Academia and a Convocation Bacchanal

I am a highly trained professional with exceptional skills.

Academia both creates and erodes confidence in this fact. Yes, fact. (For those PhDs that doubt yourself at the moment, I feel you, and you need to hear it.) If you’ve made it through a PhD program (or even if you didn’t) you have demonstrated all those wonderful buzzwords such as talent, drive, ambition, hard work, and dedication. But between you and I, just us squirrel friends, every PhD student I know views systematic issues within academia as personal failures. And when we interpret these broader problems as somehow a lack of individual moral character and integrity, the ensuing depression and self-doubt corrodes our very motivation for being in academia in the first place.

I don’t know all the reasons others decided to do a PhD. I did it because I fell into it, of sorts, then embraced it, and then loved it. Loved it so much that as I sit in my current beleaguered limbo—uncertain of where to direct my energies next—I mourn the potential loss of an academic career if I go elsewhere. If academic professions can be parsed, they come in three general compartments: teaching, research and writing, and administration. When I first entered the doctoral program I considered my prospects in these areas to be excellent: I thoroughly enjoy teaching and am enthusiastic about student ideas; researching was and continues to be a creative and fulfilling act; and I have fifteen years of admin experience in the healthcare field.

But as I near the end, facing some difficult choices, broke, tired, and frustrated with systemic failures to address the issues of doctoral programs and the dismal reality of the academic job market, I am considering all my options and asking, “What kind of work allows me to research, write, teach, and also be a funny bitch on Twitter without getting fired?” I think about how all my online content could be a detriment for some professions, but when I fantasize about my ideal job I imagine someone valuing my sex-and-fart jokes as much as they do my academic skills.

So when I get glum about my future, I dream of my graduation party. I fantasize about a convocation bacchanal the way some people dream of their marriage rite. I’m wearing a hot pink metallic 70s inspired spaghetti strap wrap dress. And vintage 70s pink sneakers. And body glitter. LOTS OF IT. Shiny green eye shadow and a wickedly perfect cat eye. Big hair. Hoop earrings.

My mom’s there. She’s in sexy new boots that she can move in. She’s the first person I dance with. Enthusiastically. Giddily. With abandon. We got through this shit together, dammit. My brothers mope in the corner until they get tipsy enough to join the fun. All my close friends are there and they better not goddamn cancel because they’re too tired or busy. This is my major life event. Consider this shit my wedding and you’re all my fucking bridesmaids. So show up and rock out with your tits out.

The DJ goes through eras to please everyone. Maybe starts with some Motown to get everybody grooving. Then moves into 70s funk. Some deep groove stanky funk too, not just the pop hits. Because my DJ is skilled, she can mix in heavy guitar riffs from Black Sabbath to please the goths. We jitterbug and shuffle, bogo and air guitar. In the 80s set it’s synth wave pop and pop pop, because Cindy Lauper and Madonna are timeless. Depeche Mode and Wham. Prince and the NPG.

But the 90s/2000s hip hop is where the party really comes alive. We get Tribe, Bahamadia, Pharaohe Monch, Jean Grae, Dead Prez, Mobb Deep, Snoop, Dre, Ice Cube, Heltah Skeltah, Jurassic 5, Dilated Peoples, Black Moon, and any beat by Premier or Dilla. Erick Sermon, Black Rob, Missy, OutKast, Rah Digga, Lil Kim, Biggie, Beanie Seagal, Necro, EPMD, Jay Z, Wu-Tang, Apani, Beastie Boys, LL, Nas, and Saul Williams.

Then there’s an interlude with RnB where everyone gets to dance like Ginuwine in Pony. I MEAN EVERYONE, DAMMIT. You better practice your moves now because we are partying away the stress of eight years of the PhD, one autoimmune disease, and one severe depression.

Ideally it’s a barn party. I can miraculously afford a nearby hotel room for everyone. The bar is open and weed is legal so get as fucked up as you want. Midnight poutine is passed around to keep the dancers fuelled ‘til dawn.

At some point, at the height of the frenzy, all my religious studies colleagues perform a ritual to mark my rite of passage. They flank me as I walk between them. I am ceremoniously whipped with marked essays and printed out student evaluations, before I grab them all, throw them in a bin, and light them on fire. A crown of laurels is placed on my head. I throw pomegranates and apples into the crowd.

