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I could really use some feedback on this, because I’m not sure what to do. I’m mostly writing this blog post to work out the pros and the cons for myself. I’m trying to work on my remarks for tomorrow’s Transgender Day of Remembrance event. I really want to hit home the point of the two recent murders of young people who are being portrayed by the media as gay men, erasing the facts that their murders were predicated on their perceived gender identities. That’s another issue altogether, and one that is very important.

I got an email today from a staff writer for the undergrad school paper, The Spectrum. He wanted to know more details about the event I am organizing tomorrow because he is assigned to cover it for the paper. I told him I wanted to meet, and we talked a little bit, but I remain unconvinced. I am not sure if I want a cis man speaking for a community I belong to that is entirely invisibilized on this campus.

The pros in his favor are not just that he is a gateway to a campus media outlet. It’s also that he was willing to come meet with me and talk a little about the sensitivity of the issue. He was clearly worried about the issue and said he would run things by me before publication. He was respectful, perhaps a little apologetic for my tastes, but he genuinely wanted to report the events in a way that respected the event and the lives it commemorates.

On the other hand I feel like I should be writing an Op-Ed for this paper. I don’t think the first interface with the invisible trans community on this campus should be via a cis reporter. Rather, it should be straight from the horse’s mouth. It also bugs me that this report won’t run until next week as opposed to the day of, which is something an Op-Ed could do. (I guess it didn’t even occur to me to send one in since I never see the undergrad paper anyway, my bad.)

I’m also concerned that his studious notetaking will inhibit those in attendance who need this event to be a safe space to think about and reflect on the most extreme expressions of cis privilege and hateful violence. I’m worried it’ll detract from the event.  But, I want the campus to know that people who are a part of our community really and honestly care about this issue. I want to see a dialogue started about it. And I don’t want to trivialize it.

Ultimately, though, this event is about making a safe place for us to reflect and think about the future, not about teaching others about the community. Voz Latina pointed this out to me, and I think she is right. I still hold this latent feeling that we need to make this an obvious issue that people on campus care about.

Do you see my frustration and conflict?

As I write this I lean toward telling him not to come. What should I do?


I was driving to school on Monday feeling all fucked up about having just gotten back a few hours before and I saw a guy with this bumper sticker, and some other bumper stickers too, about how God is his co-pilot or something like that, but the one I read and thought about and had never seen before said, “Tolerance is the virtue of a man without conviction.” I thought it was kind of funny that he should have it on his car (feeling the way he inevitably does about people like me) because I would consider putting such a bumper sticker on something that belonged to me, too.

I have been working very hard on getting this thing together for Transgender Day of Remembrance. So far it is shaping up to be a good event, I have a few films and Isaac will be reading something he’s written and it will be just about right, I think. I have been thinking a lot about what it means to tolerate because I think I am tolerated at UB but maybe not accepted. In some ways I think events like Transgender Day of Remembrance exist because of tolerance.

I guess what I mean to say is I worry that the reason so many people harbor hate in their hearts is because we are taught to be tolerant, not accepting. That the tolerant society allows too many people to go on thinking and saying things that are really dangerous to other people on the basis of free speech. (I don’t feign to know where to draw the line between “freedom of expression” and “hate speech,” but I do know that this is a problem.) That a really left-wing individual would not tolerate the discomfort people have with people who are not like them, rather they would try and make a change in support of mutual understanding and acceptance. Settling for tolerance is weak-minded and stupid.

I guess I am trying to say that a world full of tolerant people is not a world where I would like to live. Merely being tolerated sucks.

Maybe lately I’ve been feeling a bit like I’ve been hitting my head against a wall, but things are giving a little bit here and there. The furious networking I’ve been doing outside of the department this semester is starting to congeal into something tangible and interesting — the other grads were really receptive to the idea of a Transgender Day of Remembrance event — and I’ve been tapping the shoulders of possible allies all over the place. I’ve started having good conversations with faculty in my department and in Visual Studies who actually want to engage. I’m beginning to be challenged in good ways.

I still sort of feel like I’m trying to have a conversation in a crowded room. It’s a feeling of grinding my gears, yelling over the jukebox at the bar, going home excited for the future but unfulfilled, and going on wild goose chases for collaborators and critics. It’s like going to a party and meeting someone really fascinating but not being able to talk to them because there’s 300 other people milling around, being noisy and nosy. Maybe this is why I like the internet (and textual healing).

But I’m building up steam. Something great is going to happen here in the next 12 months. I hope it involves a Public School, playful interventions, and chickens.

So, I sent the email today. No complaints so far. Josephine was kind enough to help me with it, others too. I hate having to commit to a thing like this, sometimes, because of the way it twists up my stomach just to click “send.” I shouldn’t be so anxious but I think it’s hard not to be, with the politics and the drama. I have a lot of anxiety-inducing emails to write and send this week. Here is a list: email the graduate students about Transgender Day of Remembrance; email the union about insurance coverage; email Eileen Myles about a.Version. Maybe I shouldn’t be so anxious because some of these things are wholly out of my control (i.e., insurance and my hopeless awkwardness). Anxiety is only useful when you have some level of control over the situation, so you can use it to temper your reactions.

