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Posts Tagged ‘genderqueer’

A wonderful observation was made by Venkat Rao. People desire for things around them to be “legible.” He was quoting someone else, but he’s brought a lot of people’s attention to the concept. In this context, Legibility refers to how easy it is to understand the purpose and the meaning of a thing, not just a text, but anything.

On the very legible end of things is something like an office chair, or a cup of coffee.  These are designed by humans, completely contrived for the types of purposes that anyone can plainly gather from their adaptation to these intentions.  On the far side of illegibility is the pattern of plants in a forest.  Not to say that it’s random, but without an extremely specialized understanding, the patterning, the whys, the meaning of it is indecipherable.  The only other way to access a complicated image like a forest or a city is to simply experience the gestalt of it, the sense of it as you are there, in the moment.

Rao gives us examples of problems that arise when we humans try and impose legibility. His easiest example is the growth of a city.  Old cities have grown in such a complex pattern over decades, centuries, even millenia, and with such a collection of complex human interactions, that their patterning is as nuanced as the trees and ferns of the forest floor.  When planners come along and try to work out a method to set up a city artificially, it so often fails miserably because there is a forced legibility (indeed, it’s hard to imagine making policies about things without first rendering them legible, but for policymakers to grok the complexities necessary to understand things like city growth is more than most mere politicians can muster).

The important points here are that legibility is highest in man-made things and that people desire legibility.  In fact, Rao cites an interesting incident at a neurology clinic where a black and white checkerboard pattern is used to establish a “baseline” of someone’s brain activity, a “calm state.”  When the patient asked the doctor “shouldn’t you use something more neutral, white noise, perhaps?”  The doctor responds, “Oh no, people’s brains go wild when we show a random pattern, because they work hard to grasp at some underlying structure.”

Perhaps it is the fruit of Maharishi’s meditation on who am I? perhaps it is my vows, or just observation.  But recently I have found myself truly switching identity experiences rather easily.  After actual decades of wanting so much to be a woman, and an entire decade of being mostly submissive, I find myself being a true switch.  I can stop what we’re doing at home to force slap her ass, make sure she’s knowing she’s in submission, and leave her begging for more as we’re walking into town. Yes, I can still kiss a whip, scrub someone’s floor, and pine to get held down and fucked.  Honestly, I could beg God for either role just as sincerely, or forget the whole thing entirely.  All of it is surrender!

If you don’t build it deliberately, but let it form, like actions of nature, it isn’t going to have the same kind of legibility of an invention.  I smile this smile that old ladies and children seem to find irresistable.  I alternatively flush a bit from some men’s heat, and then wet some girl’s panties by our immediate mutual knowledge that I would chain her up alongside the others and perhaps horsewhip the living hell out of her in half a second.  And I gain trusting giggles and secret intimacies when I unwrap my Arab kuffiya and smile a blushing conspiratorial sister smile.  No one seems to try to cheat me anymore, in fact it seems they’re mostly quite generous with me.  My employees are artistic and seem satisfied.  I drive hard bargains with a shy voice.  My students mostly do what I say, alternatively seduced, in love, and afraid. My personality is a forest rather than a coffee cup, mysterious to even myself.

Then this all generalizes into other things.  I find myself more generous with money, and managing it all quite differently because I don’t even know what it is anymore.  It seems to have no value at all.  I don’t mean that in a naive sense, but in the sense that we’re all dying so quickly, what the fuck?  Perhaps I will find the capacity for even more generosity, or that great fabled freedom to just cast a fortune away in a moment, without a thought, and the power to create another kind or another kind or even a different kind than that….  How can I lack patience in this case?  How can I worry any sense of morality?  I tested this by lying outright a few times, and find the only thing I have that could be called a “conscience” is confusion brought on by blood sugar levels.

