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Black Market Christmas

It’s been this way since Christmas day/ dazzled, doused in gin

Christmas Eve reminds me why I hate alcohol. My father and sister are getting giddy with alcohol and even one drink (a dark & stormy, my favorite) plunges me deeper into the darker recesses of my mind. I retreat to a back room in the house and drown out Christmas music with one of my favorite albums, Placebo’s Black Market Music.  It fits my mood exactly: dark, glooming, cynical, spiteful, even hateful.

At the time they cut me free/ I was brimming with defiance

As I start writing, memories of Christmas past come bubbling to the surface, haunting me.  But the ghosts in my family are not Dickensian messengers rattling chains for a quick fright before delivering a heavy-handed moral. No, the story here is still being written, and I struggle every day to decipher the meaning.

I wrote this novel just for you/ It sounds pretentious, but it’s true

In my high school years, writing about my family was simpler, much more black and white. I had a small community on LiveJournal where I could bitch and moan about how fucked-up my family was, and everyone would share their own stories and commiserate.  Every night when my father came home I’d be braced for a shouting match, and there was broken glass in my kitchen at least once a week,wine glasses smashed to prove just how pissed off he was that dinner wasn’t prepared on time.  The memory of my father cheating on my mom with his secretary was still fresh, as was his admission to me that “one day you’ll understand.”  And then there were the nights that he ripped up my homework in some sick power-play to prove that he could destroy even my academic success-although I still graduated with straight-A’s anyways.

Problems with the booze/ nothing left to lose

It was easy then to dismiss my father as a hopeless alcoholic, a lost soul whose once-bright future had long ago been swallowed up by his thankless job as a tax accountant.  I pitied him, but hated him more.  Then came college, where I finally had freedom to explore my identity and didn’t have to come home to arguing every night. My relationship with my parents grew more complex as I learned to overcome hatred through endless therapy appointments and discussions about family with other members of my college’s LGBT group.

It seems/ a place for us to dream

I learned to express myself through poetry, and was published in my college’s various literary magazines. After examining my own deep-seated anxiety around relationships, I ended up identifying as polyamorous, pansexual, and transgender. Even though I cycled through relationships pretty quickly at first, I was having fun, and was building lasting friendships.  But my father’s words when he cheated on my mom–that “one day I’d understand”–occasionally nagged at me.

Run away from all your boredom/ run away from all your whoredom

Holidays were the one time I could no longer run from my father, although at first I hid the person I’d become.  One Thanksgiving shortly after I had begun hormone-replacement therapy, my father and mother began discussing my lack of facial hair–wondering out loud when I’d finally “grow into a man,” and how my father had gotten facial hair late too.  I made a $10 bet with my father that I’d never grow facial hair, and my father called me a “fool,” but matched my bet.  I’ve never collected the money.

I’ll go fighting nail and teeth/ you’ve never seen such perseverance

That Christmas things got much uglier though–over a bowl of oatmeal.  In one of my father’s classic power-plays, he refused to let me eat my own breakfast because I had refused to eat the quiche everyone else was eating (even though I’m allergic to dairy and eggs). When I tried to walk the oatmeal into the next room, he physically barred my path.  When I tried to keep walking he shoved me backwards.  When I tried again, he grabbed the oatmeal and smashed the bowl in the sink. A shouting match ensued, which turned into a shoving match, and then suddenly, my sister and mother were trying to separate me from my father who now had a black eye and a bleeding lip.

Gonna make you scared of me/ cause hemoglobin is the key

Suddenly, the tables had turned–my father had the black eye, and not me. I was shocked, but also proud. No one had to call the cops on my father for being violent, because I had stood up for myself. I wasn’t scared of him anymore. Instead, I was scared of myself.

As they drag me to my feet/ I was filled with incoherence

This story doesn’t have a conclusion. This year’s Christmas story is still being written, and I’ve repeatedly been asked to re-join my family, and Black Market Music  has looped more than once,  so I’ll leave you with a song and one final lyric.

