Tag Archives: being interviewed

Time Enough at Last: The Liebster Awards

The last man on Earth

How do I define and elicit passion? A Q & A for the Liebster Awards.

Thank you, Sexually Fluid Frolicker, for nominating me for the Liebster Award. Your thoughtful blog has enriched the internet.

Here are the questions you posted, and my answers. Rules and my nominees follow.

  1. What wants & needs do you possess, as an individual, that you find difficult to satisfy without outside assistance? Every single one of them. As introverted as I am, I am still a social animal. I might think I’d be like that guy in the “Twilight Zone” episode who is so happy to be the last man on Earth, with a full library in front of him… until my glasses broke. Even for the pleasure of solitude and reading, I need a world full of people, past and present, to have written all those books, printed and distributed them, and built the library to put them in. Going further, I need people because I couldn’t have invented a language with which to code my thoughts, and without all of you, there wouldn’t be much to think about.
  2. How would you define gender & sexuality? Are they distinct concepts in your head, or do they coalesce into something else? Our genders intersect with our sexual desires in discrete categories like “bisexual man” that form parts of our identities. They’re still separate: being a man is still different from being a woman, even if we share tastes in sexual partners. In my imagination of the sexual encounter, there is still the “me” half of it to consider: who I am, what my body looks like, and how I want it to be touched. So how I embody bisexuality will be different from how someone of another gender does, just on that basis. And then we’re still different people….
  3. How would you define intimacy and sexual intimacy? How do these definitions relate to your gender & sexuality, as defined above? Intimacy is about sharing personal information that makes me vulnerable to the person I’m sharing it with. I take the risk for the chance of developing a rewarding connection with another person. Sexual intimacy is a subset. The people I want to be intimate with is a personal choice, with so many factors, that I would say it’s a part of my personality, who I choose to be intimate with and in what ways. I’m also married and polyamorous, so who I’m intimate with is in some ways proscribed or defined by these identities.
  4. How do you most like to begin and end significant and/or meaningful experiences and relationships? Any dominating themes? To start, my actions are guided by questions like, “Am I being open?”, “What is this person sharing with me?”, and “What else would I like to elicit from this person?” When considering the end, I will ask myself, “Are we still being open?”, “Am I getting intimate feedback?”, and “Does what I’m getting from this relationship please me?” That might just be a readjustment point, or it may signal the end of a relationship/experience. As a theme, I’m more hesitant to go to the party—to initiate intimacy—than to leave it when I’m no longer having fun.
  5. Where do you go when you are full of feeling? Have you ever let others join you in those spaces? It could be a physical space, or otherwise. Ideally, this is a time when I ground myself in my body. I want to be there for it. And when that is the case, then I’m able to share the experience with others. Its opposite is dissociation, which is an isolated place.
  6. What does time mean to you in relation to your life? Which do you prefer to put the most and/or least emphasis on: the past, present, or future? It’s about now.
  7. Define fun. Within the human experience, what would you identify as it’s opposite? Define that too. Fun is effort with a reward built into it. Drudgery is like Sisyphus without the cardio benefits or the Nietzschean contemplation.
  8. Define passion. Within the human experience, what would you identify as it’s opposite? Define that too. Passion equals engagement, having a personal stake in the outcome. Its opposite is disconnection: when it genuinely doesn’t matter what you do, because you can’t affect the outcome, or the outcome doesn’t affect you.
  9. Do you enjoy searching for connections between thoughts and ideas? Why/how or why not? Yes, I’m a very curious person.
  10. What qualifies as sexual contact for you? More specifically, when does contact, physical or otherwise, cease to be sexual for you? Sexual contact is intended to elicit sexual arousal, and pleasure. When action doesn’t carry that intent, then it’s not. I’m taking “sexual contact” to be a kind of action verb, but of course it’s reciprocal, and so two people might be in contact, but one might intend it to be sexual, and the other not share that intent, or not even register what they’re doing as “contact.” Also, the one intending to give pleasure through their actions may not be succeeding (though this does not negate its sexuality, IMHO).
  11. Do you prefer to “go with the flow” or “stick to your guns”? In other words, which takes precedence in your life: your perceptions or your judgments (respectively)? Perceptions are more important and more durable. It’s harder to reverse engineer my own judgments later, when I realize I was wrong. I make an effort to record my perceptions, but also my judgments, so I have both to refer to when I come back to them.