(In the fantasy, past students are there too and hand me papers I’ve actually graded where they didn’t like the mark and tell me, “You did your fucking job well and now you get to BURN THIS SHIT!” and push me towards the fire, papers in hand.)

Then someone yells “MOSH PIT!” and I finally get to experience this staple of white culture and launch myself into the throng of enthusiastic headbangers.

I periodically throw my middle fingers in the air as a message to all the haters, especially if I’m grinding on someone hot. There are streamers. And cake. And maybe even a food fight. (I have put down a large deposit and also grossly overpaid the cleaning staff.)

Exhausted, delirious, happy, and sweaty, we emerge at dawn to sausages and pancakes and coffee before heading to crash into a soft, down bed. Maybe the next day there’s a chill bonfire with hot dogs and marshmallows. I wear jeans and flannel. I make out with a crush or three.

I take a solo midnight nude swim in a cold lake. Plunging as deep as I can, I compel my lungs to breathe underwater—the way I imagined doing as a girl. This time it works. And I stay for hours, exploring the muddy depths, growing webbed fingers and gills behind my ears.

When I return to the quiet, comfortable gathering of loved ones murmuring around the dimming fire I never tell them that I am now transformed, part amphibian. I keep this secret. It’s mine.

Life continues. I work. I make decisions towards my goals. I flirt. Pay bills. Help my mom. But now I am a Doctor.

Cim’s iTunes Playlist


Cimminnee in the Multiverse

I need a job. Like, badly. Currently in the homestretch of the doctoral degree, I’m in this bizarre liminal stage where I am both thrilled and distressed by all the possibilities. Where do I go from here?

Inspired by the excellent show Russian Doll lead by the talented Natasha Lyonne (we share a kinship for smart bitchiness in my fantasy life), here are some alternate universe future selves.


The Witch Doctor

She has published both her scholarship and works of fiction. She teaches university courses on magic and popular culture as an adjunct professor. Dressing like a pin-up, she poses seductively for alternative e-zines in her cool thrift-shop-decorated Victorian apartment as they write up flattering profiles about her. Her blue humour has miraculously never stood in the way of an academic career. Labels that she negotiates seamlessly are: feminist, witch, burlesque performer, academic, writer, and animal rescue advocate. She’s dating multiple interesting people and is sexually satisfied in every way.


The Sarcastic Bitch

She writes for a comedy show where she translates her superior research skills and expert knowledge into biting social commentary via dick and fart jokes. She wears pyjamas a lot. Even to work. Her Twitter feed is fire.


The Depressive Void

She took an administrative job out of economic necessity and, despite being good at it, the uncreative and unchallenging aspects of her work have slowly eaten away at her sense of self and purpose. If she acknowledged how disappointed she was by life she’d be dangerously depressed, so as a coping mechanism she obsessively trains her body, joining the Crossfit cult. She’s boring. She suppressed her humour so as not to make waves at work and is now incapable of talking about anything but fitness and clean eating. She’s proud of her RRSP.


The Perpetual Graduate

Stuck in a time loop of higher education hell because she did a post-doc, she oscillates between hope for a stimulating future where she can apply her skills and creativity and the crippling terror of never accomplishing all the things she wants in life. She doesn’t like her senses dulled one damned bit, but then weed became legal in Canada and she found herself starting smoking in her goddamn forties and is struck by how fucking fun it is. She never did drugs as a teenager because her parents were addicts that couldn’t get out of poverty, but age has elicited compassion for them. She has an intellectual crush on Neil Gaiman that induces intense fantasies about some of his characters. Her animals are her best friends. Her mom comes over to clean occasionally because she leaves her dirty dishes for a full week and it’s gross. She has seventy bucks in her bank account.


The Yvette

She never overcame her upbringing and is back on welfare like all throughout her childhood. She’s regressed and deliberately chooses second-hand clothes that reflect bad eighties fashion. Her hair is big and dry and permed. She carries her inhaler next to her cigarettes. She started a web series titled, Putains All De Way S’Ti, where she calls all her friends whores as she drinks Labatt gossiping at the kitchen table, interjecting curses in joual, tabarnak. Despite the frenglish, she insists that her speech is du bon français crissement ben parler, calisse!


