november 20

This Tuesday is International Day of Transgender Remembrance. I should be dwelling on Happy Things today but it’s been a lazy month for blogging.

Judith Butler talks in Undoing Gender that within the spread of gender and desire what isn’t necessarily important is who you sleep with or what you identify as, it’s what you are seen to be. It’s easy for a straight-acting gay man to hide the reality of their desire, especially when being seen to be straight affords a better life. It’s not so easy for someone who looks like a butch dyke or femme poof to disguise this, irrespective of whether their appearance corresponds with a particular set of desires or identities. Equally, the insistent surveillance of aberrations from the norm mean to be a punk in Adelaide or be a woman with short hair leaves people open to the possibility of negation, erasure, a violent denial of identity and life.

I mostly get left alone. Occasionally I’ve had verbal abuse, either direct or whispered. I received far more unwelcome attention and violence when I was a goth and punk. I’m not sure whether to regard this lack of hate as fortunate, or, to use that difficult word, normal. I sometimes think being over 6 foot affords me a degree of apparent protection. I also tend to think people really have evolved in the last twenty years, and yes, I’m extraordinarily lucky to be living in a secular european society that more or less regards human rights as unalienable.

Nonetheless, far too often people who look like fags or dykes or trannies or punks or just not normal, or who appear to be normal but are exposed as different have their right to choose their identities and desires forcibly removed by other people who simply cannot abide a reality in which difference exists.

It is this lack, of rights, of protection, of having a livable life that I think is the commonality between the various letters in the GLBT…(insert extra letters here). It also means there is no difference between the ongoing feminist struggle for women’s rights, racial and cultural equality and that of desire and identity. The need for human rights, for there are never enough, is what makes us the same.

There is though, from within, a compulsion to smooth out all this abundant diversity, to make each individual the same, to deny others their rights, to make them less than human, because they possess a different difference. It is to say, while my difference deserves protection and is acceptable, is right, yours is not and does not.

I don’t know if I particularly care about remembrance days. In the 90s it was AIDS vigils and I suspect despite the transient media attention it doesn’t make much of a difference. What does? Publicly out trannies perhaps, though then one or two become the voice for a community that is far too disparate to be called one, and their subjective opinions and prejudices (such as the boringly prevalent anti-shemale porn party-line in the transgender community) become those affixed to this now defined group. Though it’s self-evident that seeing diversity is a good thing.

I’d like to think of those individuals who for some personal reason decided to use their expertise and position to make a positive difference in their field for those who need what they cannot get alone, in medicine, law, politics, education. I’ve met so many people like this who over many years have slowly and inexorably caused the world to change. If we are going to remember the violence, it’s also pertinent we all remember, as Jacques Derrida said, those who “stand on the side of human rights”.

Nakia Ladelle Baker died in January in Tennessee as a result of blunt force trauma to the head. Keittirat Longnawa was beaten by nine youths in Thailand, who then slit her throat. In March, Moira Donaire was stabbed five times by a street vendor in Chile. The body of Michelle Carrasco was discovered in a pit in Chile, her face unrecognisable. Ruby Rodriguez was found naked and strangled to death in the street in San Francisco. Erica Keel was repeatedly run over by a car in Pennsylvania. Bret T. Turner died from multiple stab wounds in Wisconsin. Victoria Arellano was refused HIV related medications in California. Oscar Mosqueda from Florida was shot. Maribelle Reyes from Texas was turned away from HIV treatment centres because she was transgender. In July an unidentified cross dressing male was found dead with gunshot wounds to the chest and lower back.


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Revenge of the lezzie shemale feminists caused Stephanie’s Pillowbook to write about Labels, and then some Explanations, and I was gonna post a comment there but saw a bit of a monster emerging and thought it would be better off here.

It really all comes from six words that out of context reads like an incomplete sentence, and within that is where the ellipsis belongs at the end of that story of Michael and me drinking Long Island Ice Tea in Guangzhou. Stephanie says, “Probably, I have been lucky, though.”, meaning the acceptance by a group of her “preferred gender”.

I was going to write about the pervasive amazement in tranny communities about individual stories and moments of acceptance, and how everyone was expecting the worst. And yeah the list of abuse, discrimination, hate, bigotry, violence, murder just goes on and on. But I got sidetracked.

