Pride, Not Prejudice, Unbound and #AnthologyWeek

Friends! It’s a special occasion over at Unbound publishing. This week marks one year since the publication of their wildly successful book, The Good Immigrant! TGI is a pioneering book, and with it editor Nikesh Shukla opened the door for a whole host of anthologies, collections of work by authors from marginalised communities whose voices might not otherwise be heard. I wouldn’t be writing to you today if not for The Good Immigrant.

So why am I here writing to you today? I’m trans. You probably know that. And you can probably guess that I wasn’t always as open about it as I am now. I’ve felt for a really long time since coming out that I wasn’t giving enough back to my community. As writers I think we have a tendency to see ourselves as, at best, ‘armchair activists’: we put words on paper but what does that actually accomplish?

But books can and do make a difference. Growing up I had no literature to refer to about being trans, let alone about being nonbinary. If I’d been able to pick up a novel where the main character was trans, or see a mention of someone like Marsha P Johnson or Christine Jorgensen in a school history textbook, I would have been deeply affected. I would have known that I wasn’t weird or unnatural or alone, and that people like me have made, and are making, history.

That’s what this book is for. We’ve gathered a group of transgender and nonbinary writers and activists and bloggers and artists from a really diverse range of backgrounds, and with a wide range of different gender identities. Transness isn’t a monolith, nor is it the be all, end all of ourselves as people. What I want this book to do is to tell other trans people that there’s nothing wrong with being trans, that their stories are important, and that they’re not alone. It’s what I would have wanted when I was a kid.

If you want to help me and my fellow trans and genderqueer authors tell our stories, you can pre-order a copy of the book from our crowdfunding page. Please keep in mind that we can ONLY publish if we receive enough pre-orders to cover production costs, so I encourage you to pre-order.

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What Ted Cruz’s Twitter Porn ‘Like’ Tells Us About His Generation

I woke up to a text containing the following image this morning, and all I could be was grateful to my friends for keeping me up to date. I wasn’t even surprised. We live in a time when the president of the United States can talk about assaulting women on tv and get less than a slap on the wrist for it. What we also live in is a time when social media has absolutely saturated our everyday lives, and porn can (though I’ve got no idea why you’d want to on such a public medium – exhibitionism?) be accessed through this media.

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borrowed from this The Next Web article

The very basic rundown is that Cruz – though I’m sure we’ll see some hapless intern take the hit for this – seems to have ‘liked’ a video posted by porn twitter account ‘@SexuallPosts’. I haven’t scrolled on that account far enough to find it (please, don’t make me) but as far as I know the tweet is still up.

Far from being an isolated incident, this case is part of a raft of similar occurrences involving male public figures, the internet and social media, and porn. The one I’m most familiar with (give me a break, just googling ‘MP accidentally likes internet porn’ was enough to make me want to throw my laptop out the window) is the case of pastor William Henry Dewberry III, whose instagram account (and more) is pictured below:

 

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screenshot borrowed from twitter user @therealIBK

Taken in August of this year, the screenshot says it all. (The aftermath: claims of being hacked, the account was later shut down and, potentially, resurrected under the same username by someone else with a sense of humor.)

So let’s break it down. What exactly is bad about what these men are doing? Surely there’s nothing inherently wrong with showing their appreciation for media they find sexually arousing*, is there?

But it is problematic. It’s upsetting because in all these cases, even setting aside the misogyny inherent in so much of the porn industry, it represents a fundamental dishonesty that says a lot about the people running this country.

The descriptors that immediately spring to mind for me are an odd mix of hypocrisy, naïveté and entitlement. Both men call themselves righteous, and use twitter – unlike how most of us use it – to present a ‘public facing’ veneer to the world. I can guarantee you that none of these dudes are tweeting about what they’re making for dinner or posting cat videos.

But, somehow, again and again, it becomes clear that these masks they wear for the public, be they of wholesomeness or professionalism, do not completely cover the yucky bits underneath.

It’s notable that in both these cases the men’s twitter accounts describe them as, in various ways, fighters for righteous causes. Dewberry’s IG account names him a pastor, and retired US soldier, both arguably admirable professions, though neither inherently morally righteous. Cruz’s profession is a mystery to no one, and he goes so far as to call himself, with nebulous accuracy, a ‘fighter for liberty’ (and choose a rather unfortunate cover image that centers on his groin area when minimized, nice going Ted).

You may want to cry foul at this point, at least for Dewberry, and that would be fair: a brief look at his instagram account suggests it may indeed have been hacked. But I posit that, as my links above suggest, these incidents are symptomatic of a larger problem. If someone wanted to frame him for some transgression, they had a very clear template to work off of. Powerful men using that most public of apps to give us a glimpse of their most private of tastes. It would be ironic if it wasn’t so nasty.

