I Hate My Voice

It’s kind of like an incantation, that phrase. By using it, I can cause people all around me to say some variation on, “Oh, I love your voice, you’ve got that Kathleen Turner thing going on…”

I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard it, and I’ve come here today to write about how frustrating it can be.

How can a compliment be frustrating? When it feels like it leaves no room for how I feel about it. It feels like I’m hearing, “Oh, you’re wrong about that, there’s nothing wrong with your voice!”

But as well-meaning as that is, it’s frustrating because you don’t have to live with my voice. You don’t have to be misgendered on the phone 20-30% of the time. I even left a cable company because despite my asking supervisors repeatedly to make sure that my account was clearly marked as belonging to a woman, EVERY SINGLE TIME I spoke to them, someone misgendered me, and usually more than once per call. When I quit, the retention specialist heard me tell him this reason, and thought that offering me a better deal would make a difference.

Me: “Yes, but my dignity matters to me, and your company has consistently shown it doesn’t matter to you. If you can’t guarantee me that your company will treat me with that dignity, then-”

He: “Wait, your ‘dignity’ is worth more to you than $120?”

Me: “Thank you for summing that up for me. Goodbye.”

We talk of microaggressions when we talk of life as a marginalised person: “Hey, baby, you’d be so pretty if you’d smile!” “Can I touch your hair?” “You’re not like those others!” and so on. For me, at least, being misgendered is not micro at all. It’s a metaphorical punch in the gut, whoosh there goes my breath, “Crap sakes it’s been 22 years when does it stop?!” It’s often a sign of risk, being misgendered; I’ve had it be the start of an extortion attempt, back in the day, and no one has ever physically assaulted me for being trans without throwing in the casual violence of misgendering.

So what would I like, when I say “I hate my voice!”?

I’d like to hear that the person empathises, that it must be difficult/frustrating to make me feel that way, and maybe not to be told I’m wrong by way of wanting to make me feel better.

And I do get that the intent is to make me feel better, but as we so often say, “Intent is not magic“. I think this falls into that habit people have of wanting to always fix things, whether or not the person with the issue wants it fixed. But like offering unsolicited advice, it shuts down the conversation I might have been trying to have, and substitutes the one that won’t make the listener uncomfortable having to acknowledge that sometimes, cis people make my life really difficult.

As always, be clear that I speak for a vast and teeming constituency of one. It’s entirely possible that other people saying “I hate my voice!” are, in fact, wanting compliments. No easy answers, ever, are there?

ETA: Overnight, Miri of Brute Reason (whom you should read because she’s clever and insightful!) pointed out this excellent post from June/14 at Book of Jubilation: Kids these days get too much praise: Praise, validation, and encouragement. Just wanted to add the link because I think it provides a really useful approach for people to understand the concept in terms that might be more familiar than trans life.

ETFA: Further adding a thoughtful development of the idea at C.M.Stone’s blog, A Better Way for Praise, Validation, and Encouragement.

“Brave” is too small a word

Too small to encompass the massive, almost unimaginable courage being shown by Chelsea Manning, sentenced to 35 years in Leavenworth, and responding to that outrageous sentence (please note that Lt. Calley, the leader of the unit that committed the My Lai atrocities in Vietnam, served only three days of a 3-year sentence for the dozens of murders) by publicly declaring her transition. 

I’ve had a nightmare thousands of times, off and on since I was about 7, about being myself and being put into a jail or prison for men. And that’s me-the-big-tough-varsity-athlete-with-military-unarmed-combat-training-who’s-fought-off-two-attacks-already. 

Being a small, slight woman like Chelsea? In a military fucking prison? I don’t have a word big enough to do justice to that kind of bravery. 

Just a note here: DO NOT use the name she doesn’t want to use anymore; DO NOT misgender her in my comment thread. I WILL instantly ban anyone who does, no exceptions, no do-overs, and the comment won’t see the light of pixels. DON’T push me on this.

A word I freaking HATE in its current usage

“Junk.”

loathe this usage. In fact, if it hadn’t been deprecated, I’d have put a “blink” tag on “loathe”, because red-bold-italic-underline doesn’t feel like enough to express my loathing.

