Wednesday, June 27, 2018

The Transgender Turn: Eleanor Rykener's View of Eleanor Rykener

"Qui ab eo argentum pro labore suo petens sibi consentiebat, 
invicem transeuntes ad illud complendum usque stallum predictum."

The Interrogation of Eleanor Rykener
London 1394


On December 11th, Eleanor Rykener (Elianoram Rykener) confirmed that she had been standing on Cheap Street around 8:00-9:00 PM, where and when she turned back upon and negotiated with a local man, John Britby. She was this day, as in many days before, presenting as a woman and calling herself Eleanor. She learned to perform sex work from a woman, Anna. She also transitioned into living as Eleanor with her teacher's assistance. Responding to Britby's accosting, Rykener demanded to be paid before performing any sexual acts with him. This exchange was one of a series of such exchanges that Rykener procured from other men, for pay, and other women, seemingly without pay. After this turn of the exchange, she consented to sex. She proceeded to a local horse stall and completed the transaction for which Britby had accosted her. Soon after, they were both turned on by local law enforcement, then brought to the court. Therein, Rykener consented to tell her story and how she viewed herself as Eleanor Rykener.

This is the story of Eleanor Rykener from Eleanor Rykener's perspective, and it is important to consider, especially given the way that the Cisgender Turn in scholarship has evaded such a critical trans perspective. First, it is socially important to recognize that although a cisgender man initiated the exchange with her, accosting her, Rykener turns back on him with demands that her payment and consent be established. She turns the narrative and power dynamic of the exchange around, evidencing that her trans womanhood will not be a passive text on which he will write his cis manhood. Second, it is narratively important to recognize that although the transgender turn to speak and historicize comes after the cisgender turn, Rykener consents to tell her story and name her body according to her own words. After the loss of power from various cisgender turns against her, the transgender turn works to reclaim the trans narrative and body.

The second interaction and story to be told between Britby and Rykener centers around the trans woman's demand for consent. In Latin, the word used is "consentiebat." This means, "to assent to, favor, fit / be consistent / in sympathy / unison with, agree." By demanding that payment and consent be factored into the story, Rykener works to reclaim agency over her body and story. He may see her but she turns his head. He approaches her but see receives him. He talks to her but she responds. He asks for sex but she demands payment. He engages with her sexually but she consents. He takes her to a private place but she goes there with him, may even lead him there. He touches her but she touches him back, contact always goes both ways even if only as a form of resistance. Then he is the first to speak but she speaks the most and gets the final word. Consistently, the cisgender turn may initiate and frame events but the transgender turn powers, resists, and reclaims her time, voice, and history.




The critical importance of the transgender turn that Eleanor Rykener is that she transforms a moment of staring, gazing, and being turned on from an accosting cisgender subject into a moment of mutual turning toward one another; into a moment insisting on consent. In her chapter on "Beholding" from Staring: How We Look, Rosemarie Garland-Thomson argues that given how trans people, queer people, crip people, women, and people of color are consistently stared at -- she discounts not being stared at as a viable or practical option -- we must learn how to shift the power from being all about their looking and towards our looks. The looking, as in the case of John Britby's cisgender turn, does indeed take power over and away from Rykener. But Garland-Thomson sees ways that power over one's looks can be reclaimed. "By putting themselves in the public eye, saying 'look at me' instead of 'don't stare,'" writes Garland-Thomson, "people... practice what might be called visual activism" (193). This visual activism is defined as (1) using the urge for others to look at us in order to make them see new things about us, (2) educating those who stare in order to make them look at people differently, better, and (3) to "create a sense of obligation that primes people to act in new ways: to vote differently, to spend money differently, to build the world differently, to treat people differently, and to look at people differently" (Garland Thomson, 193). In all these respects, we may witness in the way the trans woman turns toward the cisgender gaze, that Rykener enacts a form of visual activism which compels others to see new things about her, to see her differently, and to motivated to provide payment and consent to those formerly treated as passive bodies.