‘Naive’, too, because these men are very consistently members of a generation who grew up before the internet and social media was readily available. This is where the comedic value of their behavior comes from: most of the authors writing about these incidents are millenials or at least computer-conversant. To most of us, this stuff is so easy a child could do it. Many of us are children. It’s baffling, frustrating, and a little bit satisfying to see that the people who control the production of laws, the propagation of media, and the leading of our communities can be so demonstrably incompetent at something we’re all so familiar with.

And ‘entitled’, as most of these men undeniably are, because the consumption of pornography is not by any means new; it has been available to the general public far longer than the internet has. If you think about it, there’s never been any question that a lot of people, including politicians, consume pornography (though they seem to consume more than I do). But the fact that none of them seem to have been properly censured for it (though I note with satisfaction that Anthony Weiner does seem to have been charged) is galling.

Though they’ve all been lampooned, their behavior shows no signs of changing. At the very most I think the other men who would get themselves in these situations will take these news stories as an object lesson: don’t get caught. And I wouldn’t expect any different, but it’s still disappointing.

*It’s necessary to point out that it’s been claimed the porn Cruz ‘liked’ was in fact incest porn. Though I’ve been unable to verify this, if true, then it’s very much wrong.

CROATIA SKETCHES 6 // Polače

sept 6:

Today’s been a warm, calm, lonely day. I think I’m ready to go back home, back to work. I hiked for a couple hours earlier today and found that an experience I’d wanted to have – a period of time and a place to walk where I could discern no sign of human activity – had been achieved, and that it was extraordinarily lonely. I had anticipated this and still wanted it but it’s helped me decide I’m not ready to leave humanity behind just yet.

sept 7 11.20am,
On the ferry now, saying goodbye to Mljet. The taxi I’d ordered for 9.30 came at 10, the 10.45 ferry left at 11. After a week and a half in this country I haven’t managed to get used to how relaxed they are about time. That’s a bit of a cliche about the Mediterranean, isn’t it?

My host gave me a lovely cup of coffee and a bag of bread and cookies – which I’ve already devoured – before I left. I had mentioned at the beginning I wanted to do some drawing (not just prose sketches) when I was here and my host really ran with that, even though I’m a complete amateur. But I suppose it’s good because it’s meant I’ve felt obligated to do some sketching, and I think I’ve improved that little bit. I left a drawing for my host in the room I stayed in, but after all the coffee and food and snacks is that enough?

My host also said I should come back, and I’m thinking seriously about it. Is the purpose of travel purely to see new places? This trip wasn’t. I think the next time I need to wind down and get away from people, maybe I’ll come back to Polace. At the very least I’ll recommend Pave’s place to my friends who decide to visit.

CROATIA SKETCHES 5 // Polače

[i’m back to numbering these again. Sorry.]

Sunday 3 Sept, 6.38pm.
Today was a tiring day, full of muscles i’m not used to using. I’m better on a bike than I remember, and haven’t had a proper coughing fit all day, well, since 1 this morning. I’m sitting on the balcony watching the sun go down behind the ridge to the west of the town. The one I cycled up this morning. I think I’m done with convalescence, which is to say I’m not giving myself any more excuses to sit inside and do nothing. The same can’t be said for sitting on the beach and doing nothing.

Polače has this curious second sunset, something I imagine must be very common in hilly countries but which I’ve never experienced. I’ll watch the sun go down, around 6.40, but the sky will only change color, like a proper sunset, twenty minutes later when the sun goes below the horizon, which is behind the ridge.

As I was biking back to Polače this afternoon a guy coming towards me lost his hat in the road. I didn’t know what to do so I just said, enunciating very clearly, ‘HAT.’ and pointed. The same guy has just walked below my balcony. I wonder if he knows I speak English. If not, it’s a bit less weird than me just having not processed the situation in time when his hat landed in the road. Maybe I only know the word ‘hat’, and not how to tell someone they’ve lost one.

CROATIA SKETCHES // Polače

[I’m giving up on trying to number these entries, it doesn’t really add anything other than organisaton]

2 Sept, 11.32am.
Up early again this morning, had a good breakfast. I owe the bakery one kuna (approx. .12 GBP) because I didn’t have exact change.

