Not actually an autobiography, but a collection of spoken word, poetry, essays, blog posts from the early ’00s till 2014, though they’re often so personal or drawing on personal experience that it reads to me like one so I’m going to call it that.
Serano filled a lot of gaps in my thinking and understanding of feminism, queer, trans *, femininity, and the interwoven hostility to each of these individually, sometimes from without, but substantially from the first two towards the latter two. Even though, Serano has some shortcomings around intersectionality in both Whipping Girl and her next book, Excluded: Making Feminist and Queer Movements More Inclusive.
I read Janet Mock’s Redefining Realness a month ago, and it was her talking about doing sex work to survive that stuck with me. What I often find missing in white feminism is survival. Struggle, sure, that’s there, but survival, and the things one needs to do to survive, these are not the same. I often find myself in queer / trans situations feeling somewhat displaced. There’s a lot of people doing sex work, but it’s out of choice and it’s an acceptable, even celebrated choice — my point here isn’t to criticise sex work or other choices, it’s about having the ability to choose.
With intersectionality, for each additional intersection, available choices rapidly diminish. As well, it’s impossible to talk about one axis of identity (and the commensurate oppression and discrimination) separate from the others. And often a thing that might be positive in one constellation (e.g. sex work or porn in white, cis queer context) becomes decidedly not when intersecting with another (e.g. hetero porn with white trans women) or multiple others (e.g. porn with trans women who are also brown and poor).
To be clear, I’m not denigrating or writing off the value of her work by saying, “Not intersectional enough!” nor would it be correct to interpret me as saying that. I do find while I read Serano — and I know she understands what I’m saying here, and I definitely love what she writes — I don’t entirely find myself there, these things around survival. Equally I don’t find the entirety of myself in Mock, but let’s not be asinine here.
Perhaps I’m mentioning all this because Outspoken, even though just published isn’t a new book; even the most recent essays parallel or even in some cases come from her blog. Looking at the Table of Contents, she covers so much, from ’00s punk poetry and performance to Whipping Girl era trans-misogyny, to the late ’00s and early teens Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) and the autogynephilia bullshit that went with it; the bisexual and/or trans women and queer scene hoopla on its own and tangled with queer activism, cisgender, cissexual privilege; and racism, and intersectionality, and the evolution of all this and her thinking and writing on this over more than a decade. It’s heaps to cover, and it’s powerful, crucial writing.
Change of tack here: When I was working with Melanie Lane on Wonderwomen we started talking about femininity. I gave her the chapter from Whipping Girl, Putting the Feminine Back into Feminism. I can’t quantify how much of an influence or effect it had on Mel, and on Rosie and Nathalie, the two professional bodybuilders in the work, but I do think it wasn’t insignificant. Which is to say, Serano’s work is vitally important and applicable far beyond the specific subjects of the title.
I’ve been swirling these three books around in my head the last month, Laura Jane Grace’s Tranny more than the others, though writing on her much less, I don’t know yet how to, maybe to say of the three, I see myself in her the most. Old punk and all. They make good reading as a trio, especially Tranny and Redefining Realness, perhaps because those are autobiographies whereas Outspoken is kind of. I’d love to read a proper autobiography from Serano, that would make a hell of a trio of books. In the meantime, yeah, totally worth reading, now and in a decade when it’s going to be even more valuable a document of worldwide progress for trans people, particularly trans women.
Julia Serano. If you haven’t read her, I swear, I despair for you. She’s the irresistible force of trans feminism, trans women, trans femininity shoving the shit out of bigotry and stupidity for over a decade. I recommend her to bloody everyone.
*As I said at the end of writing on Laura Jane Grace’s Tranny, bit of a postscript on words: More or less I’m dodgy on terms like trans, trans woman, coming out, transitioning, etc. They play into and reinforce an idea of identity that I think is fundamentally bullshit. I’m using them here cos sometimes I simply can’t be fucked; I’ve only got so much capacity to resist.
I’m writing this thrashing Against Me!‘s 2014 album Transgender Dysphoria Blues and all fucking sweaty excited cos they’re playing SO36 on December 22nd cos I thought I’d have to Leipzig to see them. (I like Leipzig, would totes go there to see them.)
Laura Jane Grace. Tranny. Best fucking title ever.
