Book Review: Redefining Realness by Janet Mock

I just finished Redefining Realness by Janet Mock, a book my roommate Cha bought for me to thank me for being so flexible and helping her out. I figured it would be nice to read about someone else’s transition but it was much more than that. I found myself deeply relating to what Janet went through at times and crying because I knew I felt the same way she did. She talked a lot about self acceptance and vividly takes you through her journey to find it from childhood to coming out after “passing.”

redefining-realness-9781476709130_hr

Reading about her transition was so often a glimpse at someone else who is going through the same thing as me. She talked about her lack of self worth and how she sought it from other, something I still feel today. When she came out to her friend in NYC her friend responded, “You act as if you murdered someone!” I couldn’t help but cry knowing I would’ve said it the same way she did.

She left me with so many quotables that I relate to and hold dear to remind me of who I am, where I’m going and how amazing I truly am.

“Sometimes people try to destroy you, precisely because they recognize your power – not because they don’t see it, but because they see it and they don’t want it to exist.
-bell hooks

“Mary! Life is uncomfortable. You have to get used to it or you’re going to live your life trying to make people comfortable. I don’t care what people say ab and she humbles herself by reminding us about the number of other trans folks who felt suicidal and were kicked on the streets by her parentsout me because they don’t have to live as me. You gotta own who you are and keep it moving.”
-Her best friend Wendi (who is also trans)

She also talks about a topic many wouldn’t say it but I would argue is very contentious, “passing.” She is envied by her looks and ability to “pass” but talks about the complications of this idea. In her own words she says, “If a trans woman who knows herself and operates in the world as a woman is seen, perceived, treated and viewed as a woman, isn’t she being herself? She isn’t passing she is merely being.” Instead realness needs to be redefined as the book’s title asserts. One of the best ways of doing this is the same way the gay rights movement achieved it, by coming out. This makes the world an easier place for all of us to live, LGBT or otherwise. To free people of the restrictive gender binary we all have to live under. We need to use or visibility to show our power, or to requote a quote from Janet’s book:

That visibility which makes us most vulnerable is that which also is the source of our greatest strength.
-Audrey Lorde

Finally Janet tells us about something I didn’t expect to read about, her struggle beyond her gender. Her struggle through molestation, sex work and homelessness. She opened my eyes up even more to the horrible reality that exists throughout this “developed” country. She struggled with homelessness and constant moving for most of her childhood. Being swapped from one parent to the other and moving in with one family member to another. Her mom and dad both clung to their ever-changing partners and often left their children ignored.

Janet learned to go it alone and became a strong-willed little kid that pushed forward to her true self despite never ending barriers. She was defiant and strong, managing to save enough money by herself to fly to Thailand and pay for GCR (Genital Confirmation Surgery). When she did her sex work she had the constant reminder of who she was in her sex work bag. On the bottom of the bag filled with condoms, lube, baby wipes, hand sanitizer and lip gloss was a piece of paper with a quote from Maya Angelou on it saying,” I didn’t come to stay.” And she certainly didn’t.

I personally felt privileged to read her story and amazed at her c and she humbles herself by reminding us about the number of other trans folks who felt suicidal and were kicked on the streets by her parentsourage to tell it fully. She did an excellent job throughout and even humbled herself by pock marking the book with statistics and facts to remind everyone that not one transition story is alike. This book is an excellent read and I would highly suggest it to anyone wanting to hear more about the trans experience as well as the experience of marginalized, minority populations struggling to live their true life.

Man or Woman?

This is the questions strangers ask themselves when they see me. Sometimes I see the struggle in their face as they stare me down. They just don’t know and they can’t be too sure. But they do know they have to pick one. Sometimes they switch once I talk, or once I get closer. Other times they are used to saying gender neutral terms and can hide their confusion by calling me “honey” or avoiding pronouns until they slip.

I stand in their presence and think little about how they gender me. I’m there for another reason, whether it be to talk to them about the home care work they do or to buy groceries. I am living in my own world and I know where I am. They understandably don’t, my voice is still deep and my beard is probably already showing. Maybe it’s my shoulders or my hands, but I can’t say I really care.

