Friday, May 9, 2014

Ooh, look, gender police, take two!

Some time ago I wrote a post on being gender policed by a younger male.  I did not give specifics of this. I also generalized quite a few of the events. This blog post is not that exact blog post.  I was quite upset while writing it, and did not save a backup copy. Later, this man started screaming at me that I was a liar, further triggering me, so I took the post down. One of my closest friends, Emily Titon, fielded quite a lot of this situation, so knows more or less the entire story.  

I do not enjoy having to elucidate this here. It is difficult to write about, and I risk becoming re-triggered by the situation.  I have a number of difficulties relating in the disability community due to previous instances of bulllying, gaslighting, and the internalized ableism of others coming out in conversation with me.  This is why I deleted the original entry to avoid conflict, but that wasn’t being true to myself.

This man accused me of LYING (several times, sometimes but not always in caps) because I could not provide direct quotes. He also conveniently did not remember many events--because they did not trigger him.  So this post, written several weeks later instead of the morning after the events (on zero sleep because I could not become untriggered or calm down after a final offense), will not have direct quotes. Part of this is because as a result of this interaction I have left a private group and unfriended two people.  I could possibly stilll find our chat logs, but I would rather not do so as the experience of going back through them would be triggering all over again.

This, therefore, is my personal interpretation of events. In some ways, it will be more specific than the last version of this post.  In other ways, because of time passing, it will be more general. THERE WILL BE NO DIRECT QUOTES as I do not have them.  I will give general summaries of sentiments expressed, sometimes in comically exaggerated dialogue. THIS DOES NOT MEAN I AM LYING. If anything, I am creating a parody of bigotry.  This post is liable to be on the long side.

My first indication that this young man (12 years my junior--and those were a big 12 years for me) had a problem understanding gender and gender policing is when the following happened:

We were discussing approaches to activism. I am a third generation New Yorker and third generation activist, and these two things are related. I learned activism with compassion.  I wrote about it on Martin Luther King day on my Facebook, and I then backdated the entry, so if you need a refresher on my family’s activism, it’s told through the story of my grandfather, an Italian- and English-American Queens native with family as far away as Africa (a fact which probably informed his politics).  

I told this man that I had learned not to go on other people’s walls and correct them or police them.  He said, “That’s probably a female-gendered response.”

Oh, really?  I’m transgender, but okay, kiddo.

I didn’t say anything. Sometimes if triggered, you lose words.  Sometimes if you have disability stuff in common with Autistics/are neurodiverse, you lose words too.  In his words, I was supposed to articulate to him I was triggered. I’ve been mulling over that one.  The thing is, telling him would have only been paying him a courtesy.  Especially as I was struggling with words then.  I just got through it, because being triggered is similar to a panic attack that can ruin and change  your entire day.  Later he told me I had acted wrongly by not informing him.  This is victim blaming, plain and simple.  He is a 21-year-old man with a personal mythology that it upsets him too much to upset someone so he doesn’t upset people.  Would that it was so easy.  But if he really is so concerned with the impact of upsetting people, then basically he should not victim blame or gaslight.  But that did come later, so let’s continue.

There may or may not have been another similar instance after the first triggery experience. It’s now blurry.  I did notice him doing ableist things around me, like talking around me in threads as if I was some kind of intruder among his friends or something.  I was in a private group with him (I have left it) so I spent some time psych-braining about how he interacted with people. I could have unfriended or blocked him after the first incident and was considering leaving the group (I don’t do groups well, especially not anymore), but I was biding my time a bit. I reasoned that he was young and certainly younger people still have room to learn, and with that I left it alone.

Then I came out as trans in a thread in the private group. This person came in to tell me that he had a theory of being able to categorize people’s gender by speech patterns, and that I have a “femme” way of relating events in text. I told him perhaps my female name had leant to this interpretation as well.  For me, I have no cognitive dissonance whatsoever with being pangender but maintaining a female name, because I picked it myself long before I came out. Keeping this name is honoring my younger self.  I have been Elena to my friends for 20 years now, and that won’t change any time soon, although since coming out as transgender I do vastly prefer being known simply as E. The truth is that part of my reclamation of Elena has to do with the fact that some sites refuse to allow me to be known as E.

