Ian Thomas Malone

transgender Archive



June 2020



Legal Analysis of the Supreme Court LGBTQ Ruling

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Big day for LGBTQ rights! The Supreme Court ruled in a 6-3 decision that employers cannot fire LGBTQ workers simply for being gay or transgender. The landmark decision, authored by Trump appointee Justice Neil Gorsuch, represents a major milestone in the fight for LGBTQ equality.

We are delighted to have legal analyst & journalist Colin Kalmbacher on the show to break down the case for us. Colin authored an excellent piece for Law & Crime explaining the importance of the decision. In a brief breaking-news episode, Colin supplies some superb analysis of the significance of today’s ruling.

Be sure to read Colin’s article for a very thorough explainer. https://lawandcrime.com/supreme-court/liberal-and-conservative-justices-in-6-3-decision-agree-that-sexual-orientation-and-gender-identity-are-protected-by-civil-rights-act/

You can follow Colin on Twitter @colinkalmbacher



June 2020



Seahorse Handles Transgender Pregnancy with Grace and Dignity

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It would be nice to live in a world where news like Freddy McConnell’s pregnancy wouldn’t make international headlines, leading to a cascade of unfortunate headlines seeking to sensationalize his person life. McConnell, a British transgender man who gave birth to a son in 2018, is an affable individual who understandably shies away from the kind of cringeworthy tabloid coverage that follows him around. Seahorse: The Dad Who Gave Birth seeks to tell his intimate story.

Director Jeanie Finlay captures extensive footage from McConnell’s entire pregnancy. The film does a great job explaining the unique challenges the process presents to trans men. Being off of hormones for any extended period of time is an incredibly taxing endeavor, something that McConnell handles with grace.

The artificial insemination procedures aren’t very different for trans men as for cisgender women, a reality that Finlay highlights quite well. Seahorse presents a refreshingly sober look at pregnancy, a soft-spoken effort to tone down the rhetoric surrounding transgender issues. Much of the film is pretty mundane stuff, but that’s also kind of the point. McConnell isn’t a radical figure. He’s a man who wants a family.

Seahorse does at times struggle with presenting a narrative. Much of the film’s first act centers around McConnell’s relationship with CJ, a masculine-presenting non-binary person, who was initially supposed to co-parent McConnell’s child. CJ exits the narrative early on, leaving Freddy on his own, though with support from his mother among other people.

At a certain point, Finlay stops trying to organize the steps of McConnell’s pregnancy into a cohesive story. The third act suffers from a few meandering sequences that don’t serve any broader narrative. Mundane might be the point, but it’s gets a bit tedious after a while.

Seahorse would likely have benefited from Finlay taking a broader approach to the subject. A quick Google search shows the especially toxic media environment in the UK toward transgender people. None of this is covered in the film, perhaps a missed opportunity to provide some broader context to the audience.

For his part, McConnell expresses a desire to be away from the media spotlight late in the film, a peculiar position for the subject of a documentary to be in. Finlay keeps some understandable distance toward a subject going through an emotionally taxing journey with minimal external support. It is McConnell’s journey more than than that of pregnant transgender men as a whole, a tricky tightrope that many narratives focused on marginalized groups must walk.

Seahorse is a very good film that handles its sensitive subject material with great care. There is the sense that there is plenty left on the table with regard to the subject matter. Perhaps another documentary with broader intentions to capture transphobia in Britain can expand on these themes, but if Seahorse succeeds in its primary objective, the thought might not be there to make another film on this topic.



May 2020



World Cinema: Tomboy

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Gender nonconformity in children remains a highly controversial issue in the fight for transgender equality. Supporters of LGBTQ rights are often accused of wishing for the “transing” of children, putting aside the rather obvious point that all transgender adults were at one point, children themselves. Gender-affirming care is a proven method for alleviating gender dysphoria.

The 2011 film Tomboy features a young ten-year old child, assigned female at birth, named Laure (Zoé Héran) who adopts the identity of Mickäel as he plays with new friends in a small French town. Mickäel might be trans, a point the film leaves unclear. That clarity is not really all that important, as Mickäel would be too young for any kind of treatment other than a social transition, which makes up the bulk of the narrative.

