Labels are for Soup Cans, Except for When You’re Wrong.

A few years ago (after a decade of bi activism, it’s hard to keep track of exactly when I said something) I wrote about biphobia and pansexuality and that label war. Since today celebrates three years of ending an abusive relationship with a partner that told me that I couldn’t identify as bi because I’m trans, I thought it was appropriate to talk about it today.

I’m going to make it bullet points because I tend to rant passionately. Because this matters, and the stakes are high.

  • I’m just going to say that the bi community has been defining bi as being attracted to same and other genders for decades. Then gays and lesbians decided hey, you know what, let’s get a label war started so let’s tell bi people that their definition is wrong, make a new definition, tell them they’re transphobic, create a new label using their old definition, and then profit off the fact that bi+ people are now fighting each other and we can continue discriminating against them.
  • Not all gay and lesbian people are like this, but biphobia in queer spaces is rampant. It’s one of the reasons the last 2 queer conferences I went to have bi plus spaces with disclaimers saying yo, we aren’t gonna do the bi verses pan debate here. Let’s talk about the b.s the community throws at us. If you feel like you belong here, you do. We aren’t gonna tell you how to to identify.
  • Especially because the main focus of queer groups is marriage equality, and their main argument for marriage equality is “we’re just like you, except in the bedroom” and they are threatened by us being attracted to more than one gender, so that invalidates their argument. They’re also threatened by trans people, and have often tried to keep us out of the community, as if we didn’t start the Stonewall Riots. You know, the catalyst for “GAY Rights-i.e marriage equality.
  • It wasn’t always marriage equality that was the main focus of queer groups. It was fighting for our rights to exist outside of bars, and to not die, and to have the right to legally change our genders, and have our families recognised. I’m not saying marriage equality isn’t important. It’s just not the only issue.
  • If you go into trans and bi spaces, our spaces don’t just focus on marriage. A lot of queer spaces, i.e gay and lesbian, have the mindset that the supreme court is going to vote on legalising marriage across the u.s in June, so the fight is over, we have achieved equality. See that point about us being just like everyone else except for in the bedroom.
  • We don’t need to tell other bi+ people how to identify. We don’t need to spend our precious time and resources on a label war. We need to combat all the b.s  that the queer and straight community throws at us and stop focusing on marriage. I don’t care if I can get married if I have a 1 in 12 chance of being murdered. I spent 2 years of my life unemployed because in North Carolina it’s 100% legal to tell a queer person that we won’t hire you because you are queer. I had several jobs tell me they wouldn’t hire me even though I was qualified because I couldn’t meet gender appearance standards because I was legally female and presenting as female, which is a fancy way of saying, you are too queer for us, get out.  I couldn’t take night classes at school for a semester because I was visibly transitioning and being threatened constantly and the security was on speed dial. The stakes are a lot higher than how you choose to identify, or if you can get married. I could have been denied housing. If I had children, I would have to worry about whether or not they would legally be considered mine, which would mean if they ever got sick, I could be denied the right to see them in the hospital because I wasn’t family. Or if my partner had kids and died, I would be done, because the kids could never be mine, because I was forced into sterilisation by the medical community for being trans.
  • Labels matter. A label war is garbage, but labels matter, because you need to be able to find your community and know you aren’t alone.
  • Don’t tell people how to identify.
  • Learn the history of the group you are a part of.

As a bi person, I’ve heard all of these a million times: Please stop saying these:

  • You’re really pansexual. Attraction to more than women and men is pansexual. I identify as bi. I am bi. Bi means attraction to same and other genders. See bullets above.
  • Why would you identify as bi? You’re trans?  Because being bi doesn’t make you transphobic. You know where I get the most support for my trans identity? The bi community. You know where I get the most support for my bi identity? The trans community.
  • I came out as bi to lessen the blow to my parents that I’m really gay or lesbian. Umm, why don’t you keep that biphobia a million feet away from me? Stop using us as a stepping stone to gay or lesbian. We exist. You are erasing us. I know sometimes people need to discover themselves, but stop (as a response I told someone I thought I was a lesbian once but saw a really cute boy and just knew at that point, yup, I’m bi, sometimes you gotta unlearn internalised biphobia).

TLDR: Don’t tell people how to identify. Labels are important, and you need them to build community. If you’ve ever spent a significant time trying to find out who you are, you know exactly what I’m talking about.  No one has time for a label war. The queer community is not done fighting for equality. Stop throwing bisexual people under the god damn bus.


Spring Break, Trans Day of Visibility, Hospital Visits.

I started spring break on Monday by flying to Colorado. My parents moved there in January. It’s where my Dad grew up and a majority of his family is. I had to take the train to the airport because my sister had her spring break last week (literally everyone was on spring break last week, private school problems) but it was fine with me. My flight from Minneapolis was at 2:20pm but I got there at noon because every time I fly, I have problems. So I go through security, and I fail my body scan. I always fail my body scan.

