I’ve told various parts of this story for years, and today is the day that I finally get to conclude this journey. Today is officially my last day as an undergraduate at the University of Pennsylvania, and it took me almost 32 years to get here, and I don’t think anyone ever thought I would. Let me explain…
In elementary school, I was bored. First grade saw me reading books while class was going on because I was tired of whatever the teacher was helping the other kids with. Eventually they put me on independent study, because I was reading at a way higher level than the grade would allow, and this continued all the way through fifth grade. It is my belief, in retrospect, that because of this, they weren’t looking for anything that would’ve retrospectively confirmed things like ADHD and gender identity. That, and I was in a snobby, elitist school district that at that time wouldn’t have fathomed something like that. Boy how things have changed!
The problem was, by putting me off in a corner and letting me do whatever I wanted for five years, they taught me that I didn’t have to pay attention in class, participate, learn how to work in a group, study, take notes, or anything like that. Imagine how that came crashing down once I hit junior high!
Getting into junior high was getting thrown to the wolves, and I never truly recovered. Even in sixth grade, my English teacher put me on the computer separately to write a book to send to President Clinton. Why wouldn’t I have assumed this was the way it was always going to be? It was how I was treated. That’s why I didn’t take to heart any of the warnings from my parents or teachers that I was not living up to my potential. I can’t deny my own responsibility in never trying to do so either, but once again, I’d already learned that I could get by and do whatever I wanted because I was really smart. It screwed me over in the long run.
I was also perceived to be a feminine boy, and that got me daily hazing from a variety of bullies. Then I’d go home, and I felt like an outcast from my own family, for reasons I won’t get into here. The worst incident was getting beaten with a baseball bat in my own driveway by two boys who called themselves “friends” because I was feminine. Or assumed to be gay.
In high school, the shit hit the fan. I was hospitalized three different times as a result of my ongoing self-crisis, running away from home when things got too much, and my general apathy toward school work. The teachers never forwarded any of the work I missed, so I failed ninth grade. I was emotionally distraught, desperately seeking love and attention, and that I believe covered up any of the aforementioned issues. That, and they’d given up on me. It only took them until tenth grade to do that.
They gave me a choice: reform school, or going to Florida to live with my grandmother so I could take the GED. I was an emotionally charged kid, but I wasn’t a criminal. I never got in any real trouble. The only time I was ever in the back of a police car was when they found me after I’d run away. I didn’t drink or do drugs, I was just desperate for love. And misdiagnosed with BPD.
In Florida, you can get your GED at age 16, as opposed to Pennsylvania, where your class has to graduate first. I aced the first test, so they didn’t think I needed the classes. But then they said I needed a second test, and I aced that too. Then, that’s where my grandmother says I really messed up, because at the actual GED test, I got one question wrong. Ruined everything! I got a real high school diploma instead of a GED because of that, so technically I graduated high school with a 4.0, despite passing exactly zero years.
It was around that time that I was in a small play at Little Theater. I was talking about my plans to get an early start at HACC and get ahead of the game, and there was this guy. Let’s call him Will C. He said, and I quote: “Yeah, you go ahead and go to HACC. Then one day you’ll be working for me.” I don’t know why that of all things stuck in my craw to this day, but it did. I hated him so much for it, because he’d always been cruel to me, snide, making remarks, and generally being a dick in my direction. I never forgot it.
I tried that whole HACC thing, but all of those problems were still problems. That, and being 17 years old, pretending to be male, and suddenly surrounded by gorgeous college women, I was going insane. I bombed out, and did pretty much the same thing at age 20 when I tried again.
I spent years working in retail, until I landed a pretty good gig working at Nordstrom at Mall of America. The average take-home was more than I’d ever seen in my life. One problem: they never bothered to tell me that it was seasonal. I moved halfway across the country for a seasonal job, and I was stuck yet again.
I moved home in August, and that weekend, the girlfriend who’d stuck with me the whole time cheated on me. So I was jobless, single, and seemingly without any path whatsoever. I went to my mother, who works at HACC, and said: “get me back into school, I don’t care what it takes. I’m never going to let this happen to me again.”
I got back into HACC. They let me only take two classes, and one of them was English Composition. I remember after the second class, the professor pulled me aside afterward and said, “what are you doing here?” It was my Billy Joel “Piano Man” moment. Despite the issues focusing, sitting still, and trying to cope with what I’d eventually understand to be my gender identity, I was destroying it.
I spent two years at HACC, and only got one B. The rest were A’s. This got me into Phi Theta Kappa, the honor’s society for community colleges. I was writing for the school paper, being published, and getting offers from all over the country. But once again, I had a girl in my life, and wanting to stay with her, I was looking for an option that would allow me to stay with her and pursue higher academia. That’s when Penn (not Penn State) had a session at HACC. I thought to myself, “wow, I could take the Amtrak everyday and come home to her! This will be great!”
