Lil Nas X knows his audience. Half the side of a 5-storey apartment building on Karl-Marx-Straße, right above the servo, in the queer-est immigrant-ist part of Berlin.
That kiss. That shot. That story.
I remember when you spoke your truth, ten years ago, back in 2011, and I remember when I heard about this show you were making, feels like longer ago than 2017. I read your books too, feeling myself and my history in the story of another, so close and so distant. And I cannot put into words the joy and sadness and love I felt and feel watching Pose, seeing you and all the beautiful trans women and trans femmes on screen, Mj Rodriguez, Dominique Jackson, Indya Moore, Angelica Ross, Hailie Sahar, Our Lady J, Black and Brown and Puerto Rican and Dominican and Latina, immigrant and children of immigrants, whose lives are as real as the story you fought to tell.
That wedding banquet. All the trans women and femmes at that table. That wedding. That fantasy that was never ours, the church, the dress, the vows, Janet, the vows! Papi! Lil Papi. I loved him from the first ’cos he was so full of love and pure and so fearless when it came to defending his family. And that kiss. You went all the way. When I saw your name at the start of the episode, yours alone, Writer and Director: Janet Mock, I knew. I knew it would be this. I knew it would be us.
Bit of an aside from last night when I was doing my regular midnight physical salvage session, and watching the film High Stakes on GCN+ (yup, I actually threw down cash for a year's subscription to watch a bunch of white dudes talk about bikes). Martyn Ashton, who is a very funny, very talented rider who uses a wheelchair after wrecking his back (for the second time), when he talks about physical and mental injuries as an athlete is someone I have a lot of time for.
He said something I've been trying to put into words for a very long time, which applies to dance — also a professional sports career — as much as it does to cycling or climbing, all three I've devoted a lot of my life to at various times. And from the beginning I have struggled with that inevitable double bind of physically fit but not unscathed.
Doing my regular midnight physical salvage session and getting my dose of straight white dudes talking sport last night. The talk moved to the UNBOUND Gravel race and the men’s winner, Ian Boswell. Cut to his Insta with a photo of him, post-race and seductively dusty sweaty in his racing kit, wiping one forearm with a yellow cloth, and that forearm very deliberately poised to show off his wrist wrapped in a trans flag sweatband.
It’s unmistakeable, that flag. And personal reasons aside for the many problems I have with it, sometimes we need a single, recognisable visual which denotes which side a person is stepping up for. But I was still like, yeah, really? Does he know what he’s wearing? ’Cos cyclists, especially road cyclists, are very much those straight white dudes who struggle with the basics.
But nah, he knew exactly what he was doing, spoke with trans athletes and athletes who are parents of trans children, and with his niece who is trans, did the listening, bought 15 of those sweatbands, gave them out on the start line and raised the flag on his wrist high when he crossed the line first.
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.
I love this cover so much. RECONSTRUCTED Vol. 2: Bodies arrived the Friday before Ramadan. I love the artists and writers, trans queer Black Brown Muslim-ish Ummah. This is the beauty I care about.
I was looking forward to it. Then I wasn’t. Then I was anxious but excited. Then I was resigned. Then I was loading up on self-doubt, the second year of this month in a pandemic. Then I was, “Aaaaa! Highly unlikely,” ’cos I’m in the last two weeks of a pretty intense block of training and that plus fasting is … yeah, well, I’ve done it before even if I am very not on my training rhythm right now.
Sunnah Shop opened in Tellstr. last week, just in time for Ramadan. I got a kilo of Medjool dates from Al-Jiftlik, Palestine today, the first day. As always, telling myself, “Just do the first day, at least that. Just that for your babaanne, your granny, your karani, your tūpuna wahine. Just do this one thing as best you can.”
My once-per-year selfie I’m kinda good with.
And that’s a Roman Reigns t-shirt ’cos my love for big dudes and ladies inevitably led me back to WWE wrestling.
Eleven years ago, I got up early to watch Curiosity land on Mars. Yesterday, it was evening and just as terrifying. If I was up for utterly scaring myself, landing the way Perseverance and Curiosity did would be my choice.
It was that same surreal experience knowing Perseverance had already landed or not as the signal arrived eleven minutes behind. And then over so quick. Especially the last part from heat shield separation to free fall and powered descent and Sky Crane and touchdown. Suddenly it was there, in its lime green square with no cables running up to the descent module, just sitting there calm as can be.
And everyone going mental. Except Dr. Swati Mohan who was in the EDL Commentary chair with purple hair and silver stars, who’s been on the project since it began eight years ago, and was calm and focussed on the job all the way.
And then the images came in. And there’s a drone! And there’s microphones!
