Biking, Queerness, and Shifting Identities

I like to ride my bike without handlebars and lip-sync to my iPod. Sometimes I also vogue to the song I’m listening to… while I’m riding without handlebars and lip-syncing. I’m not kidding.

My bike has rusty gears, worn down brake pads and a seat that shifts ever so slightly when I mount it. I’ve worn down a number of pairs of shoes from constantly beating them against the ground trying to stop. Basically, lip-syncing and voguing while riding a barely functional bike is probably the most unsafe (and stupidest, though that’s beside the point) thing that I do.

At least I thought that until very recently. The start of fall semester brought about a number of important realizations about myself: my own queerness; what makes me happy; the challenges that come with the former and the latter. Coming into school a terribly ignorant, privileged, white gay boy obsessed with homomasculinity, I have only to look around my apartment to see what twenty-four months can do to a person’s identity and self-conception. Since coming to Michigan in 2012, I decided to explore my interest in visual art—primarily sketching, painting, and some photography. Becoming a self-taught artist has also been probably the most therapeutic and introspective experience of my life. My apartment is essentially a gallery of my best work, the walls painted with three strategically chosen shades of teal. A massive black and white mural of Marlon Brando as he was in A Streetcar Named Desire (swoon), rendered with fierce eyebrows and eyeliner, floats on the attic ceiling above my bed. My sketches, colorful box-frame craft projects, shelves of makeup—they’re all crushing and wonderful reflections of the femme queer identity that I have embraced since coming to Michigan.

Since embracing this identity, I no longer feel at my most unsafe, at my most anxious, whilst I ride my bike. Though, believe me, I know I probably should. Now, I feel most unsafe when I hold my wrist limply in public—a habit that, frankly, is becoming a natural impulse. I feel most unsafe in those five or ten minutes I spend waiting for a cab outside, dressed in drag. I feel most unsafe when I drop my normative, “straight” accent at work. Feeling my vocal inflections rise in pitch, the ends of my vowels trailing off in a slight whine, my “real” voice returning in front of people, can be almost mortifying. The strangest thing is that I just don’t know how warranted my fear is. How much are people really judging me, if at all? Should I be so anxious?

One of my favorite quotes of all time is from V for Vendetta: “You wear a mask for so long you forget who you were beneath it.” I’m so glad I didn’t forget the four year old boy who played with Barbie’s instead of baseballs. The amount of time I spent as a teenager desperately trying to feel at home with straight people exhausted me into submission. I’m truly glad I didn’t forget, and through all this, I’ve come to realize that the constant anxiety I now feel in embracing who I am is perhaps one of the greatest tools of queer oppression. Looking back at my teenage years as an out gay kid, my macho game was played simultaneously for safety’s sake and for opportunity’s sake. I doubt I would have achieved half of what I did to get to U of M if I wasn’t so “respectable,” but doing so was not without its emotional costs. There is a double-bind: one of embracing queerness, to feel a sense of tension and heavy ostracization from the world around us, and one of withholding our sincerest selves in exchange for respectability and safety. This comes with the price of forever sacrificing what lies beneath the mask. And yes, this bind is a balancing act; we must shift in order to survive. However, the pain of putting on the normative mask for work, class, family, or whatever situation, can be enormous.

And when I do decide to take off that mask, my wreck of a bike doesn’t seem dangerous at all in comparison to the threat posed by living outside the norm.

-Eddie

I don’t want my dad to see this.

I might not want you to read this blog post either.

Have I told you that I think David Bowie was probably the most important pop culture icon of all eternity? Have I mentioned that I am hopelessly in love with Olivia Wilde and aspire to be her mysterious and aloof, but also impossibly charming, character on House?

Have you seen the bi pride sticker on my laptop? No?

Well, if you didn’t already know these things about me, I just came out to you through a blog post.

Was that the moment? Where are the rainbows and the confetti and Ellen DeGeneres? That’s not how it works? How anticlimactic.

All I ever want to do is curl up with coffee and my cat and watch Gay & Lesbian movies. But I don’t want Blue is the Warmest Color to pop up on my family’s Netflix account for the whole world to see.

Okay, so the whole world probably isn’t monitoring my unrestrained use of the Netflix account I share with my parents.

But my dad might be. And he doesn’t know that I’m queer.

Weird, isn’t it? That I’ll proudly display my “Hate is not a Family Value” button on my backpack for herds of college students and strangers to look at, but I can’t stand the thought of my own dad wondering why I’ve binged on both seasons of Orange is the New Black at least three times. Honesty is a family value, right?

