it came to me at 3 AM

if I had a place
that is
if there were a word a nice
simple
everyday
easy to pronounce
word for this points
crotchward
or this points
faceward
or this
arms outstretched as if
to say

if there were then
probably I would be happy to give it
give it up that is
let us all be undefined
uncontained happy
free from tyranny
a frolic around a grave labeled
labels

if there were such

or if she had said something more like yeah I don’t use any particular pronouns either instead of
why does it matter
what you call yourself
what I call you
what you all take on the whole of
common language

if there were such maybe
maybe I’d a
had an answer
prepared ahead of time
instead of this.

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plain speech

This is not finished or at least I know I have plenty more to say but today if the voices in my head were still saying things very loudly they would be saying post some shit already!

There are tons of unfinished things and this is one of them. I am going to go start on something else now and if I do not finish it maybe I will still be compelled to post some shit when I wake up tomorrow.

This was written specifically for a certain Thing so if it reads sometimes as though you are hearing only one side of a conversation that might be why. The gist of the Thing was Tell your story in 25,0000 characters or more and since that is more or less the gist to which most of my writing responds–that and Post some shit already–I decided to put it here as well.

20140412 2032 -0800

It’s Sunday. I am not sure I can write this today but I can at least put my name down or in and I can probably figure out how to begin to describe what occupies me much of the time so here those are:

I am named Erik Joseph Martin Schneider and maybe it is overenthusiastic to write it all out like that but there it is all of it so far. I started out with a different name and only became Erik Martin Setc at 35 and there is a story behind that and I will tell a little of it a little further on. We were a few years Erik Martin and then what I really wanted to do was name myself Will after my great-grandfather–Elsie Schneider’s father–but my uncle was named William long before I showed up and then he named my cousin Karl William and so I thought maybe William was mostly spoken for so I took Will Brugger’s middle name Joseph and moved Martin over.

Martin Schneider was my great-grandfather who was gone by the time I could have remembered seeing him or maybe even before that. I have a picture but it says almost nothing to me. If there are stories nobody has told them where I could hear.

Now I am inclined to somehow take on also Maggie Phillips Wilcox’ name but I do not know where to put what remains of her in such a way that I can promise her some rest and if not exactly safety maybe better odds on most days and I wonder was it she who was buried there underneath stones and books and chests of old clothes in the house that visits me still although I have not in some time been pulled down the long hallway dark at the far end with death at the least and sometimes cold soundings through the basement of the earth steep and always narrower and narrower but never reaching the absolute zero itself rushing up and rushing up and rushing up but never taking my wrist as I knew it would if it ever arrived but it never did.

This hell was unrecognizable all the others I used to dream up appropriately aflame and glinting and hot and complete with those recordings of ordinary human voices slowed down and detuned just enough to emphasize that devil’s note the one my mother always hears first before anyone else would suspect a thing.

She knows what evil is she says. Don’t you think that music is sick. No it is precisely the sort of melody I will learn to write as soon as I am out of your earshot but I never said that just shrug or maybe well you know they’re just trying to be shocking because that was my stock answer to throw off any possibility of meaningful connection in the face of such immense and cynical irony or disaffected and ironic cynicism. I threw whole theaters between myself and her questions so that no more questions would make any sense at all.

It worked insofar as the questions would stop but whether she believed me to be as earnestly jaded as all that–well it was not important whether she truly believed it as long as she had an excuse to pretend to so that we did not have to cross words. We were both relieved at the opportunity to say nothing.

But she knew that too already and I knew that she knew but I did not know very much at all about what I knew yet and so I only noted down at the bottom of the list what next never to admit loving until you have studied all the faces for however many years it takes to detect even the faintest distaste some milliseconds before it arises.

They call that hypervigilance or that is I recall the long hours of practice that began there. Today I can always tell you where the cats are or who is walking up the stairs.

Except right this minute I am not sure where one of the cats is and it is making me very anxious even though his distress call is loud and unmistakable and currently not to be heard at all so he is probably napping in one of those spots I never can find when I am looking for him while he silently cats along as he always has.

I am still in San Francisco. This was not the plan but whether that is because there was some other plan I cannot say for sure. I can say that I think I have learned by now that the part you cannot imagine happening even though you need it to will probably not happen in the way you cannot imagine it. The Rhetoric program produced teachers and therefore if I completed my degree I was to have been made into someone who could teach without first having to subdue panic that grew wilder with each and every time it was time to teach.

To be brief, that did not happen in precisely that way. I can teach just like I can sometimes get up on stage and sing or read which is about once a month for short bursts and then not at all for another year or sometimes a handful of years.

