Between two names

Tl;dr Having two names is different from the mainstream trans narrative about names, but the most important thing it has shown me over and over again is that polite, considerate asking is always the best option when you’re confused about a name.


I have two names.


This is a bizarrely controversial statement for a trans person to make, which is why I want to say it before cis people get too married to the predominant narrative about trans names.


There are, of course, many trans people with one name. Trans people with dead names that need to be burnt and then buried underground. Trans people that wish to legally change their name, but don’t have the money yet, but we’re sure as heck never going to call them by that terrible, awful legal name (side note: if you want to help a trans person change their name, here’s a great New England-based project to donate to!)


I’m not one of those people.


I live between and with two names and I love both of my names. And, even though I technically have defined uses for each name, it’s always still ambiguous, it’s always fluid, and I’m not always sure which name belongs where.


Sometimes, it’s just my damn ornery nature that means I’ll demand someone use one name over another. I admit it quite willingly. I did that when someone decided to submit some of my written work without my consent and I wanted to make their life a little difficult because of that.


Sometimes, I choose to ask people to use a different name for me because I know it’s a learning experience for them – the name they’re using is fine, but I know they need to get better at respecting people and calling them the name they want to be called and I can give them some low-stakes practice. I have done that with many of my classmates and my teachers over the years, especially ones I wasn’t explicitly out to.


Sometimes, a name is a way to call someone out. If someone is being transphobic, asking them to call me a different name makes their stumbles more visible, to me, and to others, who may need more blatant proof that someone is transphobic. I had a teacher last year who was still calling me the name on the register halfway through the year. By clarifying that as transphobic behavior, there was a tangible, clear line drawn concerning her unacceptable actions, as opposed to my vague, unprovable awareness that she was transphobic.


Sometimes, a name is about my personal autonomy. My mother once asked my grandparents (and the rest of my family) to start calling me “Jo” without checking with me first. Asking my family to call me my legal name was as much about taking back the power of choice she had taken from me as it was about my name.


Sometimes, my name is about anonymity and personal protection. There’s something nice about not always going by my legal name. There’s something comforting about knowing that my legal documents (especially my passport) may not immediately lead to all of me. I know it’s not hard for anyone to make the connections, but the ability to have disconnections in my presentation of self (the person, the artist, the employee, the writer, the academic, the friend, the family member…) and delineate that with a name is both useful and reassuring. I can be both, or I can be one, and that flexibility makes me feel safe (it probably doesn’t make me actually safe, but feeling safe is important too).


I purposefully organize my presentation of self to make people ask what name to call me. I prefer to be able to make that choice than to allow someone else to make that choice for me.


This has led to moments of other trans people looking at me in confusion going “you know, we can just remove this name and call you what you want, if you like” and having to explain “no, I am both, I want you to ask”. And I have met so many well-meaning cis people fumbling and being too embarrassed to ask. And, of course, there are the ignorant cis people refusing to call me the name I’ve asked them to because it doesn’t fit their worldview and understanding of me.


Every trans person is different. We all have unique relationships with our names. But, if there’s one thing that I’d like someone to take away from this it’s that asking is good. If you are confused, ask. If you think you know what someone wants to be called, but are not completely sure, ask. Ask politely, without drawing public attention to the person, and then go with that answer. The biggest harm you can do is to act as if you know more about a trans person’s name than they do, either through ignorance, uncaringness, discomfort, or unwillingness to ask.


And, most importantly, no single narrative about a trans person will ever act as your blueprint for every other trans person you meet.



Women-only spaces welcoming nonbinary people, a personal dilemma

Tl;dr When women-only spaces open themselves up to nonbinary people, it puts a lot of responsibility onto women and forces nonbinary people to misgender themselves to access necessary resources offered by the space. While it can be helpful now, I would like to see us start to find a new system.


There’s this new trend I’ve been noticing in which spaces that are “women-only” have started specifying that to include nonbinary folks.


It makes me think of something that happened a long time ago at uni, when someone had a go at making the scope of the women’s forum more trans inclusive and made a huge mess of it. In their enthusiasm, they basically said that anyone that wasn’t a cis man (including trans men) belonged in a space that was specifically about supporting women. As you can imagine, that was super uncomfortable for everyone involved, people that didn’t identify as a woman who were suddenly thrown into the woman box and women that actually kind of needed their women-only space.