I’m forever black-eyed/ product of a broken home

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Gay Navy Kiss

Gay Navy Kiss

I can appreciate a girl in a uniform too…and not just other rollergirls. This is the best Christmas present I could possibly ask for. A beautiful and true story of two female Navy Petty Officers taking part in a U.S. Navy tradition: the first kiss when a boat comes ashore. Don’t Ask Don’t Tell–an incredibly harmful policy that I’m glad is gone. This is a time to celebrate:

“Petty Officer 2nd Class Marissa Gaeta of Placerville, Calif., descended from the USS Oak Hill amphibious landing ship and shared a quick kiss in the rain with her partner, Petty Officer 3rd Class Citlalic Snell of Los Angeles…Navy officials said it was the first time on record that a same-sex couple was chosen to kiss first upon a ship’s return.”

And one of them fought pirates too. I think my heart just skipped a beat:

“Snell is based on the USS Bainbridge, the guided missile destroyer that helped rescue cargo captain Richard Phillips from Somali pirates in 2009.”

Photo by Associated Press, full story from Huffington Post Gay Voices here:   Marissa Gaeta And Citlalic Snell, U.S. Naval Petty Officers, Share First Same-Sex Kiss At Ship’s Return

Edit: I originally posted “two lesbian officers” which was quickly corrected by an old friend who graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy–Petty Officer is an enlisted rank, not an officer.  The generic term would be “sailors.” Plus there’s nothing in the article that says that both women identify as “lesbian.”

I’ve perhaps always been particularly fascinated by the U.S. Navy because I was taught to sail at a young age by my father.  He at one point sincerely hoped I might end up a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, and I’ve visited it multiple times.  Not the right career choice for me–especially as a pacifist who engages in anti-war activism–, but I was taught to respect the Navy from a very young age.

Hitchens, Hitchlings, and Feminism

How do you distill the views of a writer as prolific, as controversial, and as influential as Christopher Hitchens into a sentence?  I’ve been struggling for over a week to put together a coherent post to commemorate the atheist firebrand, struggling to reconcile how Hitch influenced my own feminist and interfaith-inspired “atheist activism” with the anti-religious and anti-Muslim bigotry exemplified by so many others who consider themselves to be “atheist activists.”

Yet meanwhile, the crack team at Urban Dictionary has already written their own tribute to Hitch, in the form of a one-sentence definition for the word hitchling. The definition, devoid of  the sexual innuendo and raunchy humour typical of the site, is a genuinely flattering tribute to the infamous intellectual.   Apparently a hitchling is:

a child void of religious indoctrination who is encouraged to read broadly and to seek the truth unapologetically (In memoriam of Christopher Hitchens)

Going strictly by the definition, I honestly wouldn’t mind raising a child as a hitchlingCan anyone really argue with encouraging a child to seek a well-rounded education and to be willing to question anything, including organized religion?  As an atheist, I have no desire to instill religious indoctrination on a child, and aren’t all children born atheists anyways?

Christopher Hitchens even left for posterity a reading list of suggested books for raising hitchlings, thanks to the inquisitive mind of an eight-year old girl named Mason Crumpacker. That list, along with the charming story of how Mason asked Hitch for the list in front of an entire atheist convention, is available at the blog Why Evolution is True.

Yet the list Hitch provided to the young woman is startlingly devoid of female writers with one exception–Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the former Muslim turned conservative darling, thanks to her harsh critiques of Islam in Infidel and Nomad: From Islam to America: A Personal Journey Through the Clash of Civilizations. There’s no other feminist voices to inspire and teach a young woman to be confident and strong in her own abilities, and no texts by genderqueer or transgender individuals who dared to question one of society’s most dangerous “truths” by simply existing–the “truth” of gender.   Instead Hitch left us with a list of great white men–Chaucer, Shakespeare, Hume, Dickens, etc.–names I certainly would recommend as well, but a list of names wholly lacking in diversity.

I’m not really surprised.  In the dubiously titled video “Christopher Hitchens versus Feminism,” Hitch offers his thoughts on gender roles and parenting, smugly suggesting that women are called “the gentler sex for a reason,” and that “they shouldn’t work if they don’t have to.”  His slyly hidden smile suggests that he’s playing the audience for laughs, and it’s unclear if he has any agenda other than to humiliate his female questioner. Just watch the video and ask yourself: could Hitch ever raise a hitchling? Is Hitch really a good role model for someone who can question the truth unapologetically?  Or was Hitch more obsessed with appearing clever than engaging in serious questions about gender and gender roles?