My friends seem to stumble with their reactions.  And I think it’s because I’ve become illegible.  So I do try and maintain some consistency around them lately, but it feels so stilted, and I notice that any real observer should be able to see through the plastic of contrivance. People want you to have an identity though, something to pin down and relate to with a known set of codes.  My girlfriend, fortunately, is blessed with enough innocence to just tell me when she doesn’t get what’s going on, and to roll with it.  She’s uncaring about social norms enough to either not notice or not care when I mix gender, dominance, social class signals, fashions, and actions with the kind of attitude that I would pack a backpack for a walk in the woods.  Toilet paper is good for so many things, I’ll bring a whole roll of that with me for even a day or two in the woods.

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I blindfolded myself for about a day.  I don’t know what I was expecting, but the sensory deprivation, the lack of visual stimuli to distract myself with simply put me against my own patterns after a few hours.

I can see some of the circles I was always aware of.  For example, I treat being transgendered like a kind of addiction, and I guess inasmuch as it can become an obsession, it resembles almost any other addiction.  However, every time I put it down, sometime thereafter I just notice, clearly, my own femininity, my own sense of being a woman blatently staring at me.  Then, when I try and embrace that identity, I find the trap that I cannot simply crossover into being that, either, so I find myself reaching for more, as that identity is comfortable, and then I’m back into the addiction part of it again. . . once I realize I’m acting like this, I let go again, the way I’d put down painkillers or booze, and eventually seem to repeat the cycle when I realize I’m not simply a man either.

I’m good at conditioning myself, and testing for what is conditioning and what is not.  I started this after a family at the church I grew up in, who had converted from Islam to Christianity, had converted back to Islam in a time of family crisis.  I realized then and there that 99% of religious sentiment must just be finding comfort in the familiar, like the way a wounded and dying soldier might cry out for his long gone mommy.

So I set about to simply condition every attachment to Christianity out of myself, so I could see if there was anything worthwhile left of it.  I stopped praying to Jesus in crises, and I stopped thinking about God.  I found after a couple of years that there wasn’t much of it left.  Nowadays I basically like what Jesus said about most everything the same way I like what other wonderful sages said, and I think Christians pretty much went awry by adopting Paul’s ideas.

So, in some ways I’ve done the same thing with gender.  Where I found conflict between masculinity and Femininity, I often conditioned out the masculinity, or, if I was feeling like an addict, like feeling transgendered was some unhealthy pressure inside of me, born of some kind of avoidance, I’d try to condition out femininity.  I’ve discovered that a large part of sexual orientation is alterable in this way….  but maybe I didn’t do it wholeheartedly enough with other aspects, because I keep finding a conflict inside.

To be honest, There’s an aspect of dealing with my lovers where I don’t trust them.  Thus far these have mostly been women, so mostly it comes up in relation to women, though I feel a touch of it in relation to men as well.  Basically I expect to be twisted, manipulated, and thrown away, as I don’t think anyone sees anything in me worth the courage and patience to build a significant connection with.

What else did I find whilst blindfolded?  Well, I have seen the desire to fit in and to conform set a huge burden on one of my close friends.  And last week I noticed it creating tightness and stiltedness in another of my good friends.  In my state of semi-sensory deprivation, I noticed it in myself.  It was odd to move towards the fridge, just to get a bottle of milk to put on my cereal and catch myself imagining how I look from outside, imagining someone else’s positive or negative judgments.  For god’s sake, this was in my apartment by myself!

Internal dialogue is mostly preceded by internal pictures.  Without these imaginations of others to compare to, there is also very little to set up as a dialogue.

After removing the blindfold, I noticed every brick in every building, I noticed every reflection off the windows, I saw the limits of my eyesight clearly, I even differentiated dirt on my glasses from blurry vision.  I walked outside and enjoyed everything I could see, the month of February being a beautiful one in Taiwan.  And I stopped while I was walking and focused on “who am I?”  Simply waited to see where *I* wish to go, what I thought right, regardless of the judgments of others.  I couldn’t find clarity in this.  I guess one of the hardest things is to trust myself.

Every moment has the promise of change in it, the promise of the infinite.  I’m terrified even as I speak the words out loud, “I’m ready to let go of this, I’m ready to let go of all the talking inside my mind and I’m ready to let go of the false identities I try and build.”  This time I didn’t say it to Ganesha, or to Kuan Yin, but simply to life itself.  And the feeling was immediately like a good break-up, where I feel a sense of loss of the familiar, but simultaneously a deep calm breath, a feeling of “rightness.”  Now, like any intention born of innocence, I only need to combine it with courage and patience, and it will surely come to pass.

