How gender self-determination may topple the world:

 prod640021 How many Pansies does it take to change a light bulb?

Facebook has come a long way from the “man/woman” drop down menu of a few years ago. We can now choose from an expanded list of gender categories by selecting “custom” from the scroll down bar, followed by options like agender, trans female, FTM, pangender, two spirit, androgynous or various other pre-determined choices. I tried typing “Pansy” and it flashed an error message across my screen, You must select one or more custom genders”

Wait, I thought selecting a custom gender was about being able to custom define ourselves? I looked up the definition of custom – “a habitual practice; the usual way of acting in given circumstances.” I routinely rock ruffles in place of cuffs, frequently flounce about in fishnets, and customarily carry a little “too much” emotion in my otherwise “manly” voice. Does that not make me habitually a Pansy?!

Apparently our genders need to be vetted by Facebook’s gender decision making board. Who’s job is that?! Like seriously, “Hi honey I’m home! Today I decided to allow Pixie Ranger and Pansy as genders, but I thought Stardust Unicorn was going a little far so I blocked that. How was your day?”

Or maybe it’s a computer program, and when a pre-determined number of people identify as a particular gender, the lightbulb goes on in Facebooklandier. So how many Pansies does it take to change a light bulb?

And what exactly, do the gender gatekeepers fear about Pansies and Stardust Unicorns? Are they worried that people will get ridiculous and make fun of the whole gender thing? My gender is “shithead”! No wait, wait, my gender is “buttfuck penisbreath”! Because that would be a disaster – children, gender is very very very serious because otherwise white men couldn’t be the bosses of the world and besides, there’s way too much free fun already in this god-forsaken world. Are you trying to make the professional-fun-makers lose their jobs? Just how selfish are you gender non-conformists?

Maybe the gatekeepers are worried that people who define their genders in non-normative ways may topple the entire world. I mean, shit what would happen if suddenly anyone could just define themselves in any way they felt moved to? If we could no longer rely on old assumptions about gender (and many other things), we might actually need to c-o-m-m-u-n-i-c-a-t-e with each other. Like really and truly enquire, listen and share of ourselves. We’d no longer be able to assume that we can tell everything about someone by a limited vocabulary of words which have lost their richest meanings through the asinine assumptions dripping from the vowels and the rotting refuse caked on the consonants . When I say a word like woman or heartfelt or revolution – does it mean the same thing to you? Of course not! Language becomes laden with the baggage of the context in which it’s spoken, signed or otherwise shared. And that context, is a little (or a lot) different for each of us.

OMG and if we started to communicate more fully, we might actually begin to understand each other! Without our continuous misunderstandings, we might stop fighting and blowing each other up. And shit, let’s face it, that would be very very bad for the economy (at least this version of the economy).

I’m not saying we should abolish words or concepts like womanhood and manhood – these are beautiful things (well, people, really). It’s about politely asking these identities to stop blocking the telescope for a minute, so that we may peek through and be awestruck by the galaxy that is gender. The Carnivalesque Magicians! The Nerdy Pirates! The Petunias! The Sissies! The Bears! The Queens!

But what does this all mean? Aren’t these just words? Yes. And no. We create language to communicate important ideas. As our ideas and our understandings of ourselves and the world shift or become unobscured, so too does language need to adapt. Beneath what may seem trivial to some, is a universe of important and genius ideas and experiences. Next time you think something is trivial, I challenge you to drop your judgements (even for just an hour or so) and take the time to listen to why people are making language requests. You might surprise yourself by finding it’s liberating for you too. What’s your custom gender today?

In fact, often it’s not even about change, it’s about re-remembering, reclaiming or recentreing those who have had way more than the man/woman gender menu bar all along. It’s only really dominant western cultures that seem to be fixated on the two gender system. I’m deeply grateful to all the communities who hold warm places by the fire for a many gendered galaxy, and am praying my people will catch up soon. Two spirit people across Turtle Island (North America). Fa’afafine in Samoa. Hijras in South Asia. Sistergirls in Australia. Loosening our grip on the two-gender-man-woman-thing, is an important step in decolonisation.

Plus it’s way more fun.

What do we want? Infinite custom genders!

When do we want it! Now!

Some other popular blog articles:

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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

 

Honouring the Living and Telling History like it is

Image On this day, Trans Day of Remembrance, I’m sending love to the families & friends of those trans* people, mostly trans women of colour and two spirit people, who have been murdered in the last year. At the advice of a dreamboat panel on Monday night with Monica Forrester, Reina Gosset and Janet Mock, just as importantly, I’m also celebrating and sending deep appreciation and love to the incredible trans women & two spirit people who are alive, surviving, transforming our communities and at the forefront of so many important political movements. Let’s not wait until our sisters pass or face serious violence to honour them. And let’s map out and celebrate the pivotal role trans women and two spirit people have and continue to have in our movements.

If you’d like to participate, please write a short shout out celebrating a trans woman of colour or two spirit person, who is alive, and post it to your facebook wall, twitter etc. Just make sure you know that they are publicly out as trans*!

Today, I’m giving a shout out to Monica Forrester for her tireless work with her community (check out her film “Remember the Living”). To Kiley May for being all round fabulous and making beautiful art. To Micha Cárdenas for the ways she expands my sense of what is possible. And to Miss Major for her fierce life-long activism.