Here’s the thing: I have spent my life running away from the identity of “woman”. Every nonbinary person’s experience is different, but I have never been and never will be a woman. Except, I am perceived as one during the majority of my public life. The violence, discrimination, and insecurity I face in my day-to-day life is not because of my transness or because I’m nonbinary, it’s because others perceive me as a woman. That means that conversations about sexism and misogyny, things like the wage gap, rape culture, patriarchy…that affects me daily. And on a political level, we’re still working in a society and with a government that recognizes two genders. I can’t fight the fucking nonbinary wage gap because it doesn’t exist (trans unemployment and employment discrimination does, but that’s not what I face).


I need to be part of conversations about these things. I belong there.


So, it is important that women-only spaces are opening their doors up for people like me – people that aren’t women, but experience life as if they were one.


But, every time I walk into a women-only space, I feel sickened. I feel like I am misgendering myself. I have to adopt the one identity that I never ever want to touch. And I have to do that in order to enter dialogues about my life. It’s this vicious back and forth between honoring my gender and recognizing the practicalities of my life. And it becomes more upsetting when I consider how often trans women are unwelcome in women’s spaces. It’s sickening to consider that I would be more welcome in a women’s space than a trans woman (ok seriously, who belongs in a women’s space? The nonbinary person or the woman? Do we actually have to talk about this?).


For me, it is hugely important not to enter women-only spaces. I never went to the women’s forum at uni. I do not involve myself in events for women in the arts (although I will happily support such things), unless it explicitly includes nonbinary folks (and, even then, I might not, because I know most cis women there will welcome me as a woman, not a nonbinary person). I do not go to women’s discussion events or workshops. It’s as much about telling myself “yes, you’re not a woman” as it is about giving space to actual women.


Because, yes, women do need women-only spaces.


We talk a lot about privileged women, but the fact is that we live in a world where catcalling still hasn’t stopped. And yes, there are experiences I share with women because of how I am perceived, but I experience it differently because I am not a woman. How can I expect people dealing with this crap to take my crap into account, just because it’s similar? I worry that, in opening up women’s spaces for nonbinary people, it’s putting too much of a burden on women, people that are already struggling and fighting their own battles.


There’s a time and a place for us to share and find solidarity and a time and a place for us to separate and be with people like us.


But, at this moment in time, there’s not enough resources specifically for nonbinary people to make separation feasible. For loads of nonbinary folks, feminist and women’s spaces are how we get access to services, support systems, community, and respect. I know that I tend not to go towards a trans organization or support system when it comes to things that have to do with being perceived as a woman, it doesn’t even occur to me because these things are not caused by my transness. And, if it does occur to me, I choose the women’s space because I know a trans spaces’ resources are already stretched much thinner and are much more necessary for people who can’t enter women’s spaces.


It might not be possible now, but I would like to see more nonbinary-exclusive spaces. Instead of expecting women to carry our weight, I’d like to see new opportunities specifically aimed at nonbinary people. And I would like to see women-only spaces recognizing that people they may consider as women are not actually women and don’t belong in those spaces. And, most importantly, I would like to see the end of grouping nonbinary people into binary gendered categories because there’s no other option. I want there to be more options. Yes, maybe there’s not a lot of us. Yes, we still belong in women’s and feminist conversations. But it’s time to start really recognizing nonbinary genders and their accompanying specific needs as distinct from other genders.


This is something that takes time and is, happily, already in process. In the meantime, I am happy to know I have support from so many women’s organizations and spaces and am not without a safety net. But, the more we start recognizing these distinctions and trying to manage the nuance in how we create spaces and support systems, the better we can support nonbinary trans people to their (our) fullest.




Some November readings

My November readings were a bit all over the place, but I can promise you, I read a lot of good stuff and had trouble narrowing this list down to something manageable. I tried to group this by themes and gave up, so we go in this order – from identity politics to the amazing Marsha P. Johnson, and everything in between, from the harms of identity policing to the dangers of white saviors. Hard, but good reads.



Not all politics is identity politics


“Where the politics of identity divides, the politics of solidarity finds collective purpose across the fissures of race or gender, sexuality or religion, culture or nation. But it is the politics of solidarity that has crumbled over the past two decades as radical movements have declined. For many today, the only form of collective politics that seem possible is that rooted in identity.”



