I was still stumped on the gender-identity aspect of who I am. So, I decided to subvert it, and came up with this:
It’s not all grim though: there is representation out there. It’s just super obscure, at this point. And I have great hopes for the (nearish) future.
For now though, here’s an extremely, incredibly thorough bibliography of all things non-binary, created by Charlie McNabb, maybe about a year or so ago. This document is in-process: you can suggest edits and new entries!
The most well known entries I could spot were:
– Pat, from Saturday Night Live, 1990-1994. Bleccccchhhhhhhh!!!
– A character from the film, Shortbus, 2006. I need to see this film again; it’s been too long!
– A Star Trek episode from 1992. From Charlie’s archives: “The Enterprise encounters a humanoid race called J’naii that is androgynous. Riker becomes close with J’naii pilot Soren, who reveals that she identifies as female, but is closeted because her people think that gender is a perversion. When their affair is discovered, Soren is forced to undergo “psychotectic therapy” to convert her to theproper genderless state. Although this episode is an allegory for gay rights, the gender neutrality is interesting and rare for the time.” I need to seek this out, just for this plot line!!!
Anybody got any other examples out there?!?
This week has thrown me for a loop, big time. Between Saturday AM and Wednesday AM, I was in the hospital for mental health reasons, on a psychiatric unit. I don’t believe I ever thought I’d be back there; in fact, it was my biggest fear. Scarier than heights, the tallest roller-coasters, the dark, spiders, sharks, germs, etc. etc. (I’m actually not afraid of any of those things.)
Just to summarize my history briefly, when I was a senior in high school, I suffered a psychotic break and subsequent major depressive episode (lasting 4 months, and then on and off throughout college). I was on a mixture of different drugs for about 6 years, and I weened myself off all of them after a certain point. I’d been med-free for roughly 10 years, and pretty proud of that fact.
I’ve written about mental health before…
Here: Depression and taking testosterone
Here: That specific trauma is still there
And here: Continuing to work through a specific trauma
…and also scattered throughout many blog entries.
Although this blog is mainly about taking a low dose of T and working as a janitor, it is undeniably also about mental health and self-care. I slipped up pretty big in the self-care department, slowly and gradually at first, and then fast and unstoppably. I went through a full blown manic episode / psychotic break. A lot of it was so fun it’s kinda indescribable. In fact, I can definitely tell I still haven’t come down completely yet – I’m registering a heightened sensitivity to bodily sensations, both pleasant and annoying, I feel keyed up / antsy, I need to be in control of the stimulation levels or else I feel overwhelmed within seconds, smells and tastes are waaaaay off (not constantly, but sporadically), colors and patterns are popping out, my thinking is still relatively disorganized…
But I’m sleeping well and eating well and engaging in a lot of different things and spending 24/7 with my partner for a few days, and that’s what’s important right now. I was prescribed ziprasidone, which is an atypical antipsychotic approved by the FDA in 2001. Am I happy about it? No. Do I think I’ll be on it indefinitely? A strong NO! But I can accept it for right now.
I’m sure I’ll return to some of what I went through, in an attempt to process things and just share where I’m at (it does feel like it’ll be an arduous rehabilitation process, and I’ll be out of work for roughly 2 weeks). For now though, I want to just write about a strange parallel. It might not mean anything if you haven’t seen Breaking Bad, but I’ll give it a whirl anyway (and there are no real spoilers in what is to follow):
Leading up to what I went through, my partner and I were watching a lot of Breaking Bad. Not really binge watching it, but watching an episode almost every night. Now we are not. Haha. We only have 4 or 5 episodes left, but we’re putting the show on pause. I suggested we start watching Malcolm in the Middle instead, largely because Bryan Cranston plays the dad in both shows (and I used to watch it as a teenager and thought it would be fun. It is fun). But – we just watched the 5th episode, and the family is getting their house tented and fumigated. They are in a camper trailer on their front lawn in the meantime. And the parents, at the tail end of the episode, put on gas masks in order to enter the house and get some alone time. I was flipping out. (I mean, my partner was too, but I was shouting and swearing and pacing and called it a night, basically). Haha. I’ll probably be in bed by 9pm.
About five months ago, I did a phone interview with Monica Hesse of the Washington Post, as a potential candidate for an upcoming article about non-binary genders. She was planning on spending a few days with the person / people she selected; it wasn’t just a matter of chatting with her over coffee. It sounded really intensive and potentially uncomfortable at times. I thought the interview went well, and I talked to my partner about the possibility of her hanging around with us for a while. My partner was game. I was game.
