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.