Monday, March 29, 2010

Embodying Glamour

My friend Oliver is in the process of putting a blog together about glamour/gender. I was interviewed with Sammy and Hugs on our feelings about gender, glamour, and the politics surrounding these topics. Check out the interview (2 parts):

Oliver is currently moving his blog to a new address, I will post it here when it's settled.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

walking home

I recently reunited with someone from my past who has been on a very different track over the last 6 years since we went separate ways. When we parted I was leaving the church, leaving my bible thumping high school days for world exploration, a lot of substance use and the gays. I had no idea how many times I would walk away, come out, start over and customize my support network to meet my current needs. This old friend has spent the last 6 years becoming more fundy and more entrenched in religious establishment. Now she's ready to walk away, and the thought is somewhat terrifying.
There is very slight memory of the fear that filled me when I thought that my coming out as a dyke would mean the end of my family. I came out in tears to my mother, over a focus on the family inspired article in the church newsletter about protecting family values. I was scared that my family would continue to chose the values that the church offered them. I was scared that living honestly would mean a life in which support systems are built on partners and friends, queer community centers and trained professionals. All of these things, I have found, are not so bad. In many situations having a "family" made up of people that one chooses to have in their life for specific purpose is very practical. I was also very fortunate that my parents chose to value family over "family values". I guess realizing that the last 20 years of raising kids was all to shit if you disown 2 adult queer children could have influenced that, but I think that my family has been a testament of valuing family and thinking with the heart. Every time that I have come out, as a dyke, as genderqueer, as trans, as queer, as gay, as a smoker, as a weed smoker, as a sober alcoholic, as kinky, my family has done anything they can to if not understand, support my choices and challenges.
Over these comings out and transitions I have also learned the value of chosen family. In times while I have been figuring things out, learning and growing, I have found mentors, teammates, brothers, sisters, and dear dear friends. I have lived and loved with my chosen family. We make dinner for each other, we drive each other to the airport. We cry and we cuddle. We will grow old together, we will raise each others children. Where we find each other, and how we become family is the part that may be harder to understand.
Coming from a church background it is very easy to understand community support. A group of people with shared values and motives gather in a shared space and support each other along the prescribed path. This is found in a building, classified by a denomination. Broken down into particulars and boxed accordingly. It's easy. Until you start thinking of a life outside those particulars. When your values stop mirroring those dictated by the establishment, that connection to community is fractured. Sometimes that's about being different, sometimes it's a recognition of in congruence, or a need to support loved ones who don't prescribe. But walking away from an easy access community is challenging. Especially when the practice of churches is to try and save those who stray and are lost into temptation. Taking a moment to think for one's self can be enough to get the church ladies praying for you and encouraging you to come back to the fold where decisions are pre-considered, values are clear cut.
Where do we find community? As queers we sometimes find our way to queer community centers and organizing groups. As activists we find our way to radical bookstores and communal houses. We find community in gender studies departments and dance parties. Quite often the spots that we center around are also centered on substance use (a separate post to come...). Quite often the places we find don't meet our spiritual needs (again, another post for another day...). But as they say in the church, you are never alone. Community support waits around the corner. It's safer to walk away than they will ever want you to know. I have been walking away, reformatting things and customizing my life, identity and support networks since leaving the first church (which I left to become more entrenched...) about 10 years ago. A community that expects' its components to compromise self or values for a pre-written code of accepted ways, will continue to find weakness in that compromise. The result is fundamentalism, staunch systems that become increasingly harsh and dictatorial in place of acknowledging diversity of self and experience. And that's what I love about my community, my chosen family, in recognition and celebration of our differences, we are allowed freedom.

Thursday, March 11, 2010



One of the first gendered presentation realms we are introduced to as children. I, growing up as a young girl in the 80's with long blonde hair, was not allowed to cut it. When I turned 12 and my dad's hairdresser cousin came to town offering to cut my hair and keep the 6 inch braid for my mom's mental health I started to exercise control. Before that the occasional trim, especially during the bang years, in the bathroom of my grandmothers, getting the perfectly square across the forehead snip was it. After it was an ongoing string of home haircuts, dye jobs and hair dressing school 5$ specials. I dyed my hair so much during my teen years that I didn't witness the process of my hair going from blonde to brown, it happened under layers of black, magenta, copper, fire, purple, blue, green, pink, orange, fire engine red and bleach.

After that first chop at 12 it was an going process of earning/negotiating approval to cut more and more. Eventually, by the end of grade 8 I was rocking the ear length mushroom cut. Not the most glamorous style: as always, parted straight down the middle. That haircut was a part of what led the boys I went to school with to bestow upon me the name man-child. I didn't even know how attached my hair was to my gender, I didn't have a conscious gender presentation, but subconsciously I was making decisions about my appearance that led the world to read me as male.

Now I feel that it is important to address racial assumption in terms of hair as well. I have always been read as white and I know that if the colonial intent of erasing the indian hadn't been quite as successful in my lineage things would be different. If the generational process of native women, treated as white, to raise "white" babies, all with white names and pride in their white lineage and silence and shame in their native roots hadn't been a process of eugenics which resulted in me losing my dark hair shortly after birth and becoming the passing blonde haired, blue eyed child my colonial patriarchs would be proud of. I know that if I was read as my native my hair perceptions would be different. I have had really good insight on this topic from Tobi. Hair, the way it is grown, styled, presented and read is subject to intersecting contexts. To be a native man with long hair, or to be a woman, managing limited mobility, with a short easy to maintain style is never just about gender.

I find that transition is often obsessed with hair. Ladies better grow your hair out to pass, men must be able to grow beards to be read as 'real'. This narrow minded perspective on things continues to perpetuate exclusion and discrimination within our circles. It's a challenge to our socialization to use female or gender neutral pronouns for a bearded individual, but a challenge we should be willing to pick up, as hair, and where it grows and how, does not make the man, woman, gender queer etc.

And of course what would a trans-man's post on hair be if to not address testosterone's effect on the hair line. I have been letting my hair grow out over the past 6 months, and it's almost long enough to pull into a little top knot. While doing this in the mirror the other day I noticed that my hair line is sitting a hell of a lot further back than the last time I took note of it. I thought for some reason that I would be immune to the transman's hairline blight, with a father with a full head of almost still brown hair and a fully grey mother with thick enough hair to choke a team of clydesdales. My paternal grandfather rocked a mean comb-over, and his wife didn't go grey until after she couldn't eat or hold herself up anymore. My mom's mom has lots of silver (she's always been adamant that red hair doesn't grey- it silvers) hair and her husband was dead before I can remember anything about his hair line. Even if I could remember cancer treatments would have skewed my perception. Now here I am, 24, almost 3 years on T and I am going grey more than I care to take note of and my hair line is slipping. I have grown hair on my chest, my face and belly, my legs are a forest and my arms have always been those of a pale chimp. But my head. I am having the resistance attitude, the "well if I am losing it I'm gonna hold on." I'll grow it out, continue to style it over my forehead, continue wearing hats, and possibly hold off on hair pulling (at least from the front). I figure I've got years to go before I feel a need to address the lack of hair in a more serious way, and I'd like to work all the hair I've got for as long as I've got it.

What's your relationship to hair, like it, love it, just waiting to leave it? What does your hair say about you? Are you a control freak who tops your hair into submission, or do you let your hair pull the strings? Do you participate in hair removal, extension, dying, perming? What's your relationship to how your hair is perceived?

For more on trans men and their hair check out Original Plumbing issue 2- Hair.