The Hermit

She published her memoir to widely popular acclaim, then felt exposed and vulnerable by seedy Hollywood attention, retreating instead to an isolated private life. With the proceeds from her book, she bought land and a hobby farm in rural Canada, keeping company with animals and books. Occasionally she agrees to the visit of a journalist or writer on the condition that they join her in the daily labour of farm work. Her careful speech and direct gaze discompose them as she answers their questions while chopping firewood. There are rumours that she welcomes members of a secretive cabal to perform occult rituals under the full moon deep in the woods of her vast property.


The Whore

She’s a poor grad student and needs rent money. Send her kizzash via PayPal at



New Article on Religious Satanism

I’m delighted to finally share my latest publication, an article in the peer-reviewed journal: La Rosa di Paracelso. Click on title to access the journal and download the free PDF.

Cimminnee Holt


The concept of “Total Environments” (1988) is outlined by Anton Szandor LaVey, founder of the Church of Satan (1966), in response to the question: “What do Satanists do?” The query itself prompted by religious Satanism’s seemingly lack of recognizable “religious” traits: as an atheistic religion, they reject notions of the divine, demonic, and spiritual; there is no belief in a Golden Age myth to which to return; and no evangelical mandate or desire for mass conversion. What then, do members of the Church of Satan do? The answer, in part, is for Satanists to create the conditions for their individual desires to be reflected in the sensorial and material world.

This paper centralizes the sensorial and material qualities of religious Satanism as outlined by LaVey and understood by members of the Church of Satan. First, it discusses the objects used in Greater Magic rituals to demonstrate how these idiosyncratic items function as mediations of personal desire; and secondly, how LaVey’s ideas on insular spaces outside of ritual space—his concept of Total Environments—reveals that Satanists perceive their entire lives as an ongoing extension of the will. Living “satanically” in the world is a continued magical act mediated by materiality itself. LaVey’s concepts on magic contribute to the historical discourse and study of magic, and this paper suggests that LaVey’s framework can be used to study the lives of Church of Satan members as a whole. That is, applied religious Satanism is, ideally, creating a Total Environment.


From La Rosa di Paracelso, No 2 (2017) (special issue)

Diabolus in singulis est: The Devil, Satan and Lucifer

“The most recent studies by Massimo Introvigne, Per Faxneld, Jesper Aagard Petersen and Ruben van Lujik have highlighted, under various aspects, the relief of the figure and symbolism related to the Devil. Such historical importance concerns the History of Ideas in the same way, as well as that of the Western Esotericism of the New Religious Movements. It is clear, for example, that a certain conception of the devil distinguishes the work of Anton Szandor Lavey (pseudonym of Howard Stanton Levey, 1930-1997) and his Californian Church of Satan, or the films of director Kenneth Anger (pseud by Kenneth Wilbur Anglemeyer, 1927 – still alive), or the thought of Robert de Grimston (weigher of Robert Moor, 1935 – still living) and Mary Ann Maclean (1931-2005), as well as of the group they founded The Process Church of the Final Judgment. Diaballein, of the luciferic fallen angel, as well as an androgynous being or a “spirit of the earth or of opposition” have influenced and continue to interest the most diverse historical, social and cultural dynamics concerning the groups and various currents of Satanism, past and present.

The most recent studies by Massimo Introvigne, Per Faxneld, Jesper Aagard Petersen and Ruben van Lujik have highlighted, in different manners, the prominence of the figure and the symbology of the Devil. And in the domain of the Western esotericism and in the New Religious Movements. One of them, understand, for a certain idea of ​​the Devil marks the work of Anton Szandor Lavey (pseudonym of Howard Stanton Levey, 1930-1997) and of his Californian Church of Satan, or of the films of director Kenneth Anger (pseudonym of Kenneth Wilbur Anglemeyer, b. 1927), or of the thought of Robert de Grimston (pseudonym of Robert Moor, b. 1935) and Mary Ann Maclean (1931-2009), and of the group of the Final Judgment. Diaballein, of the Luciferian fallen angel, with an idea of ​​an androgyne being of the spirit of the earth or of the ‘have impressed and continued to interest the most different mechanics from a historical, social and cultural point of view, concerning groups and various currents of Satanism, past and present.”


