Kiss My Astro: Your January 2019 Horoscope

As we say goodbye to 2018, we’re also bidding a fond farewell to a whole mountain of drama. Some years try the patience of saints, and last year was one that tested every relationship at just about every level. Eclipses in Leo and Aquarius brought into question where we belong and if we’re fundamentally lovable (most acutely for people with planets in Leo, Aquarius, Taurus, and Scorpio). Meanwhile Jupiter in Scorpio had us all digging up our buried psychological wounds, and to top it off Venus retrograde tossed six weeks of relationship review into the mix. Luckily, we’re all coming into 2019 with more information and a clearer sense of what we’ll no longer put up with. Let’s raise a glass to finding the kind of connections that improve our lives. Let’s create the experiences that help make the world a little kinder, a little sparklier, a lot kinkier—whatever energy you want to call into the new year. For extra insight, you can find me for readings and custom astrological portraits at flaxandgold.com. Happy new year! 

Aries

After a year of slowness and inner work, it’s time to dust off your dancing shoes. Welcome a new sense of vitality, curiosity, and energy. You may need a little more freedom in your relationships this year—you’re being called to follow what inspires you, what helps you come alive. Don’t get trapped into thinking you’ve seen it all and done it all. Now is the time to be the badass you know you can be, and begin a new adventure.  

Taurus 

In many ways this year will be kinder and gentler than last year, but there is one major hitch: you don’t get to stay in your rut. In March, Uranus—planet of queer liberation, sudden changes, and everything out-of-bounds—is moving into your sign and will settle in for the next seven years. Now is the time to consider what changes you’ve been resisting that will really improve your life—don’t confuse being comfortable with being happy. Let your routines transform, and welcome something strange and wonderful into your world. 

Gemini

You definitely don’t have time anymore for some of the people you used to find entertaining. You don’t have to be mean, but you can step away from any scene that’s making you feel more worn down than lit up inside with some inner flame. This is a year of choosing the people who are good for you, not just the ones who make you feel good for an hour or two. Get serious about what matters to you most, and who shares your values. This year is inviting you to focus, prioritize, and even commit to the relationships that help you live your best life.  

Cancer

This year will bring you some pain but a lot of gains with it. You can always choose to avoid pain—and miss some of the rewards that may come with it—or choose the path of growth. Like emotional weight-lifting, you’re learning to endure a certain level of discomfort so that you can get much, much stronger. Particularly, pay attention to how you act when you feel vulnerable. Becoming more open, calmer in the face of criticism or rejection, steadier as you don’t internalize other people’s projections—these are the goals you’re moving toward this year, and it begins with prioritizing self-love. You are much stronger than you think, and this year gives you plenty of opportunities for stepping into a kind of power few people have. 

Leo

Of course you look fabulous when you’re dressed to impress, but remember that you get to be adored for your full self. You’re at your most charming when you’re suffused with some kind of inner joy, not when you’re giving everyone what you think they want to hear. This year invites you to remember what fills you up, what makes your eyes sparkle, what helps you claim your full body—and work it. This is a time when your magnetism is extra high, but remember that the goal is to connect from the heart or you may feel unseen and empty in the end—whether you’re looking for a long term love or a super casual hookup. Don’t chase meaningless experiences—casual doesn’t have to mean empty. Make every connection something real, something to remember. 

Virgo

The families we choose are often just as messy as the ones we were born into, so when I say this is a year to focus on your family I know this won’t feel hella cozy to all of you. But family is what’s up for you this year. You’re in sore need of a place—or a group of friends, a collective, a poly network—that will help you know that you belong, that you are loved, that you are necessary. Partnership can help with this, but you need more than just one person to build a home. This year, spend some time addressing whatever blocks you from opening up to this experience—to choosing and being chosen as family. There is deep love available for you, if you learn how to show up for it. 

Libra

Last year reset the clock for you, and this year finds you ready to make decisions about the path forward. Even the most introverted among you will find yourselves more sociable this year. In all the bustle of friendship and activity, keep saying yes to what helps you feel most alive and no to everything that feels like empty distraction. Find the words that have been waiting for you to name the things you haven’t yet named.    

Scorpio

You can’t always get what you want, but this year you may be in the difficult position of getting just that—so be sure you know exactly what it is you want! Many Scorpios have a healthy suspicion of anything that appears too easy, too “boring.” Really, you find it easier to trust the evils you know than guess what could go wrong in a situation that looks on the level. But 2019 is asking you to expand your perception and open up to new ways of sharing joy, pleasure, and sensuality. Remember that pain isn’t your only teacher, and that happiness doesn’t have to be boring.

Sagittarius

That extra-special glow you’ve got right now will last most of this year, and is a little like a lucky lottery ticket—you can spend it well, waste it foolishly, or forget you have it and never reap its rewards. As Jupiter moves through your sign this year, you’re being carried along by a gust of enthusiasm, optimism, and exciting new opportunities. Now is the time to act on whatever you’ve been dreaming about and too shy to make happen. Reinvention, renewal, and new connections are in store for you as you follow this thread of energy. Keep choosing love that gives you the freedom to change and grow. 

Capricorn

Some years test our grit; others offer us opportunities to soften. 2019 is such a year for you. You’re deep in a learning process, but your regular tactics (rolling up your sleeves, making a plan, tackling the hard work till it’s done) won’t help you here. Instead, this is a year of letting yourself be surprised—especially by experiences of tenderness, comfort, and caring. Don’t push something away just because it’s unfamiliar. Let yourself soften, open, and risk a little more. Sensitivity and true resilience go hand-in-hand.  

Aquarius

At last, you’re ready to turn around and walk away from all the questions that plagued you for the last few years. Your relationships have been full of surprises, revelations, and revisioning for some time now, and you’re finally ready to stabilize again. Take what you’ve learned and trust that the decisions you make now are better than the ones you could have made two years ago. Dare to reach out and take a chance on someone, but remember that where you’ll really shine this year is in your relationship with groups. What do you want to transform? Who do you want to do it with? 

