Sunday, September 17, 2017

I Shouldn't Be Here, But Here I Am: A Birthday Reflection and Wish


No matter who you are or where you are on 
life's journey, you are welcome here."

The UCC Statement of Welcome
______________________________
______________________________

A Birthday

I was born premature with my umbilical cord wrapped around my neck. I came quickly and my mother wasn't even able to be given any pain medication when she got to the hospital. She arrived and thirty minutes later, so did I. When the doctors saw the cord and the color of my skin, they went into immediate action to get me breathing. The strangling cord was cut and I was coached into taking my first breath. I was lucky. I was lucky to be born in a hospital with doctors who knew what to do. I was lucky my mother was a nurse, practiced in delivering babies, who had the knowledge and access to the care we needed. I was lucky that the night before, my mother stopped while brushing her teeth and called to my father, "I think I am ready for this baby to be born." My father laughed because I wasn't due for weeks yet and my mother was showing no signs of labor. But late that night, things began to happen quickly. My mother woke up and told my father that the time is now. They rushed to the hospital and if traffic had been worse I would have arrived into the world in the back of a car with a cord around my neck and no doctors with sharp scalpels to give me air. I was lucky. I was privileged. I shouldn't be here, others in similar circumstances aren't here because they lacked such luck and resources like life-saving healthcare. They had just as much right to be here but aren't. But here I am.

Flash forward ten years, I am double-digits and proud of that as I sit in a doctor's office with a strange humming machine pressed against my chest. A few days earlier I was at my routine physical and the doctor checking my heart had heard an abnormality. He had another doctor come in and listen. Then my mother was told to take me in for an echocardiogram to confirm. The results are conclusive, I have a heart condition. While twenty years later, further research has showed that my condition is not fatal and that people with my diagnosis can have full rich lives, at the time the material facts and the current knowledge painted a far grimmer picture. I was warned that my life expectancy would but markedly less than my peers and that, most certainly, I would need open heart surgery by the age of thirty at the latest. The doctor could see the immense concern cringing my mothers practiced face. Both could see the color draining out of my skin. Open heart surgery is risky, even on the relatively young. Thirty-years old seems far away to a ten-year old but not nearly far enough away. The doctor assured me that he would do everything he can to prepare me and keep an eye on my condition. I was told to watch what I eat, to exercise, but also not to push myself too hard. I was given a note that would excuse me from gym class at school.

 I never used that note, however. Buying into what Eli Clare calls, "the super-crip" narrative, the moment I was told that I couldn't or shouldn't be out running the mile with my classmates, I felt the compulsion to show that I could and would. In fact, I joined the track team, literally jumping over hurdles. But pushing myself didn't change the fact that I would and still do get light-headed when a burst of heart palpitations hit my body like a punch to the chest. Nor did it allow me to enjoy coffee later in life without bringing on similar stress with a cup of full black. Nonetheless, I am turning thirty-years old this year and although I am relatively young, I still don't feel any more prepared for open heart surgery. Fortunately, that is no longer regarded as necessary. In fact, after years of regular cardiograms and doctor's visits, as well as many miles run, I am not shorter nor shorter-life spanned than those without my heart condition. My diagnosis is the same but the prognosis is good. I was told I shouldn't be here, many others with better bills of health aren't here, but here I am. Despite the panic I felt at the age of ten, I am grateful for the luck and resources I was given, for the doctor's note even if I didn't use it, and for the whole team of people who were on my side and ready in case my heart gave out. What if that attention and care was given to those other kids, regardless of having a white nurse mother and a diagnosed heart condition? How many more that aren't here would be? How many more birthdays would be celebrated?


______________________________


______________________________

A Reflection

Well before my tenth birthday I already knew about another factor of my life which I was told the prognosis of even without doctors or fancy buzzing machines: I am transgender. If open heart surgery at the tender age of thirty took the blood out of my skin, I can't imagine if I knew the statistics then about how many trans kids attempt suicide a decade before that by the age of twenty. The Youth Suicide Prevention Program says 50% of trans persons will attempt by the age of 20. The American Society for Suicide Prevention states 41%. Another widely reported figure states that if I was a trans woman of color, I may not worry so much about heart surgery at the age of thirty because my life expectancy is not that much later, with an average figure of 35 years of life. These are the numbers that further research compounds, not corrects such as in the case of my heart condition. This diagnosis, whether given by a doctor or by society, brings with it a prognosis that should make all of us sit up and pay attention. Turning thirty, these are the numbers and names that still haunt me. When I accepted who I am, affirmed that I would transition, I prepared myself for the type of life and violent death that I am more likely to face. I have been told, directly and indirectly, that as a trans woman I should not be here. But here I am. That presence would feel like a victory if not for how many trans persons (especially trans persons of color) who should be here, should have been told that they should be here, but are not. 