Mickäel spends his summer playing with the local kids in his apartment building, successfully integrating himself into their social framework, even earning the romantic affections of his neighbor Lisa (Jeanne Disson). Mickäel lives a happy life, supported by his six-year-old sister Jeanne (Malonn Lévana) in a highly impressive performance by the young actress.

With school just around the horizon, Mickäel’s secret can’t stay safe forever. Director Céline Sciamma does an excellent job depicting the social dynamics of the young play group, crafting a quite compelling film with minimalist aesthetics. The film works really well for a while without much of a story, powered by some phenomenal acting.

Tomboy falls apart when it comes time to deal with the stakes at hand, an irresponsibly rushed third act that squanders the film’s ample goodwill. Films need conflict, but Sciamma doesn’t seem all that concerned with tackling the issues she presents to her audience so much as she looks eager to wrap the thing up. There’s so much depth to the family construct that goes totally ignored in favor of cheap sequences that play too hard for shock value.

Films obviously don’t need happy endings. Children can experience heartbreak and misery just as anyone else can. Sciamma plays fast and loose with her narrative in such a way that undercuts its beauty. The world is a cruel place, but there should be some semblance of an explanation for depicting such malice on screen. Sciamma throws it out there without bothering to explain or defend her film’s actions.

Whether Mickäel is trans is not really the point, though anyone looking to answer with a definitive no should look no further than a clay appendage inserted into one’s modified swimsuit. The child clearly displayed feelings of gender dysphoria. What comes after that really isn’t the point, as the film only covers brief snippets of Mickäel’s life.

The portion that we do get to see includes a lot of irresponsible parenting, a bizarre narrative decision. Sciamma clearly wants to explore gender diversity, but she’s completely careless in her approach. Tomboy is a well-crafted film, but one devoid of the kind of compassion desperately needed in these types of situations.




November 2019



Markie in Milwaukee Is a Powerful, Often Unsettling Transgender Narrative

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Transitioning is an incredibly difficult journey even under the best of circumstances. The highs of living out of the closet often contrast with the struggle for acceptance that far too many transgender people experience. Markie in Milwaukee documents ten years of turmoil that one transgender woman faced, coming to grips with her identity against a backdrop of an incredibly unsupportive community.

Markie Wenzel is a woman stuck between two worlds, facing a choice few ever have to consider. She’s an upbeat, soft-spoken person with a pleasant demeanor, if not a little socially awkward. Her height, close to seven feet, led to bullying at an early age, something that hardly let up as she began her transition in the mid 2000s.

As a minister in a fundamentalist Christian church, Markie encountered quite a lot of pushback from her community as she began to present as female. Her family all but abandoned her, refusing to accept a hiccup in an otherwise happy life.

The film offers a broad lens to examine Markie’s life at the various stages of transition, including the point where she decided to stop and return to life as Mark, a decision that was rewarded in the form of family visits, including a new granddaughter. Markie’s church took her back, basking in the glory of a sinner come to repent for the crime of being born different.

Markie in Milwaukee operates on an entirely different narrative wavelength than its subject, a moving narrative that highlights the many conflicts that transition brings out. Director Matt Kliegman largely lets Markie speak for herself, but the framing of the documentary often suggests that he’s at odds with the statements coming from Markie. The film carries the feel of belonging to Markie, but the audience is given plenty of leeway to suggest that there’s more beneath the surface that she’s not quite ready to tackle.

Kliegman puts the audience in a challenging position with regard to how to process Markie’s choices. Generally speaking, it’s considered inappropriate to second-guess the way a transgender person explains their identity. It is impossible to watch Markie in Milwaukee and not do just that.

This dynamic is most on display in scenes highlighting Markie’s church and her family. Despite a few efforts by Markie to suggest her detransition was not fueled by religious pressure, she contradicts herself on a few occasions. The footage from her church and children’s home demonstrates the intrinsic link between the two.

In all her years of transition, Markie found acceptance in the form of support groups and friendly strangers out in public. She didn’t appear to develop any meaningful connections beyond those surface level relationships. That kind of isolation is bound to be tough on anyone.

