This blog post and music video were originally conceived of as part of my process of coming out as a transgender woman. As life would have it, I felt the imperative to come out in a much more pragmatic manner before all these pieces were in place–and then two years passed. But I never let go of either the intention or desire to tell my story, so here it is.
Every history is related through the particular distortion of the present moment of authorship, including this one. Had I written this in the immediate wake of my coming out, I think I would have spent a lot of energy stressing that the dominant trans narratives–of being “born this way”, or having a lifelong experience of dysphoria–didn’t fit me at all. I would have really railed against the notion of gender identity as an Essential quality of the self, when my own experience of all aspects of my self is much better described as Emergent. I still basically hold with this, even though two years of reflection have also given me the opportunity to pick out instances over my life that I could weave into other patterns and narratives. I’m really not trying to retcon my life and say that I was always trans or always a girl; but I do think the potentialities for it abounded over the years.
I mean, I recall as early second or third grade wondering if it was possible for someone to be a boy and a girl at the same time, and what that person might look like. I remember a period of upwards of a month in middle school where I had a running serial fantasy of–hoo buddy, this one’s kind of vulnerable to write out–being in a lesbian sorority. Mind you, not some heel who stumbles into this forbidden heaven; no, I was definitely one of the girls.
But like I said, I’ve no interest in revisionism. Sure, I was a weird freaking goofball kid with big feelings who talked and sang too loud, but I didn’t really object to being a boy. Around the same time I was trying to dream the Girl-Boy, I also recall my first sense of, “Whew, I sure lucked out by being a boy. Being a girl, that would be…worse.” Packed into that worse was both a sense of inferiority and a poorer lot in life. Through grade school and adolescence, I found the male friends and social circles who would take someone like me, and you know I bought into heteronormative notions of romantic love. I could go off on a long tangent here about my patriarchal conditioning but Christ can a trans girl get a damn break from having to show her work around unlearning sexism? I’m trying to tell a story here.
My first clear foray into feminine expression came in tenth grade after poring over pictures of Syd Barrett. I remember feeling such a perplexity of disgust and allure with his style; in particular that he always wore colorful scarves. Flash forward six months or so, here’s me in my tenth grade yearbook photo:
And then wearing silky women’s shirts from Goodwill, or makeup and a dress onstage for my high school band’s last show. Relax, it’s just rock and roll, all right?
I passed through much of my twenties being impossibly emo and developing an unnerving pattern of being romantically involved–somehow?–with girls who were ostensibly lesbians. I have never been read more savagely than in the following tweet:
At the same time as I was proximal to so many queer women, I also felt uncomfortable describing myself as even “bi-curious”, because let’s face it, I’d only ever kissed two boys and given one-third of a handjob (the middle third, too: objectively the least exciting part). It took almost that entire decade to give myself permission to claim queerness (more about that here); to realize that if I stayed away out of some convoluted notion of not wanting to be appropriative or some shit, I would never give myself the chance to explore that part of myself. And for me, this shift was also about giving myself permission to explore femme gender expressions as well.
(In case it needs to be said: I am only trying to describe my own process of gender exploration, not anyone else’s. In particular, for me there is some blurring between the notions of femininity and womanhood, which I know doesn’t resonate for many butch trans women.)
Meanwhile, let’s look at the songs I was writing. From “Come Closer” a song I penned in 2007 for my ex from two years prior: “If we’re lovers that don’t make love, then that doesn’t seem unfair.” In “The State Of The Garden“, written 2009, I pretty much outline the platonic ideal of the Ambiguous Tenderqueer Hangout:
I arrived to pick you up at eight;
per your request, we don’t call it a date.
Matter fact, we’ve been not dating for six months,
just screenings for our private art film club.
With dinner first, and drinking after it,
and during, sharing the same small blanket.
“Holy Rock & Roll“, 2010:
I wanna kiss you like they do in France.
I wanna show you I can ride, mama, with no hands.
Want you to pull out your gun and make me dance.
I wanna rock and roll in the biblical sense.
“New Song, Old Love“, also 2010, in which I also refer to myself as a drama queen:
You broke my heart, dear. You made the right choice.
But even twelve years and all those nice boys
can’t change what we had. “All’s well that ends well.”
I don’t believe that, but I’m glad we’re friends still.
Yes, I’m being a little bit off the cuff by pulling all these receipts and daring you to tell me a dyke didn’t write these songs. But I’m also not? The past two years have taught me that even though I wasn’t living as a queer woman through my twenties, she was always a possibility, one that both frightened and enchanted me. I mostly only convened with her in song, but the more I let her speak, the louder and more possible she became.
But also, I was trying to make it work as a boy, and you know what? It’s not like it never did. Here are some of the boys I’ve been:
- Scruffy Artsy Emo Kid
- Young Professional ManTM
- Hipster Cowboy
- Dapper Fella
- Male FeministTM
- Queer Punk
Which is basically what the song “Farewell To My Man” is about. It isn’t that there was no room at all for me in masculinity. It was like my hometown: I grew up here, there are things I love and things I hate about it, it’ll always have a place in my heart. But also, maybe I’ve kept living here all this time because it was hard to imagine living anywhere else–until I did?
