(Artwork used with permission)
Christine, thank you for taking the time to speak with me.
First off, I assume "Christine Smith" is a pseudonym (as is "Eddie Cabot,") but am I correct in understanding that, as the author of two comics primarily about MtF transgendered characters, that you yourself are MtF trans?
Nope, Christine Smith is my actual name. With such a common name, who needs a pseudonym? ;') And yes, I am MTF trans.
We'll get the obvious one out of the way: How old were you when you were first aware that something was different about you in that regard?
Well, I always knew I was a girl. The first time I remember knowing something was “off” was when my sister explained the vagina/penis thing….. It’s hard to remember exactly when that was, but I think I was 3-5 years old. I was understandably bummed out. A few years later…. It must have been ’77… I saw Renee Richards discussed on the Phil Donahue show. I would have been six years old. It was the first time I had heard about transsexuals, and suddenly my feelings made sense to me. It was a moment of hope. Later that day I was in my backyard with my sister, on our tire swing as I remember it. I told her when I grew up I was going to be a woman, and she told me the-hell-I-will. Now, in her defense, I’m certain she was looking out for me, trying to protect me,and that she believed every word. She broke down for me the future she saw ahead for me: I would be a monster. I would be a pariah. I would be disowned, homeless, unloved and alone. I was not allowed to be this. So, I learned to repress, and to survive by not letting myself be known.
Where do you see yourself in terms of your transition? (Personally, I mean, not medically, which is none of anyone else's business.)
Well, I started transition at the end of the 90’s and I’m out to everyone, so I’m pretty comfy by now. Or, as much as possible, given the society in which I live.
How did family and friends react?
My parents responded supportively, although it’s worth noting that we are much more distant now than we were before. That’s not all on them, and some of it may have happened anyway in time, as I started spending holidays at home with my wife since she can’t get a week at a time off from work. We communicate sporadically, each kind of feeling we should be in touch more. My sister…. We’ve long had a strained relationship. She held on to a very strong second wave feminism opinion against transgender people for decades, well into my transition. I don’t know where her head’s at about it right now. We’re not in touch at the moment.
My friends, none of them I hung out with had a problem with it. Although it’s also worth noting that I’ve only ever had a small handful of friends at any given time. Still, their response was along the lines of ‘oh, okay then. Wanna play video games?” What’s been really wonderful is that although I used to move a lot and shed friends quite a bit, we now live in the age of social media, and I’ve been lucky enough to reconnect with friends from high school. All of them are happy for me. I’ve never had many friends, but it’s good to know that some of them were…. and are…. friends of the highest quality.
Was there anyone you’ve avoided getting in touch with, out of concern that they would be somewhat LESS than accepting?
Well, let me put it this way: The people from my past are people who went to the effort to find me. So, [yes,] that fear is still in place for everyone else.
How did you get into doing artwork, and the Comics? Do you do do it professionally?
Oh, I’ve drawn since I was able to grip a crayon. I think it’s just part of my nature to need to make things that are beautiful or at least visually interesting. Cartooning was always what appealed to me most. Professionally? Well, I illustrate Gwen Smith’s biweekly column in the Bay Area Reporter, and I’ve been paid for every book I’ve contributed to except for one that was a social action thing. But more than that? Sadly, no. Not yet.
Do you have other projects that you'd like to make people aware of?
I am in the book No Straight Lines: Four Decades Of Queer Comics Ed. Justin Hall. It is a current nominee for the Eisner award for best anthology, and you are currently able to vote on it at their website. So go! Do so! [Sorry - turns out that only professional, registered artists can vote.]
I also art done for Kate Bornstein’s My New Gender Workbook which should be out in May. We created a character together, and I drew hir in several different states, and Kate used hir to punctuate her text. It was kind of awesome to work with her. She’s someone I just adore.
Also, out later this year, an anthology of contemporary queer comics submitting original work. It’s edited by Rob Kirby whose work I was reading back in the 90’s. Plus, hey; I can say I worked with Kirby without lying now.
How much of your personal experience or journey makes it into the comics?
Oh, never doubt for a second that I’m a self-obsessed introvert. It’s all me. There’s a lot of coding and misdirection, but at core it’s all extremely personal, a way of making sense of my life. Psychological archeology, if you will.
Are any Characters based on people you know? Is there an "Author Avatar" in one of them? Where else do you find inspiration for the stories?
I think they’re all me through a different lens. I find some of myself in all of them. Self-obsessed introvert, remember? Who do I understand better than me? I suppose that if I can keep figuring out what they do next and why, I have to understand them on some level. The best way to do that is to relate to them, and that tends to mean they’re an aspect of me.
