Thanksgiving 2015

I hate Thanksgiving. I always have. It’s a lot of work with cooking, cleaning, and entertaining people you don’t particularly like. It’s a holiday based in genocide and co-opted by consumerism. Someone always gets out of hand and causes some kind of drama.

My partner and I hosted Thanksgiving the other night for some of our friends. It went pretty well, but the unwritten rules of Thanksgiving always apply. I was so busy cooking, serving, and shampooing wine out of the carpet that I almost forgot to take literally the very name of the holiday.

I am grateful for a great many things. I am grateful for my health. I am grateful for my partner, that he is mine, that he exists, and that he has continued to cheat death. I am grateful that I have a place to live, and I am grateful that it is lovely. I am grateful that I have food to eat, not least of which was the feast we served. I am grateful that I have clothing. I am grateful for my freedom and my democracy. I am grateful for my family and my friends. I am grateful for good books, good sci-fi, good wine, and academic discourse on gender. There are a great many other things to be sure, but that is a list too long for the purposes of this blog.

Remember during this holiday season, full of pretty lights, expensive toys, judgmental families, and so much stress, that you have a lot to be grateful for. This life is by no means easy, and it sucks a lot of the time, but be grateful for those parts, however many or few there may be—that don’t.

A Few Words Regarding Terrorism

I’m a New Yorker now, but I wasn’t on 9/11. I have only ever experienced terrorism from a distance. But that’s the thing about terrorism, isn’t it? It’s fucking terrifying. Terrorism, beyond its capacity to elicit terror in all who see it, is really asymmetrical guerilla warfare waged against a group, a nation, or an ideology.

In our world right now, terrorism is waged on a daily basis. The United States may no longer utilize the infamous “threat level indicator” (or, the mood ring of doom), but terrorism still reigns, and it’s only getting stronger.

Mostly everyone on this planet—well, everyone with access to a television, radio, or computer—knows about the attacks that occurred last weekend in Paris. If you are unfamiliar with what happened in Paris, a group of fighters—now believed to be from the terrorist organization ISIS—carried out a coordinated, deadly attack on soft targets (civilian targets) in Paris. There were suicide bombs outside of the Stade d’France during a football match between France and Germany. There were gunmen bursting their way into restaurants in a very popular neighborhood, killing many people in their path. There were two gunmen that broke into a concert hall during a heavy metal show. The gunmen kept all of the concertgoers as hostages, over 1,000 in all. They killed over one hundred, execution style.

In the wake of these attacks, the western world is in panic. Many Americans want to drop a nuclear weapon in the Middle East. France wants to ‘wipe out’ ISIS. By all accounts, these terrorists got what they wanted; people are frightened. The outpouring of that fear and grief from the nearly 130 deaths in the wake of the Paris attack has been in the forefront of western minds. There have been many reactions to this tragedy, and many of them are incredibly dangerous.

Friday night, one hundred and thirty people died in a terrorist attack in Paris. Everyone in the Western world saw the footage of the aftermath of that tragedy. Everyone in the western world was forced to listen to commentary about the attacks for days afterward. The media engineered this attention. News organizations interrupted their normal Friday-night lineups in favor of live coverage and analysis of the Parisian attacks. MSNBC, for example, allowed Rachel Maddow to broadcast, commercial-free, for three hours. Facebook immediately created the ‘check-in as safe’ feature for people living in Paris, and a French flag profile photo filter for the rest of us. Meanwhile, terrorist attacks in non-Western, non-white parts of the world come and go with little—if any—fanfare. In the month of  October alone, there were attacks in Lebanon, Nigeria, and Egypt, which is not even to mention the attacks that occur in Syria, Libya, and Iraq every day. In Baghdad, two days before the attacks on Paris, a suicide bomber targeted a funeral. Nineteen people are dead. It is fucked up that we only have wall-to-wall coverage of terror when it affects “our own,” since all people are ours.

In the wake of the attacks on Paris, several United States politicians have been screaming about how this proves that we shouldn’t be accepting any Syrian refugees. The Islamophobia that has been spewed from all directions in the wake of this tragedy is disgusting. Twenty-six governors of U.S. states declared that they would not accept any refugees. They don’t have the authority to do that, so they will have to, but just imagine the vitriol those refugees are going to be subjected to. I can’t even imagine.

However, it isn’t only the right-wing that has gone too far in some of their rhetoric about this tragedy. There are those on the left-wing fringes who should be just as ashamed of themselves. If I had a dollar for every time I heard or read someone say that we should not pray for Paris because they “got what they deserved,” I would have a disturbing amount of money. These so-called, self-proclaimed radicals believe that because France was a colonial power once and did hold land and persecute many people in the Muslim world, that they deserve the terror. The one hundred and thirty people who were killed in 2015 have no bearing and no responsibility for the colonialism of their ancestors, and they do not deserve to die. To kill an innocent is wrong, no matter how “enlightened” you believe your rhetoric to be. The children cannot be held responsible for the crimes of their fathers.

Both of these reactions to this tragedy are wrong. We cannot slip into the trap of Islamophobia. We cannot either excuse terrorism and murder. We must mourn the dead, both victim and killer. We must not alienate the Muslim world. We must not allow our human siblings die at the hands of those who would control the world. We cannot be callous or suspicious. Caution, in moderation, is acceptable. Soft Islamophobia is not.

The rhetoric on both sides about this tragedy makes me want to scream and tear out my hair.

Everything is Problematic

It’s been quite a long time since I’ve published on this blog; as John Lennon once wrote: “life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.” Life has done a very thorough job of getting in the way, leaving me with no time to write, leaving me to marinate in my own thoughts, frustrations, fears, and political ideas. A word to the wise, this post will definitely be disjointed, but it could also be very triggering, I’m not even sure what this is going to say. Proceed with caution.

In July, I was hired for my first post-graduation job. It wasn’t anything terribly spectacular, and I didn’t make much money, but when I was hired, I was very proud of myself. I was working as a bookseller at a Barnes & Noble branch in Queens. I worked there part time and for minimum wage and no benefits. I got into the hang of the job pretty quickly, and most of my coworkers are pretty cool people. I thought I may have found a place that would allow for a small amount of upward mobility and could potentially help pay my way through graduate school, considering that I need a Masters degree to even begin working in my beloved academic field.

