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This has been a rough semester for me. I’m really glad to say it’s almost over, and it hasn’t been a total wash. I really did need grad school to kick my ass a little bit and remind me to be humble, justify myself better, and keep being a curmudgeon. I’m working out some really interesting stuff for myself with regards to the role of play in civic engagement and bureaucracy, the role of fun in governance, and the importance of gamic attitudes in grappling with major social issues. I’m paving this path with good reading, some experiments, and the simple act of standing up for what I believe is right.

I’ve started having thoughts about what it means to “document” an event, though. I got my ass kicked in first year review for presenting work that was in process (apparently a faux pas, but I didn’t know that at the time), and not having documentation for the work that I have been doing. I feel a bit like a cranky awkward camera user, but I don’t feel like it’s my job to document the things that I make happen. I generally leave a pretty good paper trail in most instances, but there is something about my own bias as the maker that makes it seem to me like I shouldn’t be doing my own image production or video production to show what happened.

On the other hand it seems a little exploitative for me to say, “document what happens yourself.” Kyle pointed out that I can always ask friends to lurk around with cameras (which sometimes happens of its own accord), because they’ll probably find the things that other people would find interesting to record. At least there is always the possibility of them creating footage I couldn’t, and I can take some editorial freedom with what gets included in, say, a video documentation of a performance/play action.

I still don’t know. There is something about creating documentation for something that is designed to be experiential that is very unappealing to me. If you weren’t there, maybe you should have been. Maybe what I should do is get one of the documentary filmmaker grads to follow me around with a camera. (But of course that seems more than a little conceited.) Of course I’m going to have to suck it up and document things, because at some point I need to show that I’ve been doing work and so deserve the eventual degree that comes from that. Nevertheless, the whole idea of it kind of leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Shouldn’t I just be doing what I want to be doing, for the sake of doing it or because it’s the right thing to do?

(Maybe I’m just bitter.)

One of the weirdest things about having moved somewhere completely brand-new at this point in my life is that I am nearly universally read as male. It’s funny because everywhere I went before I’d be unintentionally outed — whether because I already knew people there (I knew about 5 people in Buffalo when I moved here), I was asked upfront because I seemed more androgynous, or I had to correct someone’s pronoun usage. This move has been different because I have been on testosterone for over a year. My voice is low, I can grow a little facial hair, I’ve bulked up. There’s a lot less ambiguity.

So I’ve had to come out to people. At first it was just the handful of people in my cohort who I drove home on Thursday nights, but now I’ve kind of thrown caution to the wind and begun outing myself to people everywhere. It’s funny because the reaction that I’ve been getting most often is, “Oh my goodness, I never would have guessed!” Occasionally somebody just looks at me in confusion until I tell them that I’m FTM, because they assume that it’s the other way around. So far it really hasn’t changed the relationships I have with people here, at least not in a negative way. Last night at the Essex I had a friend tell me that he respected me more because of it.

I’ve always thought a lot about the dynamics of being able to be “stealth,” because when I was younger I fantasized about being able to be so universally read as male that I didn’t have to worry about it. But now that I think of my gender as something more fluid and difficult to pin down, and now that I realize that my gender is much more complex than “I wish I were a man,” it seems like a betrayal of a lot of progress in the area of trans rights to just take it in stride and let people speculate if they are suspicious that something is different about the new games TA. I think it’s better to be open about the situation because there are so few out trans folk floating around UB. It’s also better because there are no surprises for anybody — either for my new friends or for me, when they find out.

Nevertheless, it’s strange having to out myself. For so long I’ve been universally read as queer, and assumptions have been made about me. For the first time in my life I am assumed to be a straight man, and that’s probably the weirdest thing in the world. It’s much weirder than I expected it to be, at least.

I’m now fully settled in in Buffalo, and school starts tomorrow. It’s been a weird transition coming here because all of a sudden I’m an “adult,” or something. That means having grown-up friends and going to grown-up parties, having keys to your own office and passcodes for the building. It means going to bed before one in the morning and carefully computing your commuting time so as never to be late. It means teaching conferences and being gregarious and calling the police on the drunk kids next door. The cats are starting to get along with my roommate’s dog. We cooked dinner together tonight.

I suppose I’ll get used to it really quickly, once I get used to a schedule that is regular. I’m actually really frightened that I have no idea what I’m doing here at all, and it’s going to be a horrible failure. But at the same time, everyone has been very reassuring, pointing to the fact that plenty of other people have done it before, and I have my shit together well enough to know what I’m talking about, and at least that’s a great point of departure.

I’ve been getting really excited though, about working with/in other departments here. It turns out that the English department has a Transnational Critical Studies program, which is incredible. The philosophy department here is quite respectable, with ties to our department through cognitive science. The women’s studies department has a program on Global Gender Studies. There is a niche for me somewhere between all these different places, possibilities and combinations. I think this is a place that has enormously nurturing possibilities for me.