I’m Published in a Book! A Real Live Book!

Get yourself a copy of The Bloomsbury Reader in Religion, Sexuality, and Gender, edited by Donald L. Boisvert and Carly Daniel-Hughes (both professors in the department of Religion and Culture at Concordia University).

It is an excellent introductory text to the cross-section of gender, sexuality, and religion. I highly recommend it, and not just because I’m in it.


Table of contents

Part I: Bodies
1. Introduction
2. Stereotypes, False Images, Terrorism: The White Assault upon Black Sexuality. (Sexuality and the Black Church: A Womanist Perspective) Kelly Brown Douglas
3. Sin (Seeking the Straight and Narrow: Weight Loss and Sexual Reorientation in Evangelical America) Lynne Gerber
4. Blood, Sweat, and Urine: The Scent of Feminine Fluids in Anton Szandor LaVey’s The Satanic Witch.(International Journal for the Study of New Religious Movements)Cimminnee Holt
5. Sex (Critical Terms for the Study of Buddhism) Janet Gyatso
6. The Ultimate Man (A Bull of a Man: Images of Masculinity, Sex, and the Body in Indian Buddhism) John Powers
7. Mitzvot Built into the Body: Tkhines for Niddah, Pregnancy and Childbirth. (People of the Body: Jews and Judaism from an Embodied Perspective) Chava Weissler
8. Gendering the Ungendered Body: Hermaphrodites in Medieval Islamic Law. (Women in Middle Eastern History) Paula Sanders
9. “Mildred, Is It Fun to Be a Cripple?” The Culture of Suffering in Mid-Twentieth Century American Catholicism.” (Between Heaven and Earth: The Religious Worlds People Make and the Scholars Who Study Them) Robert Orsi
10. Discussion Questions
Part 2: Desires
1. Introduction
2. Introduction: Axiomatic (Epistemology of the Closet) Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick
3. Scientia Sexualis (The History of Sexuality: An Introduction: Volume I) Michel Foucault
4. Law and Desire in the Talmud (Eros and the Jews) David Biale
5. Tongues Untied: Memoirs of a Pentecostal Boyhood.” (Que(e)rying Religion: A Critical Anthology) Michael Warner
6. Sexual Desire, Divine Desire; Or, Queering the Beguines (Toward a Theology of Eros: Transfiguring Passion at the Limits of Discipline) Amy Hollywood
7. Kukai and the Tradition of Male Love in Japanese Buddhism (Buddhism, Sexuality, and Gender) Paul Gordon Schalow
8. The Passions of St. Pelagius (The Invention of Sodomy in Christian Theology) Mark Jordan
9. Masturbation, Salvation, and Desire: Sexuality and Religiosity in Colonial Mexico (Journal of the History of Sexuality) Zeb Tortorici
10. Discussion Questions
Part 3: Performances
1. Introduction
2. Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity Judith Butler
3. Witches, Female Priests, and Sacred Manoeuvres: (De)stabilizing Gender and Sexuality in a Cuban Religion of African Origin. (Gender and History) Carolyn Watson
4. Mama Lola and the Ezilis: Themes of Mothering and Love in Haitian Vodou (Unspoken Words: Women’s Religious Lives) Karen McCarthy Brown
5. (Per)formative Selves: The Production of Gender.” (With Respect to Sex: Negotiating Hijra Identity in South India) Gayatri Reddy
6. Toward a Queer Theology of Flourishing: Transsexual Embodiment, Subjectivity, and Moral Agency (Queer Religion: LGBT Movements and Queering Religion) Jakob Hero
7. Intimacy Surveiled: Religion, Sex, and Secular Cunning (Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society) Mayanthi Fernando
8. Release from Bondage: Sex, Suffering, and Sanctity (The Sacred Encounter: Jewish Perspectives on Sexuality) Daniel Lehrman
9. “Nakedness, Non-Violence, and Brahmacharya: Gandhi’s Experiments in Celibate Sexuality.” (Journal of the History of Sexuality) Vinay Lal
10. Discussion Questions


Of Interest: “Ethnographic approaches to understanding Trump/Brexit/new rise of conservatism” compiled by @aliciablumross

List compiled by Alicia Blum-Ross, “Ethnographic approaches to understanding Trump/Brexit/new rise of conservatism”

See list here:


Concordia Valedictorian 2016

This is long overdue, but I’d like to highlight the achievement of Daniel Santiago Saenz, a graduate of the Department of Religion at Concordia University, and 2016 Valedictorian. I’ve had the pleasure of witnessing Daniel’s exceptional performance throughout his Bachelor degree. We share a supervisor, and his insights and critique have always impressed and elucidated. There’s enough cut-throat competition in academia to keep us all on our toes, but let’s not forget to celebrate the successes of one of our own! I look forward to his future career in academia.