Although we are told that Rykener wears women's clothing and appears for all intents and purposes as a woman, there is no record of how Rykener looked. However, we have sufficient evidence to know that she turned heads. From her confession, we know that John Britby was not the first man (or woman) to turn about and give Rykener a second look. Furthermore, she not only made them look twice but she could hold their look long enough to receive sexual advances, gifts, and payment. She was beheld by the cisgender men but by her beauty she actively held onto them. "Beauty," writes Garland-Thomson, "is a perceptual process and a transitive action: it catches interest, prompts judgement, encourages scrutiny, creates knowledge" (Garland-Thomson, 187). Recognizing the beauty of Rykener is to recognize her power and the way transgender can turn power dynamics. In his cisgender turn, Britby does not mere stare at Rykener in a way that only degrades and mocks her. Certainly he objectifies her. He may be said to exploit her body. Yet to see Rykener only as such an object is to ignore how her beauty held power over others. She creates and exploits his interests and desires for her. She prompts him to judge her as worthy of payment. She uses the power of her beauty to inform him that she has will, agency and demands that consent be established. 

Tying consent to payment, the transgender turn on the cisgender gaze emphasizes how consent evidences a sort of collaboration, where one party exists, "in unison with" or "agrees" to work with the other. Consent and payment is one way the transgender turn works with and even accomplishes some of the desire of the cisgender turn. The demand for and exchange of money does represent one way that the cisgender patriarchy has domineered and exploited the body of women and especially trans women, past and present. Yet the narrative of victimhood that often frames the discussion of sex workers, including Rykener, may dangerously reduce the flow of power to a unidirectional current from a cisgender subject to a transgender object. The interrogation records that Britby did not offer Rykener money. She requested it before she would consent. This signals the existence of cis-misogynistic assumptions about power at play when Britby turns on Rykener. The cisgender turn assumes the passivity of the transgender body, allowing cisgender subjects to look at the trans object, to use the transgender object as a tool or instrument towards some end which the cisgender subject desires, and in the end to narrate the encounter in ways that benefit the cisgender subject. But the demand for payment evidences that Rykener knows that the cisgender agent wants to use her. It is an important turning point that she sees being used by cisgender persons as labor in which she is an active participant. She rejects passivity and collaboration. In "Beholding," Garland-Thomson discusses the theories of Elaine Scarry, and the "compact between starer and staree [which] is not static but collaborative" (Garland-Thomson, 187). Looking is not just something the cisgender agent does on his own. Rykener is active in the exchange, she owns her look and uses her look. The exchange of money is representative of that likewise, sex is not something that a man simply does to a woman or a cis person does to a trans person. Sex is collaborative. Yet given the power dynamics, the sex is collaborative but not a collaboration between equals. The trans woman is being exploited (from the moment he turned on her to the time spent in the horse stall) and wants compensation for that exploitation.


The Cisgender Turn: John Britby's View of Eleanor Rykener

"Qui quidem Johannes Britby inde allocutus fatebatur quod ipse per vicum regium de Chepe die dominica inter horas supradictas transiens, dictum Johannem Rykener vestitu muliebri ornatum, ipsumque mulierem fore suspicantem fuerat assecutus, petens ab eo, tanquam a muliere, si cum ea libidinose agere possit."

The Interrogation of Eleanor Rykener
London 1394


On December 11th, John Britby (Johannes Britby) claims to have been walking down Cheap Street around 8:00-9:00 P.M., where and when he turned on and accosted (petere) a local person, Eleanor Rykener (recorded also as John Rykener by the scribe of the account). He affirms that she presented as a woman and indeed that he considered her a woman. Britby solicited Rykener for sex work. He paid her and they went to a local horse stall to complete the transaction. Soon after, they were both turned on and accosted by local law enforcement, then brought to court. Therein Britby told his story and how he viewed the case of Eleanor Rykener.

