Beloved Freaks

you're not alone

Run Baby Run

This is my plea to Leelah Alcorn on the side of the road. Run. Turn around and run. Run from what you were about to do. Run away from the life you know. Disappear across the continent. If you’re about to end this life anyway, then you have nothing left to lose. You’re 17. One more year and they can’t touch you anymore. Until then, run. Get the fuck out of there and do whatever you need to do to survive to 18. Do whatever you need to do to get relief. Do whatever you need to do to get what you need to be whole. WHATEVER YOU NEED TO DO. When you’ve got nothing left to lose, there are no rules! You’re free!

I’m not gonna try to tell you to “get help”, call a hotline, seek a counselor, etc. because I think you already know about that stuff and you have your reasons. I’m saying DO WHATEVER YOU NEED TO DO to stay alive. Shoplift. Steal cash and credit cards. Become a prostitute. Deal drugs. Hitchhike. Squat in an abandoned building. Squat in someone’s vacation home. Live on the beach. Find a place to crash on craigslist. If you need to numb the pain, do whatever you need to do to numb it. If cutting yourself numbs the pain, then cut. Try heroin, I hear it’s lovely. Drink. Be a functional alcoholic. Be a non-functional alcoholic!

Run. Just do whatever you need to stay alive long enough to make it to us.  You know we’re out here somewhere, beyond the bounds of your old life. And now those boundaries are meaningless. So just run! Don’t take that last step. Turn around and run. Please.

Leelah’s Law – Ending Transgender Conversion Therapy

Serious Roller Derby. SRSLY.

The other day, one of my leaguemates shared this article on Facebook:

Rollin’ News: Whats all this Roller Derby business?

(If you’re too lazy to read that, you can probably still catch on from the context below.) el GALLO makes some thoughtful points, but after a bit of consideration I was ready to get on my soapbox with an impassioned, dissenting point of view. My response was only shared in the comments of my leaguemate’s Facebook post, so here it is for y’all to enjoy:

I don’t like arguments like this. 1) The inference that derby isn’t taking itself seriously because it doesn’t conform to the standards of other sports, and 2) The assumption that derby will not be taken seriously by society at large until it conforms to said standards.

I’ll concede that matching full uniforms, including helmets, give the impression of a team being more cohesive. And it gives a clearer visual to the audience and officials. That, I agree, is a good thing.

As for pseudonyms, city nicknames, warpaint, etc: These attributes of our sport in no way hinder the audience’s understanding of what’s going on. And these attributes are part of the unique personality of derby. It may take derby longer to be taken as seriously as other sports, but I don’t believe it precludes derby from ever being taken seriously. Derby’s personality grew out of the community that makes it up. And that personality, in turn, is part of what attracts more people like, well, us!

When I hear the argument that derby needs to conform to the standards of other sports in order to be taken seriously, I hear echos of this:

“No one will take you seriously if you transition.”
“No one will take you seriously if you get tattoos.”
“No one will take you seriously if you don’t start acting more feminine.”
“No one will take you seriously if you play roller derby.”

Guess what. I didn’t take any of that advice, and people take me seriously anyway. That advice might have made the road shorter and smoother, but at the cost of sacrificing what makes me who I am. And in that case, it wouldn’t even be ME people were taking seriously – just a facade I put forth.

It’s derby’s unique personality that brought a lot of us into this sport. Yeah, many of us get a bit excited at first and go a little overboard on the fishnets and theatrics, but that inevitably gets dialed back as we settle in. But creative expression is very close to the heart of this community.

Derby could take the advice put forth in this article, but to do so one of two things would need to happen:

1) We all agree to give up the creative expression which makes up the unique personality of our sport.
-OR-
2) We all get replaced by people who don’t care about that aspect of derby.

Either way, we, the derby community, sacrifice what makes us who we are. Whether it be by putting forth a facade or literally being replaced by other people.

My feeling on the subject is basically “fuck that”. We are derby. We are quirky and different from other sports because we are quirky and different people. We’ll earn respect by continuing to be ourselves and continuing to thrive as such. The world will see that a sport can behave a little differently and still take itself seriously and be taken seriously.

We are REAL. We are ATHLETIC. And we are fucking REVOLUTIONARY.