Pisces

Little fish, this is a year for you to shine like some majestic sea creature bouncing rainbow prisms off your scales in an perfect arc of sunlight. Hope you’re up for that. What you’re aiming for is bigger and grander than anything you’ve done yet, but don’t worry—this is one of those years when you get to reap the rewards of what you’ve been working on for many years. Relationship-wise, this means you’ll have more eyes on you than you’re used to, which can bring all kinds of opportunities. Just remember that if you keep showing up honestly and with a clear sense of your strengths it doesn’t matter if you don’t feel ready. No one ever does. 

Queer Abby: Monogamy or Distance?

Dear Queer Abby,
I have gone on a few great dates with someone who lives overseas, so it’s not a realistic dating option. How do I stay open to them while also staying open to local dating? I am a monogamous person at heart.
 
Signed,
Puzzled in P-Town
 
Dear Puzzled,
 

My first question for you is – are they an option or aren’t they? What do you want in a relationship? If you are a workaholic or frequent traveler with a love of screen time, then perhaps distance is for you; but from your letter it sounds like you would like a monogamous date.

Monogamy and in-town are the best of friends.

Monogamy and distance are a tougher match, in particular if you do not have an end-game.

The beginning of a relationship, the sexed-out oxytocin-fueled mania called limerence, is a fever dream of potential.
Your body and brain want the love drug chemicals to keep pumping, so they will tell you: LOCK THIS DOWN.

However! They will also glaze over the sharp edges and reality of a person, leaving you an unreliable narrator in your own life. The only cure is time. Time will let the high wear off and reveal smells, ticks, and a person’s bad qualities. This is WONDERFUL, because you get to decide, unencumbered by limerence, whether those qualities work for you.

If no person is 100% perfect, and we are rounding up, I would like you, dear reader, to be clear-eyed when you determine if they are worth rounding for (i.e. if this is an appropriate person with whom to pledge monogamy).

I repeat: THIS WILL TAKE TIME.

Distance will give you intensive, time-crunched experiences in each other‘s worlds, but I promise you, it will not magically gift you the time-served you need any faster.

If I had to be prescriptive, I’d say visit each other regularly for four months before you betroth.

In the meantime, mix it up. Flirt in town. Go on some dates and remember that you can give and get romantic attention close to home. If your monogamous heart cannot stomach first dates as you wait for your beau, keep yourself as busy and nourished as possible. 

So much of distance is living in the past or present. I want you to keep a firm joyful foot in the now of your town. 
Move your body. See your friends. Fill up your tank with things you love nearby so you do not cloud your vision and narrowly focus on abstracted love. 

There is love nearby, platonic or environmental though it may be. I want you to hold it.

Love,

Queer Abby

Dearly Beloved, The Wrong Ex Wants Me Back

In this week’s Dearly Beloved, the advice column from author Michael Arceneaux, our dear reader wants direction on what to do about an ex he can’t shake. To all the letters Dearly Beloved received in 2018, “get over your throwback bae” was my most common answer. In 2019, are we going to do better? Not to be Pessimistic Pat, but probably not. Still, help is on the way.

If you want Michael’s advice, just email him at [email protected] with your question. Just be sure to include SPECIFICS, and don’t forget to start your letter with Dearly Beloved!

It’s a thing.

 

Dearly Beloved,

It’s been eight months and I can’t get over my last ex. He always seems to find his way to me mentally. I want him back in my life, but I know he won’t come back. My first ex came back into my life and I’m not sure what for. I feel as though there’s some sign I’m missing, but I wanted to seek advice before digging any further into it. 

A little info: my first ex broke up with me because he felt as though we weren’t compatible and he was very nervous and shy with me. My second absolutely adored me. We began to fall in love, but we broke up because his parents didn’t want us dating. We would secretly talk to each other for a few weeks before he said he no longer had feelings for me.

Signed,

Jacob

Dear Jacob,

There’s no better way to start a new year than by abandoning the bullshit of  the year before.

With respect to your first ex, I will say good for you having someone that dumped you crawl his goofy ass back your way to ask for a second chance. Sometimes people learn from their mistakes and you remember forgiveness can be so beautiful. Other times, it’s nice to just do a victory lap around someone who wasted your time.

As for the second ex, I think you need to run in the opposite direction of him. While I get that you two have a connection and chemistry, you have three people against you: his parents, and, apparently, the man himself. Perhaps his lack of interest now stems from the parental pressure, but either way, he’s communicated to you that he no longer has feelings for you.

If it’s meant to be, he will circle back (like the first ex) eventually, though as far as I’m concerned, it’s time for you to let him go and find someone who wants you and will have parents that won’t block your blessing.  

Signed,

Beloved!

The Hoodwitch Shares Her Advice and Wisdom for 2019

As we head into 2019, wouldn’t you feel better about the upcoming year if you knew a bit of what to expect? Say, if you had some advice from the supernatural?

The Hoodwitch, a sorceress otherwise known as Bri Luna, markets both a store and community online, selling what she calls “everyday magic for the modern mystic.” She joined with INTO and Refinery29 to offer some wisdom headed into the last year of the ’10s. 

Among the advice she gives: avoid stagnancy in 2019. “If you are a creative person, and you are feeling very blocked, I always say: solitude,” she says in the new video. “Go into nature, unplug, disconnect from the things that make you feel inferior. Do something that will change the energy, and shift it.”

For more of her advice, and to learn more about the Hoodwitch (both person and brand), watch the video below.

Coming Out in the Projects

Who’s going to kill me first? A cop who fears the color brown or someone brown who discovers the bright colors of my rainbow?

Imagine thinking like that at 10 years old. At 13, I watched my friend get jumped by a group of men — that’s right, adult men — because they suspected that he was gay. And because queerness is synonymous with perversion to most cis-heterosexual people, they accused him of sexually assaulting all the little boys he played with. I watched as the rumors scattered like feathers out of a ripped pillow. I watched as people who defend Bill Cosby today (despite 60 women coming forward) label my friend a rapist based on accusations with no victim coming forward. Those people were eager to connect queerness with perversion, just as people still try to associate pedophilia with the LGBTQ community.

That’s when I learned how much my world hated me.

My mother told me about her deceased gay friend, how someone chopped him up and scattered his body parts around the Bronx. Though she always spoke about him with profound sorrow, a warning always clung on to every word of that story. My mother knew that I was queer (even though I didn’t tell her at that time). I think that’s why she told me.

