Today is the Transgender Day of Rage (though some may call it a day of remembrance): Today I rage on behalf of my people, who have been murdered, raped, and incarcerated in the name of cis-normativity, who are still regularly portrayed in media not as people, but as commodities and objects for homophobic violence, and who are routinely discriminated in housing, healthcare, employment, immigration, education, and many other arenas.

Today I rage for Leslie Feinberg, who died this week of multiple chronic illnesses, who (in the words of one friend) had been writing for 20 years about not being able to access healthcare as a transgender person–and that lack of access finally killed hir.

Today I rage on behalf of the myriad young women, many of them women of color, who have either been incarcerated for defending themselves against transphobic attackers like Cece Mcdonald, or who have not survived these racist and transphobic attacks, as Islan Nettles, whose absences in the lives of friends, families, loved ones, lovers, and fellow activists and community members are deeply felt, as we await another sunrise without their incredible spark beside us.

Today I rage for gender variant teenagers and adults who will not live to see another day because the stigma of being gender variant in a world that sees gender solely as a binary became too much, and they succumbed to suicide, or were murdered by a friend or family member that they thought they could trust with their difference.

Today I rage on behalf of trans* and queer youth and adults who are faced with homelessness and poverty, many of whom can not even sleep in shelters when they are available, because there is no shelter I know of that has had a truly trans* sensitive policy–they are all stopgaps, and it is never safe enough.

Today I rage on behalf of those who in their disability live lives of interdependence, whose identities may be kept close for fear of retribution by their caregivers. I see you, I am waiting for you in the reaches of the internet and beyond. We are building bridges that no one can burn. We are all interdependent.

Tonight I will light no candles and I will not be silent–silence can not quell my fury, my fury is the truest expression of my grief. We must rise up against those who would try to silence us, we must exercise solidarity on behalf of one another. Rather than a moment of silence, I envision a world where as part of a continual course of action, we have set fire to the prisons, banished borders, restored sovereignty to indigenous communities, and opened the millions of foreclosed homes stolen by bankers’ greed and dishonesty to those disenfranchised by the wages of late capitalism.

I will not be satiated by the pink-washing of gentrification, political campaigns, and products or gay marriage. I will stop for nothing short of full-fledged revolution that wrests power from the sullied hands of the state and restores it to the people.

Trigger warning: aftermath of sexual assault
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When was the first time in it happened? I know I spent a lot of my teenage years dissociated. The first time I remember really being aware that the way I had sex was different from how a lot of people do I was 16 or 17, I remember squeezing my eyes tight and pretending I was alone. As I came I had this exquisite vision of solitude and a cityscape made up of obsidian obelisks. I remember searching for that moment later, when I would need to stop sex and my then-partner would say ‘wait, just let me finish, I’m almost there,’ and so I would check out, slip out of my body like an article of clothing, watch the shadows in the garden as the leaves shifted outside the window.

*TRIGGER WARNING: sexual assault and accountability in communities
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Friday night I was talking with some friends about the prevalence of rapists/people who commit various types of sexual assault (groping, etc) in our various communities (punk scene, activist circle, anarchist milieu, blues/fusion dance community, etc). What I really want people to remember is this: SEXUAL ASSAULT IS NOT AN ACCIDENT. People who commit sexual assault typically know that their actions are unwanted and/or not consented to—they just don’t care. And they do it over and over again***.

Stranger rape is not a myth, but it is astonishingly uncommon. Most survivors know the person who sexually assaulted them—and all too often, we know others who have been sexually assaulted by the same person. So what can we do, as people with common interests, including stopping sexual assault? The most effective thing I have seen is stopping shady interactions and calling out specific behaviors PUBLICLY. Is this going to stop rape? I don’t think so. I think that there are certain people who grow up believing that their desires are more important than another individual’s consent. I believe that these people are disproportionately white, straight, cisgender, ablebodied, and often of a certain class privilege, as well, because the media and other institutions constantly tell us* that their desires are the most important. They are taught entitlement, not just to people’s bodies, but to land, to wealth, to what we might define as autonomy. But of course, people from all demographics perpetuate sexual assault, the real key is undermining their entitlement to the bodies of others—unfortunately many people are taught this kind of entitlement via constant exposure to rape culture. We have many societal institutions that keep rape culture intact (prisons, colonization, socioeconomic inequalities, sexism, racism, etc).