 

Transgender Bodies

My fiveonfive article on playing roller derby as a transgender woman is now available online as FiveOnFive Sneak Peek: Transgender Policies: My Story

Ever since the article came out in print, I’ve had an overwhelmingly positive response from both fellow rollergirls and my many friends in the LGBT community.  And when Derby Life made the article available online last weekend, encouraging comments starting pouring in through facebook, twitter, email, text messaging and on Derby Life itself from longtime friends, new friends, as well as acquaintances I hadn’t heard from in years.

The response has included the requisite “I had no idea [you were trans]!” from a few friends, which has generally been well-meaning but has also been a source of anxiety. The first DC Rollergirls practice I showed up after my article made it online was a rather stressful ordeal where I kept analyzing every glance from other rollergirls, wondering to myself what had changed–were my tiny hips now under more scrutiny than before?  What about my breasts? My butt? My ass?  What about my skating stance? How many people were having an “aha!” moment were they felt they had “figured out” why my skating stance was so unique–my hunched-over stance has been compared to a spider, a pterodactyl, and yes, men’s derby players on multiple occasions.

The anxiety continued at practice the next day, and really only broke this morning after I re-read a poem that my lover, a genderqueer individual like myself, had sent to me two months ago. After kissing her goodbye as she left to catch a plane to see her family for Christmas, I found the poem hanging near her stove, and read it out loud. The poem, How To Make Love to A Trans Person, by Gabe Moses, really captures what it’s been like to come to terms with my body as a post-operative transgender individual (who also identifies as genderqueer), and what it’s been like to find love and acceptance despite all the pain, anxiety, and misunderstanding.  I’m re-posting it here in part, although the full version is available at the blog Genderqueer Chicago:

….
When you peel layers of clothing from his skin
Do not act as though you are changing dressings on a trauma patient
Even though it’s highly likely that you are.
Do not ask if she’s “had the surgery.”
Do not tell him that the needlepoint bruises on his thighs look like they hurt
If you are being offered a body
That has already been laid upon an altar of surgical steel
A sacrifice to whatever gods govern bodies
That come with some assembly required
Whatever you do,
Do not say that the carefully sculpted landscape
Bordered by rocky ridges of scar tissue
Looks almost natural.

….

Realize that bodies are only a fraction of who we are
They’re just oddly-shaped vessels for hearts
And honestly, they can barely contain us
We strain at their seams with every breath we take
We are all pulse and sweat,
Tissue and nerve ending
We are programmed to grope and fumble until we get it right.
Bodies have been learning each other forever.
It’s what bodies do.
They are grab bags of parts
And half the fun is figuring out
All the different ways we can fit them together;
All the different uses for hipbones and hands,
Tongues and teeth;
All the ways to car-crash our bodies beautiful.
But we could never forget how to use our hearts
Even if we tried.
That’s the important part.
Don’t worry about the bodies.
They’ve got this.

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Secular Humanist Water Bottle

Secular Humanist Water Bottle

I spent all weekend trying to come up with one post on Christopher Hitchens and gender, but ended up with enough material for four or more separate posts on feminism, atheism and gender…which I’m now working on editing.

In the meantime, here’s a picture I took on the way home from roller derby practice.

That’s the sign in front of the US Conference for Catholic Bishops, and the logos on my bottle are for the Secular Student Alliance and the American Humanist Association.

Let me just say that while I may personally have never been a fan of Christopher Hitchens, I am thankful for all the atheists, secular humanists, and other non-religious Americans he inspired to get involved in political organizing. The so-called “New Atheist” movement he helped inspire has done a lot to fight back against the Religious Right’s attacks on LGBT rights, reproductive rights, and basic civil liberties.

As an HIV/AIDS activist, I am keenly aware of how damaging the influence of the Catholic Church has been to proper HIV prevention, education and treatment worldwide. Did you know Washington, DC has a 3% HIV infection rate? That’s 15,000-20,000 people. What would happen if that many people held a protest in front of this building?

the musings of a rollergirl activist

This is where I test if I’m as resilient a writer as I am a skater. Knock me down, I’ll keep getting right back up until you break both my knees. It’s Jam 1. Let’s go:

When I joined the DC Rollergirls in 2008, I immediately broke the league’s code of conduct just by signing my name.  In it’s opening paragraph, the code of conduct stated “transsexual women are allowed to join if it has been at least two years since surgery, per Olympic Committee Rules.”