Two weeks after being hired, it came to light that the landlord of the store had declined to renew the lease. The store to which I was just hired had a shelf life that expires December 31st of this year.

As one would expect, my coworkers are dropping like flies. The others hired at the same time as I was are leaving for brighter pastures. Those who have worked with the company for many years are being placed in stores in Manhattan, Brooklyn, New Jersey, and Long Island. All the stores in Queens will be closed by the end of the year.

I personally didn’t feel that transferring was worth minimum wage, especially since I’d just moved to Queens, and after doing that commute for a couple of months, I knew how much of a pain in the ass it was. Besides, I had the idea to start my own tutoring business. I have several friends with kids who have been begging me for my services, and I’ve been so busy working full-time hours and unpacking the new apartment that I haven’t been able to. Working life is awful.

For most of October, I have been traveling. The vacation was simultaneously perfect and disastrous. I had some royal cunt who forced herself into the trip being constantly abusive, but when she wasn’t around, my partner and I had a beautiful time. Sicily is one of the most beautiful places on Earth. I feel like I could be very happy living there (anywhere in Italy, really) but things are so Catholic there.

I fear I may feel hindered being as queer as I am. After all, traditional gender roles are incredibly important in Italy, and even more so in Sicily. I’m not sure I could hold up the façade of traditional womanhood for long. To read about some of the details of my month-long excursion, you can read about it here.

Now that it’s November, I quit my job, and National Novel Writing Month is back to spur me into writing as much as possible. Several elements of my life would be greatly improved if given the time to write about them, figure out what’s going on. I desperately need this because I’m so goddamned confused.

The crux of my confusion is, as always, gender-based. Gender permeates every single aspect of our lives, and we totally take it for granted. I have never felt its presence so intensely or thoroughly in many, many years

When I moved to New York in the summer of 2011, one of the largest draws of a big city was the promise of complete anonymity. No one would know my name unless I wanted them to. The flash judgment of the person sitting on the stoop, working in the McDonald’s I’ll only ever go to when I’m drunk at four o’clock in the morning, squished into the subway with me, or standing behind me in line at the post office wouldn’t matter. I’d never see them again. Why do I care if Joe Schmo who drives the M60 bus thinks less of me because I dress in a masculine way? The four years I spent living in Manhattan reaffirmed this belief in anonymity. Even the people with whom my friendship faded disappeared with comforting and alarming totality.

Flash forward to September of this year. I moved to a neighborhood, like, a real neighborhood. The neighborhoods that one not from one would believe was a Hollywood fiction, like something from West Side Story or Do The Right Thing. I live in a subsection of the Howard Beach neighborhood of Queens called Lindenwood. Everyone on my block knows each other; we draw the lines of demarcation on the block on ethnic and sports allegiance lines.

I live on the second floor of a semi-attached two-family house. I have a balcony that abuts that of my next door neighbors. I have always had neighbors, of course, the population density of New York City guarantees that. I have never known my neighbors–even living in a small town–the way I do right now. The whole block knows my name and says hello. I know how each one of them relates to the others. I know which prefer pinstripes over blue and orange.

If it weren’t against my own hard held ethical beliefs, I think this block would make a fascinating anthropological/sociological paper. There are no more than a handful of ethnic groups, the socioeconomic status and on-paper religion of the neighborhood is fairly homogenous. They’re good, decent people. There’s no disputing that, but with interaction comes expectation.

I cannot remember being in such a gendered, heteronormative place in my life. I can’t fault anyone here with being sexist or homophobic, because they aren’t, not really. I believe they would assume the same expectations about anyone, regardless of gender, genitals, or relationship. My partner and I are getting a lot of weird looks. We have a pretty substantial age gap. We aren’t legally married. We don’t have any children.

Because I’d already been struggling for some time with the notion of gender and all the existential questions that a jaunt about gender elicits, I decided to not ostracize myself from the community immediately and “blend.” I’ve been somewhat nudged back into this somewhat modified woman’s role and it’s really confusing for me. Part of that confusion comes from the fact that I’ve looked at most examples of womanhood in my life and found them incongruous with myself. I still do, but I’ve found certain examples of womanhood here that come closer to my own perspective than any I’ve ever seen.

I guess the biggest question that comes up for me is whether or not any of it matters. I’m not a binary trans person. My gender confusion cannot be fixed by surgery and hormones. I will never ‘pass,’ because the present paradigm of gender in this world does not recognize the validity of my gender. Even if I did fit the gender binary, my medical condition would likely preclude me from even this eventual semblance of relief. Fighting against culture, on a global scale is reminiscent of swimming upstream up a mountain. Changing my body, changing my name, changing my pronouns, while impossibly challenging in their own right, cannot compare to changing cultural paradigms. That shift, in my view, is (or should be) inevitable, but it will likely not occur in my lifetime. What am I to do with that? Is it supposed to be a relief that my grandchildren or great-grandchildren or great-great-grandchildren do not experience gender rigidity the way I must? I suppose yes, on some level. But that does not make this balancing act, this tightrope walk, any simpler for me.

I am read as woman. I will always be read as woman. Sure, I dress androgynously,  preferring the comfort of a button down shirt and waistcoat to the work of a blouse. Sure, I regularly shear my hair and my hairdresser charges me for men’s cuts. Sure, I curse and drink like a sailor. The only real forays I make into so-called femininity is nurturing and feeling my emotions, but those are pretty universal when you really look at them, aren’t they? This is what I see when I wander down this thought path. Most things we consider gendered, from nail polish to football, from drinking beer to drinking cosmos, from interior design to politics, aren’t really so cut and dry, nor do they hold up under any level of scrutiny. Sure, there are elements of toxicity on either side of the paradigm, but those should themselves be eradicated. There are far fewer differences between binary genders than we feel comfortable acknowledging. Most of them are physical. Most of them can be changed.

I guess what I have to ask myself now is whether or not it is so bad to be read as woman. Whether being genderqueer in queer and academic spaces is enough. How can I find the balance between being myself and living my gender authentically without falling into the pitfall of perceived misogyny? I don’t hate women, after all, I’m just not one, regardless of my DDs, birthing hips, and mezzo-soprano voice.