As for inspiration, a lot of it comes from the movement among parents and caregivers who are educating themselves and spreading the word and doing the best they can with an open mind for their gender nonconforming children. I am so grateful for them. They give me hope that progress will be made, and future children will be spared a lot of what I went through. Also, the children themselves. I have none of my own….. The Princess is my way to help them have it just a little easier. Sometimes one of them makes the news and I find I can fit it in very well. The Girl Scouts welcoming of little transgender girls quite obviously inspired a story. People need to think about these things, work them out in their own minds. That’s how we move forward.
Were you a regular reader of any other TG Comics before you got into doing your own? Venus Envy, by Erin Lindsay, Transgirl Diaries, by Evelyn Poor and Closetspace by Jenn Dolari, all come to mind. I'm curious if any of these (or others) particularly inspired you, or if you found the genre (if that's even the right word) to be lacking in some way.
I read Venus Envy way back when. It was the standard I felt I had to aspire to, but I very consciously wanted to do something different. Personally, I have nothing to say about passing so I don’t talk about it.. As a community standard, I find it quite backward. When people recognize that I'm trans, they may not quite understand how to interpret what they see, but they are quite decidedly seeing me for what and who I am.
At one point, I remember a kind of meta-issue of Eve's Apple where Eve was trying to cheer herself up by going on-line and reading the comments section of her "comic discussion board." Which ended up being a REALLY bad idea...
Was this in reaction to some trolling you had recieved?
Ooooh, no, I wish I could describe this strip in a noble way, but it was actually a bit bile-ridden I'm sad to say, and it came from a dark place. I hung out for years on the message board of a popular comic’s creator who is famous to his or her 'tolerant LGBT views'. I found that under the surface, this person was far from the tolerant figure they present to the world. They defended the notion that transgender murder victim Gwen Araujo deserved to be murdered and that sleeping with a trans person was the equivalent of eating a sandwich of feces. They described this as a reasonable point of view that reasonable people might have. I left their message board, and they and their moderators made up some script about how I just didn't feel SUPPORTED when they were blaming trans murder victims and comparing sex with a transperson to eating feces. They felt that my arguing against these opinions were inappropriate and intolerant. The creator had previously argued that no books with gay couples should be allowed in elementary schools. This strip was a dig at that creator and their message board because it had been a part of my life for years and I had to release it from my system. Unfortunately one thing I've learned is that you never, ever, EVER criticize a creator from the Big Two. Their fans and blindly loyal and will attack you VICIOUSLY. I spend a certain amount of time gritting my teeth at the praise this creator gets, which I believe is unearned. But, I had to blow off steam somehow, so I did that one strip. I'm sorry to say, this probably doesn't speak well for me, but what can I say? I'm human.
Sorry… "Big Two?"
Ah. Big Two= DC Comics and Marvel.
With regards to the Princess, her Dad is basically a big, hairy pile of awesome. But I'm guessing he's a bit idealized. Do you think that most parents handle the situation as well as he does? What is the message behind his character?
He’s a counterpoint to Wendy. I try not to outright preach, and I don’t do an ‘essay/diary’ style comic, so I address those issues through the conflict between these characters. I decided to make him more accepting and the mother more controlling simply to go against the gender stereotypes.
Sadly, I suppose, I would guess that the more typical reaction, or arguably the best one that one could reasonably hope for, would be more along the lines of how things have worked out with Wendy. IOW: She doesn't get it, she hurts Sarah a lot (unintentionally), she's scared (etc...) but she's TRYING. Or, at least... that's how I take her. Or am I supposed to NOT like her? What's the message behind her character?
Wendy’s reacting by trying to protect, she’s trying to protect by controlling what she can, and she’s controlling what she can because she feels her power to give her baby the life she thinks would make him/her happiest slipping away. I suppose the message there is that that sometimes people do the wrong things for the right reasons. Sometimes the things that hurt us aren’t done from malice but from love. That doesn’t make it hurt less, but perhaps it means that you can have compassion for people who have done you wrong by trying to do you right.
She seems to have gotten her fair share of criticism in the comments section, but I'd be willing to bet that the haters are in their teens or 20's, without kids, and those that give her the benefit of the doubt (or credit for trying) are parents. Do you think I'm way off base on this?
I think you’re dead on with that. Those of us who have lived long enough to have regrets of our own understand even the best people can make mistakes. I probably would have hated her at that age myself. But, I’ve lived.
Princess started as a spin-off, of Eve's Apple, with Sarah making her first appearance over there. At the time, did you already have plans on creating the second comic?
By the time I was done with the second Eve’s Apple featuring Sarah, I knew. I thought about it and asked a few friends, but I had to. I was compelled to.