Secrets are like two-sided coins. One side contains the power to strengthen and destroy bonds between friends. The other side can be the rust on a razor that threatens the throat.

When I was 10, I discovered a secret about myself. My distrust for others embittered the flavor of that secret. My shame made it taste like hellfire that scorched every corner of my mouth, leaving the most disgusting and painful flavor on my tongue. Accepting the truth of my secret would mean allowing the searing bitterness down my throat, subjecting the rest of my body to the pain of being an abomination.

Instead, I swallowed gelid lies about myself. Back then, I figured that was better than allowing the truth of what I am to continue burning me, to continue reminding me that I am both my earthly and heavenly fathers’ biggest regret, my mother’s nightmare, and my neighborhood’s greatest insult.

Accepting my secret would have been an unnecessary punishment.

I like boys. That’s my secret, my most painful truth. Discovering that secret was like discovering that I am a magical being. I am a magical being. Everyone should know about the magic that comes with being queer. But the world was — and probably still is — ignorant to that type of magic. Ignorance allows history to repeat itself, and I’m not yet ready to become a part of history.

As a child, I couldn’t find my utopia—not even in my dreams. How could one imagine a perfect world when they feel like they don’t deserve to live in their less-than-ideal reality? How can I not deserve more than a place where large puddles of piss soak the elevators, where the homeless shit in the staircase and smear their excretion on the rusty lead banisters, where our secrets inevitably transform into lies that devour us like a murder of ravenous parasites?

The beginning of my autobiography will begin with who I thought I was as a kid. I thought I was nothing but a dumb, black faggot boy from the projects, where there’s always a witch hunt  —  where black people, like me, are hunted by our neighborhood cops. Where queer people, like me, are hunted by our neighbors.

Maybe she wasn’t homophobic. Maybe she was afraid of what could happen to me. Maybe we shared a secret without knowing it.

I don’t have a romantic coming out story. I have a weird and confusing one that reminds me of the pain I felt when I was a kid. I have a reminder that coming out is difficult when your world despises your identity.

Image via Getty

My Fatness is Not a Winter Fad

I love the winter, particularly the cold air. I love the way the cold kisses my warm skin. When the icy breeze numbs my fingertips, my pockets provide them with satisfying warmth.

Putting on my coat, hat, and scarf reminds me of my late grandmother. Once the air became slightly cold, she started decorating the house in Christmas lights and garlands. Every day, she prepared the sweetest, thickest cup of hot chocolate and said, “Don’t ask me for no more later.” I always did, and she always gave me another cup.

In middle school, my mother dressed me and my little sister in baggy bubble coats and heavy boots. “I look like a Tellytubby,” I’d say. “My clothes are too baggy, mommy.”

Her response was always as cold as the air that froze my windows. “Shut up, you look fine. Baggy clothes are the latest fad,” she would say. She wasn’t wrong. It was the late ‘90s and everyone wore baggy clothing. In 1997, Tamagotchi keychains were the fad. In 1998, baggy denim was in. In 1999, everyone wore those elastic colorful wristbands.

I never would have guessed that my fat body would become a 2018 winter trend. And personally, I’m not at all excited about this. If you didn’t get the memo, winter time is “big boy season.” That’s right! After three seasons of being called fat, sweaty, and unhealthy, thinner people summon fat guys to keep them warm throughout the winter.

A few days before Thanksgiving Day, it got cold. Some guy on Grindr messaged me and said, “It’s cold outside. Come keep me warm, big boy.” By this time, I had already grown bored of the whole ‘big boy season’ thing. So, I respectfully asked him what he enjoyed about larger men.

His response was nothing short of racial fetishization and assumptions about my fatness. “Black guys have big meaty cocks, and big boys produce more body heat,” he says. “I love big boy sweat dripping all over me.”

Just like that, he made four terrible assumptions about my body. He assumed that I’m well-endowed because I’m black. He assumed that I’m not anemic and can produce large amounts of heat like a radiator. And he assumed that I sweat profusely because I’m fat. But most importantly, he assumed that I would give him the time of day because he is a conventionally attractive guy flirting with a fat guy.

After declining his advances multiple times, he replied “Your loss,” like I fumbled an opportunity to do something I wanted to do, then he blocked me—but not before reminding me that I’m fat.

What about my body communicates desperation for sexual attention? What about my body relinquishes my right to tell someone thinner than me that I am not interested in them? What about my body says that I’m supposed to be grateful that someone finds me attractive for 83 to 93 days?

I receive lots of unsolicited butthole pictures. I receive lots of “I love fat guys” messages. I am offered sex at least five times a day. Most of those offers are from thinner guys and girls who assume that I’m a sex-crazed fatty who should never say no.

Fat people can and should always say no. A fat person like me says “no” regularly. I say “no” to dieting. I say “no” to exercise. And I say “no” to just about anyone who begins a conversation with crappy nudes or requests to keep them warm when it’s cold. That’s my right. That’s everyone’s right.

In an essay in The Establishment, an anonymous author raises an important question: “Why don’t we hear fat women’s #MeToo stories?” The writer, a fat queer woman, writes about her personal experience with sexual violence and connects it to the idea that sexual predators believe that larger women should be grateful for any form of sexual attention.

“The menacing ghost of gratitude followed me everywhere,” a writer whose pen name is ‘Your Fat Friend’ wrote. “I was queer, which meant I was expected to be sexually flexible, unfettered by boundaries and unlikely to say no, available to be posted in any scene or position needed for men’s gratification. And I was fat, which meant I should be grateful for what I got. Even if it was violent. Even if I didn’t consent.”

It’s important to recognize that being thin doesn’t give one agency over larger bodies. When I gained weight, I learned this for myself. I’m ashamed to admit that I, too, was someone who believed that larger guys should be flattered that I appreciated their bodies. Now, if I ever decided to lose weight, I can never unlearn how it feels to be considered a winter fad.

It hurts like hell.

Queer Abby: I’m Going Through a Breakup

Dear Queer Abby, 

I was in a fairly serious relationship that went south. 

Long story short, we had a non-monogamous agreement, but in practice, it led to struggles, hurt feelings, and finally a loosely defined couple month “break.”

