Reading: Chris Tse and Emma Barnes (eds.) — Out Here: An anthology of Takatāpui and LGBTQIA+ writers from Aotearoa

Another in the small pile of books out of Aotearoa I’m getting all up in my memories about reading. I haven’t thought about Witi Ihimaera for decades. Same with Peter Wells. Old names in an anthology of mostly young Millennial and Gen Y poets and writers. Some of the other old names I can’t read past knowing they were rad-fem-les-sep transphobes back in the day. Cool if they’ve grown from that, but irrelevant to me; they did the damage then and I don’t need to read them now.

Dasniya said, on Thursday when their nohinohi little one was all big eyes and focus as I sung old Māori songs I seem to have remembered for them, she was seeing a show as Sophinesaele by Pelenakeke Brown and I said that name sounds familiar, reckon I’ve just been reading them. And I had. Her writing, A Travelling Practice, one of the couple of non-fiction pieces, and one of the couple that really stuck with me out of all the writers. The other was Jessica Niurangi Mary Maclean’s Kāore e wehi tōku kiri ki te taraongaonga; my skin does not fear the nettle, not the least for reminding me te Reo Māori is grammared but gender neutral, ia, tāna, tōna … like all the best languages. I photographed Pelenakeke’s piece and sent it to Dasniya before she saw her performance.

I should have marked all the writers I really liked. Forgot to do that with my usual oh I’ll remember of course I won’t and now I spose I could go back through. Almost finished my most recent stack of books and the upcoming pile is heavy on Māori Pasifika and I’m very fucking happy about that.

Reading: Caren Wilton — My Body, my business: New Zealand sex workers in an era of change

I joked I reckon I’ll know some people in this book. Turns out wasn’t a joke. Turns out it was much more personal than I expected, even when under that joke I knew I bought this book to remember history. My history. History around me. History I should know.

Long time ago, young me worked end-of-week nights in the needle exchange in Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland, binning returns and handing out fresh packs. Which led to me being nights at the NZ Prostitutes Collective drop-in centre, because being a young transsexual, the only work available was sex work. Or selling drugs or doing robbery, more or less in that order. I never did proper street sex work on Karangahape Road, but did occasionally crack it opportunistically, sometimes just so I’d have a bed for the night. All the transsexual women who worked the street passed through the drop-in centre of an evening, Māori, Pasifika, and the one of two Pākehā. Later, they’d be up the Ponsonby Road end, and when I lived in the old brothel, above the sex shop looking down Howe St, I’d see them on the corner.

My Body, my business: New Zealand sex workers in an era of change reminded me of a lot of history I’d forgotten, and connected things, filling in blanks, explaining details. Like the probable identity of the old Greek man who owned the house in Pirie St I lived in when I was (once again) homeless, the upstairs apartment home since the ’70s to various Māori trans sex workers. Or the doctor at Three Lamps in Ponsonby who used to prescribe hormones to all the transsexuals, also known since the ’70s. I don’t think I ever saw him, but pretty sure it was a woman Doctor in the same practice.

And just the general truth of it all, how it was in the ’80s and ’90s — even though most of the oral histories were slightly before my time. It was all so familiar, reminding me how deep I was in that life, how they were the ones who guided and saved me. And how it was so easy to have that all taken away.

I wonder how my life would look, would have looked, if I hadn’t been through conversion therapy. Would I have started dancing (probably, I was incredibly naïve about what trans girls and women could and couldn’t do)? Would I have moved to Melbourne? Maybe, though staying in Sydney is perhaps more likely. Gone to VCA? Realistically I wouldn’t have made it through the auditions, because being trans and a dancer has only been a possibility for the last decade or so. Even my — in current language — non-binary self bashed up hard against the rigid and strict cisheteronormativity of dance back then.

This is a reminder. Where I came from, what I lived through, who were my contemporaries, family, whānau, who I owe an obligation to.

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Reading: Coco Solid — How To Loiter In A Turf War

So much lethal good shit coming out of Aotearoa. So horrifically expensive to get my grubby mitts on it in Germland. Saw Coco Solid on Twit when she was fundraising to set up Wheke Fortress community space and gallery in Onehunga. Then I listened to her album Cokes, ’cos she’s nothing if not doing all the arts. Saw the cover for How To Loiter In A Turf War and didn’t even ask the price (it was 22€ fuck).