*drops mic*

I realize I failed to address the topic of sexualization – sexualized pseudonyms and numbers, league logos that look like strippers, sexy pinup photoshoots of skaters in varying amounts of gear and clothing. Some examples of those things get under my skin, particularly when a sexualized concept (like a stripper-esque logo) is used to represent an entire league. That said, I’m not sure where to suggest drawing the line on individual expression, or even if I feel right making such a judgement. So I’ve left that topic as something to ponder.

On the other side of the coin, we have skaters who choose to express a more standard “professional sports” kind of image – those who use their real names, 1 or 2 digit numbers, and refrain from the wearing of purely cosmetic adornments like warpaint. Some of my heroes in the sport have chosen this path. I hope my soapbox rant didn’t make it sound as though I disapprove of putting forth such an image in derby. If that’s how an individual feels best represented, I say go for it. My beef is only with the idea that the whole of derby – the entire sport and community – needs to go this route in order to ever be taken seriously.

Getting Better All the Time

If you’re not a gamer, I’m about to take you into a world that’s probably completely foreign to you. I sincerely hope you’ll stay with me on this journey down the rabbit hole, because there’s a happy ending at the bottom.

The online gaming world is rife with homophobia. Whether you play Xbox, Playstation, or PC – if you play competitive games with other human beings over the internet, you will very likely hear and see the words “gay”, “homo”, and “faggot” slung about as insults. Yes, you will hear them in addition to just seeing them typed, because most online games today are played while connected to other players via an internet voice chat service. So often, “faggot” is reserved for the absolute worst offenses, such that when spoken, it is spouted with the most vicious, focused anger.

I am an avid gamer. I always have been, since I was 3 years old with a Commodore 64. In the late 90s, my video gaming shifted from consoles like Nintendo and Playstation to primarily PC games. And in 2000, I entered the world of massively-multiplayer online games (MMOs). Fortunately for me, I met some really excellent people in the games I played. Those people became my online gaming family. As years went by, we jumped from one game to another together. When voice chat became available over the internet, we actually HEARD each others’ voices for the first time, having already been thick as thieves for like 5 years! As time went on, we grew closer as friends and got to know each other outside of the games we played. We still play together to this day.

Thanks to that gaming family, I’ve been largely insulated from the homophobic chatter happening outside of our little crew. But I became aware that it was happening out there. I saw it in the public text chat channels. I heard it over voice comms whenever we joined another group of players for a combined adventure. Still, I had tremendous support from my gaming family, as well as all my friends and family outside of gaming. So while offended, I refused to be frightened into silence by such language.

The more aware I became of the extent of homophobic culture embedded in the gaming community, the more certain I became that I had a responsibility to wave my rainbow flag high while gaming online. Visibility and awareness are our greatest weapons against homophobic culture. Most of the gamers who use such slurs don’t actually have anything against gay folks. When confronted with an actual gay person, such transgressors will most often backpedal, apologize, and insist “I didn’t mean it THAT way.” They don’t realize how harmful words can be.

All of that said, I’m going to take you now into my current online gaming adventure.

At the moment, I’m playing a game called Eve Online. Eve takes place in outer space. Your time playing is mostly spent looking at the outside of your spaceship, as you warp from solar system to solar system around a galaxy called New Eden. Even though you rarely see your character (your avatar) walking around, you do get to design what she or he looks like, and you pose your character and take a headshot. That headshot appears next to your name in chat windows or when someone looks you up in the interstellar yellow pages.

My character’s name is Jexit. This is “me” in Eve Online:

1488988582_256

Viva la resemblance, no?

BRG-Headshots-2013-27-186x280

There are many many things you can do in Eve Online. It’s a make-your-own-destiny kind of game. As Jexit, I spend a lot of my time scanning the endless void of space for ruins of old starbases, or abandoned starship wrecks. My ship is specially equipped to salvage usable parts, as well as hack into any still-functioning computer systems to recover valuable data. Some of that stuff can fetch a nice price on the interstellar market. There are players who make their “living” in Eve manufacturing ships, starbase parts, weapons, asteroid mining lasers, repair drones, anything that appears in the game really! There are even players who make ISK (Interstellar Kredits) trading commodities and playing the market.

Now, if I want to get to the real good stuff before any other scavengers do, I need to venture out into the lawless parts of the galaxy. Out there, CONCORD (the interstellar police) can’t protect me, and other players make their way as pirates, preying on folks like me, hoping to catch me off-guard while I’m scanning and hacking. So I get myself into some nailbiting situations now and then.