That break started four months ago. 

I cared very deeply about this person and wanted to keep them in my life, but after a couple of months, I sent an olive-branch email that went unanswered. I’ve realized I’ve been a little preoccupied with thinking about this abrupt and unresolved ending, going back and forth between sad and grumpy. 

What’s the healthiest approach at this point? A) move on, forget they ever existed and get rid of everything that reminds me of them, B) keep trying to reach out and establish a friendship? or C) something else?

Signed, 

Sad in Santa Fe

Dear Sad, 

I’m sorry to hear about your recent break/up. My opinion on the matter? I think you need a combination of options A & C. 

You need to accept that no response *is* a response. Anything that’s not a “yes” is a “no.” The relationship, for now, is done. 

It doesn’t mean this person didn’t care about you; it doesn’t mean they’ve moved on. It only means that they are not engaging with you right now as they once did. They’re no longer showing you that side of themselves. 

It could be that their feelings for you were so intense that they can’t even look at them right now because it makes them too sad. It may have something to do with their own inner demons or sense of worth. We may never know. 

One thing we do know is that ruminating on it and obsessing over what they may or may not be thinking is not helping the situation. 

You can reflect on your own actions and come to a place of taking responsibility for your part in the relationship’s demise, but you can’t solve another person’s silence. ESPECIALLY because you are doing so in an echo chamber, through your own particular filters. 

A romantic relationship can bring up old, ancient stories we have about ourselves and what we deserve or get to have. I would wager that any lack of interaction with this person is creating a vacuum that, when left to your own devices, you are filling with your own narratives that are tainted by your very particular, tarnished mirror. 

What can you do? I think you should write out your thoughts and feelings completely. Include the things you admire and adore about this person. I want you to write this out as thoroughly as possible in a journal or a word document, then let it sit for a week. 

In the meantime, be as generous to yourself and the memory of this person as you can. Try and find some gratitude for what they brought to your life. Meditate on the idea of this person having all the things you would want for yourself. Do you want them, ideally, to find love and support and acceptance and light? Think about that. Imagine them being as happy as you would like to be. Imagine yourself, too, having an abundance of love and support. What would that look like and how can you imagine yourself receiving it? I want you bathed in warm light, dear reader! I want a chihuahua licking your face as you drink a soy latte. 

Come back to your letter when you are feeling grounded and calm. Extract anything that is blaming, shaming, or defensive. Use all of your lesbian-processing training and employ “I” statements. Take responsibility for anything you think you did in the relationship that you’re not proud of. Let them know how you feel, how you felt about them, and what you wish for them or for your friendship moving forward. To use some dog terminology, roll over. If this person has been kind and trustworthy, show them your underbelly. 

Don’t try to extract interaction from them, just use this as a final statement, then (and this is perhaps the most important part) let go of what happens next. 

This approach is about keeping your side of the street clean. No matter what happens, I want you to know that you acted with integrity and were faithful to the most generous, loving, and honest side of yourself as possible. 

You are only in charge of 50 percent of what happens in any relationship, so after you lay this letter down, please know that you’ve done your part for them, and more importantly, you’ve done your part for you. You showed up for yourself. 

Some things in life are just meant to be temporary, no matter how much you’d like to hold on. 

I’m so happy this person brought you some light while they were here, but now it’s time for you to shine that on yourself. 

Turn the page. 

Queer Abby

The Trans Male Threat

Despite what you might see on social media, being a trans guy doesn’t always look like white shirtless bodies and surgeries. 

A lot of my life’s work is devoted to asking people to look beyond the trans body and into the multi-faceted world of a trans person with my traveling photo project Transilient. The erasure of trans men’s narratives isn’t the only issue we face within our own community.

A shocking pattern that I’ve encountered while doing this work is how many of us are physically absent from other trans people’s realities. For six different trans women I interviewed with my project, I was the first trans man that they had ever seen or met in real life. When I asked these women why the masculine and femme communities weren’t integrated, they all responded in a similar way.

It’s not that these women reject trans men — on the contrary, they were very excited to spend time with me  —  but they described trans men as almost mythological and nowhere to be found in the rural areas where they lived.

There are few trans men depicted in mainstream media. Before I transitioned, my only exposure to trans men was Brandon Teena, the tragic victim of a sexual assault and homicide, and Chaz Bono, Cher’s son who transitioned publicly in 2011.

Today, the most visible trans males are hard-bodied models like Laith Ashley and Aydian Dowling, offering the public a body-focused view that prizes muscular men who can easily pass as male. Aside from the fact that so many trans men have different body types and presentations, our bodies are just one facet of us. The visible few also uphold a traditional view that masculinity looks one way. It isn’t the fault of those who are given visibility. To look a certain way comes with cultural rewards. I don’t think our lack of visibility will change until we can see many aspects of maleness and hope that redefines what it means to be a man.

Because of that lack of visibility, a lot of people — straight cis people and even folks inside the LGBTQ community — don’t know that trans men exist. They lack an education about our community, or are ill-informed, misunderstanding who trans men are, what we want, and how much those desires vary from person to person.

People’s ideas about us are a mixed bag. One might assume all trans men transition to become straight men while others believe that due to how we were “socialized” we align more with women than men. Others assume we all want all of the surgeries and to get on hormones. Some people within the community subscribe to the myth that cis men are the largest perpetrators of transphobia so we’d want to be seen as something different from cis men.

Being a trans guy should mean we exist in a wide-open space of masculinity however we define it on our own terms, but being a man of transgender experience can feel very confining. Most transmasculine people walk a tightrope of masculinity and segregation in various communities all the time.

Much of my transition has felt as though I am completely out of control of my own life’s narrative; claustrophobic yet isolated by both the straight and queer community. There’s been a strict code created for men which has bled into how trans men are perceived by the world. The code is physical and emotional. It says things like men are to carry themselves with obvious confidence, take up a lot of space, have a toned body connected to a penis, look traditionally masculine, get socialized as a boy, and express emotions in a restricted way. All of it holds up patriarchy. Nobody fits into it. Many cis men try to lead life on these terms, and frankly, it leads to living life with a lot of insecurities and pain. I think it leads to toxic masculinity and competition. Still, if a trans guy doesn’t possess or isn’t actively pursuing manhood that looks exactly this way, many straight cis people don’t see you as male.