Big old memories of Tāmaki Makaurau catching the Mt Eden bus on Symonds St or Ponsonby bus on K Rd. Ponsonby was still Pasifika and Māori back then, getting gentrified for real but not like now. Fave fiction book of the year so far (non-sci-fi that is, cos that’s other stuff). Loved this heaps.

Reading: Akwaeke Emezi — Pet

I have a pile of Akwaeke Emezi waiting to be read. After reading Freshwater I knew I had to read everything of theirs. But. It’s tricky. I held off reading Freshwater for maybe a year. I started it and barely a page in recognised something in their writing that was, if not close to mine, then inhabiting the same space. Like I can get a plane in this world from Berlin to Nigeria, and the spirits moving in my writing could do the same. And, like I said a while ago, I’m drawn to them even when it’s scary, ’cos just reading of spirit worlds draws attention to me, wakes the spirit worlds I know. And like I also said, I love them and they could eat my heart and take my soul and I’d be like, “Scary but worth it.”

Which is maybe a complicated way of saying I need to be careful to not get influenced by someone else’s writing when I’m in heavy writing mode. Though it’s more than that.

Pet was tough to read. Funny how books marketed as Young Adult can fray me in a way serious literature simply can’t.

I was at a meet-up for trans women and femmes in Berlin the other day. Me trying to have real world time instead of online. I do love the online for friendships I’ve made with trans people (a surprising number of beautiful trans mascs) who aren’t in Berlin or Germany or Europe, but 2+ years of pandemic has utterly gutted physical connections. And it was very nice, that meet-up. Except I still felt at a distance. Some of those online trans femmes, Black, Indigenous, Roma, recently were talking about how white trans femmes — and there’s so many new ones who suddenly went ‘fuck it’ and started living their truths under the pandemic pressure — are shocked at experiencing discrimination for the first time. Which was one of the subjects talked about in the meet-up. Which I felt like I couldn’t speak truely on because for me transphobia, Islamophobia, racism, hating on migrants, all that, are inextricable. And no one was talking about disability, fat, neurodiverse discrimination either. It felt well abstract.

Which in part is maybe why I love Pet. The main character, Jam, is a young Black trans girl. She lives in a house with aunties and uncles and cousins all around and I kept seeing it as the house of the Māori woman and her family who took me in when living at home became impossible, and took me in when I needed somewhere to stay while the court case against the man who sexually abused me when I was a child was going on. And there were the bad similarities in the background also, those which are the story in Pet.

It reminded me where I came from, and where I felt most at home. It reminded me also how easily I’m gaslit to believe I don’t have a claim to … I dunno, being racialised I suppose, to my own history. As in, to most people I look white, primarily because my skin is pale, and my relationship to whatever parts of my heritage which aren’t white (in any or all the permutations of that slippery parasite) is tenuous as fuck, and aren’t I just claiming it to be special? To be cool? Because we all know how cool being not white is. And yet. I remember, because I have to keep reminding myself, of the very Muslim name I was given at birth. And the names of my grandmothers. And what that means.

So when I read Emezi, when I read Pet, I was reminded. It feels familiar. Different also, obviously, but familiar like I could get a plane there. Not the different I often feel reading white trans women’s and femmes’ fiction, which feels familiar because I know white culture from having lived in it in multiple countries, but always felt like something I never belonged to. Pet is also near-ish (our) future fiction, when all the things we’re fighting and losing our lives for as trans people, as Black and Indigenous people, has been made real. And yet, something of that was real already, decades ago in small-town Aotearoa.

Maybe lastly, it’s a real moment for trans writing lately. I can actually choose to only read trans authors and still not keep up. Five years ago even, that didn’t seem realistic. And, more importantly, I can choose only trans and queer authors who are also Black, Indigenous, Māori, Pasifika, Asian, Arab, immigrant. It’s fucking delectable.

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Trans Day of 💉💃🏻

Shortly after I took this photo, I shot a small bubble of air into my butt ’cos, in breaking my rhythm to take a photo of me having my regular shot, I forgot to do the final syringe flick and spritz a drop out. No biggie.