I remember at one point, you mentioning that the number of Princess comics surpassed Eve's Apple. And several characters from Eve's have made it over to Princess. Do you plan to continue with Eve's? (Please say, "Yes!") (Just kidding.) (Not really.) LOL
I do. I want to bring it to a satisfying conclusion at some point. I’ve not gotten to work on it for months, because I’m doing work for some of the books I’ve mentioned. To be honest, I wouldn’t mind that good fortune continuing. But some day, I wanna end it right.
In contrast to Princess, where I get the feeling that no matter what the world throws at her, things will still work out for Sarah, due to her own personal strength, and the presence of so many positive people in her life...
Yes that’s exactly right. Eve’s world and Eve’s life is more or like mine spiced up to make it romantic and sexy. But even here, in the San Francisco Bay Area….. It’s just a really hard life. It means daily indignities and always navigating situations with a mind to the safest way through. Day after day and year after year that wears on you. It also came from a place of feeling that I could never have a place in the greater, cisgender lesbian subculture. It’s something I’ve needed, and I just never feel at home there so I just don’t really try anymore. It also comes from a feeling that no cisgender woman could ever want to be with me, or take me seriously romantically. Which, you know, I’m very happily married to the love of my life who is transgender like me, so it’s a moot question. But you know…. I’m still a queer femme and it’s hard to feel good about myself as a queer femme when I suspect I’m repulsive (or worse…. “Adorable”…..) to most other queer women. To those who don’t already know where I’m coming from, who can just appreciate me for me. To be appreciated as a woman, not just as a transgender woman. Eve’s Apple is an attempt to heal from that pain, but the whole work is colored by it.
Eve and Lilith have been on their date for, like, several months now (LOL - I did a web-comic myself for several years, and maintaining regular updates was always a challenge!) but why do I have the feeling that Lillith's just a page or two away from completely fucking up what was otherwise going to be a wonderful evening? And I supposed to LIKE Lilith? In there a happy-ever-after for Eve in all that? (If I'm violating a no-spoilers rule, we can ignore this!)
You suspect it because her story is about the same as any ‘bro’ comedy film you can name….. Learning now not to be an entitled douchebag. I think of Lilith as VERY unlikeable, but goddamn she is pure sexual chocolate. You just can’t help yourself from wanting her. At least Eve can’t. As for a happy-ever-after ending….. No promises there. This is not to say it won’t end on an optimistic note to some degree. Expect more of an “I’ve learned from my journey” ending to the series.
There's been quite a bit of art-evolution throughout both comics...
...with The Princess eventually going over to color. (Something that just doesn't seem like it would be right for Eve's Apple, if I may be so bold. LOL) Was the change to color meant to coincide with a plot point (like a Wizard of Oz moment, that I apparently missed) or was it just more of a skills/software/tools-upgrade at the time? If you continue Eve's, will it stay Black and White?
It wasn’t a Wizard of Oz moment….. The first color one marks the first strip I did digitally. I was trained exclusively in traditional media, and I liked the character of hand-drawn strips, but I figured that if I was going digital, I should embrace everything it can do, and that included going to color.
Eve’s will always be black & white. I tried color in it, and it just wasn’t Eve’s world.
The Princess features a very diverse cast - In addition to Sarah (and Mars) being trans-, you've got characters of different ethnic backgrounds, sexual orientation and religions; In particular, you've made it point to show that Sarah is Jewish. Does that come from your own faith, or was there some other reason for the decision to make her so?
This could be just a misperception of mine, but it seems like as the WWII generation passes, concern about anti-Semitism is disappearing. I just don’t see any of the young leftists worried about it, and I don’t think anti-Semitism is going away. Perhaps with the rise of evangelical atheism, religion is just considered unsavory to defend in any way? I’m honestly not sure.
When I was in grade school, I was bullied a LOT. One of the things bullies called me was “Jew” Well, I wasn’t Jewish, but that put me in a tricky place. I could, of course, vigorously deny it, but to do that would to concede that being Jewish was shameful. I could argue with them and explain I’m not but I wouldn’t care if I was…. And in fact I tried that. But bullies don’t care about that, they care about the rise they can get out of you. This left me with “Yeah okay. So?”
Finally, it’s a nod to the history of Judaism from out of Egypt today. They have faced oppressions that would make the modern leftist blush when they use the word, and they have endured and they have survived and they have remained a tribe. I find that hopeful.
The trouble is, I need to understand the faith better. I read a nice, breezy book on Islam to understand Basanti better, but everything I can find on explaining Judaism is dry and scholarly. As a result, she’s been pretty nonobservant on panel. I’d really like to be able to do better by her when it comes to her faith.
How much of a role does (or did) religion play in your life, and how has that affected (or been affected by) your decision to transition?
I was raised Baptist.
