Tattoos I want to get

This post is for my friend Imran. I usually have very little interest in explaining myself to people who aren’t going to understand anyway, but we’re now at THAT part of the semester, so here we are.

Listening to my normie friends talk about tattoos and speculate on what possesses people to get them is one of the main reasons I think of them as my normie friends. Hell, I grew up being told to be careful of dangerous men with tattoos and to judge people who give in to “peer pressure” and try to “fit in” by getting tattoos. I was told that tattoos are foolish spur-of-the-moment decisions made by people who just can’t think more than a day ahead, who will surely come to regret it. Slightly more open-minded people think that tattoos come in either “deep personal significance to the bearer that makes sense to me and hence I approve” or “stupid and bad decision”.

But really the most telling thing I’ve read today was about tattoo stigma in Japan. (I was quite concerned about whether I can visit an onsen if I got a tattoo.) Apparently, there is still stigma even though people know that tattoos are no longer just for criminals, because it is seen as “rejecting the mainstream”, which is bad.

Here’s an idea: what other people do with their bodies doesn’t have to make sense to you for it to make sense for them. Honestly, it is such a cishet dude phenomenon, to demand that people justify themselves to you and then declare that it makes no sense and is a stupid decision. Could it be that other people have different lived experiences and live in different worlds than you? Of course not, yours is the one true objective, neutral, sensible and most-mainstream worldview through which everything should be judged.

I know we live in different worlds because normies are always asking “WHYYY do you want a tattoo??” and expect a very good reason, while at this point I’m like, “why not? It’s nice.” Tattoos are nice. I know quite a few people who would get some if there was less stigma. Think of all the great art more people could have on them if they just stood up a bit to “peer pressure”. Somebody told me earlier today that he has no friends who has tattoos. Like, none. God it must be so boring to be straight.

I’m sorry that was a bit aggressive. People in marginalised sub-cultures don’t have a monopoly on being true to themselves despite social pressure, of course, though it certainly helps. People are constantly asking me “what next” with morbid curiosity. As in, “you got a nose ring and now you’re getting a tattoo, what edgy frightening thing will you do next?!??” If only they knew. I don’t usually tell people this but I plan to finally shuffle off this mortal coil and transcend my meat-casing to become more powerful than imaginable.

None of this was aimed at Imran actually, who is very sweet and really just wanted to know what I wanted to get. Heh sorry frond. I just wanted to say all this because while I love to talk about body mods and how I feel about them, I also feel like people who ask are usually like, “explain this so that I can decide whether I should be judgy or not”, which, hey, the answer is always no.

Tattoos I want to get

Fuck The Patriarchy (on “reconciliation”)

Being a woman is hard, because the world is a fucked up unfair place. Gender dysphoria is difficult to differentiate from anger at stupid misogyny and sexism and gender roles in the world. I have often questioned whether I am “really” trans, or that all female-assigned people dislike their genders because of how the world is. It is not clear-cut, but I think it is both. I am angry when people tell me that as a girl, I should behave a certain way, because 1. fuck you girls can do anything, and 2. I’m not a girl and hate being seen as one.

It is difficult for me to imagine why anyone would want to be a girl, and why all AFAB (assigned female at birth) people don’t transition. But that is because am trans. My feelings about not wanting to be a girl come from societal pressure as well as dysphoria, and it took me a while to realise that not everyone experiences dysphoria.

A strongly cisgender-identifying woman explained it to me as such: when i witness or am on the receiving end of sexism, it doesn’t make me hate being a girl, it only makes me hate that people think they can view women that way or say / do such things. (Not being a woman) might be more convenient in practical terms but i would not enjoy it one bit!!!!!

Everything in the media has been telling me that my only purpose in life is to look pretty for men, and not to have too many opinions. My body makes me unsafe, a target. I have had to live with all sorts of double standards. These are fucked up, unfair things, and they are why feminism is important to me. We need to call out all the ways that cishet men have power in society, and we need solidarity, and to organise. We need to reclaim our bodies and to redefine womanhood for ourselves in ways that aren’t just convenient excuses for men to control us. These are good, important things. The patriarchy is not going to fuck itself.

But at the end of the day, I will still be trans. Reclaiming my body from the patriarchy is not the same as “reconciling” or “coming to terms” with my womanhood, because I am not a cis woman. Forcing myself to do these things will not turn me into one, and would simply be repressing my true gender. Just as how trans women are still women regardless of how much pressure a transphobic and misogynistic society puts on them, it is not this pressure that is making me not cis.

Being trans is not a cop-out. If the patriarchy had a rule that women can’t drive and you wanted to drive, you might not be a woman, or you might be a woman who wants to drive because that’s obviously a stupid rule. One possibility does not exclude the other, regardless of what certain reactionary “”feminists”” may have to say. We can fuck the patriarchy and accept trans people at the same time.