I fucking love giving myself a slightly-more frequent than weekly shot. Since I was told injections were available again, and once I’d persuaded my endo to prescribe them, I’ve been building up a stash. Seven weeks ago, I prepped and stuck a needle into the correct spot in my arse, and fuck me if this tiny vial of oily clear goo isn’t the shit. Injections always worked better for me, as proved by my boobs growing a cup in the last weeks (and my nipples feeling like the day after the day after a heavy nipple torture session). And it occurred to me, conversely, all the problems I had with pills and, to a lesser degree, gel is because that shit does not work. I also fucking love that something so unremarkable as this can literally change my sex. Yes, it can, cunts. Go educate yourselves if you just went all, “But nah something gender something sex can’t be changed.” Truth, it’s more like without this my sex does not have the chemicals it needs, but sex-change sounds so science-fiction.

Anyway, this photo was taken on Trans Day of Visibility, which for real I do not have the fucking patience for, cis people jizzing their ‘I’m an ally’ crap and so rarely turning up with actual material value. Except for Ariana Grande, who’s ponying up 1.5 million dollars to help support trans youth. Queen right there.

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It’s Been A While

I started on pills in Tāmaki Makaurau, Aotearoa (Auckland, New Zealand) way back when I was a young thing. A daily combo and I did not enjoy swallowing them. In Naarm (Melbourne) my best ever doctor gave me the choice of pills or injections. I knew about injections but didn’t think they were available and was very immediate unequivocal yes on them. First shot in my arse in my upstairs room in a flat in Carlton.

I did injections all the way through VCA, and all the way till I came back from some overseas trip in maybe 2005. They were perfect for those long travels, the same doctor — or when he left, his replacement — would give me a 6–9 month prescription of them and I’d bundle them up with the needles and syringes, taking up hardly any space. And I never had to use the letter they provided for if I got questioned in Customs about all those drugs.

Returning to Australia with a half-year supply remaining, I found that injections were no longer available. Which had sent the entire trans (-gender, -women, I forget what we were called back then) community into a spin. And six months later I joined that spin. I went on multiple different pills which had random unenjoyable side-effects — despite my doctors assuring me they were “all the same”. And then I moved to Kaurna Land (Adelaide) and because of differing State legislations I had to face the gatekeeping of the Gender Clinic for the third time.

Back in time a moment. Immediately prior to seeing the doctors in both Auckland and Melbourne, I’d tried to get into the Gender Clinics, only to be very stringently denied. Stories for another time. What’s pertinent though is both doctors I saw who did prescribe me hormones either wobbled the interpretation of the law or lol fuckit toppled the cunt. Both were very much of the harm reduction school. Not so lucky in Radelaide. Where the skeevy predatorial extremely conservative and heteronormative old codger and his matching twin old cunt presided (fun story, they still do).

I could have just got a flight back to Melbourne to score a repeat script (with what money, exactly?), but decided I wanted to attempt the surgery route again. And endured some pretty fucking humiliating humiliation at those two’s hands. Which also eventually got me an official hormone prescription for the first time in my life. More manky pills which semi-worked along with manky side-effects, in a city which, at that time, had effectively no trans healthcare. Though I did find probably the one good doctor (who I took out for a night at SO36 when he came to Berlin).

And then Berlin. Also astoundingly lacking in trans healthcare. I mean it does exist, but primarily for white trans men and mascs, and the same tired cis-het-normative expectations. I went through so many truly awful GPs (what gets called Hausarzt), and endocrinologists to get similarly truly shite pills which were slowly fucking my liver. Because pills work by overloading your liver which otherwise filters out all the hormones ’cos that’s what livers do (or at least that’s how I remember my good doctors describing it). Which left me constantly tired on top of the fun rando, life-long other hormone problems I’d had.

This is turning into a long story, innit?