I got back to her with a few reservations: When might this be, exactly? (I really love being able to plan ahead.) And, would you be coming to my work?!! (I am not out at work as non-binary, and I could not fathom her being there with me, at all.) She assured me that it was not a necessary part of her article, and it’d totally depend on who she ended up going with and what everyone was comfortable with. She seemed well versed in trans issues and understood the need for partial anonymity or a potentially incomplete story.
She had a lot more phone interviews to get through, and as we messaged back and forth, it became clear her interest in me was waning. I was pretty bummed. It sounded like something I was ready to challenge myself with! Of course, the disappointment faded with time. I’ve been looking forward to catching the finished article. Here it is!!!
I think this article is really well done. It covers important ground: pronouns, the internal isolation such an identity can bring (when society has no starting point for understanding), family and friend relationships, coming out issues. There is nothing sensational or hyped up about it – the reporter seems well informed and sensitive.
A major thing struck me. This article is about a very young person. Kelsey is 18 years old. They are at a completely different life stage than I am at. The article follows them over the entire summer. It appears that the reporter spent many many days with Kelsey, over a matter of 4 months or so. We get a glimpse into what’s going on, as they have concerns about clothing. As they have difficult conversations with their mom. As they go to a therapy appointment to discuss the possibilities of going on a low dose of testosterone. As they talk about teenaged things with their teenaged friends. As they meet someone they found through OKCupid, for the first time in person. As they pack up and plan for life at college.
“They will go to college. They will study engineering. They will get a job. They will find a partner and make a home. They will begin with finding a T-shirt.” This quote sums up the tone of the article.
Had I been the subject, it would have been nothing like this at all. I’ve been to college (glad that’s over with!!!). I have a job. I have a partner. We have made a home. I have a T-shirt. In fact, I have many T-shirts. Haha.
This story is no doubt important. However (and I’m definitely biased here, bordering on ageist maybe) I think it’s really really necessary that there are representations of older, established non-binary people. It’s not just a young people’s thing. (Not to imply that young people will be growing out if it – they won’t be!) I just mean that it’s not just something someone is focusing on at the time when they are naturally growing into their identities, just at the beginning of starting new chapters of their lives. There is, relatively speaking, a lot of representations (if even just online only) of young people, starting to question and figure these things out.
Gender identity issues are multi-generational. They are lifelong, and they come with different sets of challenges at different stages in life. I hope more media outlets will start jumping on the bandwagon (in respectful ways!) and more articles will pop up, with more frequency, soon. And that those articles will focus on other identities within non-binary genders, and different age brackets, different ethnic backgrounds, different socioeconomic backgrounds, etc.
And if I’m not seeing it, I’ve toyed with the idea of writing my own article, here. Like, pretending I am a reporter, looking in. Look for that in the near future, maybe!
The term, “ruling with elf wisdom” is linked to the names, “Aubrey” (f) and “Avery” (m/f). They are of English origin. In the case of Avery, the meaning is derived from the Old English words aelf, meaning elf, and raed, meaning counsel. What does this mean exactly? Elves have made appearances throughout time in different cultures’ storytelling and mythology, most notably Germanic and Norse mythology (which may be the basis for today’s understanding of elves as helpers to Santa Claus, of the North Pole.) Not to mention Tolkein’s imaginings. According to Wikia, a website for fandom,
“The elves were originally imagined as a race of minor nature and fertility gods, who are often pictured as youthful-seeming men and women of great beauty, living in forests and underground places, like caves, or in wells and springs. They have been portrayed to be long-lived or immortal and as beings of magical powers. In Norse paganism, Light elves were beautiful creatures and were considered to be ‘guardian angels.’ Light elves were minor gods of nature and fertility; they could help or hinder, humans with their knowledge of magical powers. They also often delivered an inspiration to art or music.”
“The Dark Elves hated the sun and it’s sunlight, because if they were touched or exposed to it they would immediately turn into stone. They use to annoy and threaten humans, to the point that nightmares were thought to be produced by the Dark Elves.These elves could also haunt animals, especially horses. They are also known as dwarfs. “
Elves are known to be playful, mischievous, and flighty, yet loyal and duty-bound. So, to rule with this wisdom can only be a good thing! To “rule with dwarf wisdom,” if there were such a thing, might be something else entirely.
I have not heard any follow-ups from the Washington Post reporter in over a week, so I’m assuming she went with someone else. I’m kinda bummed – it felt like it would have been a good personal challenge. Maybe I’ll have more opportunities to talk with more people in the future… I’ll share the link to the story as soon as I come across it.