It’s been a while. I didn’t have any spare cash for a bit, then I had slightly too much (as far as the Finanzamt is concerned), and then I realised I’d decided not to blog for a few weeks (thanks pandemic and enragingly piss poor response by Berlin, Germany, Europe, and so very very many str8wyt men in all those places), and now see me trying to make an effort like showing up for the exam and everyone knows I didn’t do the work.
Yallah, a pile of books I’m reading (pretending to read) in the second half of 2020, to which I’ll add another pile because I dunno, not enough money to buy anything substantial but just enough to incur a hefty tax bill if I don’t spend it. Weird how poverty is emplaced through institutional, structural and legislative punishment.
All the poetry, and I do mean all the poetry is entirely because of Omar Sakr. Him and Sunny Singh (of the Jhalak Prize) on Twitter are responsible for a large chunk of my reading, whether directly or retweeting interesting people who turn out to be writers and poets.
So, Aria Aber’s Hard Damage, Ellen Van Neerven’s Throat, Sue Hyon Bae’s Truce Country, all poetry that moves me. It still feels odd to be reading poetry, though it’s been a year since Sakr’s The Lost Arabs and Suhaiymah Manzoor-Khan’s Postcolonial Banter — just a year! Feels heaps longer. Yeah, poetry is hitting me right.
Also poetry, semi-poetry, poetry-ish, with a history in a festival, Rachel De-Lahay’s My White Best Friend: (And Other Letters Left Unsaid), mainly because I read anything with Suhaiymah Manzoor-Khan in it.
Continuing the theme of books recommended by other authors, or cited in their bibliographies. Olivette Otele’s African Europeans: An Untold History, which I already blogged, but these six-monthly book dumps seem to deserve all the books. No idea where I heard about this, but either Twitter authors or one of the blogs I read. And from that, Geraldine Heng’s The Invention of Race in the European Middle Ages. Real-time internet archaeology as I write here, I likely read about both on In the Middle, the medieval studies blog, where, on Monday, Geraldine Heng responded to the hit-piece on her and this book.
Which reminded me of the double bind I periodically find myself in. The first time I personally experienced it was with JT LeRoy, who I read in the early-’00s and thought was a trans femme who I could relate to. Turned out JT only existed as a fiction of a white, cis woman, and she’s still making a profit and career off our lives. Funny how consequences slide off them like teflon. More recently it was Medieval PoC – who I used to contribute photographs of Black and Brown people in art when I was on my museum bender – and a deeply messy history going back years of her claiming Native, Roma, and other ancestry. And this year it’s been a regular feast of white cis women in academia and the arts getting sprung for building their careers on false claims of BIPoC ancestry. On the other side of the double bind, it’s white supremacy trying to flip medieval European history to its own agenda, and a ceaseless barrage of racism, misogyny, transphobia, and all the other shit against cis and trans BIPoC authors, academics, artists, very regularly from white, cis women in academia and the arts, like the 46-page (!!!) hit-piece Heng responds to.
I mean, I just wanna read books and have a good time and learn shit and be amazed and generally chill the fuck out with a bunch of words and instead it’s white people colouring up or white people doing hit jobs.
Last couple in the non-fiction pile, then. Peta Stephenson’s The Outsiders Within: Telling Australia’s Indigenous-Asian Story. The one she wrote before Islam Dreaming: Indigenous Muslims in Australia, which it turns out I may not have blogged either. That latter was a big one for me. And keeping on the Islam history thing, John M. Steele’s A Brief Introduction to Astronomy in the Middle East, recommended to me by Dr. Danielle Kira Adams of Lowell Observatory, and responsible for Two Deserts, One Sky — Arab Star Calendars (novel research things there).
Fiction, then. Science-fiction mostly. Becky Chambers, who I’ve been reading for the last few years and pretty content at the moment in reading another one from her, To Be Taught, If Fortunate. Another also from Charles Stross, Dead Lies Dreaming, though after fifteen years this might be the last I read from him, just not really doing it for me and the trans character is very written by a cis. Tamsyn Muir’s Gideon the Ninth, which I’ve already read, and the sequel Harrow the Ninth, which I’m currently reading / wading through it’s corpsey gore. Claire G. Coleman’s Terra Nullius, Indigetrans colonial invasion sci-fi but not really sci-fi. And speaking of trans, Juno Dawson’s Wonderland, which I kinda liked but wished the literary fixation on Alice in Wonderland stories didn’t exist (same like I wish dance fixation on ‘reimagining’ Swan Lake and the classics didn’t exist).
Lucky last. Fiction but more like Chingona autobiography ghost story, Myriam Gurba’s Mean. Recommended to me by Vass. Thanks babe, she’s fucking with me.
That’s a lot, eh. Piling up, getting partly read then left, words look smaller than they used to and I need glasses but that means organising shit like ophthalmologist appointments and shelling out cash and fuck it I can squint. Though I wonder if the reason why I’m not reading as much as I used to is ’cos words in book form’s blurry all the time.