And this is not just a matter of luck and access to healthcare. Because the too often fatal prognosis for trans folks are not determined by fate but by people, by other human beings. As scholarship on necropolitics, precarity, and "slow death" is showing, suicide is not a matter simply of bad luck or a bad apple. Suicide is inextricably linked to systems of shaming, abandonment, isolation, marginalization, and expectations which bring on depression, anxiety, despair and death. These systems of education, care, and prejudice which divide those whose lives will be managed from those whose lives will be abandoned (and deaths predicted), are also the systems which divide cisgender from the trans, intersex, and non-binary, male from female, straight from queer, able-bodied from disabled, white from black (and all other persons of color), the Christian from the non-Christian, and the haves from those whose resources have been taken or exploited. Such systems have said to me time and again, you shouldn't be here, but here I am; not least because in other ways and times I fit the criteria of those to whom society says, you SHOULD be here. The negative and mixed messaging is enough to send too many just like me or those better, more promising, more normative than me, to their graves. But to those who hear the compounding voice made from the many intersecting utterances of "you should not be here," there are many who should be here that aren't and many who have less of a chance to be here whose persistence should be lauded all the more. I hear traces of their condemnation in the voices which condemn me and also in the voices (those white supremacist, able-bodied, college educated Christian voices) which praise me in part, even if I fail to live up their demands. In being able to say, "here I am," I feel the loss (the socially engineered loss) of all those who aren't. In being able to say, "here I am," I feel the responsibility to remind everyone to consider that they are not and why they are not.

The cruelty but also the power of it is that these deaths and these messages, "you shouldn't be here," are not sentences from heaven or Nature but the judgements of humanity. Life is not a resource which must be hoarded for some and denied to others. Affirmation and welcome that you should be here is not something which runs out the more you say it. Indeed, the longer and more I become present here in this country and this world, the less I feel that "here" belongs to me. I am "here" but I do not possess it. There are many more who should be here, could be here, might be here if we didn't work so hard at belonging here and making here belong to us. Take for instance my role in the academy, there further I find myself, against odds, still here in the scholarly community, the greater I feel the pressing absence of all those who should be here but aren't or are here but are still told that they shouldn't be because of being an outspoken trans, queer, crip, feminine, old, young, poor, or a person of color. In an academy that is shrinking in funding and size, we need all hands on deck. In a culture grappling with transphobia, racism, sexism, ableism, xenophobia, and homophobia, we need more critical voices (especially among the oppressed) to turn the tide. In a nation which daily increases the volume and spectrum of the voice which says, "you shouldn't be here," we need more open and affirming voices, more voices of difference and dissent which responds, "but here I am," then adds, "and so they should be too." It need not be survivors guilt or imposter syndrome to say, "I don't belong here," if we turn that statement into a demand on behalf of others who should be here.


______________________________


______________________________



A Wish

On my birthday, when I say, "I shouldn't be here, but here I am," I do not wish to express self-pity. Rather, I am overwhelmed with gratitude for all who have literally said to me, word for word, the statement, "so long as I am here, you will be too." What is more, my birthday wish is that I may be able to say the same to the others who are here but pushed to the margins, those who are here but aren't certain they should be, those who are here but aren't sure for how long, those who are here but told they aren't welcome, as well as those who aren't here, won't be here, might be here, could be here, and should be here. My wish is that we say in greater frequency and clarity, responsibility and variety, "you should be here" and "so long as I am here, you will be too." This is not our gift to them because we do not belong here any more than they, "here" does not belong to us. Rather, if we make this wish, then we might receive the gift of their presence and that is something worth celebrating.


______________________________


Transgender and intersex persons are still constantly told 
by society and the law that they are not welcome here, 
in restrooms that correspond to their personal gender identity.

______________________________

Friday, September 1, 2017

Beyond Male and Female: On Transgender & Non-Binary Genders


We have always existed, 
and we will continue to fight 
until we are all safe and free.”

Laverne Cox
______________________________
______________________________

Course Description and Outcomes

Gender is personal and political. Gender is not just a set of physical or mental characteristics but an ongoing social conversation between identities, expressions, and relations that fight to order how we define bodies, how we divide bodies, and what roles or values these bodies will possess. Histories and narratives form and repeat when readers follow debates on gender in society. These narratives influence cultural imagination with tales that reflect and resist public concepts of gender, sexuality, race/ethnicity, disability, and class. In this seminar, we explore how rhetoric and worldviews have worked together to form diverse genres of texts and embodiment that have come to be collected under the name, “transgender,” as well as other forms of gender beyond the binary categories of “male” and “female.” By tracing a cultural genealogy that spans the western Middle Ages to today, we map how texts in the history of gender reinforce and resist mechanisms of control. This course asks: how is gender not just something you have but something you do? How does the doing of gender shape your embodiment? How do the lack or existence of disability access and gender-neutral bathrooms create and enforce divisions without active intentionality in the community that occupies the place? As part of the course, participants will engage with a variety of religious, scientific, and cultural texts, including selections from the Bible and Greco-Roman mythology, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), films such as the Danish Girl and the Transformation, as well as the biographies of Caitlyn Jenner and Jazz Jennings.