So I have the degree and once in a great while I have some chops but most of the time I practice alone or occasionally with a proven ally the rest of the time I cannot face them audiences or students or anyone who wants anything from me even if I do in fact want to give it to them. Sometimes especially then.

This is sort of how I also did not become a rock star even though I was in a band in Atlanta GA at just the right time and then when that did not work we moved to Seattle at just the right time which also did not work or not so much as we would have liked. That said, we do still have fans mostly in Europe. We are not big in Japan. We also have not made music together since 1992 when I decided to return to school to try for that magical transformation into a member of the professoriat.

We mainly referring to myself and the first family member that I chose upon leaving the family that had forced itself on me since the very beginning. I used to walk around as a body sort of recognizable as what is called female–in 1962 the Doctor was quite sure I was female and my parents were quite sure I was female then and mostly later while I myself remember puzzling over why I could not grow up to be a man since I identified with them so but I was a girl they told me so I guessed that was just something I would get used to somehow only I never did and then later on I sort of got distracted with other problems and so I was a tomboy for a very long time and that was that–and since Lisa recognized even herself as female we were lesbians at first that is not just best friends and then I was a dyke a little while later and we were partnered for eleven years and something. She still lives in Seattle where we moved from Atlanta in 1987 and although we are no longer not just best friends we are at least best friends and still even family although we cannot come up with a name for what we are to each other and we celebrate our whateversary every January 19 even if we cannot meet up that year.

In 1996 I left Seattle for San Francisco to start grad school at Berkeley and also to transition physically to what I called at the time male. It took me less than a year to figure out where to go and whom to talk to about the possibilities which were wider here even than I had guessed, and so I have been Erik since early 1997 or that is when the name began calling me out loud. To be slightly clearer, I have been taking injections of testosterone since 1 July 1997 and they have worked pretty much the way I had hoped they would physiologically speaking.

There is way too much story to tell about what my gender is or is not now so I will just note that I do answer to the pronouns labeled masculine but I did not become a man as it turns out which is fine since I did not transition from being a woman either. I think I may be too old to be genderqueer and besides I do not have the energy to perform various permutations of those genders that do not refer to me I just put on whatever smells ok when it is time to get dressed. This is just one of the many points at which I find myself looking over at the language I learned to speak the first time around while it looks at its feet and toes the dirt because it has nothing readymade for me to wear. Which is why when asked for my gender I answer with a short persuasive essay unless it is clear that either I need a long one or I can get by with a deflecting shrug.

Mostly I tell people I am transsexual and that I used to be a dyke. From there I let them add it up so at least they can get an idea of whose stories they might have heard that sounded similar to girl -> dyke -> transsexual -> bearded deep voiced person.

So at this point maybe it is looking like I grew up queer in a fundamentalist Christian family and it may have taken place in the Deep South or somehow I was there when the major record labels descended on Athens GA in the early 1980s? Yes all of that is the case although I only laughed at the stars on friends’ roofs in Athens from time to time I never lived there myself but Atlanta was just down the street and so it was easy to visit.

I do not know where I am from: born near Tacoma WA but shortly afterward my father got the same layoff from Boeing that everyone else was getting around the same time and then he found a job at Lockheed Georgia and so off we went. We moved to Marietta GA along with a small influx of other non-Southerners. I attended school with the children of Lockheed engineers from all over the country. One of our neighbors was from Ohio. Another was from Utah. All the native Georgians lived in houses a little older than ours there in that new subdivision carved out of a huge forested tract of land that may have been homesteaded by a family named Shaw.

My parents never meant to stay but they are still there or close anyway. Not so long ago they retired to a new house about twenty or thirty miles further north where the city of Atlanta has not quite reached yet. The one thing I do not regret picking up from them was their obsession with moving back to Seattle. They got over theirs but I never did and that is why when I moved here to San Francisco I was from Seattle but while I was in Seattle as an adult I was from Atlanta at least whenever its proximity to Athens was a topic and this was the late 80s and into the 90s and I hung out with other music geeks so it came up rather often. Starting from age two until I got back there at 25, I was from Seattle.

Now when I visit Seattle I am from San Francisco and I have been here long enough that it is credible to say so.

So for the most part I think I may be from the West Coast but a bizarre and awful 23-year detour into the very hide of the Bible Belt made me the non-specifically-gendered person I am today: wary and tenacious; not fond of sudden movement when humans are doing the moving; obsessive . . . [what. obsessive what. I am overcome with spontaneous bedtime!]

Yes there was, over and above the sheer abusiveness of telling a seven-year-old apparent girl that she will be going to Hell unless she follows instructions very closely and those instructions include at least one thing she will be terrified to do right up to and past the moment where she finally does do it about six more years after that and even then only after mortifying intervention from three church ladies. Yes there was other abuse also and so with my current permanent PTSD sideshow I get flashbacks as they may be popularly called of all sorts.