I’m not sure how I’m going to proceed with this. Almost none of the new people in my life: neighbors, friends, coworkers, know that I identify as trans. Some of them know that I am an LGBT activist. Many assume I’m a lesbian, but none of them ask. I don’t volunteer the information. It’s a strange, unspoken question that I’m not sure even I have a coherent answer for. I have not spoken of my preference for ze pronouns. I fear it would be too messy. I want people to see me for what I am, not for their biases about the labeling.

Will anyone like what they see, or are the modifiers–gender, sexuality–all there is?

I worry that it is, sometimes more than others. I was diagnosed not all that long ago with something called PMDD, or Pre-Menstrual Dysphoric Disorder. PMDD is a very serious condition that, for some reason, very few people know anything about. Essentially, someone with this disorder has an elevated level of estrogen in their system that freakishly fluctuates during their monthly cycle. These hormonal fluctuations cause a whole host of symptoms with global impact. There are changes in neurochemistry, which can cause symptoms that mimic those of bipolar disorder and major depression. It causes average, run-of-the-mill PMS symptoms on steroids. I behave erratically for two weeks every month, and I don’t even realize I’m doing it. I physically feel like garbage for the week of my period. I will have to take combination birth control pills for the rest of my life.

Taking a combination estradiol and progesterone pill every day is the only way I can keep my symptoms from progressing and requiring the long-term use of antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications. It also means that it is highly unlikely that I will ever be able to use testosterone as a transitional tool at any dosage. I was never really determined to use testosterone, but having that option snatched away by my own body is sort of frustrating. The entire experience is also very confusing to me on some—really cissexist—level. The cissexist socialization I have experienced all my life being raised in an American, Roman Catholic household tries to rear its ugly head every once in a while, telling me that I cannot be anything but woman because my hormones tell me so.

After all this confusion and frustration, I find myself largely at a loss. I cannot figure out for the life of me where to go from here, but I am constantly taking notes about it in my journals. Perhaps this is a question with no real answer when working with the paradigm that exists right now. Honestly, the more frustrated and confused I become about my gender, the more I become a gender abolitionist, which has political and social pitfalls of its own.

Since my job ended last weekend, I have begun tutoring a couple of elementary-aged children who have, according to the New York City Board of Education, begun to fall behind. One of them is the daughter of my good friend, an Egyptian immigrant who owns a bodega and has been a good friend of my partner for many years.

Working with this little girl is incredibly frustrating, but incredibly rewarding. Her parents both speak Arabic in the house, and her English vocabulary is incredibly hindered. She is Muslim in a country where Muslims are demonized. Her mother is a bad mom. This little girl looks up to me like no one else. The responsibility of that is frightening. Her father is traditional: he wants her to marry a Muslim man when she grows up, he follows halal rules, and he struggles with some of America’s cultural references. She looks up to me. I am about as far away from the twenty-first century, westernized, Muslim woman ideal as a goat with a dress. The responsibility and the play acting I have to do to keep this little girl from being more confused than she already is is enormous.

I have also recently come to the unsettling discovery that I have begun to outgrow some of my college peers. I only just graduated a semester ago, but I can’t shake the feeling that my politics and my way of life have progressed beyond that in some way. I was recently in a political debate on facebook with an acquaintance about an article covering a recently released sexological study.

The sexological study was poorly designed, poorly executed, and really couldn’t prove anything thanks to shoddy science. It was a pupil dilation test. Women and Men of all stated sexual orientations were asked to watch straight porn, gay porn, and lesbian porn. The researchers wanted to see if their eyes would dilate—an early indicator of sexual arousal—at all types of porn, or only the one that was congruous with their stated sexual orientation.

Of course, people’s eyes dilated at all types of porn to differing degrees. Sex is sexy. My eyes dilate when I see a well-made cheeseburger, but I’m sure as hell not going to fuck said cheeseburger. But, of course, in sexology’s longstanding tradition of confirmation bias, the researchers took that information and ran with it. They published their findings as a beacon of proof that sexuality is fluid and the boundaries of gay v. straight are not so rigid as they appear to be (a.k.a. the social constructionist theory).

I personally ascribe to this theory, but as someone who is fairly knowledgeable in the construction of a scientific line of inquiry, I see the flaws in the study’s concept and conclusion. I said as much in the conversation. I was attacked by a lesbian who believed the study to be lesbophobic. I was told that I could not have an opinion on said lesbophobia because I am transmasculine. Perhaps, every second I spend away from the bubble, the ivory tower of academia, I’m growing less and less confined by it. I had rigidity in anything. In sexuality, in gender, in life circumstances. For example, my dream in life is to be a tenured professor. Somebody Bigelow, Ph.D. If I don’t get there until I’m 75, okay. Whatever I did in between was all part of the ride.

I guess that brings me to another source of complete frustration—hey, I warned you this would be disjointed, didn’t I? My name. At my old job, my tutoring, in my new friendships, when I travel abroad, I am Allison. I am Allison largely because I am expected to be. That’s what my passport, my diploma, and my driver’s license say. To my queer friends and friends from college, I am Christopher. Inside, I am conflicted. I don’t think either of the names fully capture who I am. I don’t know what name would. I’m open to suggestions. I need something that is inherently gender neutral. I have three that I’m kicking around in my mind, but I can’t tell if either of them feel right enough to use. Those names are Cameron, Allesandre, and Julian.

Overall, lately, I’ve been feeling really confused. Things are going pretty well, though. I’m doing something that I love doing and I can feel myself making a big difference in the lives of really beautiful children. I’m making friends with people who, while heterosexual and very far away from the queer space I’m used to operating in, are really great people. They’re teaching me a lot about myself in their own ways. I just got home from this magical, wonderful, phantasmagoric trip to Italy that was, in and of itself life changing. My relationship is still going strong. I have plans to return to school next year. I’m slowly but surely pulling my mental health together. Life just gets a little confusing sometimes. A little bit busy, too.

Who knows where this next chapter of my life, this new lease, will take me? I don’t. And I like it that way. I just want to exist. I want to imagine a world where none of these binaries, these prejudices, these boxes exist. And on that front, I think I’m alright. There are people out there with a lot more on their plate than I’ve got.

