I love how young trans feminine mob are throwing down ‘transsexual’ these days. Very here for this reclaiming of our word.
My fave cyclocross rider for the last couple of years, probably my fave rider full stop, Ceylin del Carmen Alvarado. And one of my favourite races, the very sandy, very hilly, very intense Koksijde. I was screaming when she opened the gap in the last sand section towards the end of the last lap, after five laps of head-to-head with a quartet of the best, screaming even louder when Lucinda Brand cooked the last hairpin (though I wish she hadn’t). Mad good racing and loving Ceylin taking her first World Cup elite victory, especially at Koksijde.
It’s been twenty years.
I usually let this day pass, and have done consistently since 2008. I don’t go to any vigils, mourning happens every time I read of another death. Another murder. Over the years, the reasons have changed, but primarily TDOR is a day for my aunties, sisters, siblings and cousins and I don’t want to be around cis people or masc people performing mourning for what is overwhelmingly a list of people murdered for being feminine. Feminine and Black and brown and Indigenous and sex worker.
22 in the States. That we know of. 331 worldwide. Again, that we know of.
We know those numbers do not reflect reality, just like official numbers of how many of us there are. I was reading the report Being Transgender in Belgium yesterday, published in 2009 (and its followup published in 2018), which came up with figures of such rarity, the entire trans population in Belgium would almost be wiped out by those 331 murders. Which proposes two questions: If the incidence of trans people is so staggeringly low, 1 in 10 or 20 or 30,000, why is there so much attention on us from medical reports and legislation and experts having opinions over decades, and the vast corpus of published research, for a few hundred people out of eleven million? And why are cis people — mostly male, but let’s not forget feminist cis women and their history in this — so determined to not just murder us, but erase us from existence and memory?
I say, ‘us’, knowing there is legitimate disapproval and frustration especially from Black and Latina trans feminine people (21 of the 22 murdered in the US were Black) with white-presenting trans people claiming ‘us’, and I know how pale I am. I’ve been writing back into my history recently, spending a lot of time with those aunties and sisters in Aotearoa, back when we were called transsexuals, trannies, shemales, and the only job open to us was sex work. I remember them on K’ Road and Vivian Street, Māori, Pasifika, and a couple of Pakeha women. Women, not trans women or trans feminine or anything else, ’cos that’s what we were and that’s what we aspired to be, no matter how hard the path. I remember fists and guns and knives and iron bars, and the constant fear, or just being hit by the disgust or hate or ridicule. I was lucky. I got out. I have dance to thank for that. But there were a few occasions if things had gone slightly different, a cop car hadn’t cruised past at that moment (on more than one occasion, also ironic, no?), or friends in a car hadn’t, or something to interrupt what was about to happen, I wouldn’t have made it. So, ‘us’.
A difference in recent years is we’re no longer just being remembered and talked about on one day of the year for having gotten ourselves murdered. Every day I see my beautiful sisters and feminine siblings utterly shredding it, and truly, that it’s possible at this moment for them to live their lives so fully and openly and to be loved for all of their selves brings me much joy. And I want to remember my aunties and sisters from whom I learned to live my truth (as we say today), and who burn brighter for me the older I get. Some of them probably made it out, quite a few wouldn’t. The other violences were AIDS and drug addiction, and these ravaged us. Doing the remembering, then. Each one of these deaths hurt. All the deaths that shouldn’t have happened and lives unable to be lived hurt.
A question I got asked today. I’m writing a lot lately (a long overdue distant continuation of this), and well, sometimes I write, and sometimes nameless horrors what fancy themselves to be comedians write me (& cheers to Vass for leading me down the award ceremony trail).
“Tell me a truth time! What’s your porn category?”
“Hot Action Alien Tentacle Sex 6-Way Shemale Gang Bang?”
“That’s very specific.”
“Where all the tentacle suckers are James Franco’s face going ‘Eyyy, how ya doin’?’ in a shite Brooklyn accent.”
“That’s suddenly Category: Not My Fetish!”
“Bait and Switch, child! The Category is…—”
“Aw, steal my punchline, why doncha?”
“Just like Franco steals your award at the ceremony.”
“Tentacles take stage like Kanye at Taylor Swift, ‘Imma let you finish,’ rips Franco’s face off with razor-toothed Franco suckers.”
“Camera cuts to Xzibit in the audience, ‘Yo dawg, I heard you like James Franco Tentacle Suckers…‘”
“Shit just writes itself, eh?”
“It’s not a porn category unless it starts with ‘Hot Action’.”
“Amateur Porn? naah. Hot Action Amateur Porn? Now that’s a category.”
“Now That’s What I Call Hot Action Amateur Porn!”
“Hot moaning and grunting, wet sounds of skin slapping, screams of terror and ripping of flesh, ‘Eyyy, how ya doin’?’”
“Stop. Please. Stop.”
“Won’t stop, can’t stop.”