To the 53% and beyond…


“We gave you the answers to your questions years ago. We cannot save you. You worked too hard to undermine our voices. Your silence in the face of our abuses quieted our voices of solidarity. We are untrustworthy voices of our oppression, a trust you worked to undermine. So now you need to save yourselves.”



I was a Trans TERF


“I’ve understood that I deserve safety. But more importantly, I’ve understood that lots of people deserve safety who don’t get it.”



Interrogating the Whiteness of the Asexual Community


“And once a space is dominated by whiteness, it frequently become self-containing. Whiteness itself seems to always operate in self-containing ways that exclude and erase the experiences of people of color. As such, those who are asexual today may continue to see asexuality as an identity largely for white people tomorrow (whether consciously or unconsciously), and the cycle may continue to loop as new ace people gain access to the identity.”



The whiteness of ‘coming out’: Culture and identity in the disclosure narrative


“Mainstream queer narratives are often shaped by gay rights activist and politician Harvey Milk’s edict to “burst down those closet doors once and for all”. Ideas of visibility and the closet have largely been shaped by white America and the gay liberation movement of the 1970s.


Refusing to subscribe to this narrative gives us space to connect with our gender, our culture and our sexuality on our own terms.”



Patients and Providers: The Mental Health Provider’s Role


“I use this example not to minimize the kind of pain and suffering that dysphoria causes, but to make the case that patients should not be set up to compete with each other based on who is more convincing at communicating their distress. In addition, a person’s gender story and awareness are not without context, including cultural and familial norms and the level of safety in exploring, expressing, or acknowledging (even to oneself) a gender that differed from expectations.”



Learning to Save Ourselves


“Books, television and film have ingrained audiences with the belief that a white person, often a man, will swoop in and, being a man of “principle,” save the day. I had forgotten how much Atticus Finch fits into (and perhaps is one of the early examples of) this trope. He is a strong, idealistic figure and, because he values the black community of Maycomb, he somehow proves to the reader that the black community of Maycomb is worth valuing. His approval of the novel’s “clean-living” black people somehow makes their lives worthwhile, when they weren’t before.”



Power to the People: Exploring Martha P. Johnson’s Queer Liberation


“I’ve been looking at that photo a lot recently. Every time I hear about another murdered trans woman of color (at least a dozen times this year already), I pull it up. Every time I see a new homage to Marsha P.—a documentary, a short film, a paean to her presence at the Stonewall riots—I look at it again. I’m trying to see how we got here, to a place where we can memorialize Johnson as the “Saint of Christopher Street” yet ignore the consistent violence that her trans daughters and granddaughters still face. How we can fetishize Johnson’s presence at Stonewall, yet ignore the demands she made of the queer community and the world at large.”


Trying to find body positivity in injury prevention and safe dance practice

Tl;dr The way anatomy and alignment is taught to dancers often puts too much pressure on us to “fix” ourselves. We need to find a balance where we can dance within a risk we find acceptable and still embrace the particular features of our individual bodies.


The other day at the gym, I had to take the treadmill that was in front of the gigantic mirror and, as a result, caught a glimpse of my bowlegs, which has since sent me down a spiral of despair at my terrible body alignment and how that means I’ll never be a good dancer.


The thing is, my bowlegs are not that bad. Or, at least, they weren’t when I first learned about what it meant in an anatomical sense. It’s quite common for dancers that do ballet and other forms of dance that require turnout. “Forcing” turnout (ie. what we’re not supposed to do) forces the shinbone out of its correct inward spiral, creates bowlegs, and, of course, causes improper alignment in the legs and rest of the body, because everything is connected.


My legs were a bit bowed, but I learned this and became very defensive of my small turnout when teachers tried to get me to force it. It knew it was good for alignment, the end. Except no one is immune to the overarching pressures around them and while I was learning about the proper alignment of the shinbone, I was also learning that I would never be a dancer without more turnout. I ended up forcing my turnout a lot more than I thought I was, even while I complacently thought that I knew about proper alignment and that meant I danced safely and properly.


Over the years, my bowlegs have become more pronounced until we come to this particular moment, where I look at my shinbones and want to cry because they’re not Properly Aligned.


