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This is Aliwe’en

So, one week from today I am Ali — officially, legally Ali. I am excited! So excited, in fact, that I wanted to come up with some way to share my excitement with all of you. And I’ve hit upon an awesome idea:

Aliwe’en!

Short for “Alison’s Awesome Evening,” Aliwe’en  is going to be an event like no other. It’s going to be a celebration of the end of my social transition and a general ode to being trans. Since October 31st is now sort of like my second birthday and all, I figure that Aliwe’en can take place on 10/31 every year. It’s nothing too presumptuous; just a day for everyone to honor me and my life journey.

“But Ali,” you may ask, “How do I celebrate Aliwe’en?” Well, I’m glad you asked.

Celebration really doesn’t begin until twilight, since all my years of gender dysphoria were dark, frightening times for me. In fact, the whole tone of the celebration will be tinged with this darkness and fear. First, decorate your houses with horribe, monstrous things — zombies, vampires, werewolves, and tombstones — because gender dysphoria IS an ugly monster. I’m talking skeletons and spider webs everywhere, people! Don’t skimp on the fog machine.

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Traditional Aliwe’en decorations. The witch represents a Gatekeeper restricting access to necessary medical intervention.

Second, I want all you cis people to wear costumes that night. Be someone — anyone! — other than yourself. Be a Devil or a Sexy Devil; be a Vampire or a Sexy Vampire; be Olaf or Sexy Olaf; anything goes! But you can’t be yourself, as I could not be myself all those years. And get the little cis kids to dress up, too, as I wore a costume for all of my childhood. They all need to feel what it’s like to be trans!

Okay, maybe making the kids dress up in horrible costumes is a little grim. We should lighten it up a bit — I know, candy! All the adults should go out and buy some candy that they can give to the kids, to try and lift the crushing weight of dysphoria in the same way trans people often seek out distractions from their despair. Plus, it will symbolize my love of candy (especially mini Snickers — mini Snickers are sacred on Aliwe’en). Yes! That’s a great idea!

Traditional Aliwe'en revelers sporting the horrific costumes representing hiding one's gender identity.

Traditional Aliwe’en revelers sporting the horrific costumes representing hiding one’s gender identity.

Hmm. It would seem kind of stupid though if parents just gave candy to their own kids. We may have to come up with some sort of ritual for the whole thing — maybe make the kids go door-to-door reciting some kind of chant or something. This ritual begging could be symbolic of the actual begging trans people have to do to get past gatekeepers (the adults) so they can get their HRT and other treatments (the candy). I’ll have to think about the specifics of the chant more and follow up in another post.

Halloween-jagged-teeth-jack-o-lanternOkay, next, I want everyone to go out to the stores and buy a pumpkin. This symbolizes my love of Pumpkin Spice Lattes. But I don’t want you to eat it; I want you to hollow it out and carve a face into it — faces of agony to represent all my years of dysphoria, or faces of joy to reflect how happy I will be next Friday. Put a candle in them and set them on your porch so that everyone can share in the grief and joy. If we could get everyone to do it, then people walking down the street in the dark could experience a rich tableau of my emotions.

Oh, wait! I just had an idea! What if the pumpkins were also part of the candy ritual? Maybe having a pumpkin outside your house is an indicator that you, too, are sharing in the dark emotions of Aliwe’en, and that the children have permission to come to your door and perform the ceremonial begging. Yeah, that just might work. Now we just gotta figure out that chant. Something short and pithy. It should probably rhyme, or at least alliterate.

Anyway, I’m hoping to build a groundswell of support for Aliwe’en. I don’t expect too much this year, but I hope to inspire at least a few families to try out this new holiday celebration. Think of it as exposing your children to new ideas and subcultures. Who knows? Maybe on Friday I will see one or two Aliwe’en revelers roaming the streets in costumes and begging for candy. That would really make me happy.