I’m guessing some of your readers will have cringed at that. Baptists are generally understood to be intolerant and ignorant. These were NOT the Baptists I was brought up with. Suffice to say, back in the day, there were more than a few ERA NOW buttons on women’s lapels in the congregation and a gay choir director. It was fairly yankee liberal. With adolescence, I stopped going to Church, stopped being a Christian. I got to that age where I learned what the Inquisition was and what the Crusades were, and I became disillusioned with the whole thing. In college, I flirted with Catholicism and Episcopal mass. I loved the high-churchiness of it, but wasn’t really able to believe. I’d come to realize that taken literally, I just could not get behind the core biblical stories. Over the years, I flirted with neopaganism, and spent some time meditating with Buddhists. As a result, my current belief system is something I call ‘spiritual gumbo’…. A bit of this and a bit of that. Thankfully, I came after a while to accept that the stories in the bible might [not?] be factually true, but metaphorical truth is also important, and I’m able to find inspiration in the Bible again. But I’m not headed to church. To people who sneer as faith by calling God an “imaginary friend” I say God is not my imaginary friend, s/he’s my METAPHORICAL friend. Metaphor is hir flesh, and I’m happy to embrace hir again.
As to how my religious history affected me……. Hmmmmm. That’s a good question. I can’t say that it played a role in my transition at all to be honest. I had taboos to cross to get to where I could transition, but I don’t recall any of those being religious based.
Prior to your marriage, had you been in other relationships, either as a male or as a female? Were there any complications due to you being trans? Any advice (words of wisdom or warning) for those who haven’t taken that step yet?
Oh, yes. Not many romantic relationships, mind you. I was a very late bloomer, and I was in deep repression, ‘punishing’ myself for having thoughts of being a woman. By the time I started dating I was in a deep state of denial and repression, and very uncomfortable with sex. My self esteem was rock bottom and my suicidal ideation was near constant. I was making my best guess at how to act “like a guy”. I had no self-confidence, and I was entering into these relationships completely being dishonest with myself and my partner because of the fundamental lie that I was a man. Dating was a mix of longing and inability to connect due to lies and repression.
Do you have any regrets (related to transitioning, I mean)?
I regret letting so many people slip out of my life. It was easier to be alone than to share the company of others, but much lonelier and that loneliness accumulates.
Are there any aspects of your “old life” (please forgive me if that’s not the way to say it) that you miss?
I miss being able to navigate my local community with ease and without worry. I miss not being stared at wherever I go. But all of that that came with shackles, and I prefer freedom and integrity to an ’easier’ life of lies and despair.
Do you ever think about your old life or the “old you”?
No. For me it’s all part of a continuity. I never changed who I am, you know? I have no old life or new life…. It’s all my life. I know that before, I hated life and myself. I was lost in a web of compulsive lies, felt false, felt desperate, felt caged, saw no point to my life. I’m glad to be shed of that. I’m glad to live in honesty and integrity.
Do you ever catch yourself (or perhaps your wife) doing, thinking or saying something that’s like, “Ugh, typical male!”
I did for the first several years into transition. Today? Not as much. That kind of thinking always reflected self-hate. As I learn to find peace with who I was, I learn to accept myself as I am. “Typical male” kind of thinking buys into the notion that there’s a right or wrong way to be a man or a woman. I try to avoid that. I won’t say the thought never crosses my mind anymore… I just try to recognize it for what it is and let go of it.
A bit of an odd-ball question, but... To the extent that you remember your dreams (I generally DON’T) what gender are you in them? And was that always the case?
As well as I can remember them, I am one or the other, but usually that doesn’t enter into it. I think most of our dreams are pretty fluid.
Something I read recently in Chris Hazelton’s “Misfile” (a pseudo-TG web-comic of the ‘magical transformation’ variety, where the cis-male lead character was MADE female and is now basically an FtM Trans-character) struck me... Ash (the lead character) had just turned 18 and was looking back at his life (having been female for just under a year at this point) and one of the milestones he mentioned, of his losing touch with his “male” self, was that his “internal voice” started to sound like his “external voice.”
I’m assuming your “external” voice has changed? If so, has your “internal voice” changed as well? (Or is there still a male-sounding voice in your head? If it did, did you notice it when it happened? [Note: I’ll cut that short, if one of your answers precludes the other questions.]
I think it’s evolved. I don’t think that’s all due to gender transition, though. I really don’t think of the gender implied by my internal voice, I only think about my voice when I speak. In my thoughts, in my mind, there’s no confusion. It’s in interpreting my truths to be comprehensible to others that my internal critical voice enters into the picture.