Don’t get me wrong I like being ma’am-ed it feels nice and validating. It tells me I’m getting closer to who I am. But I also know that I’ve been on hormones for 3 months and I haven’t had nearly enough voice training or electrolysis appointments.

I’m just trying to view the ma’am-ing and sir-ing differently. To view it as people struggling with being respectful. People are trying with all their might to correctly gender me, they just haven’t figured out that gender and sex are two different things. Not to mention the separation of gender identity and gender presentation. They aren’t being disrespectful, that is exactly what they are trying not to do, misgender me.

So I watch the ensuing chaos that I create. Especially as me and my trans friend/roommate who is going the opposite way, Jamie, and I go for a bike ride. A guy with thick glasses stops us by saying, “hey ladies!”
We turn around.
He then corrects himself by saying, “I mean lady and man.”
Jamie responds, “don’t worry about it,” in a voice that is getting deeper by the second.
He corrects himself again, “No wait I was right the first time.”
We try our best to hold off laughter until we are far enough away.

A lot of trans people seem to want others to acknowledge their identity (possibly even before they acknowledge it themselves – I know because I felt this way just recently). But what is more important is to be sure of yourself and sure of who you are. The same way that cis-people will say, “I’m not offended when someone misgenders me.” While that isn’t the same, it isn’t a blow to them because this isn’t offensive and it doesn’t challenge their identity because they know who they are.

I had to begin to empower myself, there is nothing wrong with being trans there is nothing wrong with being recognized as being trans, because being trans is beautiful.
Laverne Cox on being misgendered

I know who I am in a world that has no idea what to call me, a world that just found out I exist. That’s fine with me, as I said, I know who I am – that is way more important to me than what anyone calls me.

Long Time Coming

About 2 weeks ago I started what I thought was a temporary job that would last a few weeks at most and give me some extra money before I figured out what I wanted to do. 12 days later I’ve worked 10 days in a row and am about to have an interview for a upcoming campaign they are working on. The labor movement is finally calling me back and I can no longer resist it.

The story starts about 4 years ago. I had just finished college and had graduated with a degree in anthro… United Students Against Sweatshops. I spent my 4 years organized around sweatshop issues and considered that my real degree, since I put more time into organizing than I did my studies. I saw 3 of my friends find jobs in the labor movement and struggle with long hours and being displaced from their partners. Two of the people were in long term relationships when starting their jobs, both of which had ended before I graduated.

I was in a relationship at the time and I was burnt out. Both of these decisions led me to want to do something close to home. Eventually I settled on community organizing before fully burning out and going back to my summer job of working on bikes. Fast forward 3.5 years and I am doing EMDR treatments with my therapist and finally feel the past shedding off of me. I finally feel like me, and suddenly the opportunity I’ve been looking for pops up.

My friend Red Beard (who hasn’t had a beard for years) tells me about a temporary job door knocking for the union he works for. They have to beat out the right wingers and organize home care workers before they send out their nasty propaganda. I happily agree, especially since it’s temporary and my friend Curls, the loud mouthed artist, is doing it too.

I ended up working 10 days in a row, signing up home care workers for the union election that’s coming up. At first I want to quit but decide to see it through. I went from working 10 hours a week to over 10 hours a day and am having a hard time living. But then I find my place and realize how good at this job I am. Myself and Curls rock as this and are asked to submit our resumes.

I feel them pulling me in. Three of my friends currently work for this union and I feel myself being pulled in. But then I realize it’s not by them I’m pulling myself in. I’ve been wanting to do this for years but have told myself why I can’t do it. Now that I’m doing it I am loving every moment of it but reminding myself of the hours and fear of being sent away from home for months to live in a hotel. Every other weekend off isn’t enough, I think. But then again working a job I enjoy, where I am allowed to be autonomous and one that I’m good at is hard to resist.

