Monday, July 6, 2015

"And should one live in such a body?" - Ta-Nehisi Coates

I have been reading Ta-Nehisi Coates' blog for quite a while. To say that he has educated me would be an understatement. Today I'm going to reflect on this excerpt from his book Between the World and Me, bearing in mind that I come at this from the perspective of a white transgender person.

He starts off by invoking the American Dream:
I have seen that dream all my life. It is perfect houses with nice lawns. It is Memorial Day cookouts, block associations, and driveways. The Dream is tree-houses and the Cub Scouts. And for so long I have wanted to escape into the Dream, to fold my country over my head like a blanket.
That dream never meant anything to me. My white privilege insulated me from many things, but poverty was not one of them. I grew up in the country, now I live in the city, but I still don't know what any of those things he mentions are.

Then he addresses his son:
That was the week you learned that the killers of Michael Brown would go free. The men who had left his body in the street would never be punished. It was not my expectation that anyone would ever be punished. But you were young and still believed. You stayed up till 11 p.m. that night, waiting for the announcement of an indictment, and when instead it was announced that there was none you said, “I’ve got to go,” and you went into your room, and I heard you crying. I came in five minutes after, and I didn’t hug you, and I didn’t comfort you, because I thought it would be wrong to comfort you. I did not tell you that it would be okay, because I have never believed it would be okay. What I told you is what your grandparents tried to tell me: that this is your country, that this is your world, that this is your body, and you must find some way to live within the all of it.
When I read that, I remember that many transgender people, mostly women of color, have also been killed in this country and their killers have never been punished. In many cases their deaths are not even investigated. And the question of whether or not it's okay to kill trans people has not yet been debated on the news. Of course, when it is debated the conclusion is much the same, whether it's a dead trans person or a dead cis black person: they were doing something wrong and their killers were justified.

Monday, June 22, 2015


Recently Rachel Dolezal has been in the news. I do know that by now we've moved on to more serious issues, but it's taken me this long to organize my thoughts.

Recently Rachel Dolezal has been in the news. And I have to think about her because so many people are saying "If Caitlyn Jenner can pretend to be a woman, why can't Rachel Dolezal pretend to be black?" Dolezal is not only co-opting the black struggle, she's co-opting the trans struggle as well.

This means that people have been talking a lot lately about the differences and similarities between racial identity and gender identity. To be honest, it makes my brain hurt. I want to talk about something slightly different.

First of all, trans people do have a history. Comparing Jenner to Dolezal makes it sound like Jenner is the only trans person who ever existed, Dolezal is the only white person we've ever heard of who pretended to be black, so they're the same. Of course that is not the case. I've got nothing against Caitlyn Jenner, but she was a media spectacle. That's her business. There are many more trans people out there than most people have any idea of. Most of them don't seek the spotlight. Trans and gender-non-conforming people have existed throughout history. They fought and died for the right to be who they were.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Tanith Lee, 1947-2015

For many years Tanith Lee was my favorite writer. I believe that I still own more books by her than any other author. (She was quite prolific.) Her first published novel, The Birthgrave, is about a woman who doesn't remember who she is: a story with lots of resonance for a transgender person in denial.

Some call her writing purple prose - as one of her characters remarks, "She'd never use one adjective if twenty-six would do." All I can say is that for me it really hits the spot. Moreover, she wrote queer and gender-bending characters before they were mainstream. In later years she made a deliberate effort to include racial diversity. Her fairy tale retellings are a revelation.

These days, my favorite books of hers are the Scarabae vampire novels. The third one ends on a cliffhanger. I gather that she only ever wrote one chapter of the fourth one. The rest is still out there.

Daughter of the Night is the complete Tanith Lee bibliography website.