All I want to say right now about the other abuse is that everyone on my mother’s side of the family has experienced it and probably they continue to but I moved far away from almost everyone and I do not hear from many of them anymore just I know of my very large array of cousins many are becoming grandparents one by one as the family is far too fertile for its own good.

The salient details to the central points of my autobiography are these: my brother molested me after he had reached puberty but before I had and a year later I was raped by a total stranger who was probably completely grown up as far as I could tell then on a beach when I had been left alone for a moment. Because all this happened, you know, in the short life span that is childhood and so it all overlaps and collides and nearly any trivial innocuous event that might happen on Earth has the potential to stir up confusion andor panic andor paralysis andor that feeling that does not sink but plummets its leaden cosmic rays shooting right out your feet and through the ground and through the molten iron engine that spins us round and out the other side of the planet into deep interstellar space where nobody can touch it.

You know that feeling?

The older I get the more appalling this all seems. It was normal then.

I think maybe I will try to go backwards from here now. I do not claim any religion in particular but I practice zazen–Zen meditation–nearly every day and I vastly prefer Zen Buddhism’s take on almost everything to any other of the takes my culture has offered me as serious alternatives. That is I prefer it to, say, Christianity certainly but also wider Anglo-European-American mythologies and ontologies not that those two things are distinct at any point that I have been able to tell so far.

I think I stumbled upon Zen in two ways: I had to attend NA/AA meetings for a short while but every single one of them freaked me out because they are inevitably structured like Protestant church services in some alarming way or another. The only one I have ever been to that did not freak me out in this way and I mean by that I was in full panic for a few days after each one was the meeting held at the San Francisco Zen Center. And so I went to that one only for the necessary duration but I went back to the Zen Center to learn zazen not long after my required NA/AA attendance was no longer required.

The other vector was Dialectical Behavior Therapy which although I was not formally doing it did provide me with some remarkable and valuable insights when I read about it on the internet and since it is partially grounded in mindfulness and in acceptance without judgment it folded almost without a ripple into the zazen I was sitting at least occasionally and occasionally even regularly.

My current practice string began last winter that is the one that spanned 2012 and 2013. I was taken off of the ‘atypical’ antipsychotic Zyprexa in August of 2012 after something like fourteen years on it and if all the things you hear about withdrawal or what they call protracted discontinuation syndrome so they don’t have to call it withdrawal are bad it has been at least as bad as you have heard.

If you haven’t heard then it has been way worse than you might have guessed otherwise and it also is another story that will blossom quite out of hand if I begin to tell it so for short: I lost fifty pounds but that was ok they were mostly Zyprexa Pounds™ but losing all of them in one year’s time was rough especially since here at the other side of those fifty pounds I am not very big at all and so now I have to work very hard to get in enough protein to keep from getting smaller still. Most every other symptom made it and still makes it sometimes difficult to eat. Or walk very far. Or sometimes use my eyes.

I am fortunate though because all of the involuntary muscle twitches that remain are usually too small for others to be able to see because if they were bigger my face would be all bunched up all of the time now. Instead the bridge of my nose aches. And aches. And aches.

So I started meditating about six months into this because what else was there to do there is no cure that is not worse than the condition ie more of the same or similarly-classed medications and I am not interested in taking more of those than I am still on. The other alternative is wait until you feel better. Which is happening slowly and I think I can expect it to continue slowly to happen.

Also as I tell my therapist without the sedating effects of the Zyprexa all my emotional responses go to eleven now. Sometimes approaching twelve. This is not necessarily a bad thing but it is interesting and the meditation helps me not to be reactive and not to freak out when some slight neurological shift manifests itself as something I am not sure what to do with. Oh hello full force of grief and terror that I swallowed in 1973. Um, come on in? Have a seat? You.. you would rather pace. OK. You can do that. Can I get you anything? Clothes? You would like clothes? I can get you some clothes; take my jacket and I will be right back. Don’t leave the room? OK. Here is a blanket. It’s sort of old but it is warm.

And then we sit because in zazen it is easier to hear what those parts of me who never learned to talk the first time around have to say and most of them have to say at least something and some of them pepper us with questions like bewildered rip van winkle children waking up thirty, forty, fifty years later to see that not only did we all survive but we even made it to San Francisco which was a mythical land on the six o’clock news with Walter Cronkite in the 60s and 70s all in black and white but colorful enough to spark my imagination to fashion my hippie self who of course grew long hair but was always puzzled about where the beard was going to come from.

This happened just the other night: I came home from a longish walk through the Mission in the evening where I saw that my whole neighborhood had been swapped out for some other neighborhood while I was mostly at home recovering from neurotransmitter/receptor assault the last almost two years. I was so stunned by what I saw that by the time I got home I did not even recognize my own kitchen at first.