It began with pink bandanas, short shorts and leggings, as seen in the video for “Tucson”. There were also virtual rehearsals: a two-month period during which a handful of my friends were on Miitomo proved a fruitful ground for experimenting with femme looks.
I got encouragement from partners too, ranging from giving me my first skirt to just straight up saying shit like “If you sprouted a pair of tits tomorrow, I wouldn’t mind” (gulp). I am deeply grateful for the ways in which the safety to explore femininity was signaled by those close to me long before I was conscious of my own curiosity about it. But even as I began wearing said skirt around the house, there was still an unreality to what I was doing. Surely I was just playing and trying to fit in with my queer friends, right?
The first time I went shopping in the women’s section at Crossroads, my heart was positively racing. I think there was terror at being scrutinized by other women shoppers, but also at the enormity of all that it would mean for me to buy a dress for myself to wear. And folks, on September 30, 2016, when I stepped foot out my front door in West Oakland and walked to the bus stop wearing this dress, it was all over. I knew I was absolutely, positively not playing.
There’s a lot I could say about what the next stretch of time looked like: furiously shopping to create a femme wardrobe from scratch; selling off or packing up my boy clothes in successive waves; freaking out when my friend gave me a week’s worth of hormones (not enough to cause any bodily changes, but definitely enough to set off a bomb in my psyche about what options were on the table for both my gender and my body); and talking about almost nothing else in therapy. The short version is, seven months later I was a girl.
I wrote “Farewell To My Man” during this period, about two months after my first day out in a dress. I had just gotten back from a Thanksgiving visit with family, for which I had accidentally-on-purpose packed a mix of boy and girl clothes, but not enough of the former to make it through the week. Folks, there are times when writing a song can really scare the shit out of you, and this was one of those times. There’s less latency and noise on the channel from the subconscious directly to the page, especially in the cipher of verse.
I knew something momentous was happening; but I also felt all this incongruity between the sanctioned trans narrative and my experience. I emphatically felt that I hadn’t not been a boy or a man, and I didn’t relate to any description of gender dysphoria that I had encountered. (Side note: I have since had a lot a lot of both experiences of and thoughts about dysphoria, but that’s for another piece.) There are a lot of reasons that I chose to keep my given first name as another middle name (largely having to do with racial identity, which is also another piece altogether), but one of them was still feeling a strong connection to and affinity for all the people I’ve been. Put simply, I believe that I was a man, until I wasn’t. I wasn’t a woman, until I was.
I know this view runs counter to the some of the most prevalent trans narratives, and the experiences of many other trans folks; so it feels a little scary or even politically dangerous to pronounce it in mixed company. But aside from my dislike of ceding any rhetorical or material ground to hostile actors, I don’t actually know why it should be controversial. There are so many core aspects of my identity that weren’t inherent to my being from the jump. I was not born but became a songwriter, a radical, a parent or a therapist, yet no one casts aspersions on my fitness for those roles (usually). Why should my current gender being newly formed rather than latent have any bearing on its validity?
I still feel intent on creating more room for these sorts of narratives, that don’t treat transness as a tragic burden only to be accommodated when the danger of not doing so is grave. As Carta Monir reminds us, being trans is a gift. Whatever internal turmoil or oppression comes with the territory, I can’t help but brim with gratitude at the richness of my experience over the past two years. I feel like I’m able to see a whole array of colors that were simply beyond the range of my visible spectrum before I transitioned. In no way would I say that my life prior to transition was insincere or incomplete; but if I tried to go back to it, it would be. Amina was by no means inevitable; but she is irrevocable.
Anyway–holy shit did we spent a long time making this music video! It was shot exactly a year ago in August 2018, which in transition time feels like ages and ages. So much gratitude to my band, the Radical Folksonomy (which, by the way, holy shit y’all, we been making music together for ten years now?); to our recording engineer Nelly; to Paige and Jamie for filming and editing with such skill and care; and to so, so many people–partners, exes, homies, comrades, queers, community–who made it possible for me to know myself.
Without further ado, I give you: “Farewell To My Man”.
Today’s the day that I said farewell to my man:
packed up, left half my stuff–I didn’t have a plan.
But last night I drew The Moon, and this morning I drew Death.
I left my lipstick on the shot glass. I didn’t waste another breath
I can’t say I was never yours:
in the pool hall, in the punk bar; in the backseat, yeah of course.
You wonder why it’s ending, but you don’t know why it began.
It’s eighteen to the state line, and farewell to my man.
I loved you in linen, or grimy with bike grease;
in tank tops, in blue jeans cut off above the knees.
But that hat you wore, oh, it’s such a bore; and this is just to say
I’m keeping your leather jacket. It looks better on me anyway.
I can’t say you were never mine.
You were darling when you faltered; but when you swaggered, you were swine.
If there’s a pay phone at the rest stop, I’ll call you when I can;
but it’s two bucks to the counter girl, and farewell to my man.
I can’t say I’ll never be back.
And I might quit smoking, right after opening a new pack!
You gave it everything you had; I took all that I could stand.
All my love to you, babe; but farewell to my man.
Call up my tattoo guy, I’ve got some chapters to end!
It’s sixty minimum to Matty, and farewell to my man.
And ain’t no one is innocent, I know it like the back of my hand!
All my love to you, babe, but farewell to my man.