Penn was the only place I applied. Penn was the only place I was accepted. Fall 2013, I started at Penn. They gave me the impression that it would take two years to graduate, but then they only took six of my classes as transfers, and only one was used as anything but a free elective. I essentially went to college for two years to get into college.
The first two years, I commuted via Amtrak, and it averaged being late or canceled about half the time. Plus, there were two trains leaving back to Harrisburg: 8:15 and 11pm. Having to take night classes (damn LPS), most of the classes ended at 8 or 8:30. So I could either leave class early, which they didn’t care for, or find three hours to kill, usually at a bar, get home around 1am, and do the whole thing over. Halfway through, I started driving instead, and that unleashed a whole new set of problems: I-76, the Sure-Kill. It doesn’t matter what time of day you hit that road, you will inevitably be in stopped traffic.
The girlfriend I had broke up with me at the end of the first semester. I still continued this commute, because I was determined to see it through. That, and I met my would-be husband soon after. I was dealing with all these feelings that were finally bubbling to the surface as well. Was I a girl? Had I been a girl this whole time? What was this going to mean? Would anyone ever accept me? Could I be safe in this world?
Then I won the 2015 Hershey Student Film Festival with a film I wrote about suicide, something near and dear to me, and a huge problem at Penn. That was the last film I’d ever write though, because as I learned, I have a degree in cinema to learn that I don’t really like cinema all that much. But I still dealt with the internal struggle of gender identity, which was delayed for almost two years by people who didn’t bother to learn about consent.
You all know the Pastor Carl story. That was how I kicked down the closet door and became who I truly am. Within months, I was out to the school and the world, had my name legally changed, affirmed my identity, been on HRT, and published two books during that time. The podcast grew into a huge success, I met so many new friends, guested on dozens more podcasts, and saw bookings for speeches, lectures, and appearances start to roll in. School became secondary, and after four years of a 100-mile daily each way commute four times a week, I was not only out of gas, but different opportunities and activities were taking my attention. I was no longer the 27-year-old pretend male with hopes and aspirations of a 4.0. I was a married 31-year-old transwoman finding success on her own and running her own business. As I used the metaphor many times, I had to take a knee and run out the clock, because I had no more energy to give to Penn academics. I needed to get through the last semester passing, and that’s all I cared.
Finally, my issues with language were taken care of after a year-plus of trying. I accepted neurodivergence, was exempted from having to learn a foreign language, and that saved my college career. It’s literally that I cannot do it, I can’t process it, and without that exemption, I was never going to graduate. It took getting a second evaluation and pressing hard to do so, but it finally happened. That, and CAPS doctors helped me get the medical assistance I needed with ADHD, anxiety, and the one that truly surprised me, PTSD. That explained my night terror attacks, my over-sensitivity to bright lights, loud sounds, and being startled. Dealing with all of this, the gender transition, the commute, not to mention an Ivy League education despite never having passed a year of high school and having to work through it, definitely took its toll on everything. I’m amazed I can still wake up in the morning.
But this morning I did. I finally reached it. The last day of undergrad. Six years of college, plus years of being confused, tortured, bullied, misunderstood, and doubted have finally culminated in this. So, I can only say one thing on this momentous day of finally completing a journey…
Fuck you, Will C.
And thank you. I couldn’t have done it without you.
TW: Dysphoria, sexual assault
If you know anything about me, you know why the year of 2014 is significant.
That was the year I first started to come out.
That was the first time in my life I felt the sense of overwhelming joy that I’m now awash in.
That was the first time that my naive nature got me in trouble.
That was the first time I truly understood what is the queer reality.
Or, as some people might say it, shit we made up for attention.
Let me explain…
In 2014, I was introduced to terms that more accurately described what I was. For so long, I was in the assumption that I was a drag queen and nothing more, because I didn’t know there was an option beyond that. Once I started learning, the floodgates of so many years of hiding opened up.
The problem is, I wasn’t socialized as a woman. I wasn’t taught things that women have to watch out for. I didn’t know things like “be careful in a dark alley” or “don’t accept a drink unseen” or “be careful who you’re drunk around.” These thoughts never would’ve occurred to me, and there’s something seriously fucked up about that. Both that they happened, and that they had to.
I’m sick of people marginalizing the experience of trauma victims, and I’m sick of people always having to play the Devil’s Advocate when someone explains their experience, their trauma, or their identity. They’re always looking for the benefit of the doubt so that they don’t have to take any action on their part whatsoever. That would require changing thinking and we can’t have that.