I’m going to write until 1 and then go for a swim at the beach. It’s windy, clouds are scudding overhead, and there’s a restive quality to the town. It’s very quiet and most of the yachts have moved elsewhere. I look at the weather prediction and I think I can guess why. We’re supposed to have thunderstorms this afternoon and tomorrow. I’ve always loved thunderstorms, probably beause (like rain, which I also loved until I moved to Edinburgh) they don’t happen often in California. And really, anything outside the norm is exciting and romantic to an extent. I’m pleased because I’ve got a good view over the little inlet and further east, out to sea, which is where I hope the storm will come from. It’s still intermittently sunny, but I can see the water getting choppier.

CROATIA SKETCHES 3 // Polače

31 August, 9.50am.
In Polače now. A couple hours to kill before check-in so I’ve found a little pebble beach further along the inlet, at the end of the street that makes up the bulk of the town. Polače is slower and more peaceful than Dubrovnik, I can already tell I’m going to like it here. I’m lying on pebbles, trying to favor my pulled serratus muscles, my feet in the water. The tides in this spot are so invariable that, when I lie back and shut my eyes, it feels like nothing more than a playful nymph, a sprite, splashing me with seawater. First softly, now harder. Perhaps she is trying to wake me up.

I’ve just noticed the cicadas. They’re a constant low buzzing chirrup, coming from the pine trees all around us which run in places right down to the shore. It’s a sound that says ‘summer’ to me though I’ve never lived in a place with cicadas. It fades from my consciousness without concentration. It’s almost subliminal and I wonder if it’s putting me in a sunny frame of mind, because all I want right now is to immerse myself in the cool blue water lapping at my feet.

1 Sept, 5.31pm.
Today has been a lazy day. I went for a wander in the national park, got to see the lake. I spent about an hour sketching an abandoned boat sitting broken under a tree. There was no one waiting on me and no one to worry about entertaining, so I got to finish.

Mljet has this kind of haze, I don’t know if it’s dust in the air or a light mist or what, but it creates a very evocative kind of layering, you can look out at successions of islands or hills, each one a little less defined. I think this is called a landskein.

Don’t know what I want to do with myself this evening. Perhaps a walk. A man on a passing yacht walks from bow to stern, and appears to be walking in place.

CROATIA SKETCHES 2 // Dubrovnik

29 Aug, 1pm.
I swim in the sea. This is something my mediterranean friends have told me to do. Nebulous medical benefits aside I had intended on it, if the opportunity presented itself, from the beginning. Swimming in the Adriatic has had a kind of unattainable lustre in my mind for the last ten or so years. I’d been on a trip, a cruise, around Italy with my mother. We stopped – possibly for tax or customs reasons, in Croatia for a day or two. I have a memory – I had thought this was in Dubrovnik when I booked my holiday but I realise now it may have been Split – the clearest memory of the whole trip, of dangling my feet in clear, impossibly blue water. Some extrermely tanned German kids were swimming in a cordoned section of the sea on the other side of the jetty I was sitting on. Oh how I wanted to join them. But our time was nearly up and I had no swimsuit.
Since then I’ve had a lasting fixation with clear blue water lapping against stone, unmediated by sand. This image has followed me even out of waking, I’ve had dreams of pristine travertine edifices facing onto a churning turquoise sea.
I ease myself into the water at this beach fronted by a luxury hotel. No one stopped me accessing the beach, and clearly not everyone swimming is a guest there, but my cough and the general strange paleness of my body marks me out as an interloper. The water is the perfect temperature, but there are currents and I cannot draw enough breath to keep myself afloat. I tread water and paddle around like the invalid I am, my breath coming in gasps. I manage five or ten minutes before I must get out, and then coughing takes me. But I can feel myself healing as I take the waters.

30 Aug, 4.30pm.
Went kayaking in the sea today. Not much to say about it but that it was exactly what I wanted. By some miracle I avoided a coughing fit for the whole three hours. It is only now that I have sat down to dinner that I begin.  Perhaps I am like a shark, I’m at my most robust while moving. Perhaps that is why nights are so difficult.
As I write I’m having prawns in garlic and risotto with cuttlefish ink, and a glass of local white. I had a coughing fit at my table between two other couples, and asked the waiter if, because I felt I was disturbing them, I could move to a different table. When I said this none of them disputed it, so it must have been true. This cough is making me obtrusive. I’m used to being able to go unnoticed if I want. This is not possible now.