It’s just that even the small sentence “I’m bisexual” has a lot of weight attached to it; there’s considerable stigma surrounding bisexuality, including negative stereotypes that depict bisexuals as super promiscuous and selfish “fence-sitters.” There are certainly folks—including my dad—who still accept only a dualistic “gay, straight, or lying” theory of sexuality, even 60-plus years after the Kinsey Reports. “Just a pit stop on the way to gay-town,” is a rather insensitive phrase that I’ve heard.

Although I’m extremely lucky to have never faced anywhere near the amount of hatred or discrimination experienced by many in the queer community, I have been—and still am at times—uncomfortable with sharing the details of my sexuality. My “traditional” hometown in Ohio didn’t have the crazies like those on the Diag yelling that I’m going to hell. But it did have this sort of twisted pride in its patriarchal 1950s so-called “community values”, a mentality that dripped with heteronormativity and kept many of us relatively quiet about our queer identities.

Perhaps I’m underestimating him. But I’m not sure how thrilled my dad would be with the idea that his daughter might not end up with a conventional, heteronuclear family lifestyle.

Maybe I’ll just decide to move to San Fran. And when he asks, “Katja, why are you moving to San Francisco?” I’ll respond, “Because that’s where my people are, dad.”

Then Ellen Page will whisk me away and we’ll get an apartment in the Castro and my dad will be left to clean up the confetti and rainbows.

Until then, I’m working on becoming more comfortable with my sexual identity. Because if I’m not, how can I expect anyone else to be? I’ll find a way to come out that doesn’t involve excessive references to my crushes on various female celebrities or the impersonal platform of social media. I’ll figure out how to make it more straightforward, more personal.

Less passive, more proud.

But you know, I’m taking steps—and maybe you reading this post is the first one.

-Katja

Oppression: The choice between feeling and being

Someone recently asked me what it feels like to be oppressed.  This took me aback.  What does it feel like to exist in a reality where I am devalued?  What does it feel like to always be three steps back even though I am the one moving the fastest?  What does it feel like to spend hours upon hours every day justifying my existence in this world?  What does it feel like to not even realize all of the things I do to counteract my oppression because they have become so ingrained into my life?  What does it feel like? You really want to know how it feels? I don’t know how to put this feeling into words, but I can tell you how it doesn’t feel.  It sure doesn’t feel good.  

But maybe part of the reason I am unable to put these feelings into words is because they have become my regular, every day being.   The feeling of oppression isn’t something I am ever not experiencing.  Asking me how it feels to be oppressed is like asking me what it feels like to love the color purple.  I don’t really have feelings to assign to it, other than it feels normal.  It feels every-day. And it feels like something that has an integral role in my existence.   Let me sit with the weight of that statement.  Oppression has an integral role in my existence; oppression is integral to me.  Oppression makes me who I am.

While I appreciate the desire to know what it feels like to be oppressed, I am hesitant to provide an answer.  Unless you experience it, I don’t think that you can understand it.  I cannot reasonably explain the constant and competing pain and strength derived from the oppression I experience.  It is more than just a feeling.  It is a way of life.  My entire life is based around my knowledge and awareness of how my identities cause me to be situated in this world.  And I still carry much privilege.  My compounding oppressions have an end.  Not everyone has this luxury.  And so my pain has a limit.  A limit that I can manage; that I can work around; through which I can keep moving forward. 

While writing this, I have felt a growing anger toward the person who asked me to reflect on my feelings of oppression.  Because now I am feeling.  I am experiencing emotion I don’t allow myself to experience.  I cannot stop and think about how it feels to be oppressed every time I experience oppression.  I cannot feel the pain, the anger, and disdain that I am feeling now.  I cannot allow myself these feelings for my own well-being, but also for the same reason that I feel them.  If I express my pain and anger and disdain, I am seen as an angry, feminist lesbian.  And so these feelings must stay hidden because the oppression I experience will not stop; but my ability to change your perception of how someone like me looks and acts can change.  And so I value my community and myself over your curiosity.  For that I am not ashamed.

