Appropriating Black Rage: Engaging in Productive Conversations About Race as a White Person

Our country has erupted into a Civil Rights Movement that has changed the national conversation. Rather, the conversation has changed for white people. For people of color, this anger is not new. So many white people, especially the young and queer, are finally engaging in the conversations that BIPOC (Black and Indigenous People of Color) have been begging us to have for years. As white people, we should be spending this time in quarantine educating ourselves and others, and learning how to have these conversations in a productive way without appropriating a rage we cannot understand.

Productive Discomfort

Getting white people to engage in conversations about race is the most challenging part of this movement. Seeing other people on my social media accounts stay silent was deeply disappointing, although not surprising.

Holding each other accountable is a great way to engage in these conversations. Shying away from the topic is easier than admitting that all white people have, in some way, upheld a system that was designed in our favor. Admitting white privilege is uncomfortable.

“I think that the embarrassment and shame and guilt is connected to – I can speak for my white friends – is that your identity has been rooted in your kindness, and your generosity, and your lovingness.  That is how you see yourself, that is what you pride yourself on, is that you’re kind and you’re in tune and that you’re empathic. And if those things are true, then how could you have gone this long without seeing your black friends and your black colleagues and your black neighbors like this? How could you have gone this long without being plugged into the plight and the trauma and the war that your black colleagues have been in? So your identity is being challenged and uprooted because it means that somewhere, inside of you, you have absorbed racism, and have responded and reacted at some point in ways that are racist and oppressive.  Unconsciously, but you’ve still done it. And a kind, generous, loving, person, would never do anything racist, right? So there comes the guilt, there goes the shame, there is the fear that you are a bad person.”

Brandon Kyle Goodman (@brandonkgood)

Black voices should be heard, and we should be amplifying them above all else, regardless of how it makes us white people feel. That discomfort will be our driving force for change. The shame of upholding white supremacy and an empathy toward people of color should drive us.

Productive Conversations in the Anti-Racist Age

Recently, I have been looking for ways to help the movement as much as I can. My mental disability keeps me from protesting, but donating and spreading the message wasn’t enough. I came across a YouTube video that donates AdSense to organizations committed to changing institutionalized racism.

The video garnered more than 8.7 million views in only six days. I had it playing on multiple screens in my house at once.

Watching over and over, my attention kept coming back to one section. In between a few songs, Nick Daly (@nick_t_daly) offered some of his experiences and thoughts. Maybe it was his tone of voice, or his message, but I listened to him more than any other part of the video.

“Being an ally does not equal simply not being racist. It means actively using your privilege to dismantle systems that have allowed racism and injustice to spread within our educational, judicial, and government bodies like a rot.”

Nick Daly (@nick_t_daly) quoted from Video to financially help Black Lives Matter without paying/leaving your house

Changing our society means changing our culture. When I reach out to my online community and engage in these conversations, I get mixed results. Ask your silent friends what they are doing to help the Black Lives Matter movement, and you might get the same sorts of responses:

“I’m not racist! I just haven’t posted about it because…”

Defensiveness will not help this movement. We have come to the point that refusing to talk about race is itself racist. We have to learn to admit our own racism, and actively deconstruct it through conversation.

But isn’t it so ANNOYING to have to FORCE people to learn? How do we engage in these conversations if so many people are so sensitive to being called out on their racist beliefs or behavior? How do we teach those who think they are doing nothing wrong?

White “Rage”

For starters, some white people are going to have to get over being called out. Being reminded of your privilege is not a personal attack. But something else that Nick said really stuck out to me:

“I have spent so much time trying to be palatable, just so I can get into spaces where I constantly have to shift my energy so I don’t appear threatening. While this behavior has allowed me to enter the spaces I now occupy, a sad fact, it has also engrained within myself the dangerous idea that in order to be valued, and heard, I have to leave my identity outside of the room.”

Nick Daly (@nick_t_daly) quoted from Video to financially help Black Lives Matter without paying/leaving your house

White people are comfortable policing how Black people react to injustice. We rarely ask white people to change their behavior, even when they react to any mild inconvenience with riots or armed protests. Any threat to their way of life is “unAmerican.”

During my research, I learned how destructive it is to tell black people how to mourn. Protests aren’t “the right way.” Kneeling isn’t “the right way.” Black people shouldn’t have to be “palatable” to us just for us to listen. Another social media activist, Sonya Renee Taylor (@sonyareneetaylor), described her feelings toward white fragility:

“The problem is that there is this expectation that those of us who have been living in this forever should just welcome you out of your slumber. The reason Snow White could wake up to a world where she wasn’t dead, is because they cared for her sleeping ass! That is the collective experience of Black people and people of color: That we’ve been tending to the heinousness of the outcomes of white supremacist delusion, while y’all just woke up! And then the expectation is that we should feel super warm and fuzzy ’cause you finally woke up. And I think that’s just not gonna happen, friends.”

Sonya Renee Taylor (@sonyareneetaylor)

When engaging in conversations about race, white people should be the ones to strive to be a little bit more palatable. After hundreds of years of telling Black people how to behave, we owe it to them to have these conversations in an affective way.

Not only should we be doing our best to reprogram our minds and change our culture, but we need to be understanding of those who are making a conscious effort to catch up and help them learn.

While we should not be telling Black people how to mourn, we should lead by their example for the past 300 years and show patience and understanding before throwing up our hands. Anger, pain, rage: these are our empathetic response. But for Black people, it is more than that.

“What some call depression or pessimism, I would call impatience and rage. Our impatience and rage is what has produced progress. That we are still impatient and angry reflects not black people’s failing but how far America still has to go.”