Of course, as I say all this, I even have trouble trusting anyone who might read this to not judge me.  I set it up as a dialogue with some or another person inside my mind and so easily try to push away or else justify the simple clear intention..  innocence and intention can also feel vulnerable.  And of course, that’s what I fear the most with my lovers as well — vulnerability.

This isn’t easy for me.  In both cases an intention must be combined with both patience and courage.  Patience is not merely waiting.  Patience is harder when it isn’t like enduring one state, or even a predictable cycle of states, but allowing and embracing a constant flow of changes — this is where courage comes in.

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Proust’s Madeleine refers to a monument that resonates with many readers, a fan’s favorite in his writings.  A madeleine is a kind of small French cake, usually with ribbed lines across it.  Proust recalls eating one and being reminded of something.  Sitting and pondering, reaching deep into his mind for the remembrance, as he continued sniffing and tasting the little cake.  Finally, all at once in a great flash, the taste and smell involuntarily and instantaneously drew him back to his grandmother’s house when he was ten, recalling eating one of them.

He recounts this experience, not with the flavor of a “triggered memory,” but as actually being there again, being transported completely, in his senses, to that experience.  It is as if for a brief moment, he’d traveled through time.  He was the ten year old boy, in his grandmother’s house.  One can use the phrase, “ma madeleine de Proust” to refer to the trigger of such an experience.  As far as I can tell, to be properly referred to as “Une Madeleine de Proust“, an experience must be a) involuntary and b) drag one into a past experience.

In a similar manner, I notice that little feelings sometimes allow us to gauge where we now are, and to compare the present moment to the past.  Not in as grand a fashion as a person’s Madeleine de Proust in the sense that most people will make that reference, but in the way that we relate to people, places, and objects.  Perhaps a person gives one a familiar feeling, and a sense of ease…  maybe that person carries a similar scent, or way of walking and speaking, or a similar set of tension and ease as a former lover, or an old friend.  In other words, in a small way, that arrangement of movements and scents and words will transport us kinesthetically, to a past experience.  Thus is it “une petite madeline de Proust.”

However, I would argue that it can happen without people being aware of it.  It is simply that they will have a good familiar feeling.  I often think that in this way people go on seeking to repeat the same set of experiences again and again, but not really noticing how it happens.  I have come to suspect that much of our moral imagination is formed of such links to our past.  That a house can be built, and a life can be lived within that house, consisting of things that one has chosen for the kinesthetic reality they create for that person, the lovely little things they constantly drag from one’s long lost years.  But it is merely a house of cakes, “une maison des petites madeleines.”

Isn’t it true that a new person one meets, or a new place one visits, if utterly alien, will be far more challenging than the “instant ease” we judge things by as being “good?”  It is as if “instant ease” or “a sense of initial familiarity” were a sign from God that we’ve found a person or place we belong with right now.  It is only a small leap from one’s feeling of ease and rightness to one’s sense of what is “right” and “wrong.”  This is the reason I have said that the “moral imagination” is linked to the “house of cakes” I have described.  Perhaps it is only a sign that we’ve found une petite madeleine and some feature of that person or place has simply drawn us back to a time when we felt comfortable or happy or else the petite madeleine simply refers to something we like about ourselves.

I write all this from the perspective of a traveler.  I have lived 8800 miles from where I was born for around two years.  Long enough for it to feel like “home.”  I have also felt love for places spread across Europe and the U.S.  Moreover, some types of people are incredibly easy for me to get along with.  The Irish are known for being friendly.  The Taiwanese are very helpful and usually try very hard to impress foreigners.  The provincial French are easygoing, laid back little people, among whom I could easily unwind many years.  I can ultimately interact with all these people with similar rules of politeness to what I would use at my parent’s church, and expect similar responses.