Here’s the thing. I transitioned – was reborn, I like to think of it – in 1992. I went into a catatonic depression, was hospitalized for it, and after a few weeks came back as me, the me you “know”(1). When I did so, the only way to get one’s gender marker changed on driver’s licence, let alone anything important like a birth certificate, government health insurance card, or passport, was to have genital surgery. And you needed to come back with a signed affidavit from TWO MDs saying that they had found you to be physically $NEWGENDER. I won’t try and speak to how difficult that was for trans men, because I’m not one, but do take a moment and consider that standard; remember, too, that in order to get paid-for surgery on the government health insurance, you had to be in a Benjamin-standards program for transition, which at the time meant that you were flying the first year without even starting hormones, which was no picnic for any trans person who wanted paid-for surgery. 

Because the Benjamin standards, as applied in my jurisdiction, were so rigidly applied, the “Real Life Test” only counted if you did it in the panel-approved way: for trans women, that meant (no exaggerations here, I promise) ALWAYS wearing makeup and visibly feminine clothes; legally changing your name to something unambiguously feminine, even if your existing name was sufficiently androgynous and commonly used by any people gendered as men or women; being hetero (interested in men sexually); working full-time or studenting full-time or volunteering at least 25 hours a week, meaning my “raising my damn kids” didn’t count for shit; and working hard to “pass”, meaning “if you tell people you’re trans, that makes you ineligible for being considered trans”.

Place alongside those standards, me: 25, a former two-sport varsity athlete, “tomboy femme” in appearance(3), and my long-term goal, which upset my counsellor some, was this: “Some day, I want to wake up in the morning and realize I’ve got no milk for my tea. I want to grab the nearest two articles of clothing that fit the local ordinances, put on whatever pair of shoes is easiest and nearest the door, and go to the store, buy my milk, come back, and have my tea, without anyone I meet ever thinking anything more unusual about me than ‘oh, that woman’s not wearing a bra!’. I didn’t carry a purse, but a backpack; I still wanted to play soccer, only now with women and not men (later I played co-ed too), and it would be several more years before I self-defined as bisexual, let alone hetero. 

It took me twelve years after I transitioned before I was able to afford the surgery I wanted. Twelve years in which I lived every day with a driver’s licence and health card that said I was male; twelve years in which I feared, every single time I left my home, that this would be the day I met the mean cop, who’d put me in the boys’ jail until my lawyer showed up. If my lawyer showed up. Twelve years in which I didn’t dare do anything to interact with my governments any more than I absolutely had to, because every time I did so, i got treated like shit by clerks who saw my ID. 

Once, while trying to set up a bank account, I had the bank manager calling the police, because she said I was trying to commit fraud by not telling her that I “wasn’t a woman”, as indicated by my ID. 

Twelve years. In that time, the state of my genitals was everyone’s fucking business, and they treated it as the single most important fact about my existence. 

So pardon me if I have a tough time accepting a society dismissing the importance of genitalia as “junk”, given how very deeply I have felt the pain of society’s disapproval of my (presumed) genitalia for many years. 

Am I saying you shouldn’t use it? Well, around here, yes, if you’ve got any consideration/empathy. But elsewhere? We are all responsible for our own actions, you’ll have to make that decision on your own. 

But believe me when I say that after being societally defined by my genitals for twelve years, hearing that difference now described as “junk” is a cognitive dissonance and emotional minefield for me. Make of it what you will.

1) There are more and more trans* folk who are happy to keep using their old names, or to have anyone know their old names; for me, given how much I truly hated my old name even aside from its verygendered-ness – it rhymed with a lot of very bad things to be called, and i knew a lot of very creative bullies in my gifted program, as in “let’s go to the library and get foreign language dictionaries to find new names to abuse Hagafemu(2) with” creative. The point is, I don’t tell people my old name. Outside my family of origin, only five people in the city I live in know my old name, and three of them are ex-partners of mine. And honestly, I generally don’t want to know other trans* folks’ old names, either; I want to know who they are now, not who they used to be. Not every trans* person feels this way, though; Zinnia Jones, for example, is quite public about her transition, and I completely respect her choice to be so, as I’m quite sure she’d respect mine.

2) A short version of the Japanese name of my site, “haga” from “hagane”, and “femu” being a Japanese-phonetic way of shortening “feminisuto”; a case could be made for “femi” rather, but “femu” was the default/obvious, so that’s what I picked.

3) “Tomboy femme” is how one of my besties described me shortly after I transitioned. I lucked into finding a small group of women friends after transition who didn’t subscribe to the then-fairly-common separatist/radfem/trans-exclusionary feminism; one of them said that this was the best descriptor, as I kept my hair in a short curly bob, wore only what makeup I felt I needed to “pass”, and most often wore jeans and a t-shirt to going out.