How do we undermine rape culture and the rapist’s sense of entitlement? By fighting for the self-determination of all people. It’s a big task, no doubt. But you can start by questioning the entitlement of the people around you, especially when some dudebro starts cornering the drunk new kid in town at a party, who has that look like they don’t wanna be there. You can start by calling out people who habitually and knowingly cross the boundaries of others. You can tell them what it looks like when their inappropriate behavior occurs, and tell them that it will not be tolerated any longer. You can work to abolish prisons, where people are routinely disenfranchised and treated as slaves, and experience high rates of sexual assault at the hands of the overseers. You can start by being accountable for your actions if somebody tells you they have crossed your boundaries. You can start by connecting the dots between large coercive institutions and individual coercive actions.

You can also start by providing support to people WHENEVER they confide in you that they have been sexually assaulted. ALWAYS trust the survivor, first and foremost. They might not have as much social capital as the person who assaulted them (a popular community leader, a teacher, a sibling, a musician, etc), and so this is where the spiral of isolation following sexual assault can begin in communities. DON’T let this happen. DO support the survivor in getting the support they need, and ASK what that means to them, whether it means creating a safer space policy (ie. so and so who has a history of inappropriate/rapey behavior is not allowed here, such and such specific behaviors are not allowed here, etc), or just letting them talk through their feelings at a given moment of crisis, or helping them find safe, affordable crisis support resources such as counseling or a crisis line.

And remember: it is not okay to expect survivors to just “get over it” after a certain period of time. Speaking from my own experiences, the memories of the sexual assaults that I have survived will be with me for a lifetime, and they intrude at very inopportune times, in nightmares when I’m stressed out about school, etc, or even worse, when I’m trying to be sexually intimate with somebody I care about or, hell, just want to have fun with! So don’t ever ask: “aren’t you over that now?” Some people have that ability, but many of us don’t.

This is just a start. How do we move forward? That’s for us to decide, as communities.

*us: I am speaking as a survivor and a light-skinned privilege experiencing latinx, a queer/transmasculine neuroatypical person with chronic pain who is ablebodied, living long-term in the violently occupied territories known as the United States. I have experience providing survivor support and holding aggressors accountable.

***Go read this if you don’t believe me: http://yesmeansyesblog.wordpress.com/…/meet-the-predators/
BAM, SCIENCE!

trigger warning for BDSM, sex. take care of yourself!

 

I dreamt about you this morning. Up until recently, you were the kindest man in my life. You are doe-eyed blue, or were, and I imagine you still this way—tangled in rope, clothes cut to ribbons, skin flushed and belly arched to late afternoon. What love I had for you, and have for you still. Not a staying kind of love, as time has revealed. A ravishing love, an appreciation of your great healing powers, your gentleness, your virtuousness. It surprised me that you were angry when I broke your heart. You weathered so many of my storms that year, early 20s piss-drunk and punching concrete, talking about suicide though my whole life was ahead of me, is still ahead of me, tho I feel the ways are closing in.

Sometimes the way that I moved on and away from you makes me feel guilty, like I sucked dry from you what I needed and cast off the rest. You were a nurturer, a nourisher. Then I think of my own hands, the way  they pulled and taught your flesh, broken open to make it more whole, and I remember that I too am nurturer, nourisher, my hands those blades of the tiller that make planting possible.

I like best this thing: breaking open bodies to connection after long dry spells, letting them back to the sexual self, hand in hand from the far-off dissociation of despair and isolation. I feel like I need someone to do this for me now, and there is no-one I can trust enough with this most precious thing.

Up here, I have these mental polaroids of the things we did together, the rites I enacted with you, worship of your benign athletic flesh. You submitted to me, and it was a grace.

Border Politics

04/28/2013

when you are 27 years old, you will be sitting in the bookshop you sometimes work at (tho business is floundering at best most days, and despite everyone’s best efforts) and she will not look at you while laughing and say that her partner thinks she was Mexican in another life because she can cook it so good as if that were any proof, as if your family’s whole muddle of cultures and experiences can be boiled down to posole and refried beans, spanish rice, and you’d bet ten dollars she’s never even tasted a fried plantain.

you will keep quiet, you will not say anything, not even huh even though it feels like you have been hit in the gut by her feckless white privilege, not even knowing how such carelessness can chuck you even months later. you still think about it, sitting on the same stool, next to the same person who still does not know she did anything wrong at all. may never know, because who are you to tell her, you are so tired all the time of being angry, anyways—and how would you explain the vivisection of the border, the division of family lines with more and less privilege.