If you own any one of these traits, or more, some of the cis portion of the queer community may read you as a traitor. I’ve heard people say trans males who act out of misogyny are “worse than cis men” because we “should know better.” Personally, I feel like that doesn’t tackle the way our culture teaches us to be, and sometimes excuses cis men. It could also be claiming that trans men shouldn’t behave this way because they are not men. On the other hand, some people in the cis queer community will dismiss your maleness altogether and chalk you up to being a “safe” person based on how one was socialized as a child. The reality is if someone is masculine they benefit from gender roles and patriarchy. Regardless of how one is read, people will pick up on these benefits, and it’s up to them to reject the inequality.

I have this recurring experience that happens when I out myself to a cis stranger. After I work up the courage to tell someone, “I am transgender,” cis people sometimes look at me and say, “Oh, so you want to be a woman?” This act of erasure — of passing – -is read as a privilege by some trans people as well as those who identify as allies.

When you boil it down, transmasculine folks’ transitions are viewed as being “easy” because of our assumed passing privilege and people’s personal views of our internal lives. Since physical violence and homicide aren’t as commonly directed towards trans men as towards trans women, trans men can be assumed to have it easy. The idea that passing is easier can be true in some ways — particularly when it comes to personal safety — but passing can also be incredibly lonely. When I am read as a cis man, it’s hard to not feel like my entire life has been expunged from existence.

It feels as though I am a walking blank slate. People can attach whatever story they want to me according to how they feel about men or trans people. I know all people do this to each other in our day to day lives, but it’s when people who are gifted personal information about me or understand what it means to be trans and still choose to write another reality for me that I feel absolutely powerless. Other trans guys who don’t pass, either by choice or circumstance, experience this narrative in another way. These guys are seen as men actively trying to change what it is be a man, or more negatively aren’t seen as men at all. These guys often get left out of the conversation and get pressured by society to transition differently.

Trans men can be complicit in this erasure too, sometimes policing one another and upholding traditional male norms. Quite often the norms are based around hormone use and surgery. I don’t think most men have a deep desire to uphold these norms. I feel like many people don’t realize there are other options. For trans guys, it could be harder to see another way of being male when the media focuses on a particular type of trans man. It seems like no matter how you transition as male, society wants to place you in a rigid box that disconnects you from your reality.

Since transitioning, I’ve felt that when I express emotions and opinions, it’s always too much. I am either not femme or queer presenting enough for many cis people, predominantly queer femme folk, or I have too many feelings, opinions, and am too demonstrative. I feel like they want me to challenge heteropatriarchy in a way that’s more comfortable for them, not me. It’s at times felt like I need to stay close to my “female socialization” in order to remain worthy of affection from certain people. We’ve all met the “I only date women and trans men” or the “ No cis men allowed” crowd.

However, at the same time, I’ve also felt as if I need to physically take on the archetype of a traditional patriarchal model of a man to be seen as worthy of affirmation by most of society. Trans male models and public figures such as Aydian and Laith were able to reach success not just because they are talented and driven, but because of how they look.  Society also enjoys giving them a platform because they are “positive” and don’t express strong feelings on personal or social issues. Society makes it hard for men to talk about feelings or take a stand on issues without also taking away their power.

If you sit and think for a minute, how many famous cis men also are open with their emotions? How many men with a platform, trans or not, use it to make room for men who are not like them? When you’re a man of trans experience it’s already really hard for the mainstream portion of society to accept us and our ideas. Our culture likes men to be a certain way and if they stray from that concept it can make people uncomfortable. If a trans man pushes back on what it means to “look” or “feel” male he’ll have a harder time being successful.

Trans writer Thomas Page McBee has based his entire platform on challenging masculinity. He looks just like any other middle-class white dude in Brooklyn. He uses the traditional masculine presentation of a boxer while promoting his book Amateur. He may be fighting to be something different than the male norm but he still does physically box in a ring. He still visually and physically showcases traditional manhood. His body type, the color of his skin, and presentation has helped give him a platform to even start confronting maleness.

The general cultural understanding of maleness is what these men look like and what they don’t talk about. It’s my opinion that one has to look like a “real man” and regularly affirm their maleness to be taken seriously. In McBee’s case, he may be critiquing toxic masculinity, but he also talks about being a man a lot. His maleness is centered in the conversation. These trans male representatives are all gifted and are just being themselves in a world that sees them as credible versions of manhood. It’s not their fault but they are given opportunities and acceptance that many trans men are not. But they are also unintentionally helping to uphold strict ideas of maleness. This isn’t to say folks should be treated poorly for being themselves or should stop doing the work they do. The competition among us is not helpful and, I believe, has been taught to us through toxic masculinity. To change what it means to be male we need to be inclusive of all kinds of men and allow one another to have space within the definition of maleness. This includes the aforementioned kind of guys who fit into a traditional male mold.

These different male ideals given to me, one of which keeps me close to a past that feels dehumanizing and the other of which feels unlike me, butt heads in many of the communities trans men are a part of. This means there is little space to discuss the issues faced by the silent majority of trans masculine folks who don’t conform to the male ideal or conform to the “acceptable” queer political ideals of maleness. Many of us are non-white, impoverished, survivors of trauma, and don’t want our female socialization to be a factor of our worth. Many are straight, don’t pass, are fat identified, don’t possess a liberal arts education, or are disabled.

I’ve seen that with our newfound privileges as men also comes guilt, so when folks criticize us and silence us, quite often we abide. This privilege for us comes in many forms, whether it’s feeling safer when we walk home at night, purchasing pants with pockets, being allowed to have body hair, or not being held accountable for keeping rape from happening. At one point this guilt looked like me hanging out on social media all day calling out anyone’s assumed sexism, racism, and queerphobia. I slipped into a very dark depression and even became hyper-vigilant of myself. I was hard on everyone around me because I felt so guilty to be changing into something that people despise. This isn’t to say people’s anger with white men isn’t valid; it is, but I did internalize it.