The saddest aspect of the film is the way in which Markie lives her life believing that she’s caused all this damage to her family. To say that that’s their problem, not hers, is an accurate reflection of the situation, yet Markie’s life is not improved by the notion that her identity shouldn’t be a burden on anyone else. For too many transgender people, the idea that our lives are an abomination is allowed to fester, tearing away at one’s psyche.

As a transition narrative, Markie in Milwaukee would have been improved by a stronger focus on the decision to embrace her old identity again. Kliegman touches on the subject a few times, most notably in a conversation between Markie and her therapist. One can certainly understand the sensitive nature of the subject matter, but the resolution to Markie’s story leaves more questions than it probably needed to.

Markie in Milwaukee is a flawed narrative, but a vitally important one in today’s climate. In many ways, Kliegman’s film is most valuable to the family members of transgender people, serving as a cautionary tale for the road that too many loved ones have to face alone. Markie Wenzel has been dealt a raw hand in life, but her story can help future generations to avoid the same hardships.



July 2019



Revisiting Veronica Mars’ “Meet John Smith”

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Despite its relatively small audience, Veronica Mars made an impact in 2004 with its strong feminist lead and mature themes that took high school life seriously. The show took on grief, mental illness, and income inequality among other hard-hitting topics, rarely content to dive into the kind of melodrama that defined other teen narratives. While the show typically handled complex issues with grace, its early first season episode “Meet John Smith” made an absolute mess of transgender rights.

The episode begins with Justin (Bobby Edner), a run of the mill, mildly misogynistic teen who enjoys ranking girls based on their attractiveness with his buddies. Justin works at a video rental store, where a customer (Melissa Leo) seems to enjoy his recommendations. A visit to the store by Veronica and Keith leads to Justin enlisting Veronica’s help to find his long-lost father.

From the first scene of the episode, it’s clear that something’s up with Justin’s case. Not only is it odd that a one-time character with a seemingly sympathetic case would be introduced in a scene painting him as a desperate womanizer, it makes little sense that Justin would know so little about his own father’s absence. There is no trace of “John Smith,” cut out from family photos and rarely spoken of by Justin’s mother. Justin suspects something is astray, but wants to find his dad to help with his family’s poor financial situation.

The case gets weirder when Veronica asks Wallace to pull Justin’s file after an extensive letter-writing campaign aimed at finding the John Smith in a haystack. It turns out that Justin’s father died while he was in the first grade, a detail he declined to share with Veronica. To muddy the waters further, Veronica receives a letter from one of the John Smiths with impeccable handwriting. An effort to track the local John Smiths based on the letter’s area code narrows the field down quite a bit.

A convenient grocery list in one of the John Smith’s cars leads Veronica and Justin to uncover the mystery. The man they thought was John Smith turns out to be a parole officer, dating the woman who wrote to Veronica. John Smith is actually Julia Smith. Justin’s father is a transgender woman, the very same one who relies on his movie recommendation prowess.

There’s more than a few things wrong with this whole “better dead than trans” narrative. It’s unclear how the custody battle over Justin played out, but Julia clearly isn’t okay with being completely absent from her son’s life. She drives 90 miles just for brief interactions with her son, a painfully sad notion. Justin’s mother doesn’t appear in the episode, but Veronica lets her off the hook, noting that she understands why her mother opted for the whole false-death narrative.

What’s missing in all of that is how messed up it is for anyone to have told a young child, a first-grader, that they had lost a parent who was alive and well. “Well” being the keyword here. Julia is shown to be in a stable relationship with the man they mistook for John Smith, leaving grocery list post-it notes on his rear-view mirror. There simply isn’t a compelling reason why Julia couldn’t be a part of her son’s life.

Justin’s initial “circus freak” reaction is a bit more understandable, given the shock and the idea that trans issues were hardly mainstream in 2004 let alone to a high school boy, but what’s missing from this narrative is any time to process those emotions. After a conversation with Veronica, Justin extends an olive branch to Julia, letting her know that a film he’d recommended was in stock.