Mychal Denzel Smith

Meeting a difficult conversation with aggression might be easier, but it will not get the result that we need. You, as a white person, haven’t spent a lifetime explaining this to people for your own sake. You haven’t earned that impatience.

If the person you’re trying to reach gets defensive, remember how you felt when you were first confronted with your racist behavior. Remember what beliefs you had only a few years ago. What helped you come to the other side?

Most likely, a calm Black person came along to inform you how wrong you were.

Every white person, no matter where they are in their educational journey, has been at least somewhat racist at some point. We have to acknowledge that we aren’t inherently better than someone else just because we know a fraction more about racism.

The anger white people experience comes from a good place, but it is ultimately not our anger to express. We get mad, and we think: “Well, I could learn to be anti-racist. I was in the same place you are, but I am not a racist. How could you be so racist when I have already figured it out?”

The pain of racism is not our narrative, and it is not our lived experience. We are mad because we want everyone to learn the lessons we had to learn and catch up. We are mad because we feel like we’ve proven we are good people, and we just want to stop talking about race already. That’s a dangerous mindset.

I am not telling anyone to be accepting of racists. We should call out racism wherever we see it. Whether it’s in our own community, friend group, or family, we have to call out microagressions and spread awareness about structural change. But leaving troll comment or blocking someone does approximately nothing.

Tough Realizations about Being Anti-Racist

Black people don’t owe us any more patient conversations; we owe it to them and to ourselves to teach one another.

Admitting that you were wrong and changing doesn’t make you a hypocrite. The goal of the movement is to bring people to our side. Teach without shame. Learning at a faster pace than your family doesn’t mean that you weren’t in the same position a few months ago, a few years ago, or before you went off to college.

Approach your family with patience if they are willing to learn. Our job is to take some of the burden of educating white people away from Black people and people of color, not to feed into extremism.

BIPOC have been advocating for their rights for decades; we are new at this. I think it is too soon for us to run out of patience for these conversations. Berating anyone who disagrees with you is counterproductive. When you are advocating for people of color, don’t appropriate their anger and pain.

Make yourself an ally by opening yourself up to tough conversations with people who don’t agree with you. If everyone in your friend group feels the way you do, try engaging with your family members.

“If we continue to call things out, and use words for healing, we can only move forward. But there can be no moving forward without strong allies.”

Nick Daly (@nick_t_daly) quoted from Video

Strong allies propel the movement forward with words of healing. Teach those around you, and try to be patient. Come from a place of understanding, because nobody has a perfect past.

At the end of his section of the video, and before a slew of ads (that you have to watch all the way through!), Nick says:

“If you can spend nothing else, spend your time educating yourself and opening your heart to other people’s experiences.”

Nick Daly (@nick_t_daly) quoted from Video

Below I have attached a list of resources where you can donate, learn, and support. I hope that you keep your mind open, and keep this conversation going.

Resources:

Video to financially help Black Lives Matter without paying/leaving your house:
https://bit.ly/2Adz3VB

Activists mentioned throughout the article:
Zoe Amira’s YouTube Channel
Nick Daly (@nick_t_daly)
Sonya Renee Taylor (@sonyareneetaylor)
Brandon Kyle Goodman (@brandonkgood)

Petitions to Sign:
Justice for George Floyd (Change.Org)
Justice for George Floyd (Color for Change)
Justice for Breonna Taylor
Justice for Ahmaud Arbery
Pass Georgia Hate Crime Bill
Defund the MPD
Justice for Tony McDade

Where to Donate:
The Homeless Black Trans Woman Fund (Atlanda, GA)
Gender Justice (Los Angelos, CA)
SD Black Queer Housing (San Diego, CA)
Shades of Colour (Edmonton & Alberta)
The Black Queer & Intersectional Collective (Ohio)
BREAKOUT! (New Orleans, LA)
SNaP Co (Atlanta, GA)
TGI Justice Project (California)
TransJustice Funding Project
Black AIDS Institute
LGBTQ+ Freedom Fund



Burlesque On Demand: Drag Culture and Sex Work During Quarantine

VH1 must be thrilled that the first episode of the latest season of RuPaul’s Drag Race aired right before the pandemic started.

As a trans, queer, polyamorous person, I make sure that the media I consume is as LGBTQ friendly as possible.  The events I attend are almost exclusively queer events.

No offense to the straight clubs out there: I’m just not that interested.

When I moved to New York, queer nightlife was a fantastical new world where everyone would understand me.  Once I had my gender and sexual identity awakening, and started doing drag.

I was a King known as Queue, and I would paint my face with a colorful beard and do splits and flips across the stage.

I liked to call myself a “drag-cro-bat.”

When the coronavirus came to New York, it hit the city and boroughs particularly hard.  All the producers, burlesque artists, drag artists, strippers, and sex workers on my Instagram slowly started canceling their upcoming shows.

Clubs were not rescheduling; they were closed for the foreseeable future.

I was sad to see that all of these artists were losing opportunities.  Knowing they wouldn’t be able to bring joy and gender euphoria to their audience brought a certain level of grief.  I wouldn’t be able to enjoy a drag show for quite some time. Queer spaces were not safe anymore.  I remember going to my friend’s house to watch Drag Race with the group of gays I call my friends for the last time, feeling like I wouldn’t see them for a long time.  I was completely right.

Another nagging worry kept popping up into the back of my head: how were all of these artists going to get paid?

Obviously, people were going to lose work.  I was hopeful when I heard that there would be relief funds for small businesses, and expansion of unemployment benefits. 

Turns out, I shouldn’t have been.

“Stock plans are eligible for funds, yet not adult entertainers. Sex workers and anyone whose professional activities involve “prurient” products or content are ineligible for COVID-19-related loans for small businesses and the self-employed.”1

“Prurient”? I resent that.