Another example: I know well the scent of autumn, and it is striking because it blurs my reality by being the same scent in Atlanta and in Taipei.  The familiarity the scent creates, here by the Taiwan Straight, on this rogue island off the coast of an ancient empire, takes me to any number of times I’ve walked through my grandparents’ field, or the forests of North GA mountains, or sat on the porch of the house I grew up in.  It creates that reality around me.  Smells are so powerful this way.

However, at a documentary film festival, I recently watched a film that stunned me:  “Let’s Be Together.”  The film depicted a Danish boy who was a serious cross-dresser.  He identified himself as a boy, and seemed to enjoy being a boy, and he later admitted that he liked boys, and man-oh-man he liked to rock some fancy 6″ heels.  Such queer material was not what was stunning, indeed it is a bit old hat for me.  But the culture in which it appeared was utterly alien to my senses.

The Danes he lived with weren’t too bothered by his behavior.  One must bear in mind, Denmark is a country where, if he was transgendered, he could probably start taking hormones around age 13 or 14, probably have surgery after 18.  Also this country is one where a bunch of hippies once took over a military base in the 1970s.  Instead of the government either shooting or arresting all the hippies, they just let them keep the installation and run it as an independent government within the city of Copenhagen.  This prefecture still exists and is called “Christiania.”  In other words, the Danes are coming from a radically different place than what I’m used to.  Any country I have lived in generally views transgendered as some sort of disease and would have arrested those hippies forthwith, not given them their own independent government!

The boy’s father was Brazilian.  I was amazed at the way he spoke to his son.  He was emotionally transparent.  Initially I thought he was being overly angry as he seemed to be reacting intensely.  Also, the father was a masculine guy and most masculine fathers get threatened by the first show of femininity in their sons — or so I have seen in cultures I know.  But this guy was different.  In his honesty and transparency he revealed that his concern was that the boy would alienate himself from society and therefore face physical danger and fail to find love.

The father (apparently a clothier) was fine with making a dress for his son so the boy could be Cleopatra at his 15th birthday party.  As his expert hands sewed on sequins, the dad shared stories with his son about how he was lost and confused at 15; but he found a man he fell in love with and had a sexual relationship with, who helped him find his way.  This is all very interesting because the father also had a wife at the time of the movie.  But he told his child about gay loves and straight loves.  And concluded the long conversation with the words, “this is all I want for you, for you to find this happiness that was so important for me.”

What?!  I cannot imagine such a conversation between a father and a son in my culture.  This was a conversation in which the boy was viewed with respect as a person with some right to privacy and choosing his own way.  The father brought concerns only to help the boy find all the best in life — not blushing at any aspect of sexuality or discovery.  And the father shared his own very personal experiences, with frankness and emotional honesty throughout!  Mon Dieu!

Back to the Danes: The boy’s stepfather took him fishing, and treated him perfectly well.  He didn’t even seem phased by the fact that the kid had taken to such extreme behavior (though he refused to spend 200 USD on a pair of sunglasses).  The stepfather and the mom only seemed to care that her son might be hurt (physically) by some ignorant kids.  Moreover, the way the family interacted just had a tone to it which was completely different than what I have known.  Their formalities and informalities, their tension and ease, were in places that did not resemble any family I have ever seen in my life.

The strange thing is that the Danish family and the Brazilian family initially gave me a very dark feeling.  I felt uncomfortable, and I put up a kind of moral judgement about them.  After a little while, I noticed that this sense of “evil” was because their ways of doing things were putting me in a kinesthetic feeling I only knew as “evil.”  But once I set that aside, and watched them….  I realized that nothing they did could be called “evil” in the sense that if they, or even all the world, acted that way it would bring any harm to people, either in their bodies or their souls.  It was simply an “evil” by my own tribe, the one I have left, and perhaps the one whose soil I stand on now.

But that sense of evil, what is it?  It is just a trip into another place, another time, something dredging the depths of my brain and dragging me back to my childhood where I see my father’s lips recoiling into a grimace when certain things come to pass.  Or hurling me headlong into my grandmother’s house, where I see her self-righteous smile as she pronounces God’s judgement on certain “wickedness.”  Or my mother’s tightening jaw as she sees a thing, and wonders how she’ll speak of it to me, because “God says that’s wrong.”  In other words, whether I have been aware of this or not, many of my moral feelings just come back to my own “Petites Madelienes des Proust.”  And it was only in opening myself up to something difficult, where I wanted to put up barriers and judgments, that I was able to see that kind of morality for the tribal superstition that it is.