This is the second book in my trio of trans women* autobiographies I picked up on the weekend. Two down, one to go. Janet Mock’s Redefining Realness barely lasted the weekend; Tranny got me till Tuesday afternoon; Julia Serano’s Outspoken (not strictly autobiography, more of a reader) might take a bit longer cos it’s doing tag team with a couple of other books, but unlikely to make it beyond next week.
I came straight off Redefining Realness and into Tranny. In so many ways they’re completely different stories and lives of growing up and living as a trans woman. Janet, a multiethnic woman of colour living in Hawai’i transitioning in her teens, going to university and getting an MA in journalism from New York University; Laura a white punk from Florida touring the world, drinking and drugging, transitioning in her thirties. Both of them though were in the public eye before publicly talking about being trans, Janet as an editor for People magazine, Laura as the lead singer of Against Me! and being public figures is what both their autobiographies and audience interest turns on.
When I was reading Redefining Realness, I was reminded of similarities in my life in New Zealand, something I wasn’t at all expecting to find. In Tranny, well, I was a teenage punk and getting smashed at gigs, squats, anarchist politics, wasted sex, not showering, all that, of course it was familiar. The year Laura started Against Me! I started full-time training as a dancer and had moved from punk into Warp records experimental electronic territory, only coming back to punk in the mid-’00s for a bit before going Very Metal since then. I’ve listened to Against Me! before, but it’s only since reading Laura’s autobiography that I’m actually listening to them.
Tranny: Confessions Of Punk Rock’s Most Infamous Anarchist Sellout is a band memoir — the second part of the title gives that detail away — one in which the protagonist struggles for decades between living a white, hetero bro punk life and being a woman. Take away that and it’s still a solid, funny, harrowing story of an intense life lived in vans, busses, hotels, touring the world, pubs, venues, stadiums, and getting way too fucked up far too often to not expect horrible crashes. Laura kept journals since her teens, and these entries intersperse her narrative, co-written with Dan Ozzi. Without those journals, both as excerpts and informing her writing it would be a much thinner story, not the least because the incessant touring, drinking, drugging over years would blur into an undistinguishable mass more fictional musing on imagined past than lived, personal history.
There’s a scene where she’s on a tour bus somewhere, the other guys doing tour bus stuff, and she’s hiding in her bunk reading Julia Serano’s Whipping Girl, afraid of getting sprung. This scene points to something Laura does a pretty good job of obscuring: she’s smart, intelligent, thoughtful, more than capable of stepping outside the intense world of bands and touring that forms much of her story and would otherwise make it a kinda generic ’00s punk band memoir — generic any era band memoir. Maybe that obscuring goes with her isolated, high school dropout, Crass punk history, a lot of believing you’re gutter even while revelling in it. Listening to her lyrics and Against Me!’s music it’s obvious she’s crazy talented and always was. It’s these nuances that make what she’s doing, and her herself qualitatively different, especially since she came out as a trans woman.
At the end of writing about Redefining Realness, I wrote, “I was reading another trans woman last night, on Twitter, who said, “Transition memoirs sell b/c their audience is curious cis ppl. They satisfy cis curiosity/voyuerism.” I think the difference between Redefining Realness and Tranny is one of audience. The former is for a mainstream audience; it was a New York Times bestseller. Tranny is for the weirdos, or whatever still isn’t or imagines itself isn’t mainstream.
As well, Janet is astute at media and is explicit in using her position to educate and effect change. This almost requires that transition memoir storyline, if for nothing else than to combat misrepresentation, to tell her own truth. Laura, there’s a lot more “Fuck you” in Tranny.
I’m also not sure Laura’s is a transition memoir in the way Janet’s is. Yeah, there’s that, struggling with arsehole doctors and taking hormones, bouts of guilty buying of clothes then trashing them, but these moments are not especially prominent amidst all the other chaos and drugs in her life. It lies over her life like smog, an unabating grinding out of her life over decades. She’s barely able to articulate it even to herself in her journals. Whereas for Janet it was a desperate flight always forward.
Just to be clear, I’m not saying one or the other was the right way to be trans, nor did I want to write this as a comparison of Janet’s and Laura’s stories, just that reading them back to back emphasises the stark differences in their lives and their experiences, and I’ve been thinking constantly about this. Particularly because I see pieces of my history in both and what reads as hopeless, profound misery, fear, deeply internalised transphobia is so familiar to me as to be unremarkable.