we can not even divide ourselves neatly into before immigration and after, or colonizer and colonized, or those resisting assimilation and those already assimilated, or those who pass and those who can’t. who would choose, who would be the judge, anyways? some academic in some ivory tower who teaches feminist “thought” some place say?

there are words for the way you have and haven’t assimilated, you learn this a few months later in your “culturally relevant” lifespan psychology course at community college, where all the white students take up so much space and bring with them their constant cultural baggage of that us and them culture, the same culture that writes news headlines about dark-skinned terrorists and those other countries to bomb, filling in for readers provocation and cause with religion and race as if difference were a kind of violence itself.

you are resistant but your father and mother were not given the choice, for them it was to assimilate or die trying, and so you speak only a few words of your abuela’s tongue, and you are learning how to cook dishes she never fed you before cancer ate her body. you are painfully conscious of life on la frontera. you feel hungry every time you catch wind of another queer latin@ person, sometimes you want to reach out and grab them by the wrist so you won’t feel so washed ashore, so left behind, because all you have is your father’s macho masculinity and colonization of your body (the nightmares that has wrought on you, still) and your mother’s admonishments to wear sunscreen, stop lisping, casual identity policing that you still hear in the back of your head. she just wanted the best for you, and she thought it best that you should pass.

you look in the mirror every day and wonder if you do pass. some days you do, forced to swallow your peers’ casual racism that you try to diminish with clumsy callouts that probably reveal the anger of your internal workings anyways; some days you don’t pass, loaded conversations at the bus stop about where your family is really from, or your partner’s mother’s comments about your hair and skin that will never wash away. it’s not that you’re looking for passing, it’s that you’re looking for your self amidst all the adjectives: queer-as-fuck anti-capitalist hyphen mixed race survivor transgender latin@/-o/-a boi bipolar slash switch anarchist-who-can’t-stand-most-other-anarchists brother-AND-sister. you are your mother’s son and your father’s daughter, your own worst enemy, the bad brain critical voice in the back of your head, and your best ally, the voluminous rapture that rings between your ears in manic frenzy as your hands write, write, write, floundering for some understanding.

trigger warning for BDSM.

(sung)”the minor fall and the major lift/ the baffled king composing hallelujah / hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah!”
(speaking) back in college, i liked her best when she was my boi friend. face not stubbly but smooth, she bound her chest and called herself Nick, swept her short blonde hair up beneath a baseball cap and stealthed her hourglass figure with a navy blue hoody. one night after i’d sung us thru the dark winding drive like a torch

(sung) “Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah!”

(speaking) she handcuffed me to her coffee table and beat me, her family upstairs sleeping or reading or whatever they were doing, so i kept silent while she left violent pinch marks, a ringing in my ears as my mouth gawped at the inexpressible. i thought i might choke on my own half-swallowed wails. they were not terrible, those screams. they came from a well of gladness. my heart beat electric blue in my chest and the edges of my vision went black, though i did not faint. after, she brought down a collar from her wall and fastened it, tho after that night i needed no accessory to find myself enchained. she, still becoming familiar with the rituals of BDSM culture, did not take it seriously as i think i did, though she vowed to protect me. when the time came, she was nowhere to be found and the only scorched earth was that under the rain of my father’s open-handed blows. but that came later. it was not long after that evening with her that i was cornered in a dressing room at a mall in plano with my mother. she saw the black and blue eyed marks and her own eyes widened in terror. “don’t worry, it’s consensual. don’t ‘let’s talk about this,'” i begged. she quieted herself and went back to attempting to convert me to floral prints and feminine pastels, forced on me an outfit meant to quell my bizarreness with its normalcy. it felt like putting on a doll’s costume, the colors, shape, and conveyance all wrong. i think of this now when i see Nikki, sculpted and femmed, subtle lipstick and silky henna locks, little black dress cut to reveal her sturdy, curvaceous limbs and intricate scars. it was Nikki, not Nick, who shared a bench with my mother at graduation. in these later years i am amused that when asked, my mother’s opinion of the lady in question was too small town for you. But Nikki was the first and among the only to cast me off in favor of other turns, first as a farflung traveller, now as a military wife and mother, tho still as kinky and non-monogamous as ever. she pops up again, at a party i’m throwing or a performance, and always manages some mutedly grand gesture to let me know how much she still thinks of me. the summer before last she memorized and sang Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” and emailed me the video for my birthday. my housemates watched with me as tears welled up and my heart clenched in my chest. i thought to myself, the first girl i ever really fell in love with, tho it was the boi, Nick, that I love(d) best and most of all. we failed one another in various ways as teenagers so often do. it was not just her untimely departure that unraveled our romance. i find her now too altered by time to wrap myself up in our inevitable contradictions again, though a year or two ago i fell in love with the bruising force of someone for whom she might have been the prototype: freckles, relentless sparkle, masculine femininity, and all.

trigger warning for IV drug use. take care of yerself!