We live here?
Yes.
It’s kind of dingy.

[See we live in an old-fashioned Mission flat where the lease is someone else’s distant memory and the maintenance is DIY and many of the furnishings were chosen by some other punk rock queers in the 1980s or 90s and it is easier to use what is already here than to go buy new things especially when the old ones work just fine. But so some of the dirt is also vintage MTV era and we some of the few remaining longterm residents in this part of town are also a little unkempt because this is where the unkempt people used to find places they could afford among people who knew enough not to stare.

By vast contrast, what I saw on my walk the other night were spotless new condos and storefronts and freshly-painted and redecorated Victorians and restaurants where I could not possibly afford even the tip for walking into one. This is a national story by now but I myself have not been paying close attention until very recently.]

Yeah it’s not as clean as Mom would have liked.
Fly paper? People use that?
My housemates do. You and I we just talk to the flies and try to keep them confined to the compost bin if they prefer to stay in rather than fly out the window when we open it for them.

I don’t feel safe here.
Honey we have been here for over sixteen years and it has been safe this whole time.
It has?
Uh-huh.

Where’s Mom?

::deep breath::
She doesn’t want to see us. You remember.

Yeah.

We have other people now. The people we live with here are not afraid of you. Or me. We’ve known S__ for almost twenty-five years. You remember? Nobody here is afraid of any of us in any way.

::nods::

And so on. This conversation went on for half an hour or so: the questions voiced in my head and the answers spoken quietly out loud so as to sound no different from the various topics I discuss with myself even when my housemates were home which they were at this point but in the other room. When I got to my bedroom finally things looked more familiar and it was clear that whichever of me had just seen the kitchen for the first time had been awake and aware here where I can close the door and be even safer than out in the kitchen.

If I had to specify I would say I was talking to an eight year old girl me. When I was about that age I had been told enough times that I was a girl that I believed that it had to be the case even though I could not imagine growing up to be a woman. And so I started at least that young to stop imagining growing up at all because nothing that was foretold to me concerning my eventual life as a grown-up made the slightest lick of sense.

I did not learn self-compassion. Or that is I was not taught it while I was being taught all the other things that were supposed to be the pillars of security and happiness in this world or maybe just the next I am not sure any of the teachers really knew which or even why they thought it was a good idea to tell young kids that Jesus loved them but they had better make damned sure to demonstrate how much they loved him back or he would do very very very very mean things to them for much much longer than they could ever conceive of having to wait even in the most awful boring ugly empty doctor’s office waiting room ever.

For a long time nothing I did was going to get me any brownie points with the Father or the Son or even for that matter with the angels who would be casting me into the Lake of Fire at the Last Judgment if I did not Repent and accept Jesus as my Personal Savior.

It was not enough that I believed with absolute credulity everything my mother told me, everything the Sunday School teachers told me, everything the preacher told anyone even when he probably was not aware of how absurdly dangerous it was to be lecturing adults and children at the same time in the same way. It was not enough that I had done precisely what I was told the Bible said to do ie ask Jesus into my heart and repent my sins and die to my old self by the time I was thirteen I was doing all of these things several times a week but it never took. Because there was this one last thing I was scared to death to do.

In our church, you had to walk.

You know: the aisle. Walk the aisle.

At the end of every service we of course sang the invitation while the preacher stood up front waiting for anyone who wanted to humble themselves before God and the congregation for whatever reason: to give testimony, to ask for salvation, to publicly humiliate themselves for any of a list of mostly petty and inoffensive sins. This was also the only way to make your decision and to be saved, to be born again. The one rationale for this that I recall clearly is that walking somehow counted as Publicly Professing Your Faith or rather that walking was the only thing that counted as such and if you had not yet publicly professed your faith you were still bound for the Lake of Fire no matter how many times you begged Jesus to let you off the hook for this one thing pleeeeeeeease.

Sorry. No. You know this is not going to work no matter how many times you try to get away with it and eventually you will give in and you will walk but no nobody is going to volunteer to walk with you or anything you have to do this by yourself or it does not count. And if you don’t do it soon we are just going to start the Rapture without you in fact we just did!

**panic**

until I heard the car our 1966 Plymouth Barracuda could be heard half a mile away or at least I could hear it and it was a midnight-hour reprieve each and every time but it motivated me not at all to do anything but cower when a late-afternoon thunderstorm made everyone else late and tortured me with bolts and crashes and the fury of a god who had no patience for girls who did not even know why they were terrified of walking they just were to the point that not even hellfire could move my feet out of the safety of the pew. The aisle was carpeted and it pointed a straight line between rows and rows of stares: the penetrating gauntlet that knew all your secrets as soon as they heard a rustle and plod behind them telling them to turn their heads to get a look at who had been sufficiently overcome by conviction to leave the anonymity of the congregation for the aisle that never held more than one traveler at a time.

