Engendered Tensions (2014)

Mr. Fedora’s presence was good for us, in a way. With someone like April, one needed a ‘buffer’, especially one who made you look ‘better’ in comparison. ‘Better’, in this sense, means ‘more used to April’s rules.’ Here are some examples of April’s rules:

“Thou Shalt Not Post Art To Facebook. Only DeviantArt is Acceptable.”

“The English Title of Anime Shall Be Forsaken. Japanese is Superior. Always.”

“Only The First Generation of Pokemon Count. All Subsequent Generation of Creatures Shall be Stripped of Their Trademarked Title.”

You can imagine she was fun at parties. I’d had, between Neb and myself, six years at that point to memorize the rules, so she must’ve thought me a good little pet as opposed to Fedora. Poor, blundering Fedora. He’d never worn make-up, he’d hardly ever dyed his hair, yet bumbling about for the fabled Goth GF. April openly disliked him but mocked Fedora for not ‘getting the hint.’ The hint was her basically just bullying the poor hapless idiot.

No attempts of ‘Leave me alone, I don’t like you’ were made.

April had another idea. “I’ll just tell him that I’m a boy! That’ll make him leave me alone!” It was said with the same vapid way in which cis women always say, “I’ll just tell him that I’m transsexual and that I have a penis, then he’ll leave me alone!”

My feelings about this were… complex, to say the least. I never felt like a girl, as I had been assigned with. But I also never felt like a bloke, either. The word ‘nonbinary’ had not crossed my path just yet. That being said, my first examples of ‘Trans-masculine’ were not the best, being they were April’s latest tirade and bloody Buchanan.

Buchanan’s also a pseudonym. Considering his absurdly privileged upbringing and transition and the love triangle later on which almost left one of us floating in a body of water, it was a reference to The Great Gatsby. His real name is Rowan. He currently passes his time in Atlanta by eating Chik-Fil-A and judging other queers. Somehow.

Anyway, back to 2014. I’d at first known Buchanan by another name, then he had changed it. Around this time, I also change my name. From CLockwork, (CL for short), to Xanthe. Buchanan’s name was met with support and immediate change, a virtue-signalling applause and a pat on the back for having preferences. My name-change was met with annoyance, scoldings for ‘making it complicated.’

Why?

‘Well, [Buchanan]’s trans, so we take his more seriously.’

Many of the opinions I had in 2014, I no longer stand by. But one I do stand by– No one needs to adorn the label of ‘transgender’ to have their chosen name respected. The reaction of my peers, whether I identified as trans later on or not, was unreasonable. But it didn’t mean my reaction to them was within reason.

Here’s a few examples of my militant and flawed logic:

  1. All self-labels were inherently detrimental to one’s sense of identity. If I were to say, for example, “I am blonde,” I am replacing my name, therefore mentally conditioning myself to replace my identity with a hair colour. It was much better to say, ‘I have blonde hair.’

2. Gender is sexism. You cannot define a ‘man’ or a ‘woman’ or an ‘androgyne’ without without sexism, therefore these terms are outdated and should be discarded.

3. One should change their body, pronouns, and aesthetic to however they see fit. This can be done without the use of labels.

4. I also hate my assigned sex but you don’t see me replacing my name with a label!

There was definitely a point that was trying to be made, here. What point, exactly? Who knows. What the devil was I on about?

And I expressed this point of view by picking fights with random people on Facebook and Tumblr. I think, looking back, it was an odd combination of my own battle with gender as well as being isolated to the point of turning toxic, like I’d invented a socio-political revolution as a counter-point to April still calling me a fucking lesbian. That was… an era. It also may have been my way to be able to start fights without something somehow happening to an unrelated ally in my inworld. Either way, it was toxic, and I regret that era.

Anyway, back to April. This identity-shift started as a plot to throw off Fedora, but her closeness with Buchanan seemed, at the time, to have an unwelcome influence. Being new to this myself but very much an ‘egg’, it seemed to produce yet more ‘rules’, those of which are even more complicated than usual by trans standards.

Which, considering the half-hour long, patronizing lectures when one dared used the word ‘nerd’ in place of ‘geek’, it seemed moreso obnoxious coming from April.

First of all, she would tell many of her trans friends that she was now using masculine pronouns, but tell other groups of friends that she liked all pronouns. To me specifically, she would tell me it was all a ruse.

