Putting the T in LGBTQ (transcript)

Published August 1, 2020

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Whoop dee doo, hi de ho, and a ramma lamma ding dong, it’s your close friend, bosom buddy, and lifelong pal, Michael Jerome Phillips. Don’t forget the “Jerome” part. If you listened last time you know what that’s about. If you didn’t listen last time, why the hell didn’t you? Luckily for you this podcast is a virtual time machine and you can go back in time and hear me speak things I spoke in the past. Crazy, ain’t it? So I’m still Michael Jerome Phillips for the time being, and this is still THIS IS NOT A TEST, for now and all eternity. Flying in the face of reason, common sense and judiciousness. Per your request.

I write these things, these podcasts, as the kids call them, in text files, and the files are just numbered, they aren’t titled. So this one was in a file called 110, this being the one hundred and tenth installment of this groundbreaking transmission, and when I opened the file today all it said was, “Now what?” because I wasn’t sure what I was going to talk about. I missed last month because a lot was going on, but right now I couldn’t tell you what it was. Maybe moving Carol’s art and drums from a storage space in Riverside to the garage here. That was a bit of work, getting the garage ready for that. It’s a big garage, but we never organized it. When we moved here a year ago, half of our boxes were just dumped in there so we’d have room to work and organize in the house, and we never really did anything in the garage. It was just a chaotic mishmash of boxes and junk, as many garages are. Or all of my garages, anyway.

Anyway, I missed last month, and when I miss a show, if you can call these shows, I usually post something on thisisnotatest.com by way of apology for not living up to my self-imposed schedule or deadline. So that’s what I did last month, but as an added bonus I posted a picture of myself wearing a dress and makeup and I advised you all to stay glamorous, because I was certainly doing my part. And I suppose I expected someone to say, “Uh, dude, what’s up with that?” But no one did. Maybe because no one saw it, but I know that’s not true because the internet loves numbers and it keeps track, and it knows everything. Probably the more likely explanation is that people saw it and they just didn’t want to say anything because they didn’t know what to say. Or they didn’t want to have “that conversation” if it turned out I wasn’t just fooling around and being outrageous.

Well, I wasn’t fooling around, but I don’t know how outrageous it was. I mean, I know it’s outrageous, because a lot of people are outraged by transgender people, which I am. I am indeed “one of them transgenders,” as your grandfather might say. Now you know, and now you can say you know one of those. But yeah, a lot of people, ostensibly straight men mainly, find it weird and disgusting and unnatural and a kind of high treason. Even a lot of the LGB’s mentioned in the title here aren’t cool with us. Maybe because we’re a relatively new category in the rich pageant of human sexuality and gender identification. I know when I was a kid there weren’t any transgender people because the concept didn’t really exist. The idea that someone could be born male or female but not feel like what they were told they were – well, that was a new thing. Or, if you grew up when I did and where I did, it was not a thing at all.

When I was young I remember reading about a few doctors over in Denmark, or maybe one doctor, more likely, that was doing a primitive kind of sexual reassignment surgery, but it was always written about in a sensational, you-won’t-believe-this! kind of way. There weren’t millions of boys walking around saying, “Hi, I know I look like a boy, but I’m not,” or girls saying they weren’t really girls. The trans boys, born as girls, might have had an easier go of it, but of course I say that knowing it wasn’t easy for anyone. But you know, a girl walking around in pants with a baseball bat on his or her shoulder wouldn’t get a second look. A boy wearing a dress though – well, she wouldn’t get a second look either, because boys didn’t walk around wearing dresses, no matter how much they wanted to. His, her, they, theirs, it’s still confusing, and that’s probably part of what makes a lot of people believe there’s something wrong with us.

Carol and I were joking around about people telling you how to speak to them not too long ago, “Hi, my name is Skylar, my pronouns are broccoli, sawdust, and flannel.” Which is funny, but my hat is off to the kids who are forcing society, or at least the parts of society who don’t want to kill them, to call them what they want to be called. My hat is off to the kids for a lot of things. I don’t know if the world has changed a lot in the past 50 years, as far as human interactions go, anyway, but the kids have certainly adopted an I-don’t-give-a-fuck-what-you-think-about-me attitude that is very punk rock and very good for them. And good for me too, I guess, since I’m here talking to you about something I wouldn’t have ever talked to you about back in those dark days when we somehow survived without the internet.