As I got older, most of the other kids whose parents brought them to church more than a few times a year walked at some point or the other, got sobbed over by the older ladies, then baptized and sent on to witness to their friends or wait to be called to be missionaries or just to get married and have babies who would then be sorted out by the same mechanism to see who was going to enter the Kingdom and who was going to throw away the marvelous gift they had been given of this choice that was no choice at all: walk or burn forever.

Everyone waited for me to walk. I wouldn’t do it.

I am but thirty years behind myself. Here are five minutes only it took all day.

This week I am almost in the mood to construct a long, wide-ranging, single draft from beginning to end and yet relatively coherent manifesto. 

Almost.

I have become preoccupied with voice. Voices, even: those whose near- but not-quite-appearance earned me the “psychotic features” feature of my Official Psychiatric Diagnosis–well, one of them. I have several spread through time and space and now in binary code–but not just those voices. And my voice, or those voices I can describe as available for me to use consciously and willfully even if I have my skepticisms regarding will including a question nobody has answered yet in a way I find useful which question goes mainly like will: what the fuck is it and why are we so attached to the idea of it. I confess I do not “get” will as an entity or function or even faculty although I sometimes get some little where if I approach will as a name that gets passed around among a small circle of verbs having to do with wishing and desiring and commanding and otherwise employing agents of action with or without their consent.

But not just my own voices those which seem to obey what is called me and those which seem to obey the more occult me’s whose functions are not clear beyond their our being indiscriminate attempts to survive the world as they we see it: double-binds chained up into triple- and quadruple-binds to the point that uncertainty issues as its own exponential feedback loop quickly pegging the meters and shredding paper wire and splintered wooden cabinets who crash to the ground and into the crowds huddled around the stacks as though distorted signals were only nutritious if embraced bodily the bass notes picking us up off our feet and setting us back down again 120 times every minute.

But also voice in general: who made the first vocal noise on Earth and what did it sound like when mineral and salt and metal and gas all gathered their breath at once to voice almost nothing other than the interminable lines of divisions and multiplications and the branches and the flowerings and wanings and the iterations and the iterations and the daily business of securing stellar energy in some digestible form or another enough to live through the next day or night or month or winter.

Was it a croak or a squeak or a peal of lungs over ossified vocal folds in announcement of announcement.

We are here.

Where.

Here.
 
 
Here.
 
 
 
Here.

So I have been reading and I have been writing but I have not been speaking or that is I whose life’s work has been determining what to say.

to all of this.

have been keeping mum.

It is an ancient imperative I suspect at least as old as my ancestors’ graves on that Asian peninsula we call Europe wherever they might have been lain some thousand or so places who no longer have names that they themselves know to answer to.

This was going to be a cut and paste. Here is one from a letter I wrote to a friend not long ago.

I have some observations and I have some hunches and I have some ideas but mostly I cannot make out whether or not I have a voice. I may have one. I do not really know if I do or maybe it is that I exercise my own voices for my own auditors and everyone in here is fine with that but when I consider any degree of broadcasting any of these voices even in the smallest ways (should I be writing this? I do not know but I seem to be able to keep writing today so I am going to keep writing today) we bombard ourselves with questions and second and third and fourth guesses about the propriety of ourselves, we, myself, all of me speaking at all.

All of the accounts I read whether of my immediate family or my more distant relations in time and space to the extent that these accounts are fitted to typically heterocompulsive protestant imperatives to that extent I cannot find my place in any of them. I could not possibly have existed before now or that is what they tell me or that is what they tell me in not telling me anything more than what they do the covers of family bibles recording sons and daughters of sons and daughters of sons and daughters as though this were all that ever proceeded from the mouths of humanity or even the only possible terrestrial issue these accounts do not account for me at all.

This other thing too: the language I have been given or the terms with which I have heard my life or lives similar to mine explained and described and discounted and disposed of issues from and reiterates such monstrously outsized shame as a throttle and lash that it is hard to maneuver around without sustaining multiple lacerations at my own hands. It is as though the abusive methods that trained me up in the way I should go worked so as to establish internal agents unable to do other than continue to offer abuse.