If you actually made it to the end of this whirlwind whiny rant of mine, I salute you. I thank you from the bottom of my heart, and I wish I could buy you a drink. (I mean, hey, if you’re in the NYC area, I’m SO down.) If you aren’t, I raise a bottle of Blue Moon Harvest Pumpkin to you, and here’s a bouquet of parentheses instead (think of them as peonies) (((()))))
I love you all, and see you on the flip side.

Xoxo, Somebody Bigelow Ph.D.

Very Inspiring Blog Award

The Very Inspiring Blog Award thing-a-ma-jig has been bestowed upon me, and I’m so touched and honored I could sob like a small child. I’ve copied and pasted the rules from the lovely, wonderful blogger who nominated me.

Here are the rules:

  1.  Thank the blogger who nominated you.

THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU. I DON’T DESERVE. I AM NOT WORTHY. I mean, *cough*, uh, thanks.

  1. List the rules and display the award.
  2. Share seven facts about yourself:
    1. I am a sci-fi nerd for the ages. My favorites are Star Trek (all variations) and Stargate.
    2.  I hate sneezing; it makes me feel disoriented.
    3.  My laptop’s name is Dominic.
    4. I smoke Marlboros.
    5. My eyebrows are so blond, you can barely see them.
    6. I wrote my first (unpublished, very bad) novel at age fourteen.
    7. I have no idea what I want to be when I grow up.
  3. Nominate other amazing blogs and comment on their blog to let them know you nominated them.

I’ve narrowed down the nominating field to five blogs, because if I nominated my entire follow list, it would get out of hand. These blogs are all very, very important to me, as are many others. Please peruse and I hope you enjoy them as much as I do. The following are in no particular order.

5. https://ftmfml.wordpress.com/ The wonderful blogger who nominated me deserves all the nominations, and this “online diary” as he calls it never disappoints.

4. https://ollyaide.wordpress.com/ One part very personal writings, and one part social commentary makes the blog of a “Bisexual Genderqueer” an engaging and thoroughly enjoyable read.

3. https://mantodayblog.wordpress.com/ This blog is amazing in how it can break down really complex ideas into very easily understood concepts. A true how-to on the trans experience, I think anyone, trans or cis, should read.

2. https://queeringthenerd.wordpress.com/ A blog about life and queerdom that makes one feel not quite so alone.

1. http://janitorqueer.com/ This was the first blog I followed when I joined WordPress to start my own blog. This blog has been an inspiration to me, as well as a massive catharsis every time I read.

What Have We Learned and Where Are We Going From Here?

It’s July 6th. We’ve had a week now to decompress from the excitement, alcohol, and endorphins of Pride. For the Americans reading this, you may still be nursing a hangover from Independence Day. Maybe you need a few more days. If not, this has been a pretty monumental year in terms of LGBTQ+ rights. We had a lot more to celebrate this year than we have ever had before.

Marriage equality has spread across this world like a virus—or a wildfire, I’m not sure which is the best metaphor to use here—this year. The United States now recognizes and performs same-gender marriage in all fifty states. Our marriage equality was won in the court system. In Ireland, this year, marriage equality was won by referendum—the first nation on earth to legalize same-gender marriage by popular vote. In various parts of Mexico, regional appeals courts have ruled same-gender marriage bans unconstitutional. In Slovenia, a same-gender marriage bill was passed by that country’s parliament, it is being appealed by the courts, but may soon be legal there as well.

Lest we forget how far we have come, we must recognize the governments of Mozambique and Lebanon.  No, these two nations did not legalize same-gender marriage, nor civil unions, nor domestic partnerships. These countries have not come that far, not yet. In 2015, Mozambique and Lebanon have decriminalized gay sex. That may be a bigger win for our community than even the legalization of marriage, for if we are not jailed, we have won.

At the time that the United States has reopened diplomatic relations with the island nation of Cuba, the regional arm of the World Health Organization, the Pan-American Health Organization, has designated Cuba the first country to effectively eliminate mother-to-child transmission of HIV. New York State has recently begun a budget proposal to end epidemic-level HIV incidence.

Six states in the U.S. require insurance companies doing business within the state to cover transgender health care. Those states are California, Oregon, Colorado, Connecticut, Vermont, and New York. That’s awesome. Four countries on Earth allow transgender people to self-designate their gender on legal documents. Ireland became the fourth and newest addition to that list this year, a few weeks after passing marriage equality. They join Argentina, Malta, and Denmark. New York City allows trans people to self-designate their gender on the recently launched NYC municipal ID cards, but this does not translate onto birth certificates, driver’s licenses, or passports, which is limiting.

There are more transgender individuals in the media than ever before. The United States state of Oregon has its first bisexual mayor. The city of Palermo in Sicily has its first gay mayor. US Soccer star Abby Wambach, who just helped the United States win the World Cup, kissed her wife immediately after the game. Our visibility is higher than it has ever been, and that’s a wonderful thing. However, I think we all know we have a hell of a long way to go.

Engaging in gay sex in large swaths of the world can land one in prison, or worse, the grave. In the “developed” world, a person can be fired, evicted, or denied opportunities because of their gender or sexual identity.

Queer people face harassment, sexual assault, physical assault, domestic violence, and verbal harassment on a daily basis. Transgender women of color are the demographic most likely to be murdered in the United States. Five trans women of color were killed in the United States in the first five weeks of 2015. Trans suicides, especially those committed by youths are woefully underreported, and still dominate the progressive media. Queer people in rural places, even in the most developed of countries, are murdered without anyone knowing their names.

Forty percent of all homeless youth under the age of eighteen are queer. Many of them turn to sex work, one of the most unforgiving and dangerous pursuits on the planet. Living on the street also puts these children at risk for falling through the cracks in terms of education, healthcare, and employment opportunities. Being shoved through the foster care system can do more harm for these children than good.

Gay and bisexual men, as well as trans women, are contracting HIV at rates close to the infection rate at the height of the AIDS pandemic. America’s healthcare paradigm systematically fails at-risk individuals, allowing so many of them to fall through the cracks and miss key aspects of care. There is enough information and prevention mechanisms in place to eradicate HIV, and yet the infection rate is still astronomical.