The course I’m teaching is Games Studies Colloquium, which is sort of a survey course of critical video game theory. Helping develop the syllabus for it has really helped me sharpen a lot of ideas I’ve had swimming around in my head for a while, and that’s really exciting. I’m starting to work on ideas that might have futures in more or less serious projects. I’m probably going to be writing a lot about games in the next semester, because they’ll always be on my mind. I’ve already started thinking a lot about capitalism, imperialism and real-time strategy games. The power of games as a medium of expression for dominant narratives of race and gender already have a decent body of academic work surrounding them, but I haven’t read anything yet on the development narrative and RTS.

Many of my social concerns about being trans on campus have been cleared up by a number of new friends, and it’s good to know that I’m not nearly as alone as it seemed like I would be. There are, it seems, far fewer trans men at UB as there were in Ann Arbor, but there are still support networks that are really helpful. They’re a little hard to find, but they’re there, and that’s what matters.

I’m not quite as excited about issues I’ve been having with my finances. Unfortunately, my tuition waiver didn’t get processed before my loans went through, and I won’t get a refund until November. That’s a little late, to say the least, but at least the money will be there. This whole past month has been pretty stressful money-wise due to the move and a number of very serious uncertainties related to surgery (which isn’t going to happen, long story short) and loan disbursements. At least I’m getting half my loan money in a few weeks when my student insurance refund comes back, and I’m being paid in the interim. Otherwise I don’t know what I’d do. The future is inconvenient, but at least I learned how it works, I guess.

In general, I’m glad that school is starting. I’m looking forward to see what comes out of this. I already love Buffalo and I’m pretty sure this was the right move right now.

I got rejected from Brown on Friday, but I also got an amazing offer from UB — a teaching assistantship that comes with full tuition, a generous stipend, and healthcare.  Even if it wasn’t my second choice school I would be pretty tempted, so it’s fair to say I’ll be going to Buffalo at the end of the summer.  I’m a pretty happy camper — go check out UB’s Department of Media Study.

I realize that I haven’t been writing a lot lately, but I’ve also neglected some major developments in my graduate school search.  In February I was admitted to both the University of Michigan’s School of Information for my master’s in information science and the University at Buffalo’s Media Study program for an MFA in emerging practices.  While it’s too early to make a decision yet (I have yet to hear back from Brown and New York University), I am really excited about both these prospects, especially Buffalo.  What could be better than getting a two-year master’s making ARGs?  Not much actually.

In the meantime the search for funding begins.  I’m going to be completely financially independent next year, which means wherever I go I hope to get a teaching assistantship or something similar.  Also, I get to file a FAFSA on which I only declare my measly income from 2008.  Need-based aid, here I come!

Also, my mother thinks I have bronchitis.  I don’t know, but I have been coughing for two weeks straight.  It’s probably doctor time, as much as I hate that.

Sometimes I think that just the act of writing might be helpful to creative process.  I haven’t been writing lately because I haven’t felt like I have anything to say.  I’ve been doing a lot of processing of information internally but maybe it would help to write out loud.

In exciting other news, we’re (and by “we” I mean a few other members of my postcolonial critical theory class) starting a radical book club, of which I am (apparently) the de facto leader.  If anybody’s interested, we’re going to start meeting on the first Tuesday of every month beginning in March at 8 pm at Cafe Ambrosia.  (That makes our first meeting March 3, for those of you playing along at home.)  This month’s book is The Wretched of the Earth by Frantz Fanon.  Radical books, radical readers.  At the very least the company should be good and the book is great.

It’s this kind of thing that I think has been keeping me from writing — I do a lot more talking out loud about what I think lately.  Not to mention the fact that waiting for graduate schools to get back to me just makes everything I do feel like I’m spinning my wheels in a muddy ditch.  Which is to say that all that I get is covered in mud and an overheated engine.

What does matter, though, is I’m getting things done, working on projects, and figuring out what to do with my life.  In lieu of going completely crazy about my grad school applications I’ve been trying to figure out what I’d do if I didn’t get in anywhere (or decide not to go anywhere I get in, for a number of reasons).  Plan #1 is move to San Francisco, get a job bartending, and start an experimental publishing house on my own — meaning figure out a way to harness the internet to publish poetry and experimental fiction, rather than just publish poetry and experimental fiction on the internet.

I suppose that another reason I feel like I’m spinning my wheels is that it looks like my chest reconstruction might have to be pushed back, and I’m not sure how I feel about that.  Funding might be hard to come by, and I’m waiting to find out what I’m doing next year to pursue finding a loan to finance it — something that seems like a better and better idea.  Because I’ve applied to a pile of two-year programs  (most of which involve moving) I don’t think it’s conceivable that, if I don’t do it this summer, I’ll do it for another two years at least.  Depending on what kind of loans I’m going to have to take out for my master’s, I can and will take the money out as a loan to get the surgery done.  I’m sure my mom will co-sign and I’m sure I can get the couple thousand I’ll need.  If I don’t get it done this summer I’ll explode.

