Boy Muff in the Public Pool: this budgie will not be smuggled

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I’m busy preparing my boy-muff for a swim in the local public pool after I was inspired by a letter I received from a trans woman in response to my recent article Boy Tits in the Locker Room. After reading the article, she’d decided to go swimming again for the first time in a very long time. It made me realise that I stopped going swimming too. I never really consciously thought “geez, my body is kind of weird to most people, so I’m not going to do laps at the pool anymore”. I just conveniently forgot and subconsciously decided that wasn’t an option for me. Inspired by my new penpal, I decided it’s time to get back in the pool.

Part of my life’s work is around challenging cisgendered (non-trans) ideas about my body, and working with my trans siblings to generate our own language and embodied concepts of gender. In this article, I’d like to question the concept of “transition”, talk about the many shifts in the labels I’ve used for my body parts and the spaces I occupy with my body.

So, my decision to take to the pool. It’s one thing to have my boy tits in the locker room, but what about in a public pool? Should I wear a wetsuit shirt? A full length binder? What about my tiny “boy muff” underneath my swimming shorts, more conspicuous by its small, rather than large, presence? For laps as compared to leisurely swimming, I prefer to wear speedos. In Australia we call them “budgie smugglers”-as in, if your junk were a budgie and the swimming trunks are tight, they’re smuggling the budgie. My budgie, however, is too small to smuggle. Mine’s not even a sparrow or a humming bird, but more like a peach pit. But “peach-pit smuggler” doesn’t really have the same ring, does it?

I’m already somewhat accustomed to working through my complicated feelings around the public display of my junk through my clothing. I’m about to do a new show, “Transgender Seeking…” in Toronto on June 19, ahead of touring it the USA and Europe later this year. The costume is no pants, just a pair of tighty-whiteys, aka, men’s white undies. In the show, I intentionally choose not to pack (ie, I don’t put a sock or a packer in my undies), because I want to use my time on stage to create more space for some of the many ways that trans bodies look. I’m not assuming this means I’m making space for trans women’s bodies – the type of transphobia women who are trans face is very different to men who are trans. In my personal life I may not be super comfortable going about in public with just undies, no packer, but when I’m on stage, it’s less important to be authentic to my own personal experience and more important to carefully consider the political & aesthetic choices I make. I already play a whole host of different characters, and likewise I make intentional choices about how to present my body. Sometimes I also choose not to bind so that there is a hint of boy tit beneath my costumes. It’s sort of uncomfortable but whatever, so is transphobia period (see Boy Tits in the Locker Room for my thoughts on discomfort as a white trans man).

I have a complicated relationship with both loving AND not liking my body. As much as I hate to discuss these complexities publicly with non-trans people (see my article “Dear trans people and genderqueers”), the truth is that sometimes I find it difficult to tell how I really feel about my body. I’m so used to simplifying things so that cisgendered (non-trans) people will understand. So that I can be validated by the gatekeepers (like doctors) as a “real trans person”. Sometimes I wish I had a different sort of junk, one like the wide array of cisgendered men’s junk. But other times I love the bits that I have. Either way, I’m grateful for how much pleasure I get from my bits, even though my sexual experiences are sometimes complicated because of other people’s reactions.

Certainly a big turning point for me in how I feel about my body has been reclaiming labels and terminology that feel good. About 5 or 6 years ago, I started calling my existing junk my penis or dick along with my “inny hole” or “boy hole”. My tits became simply “my chest”. It felt liberating to claim these words for my body. To unsubscribe from the anatomy books.  To mix and match the anatomical diagrams and their labels.

