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Hi everybody, this post was originally intended as a personal update about my arrival here in Tokyo following my departure from Toronto, but it’s been delayed a lot just because so much has been going on and I’ve been trying to do a lot with my time here (posting also got delayed in part due to some drama, followed by more drama ha!).  I have visited Japan previously, although the last time I was here was almost seven years ago, and I’ve been looking forward to returning for a long time 🙂

Notably, perhaps, the previous visit was before transition; in fact, it was during my time in Japan in 2006 that I finally decided that I could no longer put off dealing with my feelings about my gender. When I returned to the U.S., shortly afterwards I began coming out to friends and family and, not long after that, took the first steps of physical transition.

Now I’m glad to be back in this country, feeling like I’ve moved forward in so many ways and I’m in a much better place with myself. Not that I didn’t enjoy my time in the country the first time around, but sometimes it’s difficult to engage when you feel like you’re holding back such an integral part of who you are. And in fact, I remember having fun during my first extended stay in Japan, but I remember feeling a lot of loneliness as well.

So far has been pretty good. I’ve started working with my new research group here (I’ve known my advisor for years and he has always been really supportive of me) and I’ve got a lot of interesting new physics problems in mind that I’m looking forward to working through. I’ve felt especially productive since I arrived.

Foreign language has always been difficult for me, but I’ve taken a short class and studied some on my own since I arrived so hopefully I can gradually improve a bit. I’ve always thought that the writing system is very beautiful, so that is one fun motivation… although there is a lot to learn!

The Japanese writing system is fairly complex, being divided into three main scripts, which are called kanji, hiragana and katakana (though arguably romaji based on the Latin alphabet represents a fourth).  The kanji script consists of borrowed Chinese logographic characters, although of course there have been some modifications. The interesting thing is that China’s influence on the Japanese writing system is largely  an historical accident. In fact, China’s complex symbols are perhaps somewhat of an awkward fit for the  more polysyllabic Japanese language. Hence the Japanese devised the other two alphabets, hiragana and katakana, as simplified extractions of the original Chinese symbols. (Hiragana is then used for native Japanese words while katakana is primarily used for non-Chinese foreign loan words, or for emphasis.)

Meanwhile, I’m also look forward to learning more about Japanese culture and politics. I have no idea if I would be able to get involved with trans politics in any meaningful fashion here in Japan or not, but I am certainly hoping at some point I can meet some trans women in the city and get to know the local situation better. I did come across this unfortunate story recently, according to which a Japanese trans man was not allowed to register himself as the father of the child his wife (a cis woman) recently had via insemination, which is clearly a case of discrimination given that sterile cis men are often allowed to register themselves as the father under similar circumstances.

As for my time in Japan so far, I feel that I’ve settled in nicely and I’ve enjoyed seeing a bit of the city so far. One thing I enjoy about my office is that I have a nice view from an the upper floor of my building. Here is a picture of the sun setting on the city that I took from the balcony. You can see Mount Fuji quite prominently as the sun is setting almost right behind it:

Sun setting behind Mt. Fuji

Sun setting behind Mount Fuji

On the other hand, it took me a while getting used to the earthquakes (being on the upper floor in a tall building means that our office will feel the quake more strongly than someone standing at ground level). About once a week we get a small tremor that is noticeable from our building, and it took me a while to adjust just to those. I remember that for the first couple of weeks while I was adjusting to all of this, I started to imagine the ground was shaking even when it wasn’t. Then in early December we had an actual small earthquake. It was still only a level 3, which isn’t all that strong really, but I admit it’s pretty disorientating to feel the entire building shaking around like that!

One fun thing out of this however would be the earthquake drill we had at my dorm, which was part of a larger safety education demonstration that was put on for us by the local fire department. Read the rest of this entry »

Note: This is an archival post of my recent article at Prettyqueer.