It’s particularly important to honour and give credit to the people who have been historically and are currently at the forefront of our political movements, because of the ways trans women of colour and two spirit people have been written out of history. Their revolutionary organising has been the kickstart (and sustenance) of so many of our movements. Take Stonewall for example, widely cited as the “start” of the modern gay rights movement, although there were actually a lot of amazing things before that too, like the Compton’s Cafeteria riots. Let’s remember who was actually there, instigating this important movement: trans women, sex workers, street based folks – all people who don’t get credit for their revolutionary organising.

And yet so many white non-trans gay men and white trans men have now ended up with the resources, being publicly celebrated and in positions of power within our movements. Make no mistake – this was not accidental. It wasn’t an oversight. White gay men threw trans women under the bus, to present an image that would appeal to the mainstream in an attempt to win some concessions like gay marriage, the right to fight in armies, and anti-discrimination legislation for privileged gay people. “Look, we’re Tom and Bob, two white bankers in a monogamous relationship. We’re just like you!” And through other systemic power and privileges, white gay men and trans men had and continue to have access to so many more resources to put forth campaigns focused on their (my) needs, sidelining the important and revolutionary perspectives and priorities of trans women and two spirit people.

As discussed by Miss Major and other trans women activists, another way trans women got thrown under the bus has been the failure of LGBTQ movements to be able to organise with people who use substances. Some of the very women to whom we owe our ability to be out and proud as trans*, were in fact banned from LGBT spaces in their lifetimes. Syvlia Rivera was banned from an LGBT Centre in New York for her drinking and Marsha P Johnson for her drug use. We need to get waaaaaay better at organising spaces that can accommodate and centre the needs of both those who are sober (in recovery from drinking/ drug use) AND those who are still using/drinking. Similarly, the sex work-phobia that is rife among many trans and queer communities, pushes many of our fiercest, smartest activists to the margins.

In this context, it is a powerful act of resistance to trans-misogyny every time we tell history like it really was, and honour and resource those who are still doing some of the most revolutionary grassroots work.

On that note, let’s put our collective care and money behind honouring one of our Elders, Miss Major. Miss Major has paved the way for so many trans* people to be able to live with dignity and community. She was on the front line of the Stonewall Riots in 1969. A former sex worker and formerly incarcerated, she is a mother, a grandmother and since 2006 has been the Executive Director of the San Francisco based Transgender, Gender Variant, and Intersex Justice Project (TGIJP). I’m inviting you to join together with me to become a monthly sustainer – donating an amount every month to support this fierce activist to get the housing, food and medical care she needs. Click on the link here to show your monthly love for a revolutionary Elder.

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

Racism is to white people as wind is to the sky

imageDear White people,

It’s not enough to simply know that racism exists, that we live in a racist world. In the outpourings of grief and anger about the Zimmerman verdict, I’m asking myself and other white people: how are we reflecting on and actively transforming our own personal racism? And our collective racism? This is not about hating ourselves, it’s about loving ourselves so much that we commit to transforming ourselves and our communities. Because white people: we are ALL racist. It is impossible to have grown up in a white supremacy and not have taken on racist beliefs and actions. And before you defensively cite the number of friends of colour you have, please remember that sometimes these beliefs and actions are incredibly sneaky – they are designed by white supremacy to look normal and natural. As white people, sometimes we can find them difficult to spot – yet they are glaringly obvious to those who are hurt EVERY SINGLE DAY by our racism. Towards the end of this post I’ve included a list with some concrete examples of the racism of myself and other well intentioned white people, including anti-racist activists. The list has a warning at the top so that folks of colour and Indigenous people can choose whether/when to read this.

White people, the shame is not that these racist things come up in us – growing up in a white supremacy, it is impossible for them to not. The shame is when we deny it, refuse to do the work and therefore turn our backs on our sisters, brothers and genderqueer siblings of colour. The shame is when we are inactive through fear of doing the wrong thing. The shame is when we don’t own up to the damage we cause on a daily basis. The shame is in not putting the time and resources into figuring out how the fuck to transform ourselves – and it will take time and resources, because we’re battling a massive system of white supremacy that will seek to minimise, deny, divert and violently uphold itself. And remember, whilst I can take a break from doing the work of unpacking and challenging mine and others’ racism, our friends of colour can NEVER take a break from racism.

If you’re a white person having a hard time reading this, I’d ask you to examine why are you feeling defensive? In my experience, when I’m defensive it’s usually because I’m avoiding some element of truth. It’s actually only threatening to me to admit my racism if I intend on doing nothing about it. Obviously, there is a massive variation in how racism manifests. When we completely distance ourselves from those white people whose racism manifests in ways that are more “obvious” to us as white people (like murder, assault, belittling other cultures or employment discrimination) essentially, we are letting ourselves off the hook. Yes, my racism may manifest in less intense ways, but it is still from the same origins: growing up in a white supremacist society. It has the same stink – it is the same air in the sky which sometimes blows as a small breeze and other times whips up into a hurricane. Whether or not I like it, I have been shaped by this culture. I have breathed this toxic air into my lungs and it informs my immediate thoughts, reactions, actions – including what I’ve been trained to consider as “racism”. Add to this, the massive amount of privileges I inherit as a white person – and these are not privileges I can simply choose to not take, because privilege is something given to me, not taken. There’s an article by Peggy McIntosh called “Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” if you want to understand white privilege with more concrete examples. And for an awesome understanding of anti-oppression and inter-sectionality – check out’s Kim Crosby’s presentation.