My interview is this afternoon I can’t wait to see how it turns out. I won’t say no to a job offer, I would love this opportunity. I’m afraid of what my happen after I say yes, but I remind myself that this isn’t the rest of my life it’s just right now and it’s just what I was looking for.

Itchin’ on a Photograph – Mixed CD

This is mixed CD #2 I’m posting here. I felt an itch to make another one and figured I’d share it again. I’ve noticed the themes aren’t trans related (compared to my last mixed CD) but are just related to my life. It’s reassuring that I’m more cemented in my identity to focus on other issues in my life.

1. Keep on Knocking by Death

Death gets two songs on this CD. I watched the movie about them after hearing a few songs. I very much like the style and can’t help by play the air guitar to this song. Good way to start off a CD.

2. Itchin’ On A Photograph – GROUPLOVE

I just found the band GROUPLOVE in the past year and didn’t originally appreciate this song but now that I hear what they are saying it has even earned it the title of the CD. The theme of this song is a theme I’m embracing in my life right now, as I grab the past and remember who I was and try to let it go.

“I’m giving up on looking back
I’m letting go of what I had.”

“I’m letting go of all that I had
I’m living now and living loud.”

3.From Now On – Delta Spirits

This band is near and dear to me. A friend in Philly bought me a ticket to this band, the first concert I ever went to. I felt torn after realizing they seemed to be Christian Hipsters w/ their support of Invisible Children (and they even claimed to support them from the beginning at the concert I went to) and some of their lyrics. But I can’t stop liking them and I no longer have any desire to. They rock and from now on I’m gonna love them for who they are and try and extend that to everyone else.

4. Pulsewidth – Aphex Twin

Aphex Twin is my staple ambient and electronic band. Chill beats to just help you let it all float away. This helped me calm down and just ride many times.

5. Clark Gable – The Postal Service

The Postal Service also gets two songs. A week before making the CD they caught my ear and I couldn’t pick which one. This song caught my ear because of it captivating and descriptive story.

6. The Perfect Life – Moby

I can’t help but listen to this song, close my eyes and imagine the perfect life. Then I open my eyes and smile as I ride my bike along, listening to this song with a big smile on my face. I needn’t imagine the perfect life, I just have to take it in.

7. Shadow People – Dr. Dog

Dr. Dog’s falsetto crackled voice is just what I needed the past few months. That and his somber singing about being hopeful and hopeless. “Hoping these cigarettes will save us… as I cross the path of a friend of mine, I know what that look on her face was – something was gone from her eyes”.

8. Tous les memes – Stromae

The video with this song explains a lot, and don’t forget to push the CC button on the bottom of the video for translation. My friend Big S sent this to me, last time I’ve heard from her for a couple months. The video does a great job of showing both male and female perspectives of relationships as he switches which side of his face you see and the lighting changes from green to pink.

“All the same, all the same, all the same, and we’re fed up”

In my understanding of the video he is complaining and singing from both sides meaning we’re all all the same and we’re all fed up (not just men or women – as though there is a difference)

9. Uptight Downtown – La Roux

Not sure what to say about this one but she and this song has been in and out of my life for a while, this time she made it onto a CD.

10. Shake It Off – Taylor Swift

I love dancing to this song. It is sooooo good. She has such a good message. I could care less what people say about Taylor Swift, I have found so much glee in listening to her songs and often relating to them. Whoever writes them does a great job and I love listening to Taylor sing them. The playlist has something other than the music video for this song, is has Sean Stephenson dancing – I couldn’t resist plugging his awesomeness again.

“Hey, hey, hey, just think while you’ve been getting down and out about the liars and the dirty dirty cheats of the world you could’ve been getting down to this sick beat.”

11. Politicians in My Eyes – Death

This song so eloquently speaks of Politicians and what they do. My crazy politics seem to be getting uncovered yet again, beware :D.

“Reaching out, shaking hands
Making friends and other plans
Some will rise, some will fall
Some won’t even answer calls
Look a here, see them fight
See the twinkle in their eye
Politicians tell me why
Can’t you hear the people cry”

12. Second Hand News – Fleetwood Mac

I love this band, love this album and I felt this song. Also on an interesting note I just heard radiolab compare Fleetwood Mac to WWE Wrestling. We love watching/listening because we know there is truth in the stories we just aren’t sure what is truth and what is fiction.