Now I’m at yet another shifting point. I’m going from needing very clear traditionally “male” gendered language around my body to a more playful approach with the words I use. In certain contexts, I’m starting to enjoy playing around with re-labeling my body parts traditionally “female” gendered names like tits and muff and redefining what that means in terms of also being a dude. At first, I just shamelessly tricked you into reading the article through using the words “boy muff” in title when that’s not really how I relate to my junk. But now that I wrote it, I’m like, yeah “boy muff”! I kind of like that! Who says boys can’t have muffs and tits? How boring to think only one gender owns any particular body anatomy. Yawn. It’s exciting to discover words that feel good in different contexts. At this stage, probably heavy breathing in my ear about my boy muff and boy tits is not really going to do it for me in a sexual way. But I find it entertaining to use these terms outside of the bedroom.

For me, this playfulness is only possible with getting more comfortable and confident with who I am as well as challenging cisgendered (non-trans) understandings of bodies and the singular acceptable “trans story” that doesn’t quite fit for so many of us. Working with my trans siblings to generate our own nuanced language and understandings of our bodies and the ways we live inside (and outside) of them is an ongoing source of healing, inspiration and strength for me. I’m grateful to my trans experience which leads me to constantly question assumptions around my own and other people’s genders. My years have been marked by so many amazing transitions and transformations.

This is one of the many reasons why I don’t use the word “transition” in relation to the process I underwent of taking hormones, changing my pronoun etc. To single out this one particular part of my gender journey (or indeed, my life journey) and call that the point when I was “transitioning” negates the lifelong growth process I’ve been through and will continue to go through. I’m totally supportive of other trans people using the word “transition” for themselves. I don’t use the word “transition” because it reeks of the medical system which considers that I was a “girl” and then transitioned to become a “boy”. It insinuates that my validity as a boy or man only began after I got the stamp of approval from the doctors. Facial hair? Check. Flattened hips? Check. Deep voice? Check. Thick set jaw? Check. Congratulations, now you’re a dude. Yawn.

Yes, taking hormones was a major deal and a big marker for me. But it marked no more of a “transition” than when I insisted on being in the boy gymnastics class when I was 8. Or tried to get into the boy scouts three years in a row, until they finally changed the rules in Australia and let “girls” into boy scouts. Or had my first trans lover. Or told my family that I was trans when I was 31.

What the medical system and their beloved concept of “transition” can’t quite grasp is that I was already a dude long before that needle jammed full of testosterone went anywhere near my butt cheeks. I already experienced my chest as a boy chest. Now it’s a saggy boy chest. My face was a man face. Now it’s a hairy man face. And my junk was already a dick. Now it’s a penis one day and a boy muff the next.

So, stay tuned to your local public pool, where my boy muff will be diving and proudly doing laps up and down the pool. That’s right, this is one little budgie that will not be smuggled.

Thanks to the amazing Chanelle for editing and feedback!

Some other popular blog articles:

Racism is to White People, as Wind is to the Sky

Femme Ally Conversation Starter

Boy Tits in the Locker-room

the Boy Tit Finale Summer Collection

2 articles on sobriety: Wet >< Dry and The Brandy is Just for the Zit in My Throat

Like Sunny Drake on facebook, follow on Twitter or instagram, connect on Linkedin

Check out video, photos, theatre shows and workshops on Sunny’s website

 

Imogen Binnie and her novel of trans awesomeness – “Nevada”

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I’m so thrilled to have interviewed the incredible Imogen Binnie. A long time trans activist and general all round amazing person, she’s just published her first book, Nevada. I had the fabulous fortune of being at her Toronto reading, which was really moving. Imogen read alongside the awesomeness of Trish Salah, Kiley May and Morgan M Page, followed by a conversation between the four of them about trans women, writing, politics and life in general. I’m half way through reading Nevada – which I’ve pretty much devoured in two sittings, finding it very difficult to put the book down!).

Sunny: What was the most surprising or joyful thing about writing Nevada?

Imogen: The most surprising thing, I think, was how confident I felt about writing the ending the way I did. Like I had the idea to take a specific kind of narrative risk with the ending, aware that it wasn’t going to work for everyone who read the book, but also aware that the people who appreciated it were going to really appreciate it. Once I was like, this ending is going to close the loop of the book emotionally if not necessarily in terms of plot, I was surprised at how easy that decision was to make.