We’re talking about syringes in class, the different types, their uses, the basic components: barrel, plunger, tip. I slip in and out of focus. I remember watching her cook and shoot up. She ground up the tablets first, then mixed them carefully with bottled water (Evian, like the model she could have been), put a lighter under the spoon, stirred till it all cohesed and bubbled. Maybe there was more. The shag carpet smells like the inside of a vacuum bag, like home. Aaron* ties her off and his mom comes in. “Are you using the bent spoon? Don’t burn all my nice spoons.”

He isn’t, but insists he is. Tap, tap. Tap, tap. He taps her vein until it bulges, an army drab river under alabaster pale. I can’t watch the needle piercing flesh, the flush of blood before push. Ulric reaches out and grabs my hand, as much for comfort as to break the spell. “I can’t do it either. I’d rather drink a beer, anyways,” he says.

We lay facedown on the crusty carpet. As Aaron ties off for his shot, Ulric noses over to me, puts an arm around my back, and presses his lips behind my ear. He grazes the flesh and makes for my mouth, misses. Ell sighs and my head shoots up. “How do you feel?” I ask, curious as much as wary.

“Good.” Her eyes are big, sparkly-manic, ice blue fascination. I press Ulric’s hand and get up. Aaron staunches his clumsy shot with a rag.

“C’mon, let’s go. We should get some beer,” I pretend to know exactly how we would go about it.

In the parking lot of the Safeway downtown, two twenty-something guys with greasy scalps and patchy beards sway, leering at Ell and I, clearly resenting our companions. “Twenty bucks, Black Label. All the way from Canada to your underage hands.” Ell slapps the money into an open palm.

“High alcohol content,” offers Ulric approvingly. “Like a lager.”

The beer tastes tinny and sweet, worse warm than cold, and we only drink it warm. I don’t drink more than two, more anxious to hold my own than to prove my capacity. The night air seems like enough, the novelty of roaming streets less rural than my own. 3 years ago when I moved here I thought it such a small town, but I’ve up and moved to an even smaller one, and now I can observe this town as a novelty, an adventure.

Somehow Ulric and I end up in his bed, messy limbs and malt liquor sweat. We have sex but neither of us comes. I am unconcerned, the sex is more perfunctory than interesting, at least for me. He offers to go down on me, but seems relieved when I decline. We sleep, toss and turn unfamiliarly. In the morning we go again. At least it doesn’t hurt. It’s over fast, and he’s happy to use a condom before sheepishly confessing he can’t really keep it up right now, either.

Ulric and I, we keep in touch for a while, long enough for a few phone calls, halfhearted and awkward. We meet Ell in Seattle for a show, drink malt liquor in the alley, chain smoke and make small talk, but I can’t convince myself that we are either of us interested in picking up where we left off. His mohawk is up, a foot and a half of soft brown fan dividing the scalp above his baby face. He has the chunky build of a toddler. A driver honks and calls out, “Sweet hawk!” as we share a cigarette.

He turns to face traffic and his hair lingers on my face. I touch my cheek in wonder. “It’s so soft,” I marvel. “How do you get it to stay up?”

“Egg whites, mostly. A little glue and Aquanet. It takes me two hours!” he reveals proudly. This boy who has already dropped out of high school at 15, relegated to a lifetime of work at his father’s dog grooming shop, cares that much about his own hair. Between his bondage pants, patched vest, and studded jacket, it is the one feature of his ensemble that is made from his body, an accomplishment he has both grown and crafted. He’s a nice boy, I think, momentarily tender. He catches my eye and half-grins, half-snarls. “C’mon, let’s get into the pit.”

The tiny venue can scarcely afford the band space for bodies and instruments, let alone audience members, but somehow we fall all together in sweat and stink. The bassist leans into us and is held up, then knocked into the drums, knocks over half the kit, and still they play on. It’s a good night.

I hear from Ell that he got back together with his ex and she gave him the itch**. I ask Ulric about it and he laughs. “Fuck. Well, I deserved that one, didn’t I? Stupid shit, got what was coming to me. Thinking I was so mighty with Ell and Aaron all the time.”