So I tell the male security officer that I am trans and I ask for a female officer. I should have remembered his name, but I was panicking. He didn’t give me a female officer. Instead, he patted me down. But this was not a normal pat down. In the last three years, I’ve flown probably a dozen times, but I’ve only missed an extra pat down once. I know not to wear my binder when I am flying. It’s bad for my lungs, because you shouldn’t bind when you are flying. It’s also bad for trying to get through security.

He spent a good thirty seconds groping my chest. I saw the scanner, and it was both chests as problem areas, as well as my legs, up by my crotch. He groped me there as well. This body scan took a minute. I left the security gate shaking, made it over to my gate, found the nearest bathroom and had a full on panic attack. I felt so violated. I then had to spend the next hour and a half sitting at the airport waiting for my flight.

My mother still works in California and lives with my older sister when she is there, so she splits her time between California and Colorado. She arrives this morning. So I call my Dad and tell him that I’m at the gate and everything is okay (everything is not okay, but my Dad does not need to know about the assault from a TSA agent). He can tell something is off about my voice, but he doesn’t say anything. I tell my mother that I’m there. That I’m okay. I tell her that I’m going to do what we talked about: tell my family members that my name is not Trish. I think it’s funny that this document tells me that that name is spelled wrong, but Blake isn’t. Anyway. She even suggested I pull out my license and say that according to the government, my name is Blake.

My Granddad was hospitalised with pneumonia over the weekend. Yesterday was his birthday, and he was discharged to a half way house where he will spend the next week. I knew this when I was leaving for Colorado. So my Dad picks me up from the airport and we don’t hug, because I just threw my bag in the back and took my camera with me up to the front of his truck. We might hug when I leave. We hugged at Christmas and Thanksgiving when I left. We had a nice conversation on the thirty minute drive home. I’d never seen the new house, so he gave me a tour, and opened the fridge up and said, I bought you all the gluten free vegan stuff you eat.

This is a big deal. This tells me he is trying. He calls me Trish though. He uses she and her pronouns.  But he bought me vegan food. We haven’t argued yet. I ignore the misgendering and tell myself that this is a lot better than where we left things a year ago.

He shows me the basement where my childhood is in boxes and tells me to look through them and figure out what I want and don’t want, that they will save it for me, so I can have it when I don’t live in a tiny apartment. We start going through the boxes. It’s got poems I wrote my parents at five. Letters from pre-school, a million photos, report cards, cards I made them for mothers and fathers day, books, yarn I’ve had for 14 years from my Great-Grandma.

I didn’t tell him I don’t remember it. I don’t remember pre school because I was three and four. I remember the church because it’s in my home town and it hasn’t changed much. I don’t remember most of the events in the pictures. Reading about my childhood, letters home from teachers, letters from me, was weird. But I decided to keep them, because it was a part of my life. I don’t like to think about a lot of the events. This happened nearly 2 years ago when I went to my cousins high school graduation, and my aunt and uncle were showing me all of the pictures from family trips we took. I didn’t remember any of them and kept asking about the events.

When I was taking my writing course in January, we had to write about our childhood and teen years. When we wrote about childhood, I didn’t remember much. It’s mostly gone. I think I blocked most of it out so I could deal with the Gender Stuff.

I’m taking the yarn home with me. I’m making a blanket out of her yarn.

My mother calls me and tells me that she had a conversation with my Dad about not calling me Trish and not outing me in public. She says he didn’t fight her. He didn’t say anything. He didn’t grumble. He just listened.

We drove an hour to get my cousin, she’s terminally ill, and we stopped at the grocery store in her town. He asked me if I wanted Starbucks, because I’ve been working there since October, and I said I was fine but I had to go to the restroom. He said he did too.

I waited for him to finish. I texted my mother asking if he was going to do anything about me going into the mens room. I have a noticeable beard that he asked me to shave before I came. I said I wasn’t going to do that. She says you don’t have to ask for permission to do those things. I say, I know, but I don’t want to be killed for it. We are in a small town. Last summer when my parents drove me out to Minnesota, he outed me every time someone gendered me correctly.

He comes out of the restroom and asks me if I’m going to go. I say, yeah, I was just talking to my mother. He says he’ll be at the Starbucks in the front of the store and to meet him there when I’m done. He saw me go into the mens room and didn’t say anything.

We get to my aunt’s house. My cousin hugs me, calls me Blake. My aunt comes down stairs and calls me Trish. My cousin says, his name is Blake. She’s got problems remembering things, but she knows. We write letters. She calls me Blake on them. She gets mad at family members when they misgender me.