I was very well trained as I was growing up to exceed expectations especially when I perceived those expectations as having their hopes bound in some point above. Above me, that is: in stature, power, authority, and all that go with them to render the whole deal of growing up quite awful. Which is not so different from what other children felt. On the other hand I do not know many others who had a Lake of Fire held over their heads or under their feet as the consequences of not only not exceeding expectations but of not examining yourself minutely for other signs of rebellion–and this was just one item on a very very long list of things to do and not do and you had to be very careful and watchful because Satan could trick you into thinking you were doing the right thing when really you were doing the opposite and even though that might seem like it was all on Satan it turned out in the end to be your fault or you were going to be tortured forever as a result and this was certainly reasonable even if by the time you were 16 it would begin to show its absurdity at 7 you took it all very very literally. That is I did.

It was inconceivable to doubt what the preacher said even only to oneself. Your opinion was not only emphatically unsolicited but understood as refuted without hearing: silly, selfish, sinful–a scale yes but usually involving divine judgment as early in the process as necessary to make a clearly open-and-shut case whose sentence needed be no more than one single sentence if it were in need of pronouncing at all.

“I never had to spank her. I could just look at her a certain way and she would be crushed.”

It was true. Crushed I was.

It occurs to me to mention something about cultural social capital and how it is constructed by others and by oneself under conditions where oneself is expected always to be speaking from the seat of shame and where this extends to gender and sexuality in particular to make certain subject positions–let’s say however many might be on the “ftm trans* spectrum” in sociological discourse but on a sort of spun off trajectory into a wtf is gender and I may have a beard and I do love it yes but please stop assuming I am a man sort of spot or station or region or place–difficult even to describe much less speak from as though anyone would be tending their ear in a direction nobody would know even where or how to point.

It would not be theoretical exactly although it would have to be no matter what else it was.

For now though the mention is the best I can do for it.

There may be more.

There is more.
In fact.
In fact there is more. Already. In so many words. So many that I am running out of storage space again.

Why do men tell me things?

I used to be a man-hating dyke. That is, according to a certain strand of American popular thought, I must have hated men, because I was a dyke. Back then I did at times feel more than a minor annoyance at some men, and on the odd occasion I came close to kicking a stranger in the junk because he was following me too closely on an uncrowded sidewalk just long enough for me to become aware that he was following me and that I did not know his intentions for doing so and was thus growing uncomfortable with his behavior.

I never actually assaulted anyone, and I am fairly certain now—because nothing untoward happened then—that most of these men meant me no harm and would have been very surprised to know that I was waiting for that fatal wrong move, which I would have answered by whirling around with fists, elbows, knees and feet flying. And I cannot say that in the moment I hated them. I did find it exasperating that they could not seem to figure out that walking right behind a woman on an uncrowded sidewalk might be construed as threatening behavior and that therefore they might want to consider what they were doing. Still, hate is too strong a word for what I was feeling then.

I may have changed my mind now.

It has been almost fifteen years since I began a transition from appearing to walk the earth as a woman to appearing to do so as a man. It has turned out not to be a “gender transition” exactly, because I am not convinced that my gender has changed. It is now packaged differently, and I usually feel less cognitive dissonance when others react to me as though I were just another guy than I did when they reacted to me as just another dyke, but what I thought was a desire to “become a man” has quite vanished, and with it any idea as to what a man is or should be or should do in almost any circumstance. I am pushing fifty so closely that by the time you read this I might not be pushing anymore but have arrived and already begun coasting downhill, but I have not the first clue as to what a fifty-year-old, bearded white guy—a description that reasonably approximates my current presentation—is expected to do, like, pretty much, ever.

And other older white guys? Oh my god.

I am a writer, a reader, and a thinker of some fashion or other. I spent my formative thinking years as a body that was read as female and thus often assumed to be incapable of adequate thought. I was, and still am, so introverted that I pull introversion/extroversion scales wrong side out when I take personality inventories. I hate confrontation for various reasons and for various, often related, reasons, I assume most primarily that I do not know what I am talking about when conversing with others in real time. I do not think quickly on my feet; my brand of introversion and social anxiety makes it difficult to articulate myself at all outside of my room and without a keyboard or at least a pencil and paper. I think intuitively and visually and have to translate this sort of thought into a linear language of at least somewhat common understanding before I can present myself coherently, and that takes time—time that is usually not available at parties, in discussion groups, in seminars, or in other social situations in which I have been called to try to think and present at the same time.

Short version: I do not do well in real-time arguments and spent the first half of my life not being taken seriously anyway due to (somewhat) female appearances. Thus, in spite of the fact that I am supposedly educated and well-read, I will still default to Intimidated in an average conversation with anyone. Conversations with men, in particular, though, have become almost surreal since I have come to look like one of them.

Interestingly, perhaps, men still address me as though they are quite assured that they have given whatever matter all necessary thought and are offering me the Single Inescapable Conclusion on whatever topic. That has not changed, and so I am getting the impression that in US culture men do not talk to men all that differently from the way they talk to women, except they do sometimes have the sense to keep overt sexism to themselves when women are around. This means I have heard some even-more-horrifyingly-than-before sexist things since transitioning to a masculine presentation, but the whole patronizing tone has not changed. It was always horrifying and it still is.

