To Rosetta Lee, if i could…

To identify as transgender is not telling me anything about one’s sexuality.

The energy of my response is about invisibility and marginalization, to expose and heal.

I’m putting this out in the ether webby ness before any beloved editors can heal and help my wordings. I just wanna get this out there. Stumbling fumblings to be caught and wholed with your support…

I am keen to see how the meaning and use of the term transgender evolves over time. It just may come to reference one’s sexuality. I do not think it does so presently. Presently, I think it reveals one’s gender identity. Below I expound why I find this discernment relevant, in North Carolina, in 2016, no less.

Please engage and change me, relieve me from my confusion and suffering – I want to learn and understand.

Please call me out, or call me in, on any stuck, narrow, binary, right/wrong thinking I express herein. I am much more interested in etymology and the evolution of language, thought, and movement (all pun possibilities intended) than being right, narrow, stuck, etc.

The person I wish I could dialog with (Rosetta Eun Ryong Lee) speaks to her interest in action over too much quibble with words/labels/terminology. I respect that. That lands as workable progressive change process. Yum!

Alas, I quibble whole-heartedly, I question whole-self-edly, with some unknowns – with some experience I had in a session facilitated by her the other day. I wish that I could ask her directly how she came to understand transgender as a sexuality, and further explain a point she and I exchanged about publicly.

Key note: I use pronouns she/her/hers for this amazing leader and activist, as that is what I find online in her self-made website. I am going to trust she is in control of that pronoun usage so publicly; that she is self-identifying with these pronouns, which does not reveal to me her gender identity. We simply don’t have enough pronouns yet for all of us.

I avert social media, excepting email and this blog, so I will not sign up for twitter or LinkedIn, the only options she publicly provides for contact.

I’ve been drafting this letter I fantasize will find its way to her for 5+ days… Today, two articles appeared that wrangle me to post sooner than later. Links are at the bottom of this post. Or, for choose your own adventure, click here and/or here.

This is in large part about the use of a term that she and I disagree on – use of which I find dangerously confusing here in NC in 2016. There is a second part I publicly commented on with her, in the session last week, in front of my brand new unknown colleagues.

Here’s my letter I dream finds its way to her incredible social justice activist heartmindbody:

Hi Rosetta, amazing leader in change-making,

Thank you for journeying down here to the southeast USA so much! I am the genderqueer folk from __ who shared that I’d helped work to get you to ___, as co-clerk of the committee through which __ called for you specifically. As a new staffer at __, I was so delightfully eager to hear and learn from you.

There were two examples in the day, Wednesday, August 17, 2016, at __, when I struggled as the only self-identified and out trans staffer.

I wanted to discuss further with you. Alas, time-space has its limits. Here is a remote/digital form of my querying.

I was so uncomfortable standing for the up-downs exercise, I did not see if you raised your hand as other than cis-gendered. Online, the pronouns she/her are used towards you. I dared to stand up in any way I could, as a potential resource for students and staff. There was no sense of standing proudly for me, as you instructed. I am too new at this school to know… I’ve belatedly heard that you were seen to raise your hand for the up-downs of, “Neither male nor female work for you.” Of course, we could present the up-downs with 8 or 50 or… 200 options for folks, unpacking gender more fully the way race and ethnicity were. I know you know that. I only mention it because many many more people might have stood if the distinctions were furthered, regarding gender nonconforming, any expression other than male or female, and then on to clarities like transgender, genderqueer, agender, etc etc.

I appreciate your naming a couple of times that you are more interested in action than language. That’s good clean fun and actively progressively useful! And -as ever- a both/and situation. The poetics of naming -phew- matter in this season of trans visibility. The two examples regarding language (unpacked below) felt crucial, for me, especially in that they could have confused people regarding trans lives/experience/politics, in NC in 2016 no less.

1st example: transgender as a sexuality

I wish I’d had time to ask you to:

Please share more of how you come to understand and reinforce the term transgender as a sexuality.

You stopped a teacher from interrupting you, after they’d asked why you included transgender as a sexuality. Their interruption was flowing towards something like that they had understood it as a term of gender identity. You explained that the gender identity of anyone can be mis-read or fluid… something to that effect (which is accurate!) You added, in different words, that someone gender nonconforming, depending if they are partnered or attracted to a man, woman or whathaveyou, allows the originally referenced person to be in a transgender sexually attracted dynamic? …I am not clear on your meaning/distinction by this point in the dialogue…

I delight and giggle at my own tightness around use of transgender as a sexuality. Any such condensing feeling marks a growing edge, a sensitive period, a zone of proximal development, something for me to pay attention to!