Course Objectives (Reflecting SAGES Learning Outcomes)
By the end of the course you will be able to

  • Sympathize across multiple perspectives in academic conversations 
  • Analyze ethical debates and offer critical inquiries 
  • Research relevant historical contexts and scholarship 
  • Argue in written and oral forms according to the dialectic method 
  • Honor the diversity of genders and be communicate them clearly


______________________________
______________________________

Selections from the Reading List

Beyond Male and Female (or as my students say the B[a]MF seminar) is divided into two primary sections: the Binary and Beyond the Binary. The first half of the class focuses on the history of the gender binary, where does it come from and why do we use it? These questions are tackled over two subsections focused around Religion and Science. Throughout this section, students analyze the arguments historically made in support of the binary and learn to see the cracks in the argument as well. In the second section, Beyond the Binary, the course focuses on issues in the Intersex and Transgender communities. The intersex section begins with mythic origins, moves through modern science, and then concludes with two memoirs. One memoir tells the story of a non-binary intersex person and the other one tells the story of a "trans" woman intersex person). The final weeks of class are spent examining transgender and its intersections with disability, class, race, and age. How does being transgender influence how we experience other parts of our lives and how do other parts of our identity influence how we experience transgender?



----------------------------------------


Section 1: the Binary

Religion

  • The Bible, 
    • “Genesis 1-2,” 
    • “Leviticus 21-23,” 
    • “Isaiah 56,”
    •  “Matthew18-19” 
  • Nicholas Constas (Trans.), The Life of Saint Marinos 
  • Susana Aiken and Carlos Aparicio (dir.), The Transformation (1996) 
  • Caitlyn Jenner, Secrets of My Life


Science
  • Heldris of Cornwall, The Romance of Silence
  • Dylan Scholinski, The Last Time I Wore A Dress
  • Tom Hooper (dir.), The Danish Girl (2016) 
  • Leelah Alcorn, Transgender Queen of Hell 
  • Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-5) 

----------------------------------------

Section 2: Beyond the Binary

Intersex and Non-Binary Identities
  • Plato, “Tale of Aristophanes,” 
  • Ovid, “Tale of Hermaphroditus” 
  • Anne Fausto-Sterling, Sexing the Body, 
    • “Dueling Dualisms” 
    • “Do Sex Hormones Really Exist?” 
  • Hida Viloria, Born Both
  • Thea Hillman, Intersex 

Transgender and Intersections of Disability, Race, Class, and Age
  • Eli Clare, Exile and Pride 
  • Janet Mock, Redefining Realness 
  • Jazz Jennings, Being Jazz

______________________________
______________________________

Racism and Human Diversity: Medieval Narratives of Blackness


History has its eyes on you

Hamilton
An American Musical
Lin-Manuel Miranda
______________________________
______________________________

Course Description and Outcomes

The Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards were founded in 1935 by Cleveland philanthropist and poet, Edith Anisfield-Wolf. Her desire was to establish an award for books that promoted social justice and tolerance by addressing cultural and racial diversity. Since its foundation, the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards have honored the best fiction and non-fiction that exemplify these principals. Winners of the award include the novelist Toni Morrison, the literary critic Edward Said, and the historian David Blight.

In this seminar, we will read selections of poetry and books by winners of the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards alongside other films and texts from the Middle Ages to the modern day which offer contextual and historical insights into the wider framework of social issues, social justice and diversity that undergird the selected award books. Additionally, students will get the chance to attend the 2017 Awards ceremony and visit to the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award collection at the Cleveland Public Library.

Course Objectives (Reflecting SAGES Learning Outcomes)
By the end of the course you will be able to

  • Sympathize across multiple perspectives in academic conversations
  • Analyze ethical debates and offer critical inquiries
  • Research relevant historical contexts and scholarship 
  • Argue in written and oral forms according to the dialectic method
  • Help others to understand racism through clear verbal communication

______________________________
______________________________

Selections from the Reading List

Racism and Human Diversity centers its reading and discussion around four winners of the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards. Additional readings and in class viewings serve to offer historical context which augment the four focal texts. The goal of the readings is to draw out the major themes and historical contexts which run through and around the four texts, what come to be identified as "Medieval Narratives of Blackness." These narratives includes ideas of Nation and Religion, White Supremacy and the Role of Medievalism/Historians, The Stonewall Riots and Intersections of Race & Sex, and finally, Poetry and the Prison Industrial Complex. 