There’s the terrible myth that anyone AMAB can’t be raped, whether it’s because of physical reaction or because they always want it. There’s the myth that we’re somehow asking for it, or that we deserve it for being freaks. There’s people who think it didn’t happen, or think we’re exaggerating, or who are always looking to find a reason why they either can one-up or disregard what you’re saying.
When I was roofied, another transwoman told me that I probably just couldn’t handle my liquor, because “it seems strange that someone would use roofies on you and not bother to go ahead and rape you.”
Of all people, shouldn’t we who’ve been through that experience know better? Can’t we be better than that without victim-blaming and marginalizing someone who has been through trauma?
I came out again in 2016, but that was after almost two years of complete misery. Hiding, denial, numbness, blaming myself, and everything in between: what would my family think, would I lose my kids, would I lose my job, would I ever be okay?
Then I was. Sort of.
Everyone who has only known me for the last few months, they see the ridiculous schedule and output I have, but they don’t always know what came before it. The disasters I suffered and the numbness, tears, self-doubt, self-hating, and the denial destroyed me inside before I finally started to accept who I was, and it clicked all at once in the face of a hate pastor.
But that took two years. Two years of denying I was Marissa. Two years of pretending to be male. Two years of pretending to be straight. Two years of my life lost because someone thought my consent was theirs for the taking. Twice.
Then some people are quick to jump on the “faking it” claim. Once again, because that’s easier than actually doing something about it.
Recently, Ari Stillman and I started a satirical podcast. It’s called “The Cis Are Getting Out of Hand.” It’s blatantly satirical; we would never actually tell a cis person to go sit in the quiet corner and apologize for their gender. That’s the point; the cis people who play along are in on the joke.
The truth behind it is, it’s a podcast made by non-cis people for non-cis people. It’s for us to be able to vent without having to explain our pronouns, without having to define cis for someone… again. Without having to justify our humanity or defend a bathroom argument or put ourselves on the line.
Allies may not realize this when they ask a question or hear us say something about cis people, and they may be hurt by it. I know they have just in the span of the few days since we started that community. The people I love, of course I love them. Of course I don’t hate cis people. But it’s not about you right now, and that’s the point.
Look at how other people react when queer people have their own space where we can say these things without cis people constantly reminding us “not all…” or without straight people needing to be praised for putting themselves on the line and fighting for our rights. Let me be clear: You should not need praise and rewards for being an ally, you should do it because it’s the right fucking thing to do.
I was recently gaslit in a conversation talking about this very thing. I needed to calm down, and how I needed to chill. He was going to make his own group of allies for LGBT people and didn’t see why that was condescending and insulting. Because god forbid the straight cis white guys are left out of anything. I was accused of “decluding” people who are on our side, and I don’t think that’s a word. Then concludes by saying things like “I’m still gonna fight for you despite you being unnecessarily rude tonight. You’re awfully grumpy.”
If you consider yourself an ally and don’t realize how shitty, manipulative, and condescending that is, get this straight: You are NOT a fucking ally!
This whole thing started because a friend of mine was standing up against a guy who insisted the LGBTQIA replace the A with Ally. Once again, god forbid we have a space of our own without including you. Then, when called on that, after having to have cis defined to him without the aid of the Google machine, says he’ll make his own group: ALGBTQIA: “I’ll have my group, you’ll have yours.”
Once again, you’re making a derivative about our thing by making it about you… again. You talk about us not including you… Well you’re not included in this! You’re an ally: great! You should be! But not because you expect a reward for it. Not because you expect us to suddenly consider your experience the same as ours!
It costs you nothing to be an ally, but you want to get yourself queer points. As if being an ally equates our experiences. As if you have any idea what it’s like to be us. Like you sit there and go “yeah, I’m an ally. I know what you go through, getting ‘faggot’ yelled at you, getting intimidated out of using the bathroom for being trans… We’re one in the same. We’re all in this together.”
NO! We’re not all in this together. You being a visible ally does nothing except say that you’re not an asshole! Our choice to be visible is one that risks harassment, assault, or worse. Can’t you see that? Can’t you see the difference between standing up for a cause and actually living as someone who is a target? But no, it hurts your cishet feelings if we leave you out of a thing in our own space, and that’s totally equatable with oppression. We’re the bad ones if you think about it. If only you too had your own space where you could talk with other straight cis people at leisure without worry or necessarily having them around…
We don’t. We have very few spaces where we can do that without someone asking questions and reminding us what a good ally they are. Expecting reward for their charity of doting us with their “support.” And then having the attitude of “well gee, if this is how you’re going to treat us, then I shouldn’t be on your side at all.” if you’re only on our side because you think we should be nice to you, you’re not an ally. Charity for reward is not charity, and you are no ally of mine. I will say this every single day until I no longer have to say this anymore.
