Sunday, 20 March 2011

Faithless Bodies

One of the things that really hurts about negative portrayals of trans people, particularly those that are made in the name of lowest common denominator 'humour' or just plain old mean-spiritedness, is that they're something we have to deal with on top of the problems the trans experience brings with it already. Two links I've seen recently have really brought this home to me again, in a way that moved me and made me think a lot about my relationship to my body.

The first was CN Lester's heartbreaking post about the relationship which s/he, as a trans singer, has with hir own body. As a classically trained singer, Lester finds hirself in a position where s/he feels s/he cannot take testosterone due to the effects it would have on hir vocal range. As a result, s/he finds hirself estranged from hir body, regarding it, well, as an 'it', an entity separate from hir self, an entity s/he has to work and negotiate with to achieve her ends. I've had this experience as well: the constant little ways in which my body won't do what I want it to; the moments when I think, no, that isn't me, that doesn't look like me, do I look like that? And the pain that brings.

The only way to stop that pain is to try and take measures to make your body align more with your sense of self. For example, recently, after deciding I'd finally had enough of the constant nightmare shaving was for me, I opted to start undergoing laser treatment to permanently remove my facial hair. And that has been great: I already have less of a five o'clock shadow after just one session. I would recommend it to anyone.

But when you're young, you have fewer tools available to you, and you can use less healthy methods to try and express the gender you feel. I was reminded of that by a line in another post about trans issues I read this weekend, on Questioning Transphobia:

The emphasis there is mine, and the reason is that that was my experience as a teenager. During my late teens, I became anorexic and bulimic (yes, I know you wouldn't think it to look at me now, thank you...) and that eating disorder was intimately related to my gender issues. I used to look at pictures of girls in 'lad-mags' and the third page of the Daily Star (I know, I know...) and note the way their hips jutted out at an angle...then I would feel my own hipbone, rubbing my hand on it and trying to decide if it was as visible as theirs. I used to watch Gladiators on a Saturday night and obsessively compare my weight to that of the female stars. I was overjoyed, once, to find that I weighed less than Panther and Lightning; though I never managed to get to the point where I was lighter than Jet or Nightshade. Probably just as well; getting down to their weight would've killed me.

What does all this have to do with stuff like transphobic comedians and conferences, you might ask? Well, it's simple enough: this pain is what we are already dealing with. We don't need anymore. Some of you may be aware of a meme doing the rounds on Tumblr about bullying, the essence of which is that people who get mocked for their supposed 'imperfections' are often struggling with things which their tormentors can't conceive of. As trans people we struggle with mental health issues, addictions, eating disorders, and all manner of troubles as a result of the dysphoria between the gender assigned to us by society and that which we feel ourselves to be. So having people drag up as caricatures of ourselves to get cheap laughs, or writing newspaper articles which call into question our bodily integrity - our right to bring our bodies closer to our selves - really does not help.

I want to end this post with two things. The first is Criminally Fragile, a poem I wrote last year which represented a real breakthrough for me, as the first time I'd been able to write something which worked about where my head was at during those mixed-up teenage years, and which is one of the poems I've written about of which I'm most proud; and, secondly, a song which got me through that dark period, and which I was reminded of today, reading CN Lester's link: 'Salva Mea', by Faithless.

How can I change the world, when I can't even change myself? I plan on doing both, to be honest. I do what I do in the hope that, in the future, some young trans kid like me won't have to worry about changing the world on top of everything else.

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