Authors: Imogen Binnie
Tags: #Lgbt, #Transgender, #tagged, #Fiction
Further, she was dating somebody when she came out as trans. They broke up and then she was dating somebody else, and then they’d been broken up for a week when she started hanging out with Steph. She’s never been a single woman, she’s only been a woman in the context of relationships. Those relationships have been acting as cushions, as safety nets, enabling her not to have to figure out who she is, what she needs from her life. Anything.
And it’s not like Steph’s even stoked about this relationship any more. They still fuck, which is cool, but otherwise what do they do? They throw money they don’t have at brunches so they can feel coupley; they sleep in the same bed most nights. This is literally every bullet point Maria can think of to write in her journal.
It’s scary and sad and a huge relief.
Suddenly she doesn’t feel all coffee exultant. She feels kind of tired and sees clearly that, like, hey stupid, you woke up at five
, you are going to be exhausted all day. The graphic designers are gone. She doesn’t want to be at Kellogg’s any more. There’s still an hour and a half untill she has to be at work.
There’s a coffee shop near the bookstore. It’s not a Starbucks, although who even would care if it was. Caring about Starbucks monopolizing coffee culture is for people who don’t have more pressing problems.
Well. It is kind of depressing to try and kill an hour or two at a Starbucks. It’s hard, all trying not to hear people yelling into cellphones, getting depressed whenever anybody pays six dollars for a drink.
Maria packs up, pays the bill, and rides across the bridge into Manhattan.
Once the sun is risen, the early morning sky feels more like skin crawling than day breaking and she’s excited to lock up her bike and go to the little independent coffee shop near the bookstore. It’s not even a little coffee shop though, it’s huge and full of Internet terminals and magazine racks and, like, produce. Produce! Who knows how the thaumaturgy of commercial space rental in Manhattan works, but it seems unlikely that coffee and computer terminal rental and produce could possibly cover the rent on this cavernous coffee shop.
When you’re kind of feeling like you don’t know anything about anything, though, who cares. Whatever. How Zen. This is what enlightenment is like: it’s boring.
She decides to drink coffee and blog. Why not blow ten dollars on an hour of Internet access that you could be at home sponging from a neighbor for free right now. Figuring out your life is more important than rent money.
She buys a small coffee and gives the girl her driver’s license to get a computer. It’s weird but nobody has ever once given Maria shit for the gender on her license, not in the five years or whatever that she’s been presenting F but still an M in the eyes of the law. It’s expensive to get your documents changed, plus you have to go to city hall and be like, I am trans, please put that on a record somewhere, which gets harder and harder with every minute that people aren’t reading you as trans.
She’s assigned computer #27. The screen faces some tables, but eavesdropping on what somebody’s writing on the Internet is only interesting for a second, especially if there are large blocks of text that you would have to read. Nobody likes to read anything, even if it’s somebody writing like Oh, oh oh, when I look at myself naked in the mirror I see tits and a dick it makes me ever so sad. Which is funny. You’d think strangers would be interested in that kind of thing.
Maria, of course, would never use the word dick to write about her body. It’s way less traumatic to not use any words. Or a gender-neutral term like junk.
No big deal but Maria is kind of popular and famous on the Internet, but so is everybody, so it’s not very interesting. She’s been blogging since she was a tiny little baby, like eighteen or nineteen years old, when being online was just starting to be demystified into something Rupert Murdoch could make money from. She figured out that she was trans by blogging. Awkward.
The Internet at that time was this big, exciting place where you could anonymously spill your guts about gender and discomfort and heteronormativity and how weird male privilege felt and lots of other things, except back then she didn’t really have language for it so she just went like: everything sucks and I am totally sad. Just over and over and over and over, with minor variations and the occasional cuss word. It couldn’t have been very compelling to read, but writing about it at length made her pay attention to patterns and stuff and introduced her to the first real-life trans people she met, even if they were on the Internet and didn’t know what they looked like. She’d stay up all night, night after night, gushing her feelings all over the Internet until she figured out she was trans, transitioned, and wound up having the exact same problems as every other messed up, emotionally shut-off person in New York. She doesn’t post there as much as she used to but she still has that blog. People read it. Kids who are figuring out that they’re trans look up to her. It’s kind of nice although since there are so few decent resources for trans women that aren’t for rich trans women or boring trans women, sometimes being the big sister is exhausting.