Finally, I accidentally found a good endo. A young white German man who talksveryfastallatonce and is actually kinda educated about trans stuff — and from all the above I’m pretty fucking qualified to make that assessment — and actually cares and takes an interest in his patients (i.e. me) as a person and not just a recipient of a prescription. And I should mention since being in Berlin, my ‘official’ status as ‘transsexual’ (yup, 20 years behind on terminology here) is very conditional and there’s a lot of goodwill on the part of doctors to prescribe hormones to me because I don’t actually have the paperwork or proof I did two years of therapy (’cos I didn’t) with those sign-off letters from gatekeepers. All very tenuous, and as much as the world is moving towards an informed consent model the reality remains very much ‘fucking lucky to get them’ when it comes to hormones or anything else transsexual.

So, he prescribed me gel, which I describe as, “getting jizzed on your arse and then you gotta rub it in.” Which I’ve been on for most of a decade after he talked me into trying it ’cos I was really, truly jack of pills fucking with me and not in a great place, and having some actually proper serious repercussions from those life-long hormone problems (also another story, and no, you TERFy cis cunts not caused by taking hormones). And which, along with surgery back in May ’09, has given me a fairly stable, acceptable several years on meds.

But I still miss injections.

Because they’re one and done, once a week, quick and easy, no mess no jizz, I felt better on them, don’t fuck my liver, and are by far the best route to get hormones into me. And for the majority of the last 15 years haven’t been available (unless you’re in Mexico or the US or some other random countries). Until a young trans woman I met here told me she was on them. Which was a fucking eye-opener.

And she gave me the name of them and where she got them from, which I asked my endo about and he was kinda suss about it, ’cos he thinks the curve with injections (peaking then trailing off) is not desirable and favours the flat dose of daily gel, and thinks I’m a weirdo for wanting the former. Nonetheless, he gave me a prescription, which isn’t covered by health insurance, and I went to my local Apotheke and was told, “Yaaah, around 25€ and might take 40 days?” and got a phone call 2 days later, and here we are. Thanks rando pharmaceutical company in Czech Republic!

Which is me wondering what the correct dose would be after all these years. ’Cos my endo doesn’t know, I can’t remember the strength of the injections I used to take, comparing it with jizz gel isn’t a direct one-to-one, I have no long-term medical history ’cos I’ve moved so many times and so have my doctors, trans healthcare is an actual fucking trash heap on fire, and I find myself on rando internet forums trying to scrape through DIY hormone convos by people who very much are not doctors or endos. And there’s whole conversations to be had around how we, as trans femmes, trans women, transsexuals, whatever the fuck we’re getting called this year, are resorting to buying hormones from non-medical suppliers like other trans women who started making it themselves and now sell it (just to clarify, this isn’t what I’m taking). And that if we want actual, up-to-date information, we have to look to those same trans women and assemble something meaningful out of our decades of collective experience. Which is not to throw shade on them or the hormones they’re making or our collective knowledge. We do this because we’re denied real, affordable, accessible healthcare. Because we’re ultimately still seen as mentally ill in the head fucking trannys.

So finally I have injections again, and because I don’t trust anyone, let alone white German healthcare and the white German government (come on, the potential Merkel replacement let the n-word slip out her mouth, this is where this country is at), I’m thinking that getting a stockpile first is good Auntie planning.

Funny story though, I forgot to ask for needles?

An Email From the Australian Institute of Sport

AIS slid into my inbox this morning. Australian Institute of Sport, not Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome. Gotta watch the acronyms when you’re in trans and intersex space, FFS. (For fuck sake, not facial feminisation surgery.)

Back in 2007 a bunch of us dancers were part of the AIS SCOPE programme. I have no idea what that acronym means anymore. It was a pilot development programme for professional and elite dancers. Yup, ‘elite’. From memory they had one for athletes and realised our situation was basically the same. Part of it was about dancers who were transitioning. No, not trans dancers ffs. I swear cis people need to be blocked from using the word transition for about the rest of my life. Dancers who were considering moving out of — what is in Australia a very young person’s game.

I wanted to write about the email I got this morning. It’s the AIS response and apology to the Australian Human Rights Commission’s independent review of gymnastics in Australia. I don’t think the email’s really meant for me, just I happened to be connected to the AIS a long time ago and apparently my email is still in their system. I don’t think any of the support they’re offering is for me either. Lots of reasons. I’m tired and I don’t really want to frame how I’m feeling in the broader structural, institutional, colonial, racist, transphobic, normative blah right now.