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One of my friends said to the other, talking about me:

“This is why JP is not so suicidal now, or as hard on himself.
He is not trying to BE SOMETHING HE IS NOT
that’s when he was suicidal.”

If you look back over the history in my blog (or just take my word for it), you’d see that much of the last six years I’ve felt very unhappy.  Yes, I’ve more than ‘merely considered’ suicide many times.  And my friend had a really good point.  Why am I feeling happier now?  (and not just “self controlled” or “satisfied”)  One of the big things that allows me to feel easier is that I’m not trying to be something I’m not.

When I saw the truth of his comment the other night I decided to take this further.  I realize that a lot of my transgender issues are a real push/pull either/or kind of thing.  In my interactions with people, it can create a private (or public) drama.  Obviously such drama lends a ton of spice to sexual relationships too.  However, I find there’s a lot of repression still involved in all of this.

Yesterday I changed my name legally.  After a year of going by different names, publicly and among friends, my sense of what a “name” means is pretty different.  Still I find I feel a bit “boxed in” calling myself my given boy name or I feel “boxed in” calling myself my feminine name.  I’m starting to lean towards preferring my Chinese name, which just means, “peaceful and really really white.”  I find a lot of transgendered people become total gender NAZIs after they shift over to their preferred role…  however, my own passion is about Freedom, not putting on a “better straight jacket.”

So that first night I just decided specifically not to repress or deny ANYTHING, even if it was uncomfortable, even if it seemed to “violate” some or another role or poke holes in my “better straight jacket.”  Anything goes was my rule as long as I had the honest desire to express that.  I think in many cases I’ve allowed myself to “choose freely” among known roles, or ways, or patterns or paths (even straight jackets).  However, I took the attitude to allow anything, even if it didn’t make sense, or felt like I’d be judged for it — anything.

Here’s what I found:

A depth of femininity that actually frightened me.  Blowing past all the superficialities I could call “feminine.”  To be honest, it scared the shit out of me even when I thought about it today.  Funny for someone who has fought pretty hard for my right to express femininity.

A solidity of masculinity, again, quite real and beyond superficialities.  Again, this makes me a bit nervous to feel it.

If I maintain a clear intention to do what’s authentically REAL, it certainly changes everything.  It was a pretty big step for me to just accept that eventually it would become glaringly apparent to me if I should get a sex change or not.  The only way I could possibly feel so calmly clear about it is if I’m not committed to forcing it one way or another.  In other words, it’s important to me and I know I’ll just do what I really want to do.

So I’m finally starting to make progress on the questions like, “do I practice law for money or go spend my time working like Mother Theresa?”  Even if I don’t know the answer right now, at least I am not forcing myself into something to please others or to fit into a role.  This feels a lot clearer, though I know I could still deceive myself.

At the root of a lot of all this trying to please people I can see the way I interact with my dad.  I can see myself making plans I know are good ones, and editing them or pitching them (to myself, to others, to everyone around me) to try and get approval.  It’s just like how I interact with him.  The trouble is my authentic intentions, such as my desire to open access to more things for more people, get lost in all this marketing.

I don’t need to feel like everyone around me thinks what I’m doing is okay.  I need to pick the best way to get what I want done and do it!  But even my writing in this matter still feels stilted and stuck to me.  I’m having trouble dealing with how I interact with him.  I haven’t found openness with it in myself yet.  And I don’t just mean when I’m around him, I mean the whole issue — you can move a thousand miles away from your parents and still live with them in your house, even after they’re long dead.  I hear thats what most people do.

Still, asking myself the question, “who am I?” seems to be helping.  I really want to know the answer.  As I look inwards to find that core, I feel I’m picking up some steam, gaining some grasp on the truth.  Even asking the question changes my entire focus.  It’s better to look and learn who and what I actually am than it is to try and be comfortable socially, or to make myself fit into patterns and roles I think I understand, where I feel “safe.”  I can sense a lot more power in my choices and my movements already.