Her computer is booted up and she is logging in when a man in a navy blue pea coat sits down at the computer next to her. He is stubbly.
Hello, he says.
Oh god dammit, she thinks.
Straight men are so weird. So weird. Like, she can already tell that he wants to be her boyfriend. He is sitting next to her and smiling like he knows something, or like he is intentionally trying to look unintimidating. Great.
Hi, she says.
You are doing what this morning, he asks with a Russian accent or something.
I’m going to read my email, she says, wishing she had the nerve to say: Go away, I don’t want to talk to you. But that feels like it would draw attention to herself in a weird way for being too forward, and if she draws undue attention to herself this dude might figure out she is trans and then there would be a scene, except probably a small one because people whose first language isn’t English tend to have their own self-consciousnesses to worry about and also not to want to draw complicated attention to themselves, too. Given the fact that nobody ever reads Maria as trans any more, she thinks: what would Courtney Love do here? How does Courtney Love turn away the attention of strange men she doesn’t like.
Then: no, even better, what would Steph do?
This is what Steph would do.
I’m posting an ad on Craigslist for people to date who also have chlamydia, Maria says.
You are funny, he says.
Yeah, she says, turning away from him and back to the computer. It works, he doesn’t keep trying to talk to her. Good thing, too, because it’s too early and she’s too tired to deal with this dude who thinks chlamydia infection disclosure is flirting.
She feels bad for a second though. She’s never had it, but it probably sucks to have chlamydia. What if she were some girl in the coffee shop who had chlamydia and overheard that? Maria makes a mental note not to joke about chlamydia and never to turn away heteronormative advances with sexual-health-normative maneuvers. Seriously.
She reads blogs and writes in her own. She tells the Internet about her early night, her early morning, the haircuts in the diner, figuring out her life. She used to write in this thing, like, every day, but she’s lucky if she can update it once a week any more. Although it’s probably luckier not to stare at a computer all the time.
Oh man. Can we talk about stereotypes and staring at the computer? Okay. I imagine that you’re familiar with the stereotypes around transsexual women: that we’re all sex workers, that we’re all hairy, potbellied old men, that we’re all deep-voiced nightlife phoenixes, that we’re all drag queens, that we’re all repressed, that we’re all horny shemales with twelve-inch cocks. Sometimes the stereotypes are contradictory. Those ones are weird. Can we talk about what the actual stereotypes around transsexual women should be. The ones that hit a little too close to home to be funny.
1. We are not sex fiends, we are Internet fiends. This one is easy to understand. When you come out as trans, it’s hard to tell your wife, or your het bros, or your dad or your, I don’t know, bookstore coworkers. For whatever reason, though, it’s pretty easy to tell some people from Alaska or California or, y’know, England. In this weird way, Internet message boards, livejournal, all these things feel like they’re a safe way to talk about being trans—to exist without this problematic body you’re stuck with, when you’re offline in meatspace, like they used to say in the eighties, in William Gibson novels. Which rules.
But so there is this whole Internet community, which makes sense. It’s maybe the best thing about the Internet, how you can access information you need, safely and anonymously, except that just like any other community, especially any other Internet community, it’s become this closed-off thing, with stuff it’s okay to talk about and stuff it’s not okay to talk about, perspectives you’re allowed to have and ones you’re not, and its own patron saint.
Her name is Julia Serano and like most figureheads, she’s very smart and sweet and right-on and almost entirely unproblematic, but her acolytes totally get obnoxious, taking her writings as doctrine.