This internalization was paramount in me becoming the person I am. Focusing on other people’s actions made it so I didn’t have to sit with what was going on with me. I faced a lot of loss when I transitioned, including an unrelated loss to suicide of a non-binary person who was one of my biggest supporters, and it was all too much for me to handle. I was angry at myself and the world around me for things that were not in my control.  While I still address issues when I see them, my entire existence isn’t devoted to trying to change people’s language and views. My anger didn’t help anyone. I did what toxic masculinity teaches, and responded in an aggressive way that didn’t give people in my life room to grow, change, or honestly hear me. Part of my anger really came from a place of feeling like I didn’t belong. I felt ashamed to be gaining privileges and more safety in the world and was furious that so many white cis men around me didn’t see their privilege, let alone try to be better. The guilt for me is very internal these days and much less than it once was.

To be honest, I feel a bubble of guilt attempting to form inside of me as I write this article. While part of me knows my feelings are valid and I should be able to share them, another part thinks I am taking up too much space and should just be quiet. This, admittedly, is a symptom of how I was raised. I was raised in poverty, by abusive addicts, and the world viewed me as a woman. A big part of me thinks I am safer if I don’t question things or stand up for myself. It was a hard chapter of my life but thankfully I realized, no matter how much of a cop I was acting like on the internet, I wasn’t going to ever like myself unless I forgave myself. I also don’t like cops, so I needed to stop acting like one. I don’t understand how I thought policing was the opposite of white male behavior, but I did.  In retrospect, I wish I had the tools and support to have been softer with myself. Mostly though, I wish I had felt like I could safely express my feelings of guilt and shame to my community and loved ones.

The exclusivity in maleness and the guilt surrounding privilege is the perfect storm for depression and pain. With the confining ideas surrounding trans male identity and the lack of representation for our community, it is no surprise that more than 50 percent of trans masculine youth have attempted to commit suicide. Trans men are in need of visibility and support. It’s imperative that trans masc people start being part of the conversation and accepted for who we are and how we see ourselves. Seeing the varied brands of maleness each trans man owns as being simply male is an extremely radical and helpful thing we can all do for each other. The separation between bad cis male behavior and good trans male lived experience is responsible, in my opinion, for maintenance of patriarchal ideas. For instance, when I came out as trans, my manager at the chocolate shop where I worked told me, “I don’t see you as male because you are too sensitive to be a man.”

Early in my transition another trans guy I knew that hadn’t started hormones yet told me that I was “wasting my testosterone prescription” by not working out and building muscles. On the other hand, people have tried to erase my voice when it comes to trans matters because of my passing ability. To them, I wouldn’t know the first thing about feeling oppressed. This attempt to punish trans men for not being “real men” or in some circles “too much like a cis man” affects everybody who doesn’t look or behave “right.” These stereotypes have been adopted by the transmasculine community, where the desire to be accepted by certain standards of attraction by a specific group means that we bolster the haphazard rules about what people need in order to be accepted as male or female. Those observed as “not man enough” or “too male to” are rejected somewhere by some group, and the realities of transmasculine people who do not obey given stereotypes aren’t accepted. We aren’t given access to spaces where we could potentially change what it means to be male.

I hope one day culturally we can establish that maleness and femaleness truly are constructs. Many believe that “gender is over” — for me, that just isn’t true. Maleness is very real and at the moment very exclusive. We have to throw out all of the old ideas about men and not have them consistently correlate with toxic masculinity. When people try to control our narrative or exclude us, to me, it seems like visualizing new models of manhood is a threat to patriarchy. Therefore, a threat to everything and everyone touched by it.  We need to be given the space to help shift masculinity — and to help ourselves thrive as human beings.

Dearly Beloved, I Fell For The Guy Who Catfished Me

In this week’s Dearly Beloved, the advice column from author Michael Arceneaux, our dear reader encountered a problem many face while searching for companionship on Al Gore’s internet: he was catfished. However, instead of getting rid of the person who misled him while yelling something about a “fat ass Kelly Price” or “lambskin” or something from that MTV show, he continues to engage him. But surprise, surprise, the deceit continued, although there is some connection our dear reader can’t shake. Now, he wants to know what to do about it.

If you want Michael’s advice, just email him at [email protected] with your question. Just be sure to include SPECIFICS, and don’t forget to start your letter with Dearly Beloved!

It’s a thing.

 

Dearly Beloved,

Aight, so boom right…I met this dude 10 years ago via AOL chat rooms. He’s from the Gulf Coast. We exchanged pics then months later he reveals to me that he sent a fake pic. He didn’t think he’d fall for me and it was all a joke. So, I told him in order for me to believe him, he’d have to send me a HS proof. I’m sure you remember when taking HS pictures, your name was always written on the bottom.

So he does that and then we move forward. He lied about being in a relationship when he didn’t have to. He would disappear [and] then come around, and after interrogating him, he told me that he was in a relationship. I never understood why he had to lie smh. I wanted him to come up to visit me and he always had excuses. I went to MS to visit him. It was a cool visit. I wanted him to come see me and it’s been 5+ years [of asking him to].  

Fast forward 5 years later, my mom passed and I’ve really, really been MIA. So, he texts me asking how I’m doing. We have this banter, this back and forth that we’ve been doing for all these years. I’ve become distant really and I’ve blocked him, but I find myself blocking and unblocking him. I always have hope that our friendship will evolve, not into a relationship but a good friendship. I had feelings for him. I definitely was attracted to him.  

But we argue so much. He thinks it’s because I can’t let go of the past. I guess it’s a love/hate relationship… what do you think?

Signed,
Hopeful…

Dear Hopeful,

I didn’t anticipate becoming the narrator of a very special edition of Catfish. I usually only deal with catfish during the holiday with hot sauce and maybe wheat bread if I am putting my body dysmorphia in rice. But, here we are.

Believe it or not, I can understand the concept of falling for someone based on the connection forged after a period of conversation. Those types of connections don’t happen everyday, so again, theoretically I get how you could fall for someone so deeply that a deceptive act might not completely soil the bond made. However, the deception in question has nonetheless established a pattern.

For whatever reason, it sounds like the person you are concerned about is uncomfortable about something, and thus is unable to be completely honest with you. It’s one thing to lie about the picture. I don’t like it, but you let it go and continued conversing with him. Such was your right.