BUT, not every minute of Eve is filled with excitement. A lot of it is just flying from station to station in the more metropolitan areas of the galaxy. During those times, you might set your course, turn on autopilot, and listen to some music. And you’ll probably chat with other players via text in one of the many chat channels in Eve. This is where you get into the real *community* of the game – the social aspect of life in New Eden.

One of the creative projects spawned from the community of Eve players is Eve Radio. Eve Radio is a streaming internet music station hosted by DJs who play Eve. It has no connection to the company that makes Eve; Eve Radio is purely a fan-run thing. Hundreds of players tune into Eve Radio while they play Eve, and many of those players also hang out in the Eve Radio text chat channel while in-game. In that chat channel, the DJs and listeners talk about music, what’s happening in the game, whatever’s on their minds.

Lately, I’ve been an active part of this Eve Radio social group. I tune into Eve Radio, and I type in the Eve Radio chat channel while I play. Sexual jokes abound, so there was ample opportunity to out myself quickly, which I did. I’m out-n-proud to everyone in Eve anyway; my character bio, which is visible to anyone who cares to look me up, is spangled in rainbow colors and clearly identifies me as a “gaymer”. So the Eve Radio crowd is well aware of my gayness, and it’s cool, whatever man, we just go on chatting about the music and the game and entertaining each other.

The other day, I log into Eve and tune into Eve Radio to find a bit of a talk show going on with a few (maybe 4?) of the regular DJs. We, the listeners, have gotten to know each of these guys individually, and it’s pretty fun listening to them banter and crack jokes at one another’s expense. They’re also watching the chat channel and responding on the air to listeners’ comments.

One of the DJs is a guy from Texas who goes by the handle BigCountry (BC for short). Another DJ is playfully taunting BigCountry, saying that BC should back up an earlier remark by taking action in-game, then insinuating that BC won’t in fact take action because he’s a “fag”. My rainbow flag rattles its pole in the turbulence of that statement. I want to say something, but I also want to make sure *when* I say something it’s effective and persuasive. I don’t perceive a strategic opportunity in that moment, so I remain silent for the time being. None of the other DJs call him out on it, which is disappointing.

I don’t have to wait long for the opening I want, however. Less than a minute later, the same guy calls BigCountry a “homo”. I’ve got a shot. I’m taking it.

(The following is paraphrased from memory)

EVE RADIO IN-GAME TEXT CHAT:

Jexit > Why are we accusing BC of being a homo like it’s a bad thing? BC would be an awesome homo if he were one.
PlayerX > BEAR!
PlayerY > Good point!
PlayerZ > He’d totally be a bear!

ON THE AIR:

“Listener Jexit in the in-game chat makes a good point here. She says, ‘Why are we accusing BC of being a homo like it’s a bad thing? BC would be an awesome homo..'”
“If I were one!”
“‘…if he were one.'”
“I totally would be!”
“BC would be a great homo!”
“Listeners are saying you’d be a bear, BC.”
“I’d be such a bear!”
“Total bear!”
“I couldn’t deep throat, though. I have a terrible gag reflex.”

Comments continue in a very silly, but distinctly positive vibe, both on the air and in the in-game text chat. BC is happy to joke about his hypothetical gay self. Somewhere in the background, a voice is heard saying, “Well that turned around on me quick.” The conversation is flipped completely from whatever they were talking about, which no one seems to remember at this point.

I can’t help but feel (from experience) that if I’d charged headlong into that first “fag” insult with righteous fury, I’d have been rebuffed and seen as overly sensitive. I’d have been right to do so, but right isn’t always the same as effective. I needed to find the convergence of the two. With a little finesse and humor, I was able to expose the positive and progressive vibes I’d sensed brewing under these gamers’ hardened exteriors, and the result was a joyous rejection of a homophobic slur by the vocal majority. At least for that moment in time. But memorable moments like that – a big conversational left turn full of laughter and armed with a valid point – they stick with you. And hundreds of Eve players shared that moment with us as they listened to that radio show. That gives me hope. I really do think it’s getting better.

Thicke as a Brick

Let’s talk Robin Thicke for a second. It’s come to my attention that a lot of people are confused. Conscientious feminists have pointed out that the song “Blurred Lines” promotes rape culture. Then other people have stepped up to defend the song, saying it’s not about rape.

Look people: “promotes rape culture” is not the same as “about rape”. Is the song specifically about rape? I don’t think it is, but this is beside the point anyway.