“Oh, well, I have to go by he/him when I’m around my professors and colleagues. Since I’m in sequential art, they’ll only take me seriously if they think I’m a man, since only men have been comic artists!”

“I wish I could be label-free like you, but I have endometriosis, so I have to pretend that I’m a trans man for the doctors to do something about it! Because technically, curing endometriosis is a sex change!”

This is not strawman or even surmising, this is absolutely what she fucking said.

A good portion of April’s logic was also misogyny. “This is why I hate women. They’re always so sensitive. They want to have a cocktail and talk about their feelings. I fucking HATE that! Also, I like cars. What kind of girl actually likes cars? Also, I speak my mind. I’m not an entitled piss-baby about everything. I could never live with a girl.”

We were both disasters. Sometimes, if I’m really cruel to myself, I think that we deserved each other.

This all essentially led to me antagonizing half of my own community, when I was already an isolated non-SCADian, and April already had absolute control of the narrative. “See, I only go by he/him, but my abusive girlfriend keeps referring to me by she/her. Probably to keep her lesbian card, I guess.”

I was… definitely on my own journey. Many of the obstacles along the path were of my own making, but my inworld did help. My inworld niece, Nox, came out as a trans woman sometime during that era. Her culture wasn’t… the most accepting to queers in general, and still touted misogyny. There was also Chrome who had made the decision to stop physically ageing at the age of 13 to remain ambiguous, and as far as pronouns, told everyone to ‘flip a coin and pick one.’

In my outer world, by a bold stroke of fate, I met Avery. (This name is also a pseudonym.) It was the same coffee shop wherein I had met my ill-fated Elisabeth. Avery was also non-binary, and unlike me, had the words to describe it. Also, they were attractive, androgynous, and blonde. I met them while they were wearing a trench coat, thus my fate was sealed.

Even throughout Avery’s and my talks, I remained somewhat clueless. Sure, yes, I hated my higher voice and the fatty lumps on my chest. I also hated my wet, squishy, pulsating heart. I hated my too-pink skin. I hated my too-small mouth and the extra two inches I had over my inner self. I had dysphoria over my living body at large. I never thought any of it could be alleviated with hormones or surgeries. But some of what Avery said seemed to ring true in me.

“I want people to look at me and not be able to tell if I was a boy or a girl. I’m tired of people looking at me and seeing only my body rather than my identity.”

Oh. Yeah, I could definitely relate to that. My official stance on pronouns was that I didn’t mind any, and that I wasn’t a boy, or a girl– but that I was Xanthe. There was a lot about Avery’s experience that I could relate on.

“Today, someone told me that I smelled like onions and I looked it up and that’s a feminine scent. It’s the same with my body shape. I’ve looked this up and this shape is said to be the most feminine shape. I don’t eat soy because my body will convert it into estrogen.”

Some aspects, not so much.

April actually met Avery, though the universe itself might have advised against it. They’d known each other through Buchanan. I’d griped to Avery about April’s ever-nebulous pronouns before. “When we go out, it’s different. With certain friends, it’s different. I have no idea what I’m supposed to call my partner when!”

So, on an outing with just the three of us; Avery finally asked April, point-blank, what her pronouns were. I remember it all quite clearly– we were at Chive Sea Bar. The blue lights mirrored on chrome surfaces, gleaming off the crystal chandeliers behind us. It was too luxurious to be a bar– it was a beautiful lounge. Gods, I miss it.

Chive, the day this happened. We were seated at the bar, and I was between Avery (the star) and April (The ex. Get it? Ahahaha)

It was quite an auspicious arena for Avery’s blunt, pragmatic, interrogation-esque nature to fight April’s absurd, flighty convolution. Avery’s not the sort of person to exactly filter their reaction, either, so I had a very specific prediction about how this would go:

“Wait, did you JUST say you got hired by BLIZZARD but turned it down? AHAHAHAHAHAHAAHA!” I could just hear it now.

Lovely booths and a great bar - Picture of Chive Sea Bar & Lounge, Savannah  - Tripadvisor
Then they’d get thrown out, which was really somewhat of an honour here.

So, Avery asked April her pronouns. A blatant, straight-to-the-point question from a peer that new Buchanan that I was witness to. And this is what April fucking said: “My pronouns are every god saying every pronoun at once, simultaneously.”