PornHub is giving free porn to everyone while countries around the world are calling for self-isolation and shelter-in-place.5 But now, all the sudden, the US government is going to pretend that Americans are turned off by sex?

The government has always persecuted sex work, and those in the queer community especially.  Jacq the Stripper on Twitter commented: “Whorephobia is literally written into this covid19 relief.  In a global pandemic, policy makers are actively making the world a worse place for sex workers and their families.”1

Pornhub also donated $25,000 to the Sex Workers Outreach Project, contributing directly to relief funds for those impacted by COVID-19.

Who says porn is “prurient”?

 VICE interviewed Andrea Werhun, a stripper from Toronto, who had this to say:

“I feel like my career as a dancer is in jeopardy as it becomes increasingly less viable to hang out in crowds, which is kind of what I do every Friday and Saturday night in order to make money… I’ve been joking about starting an Only Fans because if we’re in quarantine and I can’t leave my house it’s an effective way to make money.”2

I know plenty of people, online and in my personal life, who use OnlyFans to make extra income.  CamGirls have been producing their own content for years, and this pandemic means that more people are in need of work. OnlyFans, however, isn’t the only placer that sex workers can turn to make money online.

Drag and burlesque shows are starting to migrate to online platforms.  A drag personality that I knew in the scene, Theydy Bedbug, had this to say about it:

“Moving this medium online has its benefits— like the ability to employ forced perspective in numbers, utilize video editing to enhance the story-telling and reach wider audiences. But the energy exchange of a drag performer with a yelling, tipping audience is unparalleled. I miss connecting with community in person, and feeling an audience be impacted by what I share.”

The energy at a Theydy Bedbug show is unparalleled.  I can say that both as a performer and an audience member, there is nothing quite like an unapologetically queer space, a diverse crowd, and high energy drag.

Theydy has been mostly utilizing Instagram Live, but other performers, like Foxy Afriq (and their alter-ego Uncle Freak) have had to move their shows to other platforms like Twitch.

Sex workers all over my feed are trying to help each other out.  As always, they promote each other’s shows and try to keep their communities in good spirits online, but now they are reminding us to send tips to the hundreds of performers in the scene who are out of work. 

Through Instagram, Twitter, and even Facebook, sex workers and performance artists are sharing each other’s Venmo addresses. More than one strip club has set up a Venmo to collect money for their dancers while they are forced to close.  Mutual aid campaigns for sex workers are also multiplying.3

Sex workers are able to bring their work online through photos, videos, phone sex, and video conferencing.4  For lots of folx around the globe, the pandemic is the first reason that they even know about OnlyFans.

But this pandemic will take a toll on everyone, especially sex workers and performers who are in marginalized communities and were already struggling.

Maxine Holloway, co-founder of the advocacy organization Bay Area Workers Support (BAWS), says:

“There’s a large amount of our community that are people of color, that are trans women, that are disabled folks—folks that are not always able to access employment often turn to sex work to be able to survive and make ends meet.”4

The drag community is similar, in this way, to the sex work community. Many of its performers are POC, trans, or disabled. Already disregarded groups will feel the effects of this outbreak the most.

I stopped doing drag long before the virus hit my city, but I can’t help but think about them, and not just because they take up a large portion of my feed on every platform.

Millions of Americans are losing their jobs. Even both of my parents are out of work. I worry about the economic repercussions of the pandemic, but I find myself thinking about the people who will be forgotten about in our country. 

I hope that the Internet keeps sex workers, drag performers, strippers, dancers, and other performance artists careers going, and that their online presence helps them thrive after the quarantine ends.  I wish the government would protect every American from the consequences of their own incompetence. Supporting each other through this seems to be the only way through.

I wish my fellow performers safety in these uncertain times.

For any of those affected, please look to these resources for aid:

Resource for Sex Workers Mutual aid campaigns

Sex Workers Outreach Program

Research Sources:

  1. https://reason.com/2020/04/01/u-s-sex-workers-and-prurient-businesses-explicitly-excluded-from-covid-19-disaster-loans/
  2. https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/k7ek8y/sex-workers-bracing-for-income-loss-during-coronavirus-pandemic
  3. https://www.thelily.com/sex-work-is-changing-in-the-pandemic-heres-how-it-affects-workers/
  4. https://www.kqed.org/arts/13877250/sex-workers-are-moving-online-supporting-each-other-during-coronavirus
  5. https://mashable.com/article/free-pornhub-premium-coronavirus-social-distancing/

Queer Commentary: How to Discuss LGBTQ+ Issues

Once you get me started talking about a topic, I can’t seem to figure out how to stop.

I lived in a small town with more cows than mailboxes, at a crossroads between Suburbia and Farmville.  Growing up neurodivergent, queer, trans, and liberal in a conservative town meant that I often ran into resistance for my more radical ideas. I moved to New York to find my people, but despite my love for voicing opinions, I’m an introvert that loves to stay inside.

Facebook discussion groups have been my saving grace.  I don’t have to scream my opinions into the void or voice them to myself in the shower.  I can find my people.

When I started to think that I might be autistic, I joined a few discussion groups that might help enlighten me on the topic.  I wanted to learn how others went about getting diagnosed, and I wanted to be able to compare notes about their experiences.

Being in the group made me feel so comfortable.  I was surrounded, metaphorically, by like-minded people who understood my particular struggles.  Whether I brought up my struggles with concerts, crowds, or food, I would find at least ten people who could relate.

I even joined an ‘Autism Meals’ group.  We mostly discuss Mac N’ Cheese and other “same food” preferences.  Sometimes, we compare McDonald’s orders.

After I caught the discourse bug, I started adding myself to discussion groups for other facets of my personality.