-Ashley

On Street Harassment and Resistance

Content Warnings: street harassment, survivorship, transmisogyny and rape mention

  

I just finished painting my nails before writing this— a vibrant pink shade.  This is a fairly ordinary act for me. Since moving to Michigan nine months ago, my understanding of my gender has changed significantly, and my presentation has changed along with it. I’m still not sure what my gender is exactly, but I know it is something outside the binary. I occupy a unique space in terms of trans experience, I’m AFAB (assigned female at birth), and in my late teens I transitioned to appear more masculine. At the time I had a fairly strong male identity and my bearded face and now-flat chest finally felt like home. They still do mostly, but I’m not a man anymore. I focus now on wearing what makes me feel cute and clothes that make me happy. A lot of these things are “women’s clothes.” Moving from a liberal city on the west coast, I haven’t thought much about how this change might affect me until a few weeks ago when I was walking home from the bus stop.  A red muscle car slowed down beside me, and a man not much older than I am leaned out to yell slurs at me before driving away. I won’t repeat what he said, but it was clear that my gender presentation was somehow offensive to him.

The floral leggings I was wearing are very much outside of the expectations people have for their perceptions of my gender, but it makes me happy to wear them; they feel much more like home than any of the khaki’s and muted polo shirts that have made up my past wardrobe. But now my home doesn’t feel quite as safe.  I think twice now before I dress or walk through my neighborhood by myself in daylight.  I am fearful in ways that are new to me—even as someone who was socialized into constant vigilance against the stranger rapist, even as a survivor myself. For the first time I feel like the general public is hostile to my very existence, in ways that I never felt as a female-presenting AFAB person, when I was transitioning, or as a man.  I am struck at the many, more hostile ways this situation could have played out, and how little power I had to protect myself.

Street harassment is an act of violence. It was an intrusion on my body and although I am not wounded, I carry the impact of it with me.  Street harassment is about power, the same way that rape is about power; it is meant to let me know my place. My nail polish is not only a statement about my gender, but now it is also an act of resistance. I am still scared, but I refuse to let this intrusion on my body ruin the things that make me feel like myself. I refuse to accept the authority of a stranger over my agency. I refuse to let him take my power.

Many trans women I know have these fears daily, and I don’t want to share my story at the expense of theirs or conflate our experiences. Trans women and other AMAB (Assigned male at birth) non-binary people’s experiences with transmisogyny and other acts of violence are much more pervasive and severe than my experiences with trans bigotry or this particular instance of street harassment. I am extremely privileged that I have not been subject to transmisogyny, and that this particular act of violence that intersects with transmisogyny was not severe or physically violent.  I am privileged in the ways that I can claim these particular, visible strategies of resistance.  They are not more valid than the choices of other trans people to try and protect themselves from this violence by presenting in ways that conform to society’s expectations. These are choices of survival. When our bodies are not our own and the world is hostile to our existence, choosing survival is an act of power and self love. We all resist in our own ways, sometimes that is just staying alive. 

-Ryan

Reimaging Femme Power

In my last post, I referenced Mabel Maney, the author of a series of Nancy Drew and James Bond lesbian parodies. During my undergraduate career, I completed an honors thesis on how her portrayal of these cultural icons as queer helped reclaim and re-imagine a historical context in which queer people were entirely erased, but where queer themes and subtext abounded if one knew where to look. I found myself most fascinated with her portrayal of femme characters, who wield considerable power but without merely taking on masculine characteristics to do so. I’d like to share an excerpt of this analysis with y’all below.

SPOILER ALERT: The following analysis may include spoilers regarding character relationships and plot events.

Femme lesbians and other queer-identified people are also quite capable of challenging the patriarchy with their gender presentation because their performance of femininity is calculated rather than compulsory. Despite the assumption that femme is merely the submissive response to butch, it should be seen as a “consciously articulated queer identity” (Ryan 14, emphasis in original). That is to say, femme women exist and perform gender independently of their butch counterparts, and their performance should be seen as reclamation of the feminine from heteronormative standards. Femmes in both Nolan’s and Maney’s work display assertive and cunning personalities, defying the stereotype of passivity perpetuated through both mainstream and queer ideas of femininity. They reject their stereotype as merely decorative objects for butches and have active agency within the storylines.