Primary Texts (drawn from the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards)

  • Leon Poliakov, The Aryan Myth 
  • Toni Morrison, Beloved (film adaptation)
  • Lillian Faderman, The Gay Revolution
  • R. Phillips, Heaven

-----------------------------------------------------------------

Medieval Context for the Aryan Myth
  • The King of Tars 
  • Selections from Arthurian Romance, "On Sir. Palamedes"
  • John Mandeville, Book of Marvels & Travels

"Neo-Medieval" Film Context for Beloved
  • D.W. Griffith (dir.), Birth of a Nation (1915)
  • Ron Clements and John Musker (dir.), The Princess and the Frog (2009)

Queer/Trans People of Color Context for The Gay Revolution
  • Jennie Livingston, Paris is Burning
  • Janet Mock, Redefining Realness

BLM/Law Enforcement Context for Heaven
  • Ava DuVernay, 13th (2016)
  • Sam Miller, Luke Cage 

______________________________
______________________________

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Dysphoria is in the Water: Transgender and the Environment


"Splash, play and learn in this sensory based program 
all about water. We’ll even hike to the pond 
and check out what lives in water!"

The Morton Arboretum
Advertisement for 'Wonderful Water'
______________________________
______________________________

Life at the Arboretum

Turning off of the express way, around a narrow curve, suburbia disappeared behind a high hedge as I pulled into work at a local Arboretum. The sun hadn't risen yet and only one gate was open, where a sleepy-eyed guard waved me by. Cutting across the parking-lot, which would soon be filled to capacity with families and summer-camps, I parked next to the loading dock and dumpsters that served as the headquarters of this private park system. Punching in with my time card, I waved at the few cooks and other service staff tasked with getting the cafeteria ready for the day. Walking into the service area, I tucked in my uniform and joined another young woman and guy already counting the registers. While some folks disliked having to wear a uniform, I didn't mind it so much. For one, there are much worse uniforms to wear. A green shirt and black slacks were not very flattering on many of us (although some seemed to look beatific regardless) but nonetheless they were at least designed with some intention for aesthetics. But the main reason I liked the uniforms were the same reason many didn't like uniforms of any kind: it made us all look alike. Over the years working at this job, I was coming out as my authentic gender. This meant that during these years, there were times when I was effectively in drag, wearing clothing associated to the gender I had mistakenly been assigned. These prescribed clothes divided me from my gender tribes and lumped me among a gender with which I didn't identify. Yet at work, some of these distinctions, if not went away, were diminished. True, the women looked more like the men but so too the men looked more like the women. For a transitioning transgender woman, I appreciated the company and flexibility of shared androgyny. Although, despite uniforms, gender still asserted itself.

Once the doors opened, morning light streamed in (we had missed the sunrise) and so did the day's first customers. Mostly the initial guests were all staff looking for coffee or a quick meal before going off to dig, guide, guard, or administrate. They bought their food with minimal but politely familiar communication. Most Arboretum staff knew the value of keeping the people managing your food happy. The next wave was the avid nature people, bird watchers and the like. Then came the families and baby-sitters looking to fill a school-free summer day at a location covered by a pre-paid season pass. This is when things got interesting. On any given day, once things get busy, most guests are distracted. They fumble for credit cards while trying to locate one child while yelling at another to put the $5 cookie sandwich down. At this point, if they said thanks or good bye (or some other acknowledgement that it wasn't a machine taking their money), usually some form of gendering would begin. As stated, because of the androgyny of the uniforms we all kind of look alike (which some workers overcame with overt markers of gender, including keeping their pants as low as they could get away with, showing off boxers, or done up with large earrings and as much make-up as they could get away with). And in my case, at this point in my transition I looked especially androgynous. Put me in a dress and I was an obvious girl. Put me in a suit and tie and you'd likely call me a guy. In this uniform, however, it really was all in the eye of the beholder how they saw my gender. I would get, "thanks miss." I would also get, "thanks sir." Or even, "thanks miss... I mean sir." In the last case, some people would get really embarrassed and apologized profusely for gendering me as a girl. I would then have to try to calm them down, saying, "it's okay." Sometimes I would be more emphatic, "no, it's REALLY okay."

