I do not agree to disagree, for once

Last week I wrote one of the most impassioned and succinct summations of my worldview… on Facebook. It got three likes, and my ego fell apart a little. This felt like one of the most important things I’ve ever written and fewer people cared than when I made a souffle. (Granted, I was pretty proud of that souffle, but still). I distilled my perspective down into a couple of paragraphs, and because it was so tremendously personal- I still feel vulnerable as hell about it. Here’s the exchange, for context:

facebook screenshotFirstly, I feel like I should clarify that I didn’t mean to attack or belittle the person who disagreed in any way. They’re family and have one of the biggest hearts of anyone I’ve ever known. I consider myself lucky to be related to them. My original post came as a response to a number of images people had posted to their own timelines with Islamophobic, or generally hateful rhetoric. And with election season heating up here in the US, there’s an even more inflated sense of “they’re an idiot and I’m right”. Sometimes it’s true. Sometimes they are an idiot & you’re right, but being an idiot does not inherently make someone less than human. I felt like my little corner of the universe needed a reminder that all people are people and worthy of respect. Just a small shout into the void, and hopefully a few ears would hear me.

These may not seem like radical ideas, but I’ve had folks get very upset with me over them- mostly the thought that respect does not have to be earned. Perhaps I should explain what I mean by respect. This is not the same respect you afford a doctor, an artist, or a soldier. The kind of respect these people get is merit-based: ‘You have done impressive things, and are afforded a higher level of admiration because of it’. This kind of respect has to be earned. I tend to use the word ‘authority’ when talking about this kind of respect. We revere a person for having authority on a subject, but all people should be afforded civility whether they’ve done anything to earn it or not. What I’m talking about is a basic respect for human dignity. Every person you meet deserves to be looked in the eye and treated like a real person. This is something a lot of people, including myself, sometimes forget. It’s easy to think of people as ‘other’ when they don’t agree with you. It’s easy to convince ourselves that when we don’t have to see people as our equals, we don’t have to see them at all.

So, here I am again, attempting to shout into the void. All people are people.

I feel like you’re supposed to apologize when you come back to a blog after not posting for six months. Whatever, I still exist! Hooray, I guess! I’m going to try writing more often and in amounts greater than 140 characters.

So, here’s my apology to the four people in the world that read this blog!
(Hi Mom!)

The Etymology of My Name

When you get to choose a name for yourself, it feels like a lot of pressure. Some people take to it easily, some search for a profound meaning, and some agonize over it for no real reason. I fall into the last category. When I came out to my parents in the summer of 2013 I had already been using masculine pronouns for a few months. The problem is that my legal name literally translates to girl. This had always felt like the ultimate irony of my life.When I changed pronouns I wanted to change names to get everything done in one fell swoop, but I couldn’t find a name that felt right.

After I came out to my parents, my Mom was very persistent in helping me find a new name. I was in the living room folding place-cards for my sister-in-law’s wedding when she would stick her head in the room with suggestions.
“What about Colin?”
“No, Mom.”
“Cole? or Caleb?”
“No.”
“What about Leen?”
“That’s not even a name, Mom.”
“It’s what your little brother used to call you…”
“Doesn’t make it a name.”

But, it was the last suggestion that really did stick in my head. It rattled around in there until it lost a letter, sounded less like a joke, and Lee came out. It was even in the middle of my legal name AND my middle initial has always been L, so when most people see C.L. they just assume I go by my middle name. I especially liked the name because I have known an equal number of male and female Lees. I liked having an androgynous name. I figured it would be an easy name for people to learn- three letters, one syllable. And yet, I got asked how to spell my name a lot. I didn’t even know you could spell Lee L-E-I-G-H. My American English-speaking mind wants to pronounce that LAY. As I start to pass a little better though, fewer people have been asking for spelling clarification. (Hooray!) Somehow, I rationalized all of these things into a logical argument and I found my name. I’ve been going by Lee for over a year now & I’m finally to the point that pretty much everyone in my life uses Lee.

But, finding Lee only solved half of my dilemma. Now that I’ve been out for a couple years it’s time to legally make the change. It came time to choose what the ‘C’ in my initials would stand for. I know I could have gone with any name under the sun, but I made a conscious choice to keep my initials. I don’t want to erase my past, and somehow holding on to my initials seems like the appropriate way for me to simultaneously hold on to who I have been and become who I want to be. I started by looking through baby name books. I wrote down any male name starting with C that I found intriguing. Of course, my favorites were old-fashioned and somewhat amusing. Clarence & Cecil were the two front runners for a while. When I said this to my spouse, his only response was “People will know why you go by your middle name.” What a butt-head. I mulled over my list looking at different options. Cian? That’s nice. Irish, just like my birth name (which I always found amusing because I am precisely 0% Irish), but that’s just an invitation for people to mispronounce my name for the rest of my life.