I suppose I should clarify my terms here. When I say “men” in this case, I am usually referring to cisgendered men with whom I might interact in an average day, or men who have, to the best of my knowledge, no prior experience living as a body perceived and/or labeled as feminine. This is not to say I have not had any conversations with maddeningly obtuse men whose history includes identification as trans- or some other variety of gender nonconformity and/or transition, but this happens less often. Whether this is because other trans-spectrum men [1] are more likely to have at least some awareness of the vagaries of societal gender expectations or because there are simply not very many of us, I am not certain.

What I am describing here, though, are my experiences in conversation with apparently cisgendered men as a USian trans-identified male who spent thirty-five years as a body hailed more or less as female (less as I got older, cut my hair shorter, stopped wearing anything but men’s clothing, bound or otherwise hid my breasts, etc—but this resulted in a confusing presentation much more often than in one “mistaken” for male), and as a person whose temperament makes confrontation quite difficult to negotiate and disagreeable to contemplate.

So, when I encounter men still holding forth as though their thoughts are the unassailable products of rigorous reasoning, even when said reasoning is obviously lacking and nobody appearing to be a woman is present [2], I find myself in a position of not knowing, exactly, what is going on. My experiences as the assumed-feminine recipient of male wisdom do not help me: although I did come to understand that, where I live, patronizing condescension is to be expected of men if one appears to be a woman, this tells me nothing about what to expect if one appears to be a man.

On the one hand, the fountain of youth from which so many female-to-male transsexual individuals drink has rendered my visage a good ten to fifteen years younger-looking than it actually is, and so it may be that I am still considered a novitiate in the world of masculine knowledge, and I am being condescended to because of the tenderness of my perceived years. On the other hand, I wonder whether it is that men simply spout off all the time, expecting other men to challenge them with counter-spouting-off if they hear something with which they disagree. Whether or not the man spouting off believes he is actually right is unclear to me as well, because the “knowledge” so imparted is often so obviously self-serving that I wonder if it is being offered in some sort of ironic self-deprecation that I am just not getting.

Whatever the case may be, I still feel like a squirrel in front of an oncoming car, trying desperately to decide which direction to run, when confronted with Self-Obvious Truths as Mediated by Men. My self-assurance in these situations is almost nil. I do not expect anyone ever to take anything I say to heart, and I do not expect to be able to out-spout any pontificating personage regardless of gender. It occurs to me that I might simply act as though I thought whatever comeback I could manage were gospel, but I do not yet have the bravado necessary to do that. Besides, if I were ever to become a condescending, patronizing know-it-all, I would beg you to please shoot me. I do not think that acting like one even without conviction would be a particularly good idea.

On those occasions when a retreat to computer-mediated communication is possible, I still do not know what is the best way to proceed when I am faced with a man who has no idea that any experience diverging from his could even exist in a parallel universe, much less on this very planet and possibly even next door. I can write, and I know I can write, but I am not convinced that burying someone in discourse is advisable or healthy for all parties concerned. That is, if the tendency in men to declare themselves master of whatever field of knowledge is at hand is also an invitation to other men to join some sort of dick-waving competition, I am not sure that answering that invitation helps things at all. Although I may be in a venue where I can respond, how to modulate that response so as not to stage yet another cock fight is less clear.

I do know that the longer I am on testosterone, the harder it is to resist such competition. This is not so much because I want to compete, but rather because it drives me over the edge with anxiety and rage when one man appears to be dominating the conversation to the exclusion of all others: I am acutely aware of the silencing of others and sensitive also to being silenced myself, living as I do under a constant din of self-doubt, where silence has, for so long, felt safest. Testosterone has had the effect, in me, of amplifying both my emotions and their ensuing impulses to the point that they are often difficult to resist.

But I participated in a few too many usenet flamewars in my internet youth. Thus, my response to being told how I think, for instance, or who I am, is often simply to flee. To approximately here, where I can write abstract treatises on how it is to figure out social propriety when one is not well-versed in determining what might be proper in any given situation. I grew up as an extremely introverted girl, terrified of being wrong but usually convinced that she was so. I am no less introverted and no less terrified than before, and still convinced about 75% of the time, which means that when I do engage in written argument, my instinct is to argue as though my life depended on it. It sort of does, in what my therapist calls my “rich inner life.”