I find the idea that someone’s gender should be determined by what surgeries they’ve had to be appalling. I also prefer to refer to my gender with the term “transgender” rather than the more medicalized term “transsexual,” but as someone who was assigned male at birth and now expresses my gender as female, both terms apply to me. In 2008 I had not undergone any form of so-called “gender reassignment surgery,” but I signed up to be a DC Rollergirl anyways–because I knew I was a woman, and I wanted to be a part of the amazing sport of women’s flat track roller derby.

In the Winter 2011 issue of Five on Five magazine, the official magazine of the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA), I published the article “Transgender Policies: My Story.” In the article I describe what it was like skating under such a transphobic code of conduct, and how my team helped change that code of conduct to be more inclusive. Here’s the most important part of my Five on Five article, which takes a look at the bigger picture–how my story is related to WFTDA’s Gender Policy:

WFTDA is now about to implement a gender policy for inter-league play that is far more inclusive than DC Rollergirls’ original code of conduct, a policy that is a testament to the increased visibility and acceptance of transgender rollergirls within WFTDA since I began skating in 2008. WFTDA’s policy for the first time officially recognizes the contributions of transgender women to the sport of roller derby, and should serve as an example to other sports as well. By not relying on surgical status in its definition of “female,” and instead relying on the testimony of an athlete’s healthcare provider as to whether or not that athlete’s hormone levels are within a “medically acceptable” range for a female, WFTDA’s gender policy leaves a lot of flexibility in its definition of gender, and is far more inclusive than that of almost all professional sports. But it also far from perfect, and it is my hope that it will be revised after implementation to be more inclusive, and furthermore, that any policy regulating hormone levels will apply equally to cisgender and transgender women, rather than singling out transgender women over concerns about how hormone levels affect athletic competitiveness.

When transgender inclusion has been discussed in other women’s spaces, it’s fairly common to see strong opposition based on prejudice and ignorance.  It is remarkable that no such voice has emerged within WFTDA.  On the contrary, the Philly Rollergirls have emerged as vocal critics of WFTDA’s Gender Policy arguing that it isn’t inclusive enough and that it “may potentially lead to wide-reaching problems regarding hormone testing,” leading to possible “witch hunts.”  In June 2011, at the East Coast Derby Extravaganza, volunteers from the Philly Rollergirls asked participants to sign a petition asking WFTDA not to implement the gender policy as written and furthermore asked rollergirls in support of their petition to wear temporary tattoos with the transgender pride symbol to show solidarity with their cause.  Hundreds of rollergirls responded favorably to their cause, and transgender pride tattoos were visible everywhere you looked—on arms, faces, even cleavage.  It was a heartening sight that brought me to tears more than once.  It began healing the anger I had harbored for so long from the witch-hunt that I had faced within my own league.  The atmosphere their protest created made ECDX 2011 the first time I ever felt comfortable talking publicly about being transgender with other rollergirls, coming out to many DC Rollergirls for the first time and also sharing stories with other out transgender rollergirls including Rita “Jacquelyn Heat” Kelly from Philly and Melanie “Nameless Whorror” Pasztor from Montreal.

I am proud to be a transgender rollergirl, and I am optimistic as I look forward to the implementation of WFTDA’s gender policy in January 2012.  I firmly believe that WFTDA is better off with the current gender policy than without one, and I sincerely hope the visibility the Philly Rollergirls’ protest brought to potential problems with the gender policy will lead to revisions in the policy to make it more inclusive

My article concludes by summarizing how roller derby has allowed me to be a role model to other women, including young girls, and how “through roller derby I have found a loving family like nowhere else, and a sport that has inspired myself and countless others to re-shape their lives in incredibly positive ways.”

I’m happy to share the full text of my article with you if you contact me.  And I hope you come back to this blog.  Because I have many other stories to tell.

I’m not just a rollergirl, and I’m not just a transgender woman.  I’m a human being obsessed with human rights and humanism.  I’m a geek obsessed with Gothic Literature and Gotham City.  I’m a feminist obsessed with MichFest and Michel Foucault.  I’m a poet, a pundit, and a Poe fan.

I’m a jammer, and I’m calling off this jam.

It’s Jam 2.

Time to rest, scheme, strategize.  Think back on what has come before.  Assemble my experiences.  Next post: Christopher Hitchens, humanism, and links to my writing published by the American Humanist Association.  I hope you leave here with something meaningful. If have something to add to the discussion, I’d very much appreciate it if you could leave a comment.  Thanks.