I didn’t talk about it for the same reason hardly anyone else talked about it, and that is shame. Because the world likes to make you feel shame. For a lot of things, but gender nonconformity is pretty high on that list. And in the 1960s it was maybe one of the only things on the list. That and being pregnant without a husband. But shame is a heavy thing, and when you’re young, it’s easy to absorb it from your family and friends. You internalize that shit and just become a ball of alienation and distress. The world around me, and my parents most importantly, made it clear that boys were boys and girls were girls and that was that. There was no wiggle room, there was no gray area. Which meant there was no place for me.

So yeah, shame. It’s not something most of us want to purposely saddle another person with, but we do it all the time anyway. I knew as far back as my memories go that I wasn’t really a boy in the way that boys were in the world. I didn’t understand what that meant, but all the adults in the world made it clear that I was a boy whether I liked it or not, and that was non-negotiable. So I was socialized as male, just like all the other little boys out there who felt like that probably wasn’t right for them. And I have to think there were a lot of us back then. It seems like every other kid you see today is trans, or, you know, not every other one but a lot. I don’t think something in the water caused that. It wasn’t fluoride or cyclamates. It’s always been the same percentage of us, we just didn’t talk about it or show it until recently. Most of us.

We didn’t talk about it because there wasn’t any way for us to talk to each other about who we were, so we all felt alone. We all felt like we were the only weirdos in town, and that was just going to be the way it was. Forever. TV and the movies only reinforced our weirdness, since any time a man showed up in a dress he was murdering someone, or was the butt of jokes. Whether it was Flip Wilson as Geraldine, or drag queens screaming at people on Jerry Springer. It was bleak, man. Imagine the rare times that you see someone on TV or in a movie that you think is like you, and they’re inevitably mocked and ridiculed. Every time. Their very existence is ridiculed or is a source of horror and disgust. Think about that for a minute and you’ll have a pretty good idea of why it didn’t seem like something you’d want to bring up in polite conversation. I didn’t look at it so much as hiding as I did self-preservation.

The kids are changing that, but it’s mostly a change among the young. People my age still perpetrate persecution or pass laws telling us which bathroom to go to or they just skip past that and go straight to assault or murder. People my age. Old people. If you’re still listening maybe you’re imagining that I’m standing here looking like Jeffrey Tambor in Transparent or something. But I’m not that old, yo, and I still have all my hair. Which I’m grateful for, because I get hot way too easily to ever wear wigs. But I’m not standing here looking like the picture I posted on the website either. That’s all blown out because unnatural amounts of contrast are a girl’s best friend. I look like what I look like, but it isn’t even the looking-like that matters. It’s the feeling like. Or being like. Being like yourself. So whether people my age like it or not, life is really too short for me to keep myself under wraps because it might make some people uncomfortable. Not the least of which, me myself. But I’ve had a lot of practice being uncomfortable.

But I get it. I understand the privileges of being male, and especially being a white male in America. I’ve benefited from those privileges all my life. A lot of people consider that the pinnacle of beingness, being a man, and men are uncomfortable about other men who would willingly turn their backs on that privilege. Turn their backs on being men. They don’t understand it and they don’t trust it. And it’s why no one gives a second thought to the girl in pants with the baseball bat on her shoulder. She isn’t turning her back on power, she’s moving toward it. That’s easier for the men of the world to understand. Of course they’ll never let her have that male power or privilege, but that’s another story.

But that feeling of betrayal that some, or most, men feel when they are forced to think about people like me inspires the same kind of feeling that homophobia inspires in people who suffer from it. Which is as much fear or posturing or ignorance as it is hatred. Speaking of homophobia, I think that’s another thing that makes people uncomfortable about transgender people. They don’t quite understand where we fall on the faggotry scale. Well, I can answer that for you, if you’re wondering. We fall the same way everyone else in the world falls. The same way you and your cousins fall. Because sexuality and gender identification are different animals. There are queer trans women and trans men and straight ones, and bisexual ones and ones that don’t fit in any of those boxes.

I don’t feel the way I feel about my gender because I’m attracted to men, and I’m not who I am because I want to be someone a straight man would find attractive. I feel the way I feel because I don’t have any choice. I didn’t get a vote. I don’t think any of us choose any of that. Our sexuality or gender identity. And really, who cares who you love or fuck or don’t fuck? It’s ironic, if I have the meaning of that word right, because when someone who feels the way I do has gender affirmation surgery, technically they become gay women. Not that all the LGB’s necessarily agree with that. Some queer women have a real problem with trans women, and I guess I understand that. Queer women are prone to the same biases we all are. They can make up umbrella acronyms like LGBTQ, but that doesn’t mean all the Ls and Gs and Bs and Ts and Qs agree on anything.