Besides, I don’t think anyone else has anything going on that night. ;)

Even Aliwe'en isn't immune to Christmas creep.

Even Aliwe’en isn’t immune to Christmas creep.

B201: What is My Brand?

So today’s Blogging 201 was an interesting one (I’m writing this at midnight, so “today” was technically yesterday, but hey, I get it done when I have the time).

Today’s assignment: audit your brand — look at all the ways you communicate information about your blog, and make sure they’re consistent, focused, and say what you want them to say.

This was not something I could just sit down and think an hour about. There’s a lot of things in the post that they offer as points of consideration. And honestly, I have struggled to focus with this one. I’ve always felt that my “brand” — that is, me and my writing — is hard to corral under a single umbrella. Trans issues, skeptical articles, video and tabletop gaming pieces (though less frequently) … it’s a varied and hard to connect with “me”. And right now my blog template doesn’t communicate much AT ALL, and it’s definitely not consistent across all mediums.

Yeah, this one will take some effort.I’ll be toying with this one behind the scenes.

In the meantime, here’s a question for all the folks out there: What do you think my “brand” is? Why do you come here? Why do you read my stuff? What’s the valuable core of what I do?

B201 Day One: Three Goals

Okay, time for the first challenge! Today, the Blogging 201 requirement is to set three long-term goals for my blog and (if daring) to post the goals publicly. I can do that.

The post starts of by offering two thinking questions: Why do I blog, and what do I want this blog to be? Okay ….

Why do you blog? To gain notoriety? To secure a book contract? To self-publish your work? To establish yourself as a leader in your field? To gain followers? Traffic? To connect with others? To work through and clarify your own thoughts?

This is a good question. I started this blog because I needed a safe place to say things out loud, to share my experience with others, and to connect with the trans community. But I don’t really need the blog for that anymore. Do I want notoriety? I suppose. Do I want a book contract? I’d love that. I guess I still blog because I still think that I have worthwhile things to say about the trans experience and about life in general. I also blog because I love to write and I want to write for a living.

If your blog exceeded your wildest dreams, what would that look like? Would you have a different design? How many followers would you have? How much traffic? What sort of community would participate? What discussions would take place? How often would you post?

A different design, definitely. Part of my frustration the past few months has been settling on a look for the site. More followers? Yes please! A blog ‘community’? I would love to inspire such a thing. Really, I envision this blog being a place where I post interesting things everyday, where people engage and discuss those things I post, and where I make sufficient money blogging to quit my day job. I’m not too modest to say it: I want to be a voice that people listen to, that people want to hear more from.

Looking at those desires stated plain, I can easily see where I have been falling short in recent months. I have been focusing on the wrong things. Who cares about how pretty my theme is if no one is interested in what I have to write? Who cares what font I’m using if I’m not getting enough eyeballs on the work to appreciate it? Why worry about the window dressing if I’m not putting words on the page? So here are my goals:

1. Post three times a week between November 1 and January 31. I have been averaging 8 posts a month since July — that’s less than two posts a week, as there are some 5 week months in there. I aim to change that. Three posts a week is what I need to be producing. Of course, that means finding something to write about three times a week, but isn’t that why I’m doing this in the first place? As a last-ditch reach, I can always head over to The Daily Post and do whatever the day’s challenge is.

  • Sub-goal 1a.I will be creating an Editorial Calendar for those three months because … well, I probably should.
  • Sub-goal 1b. I will create one “weekly feature” to fill one of those days. Because … well, I probably should.

2. Double my Unique Daily Visitors (UDV) by January 31. Over the past three months I have averaged about 500 unique-per-day visitors per month; if I exclude July and run what I’m averaging so far for October, that goes up to about 520 [July was the month I switched servers, so it's a bit off]. That’s 17 people a day, which is abysmal to me, especially since it could be the SAME 17 people each day. I want to double that. Actually, more than double, but I will settle for doubling the UDV in three months. Getting 17 more people to read won’t be that hard, will it? [She said sarcastically.]

