(given at Cornell's Transgender Day of Remembrance Vigil, 18 November 2014)Read More
You know me by my real name.
That wasn't always true. For a long time, I didn't know the name I used to have wasn't real. Then when I realized it wasn't, I had to find my real name. I looked for months until I found a name that was real.
Then when I found it, I had to ask, and sometimes plead, and sometimes demand that others use my real name. I often shouted or cried when they didn't because when they didn't use my real name, they made me feel like I wasn't real.
I was real. I am real.
I had to go to court for everyone else to recognize my real name, to recognize me as real. I've been shamed for my real name, been asked questions that made me feel less than human, been asked to prove that name belongs to me because it is a woman's name and to have it there are people who think I need to deserve it.
How dare I decide what name I want for myself? How dare I determine my own reality?
I grew up in a country that does not allow me to change my name unless I get married. I was a citizen of that country even though I lived in the U.S. I couldn't leave the U.S. without being made to feel I wasn't real. For ten years until I became an American citizen, I could not leave the country because I couldn't face the possibility of not being real.
My name is my real name. It's the name of my reality, not the reality that someone else has built for me, a reality I no longer am. It's a name that's more real to me than any other name because I chose it, and had to fight for it.
We must fight for our names and the names of others. We must fight for everyone's right to be real.
In May 1997, I did a one-woman show in college called "Dancing Deviant" where I talked about my body. Funny how that body is so different now than it was back then. Here's what I had to say in the old days:Read More
I used to love being cissed. Being cissed is when a transperson mistakes you for a cisperson. It's like being dissed, except by a transsister who mistakenly thinks you're a cister.
I first got cissed twelve years ago when I went to this tr***y bar Jacques once, to see my friend Brenda at a beauty pageant (she finished first runner-up). Post-millennium it was the kind of place where drag and trans weren't sliced in half. I got there late and there were no seats left, but I noticed a couch and a spot in the middle of it. But as I headed in that direction the bearded black man (BBM) at the end of the couch shook his head to indicate there was someone sitting there. I'm small so I walked over anyway, and perched on the arm.
I must have chatted with the man but I don't remember about what. But I do remember a tall, slim tr***y girl with relaxed hair and lush, dark skin and tight jeans stomping in our direction. She stopped right in front of me and BBM to form a tight little triangle among us.
"You know, cunts are bad for you," she said, then plopped next to BBM on the couch with a half-turn.
And I will never forget what BBM said: "I knew she'd be mad. Good thing you're not trans."
That was the first time I got cissed and loved it.
The last time I got cissed it hurt like hell.
I went to Janet Mock's reading at the Brooklyn Museum. I'd been looking forward to it all week after listening to episode after episode of the podcast she shared with her boyfriend Aaron. I adored the Miss Janet of that podcast. Like her, I had a childhood thing for Janet Jackson ever since I danced to "Miss You Much" at my 6th-grade variety show in the Philippines.
So there I was in the front row, which became the second row because the organizers added a row for Miss Janet's friends. And she was tall and radiant and cis-looking in a way I didn't think I aspired to be, until I saw those hips that gave nothing away. So she talked, and she read, and I laughed. Then when the Q&A came, I took my time playing my question over and over in my head so I can make sure to impress her and get it right.
In the meantime, some dude asked a privilege-y question about why Miss Janet thought she needed to "resort to prostitution" to fund her transition.
I was twenty feet from her so I could tell Miss Janet looked pissed. "First of all," she said "I don't call it prostitution. I call it sex work because it's work." Then she talked about her struggle for survival and her need to transition as quickly as possible.
I don't remember the next questions after that, so intent I was in making sure to phrase my question in the best way possible, to in some way be recognized as Miss Janet's transsister. When my turn came, I took a breath then told Miss Janet that I had been following her work, that I had been reading her blog and listening to her podcasts.
Then I asked this question: "How do you think it would help the trans community if more transwomen who have the privilege of being mistaken for cis make their stories public like you did?"
"I don't completely understand the question," Miss Janet replied.
"Well, you pass," I said. I didn't want to use the p word because I know she didn't like it, but it was the only way I could make myself clear."What would it mean for the trans community for more women like you to come out as trans?"
"I don't like the word passing," Miss Janet snapped. "When I walk down the street, I'm just being. I'm not making a political statement because no one can tell that I'm trans."
That was when the transsister moment in my head got lost. In what? Transmission? Translation? I didn't understand why she took it that way. I tried not to take it personally. Maybe she was still miffed about the question about sex work, and was taking it out on her well-meaning transsister. Maybe my blonde hair and light skin didn't give off enough of a woman-of-color vibe, and she thought I was being all presumptuous by counting myself among her infinitely passable kind. Maybe, maybe....
"So," Miss Janet resumed, "would a trans person like to ask a question?"
And just like that, I found myself cissed.
It took me a while to realize what happened, so long that an identifiable trans person was already asking a question by the time I caught up. I don't know what was in Miss Janet's head. Maybe I'll have the opportunity and the courage to ask her one day. But I know what she said, and in my heart I felt cissed.
To be cissed is to feel like your world isn't yours. It feels like a hand has reached across time to shove that part of you that didn't know if you could or should, and tell him, her that he, she doesn't exist. To be cissed is for your tribe to cast you out without knowing it, leave you to languish in that dark place between who you are and who they think you are.
To be cissed is to get exactly what you wanted, only to find out that it hurts like hell.
Hey! Strangest thing: I was having morning coffee and saw a link to yoru website, where I learned your secret! So cool -- I had no idea! Anyway, I'm totally disappointed that we never got to find out you didn't have a cervix :/
Hopefully you can forgive me for being young and nursing a "broken heart" and running off like a loon. I'm as old now as you were then, if you can believe it, which helps make it clear i was an idiot when i was young (i know, i know join the club).
Anyway, love your website, great to hear from you, and your writing is amazing.