This is the story of Eleanor Rykener from John Britby's perspective and it is important to consider. First, it is socially important to also recognize that before Rykener is allowed to enact her agency in the exchange with Britby, he is the one to accost her. He turns on her before she can turn on him or even turn back on herself to set limits and costs for her body. Second, it is narratively important to recognize that before Rykener is allowed to tell her own history, the cisgender man gets to speak first. Before the transgender turn to the story, we get the cisgender turn.

The first interaction between Britby and Rykener is the man's accosting of the trans woman. In Latin, the word used is "petere." This means "to ask, to seek, to pursue" but also "to desire, to attack." According to Britby's story, it was him as the cisgender man who enacted the initial blow of power that set the rest of the events into motion. He sees her. He approaches her. He talks to her. He promises money. He takes her away to a private place. He presumably touches her body, in ways not disclosed. Then he is the first person allowed to speak in the courtroom. Consistently, the cisgender man is the one driving events as well as driving the narrative.




How may this cisgender turn on the medieval trans woman be qualified? Unpacking the word "petere" can help demonstrate the way that medieval cisgender approached medieval transgender. In the first case, the pre-modern cisgender perspective begins by asking the question: who are you? Or, perhaps more accurately: who are you to me? Britby wants to know if she will be his sexual partner for the evening. Will she take on that role for him? This cisgender man is the one who gets to set the terms and premises of the exchange with transgender people. In a cis-normative world and a patriarchal world, this is the logical order of events. 

Britby is the one who seeks out Rykener. It must be admitted that later generations might never have known the story of a medieval trans woman without a medieval cis man seeking her out. The cisgender man has the power to move across social boundaries, into the margins of Cheap Street, and bring a trans woman out from the shadows of obscurity into the light of legal and historical analysis. 

Britby also may be said to pursue Rykener. She is not willing to go with him right away but demands payment. He provides this monetary incentive, showing that her resistance or hesitation is not enough to dissuade him. Even after he seeks and finds her, Britby will continue to pursue her. Britby pursues her because the cisgender man desires the trans woman. He does not have her currently in his life. Whether he is without any women's company at home or whether he simply desires the particular company of a trans woman, Britby desires Rykener. This desire is worth emphasizing. There is something a cisgender life lacks that a transgender life can offer, even if in this case it may have been something a cis woman could also offer. Yet despite have the trans woman having the power of attraction, the cis man has the power to act on his desire, overcoming boundaries and resistance to do so. 

Given this power differential, the potential for "petere" to mean "to attack" is worth consideration as well. The translation as "accost" gives some sense of Britby's actions as a sort of attack, assault, or harassment. Even if the cisgender man approached her with all intended politeness, the situation he establishes between the cis man and the trans woman, as well as the exchange he proposes between them serves to underline that he has power that she does not have. Presumably, he wishes to touch her body. She demands money, meaning that she might otherwise refuse without him overcoming this defense with payment. Regardless of whether sexual penetration occurs, the historically defining act of Eleanor Rykner's story is that of a cisgender man penetrating her life, agency, and potentially (likely) also her body.



The Story of John Britby

I will argue in the next section on "the Scribe" of Eleanor Rykener's story that the Cisgender Turn of history reflects and repeats in the archives the accosting that Britby enacts in person. But before we move on to considering the legacy of the cisgender turn, it is necessary to acknowledge that the story of Eleanor Rykener is not told by her for the most part. Yes, the document includes her confession. Yet the writer is a cisgender man (presumably) and the first person to ever tell her story in the document is another cisgender man. Historians and literary analysts must note how having a cisgender man be the first to tell a trans woman's story will prejudice the telling and receiving of this story. He has a power to speak that she lacks. Yes, she will speak. But her words will always come second to his. The view of the court will be affected and so will generations of historians afterwards, no matter how they might try to forget, by the languages and assumptions that a cisgender man will make about a trans woman. We may move forward and emphasize the medieval transgender voice but this transgender turn will always ever come after the cisgender turn.