I joined a few non-binary and polyamorous groups.  I love talking about queer issues.  I can steer the topic toward LGBTQ issues at any party, whether it’s at a club in Brooklyn, a party at a friends, or dinner at my mothers. 

The discussions were great.  I was introduced to ideas and thought experiments that I had never even heard of.  Groups dedicated to respectful discussion, and even debate, with people who spoke your language.

But, I came to a realization: every group has its issues.

Before you are allowed into any of these groups, you are required to read their guidelines.  There are some normal things: no bullying, no harassment, no doxing.  Don’t go to someone’s profile and start messaging their family members. No death threats.

You’d think some of these things would go without saying.

Some of the rules are group specific, but universal throughout that community.

In my trans groups, they don’t allow TERFS or transphobes.  In my autism acceptance groups, you can’t promote Autism $peaks, applied behavioral therapy, or anti-vaccination rhetoric.  And no matter how clearly polyamorous groups outline their rules, someone posts to the board every day asking we don’t allow the dreaded “unicorn hunters.”

There are a few malcontents, but, for the most part, things run pretty smoothly.   

Recently, I was suggested a new group on Facebook that was for trans men.  I don’t join many binary trans groups, because I don’t feel like they are the place for me, but I am in a couple trans masculine groups. I knew at a glance that this one wasn’t for me.  The image for the group was a white background with harsh, black text:

NO SNOWFLAKES ALLOWED.

I clicked on the group and found exactly what I thought I would.  The rules clearly state that the group is for binary, masculine, trans guys. No liberals, no safe spaces, no trigger warnings, no “snowflakes.”

I wasn’t shocked to find a group like this.  Toxic masculinity runs rampant through the transmasculine community.  I know plenty of trans men who are wonderful, sensitive, and understanding.  I am not talking about them.

For some reason, there are many trans men that distance themselves from the trans and greater LGBTQIA+ or queer communities.  Some have argued that it is because of male privilege, while others attribute it to the fact that they can be cis-passing more often than trans women.

Personally, I think that it is a bit of both, with some arrogance and conservatism sprinkled on top.   Just as TERFs are the scourge of the feminist community, rude, “stealth” trans guys who shit all over the trans community are the racist cousins we’d rather not recognize.

Assholes exist in every community. 

I didn’t try to join.  Infiltrating them and dismantling their flawed way of thinking from the inside is not my style.  Plus, any issue that I would try post about would get deleted.  Any unfavorable opinion I might have would get me banned from the group.

But there are so many reasons why I would want to engage with them.  I want to ask them about their opinions.  If I knew that I wouldn’t be ganged up on or chewed out or called fragile, I would challenge their misconceptions about different parts of our community, and they could dispel any that I had about them.

I think their assholes, but I’m sure they think worse things about me.

I’m used to having controversial opinions.  I’ve been told that I was too liberal or naïve my entire life. I have stood up and walked away from a dinner table more than once.

After a life of being the odd one out, I know how to form an argument.  I know how to do my research.  Any opinion worth having is one that is well researched. 

I want to have people to discuss with.  When I join a discord group, I’m not just looking for a sounding board to echo back positions I already agree with.  Talking with people who feel differently than I do will make me a better debater, a better communicator, and a better person. 

If a single piece of evidence can make me rethink my opinion, then the opinion wasn’t that great to begin with. 

I want to talk to these guys.  It’s not some great sacrifice, but it is a sacrifice that isn’t made very often.  Talking to people who loudly disagree with you is one of the most important parts of being queer.  There will always be someone who disagrees with our “lifestyle.”

Particularly, my lifestyle.  As far as queers go, I’m a Freddie Mercury, culture-shifting, clutch-your-pearls kind of queer.

Engaging with people who don’t understand or don’t agree with you is how you get them to soften their harsh edges.  There are so many people out there who hate trans people just because they have never met one.  There are so many TERFs whose entire ideology hinges on misconception. 

There are thousands of mildly conservative trans binary people out there that hate nonbinary people, due to internalized transphobia, misunderstanding, or just nonsensical hatred on principle.  There are also plenty of liberal trans and queer people that just “don’t agree” with nonbinary people, and just wish that we would cam down.

While I can’t say this about all of them, I bet many trans binary people don’t even really understand why they feel the way they do.  They experience dysphoria and discrimination in a way that it affects the very essence of their being, and they just don’t understand why anyone would choose to be trans. All it might take for them to understand is a long conversation and a less-than-hostile tone.

What is the point of living proudly as yourself if you don’t use your powers for good?

A chasm is forming between the binary and non-binary trans communities.  We cannot claim that it is the fault of either side more than the other. 

Or, we could, but what would that accomplish?

I am non-binary, but masculine leaning.  I am more liberal than most people I know, but even I have caught myself in some toxic masculinity.  I had to unlearn the gender binary, and the patriarchy, just like my parents.  

As a gender nonconformist, I try to be more understanding every day.  I stared my own insecurities and harmful opinions in the face.  I have to be willing to change my mind, lest I be a hypocrite. I try to show this consideration to everyone, regardless of where they are in that journey.  

Ignoring or bashing someone for their beliefs will not change their view, but rather irritate or embarrass them and radicalize them further.

My mother and I don’t agree about much.  Puppies and babies are cute, and that is just about the end of our shared beliefs.  But even though we have different political ideologies, we can still have a meal, or a picnic, or a holiday, and not feel the need to argue about every little thing. 

Only a few decades ago, talking about politics was considered dirty, or inappropriate.  Now, people feel completely comfortable posting on their Facebook page: “If you believe X, Y, or Z, you can go ahead and unfriend me.”