One of the best things for anxiety is the bicycle. I put new pedals on it last night and this evening I took the long way home, no bus, just me and ten solid miles of riding. I feel stronger just going the distance. Negotiating the road here requires the a different kind of balance, confidence and aggression than Ann Arbor’s roads did. I got honked at a lot today. Maybe it is because I am still getting used to cleats. Often the bike is better than a therapist I think. I worry that in the winter I won’t be able to ride as much and I’ll get a little madder. A guy on the bus this morning said the bike was beautiful. It really is. Especially with the new pedals, tearing down neighborhood streets in North Buffalo. I took a long hot shower and boiled some pasta and ate it.

My class listened to my lecture today, I think. I saw a lot more leaning forward in chairs than I am used to. Some people asked some good questions. I think I told a good joke or two. I got lost in a riff about the nuances of my stance on equality. I wish I had recorded it, or maybe hastily jotted down some notes at least. I made a Powerpoint presentation for it, that was pretty odd. But it worked okay I think. Some people took notes. I was flattered. I don’t count myself as an expert on Edward Said or Orientalism or postcolonialism but I think they’re thinking about it more, thinking about the subtle things I had hoped they would start thinking about it. Today was a breakthrough day. I feel like a competent teacher.

The loneliness of Ann Arbor was child’s play compared to being lonely here. There I knew I could jump on my bike and less than five minutes away was a house full of people who were certainly home and I could sit on the porch and we would talk about things and have a beer. Here, it’s not so certain. I forgot what it means to be isolated, alien. I guess what’s scary about it is that if you put a flame in a vacuum it dies.

Tonight the wonderful Eileen Myles appeared at Just Buffalo. I went, with a number of friends, and was summarily blown away. I think what I’m starting to realize now is that Eileen really put my head back on my shoulders again, and gave me a little slap around even. I realized on the car ride home that she’s the first person I’ve encountered at this point, in Buffalo, who’s talked about the issues that have been giving me such trouble my whole life. Amplified by coming here, where I am more or less on my own for the first time. I haven’t even fully articulated yet what those issues are, but to hear her read and talk was like a slap in the face. The good kind.

I am still unraveling what that means.

I am afraid that my isolation has gotten the better of me. I miss a community of trans friends I could bounce ideas around with, be honest with, and stand behind.

I am drafting an email to the DMS graduate students about a Transgender Day of Remembrance event. Because the TDoR event on this campus is sponsored by an institutional organization. And because we should all care about each other.

And, I’m tired of the anxious closet.

I told Olivier I think I make some faculty members very anxious. I’ve been having this discussion with a number of people and maybe the anxiety is because they are not sure how to address me, and thus not sure how to address themselves to me, that maybe they see in me an identity-politics powder keg. Why am I lying about these things? Why am I omitting something I’ve fought so hard for? Why am I not clawing out toeholds again, here, so I can be okay?

I think Eileen Myles shook me out of this three-month slumber. By saying the things she said, or just existing maybe. Or making me anxious too.

I feel fierce but isolated. I feel supported, but alone. I am at the top of my fucking game and nobody knows it but me.

I am so goddamn exasperated with the Michigan Daily.  I am exasperated with the fact that their lack of coverage of Transgender Day of Remembrance — and the community reaction to it — has forced some truly ugly hate speech out of the woodwork.  I am exasperated that in previous years the Daily has covered events in the transgender community.  And I am sick of being blamed for my own community’s oppression.

This year, in response to their lack of coverage, the Michigan Daily ran a few letters to the editor.  Okay, it’s better than nothing, you might say.
Sure, it’s better than nothing, but it’s the only reaction the newspaper had.  Instead of giving room for a legitimized voice of the trans community, this basic action creates negative press.  Many people, whose only contact with the trans community is through events like this one where we are able to slip a word edgewise into the dominant narratives on this campus, think that we’re a bunch of whiners.  They think that the lack of coverage in other traditionally liberal media outlets like NPR means that it’s okay the Michigan Daily doesn’t pick up the story.  They accuse us of not sticking up for ourselves.

I’ve got a newsflash.  It’s hard to stick up for yourself when there are people who don’t think you’re legitimate, who deride you for being an “aberration,” and who force you into filling the angry minority activist role.  It’s a kind of tokenization that is destructive to any social equality movement.  It makes us into caricatures of ourselves when we most need to be seen as human.

Maybe there’s a bit of narcissism that makes me say that I’m still shocked that the Daily hasn’t asked any voices from the trans community to write a personal statement or something for their paper, since I’d like to volunteer myself to do such a job.  Of course, this is just a fantasy, but if they can run this tripe, they could possibly run a 300-word statement about what I’m thankful for.  (Not being a victim of a hate crime?  Having a family that is at least willing to accept me, contrary to what mainstream society would have them do?  Being a member of a supportive group of friends and colleagues?)