Of course, if I don’t, that means I’ll have more time to enjoy my last summer here.  I’ve started playing music with a couple guys and we’re thinking about trying to get together a tour over the summer — which is something else that would be fun and interesting to pursue in lieu of going to graduate school.  And nobody said I had to move to start an experimental publishing house.

I suppose I just don’t like not knowing this much about the future.  Luckily, I don’t think I’m alone — plenty of others who are graduating with me this year feel the same way, stuck in one place, and that place is neither here nor there.  And it’s not like I’d be completely unproductive if I took some time off.  (Maybe I’d finally get this goddamn ARG off the ground…)

While I’m busy filling out graduate school applications and trying to figure out what I’m going to do for the rest of my life, I couldn’t help but stop and think about the furor over Dr. Andrea Smith‘s negative tenure review in February of this year.  Both students and faculty here raised quite a ruckus about the Women’s Studies department’s decision to vote down her tenure bid.

I know that what I want to do with my life involves academia.  This is my home, for sure.  Being able to just be around such a wide variety of experts provides a constant stream of information and inspiration.  I love the University of Michigan, and I love the idea of being in a social milieu like the one I’ve found in Ann Arbor.  (Okay, maybe not exactly like Ann Arbor, but similar.  Maybe in a bigger city?)

The thing of it is, I’m already heading down the road toward being a professional academic.  My focus for my bachelor’s degree is philosophy of language — largely esoterica nobody else is really interested in outside of other philosophers of language and some linguists and maybe some computer scientists.  I want to do research, and I love to write.  I’ll also go ahead and claim that I’ve been well-trained in academic writing.

The problem is, I’m a transgender person of color.  Tenure committees generally work behind closed doors.  If Dr. Smith, who is arguably one of the most distinguished members of the academic community who happens to be a woman of color, can be denied tenure at the University of Michigan, then what will become of me when I seek a tenure bid?  In a lot of ways it’s definitely too early to say.  I haven’t even been admitted as a graduate student anywhere.  Yet I can’t help but wonder if the university system is more or less forgiving than the “outside world.”

I’ve long argued that the places we say are “liberal havens” are only called that because they’re more liberal than the areas that surround them, but how much do we have to settle for?  I know it’s impracticaly to say I’ll settle for anything less than safety and support and acceptance into a community both professionally and socially, but I’m not sure I want to find myself a published faculty member whose tenure bid gets voted down for reasons that look suspiciously like genderism or racism.

At the same time, the world is changing really fast.  The fact that people are talking about this issue and questioned the judgment of the Women’s Studies department for denying Dr. Smith tenure bodes well for the future.  Maybe by the time I make a tenure bid, it’ll be a non-issue.  A guy can hope, right?

That’s the chorus lately. All I had to explain to Kate was that we were planning on offering a full-tuition, renewing scholarship for trans and allies at the university and we wanted to do grassroots fundraising on the internet, and she was all, “Well if there’s anything I can do to help, let me know.” That was…uh…easy. I nearly wet myself waiting for this, and I’m glad I only found out late last night or else I would have probably fretted my way into ulcer territory or something. I might be too high-strung for this game. Or maybe I’m just high-strung enough?

I have some next steps that I still need to work out. One of those next steps is putting together a working group to meet every other week, and I am compiling a list of people I’d like to get in on that. Another of those next steps is to find a team of programmers to put a site together. And another of those next steps is to get our first $5k so we can do a launch event.

Robbie and I had a serious sit-down about whether the iSchool’s JustConnect project would overlap too much with the transgender and allies scholarship social networking tie-in. I don’t think it will, and I told her so: I think our target audience is much more global than JustConnect’s is, and I think that the goals and raisons d’etre are very different as well. Also, considering JustConnect’s upcoming launch date, and our lack of even a programming team, Robbie’s initial concerns regarding early adopters were assuaged. I think we should be looking more at a partnership than a competition: interfacing SNS with each other is something that I’m very interested in. After all, it is hard for such niche markets to compete with big sites like Facebook; I think that in a lot of ways I need my smaller/niche SNS to integrate smoothly.

I’ve let the JustConnect team know about my feelings about that too. Otherwise I really doubt too many people will join up; one of the reasons this blog has gotten consistent is because I know people read it because I know people click through the links my WordPress widget posts to my Facebook profile. I think others of mine have flopped merely because there hasn’t been an easy way to integrate the two. Without integration I’m mainly just annoyed by all the sites I have to visit. I’m becoming a pretty busy fellow.

And in other news, I’m probably going to get into graduate school.


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