Fuck The Patriarchy (on “reconciliation”)

Life/transition goals update

“We can run into the most remote regions and what we flee will still be so thickly daubed all around that we madly turn and run ever further never suspecting that the social, that which we run from, is stuck within us; it’s our ligaments and tendons and joints and blood. It was not leaving society behind that gave me clarity. Society came with me, stuck to me. There is no escape from everything which has made us; there is only its slow, arduous processing.” – Waking up Trans in the Wild

I haven’t written much here this year. I am doing a year abroad, one semester in Germany (April to July) and then one in London (August to December). In a way this year feels like a year away from my “real life” at home, and the things that felt pressing back home I have been leaving on the back burner, partly because I cannot do anything about them right now and partly because I have just been so occupied with adjusting to being abroad.

Right before I left I actually tried to start the process of starting testosterone despite still being quite conflicted and uncertain, but then realised that it would be wise to wait a year to be back because finding a doctor etc would be complicated. And then it happened that some people from a hospital in Thailand that I had sent top surgery enquiries to were in town, so I had a consult with them. I went with the idea of it just being for future reference, with no real plans for the next few years.

I have been away for two and a half months now. It hasn’t been the smoothest, and I miss home a lot. There has been so much to do and so much to adjust to, I simply did not have the same amount of time to constantly worry about gender as I did at home. But the quiet passage of time, meeting new people and realising how I would like to be perceived, and meeting and talking with other trans people, has slowly built a certainty in me that the constant back and forth with myself did not.

I have been spending a lot of time alone or with strangers, which provides a different perspective than my frustrations back home with my group of friends who weren’t very on the ball about my gender. I also went to a trans youth and a nonbinary group meeting here in Munich, and met many awesome and beautiful people. It is kind of silly but that let me see what was possible and what I might want for myself. I did not realise this, but I just didn’t know that many trans, and especially nonbinary people.

Something I am very afraid of is becoming ugly. What if I end up ugly?? Meeting more trans people helped with that a lot. I met the most beautiful person the other day, who had been on T for a while. I can’t quite put my finger on it but it was slightly difficult to breathe around them. It was a mixture of attraction and jealousy, I think :p I also met a trans girl who had a really lovely voice. I really love trans women’s voices, and would like to sound like them. I think it is the mixture of pitch and inflection. The Very Beautiful Person said something that has stuck with me: they weren’t that sure about starting T, but looking back realised they couldn’t have not started.

I continue to be uninvested in and vague about my sexual orientation. I really haven’t had time to think about it. I do occasionally get crushes on people? But I still have not identified any particular gender or genders that I am attracted to or can imagine myself dating. Sex is even weirder to think about, so I don’t. I do think that I will be more open to dating men after I transition.

I now have a better idea of what I want from transition (body hair, slight voice deepening, face and body fat redistribution, top surgery). I often need to remind myself that transition will not solve all my problems. I would still be the same person, and thinking of my post-transition self as a different person is a trap created by self-loathing, I think. “It’s okay to hate myself now because everything will change” isn’t a great mindset for personal growth before I start hormones.

Maybe it is easier to feel clarity now when there is nothing I can actually do. I think that when the time comes the doubts and fear will come back, and I will procrastinate. But how long do I want to continue living like this? A few years might be okay. The rest of my life, not so much. I write now, so that I may remember.

Here’s a transition inspiration moodboard I made last year:

Screenshot 2017-12-02 01.26.05


PS: I have been writing a little bit on quora. I quite like my answers to What does being nonbinary mean to you? and What is gender dysphoria like for nonbinary people? These, I think, were pretty good distillations of everything that I have been working through on this blog.

Life/transition goals update

On Dysphoria, 3

What do I experience as dysphoria?

I feel really uncomfortable meeting new people, or thinking about the people who already know me now. I feel like they are not meeting the “real” me, and fantasise about meeting them again a few years later in my final form. My body feels like being very under-dressed at a fancy dinner, and the idea of anyone seeing me like this is horrifyingly embarrassing. Thinking about being seen makes me want to throw up a little bit. It makes me sad and want to hurt myself.

But I feel really comfortable meeting trans people. It was so pleasant to attend a trans youth group in which lots of people looked like me. You know that thing where trans people add each other on facebook and pretend not to notice deadnames? It feels like we also do that for each other about our bodies. We politely ignore the features of each other’s bodies that we know do not represent us.

I once complimented a cis girl on her hair after she had to have it cut for basic military training. She told me that that wasn’t her, and to please imagine her in my head with long hair. Can everyone do that for me? Nobody can control how other people think of them, and everyone wants to. (What other people think about you is none of your business.) I would like if everyone’s mental image of me was just a block of static and a pop-up that said “rendering”. The ability to choose how you look to others is part of why lots of trans people play video games, I think.

When I look in the mirror, I feel okay. I think that objectively, I look okay. This may change, I know that some people feel retroactively dysphoric when they look back after starting to transition, because you get used to things. I don’t like how clothes look on me though. Swimsuits are impossible.