Moving onto to more political topics… With regards to intolerance it seems to me that the Trans community gets the short end of every stick. You get it from the Religious Right, which is not too surprising (but to be fair, many Religious people and Religions fully embrace Trans-folk, so that’s not at all to say that Religion is “all bad” in this way!) But you also get it, as you mentioned, from many in the hardcore, feminist camp. (I’d imagine they’d hate FtM’s just a much – “gender traitors” or some such thing.) And I don’t find this to be all that surprising either. But was initially surprised how often Trans-phobia comes from the Homosexual community!
Yeah, there’s a lot of fear, spite, and acrimony between our communities. It’s a viscous cycle. Transgender expression and people were first excluded from the Christopher Street Pride Parade in 1972, because we were felt to give the “wrong impression” of the “gay and lesbian community”. We’ve been in a spiral of blame since. Some gays and lesbians saying we make them look bad or threaten their rights, trans people reacting in a way that doesn’t distinguish the difference between “some gays feel this way” and “all gays feel that way”. Speaking or writing disdainfully of the entire G&L community. The G&L community, especially those who didn’t feel that way become upset, and escalate their responses from simple discussion to defensive or aggressive tirades. We respond in kind. And on it goes, taking an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. We need to break the cycle. We need to seek understanding between us. And we need to remember the bisexuals and everyone else who are on this ride with us.
So do you feel that this “LGBT” Umbrella is an appropriate grouping or more like politics making strange bedfellows? It seems like the only things linking alternative sexual orientation with non-conforming gender identity is their political opposition. And yeah… surprisingly (HA!) it’s not always a happy little alliance.
I think it’s a historical, social, and cultural alliance. It reminds us of our common history, common culture, and common movement. It recalls how our fates have been entwined in history, and it reminds us that we are stronger together than separated in our various communities. I’m a big believer in the umbrella. Solidarity is powerful. We need to embrace it.
I can't remember right now where I read it, but a while back you mentioned an incident where a representative of the Human Rights Campaign made a Trans group take down their [blue/pink rainbow flag.] Now HRC gets a lot of, I would say, well deserved praise, for their work, and I count myself as a supporter of their stated mission – which, as written, includes Transgendered people every bit as much as LGB’s. Was this an isolated incident, or rouge individual within, that the organization perhaps mishandled? Or is there a pattern of behavior that people on the outside, like me and my readers, should be aware of?
It’s a pattern. The HRC has long has a disconnect with the transgender community, and have often advanced efforts for gays and lesbians through betrayal of promises made to transgender people. Former HRC director Elizabeth Birch famously addressed transgender issues by saying: “trans inclusion will be a legislative priority over my dead body.” We have long been the bargaining chip they have discarded in order to gain concessions for themselves. My disdain for the organization is Brobdingnagian. You’ll have a difficult time finding many transgender people who support the HRC. They have been happy to take our money, but seem to have felt no actual responsibility to represent us. There is a saying in the trans community: “You can tell when the HRC bus has come to town by the transgender bodies left crushed beneath their wheels.” There is no trust between us to build upon right now. I can’t imagine that this will change anytime soon. I don’t know if it ever will.
Just one of the pitfalls of putting too much faith in a Political Organization, I guess.
Now, related to that, I’ve been a long-time fan of Dan Savage. But I also learned that a few years back, HE made some pretty trans-phobic comments in what is otherwise considered his politically, socially and sexually enlightened column. Now he’s offered a half-hearted… I won’t even say “apology,” more like just a weak “distancing” himself from those words. And to be fair to the Trans- community, I’ve never believed in forgiving someone who’s never actually apologized. (Though at the same time, some of the response form the Trans-community sounded like it would have been more appropriately aimed at MIKE Savage than DAN Savage!) But what are your thoughts on that? And is this just another unfortunate consequence of the LGBT Grouping?
Dan Savage is a tough nut. He has undeniably done some good, positive things. Also, at various points he has undeniably embraced ignorance over understanding when it comes to transgender people. I respect some things he’s done, but it's hard for me to like the man.
You recently had Digby giving Wendy some perspective on whether it’s “worse” to be Gay or Trans...
I don’t believe in saying group A has it better or worse than group B, because that always comes with broad generalities. I think the truth is that you have to break it down into individual experiences. You may assume an aggregate, and there may be statistics that might back some of this up, but I think that a lot of factors influence who has it worse as individuals. Who has a harder life, a gay kid whose family disowns her and casts her out, or the transgender child being raised by supportive, loving parents who tell her every day that they are behind her come what may?
One of my biggest frustrations with the Left is that they seem to want to break down “oppression” and “privilege” into a mathematical equation, so we can say A > B. Person A has it worse than person B based on trait X. Human beings cannot be generalized that way. It doesn’t bear out. Our experiences defy neat categorization. Individuals are influenced by thousands, millions of factors. Some are these factors are influenced by demographics but ONLY some are. Why do we need to rank each other on the ease or difficulty of our lives based on any given trait? It’s ridiculous. People are unique harmonies created by the totality of their individual experiences.
