What I Saw at the Park While Playing Pokemon GO

Thursday was a beautiful day in my area, and I had the afternoon off. And like many people in my area lately, I chose to use some of my afternoon off not sitting at home playing Overwatch, or binging Netflix, or folding laundry, or taking a nap. Instead, I arranged to meet up with a friend at a local park and play Pokemon GO, the new AR game that was released a week ago and that, really, I shouldn’t have to explain it because if you haven’t heard about it by now probably don’t have the Internet and thus won’t be reading this anyway.

In fact, there’s been a lot of talk about Pokemon GO on the Internet lately, including from people who feel it’s their job to try and shit on other people’s fun. So I thought I’d describe what I saw at the park today and let you decide whether it was a good or a bad experience.

* * * * *

I saw the sun. I see the sun every day, sure, but I’m one of those pale, burns-easily introverts who doesn’t often like to go out into the sun or do things in the sun. But it was a beautiful day, partly cloudy with a cooling breeze, and so I felt the sun on my face and I enjoyed the warmth.

I saw Chris. He’s a friend whom I normally only hang out with when we’re sharing a D&D table. He’s really into Pokemon GO, though, so he’s the perfect person to hang out with and play. Hanging out with old friends in new situations is always an interesting experience.

I saw a lovely park. Even though it’s nearby, I don’t visit this park nearly often enough. Called Heritage Park, the park is centered around old buildings that reflect some of the history of the area I live in. The park has an old water mill, an old schoolhouse, an old log cabin, an old-fashioned gazebo, a beautiful old church, and even a covered bridge crossing a duck pond. The whole effect is quaintly pleasant, and between the buildings and the trees there is plenty of shade to settle down in for a few minutes when you need to.

I saw lots of other people enjoying the park, too. They may have been people who, like myself, don’t go to the park very often. Or maybe some of them visit every day. Who knows? The point is that we were all there, sharing in both the lovely park and the fun of the game. The crowd seemed to trend towards twentysomethings, but there were both men and women, and some boys and girls, and a family of four, and a parent with a stroller, and a few older people who, like me, were probably too old for Pokemon to have been a part of their childhoods, but whom nevertheless have found enjoyment in the franchise and in the new game.

I saw people chatting casually with other people. Given the nature of the game, Pokemon GO can be a frustratingly single-player experience. But that doesn’t stop people from introducing themselves, from sharing their game experiences, from proclaiming their loyalties (Team Valor FTW!), and from generally just, you know, being social. Given that both the franchise and the game are more likely to attract the kinds of people who are introverted and uncomfortable in large group situations (myself included), to be in a place where I felt comfortable being social is a big deal.

I saw the steps racking up on my FitBit. 2000 or so in the hour and a half I spent at the park. Not a workout by any measure, but 2000 more steps than I’d probably have taken on a normal day at home.

I saw a little ice cream shop in the park. And hey, it was also a Pokestop, so I convinced Chris to buy be a scoop of Superman (it’s a Michigan thing) and we sat in the shop. The girl at the counter, who does not play Pokemon GO herself, said that the shop had been getting a lot more business in the week since the game came out than they had this summer so far. Her boyfriend does play, however, and she told us about how he found a Charmander in his tool box at work.

I saw another couple at the ice cream shop. Younger than me (but not younger than Chris), they were also enjoying some ice cream after walking around the park. We talked Pokemon GO because, you know, that’s what you do when you’re hanging out at the ice cream shop playing Pokemon GO.

I saw an old man in the ice cream shop. He was not playing Pokemon GO but instead just enjoying the day. I got the feeling he came to the park a lot, and he wasn’t quite sure what to make of all the people. We struck up a conversation, and it turned out he knew a lot about the park and the buildings in it. I put down my phone for a little while and listened as he related some of the history of the buildings, and how they had been moved to the park, and from where. It turns out one of the buildings had once stood not far from the house I grew up in; the next time I’m at the park, I’m definitely going to have to take a closer look at that house.

* * * * *

So, frivolous waste of time? Perhaps. But what do the haters expect? That if we didn’t have Pokemon GO we’d all be out there fixing the world? No, we’d all be finding other things to fill the free time in our lives.

I suppose that one could criticize that it took a “stupid kid’s game” to get me outside and enjoying the park. But who cares? The point is I changed up my routine and had a great afternoon. Mock me for “chasing Pokemon” if you like; meanwhile, I’ll be out here enjoying the scenery, and the company, and the hunt for the elusive Pikachu.