Other blogs that I believe deserve Liebster Award recognition:

https://danceswithfat.wordpress.com
https://standup2p.wordpress.com
http://afroculinaria.com

Dear nominees: Here are my eleven questions for you.

  1. Pretend you’re at a conference where the usual identity labels are strongly discouraged, and instead, people are encouraged to find community based on labels that do not make reference to gender, race, religion, or any other social or political labels. Everyone gets a badge on which they can put some other kind of label that describes themselves. The idea is that, you will meet people you want to talk to, based on what they’ve written on their labels. What’s on yours?
  2. You’ve invited the one person from all of history you’d most like to have to dinner, and you’ve both just sat down and introduced yourself. Now a waiter has brought you one small tart (which is equally acceptable to both you) to split as an amuse bouche. Script the ensuing interaction between you and your guest in a way that demonstrates what you admire most about this person or why you want to meet them.
  3. What is your quest?
  4. What technology has become available in your lifetime that has most changed the course of your life?
  5. What institution of everyday life do you admire most, and why?
  6. Do you clean up as you cook, or clean everything up afterward?
  7. What was your favorite book when you were twenty, and how has your opinion of this book changed?
  8. How does concern for search engine rankings affect the way you write for your blog?
  9. If you could purchase and install deep knowledge of a subject into your brain (it’s perfectly safe!), what would it be and why?
  10. In what way would you say you are most privileged in relation to other people you know?
  11. Does the life of a “Doctor Who” companion appeal to you, and why or why not?

**Here are the Liebster Award rules for this round **

  1. Thank the person who nominated you by tagging their original post to yours.
  2. Answer 11 questions.
  3. Nominate other bloggers who deserve this award.
  4. Ask them 11 questions.
  5. Put these rules in your post.
  6. Inform the bloggers you have nominated.

Image credit: Hollywoodaholic.com

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10 Things People Have Said to Me, That You Should Never Say to a Trans Person

trans 101

What not to say to a patient, client, co-worker, friend of a friend, networking contact, first date, or other acquaintance who is transgender.

Has someone just come out to you as transgender? Are you nervous about what to say, now that you know this unusual fact about them? If you feel positively about trans people’s rights to express their identities, you may want to offer your support. Or perhaps you’re curious and would like to know more about this person’s life experience. What is the etiquette of talking about transgenderism with a trans person you don’t know very well?

Any variation on “you pass” is a personal remark about someone’s body. And unless you are invited, it’s rude to offer your opinions.

The short answer is to employ the “Golden Rule” of doing to others what you’d have them do to you in their situation. But for many reasons, it’s scary for cis people to consider a trans person’s perspective. Even people who have experienced oppression, questioned their own gender, or have been educated in establishing trust and rapport with a variety of patients, don’t always know what to say to a trans person they’d like to get to know better, personally or professionally.

In fact, people in the caring professions have not usually had any training at all on transgender issues. There’s more information available on Wikipedia about transgenderism than the average health care professional has received in their whole career. Trans people should be especially aware of this as they seek out care providers for themselves. While this advice is for cis people, and especially care providers, trans people may want to read along to understand why these sorts of comments are so upsetting to hear, no matter who says them.

1. “It’s working.”

The doctor I saw to get refills on my testosterone prescription prodded me like a prize steer on my last visit and remarked, “You’re masculinizing nicely.”

Understand, no one has called me “ma’am” since 1999. That’s the year I grew my first goatee, joined a men’s chorus as a baritone, and had gender confirming surgery. Yet more than a decade later, I’m still reassured by well-intentioned but ignorant people that I pass.

2. “I never would have guessed.”