We get to the hospital, and the doctor tells us that my Granddad can be discharged. He turned 85 yesterday. The nurse is talking to my Dad and he doesn’t use a name, but uses they pronouns when talking about me. He calls me and my cousin you kids, instead of you girls. It’s a big deal. He’s never done that before.

As we are taking my Granddad to the car, the nurse calls me a boy. My granddad then says, oh she’s a girl.

I inwardly cringe, but I tell myself that he is 85 and my Dad has made it clear to me that I am not allowed to tell him I’m transitioning.

We get home in the afternoon and my Dad takes me out to dinner. We stay up talking about things. Books I’m reading. Things I’m writing. The classes I’m taking now. The classes I’m taking in the summer and fall. We talk. When I left home, we wouldn’t talk at all. We couldn’t stand to be in the same room.

Yesterday was the Trans Day of Visibility, where we post pictures of ourselves and our pronouns and we talk about our lives. It was a day of celebrating our bodies.

I saw my favorite poet on Thursday, after finding out one of my friends in North Carolina, a trans poet, 18, killed himself. I needed to go to that poetry reading. Andrea Gibson talks about gender and the body and loving yourself and how important it is to live. I went with one of my friends from St. Cloud, also a trans boy, who lives in the city, and friends I met at Augsburg at MBLGTACC, the huge queer conference I went to in Illinois 6 weeks ago. I got a book of their poems and they signed it for me.

I kept thinking about their poem, I Sing the Body Electric, Even When the Power Goes Out. They read it on Thursday. Yesterday I celebrated my body. It is my skin. It allows me to write poems and stories and to read. It allows me to take photos with my Dad. It allows me to watch sunsets and sunrises and listen to birds. It carries me everywhere I go. So often, when you are trans, a lot of the focus is on how you hate your body. It’s how we are portrayed in films. It is how we often refer to ourselves. There’s this idea that in order to be trans, you must hate your body. I do not hate my body.

I Sing The Body Electric, Especially When My Power’s Out.

This is my body
I have weather veins
They’re especially sensitive to dust storms and hurricanes
When I’m nervous my teeth chatter like a wheelbarrow collecting rain
I am rusty when I talk- it is the storm in me

The doctor said some day I might not be able to walk
It’s in my blood like the iron
My mother is as tough as nails, she held herself together
The day she could no longer hold my niece she said
“Our kneecaps are our prayer beds
Everyone can walk farther on their kneecaps than they can on their feet”

This is my heartbeat
Like yours, it is a hatchet
It can build a house, or tear one down
My mouth is a fire escape
The words coming out don’t care that they are naked
There is something burning in here
When it burns, I hold my own shell to my ear
Listen for the parade when I was seven
The man who played the bagpipes wore a skirt
He was from Scotland- I wanted to move there
Wanted my spine to be the spine of an unpublished book
My fate, the first and last page

The day my ribcage became monkey bars
For a girl hanging on my every word
They said “you are not allowed to love her”
Tried to take me by the throat
And teach me I was not a boy
I had to unlearn their prison speak
Refuse to make wishes on the star on the sheriff’s chest
I started wishes on the stars in the sky instead

I said to the the sun
“Tell me about the big bang”
The sun said
“it hurts to become”

I carry that hurt on the tip of my tongue
And whisper bless your heart every chance I get
So my family tree can be sure I have not left
You do not have to leave to arrive
I am learning this slowly

So sometimes when I look in the mirror
My eyes look like the holes in the shoe of the shoe shine man
My hands are busy on the wrong things
Some days, I call my arms wings
While my head is in the clouds

It will take me a few more years to learn
Flying is not pushing away the ground
Safety is not always safe
You can find one on every gun
I am aiming to do better

This is my body
My exhaustion pipe will never pass inspection
And still my lungs know how to breathe
Like a burning map
Everytime I get lost behind the curtain of her hair
You can find me by the window
Following my past to a trail of blood
In the snow

The night I opened my veins
The doctor who stitched me up asked me if I did it for attention
For the record, if you have ever done anything for attention,
This poem is attention
Title it with your name
It will scour the city bridge every night
You stand kicking at your shadow
Staring at the river
It does not want to find your body
Doing anything but loving what it loves
So love what you love

Say this is my body
It is no ones but mine
This is my nervous system
My wanting blood
My half tamed addictions
My tongue, tied up like a ball of Christmas lights
If you put a star on the top of my tree,
Make sure it’s a star that fell
Make sure it hit bottom like a tambourine
Cause all these words are stories

For the staircase to the top of my lungs
Where I sing what hurts
And the echo comes back
Bless your heart
Bless your body 
Bless your holy kneecaps
They are so smart
You are so full of rain
There is so much growing
Hallelujah to your weather veins
Hallelujah to the ache
To the pull
To the fall
To the pain
Hallelujah To the grace
And the body 
and every cell of us all.