The Internet feeds you information all day long that pads your beliefs.  Your newsfeed has algorithms that navigate you around cognitive dissonance.  It is downright dangerous to only get your news, facts, and opinions from Facebook. If you want conflict or discourse, you have to go looking for it.

I go looking for it. 

I want my opinions to be challenged.  Do I want to be bullied? No, but it’s nothing that I haven’t experienced before.  Nobody with an online presence has gone without some kind of hate speech at some point, and based on what I hear from my friends, I’ve experienced some pretty bad stuff, comparatively.

The benefits to these groups still outweigh any drama that I might experience. Finding a community that you can connect with online is something that everyone should be able to try.

The queer community, who has always championed diversity, should set the standard for acceptance toward diversity of thought. Debate within the community is healthy. Discomfort helps us grow. Acknowledging and accepting our ignorance helps us learn.

People misunderstand the idea of a “safe spaces” in which trigger warnings are used.  The warning exists so that we can get right to the heart of an issue without worrying about putting anyone off.  If you don’t want to engage in a conversation about assault today, you can scroll on by. 

If you are ready to be challenged, you can take a deep breath, and proceed with caution.

LGBTQIA+ people experience enough hatred without suffering at the hand of petty infighting.  We should let people be people, and have the tough conversations that are worth having.  We should hold our beliefs strongly within ourselves, but be willing to let them go.  We must be willing to make progress within ourselves before we can make change in our culture.

Engage your local liberal snowflake in a respectful debate, and see if you can both come to some kind of agreement over a cup of coffee.

Drag Perversion: Revamping the ‘Queer’ Community for the New Age of Drag

‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ wants to be the ‘American Idol’ of the LGBTQ community, but it feels more ‘Real Housewives’ than ‘Queer Eye.’

To be fair, Drag Race has always been reality TV. People come for the petty in-fighting, and stay for the “sashay away.”

Nobody watches Say Yes to the Dress to celebrate engagements of beautiful strangers; they watch to see the look on Mom’s face when the bride walks out in an A-line dress when she so CLEARLY belongs in a ball gown.

The competition aspect of the show was never the main draw.  For starters, the competition is clearly rigged.  Nothing gets more buzz than a queen who got “robbed.” Petty fights and popularity contests are always the clear focus. 

Gays love the drama. 

Drama attracts an audience.  Drag, to the outside world, is a sideshow.  Drag Race brought drag artists into the mainstream, and it brought all of the associated cattiness and shade along with it.

There is nothing wrong with drama on reality TV. My issue is that it is really the only show of it’s kind, and there is no wholesome alternative. Queerness exists on television, and Drag Race might have played a big part in making that happen, but to say that RuPaul’s Drag Race is still “normalizing” queerness, gender fluidity, or self-expression… would be a bit of a stretch.

And the show’s reputation seems to get worse every week.

In truth, I adore watching Drag Race.  Despite the show’s problematic past (and somewhat present), I love sitting in a room full of queer people shouting about campy looks and over-the-top makeup.  I love live viewing parties, hosted by local drag queens and kings, cracking jokes about an opportunity they might never have.

Drag is unapologetically queer art that unites our community.

But drag isn’t just dressing as a woman and appropriating black vernacular.  Drag is performance of gender expression and euphoria.

RuPaul, as well as numerous “Ru-girls,” have made some pretty problematic statements regarding who belongs in drag.  Trans queens are rarely on the show, and their transness is usually hidden rather than celebrated. Ru’s comments have made it clear that cis queens and drag kings will never see his main stage.

The Boulet Brother’s show ‘Dragula’ showcased a few kings and nonbinary ‘things’ on their most recent season, but I wish I didn’t have to watch anyone eat spiders or get pissed on just to enjoy nontraditional drag.

Plenty of queer drag artists are not gay men. Queer and trans women, trans men, and nonbinary people have been creating drag art in queer bars for decades without the luxury of camera or a set.  

Trans drag artists are stuck hosting live viewings of a show for which they will never qualify.

When I started doing drag, I didn’t know how AFAB (assigned female at birth) individuals could find their place in drag.  Little did I know, they already had.  Drag Kings and other drag artists have been performing all over the country, and the world, for decades.

I am glad that Drag Race has brought the conversation of gender expression into the mainstream, but I wish that the show focused on deconstructing gender stereotypes rather than enforcing them.

I also wish that every season wasn’t marred by some scandal.

While Sherry Pie’s predatory conduct, or any queen’s bad behavior, is not VH1 or RuPaul or even the show’s fault, it caused a huge portion of the community to start talking about the toxicity that exists in gay, drag, and nightlife culture.

A huge part of drag king culture is dismantling toxic masculinity.  Drag numbers commonly approach difficult topics, opening a conversation and speaking through the performing arts.

The queens show versatility: some are funny, some are great actors or performers, some can construct an amazing outfit with limited time and material. But Drag Race paints a pretty bland picture of what drag can be.  Drag is more than a man dressed as a woman.

Drag is an art form that can highlight the inherent issues with gender roles and stereotypes, and celebrate masculinity and femininity with a fresh perspective.  Drag shows are for queer people to express themselves.

Drag Kings and Things alike should be praised for their work.  At the very least, they should be noticed.

Being on RuPaul’s Drag Race is not the shining light at the end of the tunnel for every drag artist, or even every drag queen.  There are many different facets of drag, and I think that those of us in the queer community should work to expand the ideas of gender expression and drag beyond the limits of reality TV format.

Drag is healing.  Drag is informative.  Drag is provocative.  Drag is real emotion.

Any person, no matter the gender they were assigned at birth, can do drag.  RuPaul’s Drag Race does not define drag for me, or any of the other kings that I know.  My hope is that the longer that the show is on, the more the gayness will spread to other TV shows, as it has already.