After graduating from the University of Texas in 2007, I entered one of the most complex periods of my life. Since childhood I had consistently felt more like a woman than a man, but growing up in a small town in rural North Carolina I had always been terrified to express this to anyone. By the time I entered college (still in North Carolina), I had some rough idea that maybe there was something I could do about the situation, but I told myself that obtaining my Ph.D. and getting a start on my career in physics should be my first priority.

However, deep inside what I really feared was that nobody would ever take me seriously as a trans woman in physics. I didn’t know any trans women in my own life— much less trans women successful in science— to whom I could look up as mentors. Not to mention that I had few reliable sources of information about my own situation in general terms; in fact, I wasn’t even familiar with phrases like “gender identity” or “trans woman” at the time I made that decision.

Luckily, by the time I received my Ph.D. in Texas I had done a lot to educate myself. I still wasn’t sure how transition would impact my career, but I came to a point where I couldn’t put off dealing with it any further. Hence I started coming out to friends and colleagues while working on the physical aspects of transition (e.g., hormone replacement therapy).

Somewhat to my own surprise, my experiences from this were mostly positive. Broadly speaking, I think physicists are a bit more open than we usually get credit for, and almost certainly the general societal progress that occurred on this issue in the ten years that I delayed my transition benefited my situation (although it wasn’t an easy decision).

However, not everything worked out quite so well. Discussing the issue with my family was more difficult. In February 2008, I was offered a one-year postdoctoral research position in Paris, which I accepted. Before I left for Paris, I journeyed home from my place in Texas to my parents’ house in North Carolina; real problems developed on this journey and during the short time I spent at home before departing for France.

Read the rest of this entry »

Note: The following contains my proposed strategy that the trans community might follow in demanding that the formal Trans Pride Toronto March route next year incorporate Yonge Street.

Also, it may be worth mentioning that I wanted to post this as I was leaving Toronto in mid-August… however, due to preparations for an academic conference and some other things just as I was moving, I didn’t get a chance to finalize it until today.

It has been nearly three years since I arrived in Toronto in early October 2009, and I have to say that I’m much more sad to be leaving than I had expected.

During this time I’ve gotten close to so many amazing people, including many wonderful members of Toronto’s queer and trans community, and I’ve further had the opportunity to work with some great people in my field at the University of Toronto. I also feel fortunate that I had the opportunity to be a part of this city and to be involved in activism and community organizing here (in particular, I think it was an interesting time to be in Toronto!). I feel like I’ve learned a lot and grown through those interactions and the organizing I have been involved here.

Indeed, looking back it almost seems a bit odd that I showed up in Toronto when I did: back in October 2009, just a few months before what turned out to be a pretty massive confrontation around the Pride festival and the participation of the activist group Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (QuAIA) (or as I like to think of that confrontation: the Israel lobby’s perpetual storm of self-defeat). I joined up with QuAIA shortly after I arrived, and in my part in the ensuing debates I ended up having to learn my way around Toronto’s queer community pretty quickly.

And I have to say I’m pretty proud of how all that turned out. Somehow, a handful of grassroots queer activists managed to push back against the massive, well-funded Israel lobby, and beat them over and over again. (And after all, what business does the not-particularly-queer Israel lobby have telling queer activists what they can and cannot say at the Pride Parade?)

Not only that, but in coalition with the wider queer community (primarily through the Pride Community Contract group and the Pride Coalition for Free Speech) we compelled Tracey Sandilands, the corrupt executive director of Pride Toronto, to resign.

Perhaps most importantly, however, is that following the debacle(s) around the 2010 iteration of Pride, the Pride board was compelled to institute some form of accountability to the queer community, which took form in the Community Advisory Panel (CAP). As the CAP consultation process developed, it became clear that one of its constituent communities that Pride could no longer afford to ignore was the trans community. In fact, it became clear that previous to 2010, Pride Toronto had done little to empower or explicitly include the trans community as a whole, and that this would no longer be acceptable.

Read the rest of this entry »

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