And what about that transition, mjp? What about that, huh? Well, that’s personal, isn’t it. A lot of people’s curiosity around transgender people seems focused on what’s between our legs, but that stuff down there isn’t the point. And it’s none of anyone else’s business. Look at it this way, if you’re a manly man and your dick gets lopped off in a tragic chainsaw juggling accident, you’re still a manly man, aren’t you? You may be terribly unhappy about your situation, but it doesn’t change who you are. Get it? Having a cock doesn’t make you a man, and having a vagina doesn’t make you a woman. I mean, I guess by definition it kind of does, since we need some way to define things and people. But you know what I mean. When it comes to men and women, history hasn’t given us more than two boxes to put people in.

I said we don’t choose our gender identity and I believe that. Or I know it. But I do think that the world or the societies we live in point or push us in the direction that they think our gender identity should be. One of two ways. I saw that all my life. It’s funny, a few years ago my dad sent me an envelope full of old pictures. I guess that’s something parents do at some point in their lives because my mother did the same thing. Anyway, I was shuffling through the pictures and there was one where I was posing like a 1960s version of a supermodel, with one hand behind my head and the other on my hip, and I thought, look at that, I was a fruity little fucker even then. But as I kept going through the pictures I found another one, and another one. It was like my go-to pose or something. But after the age of seven or eight, those kinds of pictures stopped. I don’t remember anyone telling me not to do it, but it wouldn’t surprise me if someone did. “Would you knock it off already? Put your arms down, quit screwing around!”

I can only speak for myself about any of this. But my story was the same as every kid who didn’t belong on one of the only two paths available. All of our stories, at least for those of us who are a little older, are very similar. We wanted to be one thing, or knew we were one thing, but the world disagreed. And I knew, I always knew. I don’t have the best memory, but I remember that. It’s hard to forget that the essence of who you are isn’t allowed or accepted. It fucks you up. I mean, a lot of things probably fucked me up, but that was at the top of the list. It affects everything in your life, and it can’t help making you weirder than everyone already thinks you are.

Well, this is very serious, isn’t it. I haven’t worked in as many jokes as I usually like to. I’ll have to figure out a way to make the subject a little funnier. I enjoy self-mockery as much as the next idiot wearing a surgical mask in the grocery line. It’s just hard to find the humor in something when the jokes on you, when the joke’s been on you forever. All right, let’s see, there’s got to be something. Okay, okay – two trannies walk into a bar…no, wait, we’re not supposed to say tranny anymore, are we. But that’s another thing, before transgender was invented and became a thing, we had transvestites. And I suppose we still do have transvestites, but when I was young and learned that word and what it meant, I thought, “Oh, okay, so that’s what I am.” But then when the internet came around and I started seeing and hearing what transvestites or crossdressers were thinking and talking about, and I realized that wasn’t me either. Foiled again.

There seems to be an almost fetishistic thing about women’s clothes for cross dressers, and I don’t have that. There’s a forum, or there are probably many forums, where crossdressers talk about things, and a lot of them seem obsessive about the clothes or even a certain specific article of women’s clothes. That’s why I say it seems fetishistic to me, but what do I know. I’m sure not here to pass judgement on whatever crossdressers or anyone else enjoys. I like a nice pair of shoes as much as the next gal, but they don’t give me boner. Is that too graphic? Too crude? I’m just talking in a language that we all understand, but I suppose I should try to keep this PG rated. You know, for all the children listening. My little nieces and nephews who’ll probably be kept away from me now, because, you know, we’re child molesters too somehow. Well, none of them live around here, so they’re safe.

God, I took a turn down a dark path again, didn’t I. I guess I don’t know how to talk about this. Maybe because I didn’t plan on talking about it any time soon, and maybe because I’ve never had a chance to talk about it before. So thanks for that. For giving me a chance to talk about it. I don’t know if I feel better or if I just screwed everything up and now everyone I know is going to look at me sideways. It’s easier to not say anything, but I’ve done that already. It’s no fun. Not that this is a lot of fun. But, you know, it isn’t not fun. I’ve always been a provocateur, and this has to be about the most provocative thing I could throw at you, so there’s that. If it brings up any questions, feel free to ask. I guess we’re talking about it now. I dream of Jeanie is out of the bottle.

But why am I dropping this on you now? I don’t really know. The kids, I guess. The kids inspire me. And it seems like half the shows we watch on TV have a trans character now, or a trans actor just playing a regular non-freakish character. Though that’s still not very common. There’s usually a mention or it’s pointed out or is a plot device or something. At some point there will just be trans actors and doctors and politicians and no one will give it a second thought. You know, after everyone from my generation dies off. The kids have it together though. They don’t give a shit because it’s not weird to them. And it’s not weird to them because so many young trans kids are just going about their business and not making a big deal out of it.