One more time, for those in the back…
P.S. Small update on this. He was apparently “trolling” me, not hard by his standards, but wants me to unblock him to apologize. All he did, after all, was say he wanted a letter. Right. Take a look at the screenshots. All he did was innocently ask me for a letter then “troll” me with his shitty, condescending, gaslighting, “pat me on the head and give me an Ally cookie” behavior. Nope, sorry. Bye Felicia.
This is the first day of Trans Visibility for which I am completely out. I feel like it’s only necessary to bullet point my journey and present state, especially for those in the back who think we don’t need things like this.
-I was named Marissa when I was 18. My girlfriend’s last name was McCool at the time, and I liked the ring of it. Alexa is a reference to my deadname.
-I’ve always known I was different. I came out as transgender for the first time in 2014. It didn’t end up well.
-I went on hormones July 13th, 2016. I didn’t come out publicly until October, mostly out of fear of being visibly queer.
-It took me until January 23rd, 2017 to be officially out on all my web presences. The response has been about 98 percent positive, and I’m quite aware that I’m one of the lucky ones for that.
-I’ve suffered 3 sexual assaults in my life that I know of. I say “that I know of” because one could’ve been once, or it could’ve been every night for six weeks, or anything in between. Two were from cis girls. One was from a cis guy. These are for reference, not relevance.
-My podcast has completely changed because of my coming out on episode 70, as have my appearances on other podcasts, my activism, publishing books, and daily life. I regret nothing.
-Today, I got the trans-flag heart tattooed on my left wrist with the word “Visible” in the white bar. I will be visible for those who cannot, and for those who don’t think there are people who cannot.
-The current administration is doing all they can to roll back LGBT rights and public presence. Not all Trump supporters support this, but a lot are quick to tell me that nothing will really change. I beg to differ. Baby steps in one direction are still going in that direction.
-Many cis people like to tell me that I’m overreacting, complaining, whining, or that they support us but they’re not going to do anything like march in parades because it won’t change anyone’s mind. I like to remind them that gay marriage determined an election in 2004, and became national law in 2015. It wasn’t because gay people politely waited their turn in silence. We do not have the luxury of waiting to find out what they want to do.
Lastly, I’m going to share a letter sent to me today, because I don’t know if I could’ve received a more meaningful letter from a cis person on this day. Thank you, and I look forward to hugging you and everyone else at ReasonCon3. I will be there with a table, my new book False Start, my first book under my name The PC Lie, t-shirts, and 8x10s. Thank you, all of you, for being who you are. Unless you’re an asshole. Then don’t be who you are, today or any other.
I’m writing this letter to you because, well….140 characters just isn’t sufficient.
I recently had a Twitter exchange with you concerning the EPIC “fuck-you” to “Pastor Carl.” Following that, I found and downloaded several podcast episodes and decided to start with episode 82. I recognized Callie’s name from the ReasonCon ads and thought it would be interesting hear you interview her.
Before going too far, I’d like to explain myself a little. I hope my impetus for writing to you will become clear by the end.
I think it’s fair to say that my thoughts regarding gender and sexual expression have evolved in recent years. Considering my upbringing, one might go so far as to say that I’ve undergone a fundamental shift in perspective. I don’t believe that I’ve ever hated or been afraid of anyone, at least not that I’m aware of. (With respect to the words Homophobic or Transphobic, I’ve come to the conclusion that, far from being afraid of other people’s orientations, those to whom this designation may apply, are afraid of what the acceptance of people in these groups might reveal about them.)
My best friend—who I’ve known for 22 years since we were roommates in christian college—is gay and only recently came out to his parents and friends. He came to see me one day—about two years ago—and said, “We need to talk.” He looked nervous but resolute and suddenly just said, “So…uh…I’m gay.” I looked back into his eyes, smiled and said, “Yeah…I know.” At which point he collapsed into the
nearest chair and began breathing again. He looked up, met my eyes, and asked me how long I’d known. I said, “Well, probably about 12 years….when I found gay porn on our computer.” (He and I had rented a house and lived together while working at the same Christian school as middle school teachers)
He chuckled at the irony, then we laughed together for a minute or two. I walked to him, gave him a hug, told him I loved him, and we cried together. His tears of joy—perhaps relief is a better word—probably had something to do with the fact that he had deliberately avoided telling me until after he had told every other person in his life. He said that he wasn’t sure how I would react. Mine
were tears of relief mixed with an intense pain. Relief, because my friend had finally told me the secret I knew he was hiding. Pain, caused by the realization that the early years of our friendship—a time when I could safely be described as absurdly religious—cast a cloud over this conversation, to the point that he told his Fundamentalist, Evangelical, Baptist parents before telling me. (This friend is also one of only 4 people in my ambit who knows that I’m an atheist. After talking to my wife, he was the first person I told.)