Now, I was the one having trouble keeping my cool. I believe Avery, in a rare moment of tact, actually side-stepped that until they mentioned April’s cancer. April’s cancer, of course, didn’t exist except in university rumours, and I damn-well knew that. But it’d be interesting to hear this from April’s own mouth…

She responded with, “Well, it’s not technically cancer, but–“

I actually excused myself to the loo after that. Not to relieve myself, but to laugh hysterically. I couldn’t be around to witness Avery’s response with a straight face– I just couldn’t.

And then I took a selfie, to prove to myself that I’d regained composure.

This ongoing battle was spilling over into the inworld, too. For example, I’d gotten her a ring for her birthday. She wears at least ten of them– she was clearly fond. And this was an obsidian spider-shaped poison ring. She loved it– or so I thought. Romeo actually showed up at my flat later on and said that I bought the ring out of pure sexism. “This is just your way of being Victorian! You only buy your partner jewelry and flowers as your way of being some He-Man Sexist!” Blighter actually went off on me out on my own damned balcony.

Vex, I think, was more than slightly tipsy that night and decided to be the peanut gallery: “Oh, yes, Romeo, I think Xanthe’s top hat just declared an abolition of women’s suffrage! Can’t you hear it?” “Bitch, just because you dress in drag doesn’t mean you can pipe up about perceived misogyny.” It was probably the funniest I had ever seen her, but you could tell she was getting fed up.

Finally, the battle came to a head in the inworld. Koji couldn’t keep up with April’s constant changing rules and was also, as an age-slider, about 12 years old that day. April, as a completely reasonable reaction, (in her head, I guess) she punched Koji in the face at a party.

She’d raised a fuss, perhaps hoping that the crowded room of people would turn on Koji as they had before.

Vex wasn’t having it. When the usually silent and stoic Vex went off, everyone got quiet and turned to watch. You could almost hear a record scratch.

“You know what? No. No. I have heard you say, [April], that you’re only doing this to further your art career. I have been a woman in this wretched, sexist world for nearly ten thousand years and never once have I joined the winning side just because it was easier. Your pretentious little rebellions are nothing more than empty arrogance when you’re bullying others for something you don’t even believe in. Sometimes you say you’re forced to, other times you say this is respect to an identity of yours. But you can’t keep it consistent, can you? Because then you couldn’t punish anyone for getting it wrong!”

The reaction to this was something that never happened before, and never happened again. People had agreed with this call-out on April. The crowd hadn’t… turned against her, precisely, but were adding their testimonies that weren’t precisely in her favour.

“Yeah, actually, you told me something different than you’d told someone else.’

I have a friend that’s trans and all this seems… exploitative?’

I remember that April was in rare form. That is– in lieu of an argument. I think Prosper, Koji’s father, had poisoned her in punishment for striking his son. So, she might have apologised like once, and then passed out and basically started dying for an hour. I remember JaK confronting me as I was having a glass of wine about the whole situation. “Aren’t you supposed to go and see if she’s alright?”

She always passes out and starts dying when she’s called out, I thought, remembering our arguments through text. Sometimes, she would ‘pass out’ and I’d tell her that I’d call 911 if she didn’t respond in ten minutes. She generally answered back in nine. She’ll be fine. “She’s not my responsibility. Also, I’m not for her punching your husband.”

As JaK huffed away, I felt actually giddy with this rare victory of mine. I assumed hellfire to rain down on me within a day, but it didn’t. We had possible a couple short months of peace.

You know, looking back, this may have been April’s very clumsy attempt to explore gender with a partner that had become increasingly dismissive. At the last email she’d ever sent me, she was referring herself as a girl. And hell, I apparently have… an arrogant way about me that I don’t intend. People don’t only want to prove me wrong or win the argument, they want to crush me.

I’m every bit as repentant as the next bloke who’d made a mistake, but there’s something about me that makes people want to wreak vengeance down upon me as if trying to assure I may never have a speculation of my own again again. Is it because I do not cry? Is it because my responses seem dry and pretentious?

Because make no mistake, when I anger or hurt someone, my usual response is this:

The Office Relevance | The Photographist

But even so, it was one battle that seemed won. I didn’t know then what it would cost me.