Having the chance to talk with her via phone and then to think about the potential of her coming here to hang out with me as I live my life definitely made some specific types of thoughts more pronounced, for many many days in a row. Mainly, what do I want to share with others, and what feels too vulnerable? Hypothetically, to what extent would I choose to be anonymous? These questions have been on my mind quite a bit for a while, but suddenly it felt like I might need to make some definitive choices. And even though the pressure’s off on those decisions, I’m still pressing myself about it, at least some of it. I finally decided to settle on a new name.
The name situation has been a thing I haven’t directly addressed but have thought about for roughly 10+ years (like a lot of particulars about my gender identity). I do not like to go by my legal name, or the name I used growing up. Somewhere in my mid-twenties, I skewed it slightly, and that started to stick – almost everyone knows me by this slightly masculinized version of a pretty feminine name. But ultimately, it’s not what I want. I’ve toyed with the idea (off-and-on) of going by a male name. The biggest contenders were Adam (this is my drag persona) and Konrad (just because I like it).
But, I have to admit that ultimately, it would be too hard for me to request a name like that if I’m not ever going to be appearing definitively male. I wish it were no big thing. And to many people, I imagine it wouldn’t be, and they’d easily make the switch. Just… it would be too awkward for me. I already know.
Ideally, I’ve wanted to go by a name that is right in the middle of androgyny. I mean, a lot of names can be male or female names, but usually, they’re much more commonly used for one over the other.
I talked to my partner about a potential new name about a week ago. This is a conversation we’ve had at other points in time, for sure. But it was always more whimsical – sort of like, what if?… This time it was more like, OK, I really need to pick now. I have this piece of writing I want to submit to our local LGBT literary magazine, and it’s due in 3 days, and I need a pen name!
That ended up being pretty tense; note to self – don’t try to rush these kinds of decisions. Haha. But we got through it; she helped me come to a name that I’m going to start using ASAP as a pen name. Avery. And if I still like it, I’ll start using it more and more online, and then if I’m still liking it, the big switch to real life (which I envision will involve legally changing it as well.) But all that feels pretty scary, so for now, it’s just a pen name.
“Avery” definitely seems androgynous to me – maybe skewed more to masculine, but feels like either, for sure. I looked up the origin / what it means, and that pretty much sealed the deal. A few websites confirmed, “the name literally means, ‘ruling with elf wisdom.'”
Not sure if I could find a better fit!!!
If you picked out your name, how did you come to it / narrow it down???
Last night, I talked “off the record” with a reporter from the Washington Post, on the phone. Completely surreal and surprisingly fulfilling. It’s ironic that just a few days ago, I wrote about a difficulty in sharing who I am with others, and then suddenly I’m talking to a big time newspaper about core beliefs and feelings, how I got to where I am, how I navigate daily life, etc.
I was at work while we talked. The phone call was scheduled ahead of time, so I just cleaned a little faster than normal so I’d have more time toward the end of my night. I kicked back at a teacher’s desk (shhhh, don’t tell) and waited for the call. I even wrote myself a pep talk on an index card so I wouldn’t psych myself out too much. It’s still in my pocket. It says, “Anything you have to say – big or small – is worthwhile and interesting. Talking to people is a huge part of her job. Let her do the work and steer things, but also give yourself space to say everything you want to say.” We ended up talking for about 35 minutes, which was starting to feel a little long. I think I was being pretty verbose (maybe even actually eloquent at times), contrary to my fears of not being able to answer clearly or not elaborating enough.
The reporter is currently talking to a lot of people who identify as non-binary. Who live in between, and how they negotiate that. She’ll be narrowing it down to one person, or a couple of people, to then go and spend time with face-to-face, get a real sense of how they go about their days. If you would like to talk to her too, you can! Let me know, and I’ll send you her email address so you can share a little about yourself first. Or, you can read more details here.
I got a good vibe from her, but I definitely have some strong reservations going on at the same time. She’s open to, and flexible with, issues of anonymity, so that’s certainly a good sign. On the other hand, I worry that even if we were to connect well and I felt understood, that wouldn’t mean the article would reflect what I think it should be saying. I’d have no control over the final product whatsoever. But, I feel like I’m at a point in my life where I could handle that. Even if I were to not feel too good about it, I could move on from there and still feel like it’s worthwhile to put myself out there and be a voice for this community. I’m getting waaaaaaay ahead of myself here though. I might not be the person they’re looking for, in the first place.
I’m just pretty proud of where I find myself these days. A year ago, for example, I wouldn’t have even comprehended doing something like this. Now I feel like it’s doable, and not nearly as nerve-racking as I’d imagined.
Thanks to Micah for telling me about this opportunity! You keep opening up doors to new possibilities!