I swear this book will end me. Six months in and some days I read the first sentences of a paragraph and realise it’s the same paragraph I’ve been on the whole week. And it’s a Sunday. I’m having trouble reading books at the moment anyway. Fiction is out, because I’m in fiction-writing mode and the novels I’ve started are either dissatisfying for where I’m at, or feel like they’d influence my own writing. Non-fiction, well, yes, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, we are still shouting, “Fucking yes!” when we do manage to read a new paragraph (usually on the toilet because that seems to be where a balance is currently found), but I have no cash for the pile of non-fiction waiting for me to pick up. Lemme tell you how long-term poverty as a function of even a moderately ok life as a trans woman / trans feminine person / transsexual is a very real life. (I weirdly want to start using that ‘transsexual’ word again to fuck with cis queers and their ‘gender is cultural’ bullshit. Petty is as petty does.)
So, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, or First Class Spivak, because someone said she only flies first class, and even if that’s not true, I admire that image of her, and she is so so very first class. I keep reading and wanting to underline and quote, and as I haven’t blogged this month, here we go, one quote at least. from The Double Bind Starts to Kick In, p.108:
This much is at least clear: to imagine or figure the other as another self, you need to engage the moving edge of culture as it leaves its traces in the idiom. To reduce it to language—to semiotic systems that are organised as language—was a structuralist dream. But at least, whatever the subject-position of the structuralist-investigator there was a rigour in the enterprise. Its tempo was different from the impatience of a universalist feminism re-coding global capital. From existing evidence, it is clear that individual-rights or universalist feminists infiltrate the gendering of the global South to recast it hastily into the individual rights model. They simply take for granted that colonised cultures are inevitably patriarchal. I will not enter into historical speculation. I will take shelter in a figure—the figure or topos, that in postcoloniality the past as the unburied dead calls us. This past has not been appropriately mourned, nor been given the rites of the dead, as the other system brought in by colonialism imposed itself. There was no continuous shedding of a past into unmarked modernity.
Off for my afternoon training ride, picking through traffic on Reuterstraße, crossing Sonnenallee and there’s a big unit of 4WD behind me. I was feeling sharp after my last ride, first proper interval sprint training since before Ramadan, using the traffic lights turning green as out-of-saddle starts, keeping the pace tight. Heading up towards Flughafenstraße, that turbo diesel behind me, I’m indicating as I pull around double-parked cars, two-finger pointing flicks of my wrists, and just past the pedestrian crossing at Erlanger Str. I hear it gun and pull along side me. I’m thinking, “A’right, here we go, bruv in his whip is flexing ’cos he thinks I’m in his lane.” It’s a pristine glossy white bimmer, X5 kinda thing, and he’s got his passenger window down. I’m all about to pull screwface but he doesn’t give me a chance, looks across at me, beautiful black guy with the biggest smile like he’s experienced the most joyful thing, and shouts over.
“I fell in love with you, watching you cycle!”
True, I look hectic sikk, I know.
Of course I smiled back, smiled with, of course, y’know, sometimes this stuff is just real. Sometimes it’s like my serious nah not really but nah kinda yeah fantasy actually pulls up next to me in his whip and gives me a look and compliment that is so completely honest and committed, and truth, I am holding everyone else to his high standards, and my heart filled up like the entire theatre, stalls, balconies and all, went off when Kano joined Giggs at the Roundhouse. Real truth, that.
And as I was doing laps of Tempelhofer Feld in the afternoon sun, thinking of all that, thinking, “Yeah perhaps he read me as a bro?” ’cos I’m tall and kinda slender, and people make a habit of reading taller and more physical as ‘male’, and I have this constant questioning around physicality and masculinity, like all women do, but then I thought, “Okay, if he did, then I’m still taking the compliment,” I’m taking it even if — especially if — he read me as trans, ’cos being able to genuinely express joy and emotion and attraction the way he did, flexing his queer self loudly reading me as masc or straight self into trans chicks, fuck yes, I am here for that. I want and need much more of that unequivocal desire and speaking that desire. And I’ve been talking a lot with my grans lately, Aisha and Iwa, and felt very much this was Allah and the universe reading me, seeing me, seeing me.
I know also some of you reading this, some of you cis women and afab people are gonna wanna tell me how this is objectifying and tell me shit like I don’t already know this, like I haven’t lived this since my early teens, like I would only think and write this if what? I’m seeking validation in misogyny? ’Cos I’m trans? And you think you need to educate me? What can you tell me about anything of what this means, in itself or to me?
A compliment. A compliment is sometimes just a compliment, just reciprocating the joy someone else causes in you, and when I’m receiving it from a source way too an accurate read of what I vibe strongly with, yeah, that’s part of it. Maybe I was that for him too, lighting up the streets of Neukölln, deep in my physicality, and we both looked at each other and laughed in recognising that too perfect moment. Remember that. Remember that beauty. Remember that truth in all what he said.