The way these queer women use the tools of femininity is also deliberately different from their heterosexual counterparts, and it contributes to their ownership of their gender expression. In Maney’s first Jane Bond novel, Kiss the Girls and Make Them Spy, the femme character Bridget works for an unauthorized, all-women spy group that uses door-to-door, high-end cosmetic sales as their cover. The benefits of this cover are two-fold: they provide the women with access to the wives of high-ranking officials in order to probe for government secrets, and the sales from their products fund the organization. Their public image as bubbly peddlers of nail polish and vanishing cream takes advantage of patriarchal notions of femininity; because these salesgirls are not perceived as a threat, they are able to pursue their dangerous work with no interference. The use of cosmetics as a camouflage is no accident. Here, the women use makeup, often seen as a way to disguise one’s blemishes, as an even bigger disguise for their espionage. They take the societal attitude towards makeup as artificial and use this to their fullest advantage, and by doing so they manage to hide in plain sight. The fact that these tools are viewed as deceitful only heightens their power to deceive. It also gives them the power to conceal their weaponry in the shape of beauty products, so that the untrained eye will assume they are harmless.

When it comes to performing her spy duties, Bridget’s beauty routine again plays off of masculine uncertainty about just what it is femme women do while they get ready in the morning. She shoos Jane away from the butch woman’s own room, insisting that she must put on her face in privacy. But because the femme lesbian has a practiced hand at this particular artistry, she can be “creamed, cleaned, powdered, and painted in less than five minutes” (Kiss the Girls 62). She uses the rest of her time to pick through Jane’s belongings and assemble a working knowledge of the woman’s life. With this, she can report back to her commander at G.E.O.R.G.I.E., her spy organization. This takes advantage of the notion that feminine women fill their time with frivolity rather than productivity and leaves the femme spy plenty of room to subvert this with her actions. Because Jane has no idea how this beauty routine actually occurs, she does not know to be wary of Bridget intruding on her personal effects. The femme can then find the freedom to work without interruption because of the shared ignorance of butch women and patriarchal gender ideas.

Shelia Jeffries, in her article “Butch and Femme: Now and Then,” makes the argument that the reclamation of butch-femme identity by contemporary lesbians is “a massive and constant onslaught upon feminism” (185) because it serves only to eroticize lesbianism through power imbalances. While her assertion that femmes are devalued in the queer community and subject to internalized misogyny from butches is valid, her treatment of femmes seems unfair. Baffled by the number of femme lesbians who wish to reclaim these roles, she insists, “we are reduced to understanding this contemporary glorification of butch and femme in terms of sadomasochism” (Jeffries 182). This is something of an exaggeration and assumes that femme queer women, as a result or through the process of their femme-ininity, are not only subjugated by their butches but lack the intelligence or enlightenment to see the problems with this. She is also mistaken in the assumption that butch-femme roles exist solely as a form of sadomasochistic sexual roleplay, and that sadomasochism itself is inherently harmful to its participants.

Arguably, this perspective on femme-ininity is the result of internalized misogyny, in which femininity, or the visual cues associated with it, is perceived as weakness even within the feminist sphere. The butch-femme relationships of the parody texts subvert the assertion that femmes submit sexually and emotionally to their butches through the portrayal of femmes who wield most if not all of the power in their relationships. The behavior and appearance of these queer women, rather than actually being submissive, are only perceived to be by both heterosexuals and queer people who privilege masculine performance as more intelligent or dominant. Rather than empowering themselves by assuming masculine traits, and therefore continuing to privilege masculinity as a whole, they reconsider feminine traits in a different light and empower themselves through their expression of femme-ininity

References:

Jeffries, Sheila. “Butch and Femme: Now and Then.” Not a Passing Phase: Reclaiming Lesbians in History 1840-1985. Lesbian History Group. London: Women’s Press, 1993. 158-187. Print.

Ryan, Maura. “I Will Rock Some Glitter Like You’ve Never Seen”: Burlesque, Femme Organizations, and the Cultural Politics of the Femme Movement. Diss. University of Florida, 2009. Web.

 -Jessica

Queer and Trans* Approaches to Technology: Matter, an anonymous support community

I recently wrote a blog post on trans identity and video games and I thought it would be fun and useful to continue writing on queer and trans technology. I am a graduate student at the University of Michigan School of Information and as a gay man am really interested in how queer and trans folks navigate information and communication technologies to find and support their own communities. 

In this blog post, I want to introduce Matter, a new iPhone app that I’ve had the pleasure to be messing around with the past couple weeks. Matter’s purpose is to create a candid and supportive anonymous community that its users can access at anytime on their iPhone (only available on iOS right now). Though it’s not explicitly geared towards the queer and trans communities, I think that Matter could be really useful for queer and trans students as a easily accessible support resource. I really like the idea of anonymity in these situations, in that I believe that it affords people the ability to engage at a different level than they might be able to on other social platforms. Matter incorporates profile features that allow people to identify in certain ways that other users can see and relate to (including non-binary and LGBTQ!). The platform allows you to share your experiences and define what kind of support that people can give you; and you can give people support in return.