To some extent, the brevity with which Veronica Mars engages with its transgender moment is perfectly understandable. Justin isn’t a main character, with this episode being his sole appearance on the show. This episode also has to deal with Duncan’s struggles with his anti-depressants and Veronica’s own relationship with her mother.

There are some aspects of the way the show handles transgender issues that can be forgiven due to the time period, such as casting Melissa Leo in a trans role. That issue, in particular, persists to the present day. Film and television have only recently begun to take trans representation seriously, taking much of the weight off an episode that aired in 2004 to get everything right.

This episode mines transgender issues for a cheap plot twist without dedicating the time to adequately grapple with the consequences of its narrative. “Meet John Smith” ends on a relatively happy note, though nothing can make up for the needless time lost between Justin and Julia. For any closeted trans people watching, Veronica Mars paints a bleak portrait of what lies ahead. For a show that handled so many issues with grace and dignity, this episode was among its lowest moments.



April 2019



John Boyne’s Lazy “Support” For Transgender Rights

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The letters that make up the LGBTQ community suggest a sort of unity among the various gay & gender diverse subsections. This of course, puts aside the fact that all of the letters have vastly different experiences. Intersectionality is vital toward understanding that while we may all be part of the same umbrella term, each of us faces different levels of inequality.

Irish author John Boyne, a gay cisgender man, has recently written a novel titled My Brother’s Name is Jessica about a boy who discovers that his sibling has a gender identity different than the one assigned at birth. One could take umbrage with the title, which misgenders a transgender woman, or the idea that Boyne is writing about transgender issues despite not being transgender, but perhaps more concerning is an op-ed Boyne recently published. The piece which decries the use of the word “cis” in its title, defends tennis star Martina Navratilova for comments she herself has apologized for, and equivocates on the bigotry of TV writer turned obsessive anti-trans keyboard cowboy Graham Linehan among other things is far more concerning.

The word cisgender has been used by the scientific for decades despite Boyne’s claim that it’s “given by trans people to their nontransgender brethren.” In fact, “cis” draws its origins from Latin, meaning “on this side of,” to refer to people whose gender identity matches the sex they were designated at birth. “Cis” is to gender identity what “straight” is to sexuality. It’s kind of a clunky word, one that I criticize in The Transgender Manifesto, but thankfully for cisgender people, society at large doesn’t really expect them to use it very often, almost always in relation to transgender people.

Naturally, “cis” has received backlash from many anti-transgender people, who created the #cisisaslur hashtag to protest the scientific term. Boyne seems totally on board with this mentality, writing, “I don’t consider myself a cis man; I consider myself a man.” On the surface level, one can kind of see his point, cis being an unnecessary term that doesn’t fundamentally change the way society views him. Trouble is, this mentality perpetuates the notion that cisgender is the “default setting.” It’s not fundamentally any different from a white man demanding that no one refer to him as white or a straight person insisting that people only refer to them as normal.

Similarly tone deaf is Boyne’s defense of Navratilova. Navratilova, seen for decades as a champion of gay rights, published an op-ed in The Times where she referred to transgender athletes as “cheats” and regarded the very notion of allowing them to compete as “insane.” Navratilova later apologized for her remarks after being dropped as an ambassador for Athlete Ally, an LGBTQ nonprofit.

Boyne presents Navratilova’s narrative as something completely unworthy of criticism, writing, “For anyone to suggest that a person of her courage is phobic about anything is to deliberately ignore her history.” Such a mindset presents a strange either/or scenario. Navratilova has quite obviously been a champion of gay rights, but that doesn’t change the prejudiced nature of her mentality toward transgender athletes who are frequently portrayed as imposters seeking to game the system. The recent media obsession with transgender athletes ignores the fact that not a single transgender athlete has competed in the Olympics since the IOC started permitting trans athletes back in 2003. While anti-transgender pundits frequently warn of a transgender take-over in sports, they seem decidedly unsure of when such an invasion is actually going to occur.