There’s an episode of Orphan Black where Cosima is challenged with, “So, you’re gay?” and responds, “My sexuality is not the most interesting thing about me.” For both Janet and Laura it’s evident this is also the case, for their gender, identity, selfhood. Yet it’s at the same time critical to who they are. By talking about this, they become and participate in representation for all trans women. We see something of ourselves in them, we’re no longer invisible, we exist. Without this, Against Me! would be just another white boy punk band I vaguely recalled the name of, no idea who the lead singer was. Instead, I’ve spent money on Laura’s book, been listening to her music and am gonna get my sorry arse to SO36 on December 22nd to see them play.
*A bit of a postscript on words: More or less I’m dodgy on terms like trans, trans woman, coming out, transitioning, etc. They play into and reinforce an idea of identity that I think is fundamentally bullshit. I’m using them here cos sometimes I simply can’t be fucked; I’ve only got so much capacity to resist. Tranny, though, totes fucking ok with that one**.
Emile took me along to see an exhibition of Peter Saville while we were in Zürich. I’m really surprised at myself for not blogging it. Firstly because his album art for Factory Records, and especially New Order is unequivocally a unique and important body of work that goes far beyond cover art and design. To look at his processes for creating the images, his collection of typography, the bands he worked with who had a profound influence on me, all that should have been enough for a blog.
Beyond the archaeological though, his cover art for Suede’sComing Up was one of the pivotal influences on hell. Conceptually, it solved the progression of all the Vampiros Lesbos reanimated corpse stuff, and opened up the scene into the demonic incubi and succubi and what followed. And visually, for any of you with either the DVD or the flier, if you compare the scrawled text ‘coming up’ and ‘hell’ you’ll suddenly go, “Oh, Frances cut all those letters up and rearranged them”. (For an easy clue, ‘o’ is ‘e’.)
Anyway, last night I got to see a couple of bands. The headliner was this old group that split up years ago and got back together to make an easy buck. They were one of the seminal groups from the late-80s and early-90s, and most people who hang around any inner city could probably sing along to them. It was kinda like a gig your parents would go to, and you’d be all like, “Aw jeez, my parents are so uncool”, trying to relive their youth. I keep thinking Air Supply…
And once this band could really rock out. A lot of my friends loved them so they’ve swirled around my life for ages, though as usual – like the second band Phoenix that are quite the tasty new things at the moment – I’ve been listening to too much Black Metal and missed all the excitement, then and now. It was a trip down memory lane for most people there, a sing-along karaoke of all the hits. But … no heart. Music by numbers, all played tight and cool, and hard, raw lights. Empty. So like their parents before them, Generation X has become nostalgic for their own past. The band was the Pixies.
This man is a rock god. I never listened to Pulp, but Peter Saville’s artwork for This Is Hardcore was also in the exhibition and had me giddy with its utterly disinterested sexuality. Leo, who has just moved here from Adelaide to go to Art School jumped on me earlier in the night and provided a running commentary of what Jarvis would say in an interview (“sometimes I paint …”), and sang me cool cheerleader songs dedicated to him. And all the while, this skinny guy in tight trousers and black-rimmed glasses so distant in the crappy Myer Music Bowl managed to engage the entire audience, to sound as though he genuinely enjoyed being there, a witty, intelligent raconteur, and deliriously sexy man.
And when he danced. This man has the best stage moves since Black Sabbath before they started snorting coke. He has this geeky, can’t-dance aura that is completely shattered when he does split jumps and every rock god move one after the other. I just wanted to buy a DVD of him live, learn all his moves and stalk him with my unsightly homage of Black Magic. The rest of the night was entirely devoid of what rock is supposed to make you feel, but Jarvis!!! … I want you!!!
(I took some photos with my phone … I’m never going to wash it.)
It’s been about three months since I first mentioned Venus Flytrap, the ultra-tranny manufactured pop group from Thailand, signed to Sony Records, and something of a cash-in on the success of Korean tranny group Lady who first appeared some two years ago, and now seem kinda quiet. Like all good manufactured pop commodities, they have a mountain of publicists behind, and are no slouches at self-promotion, as their high-content blog shows.
But allow me a moment of smugness (or maybe despair) as once again something I stumbled on courtesy my insatiable consumption of media goes mental (and give me a job as a trend-spotter). I can understand why a group like this could get huge in Asia, where for a few years someone like Harisu is a mainstream icon, and from personal experience (and making a generalisation here based on my time in China and Taiwan), the cultural attitudes to sex and gender are quite different from English speaking countries and Europe.