As for the most joyful thing, a lot of the writing was joyful, because it felt kind of like, whether or not anybody was going to publish it, I still got to write all these things that were kind of bratty and confrontational toward the old Standard Trans Woman Narrative Tropes that are so continually frustrating.

 

Sunny: Were there any times you felt like quitting? If so, how did you get through them?

Imogen: Probably the time that I most felt ready to quit on it was after I thought I was done with it, sent it out to Soft Skull, who I’d hoped would publish it since I first started seriously editing the manuscript, and they rejected it. I’d been working on it for a few years and had had editors read and re-read it and felt pretty done with it, and when I got that rejection letter I was like, okay, that was a really useful exercise in learning to write a novel, I’m going to put this one aside and get to work on another one with the knowledge I’ve gained from this experience.

So I did, I quit on this particular novel. Then over a year later Tom from Topside really like my story in The Collection and pretty much demanded that I send Nevada to him. He gave me a lot of really useful editorial suggestions, I did some major revising and editing, and then it ended up being a much better novel.

Sunny: Did you have any structures for helping you write, like writing groups, or people to be accountable to?

Imogen: Not really! Which may be the reason it took so long to write. I mean, initially, I wrote the first draft for National Novel Writing Month, which is another reason it took so long to edit it into something publishable. But otherwise I made my girlfriend read it a lot of times, and she did a ton of really important editorial work, and there were a couple other folks I showed drafts to. But no, I didn’t have a writing group or anything.

Sunny: Do you have any advice for other first time novel writers?

Imogen: It’s the most boring advice, but: write. Get humble instead of getting wrapped up in the narratives our culture loves to perpetuate about divine inspiration and art as anything other than work. Just write. My experience was that there wasn’t even much for me to do with the novel until I had a first draft. So like, my advice would be, the worst first draft in the world is a lot better than the best idea in the world.

And relatedly, there’s no such thing as perfection. The way we learn to write in the culture of the cult of the author is often to be like “look how flawless every sentence is,” which is weird. Most sentences are flawless. Just write. Then when you do a second draft, awkward things or things that don’t work or tonal inconsistencies will (hopefully) jump out at you.

So like, yeah, just write.

 

Sunny: Who are your heroes or mentors or role models?

Imogen: Oh man so many! And at the same time, fuck hero worship culture, right, our heroes are all as imperfect as we are. That said, though, I have a framed picture of Kathy Acker hanging over my bed; I collect hardcover Dennis Cooper novels. In really different ways I think both of those two have very clear ideas of what they want to write about and do a really effective job of writing the worlds they want to live in: Acker’s books are confrontationally honest and mean-spirited about what it is like to be a woman and live in a world that is beyond hope, and Cooper’s do two things. The first is that most of them demonstrate, beautifully, what it’s like to live a life that you’re checked out of, where it feels like you have no agency and things just happen to you, where you might have desires but you have no tools to name them. That’s an amazing trick to pull off. And the second is that he just turns off the filter. I feel like I keep coming back to this idea of being confrontational but like, his work also does the opposite of the dazed-and-inarticulate thing I just mentioned by creating a space where the author can just write about his own obsessions, no matter how intense or impolite or brutal they are.

Sybil Lamb, who has run tr*nnypunk.com and sicknessandfilth.com for like the last ten years has also been a major influence on me and a whole generation- maybe even two generations now, at this point- of punk-skewing trans women. She has written about being a trans woman in an honest and brilliant-pretending-to-be-stupid way since, like, the late nineties, and she’s a brilliant visual artist.

Lots of other folks. Daphne Gottlieb keeps doing amazing stuff, Ryka Aoki, Colson Whitehead does a brilliant job of writing about oppression while writing about other things and not necessarily, like, Writing About Oppression. Roland Barthes did an elegant job of telling complicated truths about the ways that we understand each other. I’m forgetting a ton of people.