But again, that isn’t to say everything is daisies and miniskirts for them. I know they have problems too. But at least they don’t have to pretend not to exist while they have their problems. So I don’t know what kind of hell I’ve wrought here. I don’t know how many of you are going to think or say, “Aww, man, why’d you have to go and tell me that. I didn’t want to know that.” Well, if you’ve been paying attention you probably get that I’m doing it for me and my own peace of mind and mental health. Not talking about it, or not claiming it means keeping it secret. And there are all kinds of negative things that come along with denying or hiding the expression of a fundamental part of yourself. Or the fundamental part of myself. Something I felt or thought about literally every day of my life, but could never express.

So I guess this is me expressing it. I’m just at a point where I wonder why I should continue to carry the weight of other people’s hangups. I shouldn’t, nobody should. So I won’t. Not anymore anyway. I can’t tell you I feel free or rejuvenated or giddy or reborn or anything. Not right at this moment anyway. Because I still don’t know how everything is going to shake out. Like I said, there’s part of me that wonders if maybe doing this is just going to make things worse for myself. But then I think about the idiotic weight of the secret and shame and it kind of makes me feel like I don’t care if I’m making things worse for myself in the short term. Because I believe things will be better in the long term.

I don’t really understand the shock and horror anyway. I just think about how I look at people, and how they express their gender or their sexuality or any other differentness they have, and it’s never been something I’ve really cared about. Okay, that’s not completely true. When I’ve been around trans women who were unapologetic, which hasn’t been often, but it happened, I’ve been jealous. And to show you how fucked up all of this is, feeling jealous just made me feel bad, yet again, about not doing it myself. About not being strong enough to think, fuck ’em if they don’t like it. See how twisted it all gets? Everything is bundled up along with that fundamental thing, so denying that thing stains the whole bundle.

So this is me unbundling, I think. It’s me doing something. You tell me what it is. As far as all this goes, this podcast or whatever, I don’t intend to make it into a trans-topia soapbox or anything. I mean, it’s going to be a subject again at some point, or at many points, I don’t know how it can’t be. But I’m still me, ya dig? My world view is still the same, for better or worse. But I don’t know if that will change. I don’t know what will change. Maybe nothing will change. But that seems unlikely doesn’t it. I have the feeling that while some of you may think or say “Aww, man, why’d you have to go and tell me that. I didn’t want to know that.” I may also hear from one or two of you on back channels somewhere saying, “I had no idea, man, but, you know, um, me too.”

Because we’re lurking about everywhere! You just can’t see all of us yet. And I know I probably won’t live to see a day where we’ll all be seen as regular humans, but I also won’t die still clinging to some stupid secret that, in a different or better world, wouldn’t be a secret at all. So when you look at it like that, I’ve created my own freedom, regardless of what price that freedom might carry. But the world will always be the world. I work for a company where we all work from home, even before COVID, and every Monday morning my department meets in a Slack channel, and this past Monday everyone was saying what they did over the weekend. It was all, oh, you know, watched a little baseball, played Far Cry 5 and Fallout 4, which, I don’t know what that is, but I assume they’re video games. So I said, “I didn’t do anything nearly as manly as baseball or murder games.” And my boss said, “Tried on a few dresses? lol.” So…yeah, lol man, lol. That kind of thing will never end.

Well…this should be interesting. I didn’t want it to be like, “Tonight, on a very special THIS IS NOT A TEST…” but I suppose there’s no way to avoid that completely. And to mark this…occasion, I’ve stuck a new header image on the website. So the tired old cartoon of boy mjp has been replaced with another little blown out image of not-boy mjp, featuring unnatural amounts of contrast. We all want to look good, don’t we. All those “candid” black and white pictures women are posting on Instagram at the moment are proof of that. But really, every picture on Instagram is proof of that. Our lives don’t really look like any of them. And the new picture of me isn’t that far off. I’m just a bit more colorful in real life, not paper white like Casper the ghost. And there are wrinkles here and there. So there’s that. But admit it, I’ve always been pretty.

So tune in next time! How am I going to top this? It’s all going to seem boring and pedestrian now. “Oh, he’s just complaining about all of the music recorded since 1999 again. He was so much more interesting when he was laying his naked, quivering soul bare for our entertainment.” Well, I never claimed that all of these, or most of these, were worth listening to. But hopefully this one was. I would love to hear something like this. It would make me think the person talking was a lot more interesting than I thought they were before I heard it. But I’m a weirdo, as we’ve established, so that’s just what I’d think. What do you think? Oh, that’s right, I don’t care! See you next time. All the cool kids will still be here. Will you?