Just because it was a groundbreaking show for the LGBTQIA+ community and gender expression, that doesn’t mean the ground is safe. Watch out for us gays; we’re coming for your favorite TV station.

Your TV, or Mine?: Video Games, Polyamory, and Quarantine

My online communities are getting me through this quarantine.

I’m a part of tons of online message boards and groups. As someone who spent most of their time alone and indoors before the pandemic, I have unconventional ways of finding social interaction.

Scrolling through my phone, I notice different parts of the Internet reacting to the coronavirus in their own ways.  Through cathartic jokes, and community support, communities across the Internet are taking comfort in one another.

The queer and polyamorous communities are collectively mourning over the state of their Google Calendars.

Only a month ago, my polyamorous forums were focused on metamour drama and the ethics (or lack thereof) of unicorn hunting.  Three weeks ago, discussion shifted to the safety of attending play parties.

Now, anyone who even suggests seeing a partner that they don’t live with shamed for risking the lives of others.

People are understandably shaken.  Some share funny comments and memes about thriving and blossoming long-distance relationships under shelter-at-home conditions, while others lament in lengthy posts about the forced separation of their families and polycules.

Nobody in the poly community is thrilled about social distancing.

The gaming community is relatively less stressed. We are well prepared for long stretches indoors.

I have seen more than one gamer say something along the lines of: well, a forced quarantine sucks, but at least it lands around the release of some quality video games.

The Doom Slayer and Isabelle.
Bethesda/Nintendo

Gamers across the world have been waiting for the release of both DOOM Eternal and Animal Crossing for years. Shelter-in-place could not have come at a better time.  The fandoms have a mutual respect for one another, and it translates into quality memes.

nintendosoup.com

Gender is suspended during the quarantine: you’re either Animal Crossing or DOOM Eternal.

I have been playing DOOM since the release of its fourth installment in 2016. The trans boy in me has always love first-person shooters and horror games. The Internet has suspended gender during the quarantine: you are either DOOM Eternal or Animal Crossing.

Every one of my boyfriends has been an avid video game player.  My first boyfriend and I played Dead Space 2 on the floor in my parent’s living room. We weren’t allowed to go up to my room.   The second made glorified compilation videos of people making crazy shots in Call of Duty.  He even got an Assassin’s Creed tattoo for me. I watched my college boyfriend play FIFA, and the one after him play Bioshock.

Video games are my love language.

My current partner and I have wildly different personalities. She is very Animal Crossing.  She has spent half of this quarantine working on her island. I watched her spend three hours editing the pattern on a hat, only to decide not to wear it.

When I met a guy on a dating website who shared my love for DOOM, she encouraged me to hang out with him as much as possible. Maybe she wants me to be happy and fulfilled.  Or, maybe she wants a little break from watching me play, narrating myself.  I’m sure it’s at least one of those things.

When COVID-19 hit, my newfound friend and I had only had a couple video game dates.  I settled into quarantine life with my nesting partner, in the apartment where we both have lived for two years.  I am glad that we are together and safe. 

He is self-isolating alone.  I check in with him often, and I am happy he isn’t showing symptoms, but I wish I could go see him.  Regularly, I remind him to stay inside.

DOOM’s release, somewhat annoyingly, came about a week after the first case was diagnosed in our city.

The pandemic became scarier than a minor inconvenience.  Even as introverted as I am, I started to miss leaving the house. 

I spent a few days being sad and scared.  I read the news all day. The grief I feel for the state of the world is overwhelming.  Leaving the house and taking public transit to his apartment would risk my health and the wellbeing of others, especially my loving partner.

He texted me yesterday to tell me he finished the game alone.

My nesting partner and I play games, side by side. Check in on your partners and family members who live alone. Call your friends when you visit their islands in Animal Crossing. Play DOOM with friends online. Until this nightmare ends, all we can do is sit in our houses, wash our hands, and play video games.

Wash your controllers, too.

I’m OK, Thanks: The frustrations of food aversions as an Autistic adult

As I am writing this, I’m eating pretzels.

I‘m really hungry, and I don’t really want pretzels.  But my mind is allowing me to eat them right now, so I’m eating them.

Being autistic means I do things only when I’m “allowed” to do them. Nobody is giving me these limitations; they are internal. I wait for some arbitrary “right time” to do everything: eat, sleep, or go to the bathroom.   

I have to wait. For what? I’m not sure.

Leaving the house, for example, has rules.  Can’t be early: that’s awkward.  Can’t be late: that’s rude.  I can’t leave before I’ve made sure I’ve had everything, and occasionally I’ll run in and out of the house four times going to retrieve the things I forgot. 

Eating is even more maddening.  Arbitrary rules govern my eating habits. I eat not when I’m hungry, but when my mind and mouth allow me to eat.

My stomach doesn’t like feeling full.  I eat until my head stops hurting.  I feel my mind clear and my mood lighten.  The air around me softens.  At this point, I can take a couple more bites before my stomach tells me to stop. 

I have never been a big fan of food.  I hate going out to eat because of it.  Each time I see a new menu I spend twenty minutes looking at it anxiously while everyone chats.  I get anxious when the people I am with start discussing what they’ll be “having.”

I hope they don’t ask me. They are just being polite, chatting about the food, but that question puts me on the spot.  I’m “having” a panic attack.

What do I want?  Definitely not any of this.  I’ll have… something that’s on this menu, presumably?

The flavors might be fantastic, but if there are small bits of onion in it, I can’t finish.  The sauce might be perfectly seasoned, but if there are lumpy tomatoes on my plate I will fish around them.  Nothing could be wrong with a dish whatsoever and my stomach will groan in a strange way and I’ll just have to stop. 