It’s one thing for Boyne to continue supporting Navratilova, an iconic tennis star and someone who has done a lot of legitimate good for gay athletes, but such praise does not need to diminish the hurtful words that she rightly issued an apology for. Boyne’s words talk over the transgender community who face plenty of discrimination in sport, and pointlessly attempt to frame transphobic comments as something other than bigoted. A person who cared about intersectionality might have left well enough alone, but Boyne felt the need to chime in on a matter than didn’t call for comment from a gay man completely unaffected by her words.

Boyne’s reaction to his op-ed has further perpetuated the idea that he doesn’t actually care about the transgender community he writes about. Boyne tweeted that he would engage with comments that weren’t “rude” or “aggressive” but most of his replies were aimed at people praising him, including a few anti-transgender accounts.

My own reply, which received over a hundred likes, went unanswered.


This wouldn’t be much of an issue if Boyne hadn’t found the time to apologize to noted obsessive transphobe Graham Linehan for including him in the op-ed. Linehan. Oddly enough, Boyne’s apology was later deleted, preserved by screenshot.


The idea that he made time for Linehan, who tried to strip funding for a transgender children’s charity and has been warned by the police for anti-transgender harassment among other things, suggests that Boyne doesn’t have much regard for the community he spends his time writing about. Anyone wondering where Linehan’s heart is located doesn’t need to look further than his Twitter feed.

I can get that Boyne is upset about the reaction to his op-ed. No one like to feel piled on, but instead of introspection, Boyne has instead dug into the notion that his critics are merely rude or aggressive. Such tone-policing ignores the broader issue, that Boyne’s words were misguided, hurtful, and ignorant of a community he’s currently attempting to represent in his own work.

Intersectionality reminds us of the importance of engaging with people whose perspective differ from one’s own. Boyne doesn’t seem to care to engage with the transgender community over his comments or his book. A man who displays more concern for the critics of transgender people than the community itself is probably not the best person to be dramatizing our lives in novels. His lazy concern for trans rights has no place in the public discourse, a pathetic attempt to monetize a group of people he otherwise demonstrates nothing but disdain toward.



December 2018



Girl Is an Irresponsible Exploitation of the Transgender Body

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Since its success at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival, Belgium’s Girl has been causing quite a stir. Director Lukas Dhont has been criticized for his casting of a cisgender male as the teenage transgender ballerina Lara, a longstanding point of contention for films depicting trans narratives. The cisgender casting may have attracted the most controversy thus far, but Girl’s biggest red flag is Dhont’s flagrant obsession with the deterioration of Lara’s genitals.

Lara, played by Viktor Polster in his film debut, is a passionate young teenager eager to pursue her dancing at a top academy while trying to live a life unhindered by the prejudices toward her gender identity. She has a loving father, supportive instructor, and caring medical professionals but encounters discrimination from her peers and, in one bizarre instance, a professor who outright polls the female members of their class regarding their comfort toward Lara in the middle of a lesson. As cringe-worthy as that moment sounds, it’s just the tip of the iceberg for Lara’s downward spiral.

In many ways, Lara isn’t really the main character in Girl. Lara’s crotch is a much more potent force that Dhont seems hellbent on featuring at every possible moment. The film features multiple scenes of Polster’s teenage penis in plain view and several close-ups of his pubic region that’s been bloodied by Lara’s excessive taping. Any narrative value of these scenes dries up by the third go-around, leaving the sense that Dhont is farming the transgender body for all its voyeuristic worth.

Suffering has been a common theme of many, if not most, transgender narratives. Dhont takes Lara’s sadness to extreme degrees, with practically every scene dedicated either to her humiliation or the steady decline of her mental health. This hyper-focus on misery comes at the expense of Polster’s performance, whose range is essentially confined to either very sad or completely despondent. There are a few scattered moments where Polster delivers subtle expressions that showcase his talent as an actor, but the torment is so heavy-handed that it robs him of any chance to leave an impression other than the boilerplate sympathy one should naturally feel toward a teenager that’s in as much visible pain as Lara.

Girl’s timeline deserves considerable scrutiny with regard to Lara’s transition. While hormone replacement therapy is a process that’s highly individualistic in nature, it is never something that happens overnight or even in a few weeks. Based on the start of the semester and a New Year’s Eve celebration toward the end, the bulk of the film appears to take place over a six-month span, the very early stages of HRT. Dissatisfaction with progress is hardly out of the ordinary, but Dhont makes several decisions that demonstrate his fundamental lack of understanding of how transitioning works.