I discussed my situation at length with the aim of informing not him but the people in the thread who might actually learn something.  It’s possible that I may be too good at switching into anthropologist or psychology brain, because instead of telling him he was wrong, I asked him why he felt I was “femme.”  He then listed several reasons related to my speech patterns and how I communicated things in text.

I am many things. I am a writer, a socially isolated disabled person, and an internet addict. Any of those things can and do effect my interactions online because most are textual.  When I first started to feel transgender-ish, at age 3, I informed my mother that I was going to grow up to be a boy.  (This was not her favorite thing, and the resulting conversations I had with her were not my favorite thing.)  I assimilated into cis female space, but never easily. I was on the outside a tomboy who was queer (notably attracted to women, but not a lesbian).  I didn’t ever fit in with women--many geek girls don’t, though, so that’s not an indicator.  I did note their behaviors, though.  There is absolutely nothing in my experience that backs up this man’s assertion that my being courteous about people’s walls, for instance, is a “female-gendered response.  It’s called basic courtesy and respect of people’s autonomy and willingness to let them have an opinion unless it’s dangerous or something.  Have you ever heard of cat fights? There is an expression because they are real.  If being courteous about information on people’s walls is “female-gendered” or “femme,” then my female parent must be trans, and in fact all gaslighty women must really not be women!  But, see, I’m fairly certain this guy is cis.  He neither grew up skirting transgender issues nor relating to women as a presumably cis woman.  Women (or anyone who has lived as a woman while figuring out trans issues, i.e. me) know(s) women better than men know women.  That’s where tons of self help comes from, so you know I’m right.  This is why quite a lot of women refuse to have that many female friends.  Don’t believe me?  Most women I’ve talked to report that they didn’t have many female friends until at least college age. I’m the same way.

I could tell you a million stories that illustrate how I am not actually femme, just a writer, but I’ll give the salient points: I don’t know what even happens in a salon.  I collected rocks and dreamed of climbing trees as a kid. Spiders, lizards and snakes are my favorite animals. This blog is named after a cornsnake, for fuck’s sake.  (I also enjoy bears. Is that too femme?)  I don’t own a dress. I own one pair of shoes.  I don’t dress for anything other than comfort (although I have a lot of sensory requirements, I will admit).  I refuse to be fashion-policed.  I don’t shop for clothes, or anything else, for fun. (Partly that’s a reality of being poor, but I’m an in-and-out-of-there shopper. I don’t window-shop or do any of that for fun and never have.)

See, now I’m starting to sound possibly sexist, or something,  but all I am trying to do is point out: I am in a female body until I die.  I don’t want surgery. (He said “I was not like other trans people” because of some of this. Well, sure.  Only a subset of trans people get media attention. They may fit a stereotype. That belongs in another post.)  Additionally, my binary did break later in life, partly due to trauma. (Speaking for myself only--I can’t speak for how/why/when other people’s binaries break or don’t function.) Nonbinary experiences of being trans ARE different from that of trans people who have an intact binary.   None of this has any bearing on whether I am “femme” or have “female-gendered” behaviors or not.

I have a few. Not too many though.  But of course I have some--I float around in a nebulous gender soup.  It doesn’t matter, though. By him labeling me, he’s gender-policing me.  He asserted all kinds of things about how he KNOWS female behavior and femme behavior.

You know who knows those things? People who have lived or identify as women.  But even with that being said, any time he’s asserting how I come across, making a point over and over again, that’s gender policing.

So no. Actually, no. He doesn’t know.  The only person responsible for understanding (for the purpose of self-accceptance) their own gender is the person in that particular body. We can try to make people understand, but we’ll fail at times (especially if we are “not like other trans people”), like I did here, especially when I talked to him after the first time I wrote this damn post.  

Because I did talk to him after this second policing session.  I PMed him to tell him that this line of reasoning he was going after was not going to help him, that it was nonproductive to get into this too far as he never knew when he was around trans*, or even just nonbinary folks like me.  He asserted that he understood that I wanted to be known as nonbinary.  He apologized.  But then he blocked me.  He has a reasoning of being overloaded, which is perfectly reasonable, but I had been reasonable with him, letting him know I only confronted him out of respect--which is how I roll. I don’t confront people I don’t think will learn something.

