Antiviral: A Transgender Take on Body Horror

TW for discussions of: abuse, sexual violence, forced institutionalization.

As I entered into adulthood, I didn’t have a way to name my dysphoria. I had three queer friends, one of whom came out as trans my senior year of high school. I remember feeling a little envious, wondering why I couldn’t be trans too. I spent hours trying to find information about medical transition, reading everything I could. Unfortunately a lot of what I found were trans-exclusionary blogs that assured me I’d want to detransition, and that I would be much happier as a cis butch lesbian. That, and bodybuilding forums. Even the supportive, useful resources I found scared me off. They often greatly exaggerated testosterone’s effects. Puberty sucked the first time. I didn’t want to go through it again. But I did know my body didn’t feel right, so I kept looking.

That was about the time that I discovered the body horror genre. It was inevitable that I’d run into it. I loved cult horror, I loved anything psychological and atmospheric, and I loved special effects. The genre scratched my itch for weird, unforgettable movies. In retrospect, my fascination made a lot of sense. The creeping horror of watching your body mutate, transforming into something improper, inhuman, and wrong is something I think a lot of people with dysphoria can relate to. I knew that horror from my own adolescence. And I was afraid I’d know it again if I transitioned. What if hormones and surgeries only made me hate my body more?

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An Interview with Transgender Faith Leader Stephanie Mott

I first met Stephanie Mott in May, 2011. We were fighting for the Manhattan, Kansas commissioners to not repeal the anti-discrimination ordinance passed back in February that added sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of protected classes. You read that right, only three months after passing the ordinance the new Manhattan commission was working on revoking the rights of queer Manhattan residents. The anti-discrimination ordinance had made Manhattan, Kansas the second place in Kansas to add not only sexual orientation but gender identity to protected classes of citizens with Lawrence, Kansas being the first. In three short months, we saw these rights being ripped from under us.

We heard arguments from both sides, watching as ministers and fellow residents saying the protection was unnecessary because they had never seen someone discriminated on these bases. These responses came after person after person recounted tales of discrimination based on their gender and their sexual orientation, one of those people being me and another being Stephanie Mott. I remember coming down from speaking, shaking like a leaf. I was red, scared, and nervous. Stephanie hugged me and told me I had done an amazing job and handed me the card for her organization, KSTEP (Kansas Statewide Transgender Education Project).

This experience of being given rights and then watching them ripped out from under you and meeting Stephanie are experiences that have changed my life and have shaped many things in the years after. They are stories I recount often as the fight for basic protections continues across the United States and across the world. Stephanie, her kindness, and her story, and her dedication are something I look to frequently as something to strive towards.

What strikes me most about Stephanie is her unwavering faith. Stephanie is a Christian transsexual woman who frequently posts about her religion and its influence on her life. She even has a book titled God Doesn’t Have a Penis, and Other Writings by a Transsexual Christian Woman. She does not let those who question her identity and its intersection with her religion get in her way. This is most evident in her Trans Faith Tour she is currently doing across the country, talking about her experiences as a Christian trans woman.

I recently interviewed Stephanie about her Trans Faith Tour, KSTEP, and several other things.

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What ARE You?: Confusion in a Confusing World

“What are you?”

Honestly, I’m not quite sure. I am a trans man…..sort of. I do not entirely identify with man and trans is more of a description for me than man ever has been. I am non-binary, but that is just as vague as saying I have some sort of gender, but I’m not quite sure what it is, no matter how true that is. I am not confused as to who I am, I know that part quite well, but what I am is quite a bit trickier.

Imagine someone handing you a color swatch. They are painting their house and need to figure out how to describe the type of color. They want your help. You look at the swatch. The swatch is purple…kind of. It’s not exactly purple but, that is the closest word you know to describe it. It is clearly not green, orange, or red. However, purple is not quite the correct term. Purple-ish? Not exactly quite right either. You know what the color is not, but you can only describe certain qualities of the color, not the color itself.

Thus, for me, man is the closest I can get to my identity in the current word pool I am allowed and know. However, it is not entirely correct, thus I use non-binary, however, even then, it is imperfect.

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We Are Failing Our Queer Youth

For many, the most difficult times of our lives are high school, or even middle school. Years of turmoil for everyone, no matter who they are. Emotions run high and wild. Puberty blossoms and devastates. Youth struggle between homework, friendships, and their own budding senses of self. It is due to this, among many other reasons, that we often fail queer youth and their power, their bravery, their courage, and their strength. This bravery does not come for free though.

Queer youth are four to seven times more likely to try and commit suicide. They face extreme family rejection as well as peer rejection. They face mockery from student and staff alike in an environment that is supposed to protect, nurture, and educate. They suffer. They suffer during one of the most difficult times during a person’s life. So why, why do we never praise them for their strength and their courage? In fact, we tell them to shut up. We tell them to take it. Programs like the It Gets Better and Day of Silence campaigns promises queer youth that if they just suffer through, it gets better, do not fight. Do not challenge. Silently suffer.