This encounter I describe was the only interruption in the day, with all staff together, when you held your hand up, palm out, at shoulder height – powerfully. This was the only time someone asked a question from a countering view and you held your ground – stopped them from interrupting you – hand up, palm out, in the air at face height, beautifully full-on Supremes style – thus your response landed as significant important correct?!?!

You got that theatrical performative intensification many script writers only dream of – and it was organic, on-the-spot, in real time, real life. Thus, the weightiness or gravity to your doubling down on your interpretation and use of transgender was amplified.

We were invited repeatedly to be more interested in our response to things, rather than getting hung-up on this or that terminology

I am so curious about your doubling down on your perception and use of transgender as a sexuality.

As you pointed to, there is power in naming “normative” gender as cis-, to counter a historical pattern of uniquely referencing more marginalized identities. Cis- is a way to call out/in mainstream genders.

The T in LGBT has been discerned as a gender and not a sexuality with such effort in media and academia etc. To confuse that in this era of (national and local and global) trans visibility is confounding.

I perceive that the T is about self-hood, not who you love.

As the only self-identified genderqueer person in the audience, it was discomfiting to witness this exchange.

One can identify as gender nonconforming and cisgender simultaneously. I dare suggest every single person, cis- or no, is gender nonconforming. That’s part of the wonderful freedom we transgender folks have to offer the world, just as soon as everybody realizes the usefulness and the emptiness of DNA or plumping based binaries!

I am not certain how you self-identify and do not want to unskillfully project. In case you do identify as a:

  • Woman / cis-woman (gender?)
  • Lesbian (sexuality?) Though this does imply homo/same. Thus the gender id of both parties is possibly revealed. Oh binary. A transwoman who chooses to pass could be within the lesbian territory and often is!
  • Or in case you do identify as gender nonconforming, but not as transgender or genderqueer,

…it may have been as it felt – that you flexed some cis-privilege?

As a (the!?) genderqueer and transgender person in the room, I disagree/d with your interpretation and defense of your use of the term transgender.

Alas, Hail to:

Bisexuals

Pansexuals

I’m sure I’m unaware of many other terms that could suffice…

These terms beautifully meet your meaning, I think.

They seem to meet your point regarding either the perceived and or inner gender identity for any attraction or sexual encounter… noh?! Bisexuality and pansexuality are sadly overly invisibilized too! We could use both terms oftener and educate even more preciously and lovingly about binary and nonbinary sexuality!? Yah?

Part of the energy of my response is about invisibility and marginalization – as all of your national touring work aims to expose and heal. To slide transgender identity into the sexuality realm can obscurate the struggles to simply use the bathroom we are fighting for here in NC.

Never mind the beatings, murders, and suicides that unfortunately increase, with the visibility we didn’t ask for from odd state legislation. (Though it is not odd at all, if we understand the history of state politics by design pushing against national and smaller/local governing fronts.)

One can identify as a transgender asexual.

In other words, to identify as transgender is not telling me anything about one’s sexuality.

One can be a genderqueer pansexual, a transmasculine bisexual, an agender pansexual, a gay trans man, a straight trans man, a lesbian trans woman, a straight trans woman, and on and on…

So, again, I am open to being re-educated about what the term transgender means.

This precious new article speaks from some middle school age folks today, these brilliant evolvers of language and gender – and they are in alignment still with my understanding of transgender. Curious. And I sure love to lean on pre-adolescents to keep up with what’s what any day. Link below as well.

2nd example: danger of trans-enough-ing qualifying

Later in a breakout session for pre-K – lower school staff, I did speak out, after you expressed that “really really really trans” folks tend to self-identify around 3-years-old, with insistence, persistence, and consistence.

You did ground your frames and models as tools only, not to be swallowed whole. Alas, you are in a power position in the role you serve schools across the nation. What you emphasize and speak illustratively to and make a slide for becomes “expert” data, swallowed more wholly maybe than you even ever intend…

You speak fast and identify as a scientist which translate into much intellectual privilege. Your presentation lands as expert info, whether you intend it or not, especially when your exposure to and life living with any topic at hand grossly outpaces the majority of the audience.

Good ol’ intention versus actions versus results. They are most often not in alignment for any of us.

This use of “really really really” plus the young age qualifier is inaccurate and potentially dangerous.

