My first time, I was so extraordinarily nervous that afterward I could not remember much of what happened. I still don’t today. Entirely unexpectedly, I have actual amnesia. When I try to remember, I see flashes of images, I feel a few bursting emotions, and there are a handful of distinct thoughts that I can recall. But these span no more than a few seconds – brief moments that randomly intersperse those five minutes.
My debut performance as a drag king was terrifying, and I’d do anything to never experience that debilitating terror ever again. I’ve never really shared this, but honestly it was a disappointment for me the next day when I realized that perhaps I should not continue with it. I had thought I would fall in love with it in my first try, but the enjoyment simply did not measure up to the level of fear that overtook me.
However, I did continue, and I can earnestly say that I’m incredibly happy for that. Initially, I stayed because I simply wanted to avoid disappointing my new troupe brothers. I had made a commitment, one I would be ashamed to break. But with time, my anxieties toward performing fell to the side and I was able to begin embracing how amazing it is.
With Bros B4 Ho’s, I have performed about twenty shows (…wait, really? Is that it?), with most being at Bubbles Bar in Green Point. The rewards have been phenomenal. The choice to begin performing was one that drew from a desire to have the space to dress and behave openly as a man. The real outcome has far surpassed that though. To be publicly celebrated as a man, again and again, has proven exceptional to my budding sense of self. If only I could, in just words, express the magnitude of dragging’s impact on my ability to finally, FINALLY, allow myself to begin transitioning to male. After nine years of knowing who I am meant to be, I finally feel as though I finally have the courage to begin the process to becoming that person.
Lana Wachowski, the critically acclaimed director of the Matrix trilogy and the new movie Cloud Atlas, opened up about her journey as a transgender woman while receiving HRC’s Visibility Award in San Francisco recently. Wachowski’s emotional speech included heart-wrenching stories about her inability to fit in as a child and her suicide attempt during high school. Wachowski shared her highly personal story with the goal of making conditions easier for other transgender youth to feel confident about their futures.
Photographs of me in physical transition, by Tracy Edser (www.trasethis.com). Tracy has captured the rite of passage of my physical transition over the span of 6 years, capturing my journey to fully inhabit my body, allowing me to play, without restrictions and more authentically, with the physicality of an identity in flux.
(The Letters from Selves Pas(t)sed series is drawn from writing created over 10 years ago. I've decided to include them as they create context for my journey. Keeping in mind where I come from helps me measure where I am and where I'm going.)
Pre-op - October 2010 #lettersfromselvespas(t)sed
I have been lucky in terms of the logistics of a breast reduction. When many medical aids do not cover the R50 000 operation because they view it as cosmetic, rather than medical surgery, I have been in the lucky position of not being able to afford medical aid. In a country where having medical aid is often the difference between life and death, how can I possibly consider myself lucky?
I’m lucky because I’ve never had to explain to some doctor, some pencil-pushing medical aid representative, that a breast reduction would be far from cosmetic for me. I have never had to explain that for me, a breast reduction would free me from a burden under which I haven’t been able to be my true self.
My journey with the logistical side of breast reduction began in 2007. I was referred to the Johannesburg General Hospital (now the Charlotte Maxeke Hospital) by the head psychiatric nurse at Tara. This referral meant that the breast reduction was immediately seen as a medical and psychiatric necessity, rather than a superficial or cosmetic surgery.
The doctors at the Jhb Gen were sensitive to my case, and sympathetic. In fact, their medical opinion that I had completely disproportionate, and chronically large and pendulous breasts, was an unexpected affirmation of something I’d known since puberty. The fact that they had medical terms for the scarring on my shoulders, for the severity of the largeness of the breasts themselves, was a wonderfully affirming experience. Despite my belief that there ‘was something wrong with me’, it took this doctor’s visit to confirm that indeed there was, but that I didn’t have to suffer from it anymore.
Are FTMs butch defectors who submitted to the patriarchal pressures of conforming to gain greater social access? Or are FTMs simply another breed of queer that tend to be misunderstood, particularly by butch feminists?