Why I Voted for Bernie Sanders Today

Soon after I post this, I will be off to my polling place to vote in the primary for my state (Michigan). I’m a lifelong Democratic voter and I will be continuing that trend this primary season. My party has two strong, likable candidates, either of which would make a good president and both of whom I think can win in November. I want to vote for them both, but sadly I have to choose.

I'm with him AND I'm with her
Image from Occupy Democrats

This year, I’m voting for Bernie Sanders in the primary, even though I ultimately think Hillary Clinton will win the party nomination.

Here’s the thing, no. 1: I like Sanders. I really do. I like his platform, I like his speeches, I like his pie-in-the-sky ideas about college and all the rest. That’s not to say that I think a Sanders administration would stand a snowball’s chance of getting 95% of his ideas implemented; politics doesn’t work that way. But if the Affordable Care Act taught us anything, it’s that when big ideas are actually put forward, something can be accomplished, even if it’s a lesser result than was originally proposed. So why not think big?

Here’s the thing, no. 2: I don’t think Bernie will win this nomination. Unlike the current Republican base, the current Democratic base isn’t interested in extreme upheaval in the presidential status quo. Obama has had a good run, and Hillary, by and large, can be framed as a continuation of the kind of executive action we’ve had for the last eight years. And with the likelihood of Trump as the opposition nominee becoming ever-more-likely every day, I ultimately think Clinton will be seen as more palatable to moderate undecideds (which are vital for a national win). However …

Here’s the thing, no. 3: Just because I think Clinton will win, doesn’t mean I think she should be handed the nomination without a fight. She needs to sweat a little, to win this thing by a nose and not a landslide, so that she’s reminded that the base of this party is progressive, not moderate. The stronger and more fervent Bernie supporters are though this cycle, the more Clinton will feel the pressure to earn their votes during the general election, instead of just assuming she has them and going way centrist. Also, again, see point number one about big ideas being better than small ones.

So that is why I’m voting for Sanders today. I cast my vote in spite of the Sanders supporters I encounter online, some of whom are so obnoxious that they actually make Bernie seem worse because of their arguments. As in so many things, though, one needs to look beyond guilt-by-association and judge a person on their own merits, not on the merits of their adherents. I realize that none of this makes for a very ringing endorsement, but I’m not influential enough to make a difference anyway. I just wanted to add my voice to the debate.

 

Weal and Woe: Being Transgender on the Internet

Last year, a call went out for trans writers to submit essays to an anthology about trans people on the Internet. I submitted a couple ideas, had one approved, and wrote it. Unfortunately, the project was cancelled before I received any editorial feedback. I have considered submitting it elsewhere, but I think it’s just better off being posted. I’ve done some light revisions to the original draft.

As a transgender woman in the 21st century, the Internet was very important to both my coming to terms with my identity and my coming out to friends and family. It allowed me to “try on” my Self before I would otherwise have been able to; it allowed me to come into contact with amazing men and women who either were sharing or had previously shared what I was experiencing; and it opened up to me a wealth of information I otherwise would not have been able to access.

For all its weal, however, the Internet is not without its woe. Old, outdated, and simply wrong-headed information thrives online, and the Internet also gives voice to people who actively and maliciously hate. This makes the Internet a minefield for those who may be scared, uncertain, or even unstable, and an unpleasant place for even the most well-adjusted trans person.

“Trigger warning” is a phrase so commonly used on the Internet nowadays that it has started to lose its utility as an indicator of potentially troubling content. However, it is a sad fact that the Internet is full of triggers for gender dysphoria and its accompanying complications. As a diagnosis, gender dysphoria often carries with it other comorbidities, depression and anxiety chief among them. Suicidal ideation is also tragically common (Cole, Emory, Meyer, & O’Boyle, 1997; Hoshiai, et al., 2010). High ideation leads to high action, and studies have found that upwards of 40% of trans people have attempted suicide at least once their lives, with the highest percentage of attempts happening to those between the ages of 18-44 (Hoshiai, et al., 2010; Haas, Rogers, and Herman, 2014). And those are the survivors; it’s impossible to know how many people the trans community loses each year from those who succeed in their attempts. No doubt, the community loses many of its own to this most tragic of ends.

I, myself, was once one of those unstable, uncertain transgender people. For thirty-seven years of my life I had buried my dysphoria so deeply that by the time I began to admit to myself that I had to do something positive and proactive about the way I felt, I was already deep in the grip of clinical depression, and suicidal ideation had already made an appearance. When I first started looking for resources on being transgender, my hope was to find resources that would help me understand myself and my situation better. Instead, I very quickly stumbled upon sites that did nothing but worsen my already fragile mental state.