“I fell in love with you, watching you cycle!”
Last Thursday at the press conference for Staatliche Museen zu Berlin’s new exhibition in the Alte Nationalgalerie, Fighting for Visibility – Women Artists in the Nationalgalerie before 1919. Best thing: free entry and waved through with my fancy ‘Presse’ sticker on my left boob, also leisurely photographing of Art. Not so good thing: real journalists have a ‘Press’ card — like everything in Germany, authenticity through official validation — I have a blog. Much hilarity ensured trying to get to the press table. Not great at all: an exhibition on women artists, and the panel was two men who talked for almost half an hour before letting the sole woman, who was the curator, have a word. She reclaimed her time, was heaps more relevant, and let’s pretend I didn’t notice the menz not paying attention to her.
It’s been a while since I went to a museum. I got burnt out on editing too many images, and from July last year was working 60+ hours a week (which, had I not been getting paid 70% of what men do, could have worked 42 hours for the same euros — actually I was getting paid even less, keeping the narrative simple here), and been in slow time recovery since June, so … art. It’s a thing I remember.
I have a lot of issues with this exhibition. I want to be all cheerleading from the sidelines, buuut … problems. Problems I think are structural in the museum and SMB and Germany, which, had I seen this same exhibition in London or Melbourne or New York, would have been twenty or thirty years ago in its current context and appearance, or a contemporary version that had built on three decades of representation that Germany’s national museums have yet to have. As it was, it felt hella anachronistic and patronisingly “something for the ladies also #MeToo”.
None of that is a criticism of curator Yvette Deseyve, however. What is a criticism though (which may or may not have been covered in the catalogue, but bitch here is poor and isn’t throwing around 30€ right now) is structural intersections of gender, femininity, heteronormativity, class, whiteness, racism, colonialism, imperialism, which were well in play by the time even the youngest artists were born, and shaped all of them across the 19th and 20th centuries. It’s a missed opportunity, and one I continually question whether white, heteronormative feminism is ever going to recognise. This really struck me with the replacement of one of my favourite works in the museum, Osman Hamdi Bey’s Der Wunderbrunnen (Ab-ı Hayat Çeşmesi) with Paula Modersohn-Becker’s Kniende Mutter mit Kind an der Brust. Choosing a painting of a naked white woman nursing a baby as the figurehead of the exhibition in the entrance hall, without critically engaging (again, outside of whatever is in the catalogue) with Germany’s history of motherhood, family, race, and religion reads as a tacit condoning or passive acceptance of this cultural history, as well as one of those, ‘this wouldn’t have happened if there was real, working diversity in the room’ type situations. And seeing how many young women were working around the exhibition … yeah, awkward.
Go and see it? If it’s included in the ticket price for the whole Alte Nationalgalerie, then yeah but don’t expect to be blown away. But if you gotta pay extra to see women artists who should be hanging in the permanent collection since — at the latest — the early ’90s, when the previous two decades’ demands for representation had filtered into these big, old, slow institutions and there was no valid excuse for them not being there besides entrenched misogyny? Fuck that noise. Let’s have 100 years of only women artists in the SMB museums and 100 years of men getting paid 30% of what women get. Also let’s have a conversation about what ‘woman’ denotes in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries and now.
When I was in Krakow a few winters ago, I went to Muzeum Narodowe w Krakowie and was slapped for pointing a camera at the paintings in the Olga Boznańska exhibition. I was thinking of that when I walked through this one, and the previous large one I saw in the same place, which took up the whole floor instead of what felt like a few side rooms and one main room, Alte Nationalgalerie: Impressionismus – Expressionismus. Kunstwende. The Olga Boznańska exhibition took up about the same space as Impressionismus – Expressionismus. For one woman.
Anyway, art. Art I liked (and some I didn’t but here we are), art I could photograph, art it transpired I’d photographed adequately enough to be able to edit into something passable.
On the street by the slab of Berlin Wall at the northern gates to Invalidensiedlung Frohnau is one of those orange pillars marking where someone was murdered trying to escape across the Berlin Wall from East Germany. This one is for Marienetta Jirkowsky, who was murdered in 1980 at the age of eighteen, shot in the stomach.
In ten years of Berlin, I think I’ve never intentionally taken a picture of the Berlin Wall. Other things Wall, yes, but the Wall itself still feels oppressively commodified on top of oversimplified significance. Up in Invalidensiedlung Frohnau, about to turn south for the last 40-something kilometre stretch to Neukölln, having a food stop and telling myself it’s not so far, this solitary chunk way out where no tourists would spend an hour just to get get there, it seemed appropriate on the day to take this one photo.
Me at the north gate of Invalidensiedlung Frohnau, mid-peanut butter sandwich. The Berlin grot layered and ablated and re-layered like sediment in cycles of wet and dry. Took fucking hours to clean.