Here is his speech from the graduation ceremony held in June of this year.


Event: Robert A. Orsi Sept. 29

Dr. Robert Orsi will be lecturing at Ottawa University at the end of the month, and it is a bizarre misfortune that I have been out of town for every single one of his lectures within the past decade, and, again, will not be here for this upcoming event. Oh well, the gods, demons, and saints simply don’t want us to meet.

But you should all go. I’ve referenced his work on this blog several times.

Speaker | conférencier: Robert Orsi (Northwestern University)
Location and time | lieu et heure: University of Ottawa, Simard Hall, room 125, 5-6:30pm
Lecture title | titre de la conférence: What is Catholic About the Clergy Sexual Abuse Crisis?

From the Religion and Diversity Project website:

Abstract | Résumé

In this lecture, Robert Orsi looks at how the sexual abuse of children and adolescents by priests was specifically Catholic in its origins and dynamics, not the product solely of individual psychopathology. Orsi argues that the clergy sex abuse crisis has to do with Catholic understandings of the nature of the priesthood, Catholic attitudes towards children, the web of relationships that make up Catholic parishes, and the tension between Catholicism and the modern world, among other things. Catholicism was never the sole cause of the abuse, but the abuse was always Catholic. Understanding this also allows us to see that the consequences of the abuse for many (not all) survivors was not only social and psychological, but religious as well.

Robert Orsi examinera, dans le cadre de cette conférence, comment la violence sexuelle auprès des enfants et des adolescents commise par des prêtres est enracinée dans le Catholicisme, et n’est donc pas le fruit d’une psychopathologie individuelle. Orsi argumente que la crise de la maltraitance sexuelle par le clergé, est intrinsèquement liée à l’acceptation sociale du rôle traditionnel des prêtres au sein de la sphère catholique, les attitudes des Catholiques envers les enfants, la complexité des relations que forment les paroissiens catholiques, ainsi que les tensions entre le Catholicisme et le monde moderne. Le Catholicisme ne fut jamais le seul facteur contribuant aux actes d’agressions sexuelles, or ces actes furent toujours Catholiques. Saisir cette réalité nous permet de mieux comprendre que les séquelles engendrées par la violence sexuelle chez plusieurs survivants (pas tous) ne sont pas uniquement sociales et psychologiques, mais qu’elles ont également une dimension religieuse.

“Not Your Mother”: Guest Post by a Satanic Witch

The following is a guest post by Josie Gallows, a Church of Satan Witch. It is an excerpt from her forthcoming book on transexuality from a Satanic perspective. Gallows dissects the notions of gender and womanhood in terms of her transition and experience. Her essay mirrors the official stance of the Church of Satan on transgenderism (it has, from its inception, considered it as but one of many forms of natural expression of identity) and is a prime example of the distinctive nature of the body of the Church of Satan. Check out her art and writings at  

Not Your Mother

The consideration of womanhood, of what makes a woman, goes deeper than a vagina.

This is, of course, why there are universities with well-funded departments devoted to the study of women in particular and gender as a whole. Womanhood, while no more compelling and nuanced than manhood, has the misfortune of being a taboo subject – even today, in the midst of the most powerful iteration of feminism yet. Womanhood is not only misunderstood, it’s purposely obscured by political and religious intervention on behalf of sacred lies and fragile egos.