There’s a scene early on that features a consultation for gender confirmation surgery before Lara’s even started hormones, something that makes little sense even before you consider how delicately doctors approach treatment for transgender youth. Lara later learns that her surgery must be delayed due to her tucking, in what would be an absurdly early point for that to even be on the table, especially since her father and therapist were aware of her depression. Realistically, surgery wouldn’t be on the table for years for a teenager like Lara. Fictional narratives aren’t exactly expected to showcase complex issues in a completely authentic fashion, but Dhont plays fast and loose with the details in a way that demonstrates how little he’s interested in portraying even a semi-realistic transition. For Girl, Lara’s bloodied crotch takes precedent over anything else interesting about her identity.

There are critics out there, overwhelmingly cisgender men, who feel that this whole casting controversy is a total non-issue, repeating the adage, “acting is acting.” The trouble with this argument is that it relies extensively on a false utopian sense of society, where everyone exists on equal footing. Much of the overwhelmingly positive coverage of films such as Black Panther and Crazy Rich Asians focused on the authenticity of their inclusive casting. A Fantastic Woman, the incumbent Academy Award Winner for Best Foreign Language Film, earned worldwide praise for its transgender narrative, starring an actual transgender woman. Daniela Vega’s performance in that film captured the hardships of being transgender without focusing on her transition or her genitals.

Girl exists in stunning contrast, a film guided by cisgender voices that never seeks to explore the nuances of the transgender identity, not when it can constantly return to its point of utmost fascination. Dhont claims to have been interested in this project for close to ten years, inspired by a transgender dancer he’s since become close friends with. The trouble is that he never demonstrates any concern for transgender people beyond what you might find from a stranger on Grindr, desperate for a peek of one’s private parts. For years, prominent transgender voices have called for an end to the exploitative trauma porn that defines most depictions of trans people on screen. Instead of elevating transgender characters as people worthy of dignity or respect, Dhont exploits their bodies to his heart’s content. Girl is a deeply dehumanizing film, reducing the transgender identity from a soul to an appendage.



November 2018



Transgender Storytime: The Rules of Attraction

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Transgender people have their lives policed in countless ways, from agency over our own bodies to the perception that our presence in places of public accommodation puts an undue burden on others. We see this narrative played out time and time again, despite the utter lack of evidence to support the idea that transgender people, or the act of transitioning itself, present some existential threat to society at large. The idea of “lesbian erasure,” a term used by anti-trans extremists to justify their bigoted behavior, even in the absence of any coherent definition, stands out as particularly absurd.

The subject of attraction to transgender people remains a popular talking point, even in the relative mainstream. Victoria’s Secret Chief Marketing Officer Ed Razek has created quite a stink for a number of hateful comments about transgender and plus sized people, suggesting that his brand is “nobody’s third love, we’re their first love.” The implications that transgender people are only desirable in a secondary capacity to the rest of the eligible dating pool is persistent, dangerous, and quite untrue.

What are the laws that govern attraction? The question doesn’t lend itself to an easy answer, no matter how many think pieces are written about why human beings feel the way they feel. I can tell you that there’s certainly not some kind of caste system, where people are ranked by their relative attractiveness in order to match with similarly tiered companions. Life doesn’t work like that, even if some people think it should for transgender people.

No doubt, there are systematic prejudices in place that make it harder for transgender people to date. Many people subconsciously write off trans people as partners because of the discrimination we’ve faced throughout recorded history. Such thinking seems to be what people like Razek have in mind when they suggest that transgender people cannot be part of someone’s fantasy, putting aside the success of numerous transgender models and the immense popularity of transgender pornography. Obviously transgender people are part of many people’s fantasies. Not exactly a leap to suggest that transgender people would then be naturally part of some cisgender people’s dating considerations as well.