Cashiering was not terrible, as I would find ways of exercising my mind by making lists or creating stories in my head, but the constant human interactions and misgenderings would wear on me. That is why whenever the supervisor would ask who would be willing (they never said "want to") go out and clean tables, I would volunteer. The management and my co-workers admitted this confused them. The job of cleaning tables was generally despised. Often it would go to the one with lowest seniority. For a while they hired people specifically to clear tables because everyone else would avoid it. But for me it was a sweet relief. Now, I'm as disgusted as anyone by how many people (especially but not always children) leave their tables. That part I could overcome, however, not through force of will but by turning off the part of my brain that keeps my mild OCD in check. In Chicago, where the population of Eastern European Catholics is greater, I could simply say, "I'm just embracing my Polish heritage." My grandfather cleaned. So did much of my extended family and other Polish ancestors who came to the United States fleeing the World Wars and needed jobs. But more than anything, what I liked about cleaning tables was that I was able to escape my body. More to the point, I was able to escape how others regarded and gendered my body. Now, I was not invisible while I cleared trays and wiped surfaces, but I was usually ignored. Folks would bump into me and jump, as if I had just materialized out of thin air. In a sense, I had. While I worked in the dining room, my body was not man or woman. My body was a part of the machinery of the space. On the whole, this tendency dehumanizes service staff and is to be trained out of ourselves, our friends, and our children. But at this time I took advantage of their lack of regard of my body as a way to escape my body. I let my body become-machine. It would operate, clean, and order without having to be engaged by others or even myself. My mind and soul was free to wander. While at the cash-register my body had a debated gender, in the dining room I was free (to an extent) from gender and a body.


______________________________

M.W. Bychowski while working in food service
______________________________

Dysphoria is in the Environment

The flight from people may be diagnosed as "introversion" and may in some ways reflect a certain discomfort I have around humans (especially in large groups) but was for me a trained response to the dysphoria I feel in social environments. Even years later, when I feel much more at home in my skin and present more unequivocally female, the constant interrogation of my gender enacted by others' stares, comments, or behavior is enough to exhaust me still. Indeed, what evidences how much dysphoria is in the society is the degree to which I am at home in my body and my body is at home in my home. In the privacy of my home, among family and friends, my gender is not under question. I am a woman and am regarded as a woman. I am not confused by my gender. Dysphoria lowers to a barely audible hum when I'm in my office grading or writing. Where gender confusion happens is when I am out in public. The confusion and dysphoria in the world is not my own and does not live in my body but cuts across my body, lashes at my body, stings my body and deposits its poison so that I will go home and itch and itch; it may leave a rash or scar if I do not apply some balm at night. Some places are better than others. However, in restaurants when I am out with my family, where folks at the next table won't stop staring or pointing, the dysphoria gets so loud I can almost not hear. "Say that again," I will tell my partner, when her words get drowned out by the open-mouthed gawking of a man a few tables down. The hum will make it hard to read the menu when the waiter asks, "and what will you have, sir?" There is dysphoria that lives in my skin but I live with it like a room-mate that has learned not to eat my food and listen to loud movies with head-phones. But the dysphoria that lives in the environment can be so exhausting, rattling walls and knocking pictures from the studs, that I can feel when I begin the flight out of my body. My mind and soul wanders, like it did in the dining room at the Arboretum, until the noise quiets down and I can again occupy my body.

The affects of the environment's dysphoria are noticeable by those who are close to me and have become attuned to its frequencies. My partner notices, sometimes before I am consciously aware, of when my spirit begins to vacate the location. She will take my hand with a pulsing squeeze that conveys, "the pain you feel is real and we can share the burden." Or with a look in eye as if to say, "they may only see a fantasy or fetish projected on your body, but I see you. I." Sometimes this is enough to pull me back into my body. Other times the best I can do is angle my mouth into an acknowledging smile, like a ghost pulling the strings of my face muscles from far away to show that some connection remains. If she can, my partner will address the immediate source of the dysphoria. She will correct the wait-staff's pronouns or stare back at the offending table until they get the message that their rudeness is registered and not accepted. But when the dysphoria gets bad enough that I have begun to fall (not into myself but out of myself) it is not just because of one small mix up or odd glance, it is because of a general widespread tone that makes it clear that such staring, anti-trans behavior, or misgendering is not an individual rudeness but an environmental standard. This is how places (restaurants, classrooms, workplaces, churches, etc.) articulate and enforce a standard that I am not welcome here. This message is not written on signs by in the eyes, mouths, and touch of its human occupants. As a result, the message is usually not received until I am deep in the environment. I may taste the dysphoria in the water but by that point I am already waist deep and have drunk enough for its toxicity to affect my body. No matter how quickly I spit out the poison and leave the space, by the time I walk out the gate, my mind and soul is long ahead of my clambering, dysphoria drenched flesh.