I say all of that to illustrate, not my compassion for others, my love of all people, (insert other useless platitude here), but to show how utterly hopeless I was at communicating my actual feelings to my bestfriend. He didn’t know if I was “safe.”
Now that I’ve exposed one of my great fears (and one of my only regrets), I need to tell you why I’m writing this absurdly protracted letter to someone I’ve never met. I listened to episodes 82 and 83 of the Inciting Incident podcast. In ep. 83, Callie spoke about activism and doing what one can to get involved. I realized that, although my only real contact with anyone in the Trans community has been on Twitter, I have a moral obligation to, if nothing else, tell my daughter the truth. I can’t change an entire culture, but I can ensure that at least one child will grow up knowing the truth. Recently, my daughter and I were watching some show on Netflix. She said something about one of the characters and then made a categorical statement regarding relationships which needed to be corrected. (She’s at that age where confidence meets ignorance of reality) She said something like,
“He’s a boy, Daddy. Boys have girlfriends, not boyfriends.” (What I’m about to describe happened so quickly that I’m tempted to think that I had already, subconsciously, thought the entire thing through)
My initial impulse was to respond with an unemotional correction. My response was short, and deliberately so. In that moment, it wasn’t necessary to overwhelm her with all the various ways in which consenting adults couple themselves. I simply said, “Actually, there are a lot of boys who have boyfriends.” (Please understand that I’m still trying to examine my own motivation for this tactic of moral instruction. I wanted her to hear the truth without any of the emotion this topic tends to elicit, especially here in NC. I don’t know if it was the right way to do it. I want her to be able to take that idea and extrapolate from there. Again, I don’t know if I’m right or wrong here.)
I just told her the truth. I didn’t make any clarifying statements, moral judgements, nor did I encourage her to frame her perception of the issue in any way. I just told her the truth. I want to believe that the truth is enough. I don’t know if I’m doing this the correct way. I welcome any constructive criticism.
I found myself crying at work the other day. I had made the mistake of listening to episode 82 while at work. I started sniffling during Callie’s story about the dating website, her uplifting and encouraging interaction, followed by the crushing reality that clichés (Ignorant Redneck, etc.) exist for a reason. By the time she got to the “Nerd-Castle,” I was a mess. I can’t explain why I reacted this way, other than to say that the beauty and (if you’ll forgive the expression…I’ll try to explain what I mean by it) the utter “ordinariness” of it was so touching. For a moment, I glimpsed a world where the kind of romance Callie described is beautiful even if, or perhaps especially if, I don’t share the sexual orientation or gender identities with the people whose story I’m being told. I’m so new to this that I’m unsure if it’s appropriate, or even kind, to phrase it this way. I hope you’ll forgive—and correct if necessary—my ignorance on this point.
I kept listening, after sneaking some tissues in the bathroom. When Aiden finished his story—leaving you and Callie momentarily speechless—I was a total wreck. I knew I was going to listen to back episodes of your podcast, but I was blissfully unaware of what was coming next. The following morning I clicked on Episode 81 (I think) where you spoke about consent.
Describing my reaction to this is difficult. I was driving to work and had to pull my car over more than once. My vision through the rain soaked windshield was blurred by a torrent of tears. I sat there, crying with you, but not anywhere near you. It’s a strange mixture of emotional connection (on my end) and complete ignorance of the other person’s existence (your end).
It occurred to me that my impetus for attending ReasonCon (Which happens to be in my hometown…where I am a closeted atheist) had changed. Initially, I wanted to meet Aron Ra, Matt Dillahunty and Lawrence Krauss. Imagine my surprise when I realized that I was more excited about meeting you and Callie then about taking selfies with some of my favorite celebrity atheists!
At the close of the show you admitted your incomprehension as to why anyone would have spent their time listening. The fact that I feel the same way is precisely why I had to write to you. I got onto Twitter about a year and a half ago. I’m deliberately anonymous and have, until very recently, taken great pains to conceal this from my family. I don’t know any atheists in Hickory. In fact, I don’t know anyone from who will be in attendance at ReasonCon. My desperation for community led me to Twitter. Twitter has allowed me to “be myself” without anyone I know being affected. This cannot last. I know that, at some point, I will be “outed” (forgive my usage of the expression) and my entire family will know. I don’t fear this, with one exception. My mother. Telling her, at her age, would almost be a cruelty. At least that’s how I’m rationalizing my cowardice.
I’ve written too much.