So he blocked me on Facebook and I blogged this the first time. He then unblocked me, talked around me in threads a bit, and then started gaslighting me in PM.  He called me a liar in several places.  (Once in PM and once on a reposting of the original blog post.)  Sometimes it was in caps.  I was re-triggered and I wanted to not be called a liar so I took the post down.  I kept talking to him and he kept saying that we weren’t really compatible with being friends because of communication differences.  Whatever. That’s happened to me before.  He told me that I should have informed him I was triggered.  He related the situation to some kind of error in computer science or other.  

No.  This was policing. It also became gaslighting.  You can ask people who know that I was upset enough (partly due to the fact that gaslighting from other crips feels worse) to take the original post down.  I can only remember ever deleting one other thing in the past 12 months or more--I don’t delete often. In fact, I deleted something else due to a friend of this same person. So now, neither of those people are in my life.  It’s not that I am so conflict avoidant--it’s that I have disability-community-specific trauma.

But the truth is, this still happened, and now it’s blogged again.  Sorry but I won’t be asking his permission to exist, to be transgender, or to figure out what my gender is.  This post stays up. It’s for me, but also for any trans* person who has been gaslit and policed about their gender.  So here it is.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Systemic Eugenic Thought

This entry is in the category of entries I wish I didn’t have to write.  This should not have to be a thing that is delineated.  But nevertheless, here we go.  Please note examples used in any links on this matter are only the ones readily available and where they are there are many others underreported or unexamined.

I am trying to process a bit of the crud that crept into another entry and made it nonsensical. It’s possible that this entry will also be full of palpable, white hot rage.  But that’s okay.  An entry like this is supposed to be full of well-channeled anger.  We shouldn’t live in a society where I have to write entries like this.

The truth is that eugenic thought has powered society possibly since time out of mind.  Creation of categories, shoving people into them and making one category better than the other category is all the basis for eugenic thought.  Eugenics itself is the theory that with better breeding practices we can eliminate undesirable people. And that is bad enough, as it is the origin of the prison system in the United States as well as the mental health system, draconic as it still is.  There are a lot of very obvious examples, the most obvious of them being Autism Speaks, a 24/7 eugenics propaganda machine actively encouraging parents of autistic kids to hate, harm, and kill them.  There are other examples too, though.

If you think of your disabled child, any disabled child, as less than your other children, congratulations, you’re engaging in eugenic thought. If you think your disabled kid should come to more harm than your other kids, you’re engaging in eugenic thought. If you think of your disabled kid as a burden, too annoying, too hard to handle, bingo.  And it is the position of this blog that if you don't even bother to treat your kids equally on any level, if you abuse one kid more than the other kids, you've officially gone around the bend.  Go ahead.  Ask me how I know.

But eugenics is really everywhere in pretty much every way.  Just look at the way the way the law applies disproportionately to people of color, to women, to  disabled people and people with mental health issues. (As someone profiled by police on the basis of disability I can tell you this is a real thing as well.)  We don’t even have to apply cut-and-dried eugenics to any of these situations because the system is now so air-tight it permeates every aspect of society.  Racism is eugenic. Classism is eugenic. Sexism is eugenic. Subjugation of an underclass is eugenic.  So how many times in society does eugenic thought really come into play?  We play into it every single day.  Eugenic thought spawned the first articulation of eugenics as a social movement.  Society is preoccupied with it at the deepest levels of its institutions and how they are oppressive.  It had to come from somewhere, and it was there and systemic enough already to spawn the first eugenics movements in the world. (America, I'm looking at you.)
Try to be mindful.  You’ll start seeing it everywhere.

Accidental Neurodiversity Training

There have been a few different editions of this post.  I can honestly say sometimes this has been because I have lacked clue. I tried to label this, and I really have no idea how to do that anymore.  What I thought it was is not the thing that it was. Or, at least, it’s not a label I should have really tried to give this experience.  That said, this experience is a joint experience that is repeatable not just with me but other people who have been in this situation and I would now call this my introduction to neurodiversity at the very least.

This post is about a person who was and is pretty special to me, and now I’ve known him for about half of his life.  He’s a very good sport so he originally let me post about this on Facebook.  Here is the story, without any weird labels.