But, he went on to lie about being in a relationship. He very well could have his reasons, but he remains a lying ass liar. Moreover, you managed to travel to see him yet he couldn’t return the favor. None of this is fair to you.

Even so, you need to be honest with yourself, too.

I think you want more than a “good friendship” based on your explanation of the relationship and your reactions to the ways he has damaged it. So, ask yourself a few questions. Like, is he ready to be completely honest with you now? If so, can you stop holding the past against him so long as he can be honest with you? Ultimately, though, the larger question is can he give you what you want from him?

If he can’t, you need to process and then correct the issue however you see fit. I wish I could tell you that it will be easy for you to walk away from this, but we both know how untrue that is. I know from experience. It stings to find someone you know is the perfect fit if only he will just admit it to you and himself. But if they can’t, it will only torture you. I think you know that, too.

It’s time to do some real evaluation and preparation. Best of luck. Oh, and by the way, on behalf of Gulf Coast men, my apologies.

Signed,

Beloved!

Good Bones

For most of my life, I was terrified of penetrative sex.

Honestly, all bodies, especially mine seemed haunted and my desires scared and perplexed me throughout my adolescence. Like I was straight up frightened. Like we traced the call and it’s coming from inside your body spooked.

When I was in middle school, I became convinced that I was possessed by some sort of malevolent creature from another realm. I cycled through all the possible demons and spirits who might have been making a home out of my body. I would pour over books on mythology and religious iconography in my suburban Texas town’s Round Rock Public Library on Main Street attempting to diagnose and identify the unwelcome squatter. This particular train of inquiry only lasted a short while but my body and what it wanted would continue to confuse me well into adulthood.

My issues with sex weren’t for lack of interest—trust me, I was obsessed with the concept but the whole to-do of it all disarmed me. Later in life, when I would try to submit myself to a sexual partner, my body would get all finicky and uncooperative like a water hose left to long with a kink in it. Nothing would work right. Every permutation of sex felt somehow wrong and impossible.

No one I knew had been able to teach me anything about the kind of sex I wanted to have—in fact, any and all information on gay sex had seemingly been erased from all of the books where I grew up. Little southern towns have a way of maintaining the whole extended moratorium on sodomy and all. I remember cherishing any sort of subversive media I could get my hands on. At 14, I thought XY Magazine was a radical piece of homosexual propaganda and I was shocked that it was available in my local Hasting’s. When I was finally able to dial up download pornographic photos, I stored them on floppy discs (six or seven low res photos fit on each) and hid them in a KNEX box at the bottom of my closet with a pack of cigarettes and some old coins that my grandfather had given me.

When I first came out, I included a lot of caveats to my new identity. I swore up and down that I would never engage in penetrative sex on either end of the equation. I was going to keep it “Christian.” You know, like Jesus and the apostles. Lot’s of mouth stuff but, you know, they were just friends. It was super important for me to place my gayness as close as possible to the heteronormative ideal as I could. I pulled that whole  “I’m gay, but, like, that doesn’t have to define me” schtick.

In my twenties, I had boyfriends and I explored sex more but every time it came to my body, to my penetration, I would lock up again. My defenses still engaged, I was unable to submit or participate. My brain, or at least part of it, was game but another part of me refused. Deep inside of me it felt like something angry was lurking.

Supportive people have told me that there is no such thing as a being “bad at sex” there’s only “bad sex” or “incompatible sexual partners” and intellectually I think I always understood that. But emotionally I truly felt as though I was the exception. Something was wrong with me. Something was broken inside of me. Even after I came out I was sure that some part of me was rotten. My body felt haunted, unsafe, and inhospitable,  like an old house full of Shirley Jackson spirits. I gave up. I put up a sign: DO NOT ENTER. My body was structurally unsound and prone to collapse. Abandon all hope ye who etc., etc. From a very early age, I felt condemned.

During this period of my life, I used to break into an old abandoned cotton mill in Walburg, Texas with my friends. The mill was straight out of a horror movie—literally portions of it were used as a filming location for the 2003 remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. I’m not sure what happened to the mill that resulted in it shutting its doors and falling to rot, or why it was never torn down after all these years, but I suppose there is a story buried there. Something about small towns, money, and lost jobs.

This was during my “I’m not gay, I’m struggling with my sexuality” phase. We can translate that to “I still hook up with guys but then I cry and pray about it afterward.” I had already come out once when I was 15 but I sort of lost the thread of that identity when I started hooking up with older men that I met in AOL Chat Rooms. I wouldn’t have “sex” with them but that wasn’t because they didn’t try. I became an expert at the dodge and weave, always offering an alternative, until one day I got too scared. A man drove me too far from my home on a road I didn’t recognize and suddenly my mortality was very real. I put myself back in the closet, joined a youth church, and got super religious. I wouldn’t even attempt to have penetrative sex until I was 22 years old.

I was 19 at the time, living in Austin, and performing with a Christian screamo band then called The Kirby (later called Widows & Orphans… it’s still on Spotify). It was a whole moment. Think 2005. Think Chi Flatirons caked in hair product. Think Lucky Strike Cigarettes, lip rings, and women’s jeans. I’m sure the era is conjuring some cringe-worthy images in your mind and I would recommend you just apply them all. We were very invested in the contrived but earnest efforts we were making to define ourselves. I saw something in all of this posturing that I wanted.

I had joined The Kirby because I was functionally in love with one of the members of the band. In case you were wondering what to do if you have a crush on someone: DO NOT inexorably bind your life with that person for four years in hopes that they might eventually fall in love with you. They won’t. I did all sorts of stupid unhealthy things while nursing this taboo crush. Drank to excess, drove unsafely. I dated a few very kind and understanding women while knowing deep down that I wasn’t available in the way they were hoping. It was all dumb and unhealthy and very much standard for a closeted queer in their early twenties.

It was with these friends that I first broke into the abandoned cotton mill in Walburg. The mill was a massive rusting two-story building with overgrown bushes and tall yellow grass surrounding it on all sides and blocking the facade from view. Inside there was a central unit of “cotton machinery” that took up most of the interior space with a wrought iron maintenance catwalk surrounding the upper portion of the mass.  The truss supporting the roof was failing and that loss of structural support had caused a cave-in on the south side of the building. This place was not safe to be wandering around in at night or any time of day but that made it way more exciting to explore. It was also a veritable spooky sound studio complete with clinking chains, moaning sheet metal, and dripping pipes.