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From what I can tell with my use the past couple weeks, there are a decent amount of queer people actively using the app and tons of college students. I think it’d be a great resource for queer and trans students who are seeking ways to connect with others in a supportive environment. If you have any questions about my experience on the app, want to chat about queering technology, or want to know about other support resources for queer and trans students, email me at jkhardy@umich.edu.

-Jean

Thinking OUTside the box.

Graduate school is tiring.  Graduate school is all encompassing in a way that undergraduate never was.  I go to bed and have dreams of experiments failing, to wake up and have to repeat the endeavor for real. Despite the annoyance of such dreams, at times these episodes can be enlightening. 

Opening my eyes in the dim light of my bedroom, I have woken from my dreams with an idea uniquely my own generated while I was sleeping.  In this case, the idea regards using a piece of laboratory equipment in an unconventional way.  These moments of creativity make those other abrasive moments of graduate school seem inconsequential.  Upon testing this new idea in the laboratory, it fails completely, however, to consider this experience a failure would be a gross mistake.  Creating new ideas, thinking in a way one never has before, expands our thoughts and creativity, making the next academic leap all the easier.  One must wait for the next spark.

Dysphoria is tiring.  Dysphoria (for me) was all encompassing in a way that makes graduate school seem like a summer vacation.  For me, it was a feeling that includes so many emotions and personal reactions that attempting to describe it would end in my just rambling on for a while.  It would be like trying to describe love in words.  People try, maybe some get close, but in the end it’s just not worth it. 

A key thought in my life occurred in an entirely innocuous fashion. I was on a flight departing Savannah en route to a layover in Charlotte before my flight back to DTW.  I had just spent the weekend with one of my best friends from high school.  On the surface, it was an incredible weekend, with beautiful weather and historic sites. Still, I was unhappy.

The plane is stuck on the tarmac for nearly 45 minutes since boarding.  Fortunately, the plane is not particularly crowded.  The lights are dim, except for a few reading lights.  My aisle is entirely empty.  I hope to sleep as the weekend of Savannah heat and the relaxed nature of the alcohol laws (You are allowed to buy road beers?!) has left me even more worn out then when I left for this vacation.  I close my eyes, meditating first on my breathing.  Feeling more relaxed, I recognize that I am not looking forward to returning to Ann Arbor.  I recognize that despite all the fun the weekend was, it only highlighted the dysphoria I have been feeling for years.  I sit quietly in silence realizing I am unhappy because I am holding so much back from other people.  This seems like an appropriate time to mention I am very extroverted and my happiness is very much dependent upon my interaction with other humans.  To feel like I was not being honest with these people left a hole.

What I have described thus far was nothing new.  I came to the conclusion that I was a Trans woman about 3 years before, in a separate eye-opening moment.  However, since then, I have had multiple conversations with myself weighing the pros and cons of transition, always choosing what seemed like the safer, albeit sadder option of the status quo.  However, this time was different. My thoughts went through what I could only call a mental coin flip.  Where I imagined a coin suspended in air, falling, choosing my destiny.  Like any coin flip, there is always a subconscious choice of the desired outcome. I knew what I wanted for my life though I saw so many attachments burdening me from getting there.  Somehow, this total unremarkable moment became the most important moment of my life.  The point where I thought I would give up everything to be the person I truly was. This was a new thought for me, and it has been incredibly transformative.

After my layover, I was seated on a flight next to a middle aged women with beautiful, long blonde hair.  She turned out to be an anti-vaccine Christian Science life coach.  Despite this, our conversation was very pleasant, and she was very bright (though horribly ill-informed).  When the conversation drifted to religion, I initially cringed, but her views were actually not that far removed from my personal beliefs, which lie somewhere on the spectrum near Buddhism. In all of this, she kept speaking about doing things for oneself and letting go of everything that is transient (that is to say everything).  I’m not really sure how she would feel if she knew that her advice was validating my personal decision to transition.