The origins of nonsense like “lesbian erasure” stems from this strange mentality that outside of dating fellow trans people, we can only find love by forcing ourselves onto cisgender people. That idea is stupid, and certainly not rooted in reality. You can scroll through hundreds of transgender social media accounts for evidence of perfectly happy relationships. I myself am in a wonderful committed relationship.

Do these relationships suggest that our partners tried options one and two before settling on a transgender alternative, as Razek suggests? That question might seem silly, trying to apply an exact science to a completely inexact process, but that’s the point. We don’t typically ask people if they came to love their partner only after seemingly superior options were pursued. Love is never supposed to seem transactional in nature.

Transgender people deserve a chance to love and be loved in an environment that isn’t constantly suggesting malfeasance when one of us actually finds happiness. Contrary to what many in the media think, a lot of us are doing perfectly fine in the dating department. Coming out is a process of accepting yourself on the inside before presenting that truth on the outside, to the world around you. It should come as no surprise that those who have embarked on that journey make viable partners, individuals who know how to love in part because they lived for so long without loving themselves. That kind of self-love comes organically, unlike say, the kind that stems from an article of clothing purchased from Victoria’s Secret. Maybe that’s why the company is so detached from reality.



March 2018



A Fantastic Woman Beautifully Illustrates the Struggle for Human Dignity

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As a transgender woman, one of the things about A Fantastic Woman that excited me the most was that it was made in Chile. One of the biggest problems with the state of the conversation surrounding transgender rights in America is that many on the right frame the discussion as if our population existed as a fad solely on college campuses or the West Coast. As I noted ad nauseam in The Transgender Manifesto, transgender people have existed in every culture for quite a long time. A Fantastic Woman illustrates what it is like to have to live in a world where people can not only freely question the very nature of your legitimacy, but also call you a pervert and a freak in the process.

Marina is a proud woman. She has a loving partner and a job, waitressing during the day to support her passion as a singer. There are countless people throughout the film who don’t shun her or shame her for who she is. These details of her life may seem superfluous, but there’s a certain power in their execution, in a world where so many people struggle to accept the existence of trans people, let alone the notion that we might find acceptance and live normal lives.

The film’s narrow scope, which focuses almost entirely on the fallout surrounding the death of her partner Orlando, turns out to be one of its best assets. Grief is a part of life, which is why people instinctively utter the phrase, “I’m sorry for your loss,” even though we know that the words will offer little practical comfort to the recipient. The pain fades with time, aided by a sense of closure that funerals and wakes can provide.

You are not supposed to be barred from saying goodbye to the person you love. The very notion is unfathomable in the abstract, because it’s inhumane on a level that few care to explore. Love may transcend traditional understandings of gender and sexuality, but hate only cares about that which it fears.

Orlando’s family hates Marina. They hate her because she is transgender. She loved him, and several of his relatives demonstrate acute awareness that this love was mutual. Hatred trumps reality. Transgender people know this sensation all too well, and Daniela Vega, in just her second on-screen role, displays all the emotions that follow with acute precision.

A Fantastic Woman is an honest portrayal of the spirit’s struggle to retain basic human dignity in the face of tragedy. It is hard to put into words how difficult it can be to react in real time to the kind of discrimination that transgender people encounter far too often in this world, to have to stare into the eyes of a person who has made it clear that they don’t even value you as a person. It is one of the rare instances where the reality is often worse than a scenario concocted in one’s own imagination.

We’re not supposed to live in a world where people can treat someone like filth because of who they are. Countries pass laws that are supposed to prevent this. A Fantastic Woman is a perfect reminder of how much more progress humanity has to make in the realm of basic decency.

Film has the power to show people experiences beyond what they might find in their own daily lives. One of the most common points I bring up in my own activism is that there are a lot of people who have genuinely never interacted with a transgender person, which can lead the mind to substitute its own interpretation when discussing LGBT rights in a broader sense. The national discussion often omits that we are in fact, real people. We laugh, we love, we grieve. We shouldn’t be forced to surrender the latter because society has a problem with the reality we exist in.



January 2018



Transgender Storytime: Electrolysis Woes

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Transitioning changes your life in many ways, both on a grand scale as well as the smaller stuff. For transwomen, facial hair represents an obstacle that requires attention on a daily basis. I used to be a big fan of night showers, but the stubble presents a constant roadblock best dealt with in the morning hours. I’ve recently started electrolysis treatments to end this war between follicle and razor once and for all.