Tuesday, June 26, 2018

A Day in the Life: A Mental Health Care Regimen

"I keep my spirits high, find happiness by and by,
if it takes a life time"

Jason Isbell

The Reverend (my husbutch, spouse, partner, best friend) regularly comments how I have the most intentional mental health regimen and personal boundaries she knows. Other people have also asked me to explain what those look like. To give a brief example, I have included a normal (or rather ideal) schedule of my work week, Monday-Friday, when I am home. When I am away from home, my schedule varies with more time given to things like writing, teaching, or networking in place of time with the family. But when I am away, these times for connection often still occur through Skype, FaceTime, and phone calls. I have also included some thoughts about my personal boundaries, in regards to focus, time, space, and energy.

My generally approach to mental health puts an emphasis on the domestic over the medical. I make time for cooking food that makes my body feel good, exercising, resting, praying, and connecting with my family. On the face of it, these things may not seem very exceptional. They may seem downright conventional or cliche. But I've found that most people don't spend the time or aren't allowed to spend the time on such cliche things like going for a daily jog or wrestling with an eight-year old. I get into periods when I am working so hard that these boundaries and routines are abandoned in favor of getting things done. But my mental and physical health tends to suffer almost immediately. By years of managing myself and my health, I have learned how much I really do need to maintain certain practices and boundaries to be more effective, more charitable in my disposition, and more joyful.

It is worth stating that these are things that work for me. I share them because I was asked. Also it was a bit fun to reflect and record them. They are descriptive of what I do for reasons that make sense to and for me, I do not offer them to be prescriptive for anyone else. Opening up up a window into a day in my life is an act that makes me vulnerable to criticism. What I do may not work or make sense to you. I eat meat. Many many people I respect and love do not eat meat. I don't drink alcohol (or very rarely). Many many people I respect and love to drink lots of yummy things. I jog. Many many people I respect and love don't or can't jog regularly. I pray. Many many people I respect and love don't pray or pray differently. Likewise, my boundaries make sense for how my mind and body work as well as how society tends to engage me. For others, my boundaries may seem insufficient or too limiting. In the end, I share this because I believe that honestly and openly being me will help others to honestly and openly be them. There might be some things here that inspire you and they might prompt you to realize or share some of the helpful things you do. In the ongoing conversation around mental health, let's be charitable and tender with one another! Thank you for reading.



Normal (Ideal) Schedule

5:45 AM - Wake Up. Drive oldest child to bus stop at library.

    • Husbutch and I will take turns waking up or sleeping.

8:15 AM - Walk youngest child to bus stop at street corner.

    • Husbutch and I will take turns.

9:00 AM - Cook and eat breakfast 

    • Protein and peppers. I tend to avoid carbs for reasons of health and personal taste. Over easy eggs or occasionally sausage with various vegetables, especially poblano peppers, banana peppers, jalapeno peppers, onions, celery, carrots.
    • Recommended spice: salt, black pepper, smoked paprika, turmeric.

10:00 AM - Work
    • Write, read, lesson plan, respond to e-mails, grade.
    • Take breaks every 20-30 minutes to clean or organize.

12:00 PM - Pray
    • Daily Mass at a progressive Catholic Church on Tuesday and/or Thursday
    • Book of Hours, especially during Lent, Advent, Pentecost, Christmas, and Easter.
    • Going for a walk is a good informal alternative.

12:30 PM - Eat Lunch
    • At home: protein and salad. I prefer arugula and kale. Spinach is nice. Olive oil with balsamic vinegar, and salt to dress. Nuts and dried fruit if available. Cut onion. If meat was absent or light for breakfast, will prepare chicken or small lean steak.
    • Chicken recommended spice: turmeric, non-smoked paprika, granulized onion, granulized garlic. Serve with fruity and spicy hot sauce on the side.
    • Steak recommended spice: cumin, salt, black pepper, chili powder, diced onion. Serve with earthy and mid-range hot sauce on the side.
    • Left-overs from previous night's dinner are common replacements.
    • Sushi on Wednesday for Lunch Special Discount.
    • Polish Food on Friday with Husbutch.
    • Watch cooking show or talk show while eating.