Not to mention, if you are a total baby panda at Internet communities asking, like, How do I get hormones, Internet trans women are very nice: they will tell you. But when you ask a more complicated question, like say, how do you resolve a genderqueer identity with a female identity when it seems like acknowledging the restraints of female identity and then bursting them doesn’t make you no longer female, just empowered, and therefore is genderqueer a privileged identity that’s mostly available to female-assigned people with punk rock haircuts, in college, everybody gets all butt-hurt and you get in trouble.
Anyway, whatever. Stereotype: in love with the Internet.
2. There is a stereotype that trans women get all this male privilege all their lives, and then they transition and take up too much space and are overly assertive and, y’know, stuff like that. And it’s true: sometimes folks transition and are jerks; the flip side is, there are a lot of cis women who are jerks, too, and those trans women just join the general population of women who are jerks.
What’s a lot more common, a million times more common, and what nobody ever seems to talk about, is this thing where trans women are given male privilege all their lives before transition, but they don’t know what to do with it so it kind of stunts them socially.
Like, okay. Do you know any straight, male-assigned men who kind of get it? Like, they try to be feminist, but they acknowledge that it is a complicated, maybe impossible thing for a man to be a feminist, so they’re respectful of women, and give space, stand back, whatever. And it would be totally great except that it leads to them never doing anything? Like they just stand back, and, say there are some books that need to be shelved, the windows are all dirty, there are boxes that need to go outside, and some kid threw up somewhere. You will start, say, carrying the boxes outside, and then when that’s done, you start mopping up the puke, and he is just standing there, so you’re like, What the fuck! Are you going to move these books or clean a window? And they’re like, Oh, okay, totally, in this very enlightened way that gives you space to fucking do everything, except they need you to show them how to clean a window, because they don’t want to do it wrong?
That kind of guy. I will admit: it’s more complicated than that, right, I shouldn’t be mean. Straight dudes have it kind of rough if they don’t want to shake out their male privilege all over the place. But really? You don’t know how to make a bed? You don’t know how to fucking cook the onions and garlic before you throw in all the other vegetables?
Anyway, whatever. I have boys who are friends. I used to be one of those boys! This quiet dude just standing there trying to be helpful but really just pointlessly taking up space.
Anyway, that is what happens when you try not to use your male privilege, but don’t have any models for alternatives. You withdraw. Here is the stereotype I am trying to get to: trans women try to shirk their male privilege before transitioning, disappear into themselves, and then can never really get back out to become assertive, present, feminist women.
And this is why everybody thinks we’re weird.
Which is a loaded statement, right? Totally unfair and fucked up and that’s why it’s a stereotype I’m making up, but there’s a grain of truth there. I don’t think I’ve ever met a trans woman in the process of transition who was comfortable taking up, like, any goddam space at all, you know? You have to actively look at the women around you, if you’re lucky enough to be close to any women, to figure out that women take up tons of space, however much they want, all the time—they just tend to do it differently than men.
Although not always, and I am definitely not going to pick apart the ways they’re different. And there are men who take up space in a way that reads as female gender-normative, and there are women who take up space in ways that read as male gender-normative. Duh, whatever. All I’m trying to tell you is why it’s fucked that there is a stereotype of trans women being all manly.
3. When we are rejected from the Johns Hopkins transgender program and not allowed bottom surgery, we all dig a well inside our filthy suburban houses, pierce our nipples, put cissexual women in the well for weeks at a time, and then skin them.
Actually, this one’s true. We also all have eighties tattoos and poofy little dogs. The trans community officially put out a fatwa on Thomas Harris when The Silence of the Lambs came out, because we’d been able to keep that little tendency under wraps until he told everybody. Not to appropriate cultures.
4. Maybe there is another one. I don’t know. We are all good at computers, we are all frustratingly shy, we’re all murderers. I’ll let you know if I think of any more.
She’s got to be at work in a couple minutes so she checks her email one last time, gets her
back and goes to the bookstore. She’s going to be on time.