Increasingly, in my work and in my life I have been able to articulate dysphoria not as something that lives in the body, or rather only in the body, but is a thing that lives in the environment. I do not know what dysphoria tastes like to cisgender people. I cannot even say for sure how other trans, intersex, and non-binary folk register its diverse flavors and affects. What I can guess is that most cis people, and some trans people, don't notice the dysphoria in their water supply; or only notice it too late when someone has gotten ill or died. That dysphoria has gotten into the ground water all over our country and world seems evident. Some places seem worse than others certainly. "How did the dysphoria get into the water," is a question that a growing number of scholars, parents, and social justice movements are daily mapping and historicizing. The number of questioners grow but there is not many or many enough of us to give widespread answers. This is in part because there are those who do not want to know that there is dysphoria in their water. They do no want their wells tested and do not want to be told the results. Still others like the taste of the water, dysphoria and all. For some, dysphoria may have a sweet taste. The sweetness may come from the fact that the dysphoria does not seem to affect them but others cannot handle it. They call those who ask for dysphoria-free drinks or even dysphoria-free restaurants, "delicate snowflakes" or "liberal snobs." They drink dysphoria like hard liquor, to show their strength and to get drunk on it. If the intoxication leads them to lash out verbally or physically, well, "boys will be boys." In the end, as much as I abstain or find other establishments to eat and drink, all it takes is for some knowing or unknowing person to come in soaking with dysphoria for the poisoning of the well to begin. No environment is a closed system, water and dysphoria flow through the world ecology, creating "introverts" who stay at home and drink only from filtered-faucets as it passes down stream.


______________________________

View from the Arboretum cafe without customers
______________________________


"Why is that Boy a Girl?"

As a transgender person who is currently still able to live in this world, I have found and maintained ways of surviving in places where dysphoria can be tasted in most interactions. Getting out, in mind if not in body is one tactic. When getting out is not possible, there are sometimes an oasis where the water is not so polluted or else there are folks who have adopted filters in their home kitchens and are now able to taste the difference when they go into public. At this point it is worth noting that I was fortunate in my coworkers and managers at the Arboretum. Not everyone was a treat but during my half-decade at that particular food-service, I found some company where I could hide out and who created an environment where I could come back into my body a bit more. Sometimes, they seemed more conscientious because they gave signs of having experienced enough sexism, racism, or homophobia themselves to make them aware that water and environments are never neutral, demanding some level of awareness and care for others in the ecology. Other times, they touched on dysphoria by way of some other education or interest, political, philosophical, or artistic. Of course, being oppressed or educated does not always guarantee that one will make the environment better for all (or any) others. Sometimes folks that maybe should have known better did worse and sometimes folks who seemed to have no particular reason to be doing better nonetheless did. In any case, I remain grateful to those with whom I could find safe haven. Even momentary breaks in the grind and noise of the day allowed me to come back to myself enough to push through the rest. While five years is a drop in the bucket compared to some, I wouldn't have gotten through it without some colleagues who made the environment a place where my life could take root and find nourishment.

Moving back down from the systematic scale, there were also funny, precious, accidental moments that would fill me up with goodness (or something closer to goodness) for the rest of the day. An occurrence that happened more than once was one instigated by curious children who were usually more aware than their parents or guardians. Take for instance the summer day when I was pulled back from the dining room into the cafe. I was there not because of a coffee rush but because it was the most visible location where ice-cream was sold. Families and other groups boasting children would come in sweating from a day walking around through the children's garden or among the trees. Like magnets to iron the kids would zone in on the ice-cream and come running over. Even without kids a line to the door would form on these hot summer days. During such rushes the cafe would be filled to capacity with workers taking orders, handing out ice-cream, and taking cash. On this day I was at the cash-register. By the time they had gotten to me, the parent were over-heated and over-whelmed by the ordering process. Most handed me cash without looking at me or much more than a grunt. Such was the case with one mom who was counting out cash for her kid's ice-cream bars. Yet while she thumbed through $20's for smaller bills, ignoring me, her young boy couldn't take his eyes off of me. At the time I had shortish hair, almost a pixy cut, pearl earrings and similar necklace in addition to my uniform. Some called me elfin or a fairy; fitting considering our arbor surroundings. The boy took it all in, took me in, and then grabbing his mom's arm (who was still double-fisting her purse), he asked, "Mom, why is that boy a girl?" To her credit and perhaps explaining the child's extraordinary awareness and articulation of gender ambiguity, she replied, "I don't know, why don't you ask them?" I beamed at the question (and not just the light from the outside which was beaming so hot I would leave work with a mild-tan). "That," I told the child, "is a good question!"