1:00 PM - Work
    • Write (or revise morning writing), read, lesson plan (different class), respond to e-mails, grade (different class).
    • Try to shift to different form of work from the morning if possible.
    • Take breaks every 20-30 minutes to clean or organize.

3:00 PM - Jog
    • On high work days: listen to music. Allows for relaxation and creativity.
    • On low work days: listen to audiobook.

3:45 PM - Shower
    • Kids will arrive home from school during this time.

4:00 PM - Spend time with Kids
    • Kids will need about 30 min down time after school.
    • N. Bahr will want physical games. Tuesday and Thursday are Karate.
    • C. Bahr will want pop culture or art project engagement.

6:00 PM - Cook dinner
    • Kids will want carbs. Rice with beans or pasta.
    • Husbutch will want protein with no carbs. Dry rubbed chicken drum sticks, steak with minimal seasoning, or chili.
    • Include vegetables in creative forms. Family favorite is curried peas.
    • Cook larger amount if Uncle Mike will also join meal.
    • Light work while cooking: editing, reviewing work, reading posts or e-mails. Nothing that requires very much attention or else burned food will occur. 

7:00 PM - Eat Dinner
    • Bless food. Husbutch does it best but kids do it the most adorably.
    • Do "best parts of the day" with everyone present.
    • If no other adults are present, kids will ask me to watch a show for the later part of dinner. An episodes in our ongoing Power Rangers run is generally chosen.

8:00 PM - 9:00 PM - Bed Time
    • N. Bahr (the youngest) has an earlier bedtime and takes longer to get ready.
    • C. Bahr (the oldest) has a later bedtime and is quicker getting ready.
    • Read a book to the children. Selections include: Mama Gabby re-tells medieval literature with a queer feminist twist, Being Jazz, This Book is Gay, Animorphs, Twilight Saga, Wonder, Harry Potter, Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children.
    • Tell kids how much we love them.
    • Answer N. Bahr's late night musings about life, the universe, and everything.

9:00 - 10:00 PM - Work (Finish Up)
    • Review and revise writing, don't write anything new. Read light and short material. Don't grade at this point of the day. Avoid sending e-mails unless urgent.

10:00 PM - Midnight - Time with Spouse
    • Husbutch is usually home from meetings, work, or other activities at this point.
    • Husbutch will want to watch action or drama. Watch this earliest because otherwise they will pass out and I will be left unable to sleep.
    • I will recommend a comedy. Watching this later will often involve husbutch passing out midway and me laughing myself into rest.




  • Work: When I sit down for a project, I devote a massive amount of attention and multiple levels of consciousness to it. On lower level tasks, keeping several tasks going at once will keep something small from becoming more complex than it needs to be. On higher level tasks, devote time and energy specifically for working on the one project to allow for some likely fixation. This fixation will take the form of endless revisions or alternative approaches. 
  • Family: I tend towards OCD and my family tends towards ADD. I will want to stay on a topic or project until it is complete, while my family will want to run multiple projects at the same time which often results in incomplete tasks. Breaking up family activities into small chunks allows for a sense of completion amidst the inevitable change in the weather of interest.
  • Friends: everyone has different needs and energies during social engagements. Being able to be intentional both about the focus I give and when it is time to change the subject or walk away will often result in better quality attention and less burnout. Often, when my husbutch is applauding me for taking care of my mental health is it because of witnessing my ability to limit engagement or to tactfully disengage from social situations in which I have hit my limit or which are taxing my energy and focus at an unsustainable rate. I am a believer in giving enough energy to people but not more than I know I can healthfully give.


