Hanne Blank's Take on National Transgender Day of Remembrance

Today (November 20) is Transgender Day of Remembrance. Please take a moment to honor those whose lives, health, and safety have been taken from them because of their gender expression.┬áMy fellow queer writer Hanne Blank posted something on Facebook today that sums up my feelings about transphobia perfectly. It’s reposted with permission below.

On this Transgender Day of Remembrance I am thinking of those we’ve lost and thinking about the connection between anti-trans violence, misogyny, femmephobia, and, most of all, power.

When people on the transfeminine spectrum are attacked for being trans, a large part of what is going on is that they are being punished for having the audacity to relinquish masculinity and the symbolic power of masculinity while being, or originally being, male-bodied.

This is power and that is supposed to be inherent and inseparable from being male-bodied.

When people on the transmasculine spectrum are attacked for being trans, a large part of what is going on is that they are being punished for having the audacity to claim masculinity and the symbolic power of masculinity while not being, or not originally being, male-bodied.

This is power that it is supposed to be impossible to possess if one is *not* male-bodied.

I am, of course, oversimplifying. Anti-trans violence consists of many things. But I oversimplify to make a point, because anti-trans violence is at root the violence of misogyny and femmephobia.

Anti-trans violence rests, in a fundamental way, on the notion that maleness equals power and femaleness equals lack of power.

The fact that so many people get attacked and killed because their bodies and/or genders and/or gender performances disrupt this equation is one reason that as a feminist, and a cisgendered woman, I care deeply about trans* issues and trans* safety.

Trans* folk are unsafe in this world for exactly the same reasons that I as a cisgendered woman am unsafe in this world: any power I have or exhibit looks like a threat to many people invested in the vast complicated power of patriarchy. It destabilizes what they rightly perceive to be the historical source of their (supposedly innate, rightful, inalienable) power.

I would ask you to think about this today, as you remember the trans*folk who have been attacked and killed as a response to the ways they destabilized the myth of inalienable and inevitable male power.

And I would ask you to think as well why it is that we have no day of remembrance for cisgendered women who are attacked and killed for the same reasons.

If you care about one, it is morally incumbent upon you to care about the other. Because they are, at root, the same thing.

My cisgendered femme feminist solidarity has been with trans*folk from day one because I have always perceived the ways in which we face a common enemy.

With love and deep appreciation I am asking you to consider this, and what it means — or perhaps should mean — for your own expressions of political and cultural and community solidarity around the problems of sex, gender, and power.

(Note: Yes, you may repost/link/etc. if you wish, but please credit me, Hanne Blank)

More about Hanne Blank:

Okelle’s Guide to Online Shopping for Curvy Ladies

Despite the fact that my blog is mostly devoted to poetry and other arcane topics, the top search term bringing people here lately is “North Style.” Back in April I posted a strongly worded letter to North Style — a company I’ve never actually done any business with. They send me catalogs on a fairly regular basis though, like a lot of other companies do. That’s because I do, in fact, buy clothing from catalogs.

“Why buy your clothing from catalogs?” you ask.

“Funny you should ask,” I reply.

Continue reading “Okelle’s Guide to Online Shopping for Curvy Ladies”

Emo femme shopping and what it won't give me

A while back, a friend of mine posted on Facebook that she wanted to indulge in some “emo femme shopping,” but that she was resisting the impulse. And she summed up the post with a phrase I wish I were uninhibited enough to write: “world love me NOW!”

I knew immediately what she meant. This friend and I have a lot in common. We’re both queer femmes, we’re both plus-sized girls, and neither of us had Mrs. Cleaver for a mother. Her post also made me aware of how I’d been indulging in my own emo femme shopping for quite a few weeks. And what, pray tell, is emo femme shopping? It’s an attempt to lift one’s mood via the purchase of a pink/fluffy/sparkly/cute/fashionable item. And given the nearly unlimited number of pink/fluffy/sparkly/cute/fashionable items available via the miracle of the Intartubes and Paypal (not to mention the nice bump in salary I enjoyed when I came back to work full-time this April), it can reach dangerous proportions.

I’m sure we’re all familiar with the phenomenon of attempting to change our moods via some outside mechanism. Some of us use booze. Some of us use food. Some of us use sex. And some of us use things like this! or this! or this!. I’m actually not very interested in any of these items, but they do a good job of representing the kind of twee, impractical things I tend to crave when I’m in a particular kind of mood.

Emo femme shopping can very quickly turn into the hell of the hungry ghost — a hell of intense craving that’s impossible to satisfy. A tiny mouth and a huge belly. Like most hells, it’s an illusion. In this case, it’s the illusion that more material possessions will fill the god-shaped hole inside of me.

My latest emo femme shopping streak started with a bona fide attempt to supplement my summer wardrobe. Since my initial shopping list came from one of my rare (and incredibly useful) visits with Julie Foley (consultant of style!), it had a patina of legitimacy. But the impulse to buy can very quickly run out of control. Recently I’d decided to give up completely on brick-and-mortar retail outlets. The few stores that even carry clothing in my size inevitably make my brain boil after 20 minutes. At Macy’s or Kohl’s, I traipse past endless rows of fashionable, reasonably priced outfits until I find the tiny corner reserved for “Women.” Apparently, most clothing retailers think “women” prefer polyester tents in unflattering colors. Compared with with the increasing number of online retailers offering on-trend clothing with decent deals (and free shipping), it’s a no-brainer. Of course, online shopping isn’t ACTUALLY more convenient. It just offers a different kind of inconvenience. When I shop for clothes at a store, I try on about six items for every two I buy. With online shopping, I have more options, but I also have the unlovely hassle of returns and exchanges via mail.