Gay and bisexual men are not allowed to donate blood unless they remain entirely celibate for twelve months. Gay and bisexual men are not allowed to donate organs, even if they are HIV-negative and the person who needs an organ is their sibling or partner. HIV-positive individuals are not allowed to receive organ donations, even by other HIV-positive individuals. It’s impossible to know how many people have died because of these draconian laws.

The state of the queer nation is not strong. It is weaker than our rainbows and parades would make us think.

But how do we go about fixing such major problems when the heterosexual world believes its work is done? How do we, as a collective community made up of very diverse parts, choose which major issue to throw our full support behind, after so many years of fighting for marriage?

Queer people face myriad incredibly strenuous problems all over the world. Each of them will be an uphill battle to solve. If we follow the patterns our community forged in the twenty-first century with the overwhelming present of lobbying force for marriage equality, how would we go about choosing which issue to elevate to the level of full-court press? Whose lives are we supposed to deem more important? We know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that we cannot change hearts and minds any more than we can change law overnight. Nor can we change them on all issues with equal speed.

Our marriage equality infrastructure will be dismantled within weeks as the vestigial lawsuits and attempted stops on marriage are dissolved. Why? Would it not make sense to transfer those resources toward further needs of the queer community? Would it not make sense to rebrand Freedom to Marry as Freedom to Work, or Freedom to Live? This fight is not over.

Don’t get me wrong, there is no shortage of organizations out there fighting the good fight. In New York City, which is where I am based, there are such organizations as: the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP), which has been fighting for the rights of HIV-positive individuals and queer healthcare rights more broadly since its inception in 1987, the Anti-Violence Project (AVP), which has been teaching queer and HIV-positive people how to counter the violence perpetrated against them, and the Sylvia Rivera Law Project (SRLP), which has been fighting for the rights of trans people and was named for the transgender activist Sylvia Rivera who spearheaded the riots at Stonewall. These organizations are good at what they do. They need help. Help them. Help them all if you can.

Where we must go from here, even after a long year full of wins and losses, is forward. We must honor those who don’t make it to next year’s Pride because of the rampant violence and discrimination against us. We must never forget their struggles and sacrifices in the face of a world that cannot accept diversity. We must fight tooth and nail for each and every one of our next victories. They will come slowly, but they will come if we keep up the fight.

New York City Pride: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

New York City Pride is an orgy of rainbows, half naked bodies, hot pavement, the smells of bodies and melting condoms, and a cacophonous soundtrack of house music, screaming, and chanting. It never calls itself a parade, but always a march for equality. It was expected that Pride 2015 would be an intensely felt one, and it was. Why, then, in the aftermath, do I feel so sad?

Those who keep track of such things have said that 2015 was New York’s most-attended Pride march in its forty-five-year history. More than two million people flocked to the march route, standing five, ten, twenty, twenty-five people deep in the more popular sections of the route. Before the march, the organization responsible for putting Pride together, Heritage of Pride, estimated, based on the numbers each participating organization registered with, that 25,000 people would march. I would imagine that that number would be revised significantly upward.

I marched this year, as I do every year, with the non-profit organization my partner founded, the CUNY LGBT Task Force. This year, we joined forces with the larger City University contingent. We had a pretty substantial turnout, even though a lot of my friends bailed because of a light drizzle.

The police department went out of their way to protect and celebrate with the queer community, a stark contrast to the way things were during Stonewall. That the police could improve relations with our community, even only for a day, is possibly more progress than marriage equality. The police installed and maintained barricades to separate the marchers from those watching. This has been done for every parade in New York City since 9/11, a precaution to protect everyone. They maintained those barricades when appropriate, ignored infringement upon the barricades when young queer people hopped over to join the university’s contingent at the request of one of us, even danced with several marchers (there are photos and videos all over the internet of various cops doing this, it’s pretty priceless).

The March’s organizers made Edie Windsor, the eighty-something plaintiff of 2013’s Supreme Court win, the repeal of DOMA (The Defense of Marriage Act), a judge. It was sort of incredible to see her. Several of the people in my marching contingent ran to take selfies with her. She wore a pale blue t-shirt with black lettering that read: “This is what a lesbian looks like.” I think it was a nice gesture, albeit one only politically-aware people would truly appreciate. Sirs Ian McKellan and Derek Jacobi were the grand marshals, which was adorable, although I wish they’d chosen American grand marshals for this particular Pride.

Everyone, marchers and watchers alike, was incredibly excited to be there. People cheered and screamed until they lost their voices. They jumped and danced until their feet blistered. People kissed, hugged, and celebrated with complete strangers. The human connectedness of Pride was beautiful, as it usually is, amplified by an exponent of ten. But it wasn’t all beauty and body glitter.

One of the things that vexes me most about Pride is how corporate it has become. Sure, it’s kitschy and cute. Sure, many of the corporations that bring their floats through Pride give out freebies and discount coupons for their stores. That’s all well and good. In fact, Chipotle handed out coupons for buy-one-get-one-free burritos, tank tops reading “homo estas,” and buttons that say “I eat burritos” and “I eat tacos” (a little food-based sexual humor is always good in my eyes). Yes, all fine. However, the primary drive of a corporation at Pride is to court the queer community, especially white, cis, gays with a lot of disposable cash. They’re there to post lip service to their ‘commitment to diversity’ and line their pockets. In many cases, they don’t want trans or queer people even frequenting their places of business, as it ‘scares’ the normal people away.  Now, I’m probably being a little harsh. Some of these companies probably do believe they are helping us by being there. Regardless, their reasons for being there are selfish, not truly for our benefit.

What we now know as New York City Pride began in 1970 as the Christopher Street Liberation March. As the name suggests, it was a march to memorialize the Stonewall riots and to demand equal protection and rights. From its very inception, this march was political. During the AIDS crisis, the march was funereal. People ‘fornicated’ on the steps of St. Patrick’s Cathedral. People were arrested for waltzing up to the line of propriety and daring to cross it. Pride has always been political. The Pride of today has become something else entirely. Floats are very common; floats are for celebratory parades. Pride is not a parade. We are not zoo animals, or purebreds on show. We are human beings. We are human beings who are treated as less than by society. We march for visibility, we march to prove a point. We take to the streets to demand equal treatment. The goal in our hearts, at least in the hearts of activists, has not changed since 1970. The priorities may have, but the fire has not.