It’s indicative of how incredibly low the bar is for white anti-racist allyship that I am so applauded for even the most basic anti-racist things that I do. All I need to do, is get “anti-racist” into a sentence, or remember to include an analysis of racism when I’m talking about transphobia or sexism, or volunteer in support of an event centering people of colour and I am wildly celebrated and applauded. Contrast this to how folks of colour and Indigenous people are often cast as angry and confrontational when they point out racism. The bar is so incredibly low for being a white anti-racist ally. This is no judgement on folks of colour who choose to offer kind words to me for the stance I take on racism- please know, your words of support are appreciated, but not expected. Rather, it is a call to action to white folks: there is something very wrong that I get so much praise for the simplest, most basic acknowledgement of racism.

Let’s raise the bar. Let’s listen deeply to people of colour and Indigenous people and respect their wisdom and stop appropriating it and re-packing it into $30,000 university degrees and pretending we came up with it (thanks Kim Crosby for pointing that out). Let’s learn to admit when we fuck up (because we do, everyday) and figure out how to transform ourselves and make amends to those who we hurt. Let’s lovingly yet firmly point out racism to each other and hold each other accountable for making amends to the people we hurt and changing our behaviour for future. Let’s remember that we are the ones responsible for holding each other through the process of changing, so that we’re not expecting the support of folks of colour – think about how painful that must be- first, being hurt by racism, then having to hold the hand of the person who hurt you. And for every bit of support we offer to white people to change racist behaviours, let’s offer double the support to folks of colour in dealing with living in a racist world. Whilst people of colour may not necessarily want to debrief racism with us (let’s respect their own safe spaces and not seek to insert ourselves in these spaces), there are plenty of other tangible ways we can support: photocopying zines, housework, emotional support, helping set up events, doing childcare, fundraising and being behind the scenes in support of the priorities, activities and movements led by people of colour and Indigenous people. Let’s start daily practices of BELIEVING people of colour and Indigenous people when they talk about racism, even when we don’t understand. Let’s do the work to understand. Let’s talk with other white folks and figure shit out so we don’t demand the labour of people of colour and Indigenous people in educating us, yet remember who we ultimately will be learning from and who we need to be following the leadership of – the people most affected by racism. So let’s find consensual ways to learn about racism from folks of colour, like through multi-racial organising, social media/books/films and doing support work like those things listed above. And let’s get ourselves set for the long haul – because this will be lifelong work filled with heartache, satisfaction, embarrassment, humility, joy, pain, sorrow and sweet, sweet victories.

WARNING: CONCRETE EXAMPLES OF RACISM IN WHITE ANTI-RACIST ALLIES BELOW.

A few examples of my racism and the racism that I see in white friends to whom anti-racism is very important:

– The times when I have tokenised people of colour by thinking “shit, my project is really white, I should ask some people of colour to be a part of it”, rather than building the vision and collaborating with people of colour from the beginning and/or building genuine mutually supportive relationships.

– When I have given more support, time and resources to white projects and individuals. It doesn’t matter if this was by default (like who happened to ask me) – it is my responsibility to seek out and support people of colour and Indigenous people (if and when my support is welcome). In a world where these communities are systemically barred from access to resources, it is racist to perpetuate this on a personal level in my own life.

– The times when I have assumed people of colour and Indigenous people have drinking or substance problems when I see them drinking or using in public. I am in fact an alcoholic, yet nobody thinks that of me if I’m seen drinking in public.

– When I have failed to understand the ways a police presence could impact on the participation of criminalised communities, especially Black and Indigenous communities. Any time I have invited police presence or failed to take steps to deter it, this is my ignorant racism showing up.

– When I have failed to take the time to consider how I could make sure people of colour and Indigenous people are central in the decision making of groups I’m a part of.

– When I have over-identified with the struggles of transwomen of colour as if they were my own experiences – see my article “Boy Tits in the Locker Room” for more on this

– When I have spent more time reading white people’s opinions on racism than people of colour’s and Indigenous people’s opinions and lived experiences. Yes, I believe there is a strong role for white people in challenging racism, but it shouldn’t over-ride the leadership and wisdom of those who are most impacted by racism. Note, we also need to make sure we’re not putting the burden on folks of colour to come up with all the solutions.

– When I have minimised the feedback of people of colour

– Those times when, before even consciously knowing what I was doing, I assumed that communities of colour would be more transphobic and homophobic towards me than white communities.

– When I have gotten acquaintances who are people of colour confused with each other. It doesn’t matter that I also frequently can’t recognise white people who I don’t know very well – this is where context matters. In the context of a racist world that makes invisible and dehumanises people of colour, my actions are racist.

I’m working on My Racism AND I love myself

As well as a bunch of emails from white people who expressed commitment to working on their racism, I’ve gotten some emails from white people “wow, you have so much self loathing”. I don’t loath and hate myself. I am appropriately critical of some of my thoughts and actions, yes, but that’s actually because I love myself and I love my friends and my communities. In fact, I love myself so much, that I want to be part of a community that is beautiful with space for everyone and I am committed to working to make sure that my own ingrained racist thoughts and behaviours don’t block that vision. I love myself so much that I want to get to have AWESOME people in my life, and that means working on my racism.  I love myself so much that I want to overthrow messed up systems that hurt people I care about and an important part of doing that is owning up to my own shit, and through supporting Indigenous people and people of colour in strong leadership positions. I love myself so much that I’m not afraid to look at the parts of myself that do messed up things – this actually is a sign of my self respect and respect for others, not of self loathing. And I’m not afraid to make my process public. Well more accurately, I’m totally afraid (sometimes terrified!) but I love myself and my community so much that I still do it anyway.