I’ll have some of the bread, a Diet Coke, and two bites of my side dishes (if they mash the potatoes right).  Then, I’ll cut up my meat and move it around the plate. I’ll lean back and act full so nobody asks me “So, you didn’t like it?”

At some point, I came to terms with the fact that my restrictive eating was nothing short of an eating disorder that needed to be addressed.  Maybe I was just fed up with being hungry.

I can’t tell you how many times I have been offered dinner or a snack at someone’s house, and no matter how ravenous I am, I reply with: “I’m OK, thanks!”

Children on the autism spectrum often have aversions to food. Parents of autistic children reach out to online forums, desperate. Their child just doesn’t seem to eat anything.  They’ve tried everything, but they just can’t seem to get them to eat!

Brenda Legge wrote “Can’t Eat, Won’t Eat,” hoping to help other parents in her situation. Her story begins when she realized her autistic son had an aversion to milk.  She wrote about how her family struggled when he stopped eating 99.9% of the food put in front of him. 

I hear you, kid. Milk? Yuck.

Parenting experts have written plenty of literature on “picky eating.”  Books geared toward parents raising autistic children discuss the topic at length. As a child, I didn’t know anything about these things.   Growing up, my family and I never knew that I was autistic.

So now, at 24, am I expected to go through parenting books to figure out how to get myself to eat?

When a child has aversions to food, they have a support system. Dinners are prepared for them multiple times a day.  Once you get to be in your twenties, though, nobody has the time to watch you and make sure your eating.  They just tell you that you have gotten skinny, either with judgment, or envy.

Parenting books aside, I researched about supplements.  I started taking vitamins every day, and I finally found a protein drink that isn’t milk based.  I started focusing more on the healthy foods that I do like, rather than the ones I don’t.

My whole mood has shifted in a relatively short amount of time.  The world seems lighter since I started making just a few small changes. 

Now that I am an adult, I can choose to accept that I will always be “picky.” My diet is a little strange, but it works for me.  I can take charge of my health and find the diet that is right for me without shame.  The world is an amazing place when you’re not starving.

Over-Diagnosed: How numerous diagnoses prevented me from a single treatment plan

Sickness is Spreading Throughout Stonington – The Brown and White

My happy place as a child was the nurses’ office. 

Something about that clean, plastic-covered, piece of foam on a metal cot just called to me: “nap time.”

School was an overwhelming place. I had a little trouble making friends. These are all normal feelings for an autistic child, but nobody in my family considered I might be autistic.

A minor fall or scrape would bring on a full meltdown. From my teacher’s perspective, a trip to the nurse was probably the quietest option. More days than not I would come home with a little ice pack from the nurse in my backpack, hoping that my mom wouldn’t find it.

My parents described me as a “difficult child,” but not a disabled one. 

I hated every grade of school.  Each year was worse than the last.  Through college, I struggled with a laundry list of daily symptoms.  Nightmares.  Panic attacks.  Depression.  Obsessive thoughts.  I had never really considered that there was some underlying reason why; this was just who I was.

College is tough for everyone, though. I started to notice that so many of my friends were going to therapy.  Until that point, therapy was something I knew existed, but never knew anyone who had actually gone.

Maybe it was peer pressure, but sobering up and going to therapy seemed like the “cool” thing to do.

I found a therapist close to my campus, but not at my university.  I was paranoid that people would judge me for going to the health center so often. 

We met every week, and I would meet with the in-practice psychiatrist once a month.  They diagnosed me with anxiety and depression, and prescribed me some medication.

After nearly a year of getting worse, I researched a little more about my symptoms. I brought up with my psychiatrist that I was really struggling with obsessive thoughts, and I thought I had OCD.

My doctor told me that there was no treatment for that, so I should just work on “getting over it” on my own. He started moving things slightly out of place during our session and told me that this was “exposure therapy.”

I saw another doctor in the practice. She told me that I had bipolar disorder and prescribed me mood stabilizers.  After another eight months of not feeling better, I graduated, got a job, and tried a new practice.

New doctor, new diagnosis. 

This one said that I probably had OCD like I had thought, but that I also definitely had PTSD, schizoaffective disorder, and ADHD.  I should definitely try these meds.

After burning through four mental health professionals, I had a mental break down.

I quit my job and let my house fall into disarray. I had bought and half-assembled a dresser. It sat in the corner of my room, mocking me.

I moved back home with my parents and tried an intensive outpatient program. When I started, we talked through my entire life story and every one of my symptoms that I could think of.

From what I described, they said that I sounded like I had schizophrenia and maybe bipolar. They hadn’t even heard of schizoaffective disorder. But by the end, they were sure that I had borderline personality disorder. 

I accepted this new diagnosis, no questions asked.  I was willing to take on whatever diagnosis my newest doctor saw fit. For a while, I thought that this was the norm.  Perhaps everyone just has no idea what is wrong with them?

But after months without relief, I was fed up. Why couldn’t I get a clear answer?

When I connected with the autistic community online, I found that this is unbelievably common.  After a life of confusion and multiple doctors, many autistic people decide to let go of the expensive and stressful process of getting a concrete diagnosis. Turning that energy toward themselves, and turning to their community for understanding.  Self-diagnosis is widely accepted within the community.

Despite at least 6 different diagnoses from different doctors, I am still “undiagnosed.”  I have transformed from the kid who was always at the nurse to an adult who is terrified of doctors.

But after research, learning meditation and mindfulness techniques, and learning about my triggers and limitations, I can see a path to good mental health. Finding a community online was also immensely helpful. Learning that there are others out there like me was incredibly validating, and I feel so much less alone and misunderstood.