Here’s the thing – the new movement to create “safe” dancers, including education in anatomy and kinesiology, is about as bad with body image as all other forms of dance education. And, it has the added benefit of informing dancers that, if their body isn’t within the alignment and anatomy taught to them, they are dancing dangerously. And it includes the nice long list of injuries that can be sustained from it. AND, it implicitly suggests that a dancer is at fault if they get injured.


No body is ever in perfect alignment. I want to argue that dancers’ bodies are particularly bad because we are training to do things that a non-dancing body may never want to do. And, especially now, every anatomy class a dance student takes is offset by aesthetics that are only possible for certain bodies and require all other bodies to go out of “safe” ranges of movement in order to do it.


The point of anatomy and dance science education for dancers isn’t to make us feel ashamed of our bodies or our unhealthy habits, it’s to tell us what we can do better to be better dancers. It’s telling us how to avoid injury.


But sometimes, when I look at my bowlegs and shallow turnout and embarrassingly weak core, I am ashamed. I am ashamed because I’ve known about these “defects” in my body and I haven’t been able to fix them, despite my strong education in how they’re dangerous.  It becomes my fault if I get injured. As a result, I am terrified of injury.


Still, I do not want to fix my body, because fixing it suggests that there’s something to be ashamed of in the first place.


I want to be able to celebrate my body. Despite the bowlegs and improper foot alignment, I have never had an injury that has taken me completely out of dance for an extended length of time. That’s fucking amazing for someone that’s danced for thirteenish years and has done particularly high-impact, damaging dance styles (Irish Step, morris dance, pointe work…). I have to admit it’s luck, I seem to have an injury-resistant body at the moment. Because, at the end of the day, injury is often unavoidable for dancers and, while certain habits may help prevent it, nothing can actually prevent it (and someday my look will run out, whether I like it or not).


I’m not saying to completely abandon safe dance practices, because that’s ridiculous. There’s a reason why we warm-up, cooldown, fight for proper alignment, and try to dance within acceptable risk parameters.


But we can’t fix or change the bodies we have. My body is a result of good habits, bad habits (terrible habits), and training, but it’s a good body. It’s gotten me this far and it will keep going. Maybe someday I’ll start sorting out my shinbones, but right now, I’m dancing with them. I know the risks, but I would rather keep finding my pathways in movement than stop everything to fix myself before moving onwards.


And I hope, in the future, to see anatomy and alignment taught to dancers more as “this is how you work with your specific form of misalignment” instead of “this is proper alignment and deviations are dangerous and must be fixed.”


All bodies are good bodies. All dancing bodies are good for dancing. There’s nothing to be ashamed of when it comes to improper alignment.


Trans Day of Remembrance 2017


So, it’s TDoR, and there’s really nothing for me to add to the conversation. TDoR is not about me. It’s about trans women of color, it’s about poor trans people, it’s about the trans people that are visible in their daily lives. It’s about the most vulnerable among us , and those that suffer because of their vulnerability.


I have no words, just sorrow and hope and commitment to do what I can to support my trans siblings.


I’d like to share these obituaries with you. Remember them. Say their names. Honor them as best we can. And may next year be less deadly.


Theory: Using Critical Discourse Analysis

tl;dr CDA is a way of analyzing power structures in text that loads of people are doing already, it just adds a lot of fancy words to it. 

So, this is more methodology than theory, but I’m putting it under Theory mainly to make categorizing easier.


Long story short, I am tired of seeing “Critical Discourse Analysis” being wielded as a tool only for academics to maintain control of the Legitimate understandings of oppressive systems, when the fact is that everyone in an oppressed and/or marginalized population is using at least the barebones of CDA in their daily life. I find it particularly ironic and head-desky that, in describing the Aims of CDA, van Dijk claims that it “implies a critical and oppositional stance against the powerful and the elites, and especially those who abuse of their power” and that “studies in CDA try to formulate or sustain an overall perspective of solidarity with dominated groups” (1995, p.18). Nice thoughts, but when most scholarly articles on and using CDA are written with incomprehensible jargon, it starts to fall apart. A certain set of academics have managed to appropriate the ways marginalized people analyze and recognize everyday discrimination, going so far as to suggest that we can’t fucking see it without their help.