What the song *is* about is the line of consent. It’s about perceiving a woman’s sexual consent/refusal as a blurry, grey area. It’s about a woman saying one thing and meaning another. Does this happen in life? Sometimes it does. That certainly doesn’t mean it’s happening every time a woman shies away from a man’s advances.

Where the song becomes about rape culture is here: What’s Robin Thicke’s solution to being confronted with a girl who’s shying away from his advances? Keep pushing! He “hates those blurred lines”. He KNOWS (in his own mind) she wants it. He just needs to break through those dang blurred lines!

What occurred to me recently is this: The above paragraph might seem pretty harmless to a lot of people. Or at the very least, not scary, not overtly harmFUL. I’m guessing these are the people who have never had a man come at them with that thought process in mind. That “knowledge” that you want him to seduce you, even though your lips just said “That was fun dancing! I should really be getting back to my friends now!”

When a man like that says “Why? Come on, stay and dance with me.” And you say “No, really, I can’t.” And that moment his hand closes around your wrist so tightly it takes you by surprise, and he pulls you in close, holds you tight against him, and lightheartedly insists that you not go. Now his lips are saying one thing nicely, while his hands and arms are saying the same thing with significantly more force. And you realize 1) you may need to resort to force to escape what should have been a polite goodbye, or 2) you may not be able to resort to force, because you don’t think you’re strong enough to break free, so is shouting for help an option? Will the other people on the dancefloor take your plea seriously? Is a friend nearby that you can call to? Regardless, you’re the one who has to lash out in some way in order to escape, when all he’s been is kind to you. And you turned into a major bitch after leading him on like that. And no one else could tell how tight his fingers were around your wrist, or his arm around your waist. But what if no one else was around? Just you and him. When you get right down to it, judging chances of survival, you’ve got to factor in his reaction if you try to get away. Do you stand a chance of winning if it comes to violence? Is it worth the risk? How far can you push your attempts to break off the encounter before you ask: Is the safest course of action just to play along with his internal fantasy and give him what he wants? (i.e. accept rape without struggling so you live to see another day, even though reporting it to the police would be fruitless because it all appeared consensual)

All the while, he thought you wanted it like that, that you were “playing hard-to-get”. Would some girls like that? I don’t know. It’s possible I guess. But did I?

No. I was scared out of my wits. A dance for one song with a guy I just met, who seemed fun to dance with, suddenly turned into a fight-or-flight survival scenario when he decided on a whim to take physical control away from me. Did I want him to do that, even though my lips said otherwise? Um, are you on crack? Fortunately for me, I have a plan in place when I go out, and a wingman to play the part of my date if he needs to swoop in and pull me out of the fire. Had I been without a wingman, I may have had to injure the guy to get away. And even then I would count myself lucky. What happens to countless women every day who can’t see a viable escape route?

Why did that guy think he had the right to assume I wanted him? And to physically restrict my movement/ability to escape? Because these ideas are so pervasive. The idea that it’s okay for a guy to just take control of a woman because he “knows” what she really wants. It’s an idea that’s embedded deep in our popular culture. That embedded idea is the essence of rape culture. A song doesn’t have to be “about a rape” to promote rape culture. It just has to reinforce the ideas that 1) it’s okay for men to decide what women really want, and 2) it’s okay for a man to hijack a woman’s control over her own well-being.

I’m going to bed, dammit.

Why am I defending myself against lesbians?

Last Thursday, I went downtown to meet with an attorney to arrange the legal change of my name and sex designation. I arrived early. But her office is in the Gayborhood, just a few doors up from Giovanni’s Room, so I went there to browse while I waited. It was actually my first time in Giovanni’s. I’d never seen many of the LGBT periodicals on the shelves. I was delighted to discover Curve – “The Best Selling Lesbian Magazine”. I flipped through it and determined it was interesting enough to spend a few bucks on, so I bought an issue and have been working my way through it since.

My delight soured yesterday when I encountered this article in said issue: The Fight Over Michigan Womyn’s Music Fest

The Michigan Womyn’s Music Fest (MWMF) is an annual radical feminist event open only to women. As Brownworth explains:

MWMF is about women who are oppressed by men every minute of every day being free of that oppression for one week of their year or possibly their lives, and reveling in that and celebrating each other.

“That sounds great!” I think to myself. It might be fun to attend someday! But, as it turns out, there’s a serious caveat. MWMF is open only to what they call “Womyn-born Womyn” (i.e. no trans women allowed). There has long been a battle between the MWMF organizers/supporters and “Camp Trans” – a trans-rights activist group arguing against the trans-exclusionary policy.