  • More time is better. Rushing results in poorer work and health. Crip time is slow in my viewpoint not because all forms of embodiment are necessarily sluggish but because allowing for many possible contingencies, revisions, and accessibility demands a greater amount of flex time. Rushing tends to result in less accessibility and care.
  • Be willing to say "no" or "not right now" to requests. If requests will create a time crunch that results in poorer quality work and working conditions then be willing to refuse them, withdraw from non-essential projects, or to push back deadlines.
  • Break up longer tasks into shorter goals. This will allow for flexibility in an uncertain future, making it easier to adjust as conditions, resources, interests, or feedback changes.
  • Rhythm is key. The body (including mind and emotions) is a living thing full of beats, compressions, releases, spikes, and dips. Being able to create an environment and workload that follows regular pacing helps to make harder tasks more manageable and boring tasks more interesting. 
  • Work: because I tend to be more OCD and anxious, I need a work environment that has sufficient distractions and entertainment. This will interrupt the cycles of work or stress. Collectibles, non-work related books, pictures of family trips, and music or podcasts can help maintain a productive mood.
  • Outside of Work: because I am transgender, spaces can be dangerous for me. To create real and imagined safety, I tend to go to the same places on a regular basis. I eat at the restaurants, shop at the same stores, go for walks around the same routes. Over time, the population and staff of these areas get used to me. This acclimatization reduces conflict and may even result in unexpected allies, friends, or safe zones if danger arises.
  • Travel: because I cannot control a lot of the safety or comfort within places I travel, it is critical to find touchstones of both when I am away from home or work. People tend to stare or behave with increased rudeness towards me in places of public transit. I tend to prefer better ranked hotels because the staff is often better trained to deal with non-normative guests. Spending more for a taxi or hotel, and spending more time to walk or rest are worth while investments in places that can be dangerous and/or exhausting. Traveling with a friend or colleague can help with both safety and comfort.

Energy (Intellectual)
  • Don't feel like you need to give an opinion on everything. Thinking deeply and critically is work. Consider social media and small talk another form of work, so avoid the unnecessary or unproductive variety. Other people will often say something better or be the better person to say something. Know when to speak and when to sit back to instead support other voices.
  • The majority of the time, most people just want to feel like someone hears them. Giving affirmations that you are listening and that someones words are valuable is key. People too often do not state or affirm they heard statements because they seem obvious. Too often obvious solutions to problems are missed because people do not say or listen to them.

Energy (Emotional)
  • Listening to, being present to, or witnessing to human emotion is labor. Feeling things is like working a muscle. I wouldn't sprint for 20 minutes without slowing down or taking breaks to walk and stretch, likewise emotional labor should be balanced with time alone or alternated with other emotions. A well timed joke, a sobering comment, an intermission to discuss another topic are all effective at maintaining and enduring longer emotional labor.
  • Time alone nearby trusted people is key. People exhaust me and I find it difficult to not notice the million emotional, intellectual, physical, and social signals people send off. As such, a space where I don't see or hear the many subtle signals allows me to disconnect and recover. However, I do not like being isolated or totally alone. An office space or neighboring room in which I can settle will allow me to recenter myself while still being within reach.

Energy (Physical)
  • Too much energy will result in higher anxiety. Increasing the amount of exercise helps with this. Solitude will help burn off extra physical energy that results from excessive emotional or intellectual conflict. Ironically, fast paced music will help organize the extra energy by acknowledging the surge rather than trying to ignore or eschew it.
  • Too little energy will result in a more depressive and sluggish state. Eating better or more often and sleeping more will help. Be aware that sleep is an investment. More efficient work and socializing can be done with better rest. Overtired or slugging work or socializing will take longer and be less effective.
  • C. Bahr and husbutch prefers lower energy activities for longer periods.
  • N. Bahr prefers higher energy activities for shorter periods.

My Body
  • This is a whole post to itself, given how people can have varyingly healthy and unhealthy attitudes towards trans women's bodies.