And yes, there are a lot of things that you/we will have to give up. Like needing to be right. Needing to be perfect. Needing to always being seen as the “good anti-racist white person”. I get that part of why some of you feel so challenged is because anti-racism is important to you and so to be called racist challenges your idea of yourself. I’m asking you to rise to the challenge and find a way to see the racist parts of yourself as inevitable as long as we continue to live in a racist world. It’s not a personal failing. If you believe that we live within a racist world, then how could this not have shaped your thinking, even despite your best intentions? I’m challenging you to see working on your racism as an act of love. Love for your community. Love for yourself. Love for your friends.

To read Part 2: Click here

Racism is to White People as Wind is to the Sky – Part 2: We Built The Sky and We Can Tear It Down

Some other popular blog articles:

Femme Ally Conversation Starter

Boy Tits in the Locker-room

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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

Boy Tits in the Locker Room

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I’ve recently started taking my shirt and binder/sports bra off in the men’s locker room. It didn’t begin from a desire to flash my boy tits around, rather that I was fed up with the incredibly awkward configurations I used to twist my clothes in to hide these bouncy little babies. Moreover, I was incredibly bored by transphobia and cis-sexism*.

I’ve also been thinking about appropriation of struggles – the ways that I have over-identified with and co-opted the struggles of trans people who are more marginalised than myself. There’s been lots of trans women who have written and spoken about the appropriation of the struggles of trans women of colour. They remind us that the vast bulk of violence faced by trans people is in fact faced by trans women, particularly those who are racialised, sex workers, poor and/or Indigenous. When I listen to my trans Elders, the people whom I owe my life to (literally – I couldn’t exist as trans without their AMAZING work in carving out space for us to be trans), it’s easy to assume that my experience with be the same as theirs. The reality is, it’s not. Firstly, things are already different. Their hard work has already transformed some things about the communities I live in (THANKYOU! I LOVE YOU! YOU’RE THE BEST!). Secondly, the very people who have been at the centre of the movements which I benefit from, also face trans-misogyny (the many ways transphobia and sexism are directed specifically toward trans women), racism, poverty, disable-ism etc.  As a white, mostly-able-bodied, trans man who passes** as cisgendered, I don’t face these things.

So I’ve started unpacking the difference between when I’m actually unsafe verses when I’m really just uncomfortable. The locker room I’ve been flashing my boy tits around has a trans inclusion policy. It says right there on the wall that the space welcomes trans people in either of the locker rooms. Not that policies always translate into action, but the fact that someone has put it there, makes me feel like there’s some warning that my trans body might be in there and also that someone onsite might have my back (or my tits, as the case may be).

This will be an ongoing juggle to differentiate actually unsafe situations from uncomfortable ones. Locker room late at night at a mainstream non-trans-policy gym where there’s only one other dude or a football team? Probably not going to risk it. I’ve already got a bunch of practice of the safety versus self expression dance – as an effeminate trans man, I’m used to the “speed up my walk” moment or put my sort-of-butch-jacket on over my frilly pink shirt with matching frilly pocket square or turn my sparkly earring and rhinestone studded handbag away when passing men on the street late at night.

The more I watch and test the waters, the more I realise that for a relatively privileged trans person such as myself, probably the worst thing that’s going to happen in response to my boy tits wobbling around the men’s locker room, at a place that’s intentionally developed a trans inclusion policy, is some shocked stares and dropped jaws. A few years ago (actually even a few months ago), this would have devastated me. I would have spiraled into internalised transphobia, that nauseous feeling that there’s something wrong with me. That I’m weird. Broken. Yucky.  Unloveable. Sick. I would have felt emotionally AND physically unsafe as well as uncomfortable. Like I was about to attacked. Like I had in fact, been attacked. It’s not that I’m suddenly immune to these bouts of fear and self loathing, particularly given that I am a survivor of sexual assault, but the more I practice, whilst finding it a little tedious, boring & uncomfortable, the more I see it as an opportunity to cultivate self love AND slowly transform the world, one boy tit at a time. So I want to see more space for a whole range of bodies? Well, sometimes my political essays and rants can be written in my body. All I need to do, is be there, boy tits and all, and I’m already changing shit.

I recognise that it is through my privileges that I can do this, and also that I’m creating space for a particular type of trans experience. I’m not saying that exposure to my white boy tits will necessarily carve out space for trans women’s bodies, or racilialised trans men’s bodies or genderqueer bodies. Nope, I’m not at the centre of transforming our world and neither should I be. I’m two buoyant tits, floating in an ocean of change. And for what it’s worth, these tits are gonna sail proudly above the waves whenever they can.

Cisgendered people (ie, people who are not trans) – please be mindful of your cis privilege before telling your trans friends “well my trans friend Sunny said you’re not actually unsafe, just uncomfortable” or “you should love your body” or any other well intentioned declarations about how trans people should or shouldn’t feel about our bodies or what steps we should and shouldn’t take to be safe. Let’s remember that the same situation can be experienced very differently by two different people, not to mention that two different people will be treated differently. Although I also get that it’s complex when we’re talking about intersecting struggles – like I think there’s a place for cisgendered women having their trans sisters’ backs by calling trans guys on appropriating the struggles of trans women.