We can mock those academic pursuits by saying they’re useless degree paths or biased feminist indoctrination seminars. But what we can’t do, if we’re going to be honest at all, is ignore that womanhood is far deeper than a vagina. It demands study to be understood. There are factors that reach beneath the surface of blouses. In real life, womanhood encompasses a vast array of biological, psychological, and sociological characteristics that coalesce into a diverse category of people we call “women.” It’s far from radical to say womanhood is not only deeper than a vagina it can exist independently of one. Understanding this requires more than a gut-truth sort of feeling about what makes a man and what makes a woman. It requires an honest appraisal of the topics ranging from the conventional to the exceedingly controversial.

That appraisal is either unattempted or unavailable to those who simplify the feminine into either/or, black/white, and male/female.

In truth, reducing womanhood to a reproductive system and chromosomes is one of the least favorable things a would-be social critic could do to the subject of women. It’s not only a disservice to transsexual and transgender people but to women as a whole.

Not that the guilty parties will ever feel this is foul play, but in the case of women like myself the disservice looks like this:

“Women don’t have penises. There’s no such thing as chicks with dicks, only men with breasts.”

“You’re not a woman if you don’t have XX chromosomes.”

“Don’t you know basic biology?”

“Women menstruate.”

“There’s no such thing as a sex change, just a mutilated penis.” And what they mean is, “I once saw a South Park episode about this and that’s where I get my argumentation on challenging subjects.”

“Transgender people are mentally ill. If I identify as a helicopter does that make me a helicopter?”

“God doesn’t make mistakes.” Inversely, “evolution doesn’t make mistakes.”

“He/she/it isn’t a woman but we should be polite I guess.”

The goal of these statements are obvious: instigate an argument based on false dichotomies. If it weren’t a social cancer it might be amusing, even cute, watching philistines become hot headed defenders of what they call science. Like some sort of parallel universe where a queer-hating Richard Dawkins has an IQ of 87. But it’s not cute. It shackles minds to rudimentary concepts of what it means to be human. It influences anger and merciless torment of outsiders who, if given the chance, could provide valuable insights into pertinent questions like, “What’s it like being a woman, or a man, and what do these things mean?”

They know little to nothing of science, or biology, and if they know much at all their education ended with some intro to biology course. But bring up transsexuals and suddenly they’re arguing for the sake of science itself, battling the pseudo-science of the queer agenda.

They know little to nothing of science, or biology, and if they know much at all their education ended with some intro to biology course. But bring up transsexuals and suddenly they’re arguing for the sake of science itself, battling the pseudo-science of the queer agenda. They’re not positive what exactly chromosomes do but, sure enough, they know which ones make you a man or a woman; ignorant, no doubt, to the reality that more than XX and XY pairings of chromosomes exist in nature and such pairings don’t always result in deformity or disability.

They know what a pussy or a cock looks like when they see one but they know nothing of brain-body relationships. The self-evident diversity of sexual dimorphism (the physical differences between men and women) and gender presentation and gender performance evades them.

It sounds harsh, maybe even shrill, like I’m another angry campus feminist with an entire garage of axes to grind. But the animus is deserved.

Few of the men in these conversations know much about female anatomy and its ongoings. They’d probably be grossed out by a menstrual cycle and their conception of gendered experiences are basic at best. The women, they usually know less than their male gynecologists and endocrinologists about what the female body is and does. They themselves are mired in patriarchal evaluations of womanhood, oftentimes translated and repurposed by other women. Despite their inherent femininity the entire basis of their lived experience is a mystery explained only by myth. But hey, they’re experts at making specious arguments from “science” – and more often, reckless arguments based on God’s Will or “The Natural Order,” whatever that means. Same as it ever was. The veil of secrecy shrouded over gender and sexuality is one of willful ignorance, created through shame and concocted by demagogues. If someone or something doesn’t fit within a Black & White duality then the ensuing confusion and frustration must imply that a Satanic deformity, an infernal lie, must be to blame.

Common people’s common bullshit that they encapsulate as “common sense.”

Rarely if ever do actual experts in the matters of human complexity reduce sex and sexuality to penises and vaginas. Nor do qualified scientists argue that an animal’s condition at birth is fixed and immutable. Though the debate of transgender authenticity rages along, fighting along that particular line of battle.

So, I’ve made it simple:

I’m not a woman like your mom is a woman.