Example: The teacher that taught me CDA decided to use gender as an example to explain what made it so complex after I pointed out that it wasn’t complex at all. A very bad choice. He quoted Butler, explained that “gender is a social construct” and then informed me “this has some serious implications, especially for transsexuals, as you can imagine”. Not only did he completely show his lack of care for of actual trans people by failing to use our vocabulary in the way it is used currently (“transsexual” is a word best not used by cis people unless explicitly requested), he literally thought he, an older (cis) man, could educate a group of what he thought was young girls (I wasn’t out in that class) on gender. He didn’t see the power inequality in age, gender, or our teacher/student relation. And, in fact, he later abused his power over our grades to manipulate us, completely oblivious to how he was one of the elite his beloved CDA was supposed to stand against.


I’d love to CDA the heck out of CDA-based research more, but, for now, what I want to do is break down what CDA is so that it can become more accessible. On one hand, it’s a really basic concept that I see high schoolers using without realizing it all the time. On the other hand, with a little manipulation and a shot of vocabulary, it’s really easy to take the Obvious and communicate it in a way that appears more legitimate and makes people listen and take more seriously. Which, if you’re a member of a marginalized group, is incredibly powerful.


The foundation of CDA


Here, I’m going to talk about “text” because I usually use CDA against written word, but this can easily be expanded to include all of discourse – text, spoken word, images, videos, sound… van Dijk refers to one such instance as a “communicative event”, so basically – anything that communicates something (which is more or less everything).


If we’re just glancing at a text, information appears to go:

Writer –> Text –> Reader

Except, when you read a text, you bring yourself to it. For example, a trans exclusionary radical feminist (TERF) will read a text very differently from a nonbinary person. A binary trans person will bring their different experience of transness. I might read something negative about nonbinary identities in indigenous societies and get incredibly angry about how poorly nonbinary identities are discussed and completely miss the racism inherent in the arguments. A cis indigenous person reading the same article may get incredibly angry about the racism but miss the anti-nonbinary edge.

Basically, no matter who writes a text or how it is written, it is read differently by every person, because we are all individuals. So, we actually have:

Writer –> Text <–> Reader

Except writers are also readers. No one simply writes, you need to get information from somewhere. In the previous example, both me and the cis indigenous person go off to write something, using the article as a source (as both of us seem opposed to it). We would write two completely different things because we had two different takeaways from the article. What is read impacts what is written. So we have, in fact:

Writer <–> text <–> Reader

In which information is constantly being passed via text between people that are both readers and writers.

Everything that is communicated has an impact. It will be read and interpreted and will affect the discourse of anyone that reads/interprets it. Nothing is ever a single, one-off, innocent instance. Language establishes ideology. Even seemingly neutral language expresses an ideology or a stance. These ideologies will then inform the ideologies of society.  This is a huge part of what builds social constructions.

CDA “Tools”

So, ideology and social constructions and discourse is nice and all, but what do we do with that? Now we have a theoretical foundation, we can start using tools to figure out what a text is actually saying instead of what it appears to say. If you want a really good example (and have the energy for this), I suggest going through recent news reports on police and gun-related violence. Note the race of the perpetrator, and then note how often forms of the word “alleged” is used. I haven’t quite solidified my data yet, but I’ve definitely found that violence from white people, especially white cops, is “alleged”, while violence from a black person gets no modifier. It seems obvious, but it’s a subtle distinction that continues to build on how society views black people as dangerous.


That was an example of how lexicon, or vocabulary, expresses ideology. This is the microtool. We can look at patterns of word choice, like that example, or note how one word is chosen over another (ex. In terms of my teacher, using the term “transsexual” instead of “trans”, communicated his particular position to and awareness of the trans community).


This is the one for people that like grammar, but really it comes down to the question of who does what to whom. Consider news reporting on terrorist attacks (while noting the lexical choice of “terrorism”). For example, the Wikipedia entry for the 2017 London Bridge attack starts “The June 2017 London Bridge attack was an Islamic terrorist attack” (linke=, specifically exampling that islamic terrorists attacked. The entry for Finsbury Park attack which happened soon after starts, “On 19 June 2017, a van was driven into pedestrians in Finsbury Park, London, injuring at least eight people.” (link= Here, the perpetrator, a white man that had become markedly islamophobic after the London Bridge attack, is cleverly hidden through word choice and the passive voice (which means a subject is not necessary).