Now, my gut reaction was to side with Camp Trans. But I did some thinking on this. If MWMF is based on the common experience of being recognized as female at birth and dealing with all that entails, then that’s fine. That doesn’t imply that trans women are any less women; it’s just a matter of a particular shared experience. I could live with that. My experience was different – confusing and painful in its own way, but different. If that’s what this is about, then I’m happy to respect that and stay out of it.

Brownworth appears to be in favor of a somewhat more open policy:

If I were running MWMF, this is what I would say: No penises. No male privilege. No oppression of women. Just fun, music, dancing, celebration. Solidarity.

That’s kinda heartwarming. Right on, sister! Right?

I don’t want to pick a fight with anyone. I honestly think the fight is unnecessary.

Me too! Let’s not fight.

So I have to ask this question of those transgender women who want to be at MWMF: If you identify as female, then why are you fighting with other women every August?

I’m not fighting, no worries. Solidarity!

Why can’t you come to MWMF like other women to revel in the 100 percent femaleness and celebrate with music and dancing and being playful without the presence of men?

Um, becaaauuuse, I don’t have the money or vacation time to go to MWMF this year?

If you haven’t fully transitioned and still have your penis, can’t you keep it hidden away for that week or wait to come to Michigan until after you have fully transitioned and that remnant of the body that is the wrong body is gone?

Is exhibitionism a common problem among trans women who’ve attended MWMF? ‘Cause frankly – and I can only speak for myself, of course – I’d prefer to keep it hidden away at all times, period, not just at MWMF. But again, that’s just me.

Can’t you respect the healing and celebration that Michigan offers women?

Wait, what? What’d I do?

But for me the debate over Michigan is: if you are a transitioned woman, why can’t you assimilate with other women for one week and allow your femaleness to predominate? It is the remnants of your male privilege that the women of Michigan are objecting to. As transwomen, can’t you stop fighting with other women long enough to feel what it is like for women at Michigan? Women at MWMF have been damaged and brutalized by male oppression and male privilege–street harassment, homophobia, incest, rape and just “simply” making two-thirds of what they make for the same job. Why isn’t it okay for them to be safe from men and just relax, celebrate, listen to women’s music and dance their hearts out for one week of their lives?

Now, hold on just a minute…

Brownworth spews forth a fountain of accusatory misinformation about trans women without directly “accusing”, as such. Rather, she phrases her questions in a way that implies this is the state of things and this is the nature of trans women. She’s not actively suggesting it; she’s reacting to what she frames as an already-understood truth. Which then allows her to take what looks like a compassionate stance by sympathizing with the struggles of trans women, as well as a defensive stance for having been labeled transphobic.

To those of us familiar with transgender people, the “facts” she’s questioning are obvious fallacies. This line of questioning is a load of indirect propagandist rhetoric. If she were saying this on an internet forum or in some independent, photocopied periodical, I could brush it off. There will always be willfully ignorant people like her trying to spread misinformation. A quick search on Google shows that this isn’t Brownworth’s first offense. What gets me is the fact that the editors of Curve allowed this to be published in their professionally produced lesbian culture magazine. They should know better. In fact, I find it hard to believe they don’t know better.

A quick check through the pages, and I see that Brownworth’s name appears as the author of some other articles in this same issue. What’s more, during the above mentioned Google search, another name came up on the transphobic radar – a musician known as Bitch. Hmm, didn’t I see something about Bitch mentioned on the cover of this issue? Oh, why yes I did! Her new project is prominently featured in a 2-page spread! Oh goody. (EDIT 9/27/13: Bitch may not be so bad. See her Open Letter: Dispelling the Rumor. There are thoughtful arguments in the comments section, but there’s solid reason to give Bitch the benefit of the doubt.)

Why are these people being given a platform in a prominent, general-lesbian-community magazine? Why can’t I go into an LGBT bookstore and flip through a magazine without having to defend myself against wanton misinformation?

After this episode, I can tell you I’ll be boycotting Curve magazine, unless the editors/publishers stop allowing it to be a soapbox for transphobes. And I don’t really feel like going to MWMF anymore either. Anyway, I don’t need it. I already have a fantastic women-only space. And in this space, I’m recognized as a woman first; being trans is just an experience this woman happens to have to deal with. We call this space women’s roller derby, and there’s plenty of it much closer to home than Michigan.

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