I know there’s nothing to say…

I know I got nothin’ on you
I know there’s nothing to do…

When times go bad
when times go rough
Won’t you lay me down in tall grass
And let me do my stuff
I’m just second hand news

13. Take Me To Church – Hoozier

Not as good as Sinead O’Connor’s song with the same name but this also caught my ear. And the video caught my eye as it talks about gay rights in Russia.

14. The District Sleeps Alone Tonight – The Postal Service

They just tell such interesting stories, I can easily relate to the feelings the singer is singing about.

15. The Man Who Sold the World – David Bowie

This song simply caught my ear. And I love the album cover, man dresses.

Responsibility

What is your responsibility as a person? I have always felt that I was responsible for my actions and how the affected people. In time I extended this and became responsible for partners’ emotions, other’s feelings and much more. Through talking to others, reading and witnessing different events I’ve begun to realize the most important thing to be responsible for is your own well being. Without that you will struggle taking responsibility for anything else and will have a hard time caring for yourself.

This realization was cemented this weekend when my friend and roommate, Mouse, was having a very difficult time. We went to a state park to celebrate Mouse’s birthday and on the second day he found himself haunted by traumas, depression and suicidal desires. His partner Q was there and became agitated when they found out he had isolated himself when what he really needed and wanted was companionship. I tried my best effort to talk it through with him and to help him let go of the black dog’s grip. But it was to no avail, he was stuck.

I left our conversation and felt weighed down and wanting to cry, just as he was. Q felt responsible for Mouse and Mouse felt like he deserved Q’s help. I decided to let go of any obligation and sadness I felt. I put it back in the room with Mouse. I decided to be responsible for myself. I looked at Q and Mouse’s relationship and saw a codependent relationship that I had been in time and time again.

Being responsible for your own feelings is extremely important. People, even partners, cannot read your mind. They can hear your words though, especially when you say your emotions and ask for things. I’ve been taking the hard steps recently to express these to friends and have had great responses. Most people do not intend to harm others and apologize when they do. The worse response I’ve received is being told that I’m overly sensitive. To which my response was, “that’s how you made me feel.”

I spend hours out of days figuring out what to say in certain situations. How to engineer it to make it go the best as though it is a chess game that you have to plan 10 moves ahead. My most relieving responses thus far have been what I felt at the time. Not chess moves, feelings and what I feel in the present moment.

This is why I’m writing to suggest being open and honest with yourself and others and being responsible for yourself and your well being. The two go hand in hand and asking for what you need is an essential step in being able to help others with what they need. We need a world of strong, emotionally independent people if we expect to build the wonderful world we dream about.

Employ-ability

After 7 months of unemployment (vacation) I have decided to return to the job world. Excited to be truly ready to be who I am and work a job that I find much more satisfying. I also am assure enough of who I am and am prepared to deal with misgendering and transphobic people. I started applying in the social services field specifically mental challenged adults. I’m still waiting to hear back from a few but hope to be employed soon.

Applying as a transperson confused me at first. I wasn’t sure how or who to apply as. At first I applied as my legal name, then I had second thoughts. I talked to a translady who suggested doing the same thing that I was thinking of: apply with your legal name and once you get hired tell them your taken name. Something about that left a bad taste in my mouth. I decided to be upfront and apply as me, the person I am all the time, a person transitioning to be the woman she is.

While it’s impossible for me to say how this has affected my employ-ability, I would say it hasn’t much. I’ve been upfront and brought up my transition to every employer applying with my legal and taken name in quotes. To my surprise I had responses that were so nice and truly respectful. One person even said it was nice to meet me a second time this time saying my taken name instead of my legal name. The best part for me has been feeling very comfortable and alright with myself.