Small animals who think their lives are in danger are extremely hazardous to handle; they may not not mean to take anyone out, but will not hesitate to try to do so if they feel threatened. One reason I was able, when it was my job, to deal with animals in that state without any fear or anger of my own was because their aggression made perfect sense to me. I even identified with it much of the time I was at work: trying to negotiate the intense sociality of a daily job left me feeling much like that completely bewildered cat that will take your arm off if you reach for it.

But so any internal model for responding to disagreement without immediately escalating into combat readiness is quite lacking with me. Fight or flight are the only options that make instinctive sense to me, while human social functioning is incomprehensibly subtle. Add the complexities of socialized gender and I am thrown into my own personal third-body problem, where calculating real trajectories—much less ideal ones—becomes operationally impossible. And so answering the pronouncements of men who are so sure they are sure that they don’t even have to care about the actual cause they are promoting becomes an exercise in what I can only describe as sublimely disastrous communication.

I do not suppose that I actually hate men in general because certain ones of them drive me to this sort of distraction, but between my own disabilities in negotiating conversation and the very tiring fact that these same conversations just keep happening, I have come to a place where I question ever more vehemently the very idea of What Men Do in my culture. That devil’s advocate, for instance: who would want to be one? One is reminded of big brothers who torment their younger sisters just to get a rise out of them. Arguing without conviction for a position that makes little difference to the arguing party seems to me to betray some sort of delight in eliciting responses that are enormously costly, in terms of emotional energy, to the person goaded into a response, and in watching, without having to pay a particularly high price for the “entertainment,” the gyrations of another in pain. And what is that? Sociopathy? Psychopathy in larval form?

I wonder, and I wonder how it is that one comes to believe that behaving thus is acceptable in what passes for polite company. Here I am, having gone to some effort to cross over to the “other side,” but how the lifelong residents here choose to behave is every bit as bewildering, and nearly as maddening, as it was before I arrived. I do realize that there is no here here and that there never was; that is, I realize that “men” is a completely fictional category (though not, for all that, necessarily voluntarily chosen). But it is a familiar category, and one that I was led to believe, as most of us were, would make sense upon investigation.

But, no. Like most of life thus far, it makes less sense than ever.

[1] I use the term “trans-spectrum” here as something of a neologism, because it is difficult to use the term “trans” together with “man” in such a way that every person who might be included under such a locution would agree to being included thus, and so there is no current consensus that I am aware of as to how to refer generally to the class of human bodies who were assigned female at birth but who identify as some other gender. “Coercively assigned female at birth” might come fairly close to naming an experience that many of us have in common, but even there rests some controversy, so I note it here and hope that “trans-spectrum” men can be taken provisionally, as it is offered, as a shorthand term that is necessarily inadequate.

[2] See Rebecca Solnit’s “Men Explain Things to Me” for a very useful exposition of the phenomenon of Men Educating Women. What I am mainly considering here is why and how Men Educate Everyone, apparently.

fly me. or not.

I am trying to find a way to Seattle and back that involves as little money as possible. For reasons about which I can only begin to speculate air travel is less expensive than both rail and bus but no matter which I were to choose I cannot really afford either one. So this may all be moot in my particular case but it still seems pertinent to say:

Looking at the anecdotes posted at tsastatus.net for SEA and SFO sent me diving for a Klonopin. These stories are not particularly graphic and do not consist of the most horrible cases of TSA personal encroachment that have been passed around, but imagining myself in the place of the people describing their experiences as they went through the security line was enough to send a cascade of cortisol through my body. And so I do what is necessary to counteract it.
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home is where. no seriously. where is it.

Like most urban dwellers in the US, I am from somewhere else. I have been from somewhere else for as long as I can remember; when I was two years old my family moved across the country from Tacoma Washington to a suburb of Atlanta Georgia. I grew up saying I was “from Seattle” because in the 60s and 70s in the Deep South it was slightly more likely that one’s interlocutor would have heard of Seattle than that they would know about any Tacoma. Both possibilities were vanishingly slim and I suspect that Seattle was mostly missing on any map drawn east of the Mississippi back then.

Until I was about high school age it was the family story that one day we would move back to Seattle. My parents never did and now claim that they hated the rain anyway and prefer tornados to earthquakes, but of all the things they indocrinated me with, the only one that took was that I had to get back to Seattle. After a childhood of flying back to visit relatives in this lost paradise where it never got hot and the grass stayed green all year I was so hell-bent on getting back to Seattle that when my partner and I decided that we had to leave Atlanta in 1987 because, well, it was the South, I immediately and relentlessly campaigned for us to move to Seattle.

I was successful, much to my immense pleasure. Now I live in San Francisco but that has turned out to be something of an accident and I still assume that one day I will head back up to the land of dark and rainy winters. I miss those actually: one could stay in bed all day in the winter and not feel slothful in the slightest.

But what I mean to write about is going home. Continue reading