For starters, I came across sites promoting the idea of autogynephilia. Within the professional medical community, autogynephilia – the idea that transgender women are really just men with an extreme self-sexual attraction – is a widely discredited idea, as is the entire idea of Blanchard’s transsexualism typography, a “theory” designed to completely eliminate transgender identity as a legitimate identity (Mosher, 2010; Serano, 2010). It clings to life, however, both in the DSM-V (as a subcategory of “transvestic fetishism”) and on the Internet. Autogynephilia is an easy way for transphobic individuals to deny the identity of trans women (its counterpart for trans men, autoandrophilia, is far less common). For someone questioning the legitimacy of their own identity, autogynephilia is a harsh and negative idea to consider.

There were also what I later learned were sites written by trans-exclusionary radical feminists (TERFs), though at the time I felt each one was just saying the “hard truth” about myself and my identity. Like those promoting autogynephilia, these sites denied the identity of trans people; they implied that trans people, and especially trans women, were perverts and mentally damaged people who were perpetuating lies on their family and friends. Sites like Gender Identity Watch, which I distinctly recall stumbling upon early on, are actively working to deny the identities of trans individuals. GIW even goes so far as to post individuals’ birth names and to insist on referring to them by their birth name and birth-assigned pronouns. For someone who was questioning the legitimacy of her own feelings, seeing these sites confirmed the doubts I had in my heart only served to make me feel even worse about myself.

These were the specific sites that I encountered as I struggled with my identity. They’re only a sampling of the variety of websites out there denying the reality of the lived experience of trans people of every stripe.

No discussion of the hidden negative landmines of the Internet would be complete without discussing news and blog comments sections. I am firmly convinced that, if there is a Hell, one circle is made up of a never-ending stream of Internet comments sections. It is disheartening to read all of the vile, vitriolic hatred that shows up in the comments section of any story about transgender people. In my early days of exploration, stories about Coy Mathis, the six-year-old Colorado child who sparked a nationwide debate about bathroom rights, were drawing the most attention and therefore the most hateful commentary. It was common to read Coy being decried as a confused little boy and her parents as abusive attention-seekers. That was in early 2013, but even as I write this at the end of 2014, considered by many a watershed year for transgender people in the United States and around the world, it is common to visit the comments sections of transgender-related articles – even in major publications like Rolling Stone — and find people insisting that transgender people are just living out a “sexual fetish”, calling trans people “perverts”, and generally denying trans people’s legitimate identities.

Of course, none of this even addresses the other big risk trans people face when they go online: the very real possibility for targeted harassment. The Internet is such a potentially wonderful place to come out, especially if one is in a life situation that doesn’t allow the open expression of one’s gender identity; however, that coming out comes with the risk of exposing oneself to those inclined to abuse and attack. Cyberbullying and cyber harassment are widespread on social networks, and there are some people out there who view transgender people as a particularly choice target for harassment. While I have been fortunate thus far not to draw much direct harassment online, I have witnessed countless other trans men and women, those who put themselves out there, who speak up, who stand out, and I have seen them targeted for all sorts of online abuse, from crude insults to directed harassment to outright doxing. The Internet offers up the unique combination of a free voice and total anonymity, a combination that enables many stalkers and abusers of the trans community.

For myself, the encountering of all this Internet negativity came along at the worst time possible. These sites and comments added weight to the already sinking feelings of my depression, and they provided justification for my suicidal ideation. Eventually, ideation became intention, and I quite literally found myself on the precipice of suicide. While these negative, delegitimizing sites were not the primary factor in my near-suicide, I assure you that they were inside the maelstrom of my emotions, lending credence to my doubts about myself and the value of my life.

I am fortunate in that I survived my darkest moments; but I wonder, had I encountered less hate and delegitimization online, would I have come to that low moment? Or would I have begun saving myself a little sooner?

The good news is that more people are writing nowadays positively about transgender experiences and issues online; in addition, more people are searching for transgender resources, allowing the word transgender itself to finally push to the forefront ahead of terms like transsexual and crossdresser. The old sites are out there; the outdated resources still lurk; the TERF sites remain popular and therefore survive in the rankings; but they all do so with more competition from better, transpositive sources.

In addition, the comments section phenomenon is beginning to lessen. More and more websites, in recognition of how a vitriolic comments section can reflect negatively on their site reputation, have been taking steps to curb the problem. Most sites nowadays require some sort of registration in order to comment, and many have switched to a Facebook-driven comments system that, at the very least, requires hateful commenters to put their own name on their words. Many sites also moderate comments; while not a perfect solution, this can help control the more offensive comments to some degree. An increasing number of sites have even decided that it takes too much effort to properly police comments, and they have taken a significant step of eliminating comments sections altogether. Each of these changes is a welcome development in the fight against transphobic content.