Sunny: I remember your kind firmness when years ago you sent me an email educating me about some problematic language that I was using. I really appreciated you taking the time to share your learning and perspectives with me, and my politics strengthened as a result. What have been the key ways you’ve learned your trans, queer and other politics?

Imogen: Oh god that’s really good to hear! I feel like I used to be a lot more yelly about that stuff so I’m glad that was productive for you. As for ways I’ve learned about those things? I don’t know if I could write a straightforward narrative about it. Like a lot of white trans women from middle class backgrounds, I didn’t really have a community while I was coming out and transitioning, so intellectually and politically I pretty much grew up on the internet. It’ll date me to say livejournal was central to that. Strap-on.org. I got involved with Camp Trans in 2006 and that was where I first started to have a queer community irl.

But also? The writings of feminist and womanist women of color. This Bridge Called My Back was the book that connected all the dots for me. bell hooks pretty much laid out how oppression works for me. On the Nevada tour I read Toni Morrison’s Playing In The Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination, in which she describes ways in which white supremacy is, like, a central discourse in the American novel. I feel so grateful to those women for laying it out so clearly.

 

Sunny: do you ever feel a struggle between your politics and your creative impulses? If so, how do you deal with that? Like how do you make sure you convey your politics creatively without it ending up being preachy or writing a political essay?

Imogen: Y’know it’s funny, I don’t feel like it’s a perfect solution to this question, but it’s to be kind of selfish about it. Like, I’m not trying to make a living from writing fiction, which means I don’t have to stress about writing books that are gonna blow up at Barnes & Noble. But at the same time, I’m not really interested in writing brain-dead wish fulfilment or, y’know, nice stories about nice people. What I said about authors being kind of confrontational in their fiction is relevant to my on fiction too: it’s hard for me to stay interested unless I’m confronting my own shit in my writing. It’s hard to keep working on something that doesn’t make me feel kind of emotionally messed up while I’m writing it. Like something is at stake?

And honestly, I feel really lucky that that worked out with Nevada, that the stuff I was confronting in myself turned out to be stuff that resonated with other people. The reception of that novel has been way more positive than I ever let myself imagine it would be. But that doesn’t mean I need for that to happen with the next one, or that I expect other people to respond the same way to everything I do.

Also right now I’m most interested in novels, but there’s nothing stopping me from writing a political essay and sending it to Pretty Queer or Autostraddle or somewhere. So I guess the short answer is that the political things I feel most able to confront in my work are deeply relevant to my personal life, so I don’t really see a conflict there.

Sunny: what’s next?!

Imogen: I don’t want to say too much until it’s way more done, but I’m working on a novel about ghosts, malls, the apocalypse and tumblr. Thank you so much for doing this interview Sunny!

Imogen Binnie is the author of the zines The Fact That It’s Funny Doesn’t Make It A Joke and Stereotype Threat. Additionally, her work has been anthologized in The Collection: Short Fiction from the Transgender Vanguard, released in Fall 2012. She is currently a monthly contributor to Maximum Rocknroll and has previously written for Aorta Magazine, The Skinny and PrettyQueer.com. She writes about books at http://www.keepyourbridgesburning.com. Nevada, her first novel, was released by Topside Press in April, 2013.

 More about Imogen or to buy her book, Nevada, go to www.imogenbinnie.com

Some other popular blog articles:

Racism is to White People, as Wind is to the Sky

Femme Ally Conversation Starter

Boy Tits in the Locker-room

the Boy Tit Finale Summer Collection

2 articles on sobriety: Wet >< Dry and The Brandy is Just for the Zit in My Throat

Like Sunny Drake on facebook, follow on Twitter or instagram, connect on Linkedin

Check out video, photos, theatre shows and workshops on Sunny’s website