Finally, when brainstorming with some co-workers on a slow day, one of them noticed Clark on my list. Within a week several coworkers were using Clark interchangeably with Lee, and it felt right. There’s not really a better way to describe it. I have tried on a number of names in this adventure, and so many have felt like hand-me-down clothes- like they belonged to someone else, uncomfortable and ill-fitting. But whenever someone calls me Clark, there’s something comforting in it, like when someone on the train is wearing your grandfather’s cologne. It feels familiar. It feels right.

Now I just have to make it legal (which is a whole new world of bureaucracy I’m unprepared to deal with, but I’ll figure it out eventually). Wish me luck.

Clark

Shadow of the Torturer: Book Review

I recently ranted to a friend about how irritated I am by teenage infatuation as a plot motivation. A lot of it stemmed from my fairly recent consumption of several TV shows and at least one book. Last December, I re-watched and finished Legend of Korra and suffered through two seasons of Korra & Mako’s miserable on-again-off-again dramatic and unnecessary relationship. Then I re-watched Avatar: The Last Airbender hoping to remember why I love this series so much, but instead rolled my eyes back into my skull so far I ended up with a headache every time Aang mooned over Katara. To top off my trifecta of annoying I read Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo, where the protagonist spends 90% of her time talking about how she feels about boys despite the fact that she just became a fucking wizard. All of these things contributed to my mindset as I started another book: Shadow of the Torturer by Gene Wolfe. shadow Wolfe’s series The Book of the New Sun has been lauded by critics and authors alike. The series has won multiple awards along with a place in history among classic science-fiction. This was a series that has been so acclaimed that I almost feel bad for not liking it, but I was underwhelmed at best. What follows may seem like a surface level analysis because Wolfe’s Urth is a world rich with allegory and possibility for greater understanding beyond just the text, but sometimes, as a reader, I get too hung up on a certain aspect of the story that I simply can’t enjoy myself.

My biggest complaint is how Severian interacts with women. I understand that from a character and world-building perspective he’s going to be awkward. He grew up in a cloister full of dudes that trained him to be good at torturing people. I get it. This guy isn’t going to be a street-wise Casanova. Yet, whenever he meets a woman we’re treated to his self-righteous lust-disguised-as-love schtick and her coyly giving him the run-around until eventually succumbing to his animal magnetism.

This book is only about 200 pages long, and throughout the course of the book Severian describes his deep ‘love’ for a woman at least three times. First, to the elusive Thecla, sister to the lover of a revolutionary wanted by the powers that be. She’s being held as a ‘client’ at the Torturer’s Guild, hoping to lure her sister and her lover out of hiding. This romance is the closest it gets to being genuine. It starts as mild infatuation, which grows into a potentially legitimate relationship. They talk about books and mythology. But, Severian stumbles into the trap that most well-intentioned young men in fiction fall into: he idealizes Thecla into being more than what she is. It’s a problem because by making her unattainable, she becomes more of an object or a goal than a human being. His infatuation becomes obsessive and serves well to demonstrate how Severian will continue to interact with women. When it comes time for Thecla to be tortured, he takes mercy on her by assisting in her suicide. This inevitably gets him exiled from his guild for being a terrible torturer.

The head of the Torturer’s Guild allows Severian to live, gives him a sword, and sets him on the great and magical journey that moves the plot along. Then we meet Agia, who Severian immediately falls in love with. Didn’t your girlfriend just die like 20 pages ago?! What is wrong with you? Also, Severian seems to praise himself for falling in love with a woman that was not particularly attractive, as if it were somehow virtuous, not normal, to love someone for more than their good looks. After being swindled into a duel, he and Agia go on a convoluted adventure to prepare for Severian’s inevitable death by duel. Cue cock-tease Agia attempting to seduce Severian. While they’re out looking for the magic-poison plant that he will need to fight the unnecessary duel, they come across Dorcas, who Severian immediately falls in love with.

There is a scene when we’re first introduced to Dorcas where they wax poetic about pouring all the evil out of the world, and Dorcas ends they argument by putting his hand on her boob. We get a lovely description of the suppleness of her breast and rosey nipples. It comes out of nowhere in the conversation, to the point that I actually verbalized, “Wait… What?” while reading in public. I think this was the scene in which I officially gave up on this book. I was so deeply bothered by how women existed in this world that I didn’t want to read it anymore. In all actuality, I don’t know if I really want to talk about it anymore. The rest of the book contains a duel, an expected betrayal, a miraculous recovery, a spontaneous play, a conversation in which Severian actually manages to talk to Dorcas like a human being, a magic item magically appearing, and an abrupt ending so that you’ll have to read the next book.