Since that point, I have never looked back and am so happy with my decision.  In the end, I feel like have given up very little and gained so much.  My girlfriend of 2 ½ years and I are still happily together nine months into my transition. My family has supported me.  My friends have supported me.  Everyone in my graduate program has supported me including faculty, staff, and my fellow students.  I am still a leader among my peers.  My graduate work is continuing steadily.  It continues to be tiresome, however, dysphoria is largely a thing of the past.  Every once in a while these new ideas pay off.

-Melissa

Queer and Problematic are not a Contradiction

One of the great things about writing on a blog with multiple writers is to be able to engage with and critically examine sources, topics, and objects so that there can be a type of blog-conversation and to show different perspectives; for example: the “Fagette” video by the Athens Boys Choir.

Admittedly, this song is damn catchy—the chorus has and will be stuck in my head for days, weeks, or forever. And that’s the point. Talking about gender and sexuality and sex can be fun, catchy, lighthearted, and be in the context of a satire/humor music video. There is no “right” context for these topics because every context is the right one. These identities take place intersectionally on bodies, and things get messy and complicated. Talking about your gender identity when you identify as trans*, as people in the video do (as the notes explicitly state), is a political act and is important, beautiful, and worth celebrating.

However, just because something is celebrating someone’s queer and/or trans* identity does not make it necessarily or inherently or artistically good. The singer is forthcoming with the identities they have in the lyrics: white, single, pansexual, etc., which is greatly appreciated. As a white person though, do you get to appropriate rap-as-satire (let alone rap-in-general) in order to serve your needs of expressing your white queer/trans* identity/desire? As a white person, do you get to make confusing or awkward racialized references or puns? While the answer is contestable, should a white person do this? The answer that quickly comes to my mind is “NO.”

Throughout the entire “Fagette” video I’m uncomfortable because, on the most basic level, all the people pass for white. While this probably has no ill intention, it still implies and perpetuates that all queer, trans*, or similarly identified folks pass, or just are, white. Moreover, these lyrics make me cringe:

“Now it takes two to fellacio [sic] but only one to tango
You know I mean business when I pop in Luther Vandross
Im [sic] an equal opportunity lover,
I like the boys, girls, the others … .”

So one person can dance and two people can have oral sex (what about the autofellatioers of the world?), which is signalled by the playing of Luther Vandross, who is black and sings R&B music. While this is another example of white folks consuming black art, culture, and music for their enjoyment and sexual consumption (insert minstrelsy reference and capitalism overtones), it could scoot on by as a passing lyric. But it can’t remain innocent as the next line passes by, “Im [sic] an equal opportunity lover,” which begins to imply awkward things in relation to the following line, “I like the boys, girls, the others.” While the last line is, by itself, referring to people who don’t identify as boys or girls (and it’s OK that “the others” refer to non-binary genders since the artist identifies as trans*), in relation to the previous line it seems to imply that the “others” are people of color, in this case particularly black folks (in context with the Luther Vandross comment), because the connotations of “equal opportunity” always ring racialized to me followed  by being gendered. This is not good.

In general, while I could continue on for a while about interesting class implications and what that means for white queers and trans* folks, I won’t (here) because this video is also just another example about how white folks use black folks and black culture for their own entertainment and do so in a comedic fashion. And, in so doing, create a conversation with (non-satiric rap) that has pretty disastrous implications.

This video does a good job at representing the challenge of doing identity art and work. In this case, how can a person with certain identities (including white) express themselves, have fun, and thrive-in-live, while not oppressing others, make fun of others, and perpetuate racism and, more specifically, anti-blackness? This video and others lead to the following conclusion: white people, sit down. 

-Taylor

Queering my Artistic Experience

Recently I was asked to facilitate a self-expression workshop for an LGBTQ-related retreat. The organizers of this retreat asked me to facilitate because of my work on this blog, and they felt that I would be a good person to help guide others through their own exploration of creative self-expression. I was surprised and rather touched at this request, because I had never considered what I do particularly worthy of the label “art.” In fact, I was so sure that my writing could not possibly be art that I almost turned them down. I thought to myself, what insight could I possibly have to give? But at the end of the day I accepted, because I couldn’t turn away from an opportunity to reach out to my community and be a part of building something important and meaningful. 