I ended up writing about someone whom I don’t know, who nonetheless had something of an effect on me. Anna was a transsexual in the porn world, and who recently died in a car crash. As an aside here into porn, Dennis Cooper who has been working with Gisèle Vienne on Kindertotenlieder often writes at great length about porn stars he has known and fucked. That I like porn and think it’s one of the great pinnacles of human culture is not the point, rather, do you, or more precisely, do you look at porn? Obviously if come here often enough you’ve been exposed to my completely unfocussed adoration of smut.

Because, and here I think I have not so much in common with many trannys as evinced by most of the internet forums I have been on, and left feeling … well … like god, I am a freak … nah actually I think, “Jeez these people are uptight”, and get back to smut. I think one of the many things that seduced me into having a sex-change (such old and funky nomenclature I like) was the representations of transsexuals in porn.

If you read many books or forums or interviews where transsexuals are doing the talking, so often Cocks Are Bad OMG!!! I don’t touch it! (I don’t even talk about it and jesus-fucking-christ I do NOT masturbate. Ever. And No Sex Before The Op.) Contra this, shemale porn is pictures of chicks-with-dicks and it’s all cock. Forget for a moment blah-blah-exploitation-blah-blah-opressive-representations-of-women, because that’s not what I’m writing about. On one side there is the first version of the trannysphere, and on the other pictures that profoundly undermine these statements. It’s no different from the “gay for pay” homo-porn boys.

So coming back to Anna, who I stumbled on just after I finished VCA, along with a couple of other shemale pornstars who … I was utterly awestruck at these women, who for me after years of reading boring no-sex-please-we’re-transsexuals at worst or seriously obtuse academic wank from the 90’s identity politics world, were an epiphany.

Despite making some unfair generalisations viz. tranny forums – there are quite a few people out there who share a somewhat similar view to me on our bodies – there is an issue I don’t think I’ve ever seen discussed. For the moment I’m not even sure how to assemble such an idea but …

An anecdote. When I was maybe 12-ish and living in New Zealand, my dad, living in Toronto sent a parcel, birthday, I can’t remember. What’s important is not the contents of the box, but the newspaper used to wrap the gifts (I think Hershey’s Peanut Butter Cups amongst other things). One sheet had this photo of an 18 year old girl who’d been arrested for shoplifting dresses. The freaky-wow factor in all this was “she was a he!”. I was like (extremely without speaking), “omg I wanna be her”.

Which brings me to the issue and back to Anna again. Transsexuals present their situation as – to be really reductionist about it – ‘female trapped in male body’, and ‘I just wanna be the woman I am’. In the scheme of going from male to female (or vice versa, though the dyke/boi/ftm/drag king scene seems to understand this better) the transsexual meat in the sandwich is just an unfortunate waypoint on the journey.

So if I’m looking at a picture of Anna and thinking, “Waah! I wanna be a shemale!”, what does that make me?

And that’s the issue, the idea of choice, that someone might choose to become a tranny because that’s what they wanted to be. To extricate this from the almost identical wanting to be female is … tricky. And yes, if I look at a female body, in a magazine, on the street, a friend, I’m like, “yeah I want to be that”, or … language sometimes gets difficult in that it can’t keep up with multiple tenses and things happening at once, so, “yeah I want to be that/that’s what I am”, though currently +cock.

To be absolutely clear here, this isn’t me questioning my being transsexual/intersex/generally odd in the gender binary department. But to change the word ‘female’ to ‘transsexual’, to look at a transsexual’s body – and this is where I think porn is kinda helpful in that it is the complete body, naked, and also sexual – and say “I wanna be that”, irrespective of if it’s an intermediary on the way to being female or not, is … sometimes my strangeness is weird even for me. Especially when you don’t talk about it.

revenge of the lezzie shemale feminists

I wrote the following post in Guangzhou mid-last year after going on a bender with Michael, the Principal Bassoonist in the Guangzhou Symphony, whom I have not seen since last July, and I dearly miss his bitter, cynical, erudite and funny conversation.

Over an industrial strength Long Island Ice Tea in the Overseas Chinese Village a couple of nights ago, once I was suitably liquored somehow I fell into a linguistic exposition on why I like labels like tranny and especially shemale, over the gynecological-sounding transsssexual. (I forget how many ‘s’ …). (Transgender is just plain nasty, it has a whiff of phrenology about it.) Michael was asking me what I thought about ‘tranny’, I said I liked it because it’s two syllables, and sorta rolls off your tongue in a lazy semi-paralysed slur. He thought it sounded like a dinosaur. ROAR! I am Trannysaurus! I thought Pearl River Delta sounded like a drag queen’s name.