While things are getting better, there’s still plenty of negative, hurtful content on the Internet. What is the recourse for this? We cannot simply make the bad sites go away. What we can do, though, is be active and be proactive. We can participate in transgender conversations online, interact with our fellow trans people, and generally put ourselves out there as positive examples of what being trans really means. We can identify and support, though feedback, word-of-mouth recommendation, or financial contribution, the transpositive resources that exist online. If we meet someone who is just starting to transition, we can point them to those resources that will give them the information they seek and the support they require. We can tell them there’s help out there and you’re not alone. And, we can warn them about the sites they should not trust or the people they should be wary of.

We can also create new resources. Every new transpositive resource created on the Internet potentially pushes an old, transphobic resource further down the list of search results. New resources are also needed because some of the exiting transpositive resources are depressingly last-generation, touting ideas of hiding and stealth and warning at exactly how horrible being an open trans person is.

We need to create resources, and we need to maintain those resources — and I do mean maintain. Links die, sites move, new sources arise all the time, and a resource list that is full of 404 links isn’t helpful at all to someone who has nowhere else to turn.

While we certainly cannot eliminate the negative side of the Internet, we can all do a part to accentuate the transpositive side. The Internet is, without a doubt, one of the biggest things to happen to culture in my lifetime, and I have no doubt that on the whole it has been a significant net gain for the trans community. While hatred, ignorance, and transphobia aren’t going to go away, we can, as a community, do our best to marginalize, discredit, and talk over those views.

References

Cole, C.M., Emory, L.E., Meyer, W.J., & O’Boyle, M. (1997). Comorbidity of gender dysphoria and other major psychiatric diagnoses. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 26 (1): 13+.

Haas, A.P., Rodgers, P.L., & Herman, J.L. (2014, January). Suicide attempts among transgender and gender non-conforming adults: Findings of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey. American Foundation for Suicide Prevention & The Williams Institute. Retrieved from http://williamsinstitute.law.ucla.edu/wp-content/uploads/AFSP-Williams-Suicide-Report-Final.pdf

Hoshiai, M., Matsumoto, Y. Sato, T. Ohnishi, M., Okabe, N., Kishimot, Y., Terada, S., & Kuroda, S. (2010). Psychiatric comorbidity among patients with gender identity disorder. Psychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences, 64(5), 514-519.

Moser, C. (2010). Blanchard’s autogynephilia theory: A critique. Journal of Homosexuality, 57 (6): 790–809.

Serano, J. M. (2010). The case against autogynephilia. International Journal of Transgenderism, 12 (3): 176–187.

Rewriting the Plot

The last few months have been harried. My schedule, such as it is, has been chaotic. Meaningful full-time employment continues to elude me (there are too many English majors and not enough jobs out there) leaving me working long hours of brain-numbing underemployment, and writing time continues to suffer as a result. My diet is derailed, I’m no longer able to see my gender specialist MD without paying out of pocket, and I have house repairs in need of doing that I don’t have the budget to do. And on top of that, I’m trying to go back to school to make myself more marketable, which brings with it more stress and debt.

I don’t bring all this up to whine, just to say: life sucks sometimes, and when it does, I don’t find the time to blog.

I hope to turn that around in the coming months, as things settle back down into a routine again and the new school year starts. But as I think about picking the blog back up, I find myself casting about for what to write about, and I wonder if there’s still anyone out there reading, anyways. I had a good run with my transition journey, but that’s practically over now; I am living life as myself, I’m happy and whole, and even though there’s surgeries in my future they’re not anything I’m going to experience anytime soon. And beyond transiton, what do I have to say that might make my writing interesting, unique, or worth sharing on social media.

I have some ideas, but I don’t know where they will lead. Should be interesting to explore though. Stay tuned.

New Skeptoid Episode: Cattle Mutilations

Just a quick update this time, to let you all know that a new episode of Skeptoid dropped this week with my name on it. It’s about Cattle Mutilations, and it’s the fourth of my eight guest turns for the show.

I’m pleased with the new episode. I think I’ve finally found a good balance in terms of scripting, delivery, and recording/post-processing. Not that I’m down on my earlier episodes, but I think think one is my best so far.

I’m debating my next script now (episode will be releasing in about seven weeks). I have a script half-finished, but it’s another UFO/aliens related one and I’ve done two of those already (three if you count War of the Worlds). I’m thinking I might go the cryptid route with the next one. Not Bigfoot, but something more local to my part of the world. More to come …

March Update

Wow. Where did February go? Can’t believe it’s March 1 already, nor that I didn’t post a thing here for almost the entire month.