I’d also ask cisgendered people to remember that it takes a lot of work to deal with transphobia and cis-sexism when they arise and battle through internalised transphobia. I have the capacity for that work right now. And I choose to take on that education work.  I choose for my boy tits to be my curriculum, my wordless political essay in the locker room. Other trans people may be focused on other things, like battling the health care system, finding a roof under which to sleep or food to eat, dealing with their families, growing food, making art, surviving, throwing parties…

I’m not going to hide my beautiful trans body anymore, except when really and truly it would be physically unsafe. If it’s just uncomfortable, hell, so is trying to get changed balancing my bags off the floor in toilet stalls. So is the complex ballet of getting my clothes on and off without revealing my tits. So is living in a world that thinks my body is weird (or fetishizes it in unconsensual ways). So, frankly, I’d rather be uncomfortable WHILE creating more space for beautiful trans bodies through exposing more people to a myriad of ways men’s chests look. Besides, my boy tits deserve all the fresh air they can get, because as soon as I have surgery, I’m gonna start wearing a myriad of hot men’s bikini tops, because well, in addition to being tremendously transsexual, I’m also a fabulous flamer.

Until then, you have been warned: these boy tits will not be contained.

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

*Cis-sexism is the assumption that all people are or ought to be cisgendered (not trans) or that trans people’s identified genders are inferior to, less authentic than, or less natural than those of cisgendered people.

**Passing as cisgendered: unless my clothes are off, people don’t know I’m trans

Huge thanks to the love of my life, Chanelle, for editing and taking the photo!

Some other popular blog articles:

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

Femme Ally Conversation Starter

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

Dear trans* people & genderqueers: an apology and a love letter

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Sunny (717) 3

Dear trans* people & genderqueers,

This is an apology letter and a love letter. I’m so sorry for all the times I’ve lied to you or shut you out, or not shown you who I really am because I’ve worried that you’d think I wasn’t “trans enough”. I’m sorry for the ways I’ve failed to have your back, when I’ve been more focused on getting cisgendered (non-trans) people’s approval than connecting with you and understanding what it would mean to you to have your back. I’m sorry for the assumptions I’ve made about you based on what you do or don’t do with your bodies. And for all the times when my silence and shame about my questions and doubts has reinforced your silence and shame.

I’m sorry for the moments when I’ve pushed you away because I’ve been afraid of your rejection. I’m sorry to both you and also to myself, for the times when I shut myself off from the very place where I/we could find understanding and community. Sometimes I’ve been fixated on the fact that it hurts a million times more when a trans person rejects me or says something invalidating (yes, so many of us struggle with internalised transphobia), that I’ve failed to realise, is it hurts 100 million times more to not have you by my side and to not have the HONOUR of standing by your side. I’m sorry for the times when my solution has been to not talk with you. To not confide in you that sometimes I have so many doubts, worries that I’m just making this whole trans thing up.

Yes, I get up on my soap box about challenging ideas that trans people are confused. I mean, hello!! It’s actually the world that is INCREDIBLY confused to have not noticed that I was a cute lil’ boy and to not have noticed the fabulous gender or genders you embody. I adamantly tell cisgendered people that i’m not confused – and i am NOT confused. And also. In some moments. I am absolutely confused. And this is the shitty thing: to jump through the hoops to get access to health care etc, we need to convince mostly cisgendered people that we’re not confused, yet most of us grew up in systems that had minimal room for us which made so many of us incredibly confused. I met the first person that I knew was trans when I was 24! I’ve spent so much time simplifying my experience for cisgendered people inside of and outside of the health care system, that sometimes I start to believe these simplifications and then in the moments when I know it’s not the whole story, I’m devoured by insecurities and start to wonder if I’m not actually a “real” trans person and maybe just made it all up. Instead of being ashamed of this, I want to talk about it with you all, and celebrate how resilient we are in surviving cisgendered systems. I want to celebrate and continue to cultivate our abilities to question and explore and be open to what is true in any given moment, not what we’re told or coerced into believing is true. And share knowledge about how to navigate cisgendered systems without forgetting who many of us really are. We are GENIUSES at figuring shit out and I want to celebrate that together!

I’m sorry for all the times I’ve let you down by not telling you these things about myself, and letting you drift further into isolation, thinking that you’re the only one that doesn’t exactly fit the always-knew-never-wavered-born-in-the-wrong-body-trans-story. Just to be clear – I love, support and respect trans people who do actually have the seamless “trans story” – i don’t want to make them feel uncool for fitting that story either.

So here’s some things I might not have told you. I like my body (kind of), I especially like my new body after taking hormones AND I’m glad i was born in the body i have AND I think I may have been born in a kind of wrong-ish body AND i love my junk AND i really wish i had different junk AND I wouldn’t change a thing AND I wish everything had been different AND I have such deep internalised transphobia that sometimes I can’t even fantasise about cisgendered men being attracted to me as a man rather than as a sort of hairy weird “woman” AND sometimes I like to fantasise about being a woman anyway (women are ace!) AND in my lifetime i’ve called myself a tom boy, a sporty-butchish-femme-teenage-girl, a lesbian feminist, a dyke, a carnivalesque magician, a genderqueer, a boy, a boi, a man, a dude, a pansy, a sissy, a faggot, a gaybo/homo/homosexual, transexual, femme, effeminate, transgender, transman AND I’m not sure which of these labels I’ve actually “been” verses which I’ve just called myself AND i’m not sure if i care anyway about all these labels AND i desperately care about labels AND I care what you think about me AND i love it when people don’t know that i’m trans AND it’s invalidating/invisibilisng when they don’t know that i’m trans AND once when I was a 23 year old lesbian feminist I walked down a street naked with “i am real woman” painted on my back to counter stereotypes about women’s bodies not being like in the magazines (oh the hundred million ways we could politically unpack this!) AND I’m embarrassed for you to see photos of my “old” face before taking T (even though I keep those photos on Facebook) AND I’m embarrassed that I feel embarrassed about this because it doesn’t fit with my politics AND I feel so silly that I only realised (re-realised?) I was trans when I was 30 AND I’m completely in awe of teenage and children trans people who are out as trans (like seriously, they are so smart and brave to know and insist on that in such a transphobic world!)… AND… AND… AND…