CROATIA SKETCHES 1 // leaving Edinburgh

29 Aug, 3am.
I awake surprisingly easily. This cough has been making sleep a matter of extreme self discipline, akin to meditation. I’ve been waking at all hours, sleeping at most for stretches of six hours. I’m not exhausted, either, which surprises me.
I shut the door to my flat behind me, trying not to think of what I may have forgotten. As I walk down Clerk St in the dark there are still people about. I had forgotten this was the last day of the fringe. These people have not gone to bed. I nod good morning and they look back at me, suspicious or guilty. The kinship of the hour is not enough to negate the strangeness of it. Nonetheless, their presence comforts the traveller in me. I am not alone. I am a pilgrim and they are my silent guides.

29 Aug, 4.40am.
I’m at the airport. I’m still hawking up gobbets of yellow phlegm. They’re surprisingly solid and sit, foreign and complacent on my tongue until I can spit them discretely into a square of toilet roll. I’ve come prepared.
The effects of the cocodamol are less pronounced than I would have hoped. But still I cling to the idea of it like a lifeline. With the cocodamol I can walk and talk and carry my backpack and that is all I need right now. I must remember to get change for the bus when the plane lands in Dubrovnik.

 

Writing While Trans: my transition and my writing

It’s an objective fact that I’m a better writer now than I was three years ago, before I started my transition. But why? Is correlation causation? Have I just been getting better as I’ve gotten older and read and written more? Or is there a connection between living as my authentic self, demanding things for myself that I knew objectively I needed, and my ability to render thought and feeling on paper?

In this essay I want to think about how the development of my self as a person relates to the development of my skills as a writer.

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borrowed from Frederik Rubensson

The first parallel that comes to mind is the element of rejection, or rather, fear of rejection. Any serious writer has had to come to terms with rejection and learn to work around it, to steady one’s hands and quell that urge to shut one’s laptop and give up writing forever at the first sign of criticism.

Similarly, coming out as trans (however ‘soft’ the launch of my new gender presentation might have been) was an exercise in building up emotional calluses. This fear is something that I can say categorically every trans person, out or not, has had to deal with at one point or another, and it’s something that I have had to overcome at the same time as I began undergoing hormone replacement therapy.

It’s simply impossible to live one’s life in constant fear of being ridiculed, castigated or alienated for one’s gender presentation. This isn’t to say that plenty of people don’t have to deal with this anyway: I don’t doubt there are hundreds if not thousands of trans people whose lives are still delimited by just these fears. I’ve been lucky enough to have friends and family supportive enough to convince me that the self I felt comfortable presenting was authentic and therefore valid. I’m still a bit frightened of large white cisgender men but I can look them in the eye from out of this small, weird body, and suffer their looks back.

Back to writing, then. Despite the fact that I have and do use writing as an escape from the trials of living inside my self, it’s incontrovertible fact that my writer self is my transgender self. There cannot not be a connection, since my writing and my gender identity are arguably my two most important qualities.

One of the most essential qualities for a writer is the ability to observe the world around oneself, so as later to recreate it in various forms on the page: one has to process all one’s experiences through an added filter (or perhaps this is only my experience, but I don’t think so). Similarly, a prominent (at least for me) feature of the “transgender experience” has been a heightened awareness of my surroundings, specifically how the people around me are reacting to the self I’m presenting to them. It’s not really even a conscious thing, but it’s something I notice if I’m careful and, honestly, it’s something I’m trying to train myself out of. At least, I’m happy being aware but hyperawareness carries with it a modicum of anxiety I’d very much like to be rid of. Nonetheless, I have no doubt that I am both more observant and more empathetic since beginning my transition.

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borrowed from Etienne

I’ve heard it said (by myriad spurious sources) that the best writers all had unhappy childhoods. I think for the most part this is nonsense. But I do think that ostracism from one social group or another, so often the defining feature of an unhappy childhood, is something that most transgender people deal with, sooner or later. It’s something that gives those children or people beginning their transition an outsider’s – and, I think, an observer’s – perspective.

I think what this all comes down to is the way being a writer, or being transgender, attunes one to the emotions (passive or active) of others, and makes one a more sensitive observer of the world. It’s much harder for someone who is constantly checking themself to ignore the world around them, and I’m thankful that I have writing as an outlet – I’ve often said when confronted by an unpleasant experience, ‘at least I can write about this.’

 

Hello! If you’ve read this far, thanks! I hope you liked my post. You may know that I’m working on crowdfunding a book called Pride, Not Prejudice, along with several other transgender writers. Crowdfunding means that we depend on individual pledges from people like you – people who are interested in transgender issues, or even just in expanding their own awareness – to make sure the book gets published. I’d really appreciate if you took the time to check out our crowdfunding page here, share it with your friends and family, and, of course, pledge for a special edition hardback copy of the book! There is also a discount code available for trans people whose income is being put towards their transition. If you’d like the code, contact me and I’ll send it to you!