Why do we not support our queer youth more? Whether they are in the closet or living open and proud, with a target on their backs or even their foreheads? Why do we not support their choices? Why do we not fight for them to be open and proud, without the risk of being driven from school or their homes? Why do we not address the hostile environments that make 20-40% of youth on the streets queer? Why? Why are we failing our children so horribly?
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Personal, Political, Intimate

There is something very intimate about knowing your body. There are certain things you just learn over the course of time that no one else can ever know, like how much room your body takes up (no matter your size), the feeling of others eyes on you, how you navigate the world and spaces you inhabit. There is a lot of talk about how the personal is political, but I feel, the personal is also intimately political. Whenever we talk about our bodies and our lives, we open ourselves up.

When you are trans*, and you speak of your history and your body, a peculiar thing happens. You can feel them, the eyes slowly undressing you, as if trying to verify your story. The sudden scrutiny as if looking for whatever small misstep you or your body may make to ‘give you away’. When we talk about ourselves, everything becomes deeply intimate. When we dare open our mouths, our lives become a spectacle, a display, for people to examine, to probe, to dissect.

The moment we announce our trans* status, we seem to be stripped of our privacy and our consent. Everything becomes intimate. People lose their decency and we lose ours because we are expected to have none. We are expected to allow strangers to undress us with their eyes and their words, answer questions about our genitals, probe into our most intimate histories and details, all without even a dinner and a show first. We are expected to stop whatever we are doing at a moments notice and strip ourselves bare.

How does this turn the personal is political into the personal is politically intimate?

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22 Years: My Body

I have lived in this body of mine for 22 years. I know most of the ins and outs of it. I know what feels good, feels bad, makes me sick, makes me happy, or makes me sad. I know when I am getting sick and I know when something is wrong. I have lived in my body for 22 years now and in a short time, I will have lived in it for 23 years. In fact, I have had this body for even longer than that, but it was not really complete at that time, even now, my body is incomplete.

However, when someone asserts they know more about my body than I, they are asserting they have more intimate knowledge of the body I have spent 22 years residing in. When someone asserts that how I label my body is incorrect or wrong, they are saying they have more knowledge of my body than I do. In fact, many people base their arguments on my body based on what a doctor spent three seconds looking at when I was born, my genitals. These people are asserting that this doctor, who only knew me for those mere moments, knows me better than I do after 22 years in this body.

My body is my own. When people assert that they know more about my body and how to label it, they are removing this fact. When people argue that I am ‘female-bodied’ as opposed to male-bodied, they are stripping me of my bodily autonomy. They are removing me of my right to exist as I am and as I have learned who I am. When people assert their labels over my own, they are telling me that they have more intimate knowledge of the body I have spent 22 years in. Many of these people are people who have never met me. Many of these people have only interacted with me through words and text. These are people who have never even seen the body they are trying to describe, they just simply know I am trans*.

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Through Labels We Exist

I often see people complain about the human need to categorize and thus, label people.  It is often surrounded by people decrying how they do not see race, gender, sexuality, or any other labels. These people proclaim that they only see people, and do not see the labels that describe people.  Think of this thought exercise, it is a simple one, try to describe someone you know, anyone you know, without labels. Can you do it? I bet you cannot or, if you could, you forgot that words like nice, silly, goofy, annoying, spiteful, loud, and so on, are labels. In fact, another word for labels would be adjectives, words we use to describe a noun, like a person.  By removing labels, we effectively erase humans as the diverse and amazing animals we are. By removing labels, we silence ourselves, our histories, our experiences, and most importantly, what makes us, well, us. Without labels, we cannot exist, not in a world that honors people for their humanity anyway.

Removing labels is not only impossible, but dangerous and harmful. As mentioned, we would have to effectively remove adjectives from our vocabulary, or, never apply them to people. If we only applied them to non-human animals or objects, why should they be afforded language that shows how wonderfully diverse they are, but humans are not? To deny labels is to deny diversity. It is to deny human experience. In fact, to remove labels is vastly anti-human in a way. It removes the very things that make up each unique (another label) individual. In fact, I cannot hold a conversation about labels without using labels. They are not only ingrained into our language, but help define it. In fact, studying how other people use language and labels in other languages helps broaden our own sensory perceptions. Understanding how other people see color and define color allows us to broaden our ability to see colors and understand them.

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No Obligation in Education

There seems to be a trend among those who are interested or uneducated in feminism and other social justice movements. This need almost always comes from those who are from the majority (thus, generally white, straight, cis men) who feel that they can demand education from those who are knowledgeable in the subject. They get angry or upset when someone refuses to educate them or does not want to answer their many questions.

Often, the questions that are asked are easily answered via Google. There are many, many 101 courses that people have written to cover these questions. Many people have to answer the same questions, repeatedly, and it can get quite annoying. For example, I often get asked what the asterisk in trans* stands for or what does queer mean. These questions are easily entered into Google with hundreds of resources for people to look into.

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Borderline Personality Disorder and My Experiences

Trigger Warning: Trans*phobia, cissexism, assault, self-harm, suicide

Queer and trans* issues are the forefront of what I write about. These are huge factors in my life and my life goals, so it makes sense I spend a great deal of time talking about them and their impact on me and others. While I do not try to hide the fact I am mentally ill, I do not generally write or openly talk about it. I feel like I need to change this. Four years ago, I was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder. Some of you may have heard it from the news or TV shows, often in an extremely negative light. Those with my mental illness are portrayed as serial killers, mass murderers, criminals, and sociopaths. People with Borderline are almost never displayed in a good light. That is why I was through the roof when I found out that one of my trans* role models, Kate Bornstein, also had Borderline.

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