3. Spend one hour each week reading the creative output of fellow trans creators online, and commenting on their work, from November 1st until January 31st. I like the idea of having one less self-centric goal, and this one shouldn’t be too hard for me since I browse a lot of blogs anyway. It not only serves as an inspiration boost, but commenting is a well-known way of networking and drawing new eyes.

As you can see, I’m using January 31 as my target date for all three goals. I think a three month window is a good one; it gives me time to work but also puts the deadline reasonably close, to motivate. Also, it gives me a month beyond Christmas (Christmas is a slow time for blogging). And away I go!

Starting Today: Blogging 201

Earlier this year I engaged in an activity called Blogging 101. It resulted in some random, unrelated-to-this-blog posts, and it ended abruptly when I lost my job. However, the time I spent doing it was fun, and I didn’t feel ending early was a loss for me since finding a focus for this blog and writing semi-regularly (the point of B101) had been something I had more or less mastered.

This week though, at the suggestion of Zarah, I’m engaging in the next level of that activity, Blogging 201. This one is more “brand-focused” — on taking what you’ve got and building it into more. I think I really need that right now, for two reasons.

First, the blog is in a weird place. It began as my personal journal of transition and the best writing was born out of my angst over the process. That’s largely passed now, leaving me with less spontaneous inspiration for writing. Sure, my name change is coming, and there will be transition stories to tell beyond that. But I’m largely done with that chapter of my life.

Second, I’m sad to say that my readership has dropped off since moving away from WordPress.com. I hadn’t realized how much that network could drive traffic, and therefore I took those numbers for granted. If I want to bring my numbers back up and even surpass my old highs, I need to be more active in my approach to this blog. Blogging 201 will help me with that.

The point to all this is, expect a lot of “meta” posts in the next couple weeks centered on plans for this blog and the focus it might take. I would really appreciate any feedback, as well, if you’re one of my regular readers. Tell me what you like to read! You’re the reason I write, after all.

 

 

Marble Statue of Hermaphroditus

Transgender in a Genderless Society

In comments sections of news articles about transgender people and issues, I often see a question come up.

If society didn’t have gender roles, would transgender people still feel transgender?

Often this question is asked as a subtle way of implying that transgender is a mental illness and not a medical condition — in other words, one based on psychology rather than physiology. It’s a concern-troll way of saying “But really, you just want to wear dresses.” At least, that’s the way it comes across to me.  So as I sit here in my jeans and t-shirt, makeup-less and hair pulled back, yet feeling as female as ever, let me explain why I think this is such a loaded and disingenuous question.

First: Let’s be honest; it’s a pretty far-fetched hypothetical. It’s like imagining a world without crime or a society without war. I honestly think that humans are incapable of not seeing difference and categorizing based on those differences. As long as procreation needs two humans to happen, there will be an inescapable difference between some people and others, even if we somehow otherwise homoginized our genetics to eliminate all the other differences (tall/short, light/dark, etc.).  And whenever there is a perceived difference, humans are prone to generalizing and categorizing. So there will never be a world where “there are no gender roles.” As such, the question is already pointless.

Second: More realistically, in the world where there are gender roles, we develop and grow in stages, by the time we become self-aware of things like gender and gender roles our view of those things might already be influenced by outside forces (our parents). And when we do become self-aware, we innately settle on a gender. Most of the world doesn’t remember that because there was no feeling of wrongness. But a five year old declaring that they are not a boy hasn’t had a lifetime to internalize gender roles. They sense some wrongness and they express what they feel with the vocabulary they have. That their expression of wrongness comes out in the language of modern gender roles is  not unusual, because that’s what they have to express it. The sensation of wrongness and the expression of that sensation in terms of social gender roles are two different things. We express feelings in the best way we know how.