People might believe they’re being complimentary, or helpful, or are demonstrating acceptance when they say things to me like “Welcome to my gender” and “I never would have guessed.” But what they’re doing is assuming I need their gatekeeping and approval. Neither is true.

Any variation on “you pass” is a personal remark about someone’s body. And unless you are invited, it’s rude to offer your opinions.

3. “How to”

The first therapist I saw, in pursuit of “The Letter” that would get me hormones, surgery, and a male passport, gave me a steady stream of advice on how to hold my cigarette, how to sit, and so on, all of it unsolicited and unnecessary. Trans people learn how to be men or women from the people around them, just as cis people do: we don’t need special lessons.

People who assume I am looking for their approving remarks on how well I’m passing or how nicely I fit the masculine mold, or who assume I want advice on how to “do manhood” better, are objectifying me as a trans person. They have their ideas about gender, and what trans people need, and they treat me accordingly, without paying attention to what I’m actually like, or have asked from them. I’m just a trans person to them, not Justin.

4. “I couldn’t help but notice.”

Most of us already know that it’s rude to grab the handles of a wheelchair in order to push someone where you want them to go, or to touch someone’s hair uninvited to satisfy your curiosity about its texture. There are some rules for how we treat one another, in recognition of body sovereignty, not just for people with disabilities, or people of color, but for everyone. We teach our children that other people don’t get to touch them, and that you don’t touch people, without consent. We teach them not to stare at people who are different. And we also teach them that it’s rude to talk about other people’s bodies.

Just because you know I’m trans doesn’t mean you get to turn the conversation into a free Trans 101 seminar.

5. “You are so brave.”

If you want to make me feel good about myself, compliment me on my shirt. I picked it out this morning. Or even better, compliment my writing or my cooking, in which, unlike my collection of identical white T-shirts, I take genuine pride.

It’s rude to say things about how brave I must be to live my life, because the compliment requires an appropriate level of intimacy, and honesty, to be accepted as genuine. You can’t honestly compliment me on something that you don’t know and can’t guess.

6. “Let me ask you something.”

When we don’t know other people at all, it’s easy to treat them as if they exist only in the role in which we meet them. But it is objectifying to treat people as if they exist primarily to satisfy you somehow—to educate you, or to make you feel comfortable, or like you’re a good person. Unless you’ve hired them to do something specific, such as conduct a Trans 101 seminar or wait on your table, they don’t have to do anything for you, including answer your questions.

The problem is not that sometimes people ask dumb questions. It’s that some people feel entitled to explanations and to feeling at ease and like good citizens—and that rather than doing the work, themselves, other people should meet those demands, by default.

It’s not always possible to do the research before an opportunity presents itself, in the person of someone who knows something that interests you. If you feel the need to ask a “dumb” question, consider starting by asking the person whether it’s okay to ask a few questions about their expertise, and be prepared to accept “no” for an answer. Just as in any other conversation, pay attention to cues that you’re making your acquaintance uncomfortable, and change topics.

7. “What was your old name?”

Or worse, “What is your real name?” If you ask me this (and I have been asked), you’re asking me to tell you the name that I legally changed so that I’d have no more connection to it.

Before professional interviews, I tell them this is the one question that I will not answer. Every time I see in an article, “Samuel, who used be known as Jill … ” I realize that I am right not to tell reporters, because this is what they’ll do with it: use it as a sensationalist prop for their prose.

For many people, trans or cis, what’s in their pants and in their past, is private. If someone gives you permission to ask questions about their private lives, proceed with caution and respect, and thank them for the gift.

8. “I know your old name.”

I hated my old name for most of my life before I changed it. As a kid, I wrote a syndicated advice columnist about it, and she said that I would grow into it. Needless to say, I didn’t.

I’ve had old classmates show up on Facebook and act like they have the right to call me by that name because that’s the one they knew me by, back in the day. When people who knew me from before transition continue to use my old name and make no effort to use my current name, I’m offended; eventually, I refuse to speak to them.