Maybe there’s something wrong with me if I can’t appreciate the beauty of The Book of The New Sun. The prose didn’t wow me. The … pacing. Felt. Unnatural? Severian never developed as a human being in my mind, and women were treated like objects to be adored and ogled. I guess this reiterates the fact that some things are just a matter of taste … and I thought it was unintentionally tasteless. So, sorry for not liking it. I feel like I should have, but this one was just not for me.

Facts? Yeah, Sure. Why Not?

While this whole blog is auto-biographical, I tend to wax poetic with anecdotes and stories rather than giving specific details about my life. I generally like it that way, but it’s nice to give context sometimes. So, here are a few facts about myself, my transition, and my life at the moment.

– I am 27 years old. I am trans. I am trying to figure it out.
– I am a Midwest native. I grew up outside of the Twin Cities in Minnesota, but moved to rural Illinois during Jr. High. I went to college in Chicago and stuck around there until my spouse got into a graduate program in Berkeley, CA. I’ve been living in Oakland, CA for the last 2 1/2 years.
– I’ve been married for 4 1/2 years, and we’ve been together since High School. For those of you doing the math, that means my spouse & I have been together for over 11 years. We’re slowly but surely approaching the time when I will have been WITH my spouse longer than not. That’s so crazy to me.
– My background is in sculpture and fine-arts. I’ve worked in just about every medium you can imagine and love building things more than breathing. Lately, my creative energy has mostly been used up sewing, embroidering, and making delicious food in my kitchen.
– I started hormones for transitioning last September on a very low dose using patches. Turns out I was allergic to something in the patches and had to switch to weekly injections, which was like finding out that you could only have your birthday cake if you punched yourself in the face first. I wanted hormones, but hated needles. HATED them. To overcome this, I’ve started listening to music that builds me up and makes me feel powerful while injecting, so the playlist is mostly Beyonce. I’m on a slightly higher dose now and am finally starting to see some changes.
– I’ve worked in varying shades of retail since I was seventeen & have the scars to prove it.
– I am a gigantic nerd. I read voraciously. I play D&D almost every week. I love solving puzzles of all sorts. I watch a lot of cartoons. I’m trying to expand my pull list at the local comic book store. I own a lot of Legos & play with them regularly. I have sat through the entire extended edition Lord of the Rings trilogy in a single day. And I’m damn proud of it.

This gives you a pretty good run-down of my background and the kind of things I care about.

It’s Not About You

An acquaintance recently posted about Jay Brown’s article Speculation and Support: A Note on Transitioning that tries to help allies find a way to be better friends to the trans folk around them.

The most resonant piece of information for me was the last paragraph:

And remember, this isn’t about you.

And remember, this isn’t about you. This may indeed be the first time anybody tells you they are transgender — or may be the first time you’re part of someone’s transition. Remember, this isn’t about you. Avoid telling them how hard it’s going to be for you or that you’ll always think of them as your best ‘guy’ friend, your first ‘girlfriend,’ your favorite ‘niece’ or any gendered description that doesn’t match who they’re telling you they are. If you need help, there are others you can turn to. But the person who is transitioning needs your support.

I found myself a little dumbstruck by how much I could relate to that moment. It’s one of the most common responses I’ve gotten from people when I come out. First there’s “I’ll always see you as our little ween-dog” or whatever title/ pet-name they choose. There’s also the perennial favorite of “I’ll always love you, but it’s going to be hard to adjust” and it’s some of the most unhelpful support you can offer a person. I know that it’s truthful, because pretty much everyone that knew me as a woman struggles with my pronouns, but in that moment- it’s kind of hurtful.

It’s similar to a backhanded compliment, “I love you, but really don’t appreciate this imposition you’re putting on me”. Yes, I can see how difficult my wading through the sea of gender expression is going to be for you. Please realize that I’m not doing this for you. I’m not taking hormones just to fuck with you. I didn’t change my name just for shits and giggles. I am doing this because I need to.

When I came out to you it is because I want you in my life, and moving forward I’m going to be Lee- a man that looks a lot like that girl you used to know. I’m not asking you to get my pronouns right every time in the beginning. I’m not asking you to throw me a parade. I’m asking you to try. I’m asking you to talk to me. I’m asking you to treat me like a human being and not a zoo animal. That’s all. Well, I may also ask for a hug. I’m not sure when I turned into a hugger, but I did. Deal with it.