Over my time in the food service, I received many such questions, asked with varying degrees of interest, consideration, and meanness. Whatever the intent and affect towards me, my hope is that prompting such inquiries did something in moving more folk at the Arboretum to be a bit more aware of the dysphoria in the environment. Because while I went home with the dysphoria drenching my uniform worse than the sweat, for a moment or maybe longer guests and coworkers would become mildly unsure, curious, or disturbed about gender. Whether it tasted good, interesting, or revolting they would suddenly become aware that in our social ecology there was something in the water than was not neutral. I now call the often rude, sometimes dumbfounded, sometimes rejoicing tizzies racing across the faces of many of those who encounter me in such a way, "transgender moments." This is not to say that they will become more trans or that they even fully understand what I am or what is going on as "transgender" but that for a moment (if only a moment) they experience a degree of the dysphoria that I do. This is not a revenge fantasy. Unlike some, for good and bad, I do not get pleasure or even reassurance by other's discomfort, confusion, or pain. Usually I go out of my way to make things comfortable, clear, and even enjoyable for others. But if others taste the dysphoria in the environment, they may begin to be able to do something about it. No one wants someone else to drink contaminated water. But the more of us that can detect pollution, hopefully the sooner and better we may become at repairing the damage done to our world. 

The language of environmental crisis being used in this case is not accidental or merely metaphorical but deliberate and real. Just as our world is not only at risk but actively and rapidly accelerating into environmental crises at the level of climate, water, air, earth, heat, plants and animals, so too we are witnesses a crisis that sees the daily damaging and yearly deaths of an alarming number of trans, intersex, and non-binary persons. Those at the intersections of transgender and the marginalization of race, disability, class, and sexuality show signs of swifter population decline. This was a personal story but no environment is closed off from the wider ecology. The thing about water is that you must drink or die; even if the water is tainted; even if you die a little in order to live. The dysphoria in the water I drank at the Arboretum ran through the workers, the guest, the food, the trees, the local economy, the neighboring towns and schools, and went back to camp with the kids who asked questions and those who only stared. The toxin was in the environment before I got there and is there after I left. The problem is big but is made up of millions of tiny pieces and participants. So too the potential for change exists within and is compounded within each member of the ecology; each with a chance to drink the water and leave the water a bit better than they found it. It all turns on a taste, a question, a story which shifts the flow just a bit, just enough.


______________________________

Taking our gender queer child out into the waters, literally and figuratively
______________________________

Read more on transgender and the environment





______________________________

Don't get me wrong, water can be fun. But it can be dangerous too!
______________________________

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Call for Papers: Transliterature Sponsored Conference Panels 2017


Remembering all those fighting the fight 
On the Feast Day of Saint Joan of Arc
______________________________
______________________________

In the open letter to the International Medieval Congress in Kalamazoo, I mentioned that there had been a downturn in transgender and intersex focused conference panels. In 2016, two sessions each were devoted to the respective gender minorities. In 2017, no sessions existed for either to attract, collect, and promote these fields. While at the Congress, I sat in on some fantastic papers that addressed trans or non-binary embodiments in some way. Also, I had some cherished coffee breaks and meals with amazing queer, trans, and non-binary scholars; some of whom were able to be at the conference because of the Transgender Travel Fund provided by the Society for Medieval Feminist Scholarship. Listening to their work and their stories, I was honored and affirmed to share in the significant contributions and sacrifices being made to improve the field and the lives of those who work in it. But I also felt the weight of how hard it is, possibly too hard and unsustainable, for those who carry the burden to push our community forward.

Amidst the tears and mutual support, there were direct actions that continue to give me hope. This includes the invitation to organize panels for the upcoming BABEL Working Group and Medieval Congress 2018. Two panels are already approved and open for submissions for the Biennial Meeting of the BABEL Working Group in Reno, NV. The first invites submissions for scholars, authors, and artists working to promote the consideration or reimagining of transgender history. The second calls for submissions to take the risk to discuss the fraught but often life-giving intersection of faith communities and scholarship. Abstracts are due June 10. Finally, at the business meeting for the Society for Medieval Feminist Scholarship a vote was called for over a dozen panels, of which only about a half dozen were selected for submitted for consideration to the Medieval Congress. I am excited and encouraged to say that when a sessions "Towards a Medieval Transgender Studies" went up for a vote, so many hands in the 100+ person room was raised that the panel was approved without a count, on grounds of being "vaguely unanimous." The session is yet to be approved by the Congress but please feel called to consider and contact me via e-mail if you have interest in participating or if you want more information.

Looking back and looking ahead, I also wanted to say a word of gratitude and wonder for all the committed, impassioned, and brilliant academics, artists, and writers I've get to know over the course of doing this work. What keeps me going and motivated to push for more sessions and engagement in the fields of trans, intersex, feminist, disability, and critical race studies is enjoyment and learning I get from encountering your professional and personal contributions. I consider my #1 job is to be a cheerleader for these amazing communities. Because you all are working yourself raw and taking big chances, doing your share and more to make the academy and our culture better. That deserves to be remembered, honored, and I am just tickled ROYGBIV to be able to work with you. Thank you and may you persist no matter how many times you are warned or have things explained to you.