Third: In reality, transgender has shown up in all sorts of cultures across the globe and throughout history,  regardless of the particulars of a culture’s gender roles. Doesn’t that suggest that transgender isn’t rooted purely in society and gender roles? Certainy a pre-colonoal Native American two-spirit person wasn’t simply driven by the desire to wear high heels and use the women’s restroom. Again, it’s the question of wrongness and the vocabulary that exists to express it. The phenomenon of transgender just keeps happening, which strongly suggests there’s more than social psychology at play.

But

Let’s play along. Let’s imagine a far-flung future that is postmodern, post-feminist, post-heteronormativity, etc. A future that is close to identity homogenization as is possible. Would I still be transgender in such a society?

Honestly, I don’t know, and neither do you. But my sense of being transgender, my experiences over a lifetime, suggest to me that gender dysphoria would still be something that I would experience, I can’t say for sure how I would experience and express it, as I am not a part of that society and do not speak its cultural language.  But I am certain in my heart that it would still be there.

Ultimately I think the “what if there were no gender roles” question is a dodge, a way to try and dismiss the immediate issue. We don’t live in that society. We live in this society, and in this society I am transgender. Let’s deal with me, and those like me, now. Not at some unlikely point in the far-flung future.

Still Lonely

I closed my OK Cupid account recently. It was never terribly active anyway, but I finally accepted that I probably wasn’t going to find anyone on there who wanted to be with me.

The loneliness bug has been flaring up again this week, and the idea of a relationship is fresh in my mind. OK Cupid is not the place to find “a relationship”. It’s more like a giant booty call where mildly attractive people look to hook up with other mildly attractive people.  I chatted with a few guys, some of whom apparently didn’t bother to read three lines into my profile where I said I was trans, but even the conversations that didn’t end in “Oh, I’m not into trans girls” were mostly disasters waiting to happen. Not my scene.

I’m not sure what my scene is.  I was never a barfly in any case — I don’t like to drink — and given everything else, I’m more or less relying on serendipity to eventually put me in a place where I meet the right person. Unfortunately I don’t *go* to a lot of places where I’d meet new people. I game twice a week with the same groups of people every week; I go to work where I almost exclusively interface with students; and I go out in public where I more or less try to stay invisible as I shop for groceries. Yeah, my life isn’t that glamorous. :)

Finding a companion is not a problem I need to be worrying about right now. But it’s lingering there in the background and when it does flare up, like it is currently, it can put a real damper on the whole day. Sigh …

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The State of Things, October 2014

Ick. I feel so unmotivated when I go a week without writing anything for this blog. Unfortunately, I find that I write more when things go wrong, and life is pretty okay right now.

On a personal level, I’m feeling really good. I’m genuinely happy, something I wasn’t able to say for 38 years of my life. I’m reconnecting with people that He neglected in his insular sadness. I’m also making an effort to go out more and see people and be seen, contrary to what is still my very introverted nature. I even went back to my old college of employment last week to help a friend clear out her office on her last day. It was easy to walk into that building; I don’t think it would have been so easy a month ago, when my planned first day of transition was supposed to occur. My friend, who has always been someone with great insight, said the nicest thing anyone’s said to me so far:

“You look at peace.”

That’s exactly it. I’m calm; I’m content; I’m at peace with myself. Life isn’t perfect, but I’m not worried about that. I’ll handle it.

The last few weeks have also had me easing into the groove of my new job. I’m still nervous about the way my students may be viewing me, but they seem to be respecting my identity and so I’m letting that slide and worrying about all the other things that stress me out on the job: planning lessons, grading assignments, keeping up with the gradebook, etc. You know — teacher things. Being at a new school, teaching a new class, these things put me a little off-kilter,  but not enough to blog about here.  That’s not the purpose of this blog, anyways.

I think that’s the question I’m struggling with now: what exactly is the purpose of this blog now? I started Ali Finds Her Self because it was useful for me. It allowed me to express myself in a time when I couldn’t in the real world; it allowed me to work through issues and think through problems and vent when I needed to. I’ve been going back and reading what I wrote last year, and some of it is really quite good. But it “clicked” best when I was struggling with my identity and emoting. “Things are pretty okay” is a dull theme for a blog.