The number of times I’ve heard one of you say “but I’m not like other trans people, my story is more complex, i feel so alone, nobody understands me”. I want to make this sink in way deeper. The more I listen to you, the more I feel compelled to share with you. And the more I realise many of our stories are only complex when we try to shove them through the narrow window of gender ideas that are enforced upon us by cisgendered people and their institutions. I want to work together with you to stop trying to make sense of our stories by applying cisgendered ways of understanding ourselves (which in a North American or Australian context, are also colonial ways of understanding gender). Like maybe it makes total sense that i LIKE my boy tits (kind of) yet i want to cut them off. Who says that’s a contradiction? NOT ME!

I’m writing you this because I LOVE YOU. Because I think you are FUCKING FIERCE & BEAUTIFUL & EXQUISITE! Because you inspire me every day. Because I think you are a genius. Because you’re magical. Because you are a total miracle just to exist as trans- even if you’ve never told anyone (including yourself) that you are trans. And to tell you that i’m so incredibly proud to call myself trans alongside ALL of you trans people, genderqueers, gender non-confirming people, women and men of trans experience and other gender constellations for all the ways our stories are so delightfully different and for the ways they are so comfortingly similar.

ALL MY LOVE, Sunny

(Photo by the amazing Tania Anderson)

Some other popular blog articles:

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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

An Upset Transsexual writes about the difference between Therapy and Theatre: A trans-view of “My Pregnant Brother”

It was with skeptical hopefulness that I went to see Johanna Nutter’s one woman autobiographical show entitled “My Pregnant Brother”, presented in the excellent SummerWorks Theatre Festival in Toronto. The show had won several awards and this made me even more curious to see what audiences who I’ll bet are mostly cisgendered (meaning – not trans) are consuming about trans stories.

For 60 minutes, I wavered backwards and forwards between some appreciation of Johanna as an individual and growing increasingly irate at the painful barrage of transphobia and uncontextualised trans stereotypes. I valued her basic acceptance of her brother because unfortunately a lot of trans people don’t have supportive families. I cringed through the continuous hurtful jokes which could only have been pulled off by a trans person or if the rest of the show been more politically responsible and accountable to trans communities. I was horrified at overt and hurtful transphobic comments. I felt alienated by an audience of seemingly mostly non-trans people who were laughing at the jokes. I tried to be as small as possible during the applause so that no-one would notice I wasn’t clapping very enthusiastically, because I didn’t want to be the overly-sensitive//angry//party-pooping transsexual. But the fact is, I am.  And for good reasons.

I believe the audience was lured into thinking the jokes were acceptable and taking the content at face value because of Johanna’s great stage presence, her “bare all” style honestly and the way she positioned herself as a trans ally in contrast to their overtly transphobic mother. It is complex, because Johanna has seemingly done a decent job in some aspects of her personal relationship with her brother. This however, does not translate to a doing a decent job of presenting a trans story in a public realm. I don’t want to demonise Johanna. I know how painful it can be to have your work publicly reviewed and criticised, especially when it’s about your own life. I have made plenty of political mistakes in my work and I am deeply grateful for the people who have held me accountable.

As someone who makes partially autobiographical performance, I have often come up against the fact that “authenticity” of personal story and presenting work that is politically responsible is not always an easy fit. This is where we, as theatre makers and storytellers, need to remember that we can go to therapy. We can seek help from our family, friends and support groups. It doesn’t all have to go on a stage. I’d suggest that key parts of ‘My Pregnant Brother’ belong in therapy rooms and at trans family member support groups. Or alternatively, that Johanna’s story and the lens through which she is telling her brother’s story, be contextualized more politically responsibly. Particularly given the artistic medium (the show was narration/ storytelling with occasional characterisation), it would be easy to add direct comments which contextualise the piece and address stereotypes and misunderstandings which trans communities have been fighting against.

Let me be more explicit with some examples. Her pregnant brother had specifically said that he wanted his baby to get to “choose” their own gender when they were old enough and therefore he didn’t want others to impose a gender identity. Johanna was at the birth and out popped the baby, to the standard doctor’s comment “it’s a girl!” Johanna’s delighted awe-struck reaction was “ooh, it’s a girl”, followed by a realisation that she was gendering the baby against her brother’s wishes as she turns to her brother with “oh sorry”. The audience laughed. The moment was crafted to be funny. I get that it is very difficult to unlearn gendering babies. However, to intentionally craft a humorous moment out of disrespecting her brother’s wishes, was one of the many examples where a joke delivered by a cisgendered person was too painful for me to laugh at. Apparently, the rest of the mostly-cisgendered audience didn’t feel that same pain. So I can only conclude that the joke was at  the expense of trans people. Not cool.