______________________________
______________________________



Towards a Medieval Transgender Studies
(email: M.W. Bychowski, MBychows@gwu.edu)
Due September 15

The International Congress on Medieval Studies
Kalamazoo, MI. May, 2018.

Facing resistance in regards to its place in contemporary society, transgender studies is beginning to look for roots within premodern eras. In recent years, a question has been floating around medieval and transgender studies, spurring conference papers and special issues of the Medieval Feminist Forum and Transgender Studies Quarterly: how might we begin to articulate a medieval transgender studies? Gaining momentum, a critical turn towards a medieval transgender studies shows signs of emergence. If such a movement is to be possible, much work remains to be done. Following in the tradition of interventions by queer, disability, and feminist scholarship, debates are arising regarding language, identity, narrative, historicism, and methodologies. This session will serve as a forum where presenters will articulate the challenges, the promises, and the resources that lay on the road towards a trans future for the past. Participants are encouraged to consider the archives of medieval history, theology, art, medicine, science, and literature that can be put into critical dialog with trans voices from the past and today.


______________________________

______________________________

Imagining Trans History and Transhistoricism: 
Creation and/as/or Critique
(Email: M.W. Bychowski, mbychows@email.gwu.edu, 
and Bruce Holsinger, bwholsinger@gmail.com)
DUE JUNE 10th (NOW CLOSED).

5th Biennial Meeting of the BABEL Working Group
Reno, NV. October 2017.

Sandy Stone’s foundational transgender studies essay, “The Empire Strikes Back: A Posttranssexual Manifesto,” sets out a necessary and broad mission for the future of the past: “transsexuals must take responsibility for all of their history, to begin to rearticulate their lives not as a series of erasures… but as a political action begun by reappropriating difference and reclaiming the power of the refigured and reinscribed body… to begin to write oneself into the discourses by which one has been written.” In the spirit of this mission statement, our panel invites a wide examination of the histories and discourses from and through which concepts of transgender develop.

The panel will be open to a range of approaches. History invites creativity. Medieval and modern texts invite both critical readers and artists to imagine the life and lives that occur in the silences, though often in very different ways. Living in a world and language not designed for it, transgender history regularly appears among the contradictions, erasures, and euphemistic metaphors in the official records. As a result, telling and otherwise recreating trans history demands careful scrutiny of the modes and limitations of anti-transphobic creative work. Introducing and connecting ideas from across time, trans historical work time and again forms intersections with transhistorical palimpsests. This panel considers the myriad ways that scholars, authors, poets, lyricists, and artists fill out the interweaving cultural pasts and presents of transgender. The aim is to ask questions, take risks, and play with the arts and sciences that connect generations of trans histories and trans dreams.

We hope to receive proposals that reflect both scholarly and creative work, and ideally a combination of the two. The session will feature a series of ten to fifteen minute presentations, followed by a discussion.
______________________________

______________________________


Here I Am, Stuck in the Middle with You

(Email: Ben Utter, bdutter@gmail.com)
DUE JUNE 10th (NOW CLOSED).

5th Biennial Meeting of the BABEL Working Group
Reno, NV. October 2017.

Finding, keeping, proclaiming, losing, or breaking with one’s faith is always a risky business, and in America, where faith is a big business, the bad faith of Evangelical Christian voters has made relationships riskier than ever for those who find themselves caught between mutually-antagonistic cultural communities. This roundtable session will be an opportunity for BABELers of faith or with ties to various faith traditions—Christian and otherwise—to address the relationship between faith (i.e. the non-empirical, the spiritual) and action or risk. As people between these communities, we may have acted as interpreters, if not necessarily apologists, between groups that regard one another with deep suspicion or even hostility. What are the possibilities and perils of such a position, now that we can no longer be (and probably shouldn’t have ever been) neutral points of contact? How do we use our positions at the intersection of communities that don’t often talk or get along? What are the struggles and how might these contact points be used or improved in the future? Can we condemn our “post-factual” world while at the same time avoiding denigrating people of faith? By the same token, how might we encourage our faith communities to be skeptical of neo-liberal “data idolatry” and to consider the important relationship between facts (and by proxy, research) and interpretation (and/or belief)?

We invite participation from people of, adjacent to, in recovery from, or without faith or spiritual conviction of any kind. The session will feature a series of ten-minute presentations, followed by a discussion. Please send proposals of 250 words or so describing the story, homily, confessio, prayer, waz, or apostatic manifesto you’d like to share.

Co-organizers: Ben Utter, Gabrielle MW Bychowski, Lesley Curtis, Alex Mueller, Noelle Phillips, & Cord Whittaker.
______________________________
______________________________