Ali Finds Her Self needs a new direction. I’m not sure what that is. In the meantime I’m going to keep telling my story, what there is of it to tell, and I’m going to seek out new ways to add something of value to what I write. Stay tuned.

[Also, every time I log into the Admin panel here, I end up mucking behind the scenes with the new theme I need to put together since the old one turned out to be dysfunctional beyond my coding skills to quick-fix. I'm trying to child-theme a better theme now, but even that takes awhile.  Please bear with the generic TwentyFourteen template while I do so. Thanks.]

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Some Thoughts on Transparent Season 1

I have watched all ten episodes of the new Amazon series Transparent, a series built around the story of a trans woman, Maura Pfefferman, coming out to the world. A series just about a woman coming out would be unsustainable in the long run, though, as eventually, Maura’s going to have to become just another character living her life. So wisely, the series chooses to have Maura’s coming out be a trigger point for a whole series of events for those she loves as they live their own messed up lives.

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Maura’s first coming out scene absolutely nailed it. I became a little verklempt.

And the Pfefferman children do live messed up lives. In fact, I thought all three of them were pretty reprehensible until about the fourth episode. There’s Sarah, the responsible eldest child, who decidces to let go of her domestic responsibilities and chase her passions; Joshie, the immature middle child, who is struggling to grow out of his stunted adolescent view of love and sex; and then there’s Ali, the wild youngest child, who needs to stop being defiant for the sake of defiance and take control of her out-of-control life.

The ripples of Maura’s decision to become her authentic self play their way through these three lives, each as inauthentic in their own way as Maura’s years as Mort. Ultimately, her transition becomes something of a metaphor for the changes each of the major characters experiences throughout the season. They’re all much more likeable in the end.

[Also: an Ali! Yay! Unfortunately, her's is short for Alice. ]

As for Maura’s transgender experience, I found it to be refreshingly authentic. Tambor plays her with so much subtle emotion that she really comes to life on the screen. It is, however, the story of a certain generation of transgender woman. Nowadays, so many of us aren’t waiting until the kids are grown and gone to accept who we are.  While I found myself identifying with the broad outlines of Maura’s journey, the specifics just didn’t ring true. Sneaking out to hotels for weekends en femme, attending a camp for crossdressers, trying to assuage the feelings by turning it into a sexual kink — these are not experiences I can relate to. Maybe if I’d struggled to live my lie while my children grew up I would have felt such urges. But really, those are the experiences of someone living in a different world than the one we have today. It’s okay (well, okayer than it used to be) to come out, to live authentically, and so more and more we’re doing it younger and younger. I can’t fault the show for that, though, as Maura’s experience is a perfectly valid reflection of a transgender journey and it’s handled with style.

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I hope that as Maura matures as a woman, she gets a better fashion sense.

The telling of Maura’s story reflects how the series wishes to portray trans people as a whole: as human beings. For example, one subplot involves Ali meeting, and then trying to seduce, a trans man. He is never depicted as anything other than a male with male desires and male tastes; references are made to his vagina, but they don’t take anything away from who he is as a man. Another subplot involves Maura moving into an apartment with Davina, another trans woman (played by the awesome Alexandra Billings). She’s a secondary character, but Davina was one of my favorites in the series. She is the woman who made it — she lives her life like anyone else, and she’s happy enough with it, and she’s mostly unremarkable and just normal. That’s the dream, really: to just be you, only the way you want you to be.

In the end, the series ties its wending plotlines up into a decent enough conclusion that, should there be no Season 2, you’re not left with a total lack of resolutions. However, there are definitely enough plot-lines that could be picked up again if the show gets a second season. Which I think it will.

If you have Amazon Prime, watch Transparent. If you don’t have Amazon Prime … er, get it, I guess, or wait for it to come out on DVD.