There was some intellectualising amidst our drunkenness, which is why I like the less polite and correct labels. Transsexual and Transgender as subject identifiers are polite, they say, “I have a medical condition. Sorry for being a freak”. Calling yourself a shemale or tranny is a bit more offensive and unapologetic. There was an article recently about ‘genderqueer’ another label, and I thought, jeez that’s sad, all these broadly-speaking transsexuals pulling together a new label from the desecrated bones of what was once supposed to be the anti-label for the rest of us. Queer. 10 years ago it was what you were if all the radical lesbian feminist separatists and proud gay men were pissing you off so much with their wimmin’s spaces, Ikea lifestyles and gay marriages you wanted to do something punk like stick a safety-pin in the Queen’s nose.

Then some stupid right-on 1st year cultural studies idiot decided by omission it was erasing their identity so came up with queer-lesbian or queer-leatherman, and by the time Routledge had published the first tsunami of Queer Theory Readers, it was all over. Only cheap watery beer at the queer alternative homocore night at your local left to cry into. So when friends wanna know coz I’m a tranny who or what do I find attractive, or more plainly, cocks or pussy, I’ve always deferred answering that one because, duh! it’s the person, and bisexual transsexual just sounds like a comedy routine, and lesbian transsexual? I ain’t even going near that one. Actually Miss K put it best: Fucking get in touch with reality!.

Nicely condensing my attitude to the ivory towers there, and ultimately why I decided a career in academia was Not A Good Thing. Even when queer theory was around, there was still this gargantuan hangover from the 70s in the form of small-minded people like Mary Daly, Janice Raymond, Andrea Dworkin who did far more harm to feminism than good, ugly humourless philistines who should have been laughed at, or ignored and forgotten, or thrown out of civil society, but never taken seriously.

The thing I loved about Judith Butler and what made Gender Trouble such a fantastically important book a decade and a half ago, a sledgehammer denouncement of the essentialist body fascism of a feminism that had become inbred and just plain nasty, and I think the single text that made feminism relevant to a generation and world inconceivably different from the one imagined by the colonial old guard of Dworkin and Daly – is the anti-universalist, anti-essentialist theory of performativity. Actually what’s far more important is her contention that feminism is mistaken in asserting there is a coherent set of attributes that constitute ‘woman’, and that they are universal and exclusive.

By earnestly adopting the labels of traditional western social roles and identities, even in new and disconcerting and contradictory combinations like ‘lesbian transsexual’, the commonplace weirdness (or actually brilliant diversity) of life outside the gender dichotomy is swamped beneath something very much not radical, not confrontational, something which does not open up the world to greater possibilities, but instead promulgates smallness, blandness, the very bigotry and meanness that drags us back to neanderthalism, or at least variations on the gas-chamber.

It’s precisely because as words and labels ‘tranny’, ‘shemale’ and all the other permutations both astoundingly brutal and often hysterical in their erudite linguistic mangling are offensive, are no different to hate-speech like lebbo, fag or n***er – words that have been re-appropriated – that they need to be jumped on in a gleeful frenzy. Instead there is this almost universal proclamation from transsexuals that the words are “exceedingly offensive”, and this statement frequently includes an addendum that the speaker is confidently addressing ignorant and always ill-meaning non-transsexuals on behalf of the entire transsexual community. “We take offense”.

Not me. I get way pissed at being told I’m being spoken for, as much as I despise the bigotry it opposes. I also am not a fan of lazy incorrect statements being passed off as fact. Shemale, these same defenders of the transsexual claim, is a derogatory word born in the oppressive porno industry. ‘Shemale‘ as an exersise in etymology supposes no such thing; the only definition that could be called etymology dates it from the early 19th century and Davy Crockett.

Primarily, the fixation on derogatory curses seems to me a sublimation of something more odious: the desire to pass as your chosen gender and the self-debasement in doing so.

edit: June, 2018:
I don’t often go back through old blog posts, and after 14 years, there’s a lot of them — and a lot of stuff I wrote that makes me uncomfortable with my younger, stupider self, who was already uncomfortable with trying to write this stuff anyway. I can understand the context I was trying to use that word with three asterisks in, but I can’t defend my use of it, either fully spelt out as it was when I first wrote this, or even now with those asterisks. I know what I was trying to say, but I said it poorly. I was a long way off understanding the profound violence this word carries and understanding how deep racism goes. I’m leaving it here for now because cached versions of this page are in internet search engines, I don’t want to pretend I never wrote this, and, with this addendum, is a reminder to me that I always need to do better.