Part of me thinks that my generation has just realized that in New York City, anyone can legally walk around topless. In my contingent alone, there were eight topless 18-24-year-old girls. This is not a problem. In fact, I am so for that on multiple (mostly political, I swear) levels. The way they were received was disturbing. Men, presumably straight, touched, attempted to lick, and overwhelmingly photographed their breasts without consent. They handled it extremely calmly, but this is so fucked up. These types of things also happened to the twinks we had with us. My best friend was groped more times than he was comfortable with. What the fuck? Pride is not the place to sexually assault and harass people, especially people as young as college students. This is not what Pride is for. Consensual sexual play, absolutely. Harassment? No. Straight people, this is not a place for you to ogle queer people. You’re not edgy or queer for this behavior. You’re gross.

Worse than corporate intrusion, sexual harassment, and straight appropriation, though, is the rampant transphobia. If I had a dollar for every time I heard the t-word while marching the two-miles of New York City Pride, I could put off my job search for a month or two. Straight, as well as LGB, people were yelling at drag queens and speaking amongst themselves as to how Pride isn’t for the trans community. I overheard a few people bullying a young trans boy who was watching the march, a trans pride flag draped over the barricade. I, as a trans person, did not feel safe or welcome.

Collective amnesia is a helluva thing. Stonewall was spearheaded by really brave trans women, drag queens, and butches, mostly of color, and both the trans/gender non-conforming and POC communities have largely been dropped from the mainstream eye on LGBTQ issues. If it hadn’t been for the bravery of incredible role models like Sylvia Rivera and Marsha Johnson, there would be no same-gender marriage. There would be no non-discrimination bills. I urge the A+ gay community to remember that before screaming the word tr*nny on the corner of Christopher and Greenwich Streets.

Pride is political. Pride is a time to push boundaries, to raise awareness. Pride is not a time for silence. There is more colors to the rainbow than red, and there is more to fight for than marriage. We have to continue the fight and resist the urge to turn everything into a glittery party.

(Belated) Pride Day 13: Top V. Bottom

I apologize in advance for this. I’ve gotten very annoyed that now that I’m out as a bi trans guy, the first question people want to ask is “top or bottom,” as if those are the only two choices.

The False Dichotomy of Top and Bottom

A quick glance at gay culture reveals dichotomies largely built on hetero- and cisnormative gender lines. There are butches and femmes, tops and bottoms, doms and subs. Sexual behaviors, for some reason, have become social identity. What kind of a fucked up, self defeating attitude is this?

To be honest, the butch/femme culture in the lesbian community challenges heteronormative paradigms in a way that the top/bottom and dom/sub communities don’t. However, no one is perfect and we live in a really heteronormative world.

Why is it that sexual identity, gender identity, and social presentation are so bizarrely linked in the queer community? Is there some aspect of this that imposed upon us by hetero society? Why is it that tops feel pressure to present themselves as hyper masculine and that we assume that all femme guys are bottoms? Why is there this need to recreate gender norms in spaces that try to subvert them?

Why should we, in re-creation of hetero society, restrict ourselves sexually or socially by their constructed limitations? Why should we deny ourselves pleasure in upholding an unnecessary and arbitrary framework of exclusivity?

Think about that the next time you’re tempted to ask me whether I’ll “be a top or a bottom now that I’m a dude.”

(Belated) Pride Day 7: Comprehensive Sex Education

In the United States, the state of sex education is dismal. In many states and school districts, abstinence education is all that can be taught. Even fewer schools allow sexual education that encompasses the wide variety of sexual experience, including LGBTQ safe sex. This is largely due to a provision written into an unrelated law all the way back in 1992, known as the Helms Amendment. In ’92, then-senator Jesse Helms added the amendment out of a homophobic views of HIV and in attempt to stymie education around prevention of the disease. Since so few of my peers received a comprehensive safer sex education, I will share my insights on the subject.

Safer Sex Tools

Condoms: Oh, condoms. Everyone knows them, very few like them, but they are the tried and true method of preventing the spread of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and pregnancy. When used correctly, condoms are 99% effective. When used correctly. I know, it seems pretty difficult to screw up using a condom. In practice, however, this seems only to apply to penetrative sex. To comply with best practices and to gain the most protection, condoms should be used for all sexual encounters, penetrative or not. HIV and other STDs can be spread through things like oral sex and even touching if micro-abrasions (think the broken skin one has after biting nails), wounds, or bleeding is present. That is a very uncommon way of spreading STDs, but it is possible. Also, folk wisdom rings true, don’t keep condoms in a wallet or anywhere they’re subjected to lots of heat and friction, as it increases the risk of breakage.

Female Condoms: Female condoms are, if you’re not familiar—I know I was never taught about female condoms in school, sort of an inverse of a traditional male condom. These condoms are much larger and are meant to be inserted and wrapped around the genital area to protect against STDs. These condoms are more difficult to use, and are less effective because of that. These condoms are most effective with penetrative sex, but can also be used for oral sex.

Dental Dams: Full disclosure, I’ve never used a dental dam before. Dental dams are used for performing oral sex on someone with a vagina. Cover the area and go to town. It is very important to remember that vaginal fluids can carry STDs and to protect yourself if engaging in casual sex. For some reason, there is a misconception that exists that vaginas don’t spread disease the same way that penises do.

Finger Condoms: Finger condoms are, as the name suggests, condoms for the fingers. These are useful for fingering. They slide right on the fingers just as you would expect. They’re not very comfortable, but they get the job done if necessary.

Lube: Lube! Lube is so important. The only thing I can say about lube is use it. Just be careful with silicone-based lubricants in vaginas, as they can affect the natural pH balance, which can lead to yeast and other vaginal infections.

Sex Toy Care: If you’re sharing sex toys, make sure to clean them thoroughly before and after each person uses them. Also, make sure to clean sex toys after engaging in anal play.

Treatment as Prevention

PEP: It’s hard out there for somebody trying to have safer sex. Alcohol and drugs lower inhibitions, one thing often does lead to another, and sometimes bad choices are made. Shit happens. Maybe you were at a party, you slept with someone. You’re not sure of the person’s HIV status. This happens. You’re not relegated to waiting to see if you seroconvert (become HIV+).