Sometimes, it’s just hard to breathe. It feels like nothing will ever get better, or there’s no better to get to. That feeling, more than anything else, is the most unbearable. Being able to even identify the things that hurt and can be changed has taken a long time and helps a lot. One day at a time. But what do I do while waiting to transition? How do I live my life feeling half-finished? What if, to cope, I convince myself that I don’t need to transition and land right back at square one? I am writing this down now so that I remember.

Hey google, set a reminder for 2019

On Dysphoria, 3

Can’t Touch This Skin

I saw Paris is Burning for the first time last weekend at a queer “film experience” screening/drag party event cut from the M1 Singapore Fringe Festival because of complaints from homophobes etc. We still had the event though, just not under the auspices of the festival!

The film was a revelation, and made so much of drag make so much more sense. I have always been kinda confused by drag, and it really helped to learn about its roots in poor queer Black and Latino communities and what things mean beyond what I know filtered and diluted through current pop culture. The film and its screening in Singapore was a fierce, defiant celebration of queerness in the face of discrimination, poverty, ignorance, and in our case censorship.

I came away thinking about how unfortunate it is that a lot trans people are so alienated from drag these days when so many of the pioneers were trans. Many of them didn’t even that clearly differentiate themselves as gay men/drag queens/transvestites/transsexuals. There is still so much we can learn from our elders and from their traditions. But it seems that mainstream drag has now lost touch with most of its radical roots and become a thing mainly enjoyed by problematic and very cis people who think they are radical just because they watch RuPaul’s Drag Race. These people (including RuPaul himself) do not know the first thing about current trans issues and constantly complain about trans people being “uptight” about our identities when their problems are pointed out.

There is no good way for trans people to either participate or not participate in camp and outrageous gender pageantry. Trans people are endlessly stereotyped as being overly uptight and militant about our genders, because social change is never comfortable for the already-privileged. But we are simultaneously also policed if our genders are not serious and respectable (ie familiar and nonthreatening) enough. Trans people are only “real” and deserving of respect if they do not genderfuck, and are Just Like You, which is why many trans people have had to explain that they are not drag queens, and that drag has nothing to do with their identity.

In Notes on Caitlyn, or Genre Trouble: On the Continued Usefulness of Camp as Queer Method, Marissa Brostoff calls this a “politics of trans sincerity, in which the gender-nonconforming subject is celebrated as transgressive to the extent that her nonconformity can be read as serious—that is, to the extent that she rejects camp”.

And yet:

Judith Butler brought camp to the forefront of queer methodological inquiry in a founding moment of queer theory, the publication of Gender Trouble in 1990. Butler elaborated the notion that camp uses parody and irony to create odd marriages between terms conventionally seen as opposed—high/low, masculine/feminine, real/fake, surface/depth—in order to subvert the social norms that govern identity. In particular, she famously argued, camp’s affiliation with drag performance empowers it to destabilize the naturalness of gender in the eye of the beholder.  “In imitating gender, drag implicitly reveals the imitative structure of gender itself—as well as its contingency,” Butler wrote. “[G]ender parody reveals that the original identity after which gender fashions itself is an imitation without an origin”. In her account, then, camp is a mode of queer political critique.

While camp is not inherently political and can be used to reinforce the status quo, it can also be a “strategy of survival in a hostile world” and “queer political critique”. As pioneer gender outlaw Kate Bornstein puts it, “we are freaks to a lot of the world” and the trick is to “own it”. Owning it does not have to but can mean participating in campy drag and gender performance. The distancing of trans and other gender-transgressive people from drag is a loss of power, and an appropriation by cis people.


Sidebar: In the middle of writing this post, the latest Dumb Thing That RuPaul Said hit my timeline: “RuPaul Would ‘Probably Not’ Let a Transitioning Queen on Drag Race“. In reference to trans women and bio queens: “Drag loses its sense of danger and its sense of irony once it’s not men doing it”. Um. Excuse me?? It is astounding that after all that ball culture and drag has done to demonstrate the instability of “men” as a gender category, after all that trans pioneers of all kinds have done for drag… wow.

Can’t Touch This Skin

On Dysphoria, 2

In my previous post On Dysphoria, I talked about how gender dysphoria is a vague catchall term that I don’t feel is applicable to me.

A friend posited to me that part of my hesitance to name dysphoria in reference to myself might be me minimising my pain. Like, yeah people treat me like shit and I feel shit about it but it’s not THAT bad.. right?

I think she has a point. Sometimes being mis-pronouned makes me so uncomfortable that it ruins the next few days and I dread or avoid social situations in which it could possibly happen (ie all of them). Being illegible weighs on me. I don’t know if this fits the clinical definition of dysphoria, and it doesn’t sound like the innate visceral feelings that I hear other people talk about, but it does sound like some “gender based discomfort”. Part of why I don’t want to name it is that I think it’s not as real or as bad as what “real” trans people with “real” dysphoria go through.

I am still cautious about labelling things “dysphoria” without specification or examination, as in the previous post. However, I am allowed to feel pain in whatever form I experience it without minimising or dismissing it as not real. The gender binary does violence to my identity constantly, and pain is a real and valid response.

On Dysphoria, 2