The unfortunate result of this new paradigm for shopping is that I never feel quite done. And this is where the emo femme shopping phenomenon — the hungry ghost — can quickly get out of control.

There’s nothing wrong with shopping, just as there’s nothing wrong with eating, or sleeping, or having sex, or watching TV. The problem arises when I start to think that shopping will give me things that it won’t.

Shopping will not give me peace of mind.

Shopping will not make me feel more empowered.

Shopping will not give me a sense of connection.

Shopping will not make me feel pretty (at least not for very long).

Shopping will just give me more stuff.

I’m sure I’m not the only person in the world who’s had this experience. Have you ever had the emo femme shopping urge? Or tried to fill yourself up with things that won’t satisfy you? I’d love to hear about it in the comments. My blog gets lonely and it wants to be your friend.

This Is Your Hair on Henna

Starting in college, my naturally golden locks started to darken. When I overheard someone describing me as having brown hair (it’s dirty blonde, thank you very much), I finally took the plunge and dyed it red. I look great as a redhead, and at one point had shoulder-length red hair. Unfortunately, chemical dyes are murder on anyone’s hair. Since I’m spoiled with naturally thick and mostly healthy hair, I really noticed the difference when it started to frizz out. Eventually I allowed my natural color to grow back in. Last summer, though, grey hairs started making serious inroads into the faded blonde. When I cut it short, I decided to take the plunge and go red again. Chemical dyes worked okay for a few months, but once again my hair started to frizz, break, and whimper. I wanted to grow my hair long again, but knew that if I kept dying it I’d end up with a full, thick head of damaged, faded red hair and obvious roots.

I’d heard about henna, but had been warned about the difficulty of finding a quality supply. The henna they sell in supermarkets and beauty supply shops isn’t pure henna, and it’s often mixed with unnamed chemicals that can do all sorts of damage to your hair, especially if you’ve already dyed it with something else. Then I discovered that a friend of mine with gorgeous, long, glossy curls uses henna, and I asked her where she gets it.

“I use henna from Yemen,” she said, and sent me a link to Catherine Cartwright-Jones’s online henna empire. I didn’t realize it at the time, but my curly-haired friend sent me to one of the only reliable sources of 100% pure all-natural henna. The website isn’t the easiest thing to navigate, but that’s for the best of reasons: It’s host to a wealth of information about the history and uses of henna. And it’s a home-grown business without the budget to hire an information architect and UX designer.

After a fair amount of perusing, I ordered a 200-gram packet of henna from Pakistan. I opted for the Pakistan henna because it was described as having a lower dye content than the Yemen variety, and I was hoping for a more coppery red.

When I got the package, I was really excited to try it, but also wanted to make sure I paid attention to what I was doing. It’s not difficult to prepare Mehandi henna paste in advance, but it does require some planning. You have to mix the henna powder with a mildly acidic liquid (lemon juice, for instance) and let it sit for at least 12 hours in order for the dye to be fully released. You also have to leave it in for at least twice as long as a standard chemical dye.

My first attempt was less than perfect: I only used about half of a 200-gram packet, mixed with orange juice, and didn’t have quite enough paste to coat my hair in the recommended “mud-mask” fashion. In spite of the shortage, the results were quite impressive.

Here’s my hair before the henna:

Photo of my hair before using henna

And here it is afterward:

Photo of my hair after using henna

This time, inspired by the individual mixes posted by various women, I decided to get more creative. In particular, I wanted something to mellow the smell of uncut henna, which I find vaguely reminiscent of dried blood.

This is what I put in my second batch:
300 grams henna (Lawsonia inermis) (half from the last packet, plus one full packet)
about 20 grams senna (Cassia obovata)
Enough orange juice to give the mix the consistency of stirred-up yogurt
~1/2 C ground cloves
a righteous sprinkle of ground ginger root
frankincense (I’ve always wanted an excuse to put frankincense in my hair!)

I let the mix sit for almost 24 hours, and while the smell of the henna was definitely still there, the other spices masked it well. More than 24 hours after rinsing out the dye, my hair still smells richly of cloves and the other spices I used. It’s a deeper, richer red than the last application. The texture is glossy and smooth, rather than the frizzy, damaged mess that chemical dyes produce.

For my next batch, I’m thinking about reversing the proportion of senna and henna for a more subtle color. I’ll probably use less cloves (they darken the dye) and more cinnamon and ginger root. I may use some cardamom as well, and more frankincense if I have time to replenish my stash (I’ve had a bottle of frankincense on my altar for about 10 years. I don’t think my ancestors mind.)

If you’re interested in learning more about henna, its history and uses, there’s a free e-book on the Henna for Hair website.

I found the historical information fascinating and feel like I’m connecting with an ancient tradition that goes back thousands of years, even while I wrap my head in plastic wrap and watch Netflix videos while the henna sets.