End–2007 I was skipping back and forth between Adelaide and Melbourne. I don’t know how it looked from the outside, making work back-to-back in Europe, China, and Australia, but I was doing it hard. Mad hard. The kind of hard where I walk home at night in either of those two cities and had a spot in each where I’d check in with myself and have a realistic convo that went, “You know if it gets too much, you can.” A multi-storey carpark in the former and a bridge over a motorway in the latter. Just checking in and seeing how I was going, how far I could go. No shame if I couldn’t.

Because of the decades, generations of abuse athletes, coaches, and staff — mostly young girls and women — were on the receiving end of, the AIS created a support service called AIS Be Heard. I’m not sure how comfortable I’d feel engaging with that if I’d been seriously, as an athlete, part of the Institute and all. I dunno, shit got mad stirred up this morning.

I got sexually abused by a middle-aged man when I was a kid, start of my teens, every weekday after school for several months. I was already very much not coping with home and school life being a young trans femme back in the ’80s. That abuse broke me.

A few years later, I destroyed him. I went to the police and pressed charges. How that came about in retrospect was something I was pushed into and not in my best interests, but me going in and giving a statement started an avalanche. Turns out he was already known, but you know, same old, no one wanted to say anything; everyone wanted to forget. They found a list with something like a hundred names on it. In the end, I think only four or five actually gave statements and agreed to being witnesses.

I destroyed him. He lost his business, his wife, his home, his standing in the community, had heart attacks, and ended up in prison where, because of the people I knew back then, everyone knew what he was in for.

Those people, who supported me through years of the criminal proceedings on top of the shit in their lives they were coping with. They put up with a lot from me, I was well fucked up.

The case broke me again. It dragged on for four years. The first two I was in conversion therapy, which is a whole other story but deeply bound with all this. It was the direct result of me trying unsuccessfully to get into the gender clinic in Auckland to get on the surgery list after being on hormones for years, and being kicked through a string of therapists because I was a fucked up trans femme, homeless, on drugs, self-harming, eating disorder and whatever else. The second two I’d moved to Melbourne and was in some, what we’d call now, non-binary phase and using dance to survive. Burying everything thought and feeling in pushing myself physically as hard and far as I could go. Apparently I haven’t changed much.

The proceedings ended when I got a phone call. Ended for me, I mean. He got a plea bargain. I was told he would plead guilty to every charge except mine. I was told if I proceeded with the charges, it would go to trial and I would lose. They would use me being trans against me and he would get off. Thirteen year old child obviously asked for it and obviously untrustworthy and crazy ’cos she’s a tranny was their line. I said fuck whatever and bailed. I already destroyed him. He got two years.

He broke me, but those four years, the conversion therapy … I think I would have survived what he did if I’d had really good, caring support. I didn’t. I had very shit, abusive, transphobic, coercive therapy where the threat of being institutionalised was always in the background, and being constantly told I would never be a woman and no woman would ever love me was up front.

I survived that too. A lot more broken. I went to Victorian College of the Arts shortly after, sucked up the shit there, dished out some of my own too. I saw abuse there on the regular. Emotional, psychological, physical, sexual abuse, body shaming, eating disorders, untreated mental health crises, skeevy older male teachers and staff doing all the same things the AHRC’s independent review talks about. Pretty sure a lot of us who went through professional dance training know all about that.

I had a couple of full-on breakdowns while I was there. The pressure between trying to find a way be true to my trans femme self in an environment entirely structured on white, cisgender heteronormativity burnt the fuck out of me. And the un-dealt with damage from my teens.

On their website, the AIS says, “We owe it to every athlete who has been part of the AIS, to feel supported and to get help if, and when, they need it.” Nice sentiment. Cool.

There’s this pervasive, verbalised belief that if you don’t get therapy, or rather what AIS call ‘wellbeing support’ when you need it, shit’s on you. Like all we need to do is make the decision and magically there will be a perfect therapist just for us. The vast majority of therapists are simply not equipped to provide care for the kind of complex trauma trans people have often experienced. Or people who have lived through child abuse.

Speaking from long, long experience here, at best the majority of therapists are useless, and very regularly they cause more harm. I had a therapist tell me he was scared for his own safety when I start talking my history. Bruh. Others have tried to frame me in a way that fits their world, like that lesbian conversion therapist. But mostly there’s just a vast, empty space where good therapists for people like us should be.