If in this situation, get thee to a hospital as soon as you can. Ask for Post-Exposure Prophylaxis or PEP. PEP is a short term, high intensity treatment cycle of Antiretroviral drugs that, if administered within thirty-six hours and taken for roughly six weeks, can prevent seroconversion with roughly 70% effectiveness.

PrEP: PrEP: PrEP stands for Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis. PrEP is a pill, marketed under the brand name of Truvada, taken every day that can prevent the contraction of HIV with 92% effectiveness. PrEP is best suited for people who frequently engage in high risk behavior and those in monogamous sero-diverse relationships (one partner is positive and one isn’t).

PrEP has created quite the firestorm of controversy in the past few years, with many in the gay community opposed to it. Those opposed to PrEP say that this pill protects against HIV, but does not protect against other STDs–which is true–and will lead to more high risk behavior than condoms alone. Supporters like myself believe that PrEP can be an integral part to comprehensive safer sex precautions.

Birth Control: Birth control has far more uses than mainstream culture is comfortable with. Lawmakers are comfortable restricting female-bodied individuals access to birth control as a means of “protecting the children.” They refuse to acknowledge that birth control has several other uses. Birth control can be used to treat Pre-Menstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD), Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), endometriosis, pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS), amenorrhea, and regulating hormone levels. Birth control can also, of course, prevent pregnancy.

Birth control can be delivered many different ways: implants, patches, pills, shots, sponges, vaginal rings, cervical caps, and intra-uterine devices (IUDs). For emergency pregnancy prevention, the morning-after pill is (mostly) available over the counter and effective up to five days after unprotected sex.

Vaccinations: Ah, yes, vaccinations. Those little needles that once made you scream or refuse to go to the doctor’s office may now protect you from STDs. In the United States, the vaccines for hepatitis was added to the regular vaccination timeline back in the 80s. If you know you haven’t been vaccinated for the heps, it is a very good idea to do that, considering that Hepatitis B is still very damaging and very much incurable. A cure exists for Hepatitis C, but it costs roughly $36,000.

Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted virus in the world. There are something like one hundred different strains of this virus, and they all do very different things. Some can be infected with HPV their entire lives and never present any symptoms. Other strains can cause cancers of the anus, penis, throat, vagina, uterus, cervix, or ovaries. Still other strains cause very unsightly genital warts. Luckily, a vaccine exists for the damaging strains. The vaccine is called Gardisil, is given in three separate injections, and is a really great way to gain peace of mind.

Getting Tested: Getting tested is essential. Best practices would suggest seeing your general practitioner or attending a sexual health clinic every three months while you’re sexually active. For example, if you’ve been celibate for three years, there’s really no reason to continue getting tested, but that’s just common sense. One quick note of advice: If faced with question marks regarding your HIV status, do not purchase and use an over-the-counter OraSure test. They are much less effective than traditional tests, and it is never a good idea to get bad news while you’re home alone.

Consent: It is, hopefully, pretty much common sense that to gain consent for sexual acts is essential for a healthy sexual relationship. There are several models of consent that have varying pros and cons in practice.

No Means No: The standard model used by law enforcement and in general in the United States is a no means no model. This model suggests that violation of an overt no, stop, or don’t is rape/unwanted sexual action. An absence of no is consent by omission. The problems with this model are many. Situations in which an individual is unable to give an informed or clear ‘no’ (intoxicated, unconscious, disabled, unaware, etc.) are legion. The existence of the freeze response to trauma is entirely ignored, in which someone being raped cannot verbalize ‘no’ due to extreme fear.

Yes Means Yes: California is currently the only US state that has a yes means yes law in terms of sexual consent. A yes means yes model requires a verbal affirmation for each new sex act. Many would say that this is too difficult or awkward or whatever. Others say that it is the ultimate safeguard in terms of sexual violence and the law.

Where is Your Line Model: The Line model of consent is my personal favorite. The Line also requires very open and honest discussion about sexual behavior, likes/dislikes, things both partners want, and what they don’t want. The Line model allows for both partners in a sexual relationship to know and understand what’s okay and what’s off-limits during a sexual encounter. An affirmative “yes” is unnecessary for each new act, but those that would elicit a “no” are discussed and avoided ahead of time.

I’m a little bit late again with posting this, but here it is. If there’s anything I didn’t cover that you think I should, drop a comment. Any questions, comments, or concerns, drop me a line.

(Belated) Day 6 of Pride: LGBTQ Symbols

Like many communities, the LGBTQ community has almost a secret language unto itself. Symbolism is a major part of that. In recent years, some of the queer community’s symbols have reached media saturation in the mainstream. The best example that comes to mind? The rainbow flag. It seems like just about everyone in this country—and, I daresay, in most—knows what the rainbow flag represents. Many don’t accept the LGBT use of the rainbow, and attempt to argue about it via poorly worded facebook statuses, but they all know what it means. However, the rainbow flag is only one symbol of many.

Flags

The LGBTQ Pride Flag/Gay Pride Flag: The rainbow that we all know and love was once representative of only the gay and lesbian communities. As more letters and more individuals were added into the queer community, the significance of the rainbow flag grew with it. The original rainbow flag was designed by Gilbert Baker in 1978. His original design had eight colors, pink, red, orange, yellow, green, turquoise, indigo, and violet. It was modified in 1979 and 1980 into the six-horizontal-color-lines that we know now. The current rainbow flag depicts red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and purple.

Baker’s original rainbow flag was heavily inspired by the hippie movement. He attributed the following meanings to the colors in his flag. Pink = sexuality, red = life, orange = healing, yellow = sunlight, green = nature, turquoise = magic/art, indigo = serenity, and violet = spirit. Each color, both in modernity and the six-color flag in general, is no longer typically thought to hold any special meaning.

Bisexual Pride Flag: The Bisexual Pride Flag was designed by Michael Page in 1998. The bisexual flag is recognizable by its large pink and blue squares, with a thinner rectangle of purple in the middle. Page said at the unveiling of this flag that the pink represents gay attraction, the blue represents straight attraction, and the purple represents the bisexual individual who experiences both. This flag, like many of the other sexuality flags, are much less commonly used than the more inclusive rainbow.