Below the main machine unit, there was a stone stairwell that went down to a service basement where during our first visit to the mill we discovered a torn and soiled mattress. We were surprisingly undeterred even though possibly bloody mattress is maybe #1 on the list of murderer-nearby red flags. We would come back to the mill often sporting flashlights and Lonestar Beer (in my opinion the best of the cheap beers) and just hang around. We had discovered our own shabby chic condemned clubhouse.

One night, the guitar player and I went to the cotton mill in Walburg alone. Just the two of us with our flashlights and Lonestar. It was a date. It wasn’t a date but it had all of the trappings of a date. Or at least it was the closest I had experienced to a date in my life up to that point. We had returned to the mill many times over the years with more people without incident but on this particular mill trip, when it was just the two of us, something happened.

We parked our car to the left of the building behind some overgrown grass where we knew it couldn’t be seen from the road. The guitar player and I walked up to the loading drive with our flashlights off to further hide our presence. We had never been caught sneaking into the mill before and we liked to believe that was because of our expert espionage skills. I set our standard issue six-pack of tallboys and my flashlight on the chest-high cement loading dock and hoisted myself up. We had been here enough times that we had a comfortable understanding of the layout of the mill without much light. The huge metal doors of the loading dock were rusted and covered in tags and vaguely religious graffiti. One piece I remember in particular featured the words “seven lives were washed in the blood of the lamb” and seven crudely scrawled white crosses. Standard murder mill stuff.

As we entered the mill we heard a noise. It wasn’t the clink of the chains or the wind that rustled the leaves on the tree limbs that had grown into the building through the hole in the roof. The sound was new and unnatural. It was a guttural and foreboding hiss that grew into a growl. And the sound got louder when we shined our flashlights near the maintenance crawl space. Yeah, the same space where we once had found a dirty torn mattress. Being the dumb drunk young men that we were, we decided to investigate further.

As we got closer the sound intensified. We stepped through the threshold of a large wrought iron gate that separated the front section of the mill from the more mechanical rear and then suddenly something huge rose up out the ground with a flurry of darkness and motion.

The nightmare creature landed on the iron grating around the machinery with a metallic thud and bellowed a blood-curdling screech at us with its wings wide and imposing. It ran at us flapping it’s massive five and a half foot wings, the sound of its talons clanging against the hard rusting floor, it’s howl reverberating off the metal structure around us. We screamed and scrambled together back behind the iron gate we had passed through and slammed it closed just as the demon flew up to face height to rip our eyes out. We fell to the ground and held the gate closed with our feet as the monster attacked. Eventually, after what seemed like an hour but probably only amounted to a minute or two, the beast flew up through the hole in the roof and we were left dirty, breathless, and bruised on the ground. We had just encountered an angry Black Vulture. We had disturbed its nest in the middle of the night.

I found myself thinking about this vulture a lot. It’s screeching would come to mind when I thought of the guitar player and the one time we did finally kiss in a hotel room, the time when I knew he was just trying it because I had asked, just because he cared about me. Not in the way I was hoping. I would think about this vulture when I would try to have sex with future partners, when I would feel something angry and defensive rising up inside of me.

I would think about those men, too. The men who I used to meet in AOL chat rooms. The men who I had to repeatedly tell my boundaries to, even as I was just learning what boundaries were, the men who I would offer alternatives hoping that it would be enough to make them feel good, to make me feel real, to give my body value.

That vulture was just protecting it’s home. It had nested in that decaying mill and it felt responsible for keeping away predators. It had no way of knowing what we intended to do, what kind of danger we posed, it just knew that it was scared that we wanted to take something away, it was afraid that we wanted to kill something that couldn’t be brought back. I lived with this vulture inside the condemned wreck of my body for years, I convinced myself that it would always be there, screaming, refusing to let anyone enter.

Until one day it was gone. OK, fine. That’s not true. That sort of oversimplification is a disservice to the truth. The real answer, the longer answer, the “Did this movie really need to be over two hours long?” answer is this: I spent well over a decade learning to trust people with my body and I still struggle with it often. Too many men had tried to use me at too young an age and no one had been able to teach me how to have a queer body in the first place.  

Learning to let my guard down involved dozens upon dozens of attempts and a lot of disappointment. The first thing I had to understand was that I wouldn’t break when someone was inside me. Despite all of my fears of the dismantled and decrypted interior structure of my body I actually share little in common with the old forgotten mill I explored in my youth. I was just nervous and I hadn’t had an opportunity to feel strong yet.

Then it was a matter of finding sexual partners who knew how to read someone’s body. I feel like pornography has convinced generations of men that every body is ready and waiting for them to dive into and that is entirely and unequivocally not the case. I was lowkey traumatized despite talking a big game and that needed to be taken into account when trying to engage in sexual activity. Sometimes during sex I would feel myself getting scared, angry, and defensive. Some sort of baggage from the fight or flight response was lingering in my subconscious.  A large vulture if you will. Sometimes during sex I would suddenly need to stop everything and relax. Sometimes I continued even though I felt tears boiling behind my eyes. Despite often feeling hopeless, I would always come back for another round of experimentation and finally, at the age of 30, I was more or less fully able to let my guard down.

I know now that I was never condemned, I was just in an extended state of being remodeled. My body, or more importantly my mind is in a good state now, though I’m still planning future refurbishments. The vulture has since retired and spends most of its time traveling. It still shows up every once in a while to water the plants but usually it’s out on a Royal Caribbean cruise or backpacking through Europe. Maybe the metaphor is dissolving.

What I mean to say is that vulture lived inside me for a reason but over time and with support from good folks those reasons changed. It took me a long time to feel like my body was mine again after a lifetime of feeling unstable, unsafe, and afraid. I kept trying and eventually, I found a power in my body that I never knew I had before. I discovered just how sturdy I am.

The vulture has moved on. My body isn’t a haunted mill. It never really was. It’s a cute brownstone with good bones. To be real with you, it’s actually kind of fancy.