Yallah, all of this was also about a therapist I saw because of the AIS.

Back in late–2007 again, I asked the person at SCOPE if there was any counsellors available as part of the programme. I ended up seeing someone who worked with professional athletes as a sports psychologist and saw her maybe 5 or 6 times. The first time — and all this is hazy retelling of memory now — I laid out where I was at, which was a pretty fucking bad place ’cos all that untreated abuse was making me ask that serious question every night I walked home over that bridge or past that carpark. She said something like … I dunno, it’s more of a feeling now, something about it wasn’t what she specialised in, but she worked with a lot of athletes who were struggling to cope with the insanely high pressure of elite-level competition, and somehow she persuaded me to come back and got me talking. And she saved my life.

This isn’t about how the AIS supported me, or how therapy can save lives. It shouldn’t have been on a sports psychologist to deal with a very fucked up person because the entire culture of society failed her. I think about all those counsellors and support staff in sport and dance over the generations who had to become trauma specialists because kids and young adults would and still do show up at their door every day with no one else to turn to.

I had a bit of a cry on the way to the supermarket this morning thinking about all this, how that email hit. Lucky it was raining. I still haven’t found a therapist. Not for lack of trying, but fuck me there is a poverty of healthcare for trans people. And I was thinking how that email wasn’t really for me because I’m trans. We’re pretty much legislated out of professional sport and there’s fuck all space in professional dance for us either.

When I talk about being broken, it didn’t go away. I rarely get into intimate relationships with people (that’s also a euphemism for fucking, just to be clear) because of all that shit on top of the already hostile environment of living while trans. Therapy is supposed to help with the broken part, but we already covered that failure. I was thinking about Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, who testified against that skeeve during his Supreme Court nomination. She talked about memory, how “… the trauma-related experience is locked there, whereas other details kind of drift.”

He’s always there. Intermittent. He interrupts and is here more real than any thought or feeling I was having. More real than the room I’m in. I know it’s not me ‘having’ these thoughts, there’s a difference between me thinking about this stuff and experiencing him like this. Him for those months and him later for those years, all bound together with abusive therapists.

Every single one of those athletes somehow has to deal with this, in some way or another. They, along with their friends, lovers, families, communities all have been diminished. The athletes who came forward, who spoke out alone, have done it so hard. We do those things, so indifferently, blandly held in ‘move on’, or ‘put it behind’, until it isn’t. Until we’re reminded and remember it all again.

Last thing. I wanna be really clear on this: everyone knew. Everyone knew way back. Just like everyone knew about my abuser. And wasn’t like no one was speaking about it.

All strength and love to those gymnasts and athletes and dancers who are having an especially tough day of it today.

Me in Yusra Magazine #9

A while back, late-January this year, Vass asked me to write something for Yusra Magazine, for the big Trans Futures edition. I said, “Yaaah!” and continued to do nothing till pretty damn close to the deadline. When I whined to them, and in that strange way writing sometimes happens with me, threw down 1100 words in the middle of the night. Five revisions and four days later, along with a whole bunch of notes (’cos we gotta differentiate between a Mazda and a Boeing 767) is what got sent to them. And they translated it. Which I’m mad happy about, ’cos there’s nothing like having someone you know and trust (and share a true deep love for class hoonage) to do the tricky work of translating.

Real paper version arrives after Easter.
“Wait what, Vass, Easter?”
“Greek Easter, chica, what we have here in Athens. We run by the orthodox.”

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Apparently I Wrote A Novel

Okay, 4th draft on top of whatever I was calling assembling it before it was drafts, and 18 months to get it to this. But done in the sense it goes start to finish and got heaps of pages (which is what makes it a novel yah?) and when I finished this read-through which I’ve been on since late last week, it felt … something sparked in my guts, like this, yeah, I wrote a novel. Brought some big offering into the universe. Alhamdulillah.

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30+ Years Trans Femme

All that talk with Vass about Veneno reminded me I had a photo or two from way back then.

Young teen transsexual meet old auntie trans femme. Thirty-ish years between these two photos. Sometimes I need reminding.

That me back then … she survived.