What name to slap onto my mental disorder doesn’t matter too much, but how I treat myself and how to set my expectations helped me accept who I am. I can accept my neurodivergence and learn to thrive.

I would rather have an appreciation for myself and a community of like-minded people than an “official” diagnosis.

Is “Auti-Gender” a Thing?

The intersection of the autistic and transgender communities

And as an autistic and trans non-binary person, I generally find myself at a pretty liberal cross section of online discourse. I have very strongly held beliefs, but I enjoy finding out reasons why people believe what they believe. Food for thought becomes a thought experiment which might become a fundamental changing of my core beliefs, and I think that is just good fun.

So when I heard that there was a group of autistic trans people that claimed that their autism had something to do with how they present their gender, I wasn’t necessarily offended.

I am used to cis and trans-binary people alike debating that there are  “only two genders.” I know people call me a fragile snowflake because I can’t just choose a side. Or one kind of partner.  Or a single, long-term hair color.

There are more than two genders.

But most of us know that.

People are generally OK with the idea that gender is a spectrum, but those same people will lament that there are “a million genders nowadays.” They are fine with non-binary, but they don’t accept it as an um Nuance is hard to capture on the internet.

I believe that a person should identify however they want to. But I see plenty of people online who think that the people who are using this new title are nothing but “trans-trenders” and overly PC leftists. How could they trivialize gender dysphoria by connecting it to their mental disability?

Some Identities Play Well with Others

The Autistic Women and Nonbinary Network was founded, in part, because there is an overlap of people who are transgender and autistic. I personally am in multiple online forums that cater to both groups.  Some autistic individuals identify as trans, gender nonconforming, or non-binary, and some believe that their autism plays a role in how they understand and perform gender.

Often, autistic people tend to have difficulty understanding and expressing typical social interaction.*  They can struggle with social norms, and commonly have trouble fitting into societal expectations.  Gender roles are socially constructed just like any other.

Autistic people make up about one percent of the population, and according to GLAAD, transgender people only take up 1.2% of the American population.* While there is little research regarding how big this intersection is, plenty of people online are already adopting the term “autigender” or “autismgender” in order to self-identify. So, a few people online are asking: is this really a thing?

My opinion is this: If people use it, it’s “a thing.”

Language and identity labels change all the time. I think that if someone feels the need to identify with the disabled community, that’s fine. And if they want to identify as trans, that’s fine too.  Just because I personally don’t use this term to identify myself, it doesn’t affect my life how someone else chooses to express identify.  

I would never want to take away someone’s freedom of speech or expression just because I don’t feel like changing my language. I expect people to understand my disability, as well as my gender, and I have language that helps me meet that end. I see no issue with allowing every person this opportunity.

As a marginalized group, I think that the transgender community should embrace any and all people who are willing to deconstruct the gender binary. Our language will come following after.

Sources:

Autistic Self Advocacy Network

Autistic Women & Nonbinary Network

Pink News

Can Trans Guys Wear Makeup?

Gender Expression for Dummies

So, you wanna be a man, huh? Time to throw away the hundreds of dollars of makeup that you have been forced to buy your whole life.  You won’t need them anymore!

My experience wasn’t so clear.

When I started to transition, throwing away my makeup was not an issue for me.  For starters, I didn’t really have any.  Just the bare minimum of foundation, eyeliner, and blush that I never used.  I probably didn’t have a single eye shadow color.

Makeup made me cringe.  I loathed putting it on.  My face felt heavy and I would be desperate to rub my eyes or itch my nose all day. This is partially because I am autistic, but it was just not me.

Growing up, My mother wanted me to wear makeup at least once a week.  When we would go to my grandmother’s house, my uncle often asked her:

“What’s wrong with your kid? She looks sick.”

In all fairness, I did look a little sick.  I was unhealthily thin. I was that autistic child who ate nothing but peanut butter sandwiches and Goldfish crackers for every meal, and I have been a pasty ghost since birth.  But, hey, maybe don’t bully a five year old.

Despite my tears, my mother would put at least “a little blush” on me often before we would see family or go to a fancy dinner.  I hated it, but it was better to just let her do it than to argue about it all evening. 

“Look how pretty you look with just a little bit of makeup!” She would say.  I was always confused and offended by the sentiment.  Don’t I look good just as myself?

When I came out as gender nonconforming (now I identify as transmasculine), I slowly changed my entire wardrobe.  Nothing itchy, heavy, or cumbersome.  I wore makeup for a little while longer, but soon swore off of it entirely.

Then, I became a New Yorker.

My first time in drag, based on a Dragula look

Moving to New York City introduced me to a new world of makeup: stage and drag makeup.  I started doing queer theater and burlesque, and soon, I became a drag king in Brooklyn known as Queue. 

Face painting became my new favorite way to doodle

Makeup became a new hobby for me.  When I asked my parents for a face-painting palette as a Christmas gift, I even shocked myself.  I became a pro at masculine-contour, eye shadow, and “blending.” Did you know all those different shapes and sizes of makeup brushes have their own specific use?

My “birthday” look

My signature look was a particular shape of painted facial hair.  A curly, colorful mustache, and a matching, geometric beard straight of the Hunger Games became my calling card.  Using makeup to express my non-binary gender felt mildly liberating.  I felt as though I was letting go of a grudge toward an art form.  I was able to construct a look that made me happy, and forget about the social pressure that made me hate it in the first place.

Making makeup masculine gives me gender euphoria in a way that I had never experienced before. I now have hundreds of dollars worth of makeup. I spend hours watching makeup tutorials.  I’m up on all the beauty vlogger drama.  I am a rupaul-watching, makeup-wearing, flamboyant queer boy, and I will not apologize for it.

Recreating fabric patterns in my favorite beard shape became one of my signature looks

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