Magic Haircut

Last week  I got a haircut. I’ve had a lot of them in my life, but somehow this one was magic.

I dyed my hair platinum blonde sometime around Thanksgiving as some kind of ‘screw the status quo’ rebellion, and loved it. I loved it when I first dyed it. I loved it when it grew out & my roots started showing. I got a haircut at that point and the barber gave me the perfect fade. It was the kind of ombre pretentious fashionistas dream of, only manlier. But lately, my hair was getting too long and I was concerned that cutting my hair to the length I wanted would leave me with horrendous early-2000s-boy-band-esque frosted tips.

Sorry buddy, but that is the hair of my nightmares.
Sorry buddy, but that is the hair of my nightmares.

So, I told the barber to cut it off. All of it. Please, don’t leave any blonde on my head, I don’t want to deal with it. I don’t want to have to dye it back. I don’t want Lance Bass hair. I don’t want it anymore. When I finally convinced the barber to just do it and cut off almost six inches of hair, I ended up just shy of a buzzcut, erring more towards a high and tight. It is amazing. Not that the haircut is revolutionary in any way, but all of a sudden strangers have started addressing me as ‘he’. My voice has started dropping over the last month, but I have still been consistently mis-gendered by the general populace. If I had known all it took to pass was to lose my hipster haircut I would have done so a long time ago. Oh past me, it is crazy to think of the things you would have done with the knowledge you have now! I know it seems like such a small thing, but every time someone addresses me as ‘he’ it feels like this: cat-unicorn-rainbow While still in the midst of pubescent voice-cracking and awkward hormones, every correct pronoun from a stranger feels like a fucking victory. Maybe one day it will feel commonplace and ordinary, but today is not that day. Today is the day when customers say “This nice man was helping me pick out a chair” and my heart soars to the goddamn moon.

Geeky Cross-Stitch

I recently completed a few cross-stitches and embroideries for friends and thought maybe you’d all be interested in seeing the kinds of things I put my time and effort into. They’re all magnificently nerdy in their own right. I designed each of them myself, and obviously also did the stitchery. I apologize for the not-amazing photography. Operating cameras has never really been my forte, this is why I do things like cross-stitch instead.

thievesThis first one is a reference to Scott Lynch’s Gentleman Bastards Series. I made it for the friend that recommended The Lies of Locke Lamora to me. If you’re into heist-driven plot lines, magnificent world-building, and zingy one-liners than you should give this book read. There are currently three books out in the series, but Lynch is hoping to write seven altogether.

cassandra This next one is fairly obvious if you’re a Whovian. It’s Lady Cassandra from The End of the World and New Earth episodes of Doctor Who. She is somewhat of a running joke at our weekly D&D group.

darkness This is a reference to An 8 Bit Reenactment of Dungeons and Dragons, that is also a running joke at our D&D nights (for obvious reasons). I can’t tell you how often moments like this actually happen. There was one occasion in which we had been sneaking around a crypt and every door was stealthily opened only to reveal no threat. After what seemed like 948 careful entrances, I got bored. My dwarf character stormed into the next room, kicking down doors and shouting as loud as he could- only to reveal the biggest fight we’d seen for weeks. Then a rock fell on my head. D&D is way more fun than most people think.

field of fucks This last one is really just the embodiment of my friend’s snark. I saw this phrase floating around in the meme-sphere and decided it needed to become a cross-stitch. I was not the first one to have this idea, but this is my own interpretation and design.

So, yeah. This is the kind of thing I do for fun.

Sometimes People are Alright.

I just wanted to let it be known to the world that sometimes coming out is not horrible. Sometimes people are capable of love and understanding even in the face of things they don’t entirely comprehend. Sometimes, your cousin tells you “You’re the same person you were when we were growing up and this doesn’t change anything.” Sometimes people are pretty awesome.

I spent last weekend with my extended family. Almost half of them (there were 18 of us altogether when you count aunts, uncles, cousins and significant others). I’ve, technically speaking, been ‘out’ for about a year and a half, but the last time I saw most of my family in person I was in a pretty white dress at my wedding four and a half years ago.

While most of them approached the situation in a decidedly Midwestern manner by more or less ignoring that there was any kind of issue at all, it was still reassuring. The whole weekend was a parade of incorrect pronouns, but everyone was trying. People apologized and corrected each other. Nobody got my name wrong. It was weird. And great. And awful. And amazing. And really made me miss my family. I consider myself so lucky to have grown up with people that can love and respect me for exactly who I am.