When I was 18, I met a geek guy online. He was cute. He had the most amazing eyes I ever saw. I guess they run in his family and he has this cousin with the same eyes but she was not nice, and you know what they say about eyes. In other words, pretty sure this guy's eyes are amazing because his heart is too. They are most definitely my favorite. I can say that without being creepy because I am not creepy about this person. He and I have gone our separate ways and until this week we hadn't even talked in three years. This week we did start talking again but I was going to make this post regardless.

Yeah. This is that post. The one that I kept not posting because people were all, "Why is she extra weird? And is she racist? Is she even an activist?" (Haha. Let's not try that one again. )

I am not shortening this. Because it is the story of a very large chunk of my life. Anyone here is reading this privileged to see this being shared. Period. Do what you need to do to make this accessible to yourself, or skip it.

I also have permission from the subject. He is a nice guy. He is gentle and quiet. He is not a zoo exhibit. Please be respectful of him. If you are an Aut, he is similar to you, he is also like me. I am neurodiverse enough that I have had a bunch of Autistic people in separate contexts 9 years apart ask me if I am Autistic or not, I go back and forth on whether I am allowed to take this label, though, because it has been used to hurt me and I don’t like to appropriate. Sometimes I take the label and other times I feel strange doing so. As you can see, however, I do take some things as identity bits, and that is unfolding.

As far as my Safe Person (a safe person but my self-identified Safe Person), he seems pretty neurodiverse.  When I knew him on a closer level, I did not label him. We didn't and don't talk in labels. We are people who basically stumbled across something.

When I met G, who I've affectionately called G because words are big and Gabriel for some reason (really beautiful though it was) shorted out my typing brain a bit, he was 15. His parents were having issues. His dad was weird, and stuff said about him made me really uncomfortable. I just wanted to support this geek kid. And I did, for 3 years. Thing about that is, you do that for a person younger than you and they remember it. When you get into some unhappy stuff later on, they will come and ask you how they can help you.

*sensory break*

If that happens, you just let it. You don't think about how 5 years later you won't call him G. You'll call him Gabe. Other people can call him Gabe and it is just whatever. But when YOU call him Gabe it means you aren't calling him G anymore, it means you are annoyed at him, it means things are tense at home. But you know, in the grand scheme of things, I guess I've known G for a very long time now, and the little blip in there where I was Gabe-ing him to piss him off? Eh, five minutes or so, compared to all the other stuff.

The other stuff like him standing up to The Evil One, also known as my abusive parent. Helping me have a backup person and a reason to remember I had a Safe Person and relocating to Boston was safer for me than anywhere she was. "Tell my mother whatever the hell you want to tell her," he said, freshly 18 and one BADASS Philly motherfucker.

Then of course, a year into Boston The Extravaganza, the shine has worn off. I can't watch football here. I can't do a lot of things here, and my mom ruins my first birthday here by showing up reeking of alcohol that morning (around 8:30 AM). Ya know. Whatever. But not whatever, cause I am kinda off my game after that, too. Doesn't matter. Hell pretty much happens, I won't recount it for those who were there. There's G though. Gently saving my life. There are no other words for it.

But then I do keep mentioning this neurodiverse thing a lot too. Right? G. just does what he does. No big words. Lots of empty-ish silences actually, and I would love them if I was not in a total anxiety meltdown constantly. I gotta explain. I gotta make it make all the sense. I gotta geek about it. I gotta just talk about it a lot.

G gets kinda confused and shit and is all like YOU DON'T MAKE SENSE. WHAT YOU ARE SAYING JUST DOESN'T MAKE SENSE.

Those are really big words for him. I didn’t think in terms of neurodiversity or not--and it could just be something else, but whatever it is makes G think in ways I’ve never encountered before or since. I never really thought about it until a few weeks ago, even though I lived with him for five years.  We just did what we did. We got through it.

So okay, that was lots and lots of G saves the world. And that was a lot of what people saw.

What they didn't see was that G was never given any labels because his family life was sort of screwy. Just trust me. I can say it with some authority, and that is all that needs to be said. First children, which G and I are, we get kinda screwed. Parenting is hard. If you are the first kid, things just fall by the wayside. But this was also more. The school system in Philly is full of shit. But still more too. I was kinda scared at G's house. But I knew I had to just, I mean, he'd be scared there too.