What if I were to say (let’s call it hypothetical right now… it might or might not be true in the story) that Digby ran away at 14 from fundamentalist parents who beat him for being gay, survived on the street turning tricks and doing hard, dangerous drugs, weathering physical, emotional, and sexual abuse, assault, and addiction? Who has or had it worse in that case…. him or Sarah? His experience as a gay kid, the things he lost and the abuse and degradation he’d have experienced will have taken him down a far darker road than Sarah. Because ‘gay’ is only one factor, and his situation is different from hers, even beyond the matter of their identities. The notion of the mathematics of oppression is based on the belief of “all else being equal” but the truth is that’s a lie, because all else is NEVER equal. It never will be. That doesn’t negate statistics such as murder rates, unemployment or suicide percentages. It just recalls that individuals are individuals, not generic members of any group they belong to.
What I was trying to say is that being gay often leads to situations that are difficult to weather. What I meant is that being queer, for most of us, is hard. Period. No need to compare or attempt to qualify it or determine who “wins” the award for Most Oppressed. That helps no one but those who wish us to remain separate. It is how we divide ourselves, and we need to remember that the other side of the coin from being divided is being conquered. Why not just respect each other’s journeys without qualification or holding them up to the yardstick of our own experiences?
An excellent point.
This also reflects a period of my life where I felt if I could only direct the scary Trans feeling I was repressing and transform myself into “just” a gay man, I might have it easier. This of course was foolish on so many grounds, and took me some places I’d not been before or since.
I was going to as you if being trans made you (or others in the trans- community) a one-issue voter(s) but then you mentioned right up front that you were opposed to some of the “sacred cows” of the Left. (For the record, this is why I prefer the term “Progressive,” as I rather think about myself as leaning FORWARD, that LEFT.) So what are some of those sacred cows? And… come on… As a transgendered person living in San Francisco, DON’T TELL ME you vote REPUBLICAN?! (*wink*) And where do trans-issues rank relative to some of those “sacred cows” that you don’t like?
Well, I’m registered to vote under the Green Party so it’s a rare thing for me to vote GOP. I’m not saying I never have, but I could probably count those votes over the years on one hand and not use all fingers.
I answered a lot about my problem with the sacred cows in the previous question. I think on the left we are obsessed with our differences at the cost of neglecting our similarities. I think we become so mesmerized by this theoretic ‘mathematics of oppression’ that too often all we can see are the things that divide us. We come to fetishize these things. We want to understand other’s ‘oppressions’ and in trying to do so we often embrace stereotypes while believing that we are gaining insight. We think that one person’s experience or opinions represent their entire group. For example I hear many non black people assert they understand the experience of black people by watching Chappelle’s Show. They honestly feel that this one man’s comedy program offers a cohesive vision of the entire African-American community and is the final word on instructing us on what values, ideals, and beliefs related to the black experience allies are supposed to embrace. Chappelle’s humor and insights can be regarded as important and I personally find him really funny, but he’s just one person and his work is satire. He exaggerates for humorous effect and to make a point, but because the humor comes from the differences between us, people who look to that as the most vital source of social commentary come to see the differences between us as the most germane issues. What about our commonalities? Where in the culture do we honor our common ground, or even seek it out? I don’t see much interest in commonalities. I see almost everyone in the left focusing on the lines that divide us, and judging those who dwell on either side. Most obviously to my life people see the division between cis and trans, and use the great oppression equation to decide which side is the good guys and which is the bad guys. The true answer to both is “we all are”.
We find ways to argue around our core values. We know we should never hate someone for what they are, but then we punish ourselves for being what we are. I hear so much along the lines of “I hate myself for being cis”, or “straight” or whatever. I see this over and over. We’d never accept hating other groups of people for being what they are, but we feel compelled to hate ourselves. We seek out the imbalances in the great oppression equation that relate specifically to our lives, and we feel the need to atone for any place where we feel we’ve had an advantage through acts of self-abuse. There’s a lot of self-flagellation going on in the left for the traditional fundamentalist reasons. We seek purity and absolution through punishing ourselves and we degrade ourselves to shed the historic burdens we feel we bear. We come to hate ourselves for what we are and we forget that we should never judge ANYONE for those things about themselves which they had no opportunity to choose.
Let’s instead come back to basic principles. All people have equal rights to life, liberty, and justice. It is unfair to judge someone based on what they are, only for what they do. No exceptions. Not even for ourselves, not even if the judgment is to our detriment and we feel we deserve it. Do not take unfair advantage. Respect everyone. If we’re to embrace Bob Marley’s ‘One Love’, that must mean for everybody, including ourselves, and that’s a beautiful thing.