This is the nail in their coffin, not mine. Common sense objections to transsexual authenticity are the insistence that surely a transwoman is not a cisgender woman. In other words, not like someone’s birth mother. They’re right, of course. But the case for transsexual authenticity, much less transgender authenticity, has never hinged upon trans* people being carbon copies of their cis-gender counterparts. Nor could we ever be carbon copies. The case for transsexual authenticity is that transwomen are a kind of woman. There’s no delusion or mental evasion involved.

But the case for transsexual authenticity, much less transgender authenticity, has never hinged upon trans* people being carbon copies of their cis-gender counterparts. Nor could we ever be carbon copies. The case for transsexual authenticity is that transwomen are a kind of woman. There’s no delusion or mental evasion involved.

The differences are obvious.

For the time being medical science doesn’t allow for carrying a fetus in my non-existent womb, though I have no desire for either a fetus or a womb to house it. Though being barren has never stopped any other woman from getting “Female” on her driver’s license or receiving the courtesy of being called Miss instead of “Hey, you, in the women’s clothing.” What’s more, to the horror of social conservatives I can adopt a child, as I have, and I can help raise her with my wife, which I do. My womanhood is missing out on very little in the child rearing department.

I don’t have eggs, or ovum, and because I have no ovum I don’t menstruate. I can’t complain. Extended bleeding from my orifices means a trip to the emergency room, not the drug store. It’s also true I was born with a penis and testicles, as well-endowed as the average member of the male sex, and in lieu of karyotyping (testing for chromosomes) I can assume – correctly or not – that I’m “genetically male.” Though it is quite likely I’m genetically transsexual, which renders the whole phrase “genetic male” inaccurate and inadequate.

These are facts.

The seams of my pelvis fused in my early twenties so no amount of estrogen will give me those gorgeous birthing hips. Were a nuclear blast to rip the flesh from my skeleton a future archaeologist would say “and this here is a male skeleton, approximately in his thirties.” Though that archaeologist would note comprehensive cosmetic surgery on my skull to remove secondary sex characteristics, features as meaningful to biological sex as genitalia. Regardless, my adolescent body stewed in a flood of testosterone. Instead of birthing hips I’m left with what most runway models have – 6’ in height with broader shoulders and narrow hips. You lose some, you win some. And speaking of runway model glamor, tall women with sinewy muscles and angular features some trans-exclusionary feminists argue that drag queens and transsexuals create further unobtainable standards of beauty for women. Why? Because what’s appealing to the masses, that body and face types the most beautiful of runway models and transsexuals tend to have, is actually more masculine than the standard norm. Most cisgender women can’t live up to it. And let me be clear, the norm doesn’t mean the standard. The norm being shorter women with ample fat in their hips and thighs, with squishy biceps and round cheeks. So we find women buying contouring makeup kits to create harder lines in the geometry of their faces, being that a round plain face is unflattering in our culture. It’s not uncommon for women to admit that transsexual women and drag queens often make more beautiful women, though they don’t usually specify why that is. Regardless, those trans-exclusionary feminists are welcome to their saltiness and I make no apologies.

Point being, the difference between transsexuals and cisgender people are viewed as disabilities, failings, shortcomings, and perhaps these are sometimes the case. Having wider shoulders than hips may not do much for the skirt but does wonders for the blouse. When we talk about the difference between the average woman and a transsexual woman it’d be wise to remember difference doesn’t imply defect.

There are other differences between my existence and that of the average woman. During my childhood I socialized based on my preference for female companions, and was sometimes mistaken for a tomboy and cisgender girl, but I was also considered a boy and instructed in the things boys should say, think, and feel; this education was all for naught, however. I internalized exactly none of it. Though I did learn it. As a girl I learned about being a woman by watching other women, listening to them, and internalizing their views and experiences. Being perceived as a boy but being effeminate I experienced how the feminine is devalued, trampled or infantilized in male society wherever it isn’t a sex object. Being perceived as a boy I learned about men and boys as though no women were in the room.

I’m different. I’m unlike the woman your mom probably is, unless you were adopted by a transsexual woman.

Unlike your mother I had to see a psychiatrist to confirm that yes, indeed, I’m a transsexual woman and no, I promise, I’m not about to kill myself if I receive surgeries and medication. Oddly enough, this fact of transsexual life is ignored by those who perceive those underneath the transgender umbrella as mentally and psychologically defective. More than once I’ve witnessed an exchange where a trans person is told “See a psychiatrist.” The truth, and the only proper retort, is “My psychiatrist told me I’m a woman,” or a man, or as whatever gender someone identifies.