The first part of 2015 will definitely not go down in my personal record books as one of the best times of my life. Money/employment continues to be a huge struggle, one that has been sapping my time, attention, and drive to write anything for free (a.k.a. “blogging”). All the momentum in my writing that I had in November/December is lost; even my Skeptoid blogging, which was often the highlight of my writing week, has been puttering out at the pace of about one article every two weeks. This week is also the one-year anniversary of the death of my father, so emotions aren’t exactly buoyant at the moment.

On the bright side, today, March 1, looks like it might be the start of a turnaround. Haven’t successfully stopped the out-of-control crash course yet, but the nose of this plummeting plane is finally starting to lift; the brakes on this out-of-control train are beginning to squeal as it approaches the canyon; the rear-end of the automobile has stopped completely fish-tailing and I’m reaching for the steering wheel. I’m still bracing for impact, though. Can’t be too careful, and something else can always go wrong.

What I need is for an action hero to step into my life to save the day. Chris Pratt, where are you when a girl needs you?

Resurrecting Transgender Science

So something interesting and unexpected has happened: Transgender Science is coming back.

For those who weren’t around: in 2013 I started a Tumblr blog where I intended to blog about science and health issues of interest to transgender people. At the time I envisioned myself being a science journalist, doing research, writing long articles, etc. I had some fun with it for awhile and it got some responses, but about a year ago it fell off my priority list and died off. No one seemed to miss it so I didn’t make an effort to bring it back. A few months ago I let the URL expire and ported all the articles back to this blog.

Fast forward to last week, where I ran across some articles I felt would have been well suited for TransSci. Since my Facebook and Twitter feeds for TransSci were still out there with followers, tossed the links on them. And to my surprise, I got some positive responses! Facebook, in particular, seemed to latch onto the posts I made — I think maybe “transgender” is a hot term in its algorithms right now — and I began to see Likes and comments on the FB page. So I found some more links, put them up, and got more Likes, more feedback.

If there are people interested, I’m going to keep posting stuff. I’m going to keep it to social media for now — no separate blog again, for sure! — and I’m not going to push myself to do a lot of writing for it. Links and commentary, mostly, with maybe the occassional article appearing on this blog.

You can find TransSci on Facebook and Twitter. Please feel free to Like/Follow if you’re interested. The archived articles from 2013-2014 are here.

Go Read This M:tG Story

I do not read Magic: the Gathering fiction normally. I don’t know who the Mardu are, I’ve never learned of the naming rituals of orcs, and I have no idea why the  brood of the Kolaghan is on the attack. But I do know good fiction when I read it, and the M:tG short story “The Truth of Names” is a pretty good read. You can read it here.

Honestly, I really, really wish I’d written this story. Also, I really want her card now. In fact, I wonder what a deck built around her would look like …

Tara’s back!

Trying to get back in the writing habit this month, and it’s been a struggle. Inspiration is a fickle things influenced by too many random variables, and the random variables have not been coming up in my favor since Christmas. As it turns out, writing is somewhere higher up on Maslow’s hierarchy than is the life I have been living of late.

I was also stuck on what turned out to be a tricky moment in The Trials of Tara Titan (hereafter TTT because why not?). It was sort of a denouement moment for the current “issue,” AND I wanted to drop some plot hints, AND I wanted to insert a new recurring character. But I’m finally done, and the new part is up. It’s the second-longest part I’ve posted.

Tara Titan 2.5: Brother Tiresias

If you read it and like it, please consider voting for it and leaving a comment. Both help me gain ranking and views on Wattpad.

 

A Statement About My Voice

I had a new episode of Skeptoid release recently, and it’s happened again: I’m getting shitty comments about my voice. I have been misgendered.  I have been told I don’t sound “natural.” I have been compared to one of the Venture Brothers. In short, let’s just say that this week has not been a good one for my dysphoria.

To those put off by my voice: I’m sorry that my voice isn’t able to sound like a cis woman’s voice. It’s not a cis woman’s voice, and so far I have failed in my attempts to make it sound like a cis woman’s voice. Voice training is difficult and so often feels futile. Everything I do in life gets judged to impossible-to-meet cis standards, and my voice is one of the worst in terms of my transition so far. It’s a tell I can’t seem to do anything about.

But you know what? It’s my voice. Stop shaming me for it. Your standards are cisnormative and transphobic, and if you don’t like my voice I invite you to read the transcript of my episodes and kindly keep your comments to yourself.