I am afraid of telling my religious family members that I have “misplaced” my faith. It’s pathetic, I know. You had the courage to scream your name into the void and show your true face to the world. With that in mind—and with no small amount of admiration—I want to show you my face, and ask if you will be my friend.
-This is why I speak up. This is why I’m visible. This is why I’m an activist. Thank you. You know who you are.
I will have a merchandise table at ReasonCon3 with my books, as mentioned above. I always welcome hugs, so please don’t hesitate to do so. My terms of peace with Callie are that she is the greatest hugger, but I’m the greatest hug receiver.
There isn’t one second of the day that I’m not grateful for what has happened in my life, the last few months especially. I’m now legally myself, and I have the correct gender marker on my driver’s license. The projects I’ve pursued have gained me the pleasure of knowing many new people, and I am not for one second ignorant of that.
However, I can’t say it’s been a path of no resistance.
When you write a book that starts by saying “fuck you,” it’s going to have some backlash. It comes with the territory, and I’m not denying that. But sometimes when you get misinterpreted, it gets frustrating. When you get corrected by someone, it depends on the correction, and the person giving it. But when things are assumed about you, you’re told you’re downright wrong, or you’re instructed on how to do your own job, that’s when I start getting annoyed.
There are those who tell me that I don’t understand the mind or mentality of certain people, and they’re absolutely right. For instance, the biggest reason I’ve loathed country music all my life is that the people who listened to that music when I was growing up beat the shit out of me pretty regularly. I’d hear these songs about beer, girls in blue jeans, pickup trucks, and campfires, and I’d associate them with pain, isolation, and anguish. Then I was expected to embrace that very subculture, even want to be a part of it, but it could never happen. Not with my experience, regardless of my identity.
Notice that I didn’t say I didn’t like country music fans there. That’s personal. I don’t care for a certain subculture. That’s not the same thing as disrespecting the people within it.
The same goes for Donald Trump voters.
Now, let me be clear: the ones driving the anti-trans bus, the ones trying to push us back in the closet, the ones trying to force their religion on everyone else, and the ones trying to legislate discrimination as long as it’s their beliefs oppressing everyone else’s can all go fuck themselves. That’s not what I’m talking about. Let’s just say that I’ve had to converse with some Trump supporters who want to tell me that they’re not all like that, and they’re right. I never said they were, nor do I think anyone who votes a certain way is a bad person, necessarily.
But understand that I don’t have the luxury of that levity. Our community does not have that luxury. And there’s nothing more insulting than someone from without; for instance, a straight cis white man; telling me that my perspective of the world is wrong.
The same way that I don’t understand the perspective of a Donald Trump voter or a country music fan, I also don’t technically know the perspective of a straight cis white man. I passed as one for a long time, but it was all a mask; a mask that I threw off once I couldn’t take it anymore.
But that doesn’t mean I have to respect your opinion either.
I do not know what it’s like to be you. I cannot possibly fathom how you can look at this bumbling, arrogant, thin-skinned, disrespectful person and think: “yeah, that’s how a person should act, let alone the leader of the free world.” Most of the time when that discussion is had, deferments are made instead of actual arguments: but her emails, but Obama, but Pennywise… Changing the subject is not an argument. Irrelevant comparison is not an argument.
And neither is telling a queer person what the world is actually like.
Once again, I point out the fact that I don’t understand the perspective of a Trump voter. I can have that dissonance. But how in the everloving holy fuck is a straight cis person going to explain the queer experience to me? They’ve tried, to the point of telling me that I’m wrong, dumb, incorrect, warped, stupid, crazy, ignorant, and beyond. Or worse, I’m told that no one actually has a problem with queer people and that I’m bitching and whining about nothing.
I acknowledge that I’m a privileged queer person. I have an audience, a platform, and a university and family that supports and acknowledges my identity. But to say that my perspective of what it’s like in the world being visibly queer is wrong, especially coming from someone who could not be less that? No. Sorry.
There is a political party in this country that has done all they can to fuck with us. It won them a goddamn election in 2004, because gay people getting the right to marry would do something to the social fabric or whatever. Two years ago, an argument over who can use the fucking bathroom put us on a hypervigilant that has not subsided since. I’ve had to ask people to walk to the bathroom with me. I’ve had to ask people to walk me to my car. I’ve been sexually assaulted. I’ve been threatened. I’ve been misgendered. I’ve been disrespected. And to suggest that none of these things are issues is to deny that I understand my own experience of the world.
No more that I can tell a straight cis person what it’s like to be who they are, nobody who has not lived with that experience can tell me that I’m wrong about it. Sure, queer acceptance is at an all-time high. However, there’s now a bus traveling the country openly dehumanizing us. Milo Fuckface targets people and says they’re mentally ill, and the only time people develop a problem with him is when he makes favorable remarks about a child molester. Politicians treat us like an inhuman sexual predator drone, which inevitably has people patrolling the bathrooms looking to fuck with some transpeople, and makes us super self conscious and paranoid.
