Hey, this one’s been in the hopper for
Almost two years.
Okay, so some time ago, someone posted in my CuriousCat asking:
I first became aware of you and your tweets from your “Amerimanga cover” posts, and also apparently you’re a cis man. The ways that repressed trans feminine people can express their gender feelings is an easy enough thing for allies pick up on, but I’m curious if you have more of a relationship to queerness than just knowing people.
I provided an answer, which I’m now going to reframe a little bit, for archival purposes, and also, to flex here where the word count isn’t so weirdly limited and maybe clean up some typos I was realllly embarrassed to not notice the first time around.
Apparently? I say I’m a cis man. It’s in my twitter bio! Along with my pronouns, which is a very cool thing to do, because it both speeds up communication with you with strangers and it means those strangers who are complete shitlords will out themselves real quick over that, and in the process so you know who to ignore, which is, I guess, also a form of speeding up communication.
I was raised in a situation that was, to say the least, bad. It was repressive, it was abusive, it was violent, and it was a fundamentalist christian cult. You might be visualising something, and odds are good it’s wrong, and I don’t particularly like the idea of swapping notes on this one, especially considering that that was quite a few years ago, and it’s not important to this narrative. Point is, it was awful, and I had to leave it.
Part of coming out of that environment was learning as much as I could about the world in the few years of school I had left. Part of that involved discovering my own sexuality. And part of THAT involved dealing with the internet, which ha ha, when you didn’t want to LIE, was a weird place. The system I was in took care of a lot of things that are pretty normal social experiences, like you don’t need to have common interests with your ‘friends’ if you’re going to have to see them at church every week and have to be nice to one another, so you don’t learn things like how to listen to people and how to be interested and more amazingly, how to be interesting.
This period meant I was doing a lot of experimenting with what made sense to myself and my sexuality, and that mostly involved listening to other people writing and explaining their smut. Fanfiction was a big part of this. So to were dirty roleplaying rooms, and websites where you could auction your writing (which I did, because I was pretty good at it, apparently?) and then that meant I arrived in my mid-20s with an understanding of sexuality that mostly flowed from listening to people and what they had to say about their own sexualities and genders. If I understood them, I could write about it well. I also got a reputation for trying to write almost everything, and I was pretty good, so I made some tidy cash.
What this meant is that I just learned a lot about people based on what they really wanted. Lots of things that scared me, I realised, came from some really sincere places of seeking acceptance and wanting to belong (and that’s often root of a lot of transgressive media). This period of understanding other people through kink led to writing things for people who I now know, in hindsight, were trans, or bi, or dealing with other complex feelings. Meanwhile I was trying to deprogram as much of the religious guilt and self-loathing and trying to get to the root of what was wrong with me which meant looking into how we react to things with horror and disgust, and where my moral judgements and self-image fell.
(Know what was super helpful to me there? The atheist-skeptic movement. Like, the ones who were nice, and good, and thoughtful, rather than the shouty dickheads Youtube has successfully convinced all my friends are ‘the movement.’ I don’t tell my friends I’m an atheist, because when the subject comes up it’s almost always either them being dismissive of the idea of religious abuse, or them mocking a scientist for talking to their expertise.)
The trans experience, despite what some trans discourse wants to say, is not a pure mystery. It is not impossible for people who Aren’t Trans to understand (unless you wanna get all Wittgenstein and talk about how there IS no fundamental way to understand another person’s experience). It is a cultural thing. It is shared stories and common experiences and you can empathise with and understand the jokes and memes of trans culture without a case of The Mystical Genders. Sure, everyone’s gender and journey within that space is personal, but that journey is expressed in demonstration and expectation with other people. Cultural jokes about trans headcanons, or the importance of pickles, or just basic explanations of the mechanics of how you consume your pills.
Here’s a favourite thing. Sometime ago, someone made a tweet about how if estradiol (the HRT pills trans women tend to take) is ‘Titty Skittles’ then surely the thing trans men take would be ‘Men & Mens.’ This is a joke based on a cultural reference point – titty skittles. It also shows that you don’t know that mostly trans men have to get their HRT via injection. I didn’t know that before this tweet went wide, and I didn’t share the tweet – I just saw a trans dude offering the correction. Then my brain kicked into how we have to inject anabolic steroids rather than take them as pills (because our digestive system is designed to break down things like hormones to turn into useful food storage), and I had this moment of ‘oh, I didn’t know that.’ And what’s more, I don’t know if that’s true now. It might be that that was true then, and it’s not any more, but crucially, this is a joke that shows what you don’t know, and then, it’s a joke where the correction taught me things I didn’t know. There’s an exchange there.
Would I make the joke? Maybe I would have! And if I’d learned that I was talking out of my ass, I’d have gone: Oh, damn, that’s embarrassing, but thank you for telling me.
The idea that my cisness means I can’t understand trans people may be true on some mystical level, especially if your view of gender is spiritual. I know I’m outside of that. But I don’t have to understand a trans person’s personal gender story to know about the culture… and honestly, keeping aware of, and inclusive of that culture is a work worth doing. Treating trans folk like they’re a mystical other culture is the same way that boys in my growing spaces treat women, and it turns out that if you listen to women, you learn all sorts of things that women think and do, and you can understand them, especially if you don’t pre-program yourself with ‘oh, I don’t and can’t understand you.’
Oh, also, I’m bi, so I am queer, but I’ve watched enough folk step on rakes around that to not figure it matters to bring up.