I’m also tired of people who say that our struggle for equality is not the same as the struggle for equality of blacks in America because there are so few of us.  I remember Andre telling me that, when revising the university’s non-discrimination clause, someone at the hearing said, “why bother?  There are so few of them.”  Part of why many people think there are so few transgender people is that we aren’t visible.  We are taught that we aren’t allowed to be visible.  We are discouraged from speaking out, and sometimes threatened when we do.  Sound familiar?  I thought so.

The importance of protecting the civil rights and livelihoods of a section of the population isn’t about how many people the protection affects, but lies with the fact that there is injustice.  Period.  There is injustice in this world, and I think Dr. King would agree that no matter who suffers that injustice, it is unacceptable.  As I remember the quote, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

I’d just like the chance to have some of the people who have reacted negatively to our attempts at finding justice walk a mile in my shoes and see how easy it is for them to speak up.  I’d like the chance to show them how difficult it is to operate on a daily basis.  I’d like the chance to open their eyes to the difficult reality that is being a minority in America.

Of course, those are just pipe dreams.  For the time being, I’m just thankful to live in a town where I’m not checking over my shoulder every minute, and surrounded by people who uplift me, intellectually and emotionally, even when there are so many others out there who would rather see me trampled down.

Last year, the Michigan Daily didn’t run anything about Transgender Day of Remembrance.  Even though I incited a bit of a flame war with my letter to the editor, nothing was published again this year.  I’m not too surprised, although I will say that I didn’t send them the essay that I’d written about TDoR that I did last year.  Still..they are a newspaper and there were events held on campus.  I am incredibly incensed at the fact that, in the face of a group of people who are largely invisible, but who have made their presence felt on this campus, the newspaper did nothing.  It really speaks strongly to how goddamn invisible we really are as transgender folk.  My original article is reprinted below.

I didn’t know 16-year-old Ian Benson of Holland, MI, but one of my best friends did.  He took his own life just two weeks ago.  In some ways, I see a lot of myself in Ian.  I see every transperson in Ian.  I guess I feel like Ian is my brother, just like all transpeople are, in some way, my siblings.  Sadly, we’re brought together by discrimination and violence against us.  I was never one for claiming any kind of community with the people who fall under the “T” in “LGBT,” whose challenges to the binary gender system are as diverse as the people themselves.  Not until this year, at least, when something began to awaken in me.

I’ve been out to myself since my junior year of high school.  I, too, was 16.  By some stroke of luck, by some force of will, I’ve made it this far.  It hasn’t been easy.  Sometimes getting out of bed in the morning is so hard I can’t do it without being coaxed and cajoled by my roommate.  Now I’m almost 21, I’m out to everybody who asks.  That includes my friends, my family, my coworkers, my classmates, and my professors.  The reception has been warm.  Things are okay.  I would almost go so far as to say I’m otherwise a happy, normal guy: classes, friends, parties, work, dating, and road trips to Chicago in my beat-up car.

But I can’t live in a bubble, and going outside of the circle of friends, family and colleagues who I know are willing to support me is to go out into a world that is, if not hostile, largely ignorant.  It’s manifested as misunderstandings with profs and GSIs before you could pick a name on CTools, to being harangued in the bathrooms on campus.  I can point to events where I have felt physically threatened, but I always thought this was just par for the course.

There is no reason this should be par for the course.  Life may not be fair, but it also doesn’t have to be too difficult to keep living on account of a social identity you claim.  There’s no reason for anybody to have to think twice about doing something because they’re worried they’ll be attacked for who they are.  There is no reason living in fear and self-hate should be par for the course and make a bright, sweet 16-year-old take his own life.

The health and happiness of all people can be influenced by what we do as individuals.  I used to be quiet about the things I thought were wrong with the world, but now it’s time for me to step up.  It’s time for all of us to step up.  I’m ashamed of myself that it took the suicide of a young man who was truly valued, and not so unlike me, to get me to really step up, but enough is enough.  We have seen enough heartbreak.  We have known enough pain.

The only way that we can prevent more deaths in the larger community and the communities around ours is to come out against intolerance and ignorance.  Nowadays, fewer and fewer transpeople fall victim to direct violence, but a negative environment can be enough to make someone want to give up.  That’s sort of good, I guess – I can walk home from my friends’ houses at night without having to worry too much.  But it’s also bad.  How do you prosecute someone for hate crimes who never actually committed a crime, per se?

The only thing I can think of is work to create a community where you don’t have to worry about that.  I’m finally fully prepared to stand up for what is right.  I’m finally fully prepared to face the ramifications.  History has taught us that social justice does not come easy, or without a price.  But as we remember those who have been killed or driven to an awful choice this week, we must also remember that deaths can be prevented.  And moving forward, it’s also up to all of us to make sure Ian Benson did not die in vain.

We will not be silent.


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