Why, you might ask? Because you never know who you’re going to walk by when you’re openly queer. You never know who is going to rage that you’re holding hands with someone of the same gender. You never know who is going to decide to murder you for being trans, and though I cannot speak personally to this part of the experience, especially if you’re a person of color. Eight this year have been murdered already for having the nerve to exist.
We do not make the choice to be who we are. Our choices lie in how open we choose to be about it. We are often reduced to “what goes on in the bedroom” or “the privacy of your own home” but that is bullshit. No straight or cis person is told that they can only be who they are in private, and nobody ever should. That’s fucking bullshit for anyone to say to anyone. We are not a sum of our parts, and we are not only queer for what we do in the bedroom. That reduces us to sexual acts, which is what our detractors think of us as anyway, and the whole vicious circle begins again. But some people want to tell me these things don’t exist?
You don’t know the half of it. Even if every single person you knew didn’t mind queer people and never committed a single hateful act toward one, it’s still anecdotal. Unless you’re following me around, cataloguing every interaction I have, and documenting the non-verbal ones, there’s no way you could possibly know my experience, and I wouldn’t expect you to. But to dismiss all of what I say based on not agreeing with it is to accuse me of false representation of myself, of making things up, of creating a situation to supposedly whine about when there are real life and death issues facing our community every day. But it makes you uncomfortable when I talk about that, and that means I’m supposed to talk about something else? Not gonna happen.
You still elected a person who has advocated for doing so. Even if that’s not the reason you voted for him, you voted for him despite it, and your choice put all of us in danger. But I’m supposed to give everyone a pass because… You don’t like it, I guess? Nope, sorry.
That’s why I speak up. That is why I’m open about my experiences. Because so many queer and transpeople either cannot, will not, or aren’t in a position where they can. I know I’m lucky for what I have, but don’t for a second think that means I’m free of danger. I risk violence and worse simply by existing, but being loud and critical while being queer is doubling down on that. It’s a situation you cannot possibly empathize with, and not being able to doesn’t make you a bad person. Your shitty opinion that you think you know who I am better than I do, though? Yeah, I’m going to call that out.
Most of the time, I think these comments have good intentions. I don’t think most people set out to be shitty to another person. But perhaps when a minority speaks up, you might want to listen to what they have to say before you dismiss it or defend yourself. The fact that you’re even talking to us probably means that we’re not talking about you anyway. Good intentions don’t mean that the results aren’t shitty though. While someone may be trying to get me to see a different perspective, assuming or correcting my perspective and experience only comes across as condescending and disrespectful. It’d be like me trying to tell a trans person of color what their experience is. Sure, I have certain similarities, but I’ve never lived that existence, and it would be foolish of me to think I know better than they do. That is the only reason I don’t speak up about that more than I do; I cannot speak to that experience, except to say that the targeting of transpeople of color is sickening, and something needs to be done about it.
One last thing… There’s a particular comment recently that had something that stuck in my craw beyond what I’ve discussed here, as these are generalized criticisms I’ve received since coming out, not referencing any in particular. The funny thing is, this one had nothing to do with my experience, but simply a complete lack of regard for who I am. If you’re reading this, you’re probably already pissed at me, but allow me to say the following first, and yes, this applies to everyone:
1. Don’t EVER tell me what to write, especially on my blog. I decide what I write about.
2. Don’t EVER talk about my genitals. Especially bringing them up in a post that didn’t even mention them. Unless you’re my husband or girlfriend, it’s none of your fucking business.
3. You can call me many things… Some true, some less so… But to say that I have no tangible skills and a lazy work ethic? That goes beyond being wrong… It’s downright offensive. I can’t tell you how many people have seen that comment and laughed their asses off, because it takes knowing very little of who I am to say something so profoundly incorrect.
First, I’ve been in the work force for 17 years. I have management experience, have a list pages long of professional references, and worked through college as well. It’s easy to assume that all I do is write and podcast, but that is to be ignorant of anything beyond my creative projects, as if I sit and write about wrestling or social justice all day, and then do absolutely nothing else.
Second, a lazy work ethic may be the dumbest thing anyone has ever said about me, ever. It doesn’t take knowing much about me to know that the amount of time and care I put into my projects alone speaks to the notion otherwise. I created, host, edit, publish, and promote my own podcast, and I co-host on two others. I just started my eighth book, and third since November. I write two columns a week, maintain a blog, release one podcast a week consistently and on time, appear regularly as a guest on other podcasts, have a photography business, travel to work with other people, and all of this is under the umbrella of my own business which I started with the help of a Harvard lawyer who is also my business manager and laughed harder than anyone at the notion that I might be lazy.