9. “Have you had the full surgery?”

Asking people to explain their questions is always a good response to an unclear question.

Every trans person has a different experience. Don’t assume anything. Consider asking, “What has your transition been like?” for a more meaningful response.

I had a psychologist ask me this recently, as part of a history. I’d already told her what operations and illnesses I’d had in my life, so when she asked me this, I did what I usually do in such a situation, and asked her to explain what she meant by “the full surgery.” She got flustered and shut up, because she realized her question was based on a false assumption.

The process of transitioning from one gender to another takes time: years, not weeks. Every trans person has a different experience. Don’t assume anything. Consider asking, “What has your transition been like?” for a more meaningful response.

10. “You must know…”

I don’t know everything about being trans. I have opinions, but you have to know me to understand where those opinions come from. Don’t trust what I say because I’m trans. Google me and read what I, and others, have written on the subject. Talk to other people.

I also don’t know all the trans people. A friend jokes that “there are only six trans men in the world, and the rest is done with mirrors,” but it’s a joke. A doctor I used to see for head meds would tell me about some trans patient or other he’d seen in his career, every time I saw him. It never had anything to do with the reason for my visit. He wasn’t even treating me for GID. He was name dropping to impress me as the kind of enlightened doctor who talks to trans people all the time and it’s no big deal. He impressed me as an insecure windbag.

The good news is that most people don’t need my lessons on not being an inadvertent asshole to trans people. It’s very often the same kind of sensible advice that gets you through any situation where you’re a stranger in a strange land. Be respectful, considerate, curious, humble, compassionate, generous, and courageous. I know it’s not much as advice goes, but it will serve you in a wider variety of circumstances than meeting one of the six trans men in the world.

Baby foot in mouth image credit: AshleyNYCPics/Flickr

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Like a Deer in Headlights

the hot seat

Preparing to be interviewed can only take you so far. Then, you have to be there for it.

Last week in an interview, I was asked about the distinction between gender identity and sexual orientation—the difference between who we are and who we’re into. In response, I paraphrased the end of an essay I’ve written about my marriage to another transgender man: “We transitioned to match our bodies to our feelings of already being men. Our sexual orientation is who we are attracted to.”

“But don’t people find that confusing?” she asked. Startled, I responded, “I don’t see what’s so confusing about that.” My interviewer flinched. I knew then that I’d screwed up, but felt powerless to fix it. My response to her first question had taken me years to formulate. But for the rest of the interview, she seemed rushed and not quite engaged in my answers.

After a human interaction in which I think I’ve said something wrong, I get acutely anxious. I call it “the posties,” as in, “post-event anxiety.” The first time I meet someone, or after a party, meeting, or training, I will inevitably go over anything I said that seemed to provoke a negative or surprising response. Even if the rest of the encounter goes all right, I’ll review the situation in my mind for days (even years) afterward, until I figure out what I’ll do next time, if there ever is one.

I’d made a pedagogical mistake in my defensiveness, one I learned back in my college days: don’t ever say that the solution to someone’s question is simple. It makes them feel stupid for not having figured it out, themselves, when you start off your explanation dismissively, by saying things like “simply do this” or “it’s easy to….” It’s not “easy” or “simple” to the person asking the question.

I kept thinking about that interview. I know I’ll be asked this question again, in some form or another. This interviewer was extremely polite; sometimes it comes out in a far more combative way, like “Why become a man just so you can date men?” Because it isn’t the same as being a woman who dates men. Isn’t that obvious? Evidently not.

When I panic, I’m not there: I’ve dissociated and one of my fear responses has been activated. I’m fighting, running away, shutting down. When I’m being interviewed by a woman who is halfway around the world, fighting doesn’t happen with fists or yelling, but with stonewalling and shaming. I’d panicked, and evidently panicked her, as well.

I need to prepare better answers to the questions that inevitably come up, but more than this, I need to be there for the people who are asking them. No amount of preparation can substitute for awareness in the moment.

Image credit:Pete Prodoehl/Flickr

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