In many layers of gender and sexually diverse identities the “enough” ness – trans enough, bi enough, gay enough, lesbian enough ness is so so damaging.

I queried with my HT provider who is steeped in the medical field of providing healthcare for trans folks. They gasped at hearing of the reference to 3-yr-olds’ prevalence of identifying. There is no (ack, who cares) empirical scientific data to back up the claim regarding early childhood and “opposite” gender identifying.

A 3-year-old who can insistently, consistently, and persistently identify as “the opposite” gender from what they were labeled at birth only exposes that they have been brought up in a binary reinforcing culture – that there are only two clear choices.

Now, sadly, this is largely true for most of us still today. We’re working on it.

Nevertheless, touting such quantitative data in a qualitative field is, I think, dangerous for gender nonconforming, non binary, genderqueer children and olders getting further invisibilized – thus even continuingly further marginalized regarding physical, mental, and emotional health, and social/cultural equity.

 

Ahhh, breather here for humor at my tightness.

I sure do feel strongly about this stuff. Thanks for any laughing and reading along.

Breathing slow and deep is encouraged.

Rosetta, you seemed to graciously understand my point here about qualifying, quantifying, and binary reinforcing, as we spoke publicly. Thank you for that!

Another note is how many folks’ personal histories expose how utterly unknowable and/or inaccessible alternate options were regarding gender identity in their youth. All sorts of privilege and random and profound life incidents play into how and when people self-identify as trans or gender variant.

As I mentioned Wednesday, in some soon years, maybe in this current generation, this particular note could become irrelevant. Attention and visibility for trans existence abounds, whether we are ready or not.

Note: the day after our workshop, NC court-battling legislative legalities doubled down on trying to scientifically dismantle the existence of transgender people. It is fun to live here right now, feels dandy, let me tell yuh.

For folks around my age and older, to be validated or invalided according to when they/we intrapersonally became convinced of their gender self-identity can be incredibly harmful, unskillful at minimum.

In some brevity, this is all about marginalization and invisibility.

The fight for gay marriage invisibilized the T in LGBTIQ for many years in recent history.

Now the T is loudly in the media.

And it will be many painful years before nonbinary genderqueer folks gain any traction of safety or social equity with any visibility.

For now, of course, the visibility for both binary and nonbinary transgender/gender nonconforming/genderqueer folks feels threatening, especially here in NC – which includes cis-gender identified, gender nonconforming, sexually queer folks!

I dare to take the time-space to express my thoughts, even as I see how wonderfully full your schedule is as you travel and lead in so many awesome inclusivity-diversity efforts.

I feel I must wield the many forms of voice and/or privilege I do have, to help make visible mine and so many others’ invisibility, and our presently painfully further marginalized existence as genderqueer, nonbinary, agender, gender nonconforming.

I understand you may absolutely include yourself in this experience, identity, and tenderness!

Please consider how you teach to the identity development of marginalized gender variant folks as happening more legitimately in early childhood. This may be a unique distinction from most other marginalized identities which are, as you say, unavoidably explored earlier in life than most privileged identities. This is only relevant or valuable in context of the external/environmental/societal/cultural/systemic binary.

How can we all present and explore this data with more breath for the spectra?

There were other interesting discrepancies noted between gender & sexual diversity and other forms of diversity… ever more growing and evolving, with the thinking and learning around this wonderful tender living experience. That people are beaten, murdered, and suicide over much of this identity territory calls me to action!

Love and peace and ease to Hande Kader’s chosen family, friends, and ALL!

with sp a c e,

elliott

p.s. There’s a hilarious twist interpretable here, where i could be seen to be cruelly pointing towards Rosetta as not trans enough! My query is more, really, what she means by transgender and is she trans identified or how is she trans identified. that bit could use some clearing, before i then went on into the second example…  Yah, I’m stepping in it! I wish I could communicate with Rosetta. Phew. I am open to dialog – to be called in. Please and Thank You.

A gay middle schooler relieved to meet a transgender girl on the first day of school.

A wonderful trans 101 primer from a self identified genderqueer transgender person – worth the read and thought provocation!

 

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2 Responses to “To Rosetta Lee, if i could…”

  1. Jessica Says:

    Love you Elliott! Still grumpy that this happened and frustrated that you had to put so much time and energy into this. But proud of you.

  2. Robert Turnbull Says:

    WOW – you wrote this! You are just simply amazing and I have sooo much more to learn – but I am sure proud to be your Dad!! Birthday circie on the way – love you!!

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