Beyond creative projects, I’ve been commuting 100 miles each way four days a week to an Ivy League school, and that was after two years of community college, so essentially I’ve been a full-time college student for six years. It’s only been this long because almost nothing transferred, so I had to do it over again. So I did all those aforementioned creative projects WHILE maintaining my education at an elite level under those circumstances with that daily commute while working the entire time, being a wife, being a girlfriend, being a parent, being a friend, and traveling all over the country on top of it. I’ve worked in over five states THIS FUCKING MONTH! I’m writing this from goddamned Vermont! In five weeks I will graduate one of the top ten universities in this country under these circumstances after not having passed a year of high school when I was younger, and then working for a decade to get enough stability to manage something like this.
I have worked my ass off for more than half my life, most of it with no cushion or safety net, and I’ll be damned if someone who doesn’t even know me calls me lazy. I’m more than happy to discuss the other things, and my issues with those opinions are made quite clear in this piece, but don’t EVER fucking call me lazy again. I’ve had people ask me to write books on both my work ethic and my time management. Again, I don’t think you’re a bad person, but I am going to disrespect the fuck out of that opinion, because it’s a shitty fucking opinion and deserves to be pointed out as such.
I’ve strived for kindness in any critical response I’ve gotten, and I will continue to do my best until I am disrespected. But don’t ever presume to tell me my experience is wrong, especially when you couldn’t ever possibly begin to empathize with it, and know who the fuck you’re talking about when you use words to describe a person in a critical manner. My work ethic was lazy as far as you could tell? Well, you weren’t looking very hard then, and I’d suggest reaching out to the person before posting such things in public where they’re not likely to be met with the most positive of responses. I am more than willing to engage anyone in conversation about differing opinions, but challenging my work ethic isn’t an opinion. It’s ignorance, and I’d appreciate it if you and anyone else who criticizes me would recognize that from now on.
And if you like my writing about wrestling but not what I say about other issues, I’d suggest sticking with the wrestling writing, where the most controversial thing I say is that Randy Orton segments of television make me yearn for something more exciting, like Roman Reigns reciting the unabridged dictionary after taking downers.
I am Marissa Alexa McCool. I fought like hell for that name, and I’ve been through hell to get it. I do the best I can to accommodate all perspectives, opinions, and insights, but I will not tolerate someone telling me that my own story is wrong. Not a chance in hell.
This past week I was in Santa Monica, among other places. One of the most amazing parts of being in California was the fact that nobody stared. Nobody gave me awkward glances. Nobody even gave me any kind of a problem whatsoever.
Similar to the story in the book I wrote about Portland, Maine, it was incredibly relieving to walk down the street and not get any awkward glances.
Maybe when you get to live in California, seeing someone who is visibly queer isn’t that big of a deal, but when you have to deal with the stares and accusative glares more often than not, it feels like being in a different world.
I did a photo shoot in Santa Monica this weekend, and there were literally throngs of people on the pier. Not one of them gave me even the slightest of problems. Not one of them questioned my name when I said it was Marissa. Not one of them saw me in a dress and made a snide remark. Not one of them questioned what bathroom I should be using.
Sometimes the conservatives talk shit on California like it’s this dystopian wasteland, apart from the “real America.” Well, in the supposed “unreal America,” I was treated better by strangers than my own neighbors in Pennsylvania. For all the shit spoken on California, it must be hell to go to a place where people are accepted for who they are and don’t have to hide. It must be hell to walk down the street and not have to fear who the crazy or anti-LGBT people are. Even the LA Republicans at least leave you alone.
Why do we have to have this disparity? Why in my own country do I have to pick out certain areas that might be “safe?” Why is it that a certain segment of the country has such a problem with what other people do with their lives, and are also the same ones bitching about government taking away their “freedom?” I think when people complain about losing their freedom, they’re usually talking about losing their freedom… to be racist, homophobic, sexist, transphobic, and bully without consequence. If your biggest problem in life is that you’re no longer allowed to be a shitty person, you need to re-evaluate your priorities.
One store owner had the sweest remark of all. I made a joke in the Purple Galore store (PURPLE EVERYTHING!!!!) and said it was nice to be in a place where nobody was giving me a problem. She gave me the most innocent of looks and said, “why would anyone give you a problem?” Completely clueless as to what I’ve meant. Why can’t I live in that country? Why do I have to live in the one the right people fight hardest for is the one to hurt other people? And why is fighting against that somehow equated with weakness and snowflakes? Bullshit.