Upon Further Consideration

I felt the need to follow up on Thursday’s post, if only to apologize for the poor quality of the writing in that piece. Reading it back irritates me. I’ve been told it’s a good post, so maybe I’m just overly critical, but I worked on that damn thing for three days and I just see so many glaring issues with how it plays out. I suppose I could take it down, but my philosophy is that once it’s posted it’s permanent.

Part of the problem with writing that post was trying to articulate what I can only think of as trans happiness. Which is a cheesy phrase, I know, but it’s the only way I can think of to describe the peculiar happiness that a trans person feels in that a-ha moment when, if only briefly, the dysphoria goes away. It’s like fog clearing on a sunny day, only the day is your Self and the fog is the dysphoria and the sun is the warm glow of authenticity. That’s what Monday felt like to me. There was a moment where the fog cleared and I had a warm glow of contentedness.

Damn. Why didn’t I think of that metaphor earlier? Ah well.

 

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Ali Finds Her Self

Monday was possibly the best day of my life. And here’s the funny thing: it wasn’t even very atypical. And that was the glory of it.

It was in fact the total opposite of atypical. I woke up; I did some writing; I got ready for my first day of work; I headed to campus and taught a class; then I went home. That’s it. I did what a million people do every weekday of their lives. It was a day that I had, in one form or another, for the entire decade I was employed in my last job.

But there was one difference. Yesterday, for the first time in my life, ever, I was me.

I have been trying for days to express exactly how I feel right now. I’ve written and rewritten this a half dozen times. The above is about the best I can express it, and it sucks. In a way, nothing happened Monday. But in a way, everything happened.

Getting ready to go to work Monday was nereve-wracking. I changed outfits a half-dozen times before I was okay with how I looked, and then I spent forever on the rest of the “look”. When I headed to campus, the first thing I had to do was to get my parking pass and faculty ID. So I went to campus safety and asked for my badge.

“Last name?” asked the lady at the desk.

“Hudson.”

“First name?”

I hesitated. “Um … I may be under two different first names. My legal name in my new name, which won’t be legal until next month. And if at all possible, I’d like my badge to reflect my new name.”

Badgecropped“That won’t be a problem,” the woman said, immediately relieving a lot of the tension I had.

A few minutes later, she handed me my badge. “You’re all set Alison.” I put it on a lanyard around my neck, and in that moment I just felt invincible. I know, it’s just a stupid work ID, but it’s the most important piece of identification I’ve ever had with my real name on it. Here was something official. I was now an employee of the college – not Him but me. This piece of ID with my face on it, my name on it, was a declaration that the college itself recognized my authenticity.

I felt goddamn invincible walking into class. I had credentials. Even if the students made an issue of my identity, the college had my back.

But honestly, no one in class said anything untoward. It was just like any class I’ve taught for the last decade-plus. About twenty minutes in a student called me “Ms. Hudson” for the first time and I knew everything would be just fine.

It feels so insignificant to tell the story. Nothing really happened. But it wasn’t about happenings.

Here’s the thing: There are no more steps to take in my social transition. This was it. As of Monday, I am 100% officially living my life as my authentic self. No more hiding, no more fretting about going back and forth, no more worrying if I should be Him in this or that situation. When I started this blog last year, I called in Ali FInds Her Self because I envisioned this whole thing as a journey of discovery. And this week, I have discovered what it’s like to feel normal in my own skin.

He is gone now. I’ve found my Self. And I couldn’t be happier.

That doesn’t mean my transgender experience is over, nor does it mean I’ll stop blogging. I still have so many things I want to do for my Self. HRT continues to change me, slowly but surely; my legal name change is still over a month away; then there’s surgeries and gender markers to focus on. I still experience dysphoria every time I look in the mirror or hear my voice recorded, and that will probably never go away entirely. But for today, at least, I know who I am — and so does the rest of the world. Finally.