I’m not so sure of the media push for Venus Flytrap into Europe though. Dana International was the Eurovision winner back in 1998, but this is single-capital-letter-pop, as in J-pop, or Canto-pop, which besides oddly socially awkward geeks like myself, westerners tend to look down on with a good blizzard of colonial disdain. Still, stealing candy from babies and all…
Anyway who cares? Venus Flytrap. They look hot, they sing ok-lah, they’re trannies and they are getting spread over european press like crazy. In no particular order, Metro in UK wonders Thai ladyboys next Spice Girls? (no, Spice Girls were a crap 90s record company stunt, Venus are actually human, and are probably only given Spice Girl names because westerners are generally too thick to pronounce any names not in Queen’s English), and have their video Visa for Love. Gay.com attempts something like an interview. Reuters has a a video report filled with lots of Venus looking smutty for the camera. Gay.tv in Italy has more pictures and video. Plus a few others that do the one paragraph plus photo filler thing. They also have one of those revolting MySpace pages now: www.myspace.com/venusflytrapfan.
Dana International proved that gender reassignment need not be a block to Eurovision success. The UK showed its fleeting love for transsexuals when Nadia Almada won Big Brother in 2004.
Coming our way, and to possible success is Thailand’s first ladyboys band called Venus Flytrap. to The five members were picked from over 200 applicants and have already signed to Sony BMG the global music joint venture with a roster of artists such as George Michael, Beyonce and Christina Aguilera.
The ‘girls’ wore white bridal corsets for their debut public performance last November. They weren’t introduced as sex-change starlets, they merely took the stage like any other girl band
In the middle of performing their debut single, ‘Cause I’m Your Lady’, the 10,000 audience at the Virgin Hitz Radio concert in Bangkok started murmuring, ever since then, they’ve proved quite a sensation.
I have been totally thrashing this album for the last few days, in-between mainlining Southern Lord and in the spirit of blog-or-crawl-up-and-snivel, I’m blogging it. Did I miss At the Drive-In the first time around? It seems kinda improbable, because I was living with at least one person whose idea of a dirty weekend was coming home with pre-releases of Sub Pop, and seemed to always know the next cool band months before anyone else, pulling vinyl Mudhoney out of a brown paper bag … oh selective memory …
But now, Relationship of Command is just a phenomenal album, I’ve played it at least four times today, and I’m fucking screaming. I love it when music does that to me, it sometimes seems like that’s the thing you do when you’re fifteen and then, I dunno, get mature or something, and lose the whole, “So what are you listening to?” record collection friendships. How did I miss this band? Anyway if you see me walking around, grab one of my headphones (of my amazing dropped-from-1.5-meters-bouncing-iPod which I fixed the then busted scroll wheel by dropping it the opposite way) and scream along. I hope music never stops doing this to me.
A while ago I was quite the fan of Lady, the Korean tranny pop sensation riding on the wave of tranny coolness thanks to Harisu while yob-talking anglos telly producers thought they were still playing the outré glbt (a sandwich) line with Miriam. So it’s been a quiet few months since then, but thankfully the centre of the t-girl ladyboy universe has finally slid its lascivious fingers into the tranny pop till.
Venus Flytrap, wins for most un-ironic appropriation of Russ Meyer imagery in a band name and don’t stop until the end of the Black Panther/Public Enemy inspired subtitle it’s a ladyboy thing. Actually it’s it’s ladyboy thing but lets not all go fucking semantic, ja? And their blog is full of photos, videos and ringtones from their already superstar career.
Imagine it’s 1987, and you’re like 12 years old, and all the commercial radio stations are playing Elton John and talking about his million dollar birthday party, and then all the clubs are going wild on Chicago House, Frankie Knuckles is GOD, Sylvester is screaming “You Make Me Feel Mighty Real”, every boy looks like a girl and all the boys are kissing other boys and you have sex with a guy for the first time, you sleep late spend all day and half the night getting dressed, don’t go out before midnight and see more dawns from the other side of an endless night, and you wanna be in a band that’s as cool and amazing as your life, then that band would be Scissor Sisters. Just check out their cover of Pink Floyd’s Comfortably Numb and you will be living the misspent youth you never had all over again.