This got me thinking about the nature of art. All my life, I’ve been socialized to see things as legitimately artistic or not, much in the same way that I have been socialized to view my queer identity as illegitimate in the dominant heterosexual culture. Van Gogh is an artist; I am just a grad student blogger. Similarly, heterosexual people are full-fledged citizens with every legal right to have their relationships recognized; I am just a queer woman struggling to piece together power of attorney. So in the name of challenging the dominant narratives of both art and queerness, I’d like to take the chance to share a few of my favorite queer/LGBTQ art pieces and artists with y’all. You may or may not have already heard of them, and they may or may not be to your taste, but they are things I take great joy in. I hope that sharing things that make me joyful will help lead and inspire us to keep creating things that go against the status quo, and that assert our identities as valid, legitimate, and deserving of celebration.

Athens Boys Choir/Rocco Katastrophe

I have seen these two multiple times at conferences and at my undergraduate campus, and their performances spurred my interest in both trans-related issues and spoken word poetry. They bring a energetic, relatable element to a topic that makes gender exploration and expression relevant to trans and cis folks alike.  You can check out their work at https://soundcloud.com/roccokatastrophe and http://athensboyschoir.bandcamp.com/. I also leave you with the video above, which is one of my favorites.

Mabel Maney

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I spent a perhaps unhealthy amount of my time as an undergraduate trying to justify to academia why lesbian Nancy Drew and James Bond parodies were worthy of study. It turns out you can add Adrienne Rich and Judith Butler to anything and convince a committee to give you departmental honors for it. Now that my defense is over and my research sits collecting dust on a shelf somewhere in North Carolina, I can just sit back and enjoy a reimagined world where butches, femmes, and world-class spies/detectives dismantle the heterosexist patriarchy at every turn.

Megan Rose Gedris

Megan Rose Gedris, aka Rosalarian, is one of my favorite web comic artists/burlesque performers. I got interested in her work reading the (now sadly gone forever) series I Was Kidnapped by Lesbian Pirates From Outer Space while doing “research” for my honors thesis. Her other series, such as Yu+Me and Meaty Yogurt, along with her sketches and doodles on tumblr, are unique and colorful, both literally and in terms of characters. She also performs with the Super Happy Funtime burlesque troop, which tours quite often here in Michigan. I think comics (and burlesque) can be underappreciated art forms in the mainstream, but there’s so much potential in them to subvert and queer traditional narratives about self-discovery, sexuality, and expression. Check her work out here at http://rosalarian.tumblr.com/.

 -Jessica

Trans women, identity, and video games

This post is also featured on Information Across the Spectrum’s site. Information Across the Spectrum is the LGBT grad student group serving the University of Michigan’s School of Information.

On Friday, March 14th, the Digital Environments Workshop brought in merritt kopas to host a morning workshop and afternoon talk on trans women and video games, called “Working the Fractures: How Trans Women are Changing Digital Play.” merritt is a self-described “multimedia artist & game designer interested in play as a utopian project that contains a critique of the present and the seeds of potential futures” (from http://mkopas.net/about/). 

The morning workshop was designed around four articles written by trans women game designers. The themes that emerged from the readings spoke to the kinds of experiences and desires that influence the ways in which people (and specifically trans women) navigate digital play. You can read all four articles and access the list of eight games that we were asked to play before the workshop at http://digitalenvironmentsworkshop.wordpress.com/readings-2/
One reading I found especially helpful in thinking about transness, gender identity, and digital play was Samantha Allen’s “TransMovement: Freedom and Constraint in Queer and Open World Games.” Allen’s article contrasts the distinct ways in which games present access and constraint within their digital worlds. Specifically, she uses the seemingly limitless possibilities of exploration in a game such as Skyrim to contrast the extreme constraints that players face in Anna Anthropy’s dys4ia and merritt kopas’s Lim. Allen says: “These games, perhaps unsurprisingly, hit especially close to home for me. They dramatize my own experience, yes, but they are also compelling interactive tools for educating others about some of the issues I face as a transwoman. Simply put, I can’t ‘go anywhere’ and ‘do anything.’ Bathrooms, airports, locker rooms are all spaces that are either difficult or impossible for me to navigate…By constricting the movement and agency of the player, then, dys4ia and Lim reflect my own experience while also giving others a taste of what it might be like to tromp around in my high-heeled boots.” 
Later in the afternoon, merritt gave a talk in Space 2435 of North Quad. The talk focused more broadly on the recent explosion of indie digital games being created by trans women. These games (and other creative independent outlets kopas notes, such as Topside Press) have offered an outlet for trans women to explore their own identities in ways they are not able to in many other spaces where they are expected to educate others on their transness. I encourage folks to follow the links above to the articles and games and check it out for themselves.
-Jean