Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Ironies that Only Happen to Trans People

This is not the well-thought-out post I'm working on. That's still in the oven. But this seems to do well half-baked, so here it is.

I've noticed lots of funny, ironic situations that are unique to trans life. I'm sure you can come up with lots more! Please post comments contributing your examples, and let's see how many fantastically funny ones we can come up with. The list is very FtM-centric right now. That's what tends to go on in my life. Examples from all kinds of trans and genderqueer and otherwise interestingly-gendered humans are very welcome. (If you need your examples to be anonymous, say so in your comment. I'll delete the comment and post the examples for you under my username.)

Here are some classics to kick-start the list.
  • Blood stains on boxer shorts.
  • Going into the ladies’ room to readjust your packy.
  • That straight girl you had a crush on for all of high school finally comes out, and she confesses that she had a crush on you, too! But, now that you’re a guy, she’s not into you.
  • You and your big-boned-femme best friend go to the ladies’ room together. You get by without a sideways glance, but someone takes pains to ask your friend if she’s sure she’s in the right place.
  • Teaching your daughter how to shave her legs, apply eye makeup, or use a tampon.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

A Poem in Need of a Title

People ‘round here too polite to ask
but I know you wondering.
People ‘round here too polite to stare
but I know you want to see.

When people used to stare,
I could stare them down
People used to ask,
I could tell them off
But your silence

is fuckin with me

I think I’m sposed to play the silence game
but I was never good at that
Mom says, whoever’s quiet longest wins
But the more you stay quiet,
the more I want to scream
and I can’t shut up forever
Waiting for you to get me,
How long       does it take?
‘fore my saying is louder
than your not asking,
‘fore my showing is louder
than your not looking, cuz

I know something you don’t know
I know something you don’t know
I know something you don’t know
(I swear this works with five-year-olds).

I want you to want to know me
I want you to want to see
I know staring is rude but sometimes
not staring is ruder
I’m dangling my truth
you just have to reach for it
I want you to loosen up, have an eyeful.
I want you to take my bait
and bite me.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Why I Like Girlyman

This post is not about my sexual orientation. Girlyman is a band. Whether or not Girlyman's music particularly does it for you, anyone with even a little bit of musical training or choral experience will have to admit that the band is technically brilliant. Their music is way more complex, interesting and varied than that of most popular bands.

People have compared their style to Indigo Girls, and it's true there are some similarities. But, let's face it: Even though a couple generations of dykes have grown up on them, Indigo Girls' melodies and arragements sound pretty much the same now as they did 20 years ago. I'm not dissing Indigo Girls. They're great at what they do. I really like most of their stuff. I'm just saying, musically, Girlyman is better.

But brilliant technique is not the whole story. Many professional musicians have good technique, and they don't all grab at the emotion and imagination like Girlyman. So what is it?

The band's website says, "Girlyman's harmony-driven style veers from contemporary folk to country rock to pop." Yup. It's the "harmony-driven" part that gets me every time.

In many Girlyman songs, it's not obvious who's singing lead. The three members all sing most of the time. Sometimes different people sing lead on different verses of the same song. Their vocal ranges overlap by enough that any one of them might be heard singing low harmony or high counter-melody for anyone else, sex/gender differences notwithstanding. Their voices weave around each other until you're not even sure who's who. And the harmonies are tight and unexpected - far from the standard major thirds of way too many pop-folks songs.

Once when I was in high school, I let slip to my mostly-straight best friend that, "Singing a good duet is like having good sex." We didn't sing together for a few weeks after that. Oops. Still, it's true. Girlyman reminds me that harmony is sexy.

To sing together, well, is very intimate. First of all, singing is physical. It is not just in your throat; it involves your breath, posture and heart beat, and engages your back and abdominal muscles among others. So we're not just talking about voices, we're talking about bodies.

Also, when singing in a group, singers have to pay incredibly close attention to each other. Singers modify their sound to match each others' - or not match, depending on the effect they're going for, like if the lead part ought to stand out from background harmonies. To do that, you can't just pay attention to your own voice, because then you might mess up the balance by singing too loud or too soft. And you can't just pay attention to the other singers, because then you might slack off on your own vocal technique and not sound as nice. You have to pay attention to your own body, the other singers' bodies, and how they're working together, all at once. Great ensemble singers are constantly tuned in to each other - their bodies communicating, sharing space, adjusting in instant response to each other to create the desired effect. Sexy, right?

Consider just one tiny aspect of a singer's performance: the shape of the vowels. Vowels are tricky. The "same" sound can be pronounced in almost infinite ways. Even if two people grew up together, speaking the same dialect of American English, their pronunciation of vowel sounds may differ in minute ways. For two singers to blend, their vowels have to match.

Now, I don't know what makes my "ahh" sound different than someone else's. Is it in the larynx, the soft palate, the breath? Who knows? I do know that when I sing with someone for the first time, we usually don't match perfectly. It doesn't sound awful, but there's something not quite right about it. When we've sung together a few times, or if I'm trying particularly hard to blend well, I can adjust my to make my "ahh" sound just like theirs. I don't know what exactly I'm adjusting, but, I'm doing it. If they're also singing well, they're adjusting their sound, too, reaching to meet me even as I reach to meet them. We know things about each others' bodies in that moment that we couldn't explain if asked - we just kind of feel it. And that's only one of the zillions of factors that good musicians are paying attention to.

Imagine being in that kind of intimate contact, where you know what the other person's body is feeling. Now imagine that it's not just two singers, but three musicians, each participating with instruments as well as their own bodies' voices. Imagine Doris actually feels Ty's palms making contact with the djembe, even as Nate feels the vibrations in Doris's throat when she crests the descant, and Ty feels the guitar strings vibrate under Nate's fingertips. Or, heck, imagine they're not that good - nobody's perfect! But imagine they're all striving for that with everything they've got.

That's why I like Girlyman. When Girlyman performs, their bodies make music that echoes in my body. I get to participate, in some small way, in the intimate experience of their music-making. Even when I listen to a recording, I can sing along and imagine having a level of musical intimacy that is beyond my skill, not just with one other person - rare enough! - but with three amazing artists. It is a heartwarming and heartwrenching experience. I highly reccomend it.