I think there’s a ton of hypocrisy in the left. I see people beating their chests and loudly pronouncing their tolerance for everybody on this earth, and then I listen to them speak or watch their social media feed and it’s one constant stream of sneering at others, people they feel no need to be kind to because they have been labeled “The Enemy”. There’s constant mockery of people of faith for believing differently than they do. They sneer at people from rural communities or red states as ignorant, inbred hicks. They are literally judging people without knowing them based on one or two traits. Well, I hate to tell you guys, but that’s prejudice too. It’s great that you support me being trans and all, but out of the other side of your mouth you’re saying my mom’s an asshole because she’s from a small rural Mississippi town and goes to church? Don’t think I’ll respect you any more just because it’s only people like the rest of my family that you hate and not me. Don’t expect praise for managing not to include me among the people you judge and mock. I’ll say it again: ONE love, for ALL people.
So what are your “voting issues?”
My main voting issues right now are sensible economic recovery to erase our foreign debts, infrastructure and nation building at home, and a sustainable energy policy. Social justice issues are important to me, of course.
Do you find the current Supreme Court challenges to DOMA and California’s Prop 8 (Prop H8te, IMHO) meaningful to you and or trans-community in general? Also, perhaps an indelicate question on my part, but you are MtF, married to an MtF… that falls under “gay marriage,” correct? Were you married during that brief window that same-sex marriage was allowed in SF? Or were you already married when you or your wife began to transition?
As for the marriage issue, this is very personal. I, like most California LGBTetc folk, felt a sharp kick in the gut when our fellow Californians withdrew our right to equality under the law. MTF/MTF marriage absolutely falls under the same sex category legally… we had both long since changed our gender status legally. And, to answer your question, we’d only dated with both of us identified as women. My wife and I had been together many years, and the first day we were able to get a marriage license we were at our county courthouse with tons of other couples and a contingent from Westboro. We were married in June and I was happier than I had ever been in this life. And then Prop 8 happened. The loss of those rights felt like losing a limb. The results of the vote felt like a personal condemnation of our love. I’m misting up as I type this.
Another issue that’s important to me is a transgender inclusive Employment Discrimination Act. Although we’ve had to fight the HRC’s attempts to disinclude us, the momentum seems to be on our side for inclusion. But, this congress doesn’t want to cooperate on ANYTHING, so it’s probably going to be on the table for years to come.
Something that always fascinates me about so many political/social groups are the differences between the groups’ external politics (which are fairly well understood, predictable and universal) and their internal politics. I see a lot of this within the Autism community, having two autistic sons: We all want insurance coverage, better services, more support in schools, etc… But man, you get into talk about Vaccines, Gluten-free diets, neural diversity… WOW. You’re in for fight! LOL. And most of the time, the internal politics are things outsiders aren’t even AWARE of. So I’d like to ask you about some of your stances on these. (And if you fear the wrath of your comrades, please feel free to not touch any these with a 10’ pole!)
I’ve spent 20 years teaching Special Ed or otherwise working with developmentally disabled people, so I feel you there. We have some big divisions in the trans community. Some people think drag has no place among us, which reminds me of the Christopher Street Parade in 1972. People trying to distance themselves from those they find embarrassing. There’s a whole lot of internal squabbles. Most of them are quite undignified, so I’ll leave them alone. Suffice to say, whatever the question, it’s a good guess I’ll side with inclusivity. United we stand.
You mentioned having no strong feelings about passing, but what about going stealth? If someone does truly pass, 100%, do they owe it to anyone (their partner, or their fellow trans-folk) to be out and open about their gender identity?
I don’t think they owe it. It seems like something that would make a relationship with someone else hard, but I honestly don’t know all the issues with that so I won’t comment further. Sometimes stealth is necessary for us to survive in our lives and in our communities. On the other hand, people who choose to be out and make the sacrifices that their lives require are doing a service to the community and to their culture, and they deserve to be respected for that. That’s not to cast shame on those who are unable or unwilling or to imply that they’re doing anything wrong or aren’t brave. Everyone’s experience is unique, so no judgment. On the other hand, when we come out it tends to the greater social good and requires an amount of personal sacrifice. It makes things just a bit easier for our fellow travelers and helps change the culture. That deserves to be honored. It’s a touchy subject, making that distinction, but I think it’s important to make while respecting all of our brave hearts.
Is it ever appropriate for a cisgendered person to express their support for a trans-person by, for example, discreetly saying something to the effect of “I support you” (etc..)? Or is that just akin to clocking someone, and will generally do more harm than good?
Sure. Although you should probably wait until they out themselves to you, even if it’s quite apparent to you that they’re Trans. We tend to walk on eggshells around passing, because that’s frequently equivalent to our safety. To be read can be frightening. I am 6’2” and am largely the size of a small mountain. I don’t pass at all, but I still get nervous when someone points that out to me.
