This afternoon on the drive home from work, and getting my kittens' reproductive system removed, I happened to be in the same time and place as another queer trans person as we re-fueled at the country co-op. We chatted for a brief seconds, about pets, fatigue and surgeries when we were approached by a woman. And of course, I am making broad presumption, given where I may take this next; but I read her to be a woman, presenting woman-ness with the ease and non-thought that people who really haven't thought all that much about the gender they are presenting may actually think (I think- I don't know cis-ness or the ease that comes from it), or not, about the woman-ness (or man-ness) that they may be presenting.
She approached us with her camera and a question. She told us that she was working on a photo project and wondered if she could take our pictures for her project. I asked her what the project was. She responded, “Oh it's not going anywhere, it's not going to be published or anything, it's just this thing that I am working on, where I'm taking pictures of people and then making up stories about them.”
I hummed for a brief second before saying no. The answer was clear to me in a bristle up the hairs of the back of my neck, although it took most of the rest of the half hour drive home and sitting down to write that I really realize my abrasion to this idea.
I am scheduled to present on a panel about gender and health at a Rural Health Research Conference. It will be full of academics and public health heads, policy makers and health care gate keepers. I was asked to supply a photo and bio. I wrote my bio easily enough. I use the appropriate “they” pronoun throughout, identify myself as an organizer from trans and queer communities. Luckily this is relevant to my work. I am not exactly sure how I would inject my story, my identity if it wasn't relevant. Although that spins off into a whole other conversation around the transferable resiliency skills we develop as marginalized people. The problem I am having though is with the picture. I know it is hard to communicate my wholeness in a still picture. I am a dynamic being, constantly fluxing through variations and identity spaces.
I search my folders.
Lots of photos of stuff. Stuff in the forest. Stuff in my yard. Stuff my kids made out of Lego. My kids. In costumes. With Ponies. In Costumes. If you look through the pictures quickly it is like some sort of trippy music video. The kids frantically dance between costumes and dance poses, all interspersed with ponies and gushing fungi and fence posts.
There are some photos of me. All of which capture one version. One moment. Of the wide changing wholeness that is me. Whatever gender was shining through brighter in that particular moment from that particular angle- interpreted of course through the viewers' lens. I know that there are lots of people who don't know a version of me yet. They may not know words like genderqueer, androgyne, femme, queer, fagette and so I know in place they may fill in words like man, woman, or freak to fill in and span across the places between what the pictures show, regardless how incongruous it may end up seeming.
I want to find a photo that feels like exactly the right mix of all of the things, the things that I know words for, but other might not, to illustrate exactly the delicate and ever shifting balance that I am constantly working to balance. For matters of integrity and truth, but also for safety and security.
I have been accepting requests for interviews. Students at the local college seem to be asking me my words for some paper every few weeks. I give my words, knowing that even if they may be edited down for the submitted paper, the interviewer will have had the opportunity for me to fully articulate myself. I can state and elaborate on confusing points of seeming contradiction and muse at mystery.
I half-joke with the students about finding a way for my being a community resource who is studied and interviewed and quoted to lead to me getting an honorary degree.
At the gas pumps:
The woman with the camera walks away. We look to each other. “Maybe if was something about trans visibility in the country" we say , "then maybe." “Ya, or if it was someone I knew”
Then there would be the assurance that our stories are getting made up, with more than just a minute portion of the data required to make even the most blanket judgements. Our stories are already made up of words that are standing in and leaving gaps. Without the opportunity to sit and tell them ourselves, we know the likelihood that we will be given an ill fitting simplified story, to match with our ever complex and dynamic selves, is too high a risk. A story that has the potential to persist, if only for that one person; a neighbour in this tiny place we live, to think she knows us, or a version of us, or a frame worth of who we are.
I thank all of you who have ever taken my picture in a way that recognizes and tries to capture the dynamic blends of femme, nonbinary, queer, genderqueer, kinky, sex positive, resistant, resilient, creative and all the other things that I am sometimes or all times. And may we use this as a reminder to make space for people to tell a version of their own stories. Hear their own truth. You might hear a story you haven't heard before.