I am amazed at how okay people are with me. Too much reading made me feel like I was a freak I’m happy to say actually going out in the world makes me feel like myself. I also can’t help but be reminded what my roommate always says, people are a reflection of yourself. I am frank with myself and other about who I am and am shameless of that fact. I’m a woman but my body is still catching up (as is my mind too!). Once can expect as much after 25 years of living as a man. I understand confusion by people, I understand slip ups and misgendering. I wouldn’t say I’m entirely a man or a woman right now. Simply put, I’m transitioning.

To my amazement and despite dress wearing, bra wearing and extra femme bangs, I have hardly had any bad encounters. I don’t use beard cover, have yet to put much effort into changing my voice pitch and am clearly not a “woman” under a not-so-close inspection. Yet I have only been harassed, unsuccessfully, once. Which was by a creepy old guy trying to hit on me. After being frank with him about transitioning and correcting him that my parents were in fact proud of me for being who I am, he became frustrated. He seemed to be questioning his sexuality because of me and unsuccessfully put this awkwardness on me as he walked away muttering, “you’ll always be a man.” To which I responded plainly, “I tried that, didn’t work out.”

The power of positive thinking is amazing. It makes you feel great and that feeling is quite contagious. I am waiting back on hearing back from a few jobs this coming week. If not I’ve got myself another round of applications to put in. Hopefully employment will start soon and health insurance after that. I’m ready job world, so employment world get ready for this little lady!

Moving Towards My True Self

While hormones, electrolysis and legally changing my name are inching me towards my true self that alone will not get me there. Yes I will be a woman, but I won’t be who I truly am. To go on that path I need to recognize great things about myself and I have resumed working to achieve this. I don’t pity myself but love the opportunity I have been given and feel great great power in it. I have also taken up meditation and mindfulness to help me better deal and live in the world as it really is.

I have been on this quest before, becoming a woman has only allowed me to begin it once again. On it thus far I have utilized many great resources to continue propelling me. The first one is the Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz. This book is a great place to start and I have personally read it front to back at least five times. It helps you better understand the world we live in and give you strategies to start with. This alone will drastically alter your life for the better if you let it, and in addition with other things you will be much more happy, present and yourself.

Next I took up Transcendental Meditation. This is a sitting practice where you focus on your breath, quiet your mind and try to let go of your thoughts. You you may think meditation is crazy but it has been consistently proven to be helpful for many things. In one inner city school they even used it. They started doing two 15 minute sessions of meditation. Four years later the school moved “from the bottom of California’s academic ladder to the upper middle rungs.” With a 75% decrease in suspensions and a .4 increase in GPA, not to mention a large affect on students lives.

I’ve been meditating for about two and a half months and have felt great results. It has helped me better see what is going on in the world and what I am doing in it. Bodhi Kjolhede likened meditation as helping you use the mind better as a flashlight so you can better direct your attention(flashlight) to see the reality of the world around you.

To better utilize meditation I have also worked on being more present or mindful in my daily experiences. I want to better utilize my flashlight to see the world as how it is and enjoy every moment of right now, because what do what have other than this minute right now? The book, 25 Lessons in Mindfulness by Dr. Rezvan Ameli, has helped me in these goals. This book walks you through a 25 week course on being more present. Being mindful is letting go of your thoughts and trying to be present in the moment.I am constantly realizing how up in the clouds I normally am and have been struggling and succeeding in getting myself out of them. Instead I have begun to enjoy my life as it happens, the pain and the joy.

My best moment with mindfulness was when I was drenched and walking my bike up a never ending hill. I had just backpacked for 3 days and was trying to get my car to go home. I was tired, hungry and over it. But I tried to stay present in my suffering and realized it wasn’t unenjoyable at all. In fact it was amazing. I got home and was truly present for the next 24 hours and have quested to get that feeling back ever since.

The final book I have found extremely helpful is Start Where You Are by Pema Chodren. She talks in an easily understandood way and helps you utilize painful moments in your life to grow enormous amounts. I have greatly appreciated her book and all the slogans that she has shared in it.

I now will leave you with a moving TEDx talk by Sean Stephenson on pity and power.