*all names changed

*gonorrhea, thank god for small favors

The night before I start school I am standing in my kitchen, shaking so hard my teeth begin to chatter while my partner calmly makes tea. It is just after midnight, and I’ve just had an anxiety attack fueled by concern over finding my social security card, which my landlord has asked for at a moment’s notice, with threat of eviction if I fail. It’s not due for another week or more, but I am consumed by my need to find it. I do find that hallowed document, clumsy vindication of my privilege, after tearing through every possible location, over and over again– anxiety has obfuscated the fact that it really is in the most obvious spot, the memory box, full of secret evidence of my own sentimentality. The card was signed by me as a child before I had learned to form letters reliably, hand guided by my mother, clumsy capital letters declare my legal name.

Even after I have found the unreliable object, it takes me a long time to soothe myself down. I’m fairly certain that I literally do not sleep a wink– I toss and turn all night, whereas my partner sleeps intermittently, whenever I am still enough to do so. Try as I might, I can’t seem to join his steady sleeping breaths, and so I do my best to at least imitate their approximate rhythm and the position of slumber, in hopes it will actually take. Alas, my fight or flight urge wages on, and I rise at 6:05 to greet the icy dark morning. The grass crunches as I pedal over and onto the street, ice glinting menacingly from the pavement. i take every curve with caution on the brief ride to the bus stop.

It has taken me nine years, more than the span of two bachelors’ degrees, four associates’, and a full PHD with post-doc work to get back to school, but I’m doing it, at least. My perspective has changed several times over, though I still bear the sense of a lack of deserving that I associate with surviving abuse and neglect. Rather than studying literature the way that I had hoped as a teenager, I have decided upon nursing as a practical career path. And to be honest, I am nearly as passionate about healthcare as I am words, so I expect to combine them to great effect. William Carlos Williams was, after all, a physician himself, although I only aim for nurse practitioner, and a damn good one: compassionate, practical, sensitive, kind, and culturally aware.

I am aware this is a compromise. in some sense, but I can not find in myself the dedication required to make my writing do what it must were I to survive solely by that means, or to navigate that most distasteful thing, academia (and how could I even access such a thing, anyways?), or make my writing smash walls the way that sharing healthcare skills can. I know other people who can, who will do these things, and it is some comfort that even if I force my writing into a corner of my evenings and breaks in the day, that is where it always lived best, anyways. My writing grows in crevices and cracks of my overflowing life, and it is good.

There are still doubts, of course, but I hope now that the last of my financial aid for the quarter has come through, I’ll at least be able to sleep through the night–when I’m not taken up with an inescapable urge to write.

-RD

11/13/2012

me: (lying on mattress naked, gazing into mirror)

him: what are you doing?

me: (pushing flesh back, squinting)

me: …trying to imagine myself without breasts.

him: (nods sympathetically)

trigger warning for: aftermath of sexual assault and childhood abuse.

9/2/12 journal entry (1st page of this journal, edited for clarity)

“Our father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name…”

He could be in heaven, but I doubt it. I think I’d have gotten a phone call, maybe a letter. I’d like to think there would be a letter. But that seems unlikely, too, come to think of it. What I want is the money. I want an apology, too, even more–but the money might better make up for the way his bullshi8t derailed my dreams. I mean, “interesting” things happened when I went off the college track, to be sure, but it’s just so hard to get back on.

[I pause in between typing and wonder if I was ever on that track to begin with, or if my mental “illness” would have stopped me then.]

After he got out of the navy, he let all of his hair grow, even his scraggly beard and a clumsy mustache. [my mother used to say: “looks like he’s gonna rob a 7-eleven.”] He was a mass of coffee-stained flannel, tangled dark hair, cigarette smoke residue. I can feel him in my bones sometimes, when I walk purposefully, heel-toe, heel-toe, over a hardwood floor in my boots.

Daddy is a powerful word. I started calling him Papi or Pops when I was a teenager–I was trying to take some of the power back. It only worked sometimes, and even then I was quaking inside when I had it, riding fight or flight and expecting the next thump to be my father’s hand on my shoulder, turning me around. [at night] Turning me over.

It didn’t have to happen in this world for it to happen. As it turns out, if your father leers at you and touches you just this side of inappropriate right around the same time you are raped several times over by one of the neighborhood predators, your brain will have a hard time distinguishing the difference. Especially when you’re dreaming.