Pansexual Pride Flag: The pansexual pride flag, much like pansexuality as a term, is a much newer invention. The pansexual pride flag is made up of three equal-sized horizontal bars. Pink represents the feminine gender spectrum. Yellow represents the non-binary gender spectrum. Blue represents the masculine gender spectrum. It began appearing around the internet in 2010. The flag’s designer is unclear.

Asexual Pride Flag: The asexual flag became widely used 2010. It is unclear who first designed its present incarnation, but the Asexuality Visibility and Education Network (AVEN) began using the four-bar flag in 2010. The four bars of color comprising the asexual flag are black, grey, white, and purple.

Transgender Pride Flag: The transgender pride flag was designed by transwoman Monica Helms in 1999. The flag is made up of five horizontal bars of color. Blue, pink, white, pink, and blue. These colors represent both gender identities and birth-assigned sexes. The white in the center represents those who are transitioning or non-binary. The white stripe has also historically represented those who are intersex, but the intersex community has since developed their own flag and symbols.

Genderqueer Pride Flag: The genderqueer pride flag was designed by Marilyn Roxie in the early 2000s. It consists of three stripes, purple, white, and dark chartreuse. The purple represents the traditional gender spectrum, that between masculine (blue) and feminine (pink). The white represents those who are agender, androgynous, and gender neutral. The dark chartreuse, being the inverse of the purple, represents those who identify off of the traditional gender spectrum.

Intersex Pride Flag: The Intersex pride flag was developed by the Australian Intersex Organization in July of 2013. The flag depicts a purple circle on a yellow background. They chose these colors to be representative of living intersex without the need for traditional pinks and blues.

 

Symbols

Pink Triangle: The pink triangle refers to the patch gay men were forced to wear in Nazi concentration camps during the Holocaust. This symbol was reclaimed most famously by activist organization ACT UP (The AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) during the height of the AIDS pandemic.

Black Triangle: The black triangle was the Nazi symbol for lesbians. This symbol is, to my knowledge, fairly rarely used in modernity.

Pink and Blue Triangle: The pink and blue triangles were designed around the same time as the bisexuality pride flag in the late 1990s. The pink and blue overlapping triangles, sometimes referred to as bi-angles, are uncommonly used since the triangles have such a heavy history.

Labrys: The labrys, a double-edged ax, has been used as a symbol for lesbianism since the 1970s. It is thought to have been a reference to Sappho. It now represents lesbian and feminist strength and self-sufficiency.

Lambda: In the 1970s, the Greek letter lambda was designated the symbol of legal gay rights by the Gay Activists Alliance of New York City. The name has been adopted by the largest LGBTQ rights law firm in the country, Lambda Legal.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of LGBT symbols. What are some other symbols you can think of? Do you have any interesting personal pride symbols that are not commonly used? Share!

The [Road] Less Travelled By…

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—I took the road less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” –Robert Frost

 

I am staring down the metaphorical barrel of the biggest gun I will ever face. If my university’s bureaucracy gets its shit together, I’ll be graduating from college with a Bachelor’s in English next month. I’ve had four years to study, to grow into myself, and to figure out what I want to do with my life. Now, I find myself at the end of those four years.

I have no fucking idea what I want to do with myself. I tell myself that I’m “keeping my options open” and that “life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans,” but I don’t think I believe myself anymore. I think I realize now that having a singular plan and sticking with it is far less stressful than being blindly ambitious with extremely varied interests.

I want to be financially secure more than anything else. I can’t even begin to think about top surgery or tailored suits until I have enough security to pay rent, to eat, to live. I want to be able to grab a drink after work with coworkers that see me for who I really am. How I do that, right now, is the biggest of question marks.

I’ve always wanted to be a writer, and I have about thirty-five unfinished manuscripts cluttering up my hard drive. It is unlikely most of them will ever be completed. The publishing industry is on its way out, anyway. It’s next to impossible to hit it big as a novelist or memoirist. I’m never going to stop writing, but it’s unlikely that I’d ever make a cent from it.

Related to a love of writing, my love of journalism is tied to an equally dying profession. To be taken seriously as a journalism, one should go to journalism school. $100k for no job security in a field that barely exists anymore? I don’t think that’s logical, but I’d like it, and therein lies the problem.

Part of me wants to get rid of all the things I don’t need, pack up, and move to Europe. I could teach English. It would be very easy for me. The only job I’ve ever had has been teaching remedial English to community college students for whom English is a second language. According to a friend I made when I was in Rome earlier this month explained to me that there’s a real need for English teachers, as Italy is doing worse than they claim in the pursuit of teaching English, the language of much science, business, and industry. I would have the opportunity to meet and befriend people I can’t imagine being an American. However, I love New York City, and I worked so hard to have the opportunity to live here. I am eternally conflicted.

I have been watching a lot of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit lately. It speaks to me in a very poignant and powerful way that few shows do. It’s made me think about alternative options about my life path that I would never have thought of before. What if I could be an NYPD detective investigating sex crimes? What would that be like? Would I be able to help real people who have been victims of sexual violence, in a world that dismisses them as “asking for it?” I know that becoming a police officer is a highly problematic proposition, and it is one that would likely be entirely unattainable for someone like me. First of all, I’d have to be a beat cop before being allowed to be a detective. I would have to assimilate (more or less) into a culture of policing that we all know is toxic at worst, questionable at best. Besides, it is entirely unlikely that I’d ever pass a physical or psychological evaluation considering my tarnished past, nor, to my knowledge, has there ever been a transitioning transgender individual on the police force.

In a similar vein, much more attainably, I could go to law school and work for an organization like the ACLU, Southern Poverty Law Center, or Lambda Legal. I could be a prosecutor. I would have to go to law school. Maybe not.

If I wanted to stay in the queer space, I could study public policy. I could work for a queer non-profit. The only trouble would be finding one that actually really helps people and isn’t corrupt as hell. There are way too many Gay Non-Profits that sweep trans people under the rug, who make inordinate amounts of money, who pay lip service to the most disadvantaged sects of the queer community without ever actually lifting a finger or seeing a face.

All in all, I want to be able to work in an area that does good. I want to be able to really help people. I want to be able to work with people who are like minded and who can recognize me for who I am without my having to fear judgment, violence, or discrimination. That’s a lot to ask, I know, but, hey, a [trans] guy can dream. If anyone has any advice for me, I’m all ears.