When the baby was born by C-section, while her brother was in recovery, Johanna told of how she was nursing her “niece” and whispering something like “ooh you’re so beautiful. I wonder if my credit card would have enough on it to get us to Mexico. We could just take off, disappear, just you and me. A baby needs a mother, not a…. question mark. Doesn’t it? Just you and me.” We later heard that she had been wanting a baby but was unable to conceive. Were we supposed to draw our own conclusions that she was being 1. Grossly transphobic in not even being able to call her brother a dad (she’d quoted him earlier “I guess I’m gonna be a pregnant dude and then a dad”) and in questioning whether a baby’s needs could be met by a trans person and 2. fucked up by considering abducting her brother’s baby? In no way did she craft the rest of the show to gently guide us towards those conclusions – which is obvious for many trans people, but I believe would have served only to fuel transphobic sentiments from uneducated cisgendered audience members. This is damaging and irresponsible. I may been prepared to sit through the transphobia of “a baby needs a mother, not a…. question mark” if she had more explicitly referenced her own transphobia as a stage on the way to trans-positivity, to model this process for other cisgendered audience members. However, it’s important to note that I don’t have kids – my heart went out to trans parents and the kids of trans people, this must have been unbearably painful for them.

In fact, she went on to present how irresponsible a dad her brother was, which is obviously horrible for the baby, just like it would be horrible if a non-trans parent was irresponsible. Given that most audience members would know nothing about great examples of trans parenting, I could understand the audience concluding that trans people shouldn’t be parents, and yes a baby needs a mother. Furthermore, I’m gonna bet the audience is left thinking a baby needs a mother like the cisgendered woman sweetly cooing the baby we see on stage. I don’t actually think this is what Johanna was trying to say. As I said, she seemed accepting of her brother, at least on a trans 101 level, and I’m willing to extend a generous interpretation that she is supportive of trans parents in general, but that her brother, like many non-trans parents, found himself unable to cope with an unplanned baby. I don’t trust that many of the other audience members, steeped in a transphobic and cis-sexist context, would have the experiences with amazing trans-parents in their community to counteract the one story they may ever have heard about trans parenting. Once again, the problem is not the telling of this story, it’s the lack of context.

Another example. Johanna tells a story about how her brother was in a relationship with a woman when he first came out as trans. His girlfriend “stayed with him for years” through his transition including him taking hormones and having chest surgery. Firstly, the choice of language “stayed with him” implied that she was some sort a saint for staying with such a freak. Ouch! After they broke up, her brother moved to Portland and fell in love with a man, which apparently sparked a deep gender confusion, “he wondered if he’d made a big mistake”.  After the relationship with his boyfriend ended and he came back to Montreal, Johanna says he was “heart-broken and more confused than ever”. From this, I find it difficult to believe that Johanna could have had much contact with trans communities outside of her experiences with her brother. If she had, she would understand the irritation and hurt caused to many trans people by the suggestion that we are “confused”.

I’m not saying what she said about her brother being confused in that instance is not true, just that it needs context. The difference between gender and sexuality is often very confusing to cisgendered (non trans) people and as such, it’s a topic that needs to be dealt with with care. Put in a very crude way, gender is about whether you identify YOURSELF as being female, male, genderqueer etc, regardless of what body parts you have. Sexuality is about who are attracted to. So, for example, a trans person may identify their gender as male (in contrast to their culture telling them they are female) and their sexuality as gay (if they sleep with men – cisgendered or trans) or straight, queer, asexual etc. To get a little more into advanced concepts, yes, sometimes people’s gender and sexuality bounce off each other, for example, some people’s genders are fluid. Sometimes a woman may feel kind of boy-ish when they’re having sex with a particular partner. Sometimes a trans-man might feel gay with one partner and queer with another. The fact that her brother was feeling confusion may have been a sign of gender fluidity or it may have been internalised trans-phobia and/or lack of role models. Trans people are not immune to a world that hates on and misunderstands us.  Frequently we internalise all sorts of shitty messages about ourselves. I grew up with neither trans role models nor queer role models, so no wonder I initially felt a bunch of confusion about the difference between my gender and sexual identity. Now, through exposure to amazing, resilient, smart and diverse trans communities, I feel solid on my identity and it’s incredibly invalidating when people reinforce stereotypes of trans people as “confused” without providing context.

In fact, let’s take a quick look at who is really confused. Why have people been constantly mis-gendering me from the day I was born? Why did the doctor say “it’s a girl?” Considering I’m not a girl, I can tell you who was confused. It’s not my fault that my transphobic culture couldn’t see me as a boy. And considering I grew up within this very confused culture, it’s no wonder it took me 30 years to become un-confused. Now, I’m in the position of continuously educating my very confused cisgendered community and shows like My Pregnant Brother do a massive disservice to the hard work of trans communities.

On a practical level, this explanation of gender, sexuality and issues about confusion may be too lengthy to include in a show. A simple shorter version could be something like “he wondered if he’d made a mistake. We now know that trans people can be gay, straight, queer or whatever, but at the time, he spiraled into uncertainty without any role models around him” (or something more artistically put).

I did an internet search and couldn’t find any reviews of the show by people who I knew were trans (although of course, we can’t always tell who is and isn’t trans). All I found were a bunch of glowing reviews, which I’m going to bet were mostly from cisgendered people. Trans perspectives have been marginalised even in the critiquing/reviewing of the show. Offline however, I’ve spoken with a number of trans friends who saw the show and who were similarly irate and upset. Maybe some trans people just went home swearing under their breath and chalking it up to another day dealing with transphobia.