What about the idea that one should absolutely undergo the various surgeries “required” to be accepted in their chosen gender? (To be a “reel womyn” as Evelyn Poor so brilliantly satirizes in TGD.) Any strong feelings one way or the other about non-ops?
My opinion is this: unless you’re their doctor or sex partner, you have no pressing need to know what someone else’s genitals are shaped like, nor do you have any right to know. Just let people live their own lives, doing what they need to do to make their life worth living. If it’s not your business, don’t pry. I think the only people whose opinions matter on non op people’s gender and medical choices is their own. The rest of us should get over any inclination we have to introduce pressure to conform or to explain their choices. We haven’t the right to do so. Live and let live. One love.
I'd like to know your thoughts on the inclusion of Transgenderism (or “Gender Dysmorphic Disorder,” IIRC) in the DSM. And let just say that I’m not completely stupid (only partially): I DO realize that categorizing it under “mental illness” carries a social stigma. But it’s one that, as the parent of two autistic children, who takes antidepressants himself, and has had three different family members (none related to each other by blood) spend time in-patients at a psychiatric hospital, one of which was due to a suicide attempt… I’m pretty much over. Also, does it not lend a certain legitimacy to the “condition,” that is can actually BE diagnosed, that some people may not otherwise grant it? Also, unlike homosexuality, which was removed a generation ago, I hardly need a psychologist to tell my I’m gay. (I just need an open mind, and a willing partner.) And there’s no “treatment" required either. (Again, just an open mind, and a willing partner.) It just seems to me that a young transgendered person might have a harder time figuring things out (as you described in your own experience) and might benefit from discussing things with someone who understands these things, and has studied them. Plus there the whole thing with hormones, surgery, etc… I know that no one likes “gate-keepers” but having an official “diagnosis” also OPENS some of those gates, no? And can help develop and improve the standard of care, even (possibly) leading to better insurance coverage. (Who knows?) So TO ME, it seems like, for all its faults, the Trans-community is still better off, net-and-net, keeping it IN. But then… it doesn’t affect ME, so it’s not like I’m really entitled to an opinion on the matter. What’s yours?
I can see both sides. I tend to side with removing the category because I feel it’s based on the fundamental dishonesty that we are sick by virtue of being who we are. I would note, however, that there needs to be a study of the cocktail of psychological issues that transgender people tend to acquire by virtue of being in a culture that is hostile to gender diversity. For instance, some argue that we almost uniformly manifest our experiences in this culture in the form of post-traumatic stress disorder. I’d love there to be study focusing on what we’ve endured rather than simply that we exist. There is probably an argument for THAT being the included definition. Gender dysphoria should be understood to mean that the pain comes not from being who and what we are but from what has happened to us, what we’ve endured, from the time we could walk to what happened when we placed our order at Starbucks just now.
Just in general, what are some things CIS people really need to know (or accept?) that most still don’t? What are your number one or two pet peeves / fears / needs / goals, on this front?
The big one? We pee too. THAT’S why we’re in the ladies’/gentlemen’s toilet. ;’)
What is the best way to deal with those who believe that being Trans, or gay for that matter, is somehow a “choice?” I’ve had a couple of particularly thick-skulled thorns in my side this past year or so, and despite arguing this seven ways ‘til Sunday, I just CAN’T get through to these guys! Any advice? (I mean… WTF, right?)
Since we talked about religion earlier, let me answer this with a Bible verse:
Matthew 7:6 “Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.”
Some folks just aren’t going to listen to your truth and they’ll choose willful ignorance instead. Screw ‘em. You can’t reach everyone. Of course, this is easier for adults than for kids and easier for strangers than it is for family. But if people aren’t going to be willing to listen, learn, and respect you for who and what you are. They won’t respect you no matter WHAT you do. If they won’t believe you when you tell them who and what you are, then let them go. Maybe someday they’ll come back. Maybe not.
Mind you….. This doesn’t make you less lonely.
No, I imagine that it wouldn’t.
Well that’s about all I’ve got. Is there anything you’d like to add?
I just want to say for the record that this has been an interesting interview with some great questions, so thank you.
Well thank you for taking the time to speak with me. I definitely have a new perspective on many of these matters. I appreciate you sharing your feelings and experiences and it’s been a very interesting conversation!
You can find Christine’s Web-Comics at:
http://www.drunkduck.com/Eves_Apple/ and http://www.drunkduck.com/The_Princess/
and two the books she's worked in are available on Amazon:
No Straight Lines: Four Decades Of Queer Comics, by Justin Hall
My New Gender Workbook: A Step-by-Step Guide to Achieving World Peace Through Gender Anarchy and Sex Positivity, by Kate Bornstein