Electrolysis is the process of permanent hair removal by electrocuting the base of the hair follicle, destroying it at its root. Essentially tweezing using a cattle prod, or destroying a Death Star by firing a proton torpedo through an exhaust port. Not fun.

The hour-long zapping sessions aren’t really the worst part of the experience either. In order for the process to be successful, there needs to be enough hair growth for the cattle prod to be able to tweeze, a conduit that allows the mother lode to reach its target. Given that my hair growth has slowed due to HRT, I need to abstain from shaving for about four days prior to treatment.

In order to speed up the process since, I’ve been doing two sessions a week, usually on consecutive days. Each session only covers a small area of growth, and most follicles need more than one session before permanent removal is achieved. To sum up, this process is painful, expensive, lengthy, and requires me to be unshaven for most of the week. Oddly enough, that last one has been the worst part of the experience.

The whole “transition” element in this journey can be a bit of a misnomer in the sense that while many of the physical aspects of my body are changing from male attributes to female, it isn’t really this Pokemon-style evolution. I am female and go about day to day to life as such, with breasts that would be difficult to hide, if I ever wanted to. There is no “boy on some days, girl on others,” even when I’m wearing ratty old clothes I owned before this journey started. Since coming out and undergoing HRT, the feelings of gender dysphoria have almost entirely subsided. I can be myself.

Facial hair makes feeling like myself much more difficult. It’s why it gets shaved off in the morning, or zapped with a cattle prod so it can’t come back. Facial hair is not welcome in my life, yet it gets to cohabit my face with the few makeup products I can use that won’t irritate the areas that have already been treated.

To set the image, Ian in a dress with blush, mascara, shadow, eyeliner, and a load of stubble and patchy skin. Charming isn’t it? That’s the new normal for the foreseeable future. I’m only on session six, and we haven’t even gotten to the chin yet. Whole neck area to deal with, plus additional touchups for the areas with surviving follicles.

I’ve never been too concerned with the concept of “passing,” which is one of many reasons I kept my birth name. My life is spent in accordance with my own comfort, not with an arbitrary set of societal guidelines dictating the person I’m supposed to look like. I am an unapologetically proud transgender woman.

And yet, I feel bad being in public with stubble on my face. I hate it. My version of “passing,” or whatever you call it, does not involve facial hair. You get a certain look, however subtle, from Starbucks baristas when you say “Ian” for the order, or bartenders when you hand over your ID. I could change that, by changing my name, but I don’t because that doesn’t bother me. Facial hair does bother me. It has no part in the future I envision for myself, even if it currently plays a larger role in my present that I would like. There will come a day when it doesn’t, and I’m very fortunate to be in a position where I can undergo this expensive treatment.

I want to make the intentions for this article very clear, in case comments pop up accusing me of whining about my situation. This has nothing to do with wanting to vent or complain. I accept that, for the next few months or so, my face will not look the way I like it to look for most of the week.

That doesn’t mean it doesn’t suck. It does suck. The kind of suck that is in service to a greater good, but is still a kind of suck.

The feedback I tend to receive the most comes from allies who urge me to keep being vocal with these uniquely transgender experiences. There are plenty people out there who genuinely believe that transgender people are a bunch of phonies who live this way to fulfill a fetish or to become internet celebrities. I didn’t write this article for them.

Self-esteem is a lifelong process. Transgender people often face a steep learning curve in that realm, as feeling trapped in the wrong body tends to not be very helpful toward establishing one’s own sense of worth. Transitioning marked the beginning of a journey that sought to correct that error. The act alone cannot be the sole solution.

Temporary facial stubble does not make me depressed. Part of the benefits of undergoing HRT is that it puts your mind in the position of being able to differentiate the shitty parts of life from the catastrophically horrific. Not being able to shave falls under the former category and that’s okay. A girl with visible breasts is allowed to be annoyed that she has to walk around in public with prickly little hairs sticking out of her face. That sucks, and that’s okay.