I’d like to also name the sexism that Johanna has to deal with in her life, including it sounds like her brother has a bunch of sexist behaviour. She talks about her brother’s expectations and demands of her care-taking of him and the baby. I’m super sorry to hear that. She’s not alone in dealing with trans-men’s sexism.  My critique of the way Johanna has represented a trans narrative does not mean I’m not appreciative of her journey in learning to draw boundaries in a sexist world. This is very important. I feel very strongly about trans men challenging each other to be more feminist. There’s some suggestions about trans men challenging sexism in another article on this blog entitled “Femme Ally Conversation Starter”.

This does not excuse Johanna from the harmful treatment of his trans story. I believe that given the way Johanna is benefiting from her brother’s trans story, she has a responsibility to do the research and figure out this political context. Even though the story is clearly from her lens including being about her journey in giving up her family care-taking role, the fact that she called it “My Pregnant Brother” and not “The Day I Stopped Being My Brother’s Mum” is leveraging interest primarily from her brother’s story. This comes with a responsibility not just to her brother, but to trans movements. This responsibility is even more pertinent given the lack of trans stories told in the theatre, newspapers and popular media. It’s likely that many audience members may have never seen a theatre show about trans people, like EVER. This doesn’t mean Johanna should try and tell every angle of every story about every trans person ever. What it means is that she has a responsibility to properly contextualise the one story she is telling.

Concretely, what this could look like is the playwright doing a lot of research of articles, books and shows created BY trans people about trans people. Collaborating with trans people in the dramaturgy and creative development process. And I’m not talking about consulting with one or two token “friendly” trans people who are disconnected from trans movements. Paying trans consultants and being involved with trans community and making sure the support is reciprocal and built on relationships, rather than a one sided sucking of information and education.

Alternatively, I hope Johanna can find some private therapy that is not at the expense of trans communities, particularly not at the expense of trans families.

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

Financially supporting trans women’s access to surgery

Here’s a short blurb I wrote in 2011 as part of fundraising for a friend who was having bottom surgery, about why I believe it is super important for cisgendered people and trans men to support trans women/ trans-feminine spectrum people in accessing surgery (when they choose it).

▪               Trans women, especially those who don’t pass as cisgendered (ie, trans women who get read/interpreted by most of society as “men”) face huge barriers to finding employment due to prejudice. They may also face racism, classism or able-ism. So their job options can be very limited and therefore it’s harder to pay the bills, let alone fund expensive surgery.

▪               Because the medical industrial complex sucks! Many trans women are made to jump through years worth of hoops and red tape to prove that they should be allowed to have surgery. Having just been through this system as a trans-guy – my psychiatrist said “most of the FTMs (female-to-male) are a lot more straight-forward cases than the MTFs (male to female)”. BULLSHIT! The medical industrial complex, like the rest of mainstream Australia, does a lot of serious hating on trans women. Apparently one of the factors which slows down psychiatrists from approving surgery, is trans women having depression or anxiety. Is it any wonder a bunch of trans women are depressed when they get so much hatred thrown their way, beat up, denied jobs, called names and then made to tell their stories over and over to the boring cisgendered psychiatrist for years. (NOTE: recognising the discrimination faced by many transwomen doesn’t mean others should just assume it sucks to be a trans-woman – it rocks to be a trans-woman! Just the discrimination sucks). Cisgendered people act as gatekeepers and attempt to make every decision for trans people. Their decisions are greatly shaped by trans-misogyny (like the broader world) and can make many trans-women jump through very narrow definition of what it means to be trans – what the fuck would they know? This sucks. So, fundraising for trans women can give them more control over their transition through having money and therefore access to more options (like going to Thailand for the surgery, where there is less red tape).

▪               Because trans women bear the brunt of some of the most disgusting discriminations of the patriarchy. Levels of violence & assault against trans women are horrific. They are often doubly punished by then also being left out or violently marginalised by so called “feminist” and other movements e.g. being barred from accessing “women’s” shelters & services. This is blatantly anti-feminist! Many “feminist” movements are hung up on the notion of trans women having been socialised as male and therefore having male privilege. The transphobic and misogynist cultures I grew up in absolutely do NOT build a sense of entitlement/privilege in trans women. Anyone read as male who has any feminine or womanly presentation, traits or identification gets that ridiculed, punished and beaten out of them. This is hardly likely to build up someone with a sense of entitlement or privilege. Also, socialisation is a complex beast – a person picks up socialisation as much from how they identify inside, ie we have agency in how we socialise ourselves. Many trans women who identified that way from an early age, are likely to have picked up a lot of female socialisation because they were looking for the education and cues with which they identified. So I don’t see much privilege going on for trans women – especially trans women of colour, raised poor/ working class, trans women with disabilities etc. So, since they have to deal with heaps of shit, supporting trans women in ways that feel good to them (in this case – funding the surgery) is essential.

▪               Because access to surgery is a class issue. It sucks that rich trans people (who still have the support of their rich families or have miraculously managed to access well paying work) can get easier access to surgery. It’s up to us as a community to collectively be a “family” who raises money for poor/ working class/ financially struggling trans women.

▪               Because misogyny exists even in our queer/ radical bubbles. A little exercise: count how many fundraisers you’ve heard of for trans men. Now count how many you’ve heard of for trans women. Get the point? And that was just for starters – the way trans women are often ostracised, whereas trans men are celebrated (and even fetishised) is gross. Let’s change that.

So, these are some of the reasons why I’m giving money to my friend for her bottom surgery.  Also, because I like her a bunch and she is smart, hot, fabulous, funny and a good friend of mine.

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