When is the perpetrator an active player in a scene? When are they not? Who does what? Who has what done to them? This says a lot.


The narrative of the text is more of a big picture view. Especially in terms of news articles, but also in almost every form of discourse, things are rarely communicated in chronological order. Even they are, each type of discourse has a specific formula. Both following and disrupting the formula says different things. More importantly, what is said first affects how information is understand. For example, the introduction to the Wikipedia entry on the Finsbury Park attack is shaped like this: First, the incident and the casualties are mentioned, without a perpetrator. Then, it is mentioned that it happened outside a mosque. It then mentions a fatal casualty with an unclear link to the incident. Then, it is mentioned as a possible terrorist attack. And only then is the attacker mentioned. By taking so long to identify the incident as an islamophobic terrorist attack, the article suggests that what happened is much more important than who did it, or why, once again, subtly hiding the attacker and his islamophobic motives.

There are loads of other “tools” to CDA, but I have found that these three in particular, are the most useful and, are the ones already being used all over the place through other names.

A final note on art and CDA

While I’ve mainly been discussing news articles here, because that’s how I learned CDA and it gives some clear examples, it’s really important for every artist to understand that the work they create is also discourse. I intend to write more on this later, from a choreological perspective (choreology being the theory of movement). But for now, I’d like to leave you with this:

As an artist, it is my duty to know what I’m communicating. So, while I talk as a trans person, I use CDA-type tools both subconsciously and consciously to analyse what I’m reading and watching, or to understand why I feel a certain way about a certain discourse, I then have to turn back and use it on my own work – what am I subconsciously saying? What are the ideologies I am communicating when I present this piece of work? What social constructions am I breaking down or reinforcing? Is this something I can fully get behind?

No one is perfect. I know that. I hope to grow and change and become better. But, I do strongly believe that I should never present work I am not fully convinced by at the time of presentation. CDA is a necessary tool for finding the holes in my thought processes and patching them up and doing them better.


Works cited/further reading

Richardson, J. Analysing newspapers. (Basingstoke [England]: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007). (see the book here


The Handbook of Discourse Analysis, ed. by Deborah Schiffrin, Deborah Tannen, and Heidi E. Hamilton (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers, 2001) <; [accessed 5 November 2017.

Thompson, John B., Ideology and Modern Culture, (Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 1990). (American version of book here


Van Dijk, Teuk, ‘Aims of Critical Discourse Analysis’, Japanese Discourse, 1 (1995), 17-27,  <> [accessed 5 November 2017].


Some October Readings

And here it is! As we head to the end of October (Happy Halloween!), I’d like to share with you some of the things I’ve read over the month – questions of self-care, creativity, and writing. All good reads. I promise.


7 self-care strategies for dismantling the patriarchy


“We must refuse to let our worth be defined by what we do, even as there is so much that needs to be done.  When approached from this perspective, we can recognize that the very fact of caring for ourselves is in itself a revolutionary act.”


Creativity under Trump


2017, Word Counts and Writing Process


“Why am I talking about this right now? Basically, because I know it’s not just me. I know a lot of writers have seen their process take a hit here in 2017. It’s hard to focus when the world is on fire, and with novelists in particular, I suspect that sometimes it’s hard to focus when you’ve got the suspicion that your fiction is almost frivolous in the context of what’s going on right now.”


Writer John Scalzi nails why it’s so hard to be creative under Trump


“While I’m sure we’ll see—are already seeing—art in reaction and refutation of Trump, I know that I’m currently not in the mood to give him any more of my reduced energies. If I’m able to write creatively at all now, I want to write about people with magical powers, or people traveling through time, to a world that’s not our own.”


LGBTQ History can be found in everyone’s past


“The lives, stories, and histories of LGBATIQ people have been intentionally hidden by socially dominant individuals and groups through neglect, deletions, erasures, omissions, bans, censorship, distortions, alterations, trivialization, change of pronouns signifying gender, and by other unauthorized means.”


Ace tropes: Cis-ace & Trans-allo duo


“Many (though not all) of the stories which use the cis-ace/trans-allo trope contain problematic ace representation and/or problematic trans representation. For example. For example, most of the cis-aces are presented as being completely flawless in how they handle trans issues, and the trans allos are usually presented as being just as flawless in handling asexuality.”