As an FTM, I confidently agree with the latter. But, this declaration doesn’t draw from personally-driven justification to account for the tumultuous and often disheartening process I’ve chosen to take on. It draws, I believe, from grounded reasoning and the belief it’s necessary to explore this issue if we are to avoid becoming internally divisionist at the expense of our FTMs (and genderqueers, for that matter).
MasterAmazon’s blog Dykes for Dykes presents, in multiple blog posts, eloquently-written yet highly contentious discussions (‘rants’…?) in which she describes FTMs as ‘sell-outs’ who have forfeited their womanhood for the socially imbued convenience of being male. She explains why women choose to transition: “Impatience for male power and privilege combined with monumental lack of faith in the future of women could explain it” (August, 2010). She seems to find no differentiation between a butch lesbian who transitions and one who doesn’t, aside from the difference in choice made regarding their body. Reductive is this approach, as she categorises all FTMs as former dykes, rather than recognizing that a considerable number never identified as either lesbian or as butch (such as myself). However, this is only the first of many problems I find with her argument. My greatest issue is the blatant conflation of sex and gender.
Having cheated on my husband, and since I credit this as part of my path to becoming polyamorous, I must confess I am biased in the argument over whether polyamory is of any use in resolving cheating. If cheating is symptomatic of a grave and incurable narcissism in a partner then certainly polyamory will not resolve anything. However there are other reasons why people cheat.
I think very often one of the true motives behind cheating is treating love as a currency in relationships, and assuming you are poor. I certainly know this to be true of my own relationship before we became polyamorous. Furthermore there is a great deal of insecurity and distrust in relationships where one or both partners cheat.
In most monogamous relationships there is a quite common idea that states that, upon marriage/dating/co-habiting all your romantic love now belongs to your partner.
In this context having another relationship essentially involves you giving your love, which does not belong to you because you are part of a couple, to another person. If love is a currency, then having a second relationship is like buying one partner with your finite measure of love, then taking the love back and buying another with the same currency. Apart from the pain of the implied rejection, there is a great measure of outrage over the fraud implicit in this scenario. Even if this is done by agreement it will be very painful for at least one party in the trio.
Which path do you intend to take, Nell?' said the Constable, sounding very interested. 'Conformity or rebellion?'
'Neither one. Both ways are simple-minded. They are only for people who cannot cope with contradiction and ambiguity.'
---Neal Stephenson, "The Diamond Age"
Recently I have found myself looking back on the pain I have suffered throughout my life and this year in particular, when I had a miscarriage, got the measles, lost my job and relapsed into a Bipolar depression.
In retrospect, I realise that somehow I have walked away profoundly grateful, no matter the sadness I have had to deal with. Things could have been a hell of a lot worse. I could be dead.
When your tightly controlled little universe comes crashing down around you, you have to confront who you are deep down in your heart. I did not truly know who I was until this year. I did not know what I had in me.
Had it not been for the trials of this year, I may have lacked the deep confidence in myself needed to pluck up the nerve to face society on my own terms. All of us should be able to do that at some point in our lives.
I know now what I have to do with my life, and to do that there is a matter I must address that I have been neglecting for some time.
Having one's continuing identity and gender transformation chronicled does not happen every day. Having those moments visually translated by one of Johannesburg's best photographers and artists is extra-ordinary. I've been fortunate enough to have my continuing exploration and performance of my gender identity and playfulness with the queer photographed and recorded by Nadine Hutton, better known as @2point8photo on Twitter and Tumblr.
Dreads – Transitions #Germaine
Not in my wildest dreams did I ever envision becoming a photographer’s muse, let alone envision finding it a joyful and liberating experience. I’ve always hated having photographs taken of me. It always felt like all my awkwardness, insecurities and perceived ugliness were being magnified for everyone to see. It’s difficult enough feeling those things within one’s own body – having those things caught on camera was just too much for me.
Queer is an umbrella term for sexual minorities that are not heterosexual, heteronormative, or gender-binary.In the context of Western identity politics the term also acts as a label setting queer-identifying people apart from discourse, ideologies, and lifestyles that typify mainstream LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transsexual) communities as being oppressive or assimilationist.