And G seemed confused. All the time. For example.

"What do you want to do, G?"
"I don't know."
"I bet you have some idea."
"I don't know."

At first it's really hard to tell if that's because of sort of scary family stuff or not.

You repeat yourself a lot though, just in case at first. Later it is because you love this person so much and the idea of it not penetrating hurts so badly. And that ends up being the thing that hurts too much four years later. When you still don't know. When you've had 5000 rounds of I don't know. You don't know if he knows. And it is okay. Sort of. There's clearly not anything you can do about it one way or another by now if he doesn't know.

*sensory break*

It's kind of screwy. People just see Big Tall Dude, He Does Things For Her, She Could Take Care of Herself Better, She Lets Him Do Stuff.

And yeah, it is, and it's codependent and crap, and you don't have words for it so all you can really do is make sure you are doing a lot of checkins on whether he is okay. The stuff he does, it needs to get done. And yeah, in 2003 you were able to do more, but five years later you're a bit cognitively f'd in the head so if the way to get through the day is help from G, and you check in with him a lot, to make sure he knows what he is doing and he is okay and if magically today he says more than "I don't know" you'd throw a party...that's just life because you love each other.

Or do you? You know? There is a lot that he "doesn't know." You know that he does because of his actions but you are a writer. It is a lil headbreaky.

He doesn't want to talk a lot. You don't want to talk a lot now either. So you just stop asking the questions. Even though it is something you should do, that you used to do, you get a lot of blank stares now and it feels different like he's really tired of it and stuff. Then maybe he's tired of you. And yeah, he gets sort of grumpier. He never used to turn his argh over I don't know out toward other people but he does now. You are a target and it sucks but you have other people to talk to and if he's tired of checkins is it really surprising?

So you just stop asking. Then you don't really know what to do. No one is talking. Until one final conversation. He says something. Then he is so totally confused. But so ARGH!!!!!!!!! He really doesn't say terrible things like this, just frustrated things. But this there are no take-backs for.

Still no idea if he meant it, that is not the point. The point is that was a deal-breaker for ME. We still lived in relative harmony for a whole year as roommates. He is still my Safe Person.

I stopped talking to him for 3 years. That was my idea. Also my idea was to go to him when I went into the Aut community and they knew I was just kinda screwy somehow. I met a bunch of people. Some of them were incredibly nice and some were in the middle and some were just kind of argh mean.  I’d encountered that before but I never went wholesale into the Autistic community very far before. The main thing they helped me figure out, though, were some of the labels for some of my issues that get swept under the rug by the CPers.  And that is great. Some were nice and some were not nice. And that helped me, too.  It helped me find words also for what had happened with me and G.

That's when I figured it out. That all those checkins and stuff, I am not even really sure still if G knew how much I did them, and how much the inevitable answer made me go argh. But that's when I realized that it all meant something, and it was a big something. Two crips who met not intending to meet another crip, who had similar brains, not perfectly aligned but complimentary, and the moment you know it is all worth it is when you can go back to this person and explain. There is no nervousness because G is your Safe Person. It doesn't matter if it takes him a few days to reply because you know you are gonna tell him something that will take a little bit for him to be okay with talking about. You know him. You just know him. And it doesn't matter what happens now. Out there in the big world of Boston is a Philly guy. Nobody coddled this kid for five minutes. He could rip apart a Southie motherfucker in about five seconds. And he chooses not to. He rides bikes like it is the most amazing thing in the world that bikes exist. He is an amazing cuddler. And he really wants to understand what the fuck happened to you to land you back in the hospital. To give you flashbacks. He wants to know where are you really and when will you be okay to talk more.

He is my Safe Person. The rest really does not matter. I would say that I learned a ton about neurodiversity, first from him, then from some of our roommates who were crippy, and now from the Autistic community.  I’m pretty grateful to them and also really, really protective of them, not because they need me to be some kind of savior but because I think knowing G and some of the other denizens of what I deemed Dot Gimp House helped me figure out a lot of things, like code switching for different kinds of people, which I am fairly good at, but also my own damn self.  I’ll always be grateful to the neurodiversity movement for that, when others have been significantly less inclusive, especially on the crip side.