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Flexibility

I’ll tell you what I found inspiring today:  The quite posted on tellmewhyimwrong.wordpress.com by James Baldwin:

““Any real change implies the breakup of the world as one has always known it, the loss of all that gave one an identity, the end of safety.  And at such a moment, unable to see and not daring to imagine what the future will now bring forth, one clings to what one knew; to what one possessed or dreamed that one possessed.  Yet, it is only when a man is able, without bitterness or self-pity, to surrender a dream he has long cherished or a privilege he has long possessed that he is set free—he has set himself free—for higher dreams, for greater privileges.””

The implications of this are really broad and wide.  However, I’m going to focus on one way I think it’s important on a micro-level.  I have noticed that people use categories as a means to relate to people.  To use a weird example, I knew a lady who quit drinking and smoking weed.  She described some of her friends almost being upset with her at first (though others were supportive).  Others just didn’t know what to do when they hung out, because the way they’ve been interacting with her changed.

So we all get into a role.  Maybe you’re the cool person at the party who tells all the jokes and is a political intellectual.  Maybe I’m the hipster queer that dresses like an androgynous German model.  So we get into relationships with people who are interested in interacting with that role.  Usually in some fashion our roles will support or compliment their roles.  I think this is especially true between lovers.

I actually think our identity becomes a trap at that point — the thing that worked for us becomes our enemy.  Because what happens when you wake up one day and feel less like making jokes and just don’t give a toss about your politics to talk about it at the party.  What if you’re feeling more contemplative and flirty, romantic?

Or for me, what if I want to dress like a rock star and pick up all the girls one day?  The thing that everybody thinks is so cool has now changed and there’s going to be some amount of friction.  This might not be too much with peripheral acquaintances, but with close friends, or especially family and lovers, it can get pretty intense.  Ask someone who came out of the closet as gay how much that impacted their family and lover at the time.

This also impacts people in organizations.  The lady who works all the time, puts out everyone else’s fires, and brings in her own office materials will always be taken advantage of and will likely never be promoted.  The old saying, “you want something done, give it to a busy person” is the lady I’m talking about here.  If she were to take a role of leadership, suggesting functional solutions to problems, and drawing clearer boundaries about her requirements, you’d better believe there would be huge friction!  Or if for some other reason her power relation to the organization changed, her interactions with her coworkers will experience stress.

I dream of a world, or at least a group of people where individuals could be free to act in true spontanaity, which I think would produce a level of honesty that we don’t usually see now.  Commitment and consistency are methods pick up artists use to get people to do stuff they might not otherwise be comfortable with.

“So where’s the craziest place you ever had sex?”

“In the top of a lighthouse”

“Wow, what would your Sunday school class think if they knew about it?”

“Actually, it was with a boy from church.”

“Oh my god, you’re such a bad bad girl, aren’t you?”

<giggles> “yes I am.”

“I think that’s really cute.  I’ll give you five bad girl points for that.”

“Hey!  Only five!” <pouts>

Our pick up artists then proceeds to drive her to prove the identity that she has committed too.  I know that’s a weird example, but the same principle works for cult leaders.  There’s also a little bit of a sunk costs fallacy happening here (See wikipedia article on sunk costs fallacy).  Sunk costs is basically where someone invests in something, and gets so far into it, she doesn’t want to back out at this point, so will pour more resources into the losing investment.

All this comes together for me in that at some point, some aspect of identity is going to become rigidified for someone…  at which point they’re trapped (and might not even know it).

Not that you’re doing that or that I’m doing it either.  I’ve found that by casting myself as “gender queer” then I can choose to act however I want.  People don’t expect my identity to contain specific behaviors, and since I’m “queer” anyway, I can violate those behaviors if i want to (flexibility is built into the social role).  Like in the quote, one has to be ready to “to surrender a dream […] long cherished or a privilege” to find something greater.  I think that is true partly because in the moment of NOW, the dreams or privileges of yesterday may no longer be functional, or may no longer be what is best to draw upon for the situation at hand.

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