Unlike dear old mom and her birthing hips, her stash of tampons, and her spermicidal lubricants, I’ve had surgeries in all sorts of places to bring my body in alignment with my brain. I’ve taken androgen blockers to eliminate testosterone from my system, something which I no longer do thanks to surgery. I also have bottles and bottles of estrogen pills.

And unlike mom, I had to petition the state to legalize my name and gender status. So I have court orders to the effect that I’m Josie Maxine Gallows and my sex is Female.

But the differences start to dwindle around this point. Things start to go deeper than the measure of a vagina. Deep enough you’ll need an MRI.

A 2013 study by doctors from the University of Madrid and University of Barcelona found persuasive evidence that transsexual people’s brains more closely resemble their own perceived gender rather than their sex at birth. This particular study found transsexual women possessed thinner cortical areas in the right hemisphere of their brains, consistent with typical female brains, and these neurological features become more pronounced – more stereotypically female – after hormone replacement therapy with androgen blockers and estrogen. Other studies ranging from psychiatric to neurological are available at the beck and call of a search engine, especially in academic repositories of professional journals, each of them with persuasive evidence of a neurological and chemical basis for transsexuality. The false claim that transsexual people are merely delusional about their perceived gender is just that, false. As awareness of transsexual and transgender issues continues to mount we’ll assuredly see more data in the near future.

Brain sex isn’t readily demonstrable as unzipping a fly or hiking up a skirt. Though I find this a more compelling argument for my womanhood than the origin story of my vagina, whether it’s surgical or natal. Or whether I have one at all: I’m not telling, it’s nobody’s business. The very center of my personhood, my brain, is itself likely female in structure. Like mom, like your mother in particular.

That the brain has a sex is more controversial a statement than it might seem on the surface. Some modern feminist discourse is insistent that gender is merely a social construct and has no basis in biology. This is one root cause of the transgender community being perceived as delusional, as it’s self-evident that gender and biology commingle. But there’s a grain of truth here.

That the brain has a sex is more controversial a statement than it might seem on the surface. Some modern feminist discourse is insistent that gender is merely a social construct and has no basis in biology. This is one root cause of the transgender community being perceived as delusional, as it’s self-evident that gender and biology commingle. But there’s a grain of truth here. The tribe of women is constructed of psychological and social elements as much as biology, informed by nurture perhaps as much as nature. Women are taught many things that don’t stem directly from instinct. Though claiming gender is a mere construct or, worse, that “gender is over (if you want it)” is misleading and damaging to the cause of gender studies as a whole, and to transsexuals in particular. When gender is “over” so are women. When “gender is over” the transsexual person no longer exists and their dysphoria is inexplicably retroconned. Transsexual people tend to know from a young age there is a powerful disconnect between their personhood and their body’s development, with the frustration we call “gender dysphoria” skyrocketing during adolescence and turning into clinical depression, even suicidal ideation, during those would-be golden years of someone’s twenties. I know this all too well. I know it because of the controversial fact that gender is real, not make-believe. To what extent is another argument.

These ideas and findings do beg certain questions. Are transsexual people neurologically deformed? Should we be aiming to fix the brains and not the bodies of transsexual people? I would say no to both, I would say invasive brain surgery and psychiatric medication isn’t somehow preferable to gender diversity, and I’d say that’s for the patient to decide. As with all women, “her body is her body so hands off.” It certainly isn’t the purview of moral crusaders who’ve got so much advice for transsexuals. Moral crusaders who usually have a ton of invasive and unsolicited advice for what every woman should do with her body. Whatever, it would be a missed opportunity for everyone involved were gender variance deleted rather than explored. I forgot where I read it, and I’m paraphrasing, but a doctor and scientist in the field of transgender health said “To study transgender people is to study gender itself.” Those words ring true. There is occult knowledge that only transsexual people possess. Actual occult knowledge. The transsexual person is acutely aware of what life is like for both ends of the gender spectrum. Though this is an unnecessary argument here. The simplest approach is to not treat biological diversity like impurity. Totalitarianism is bad policy and it behooves us to consider what neurologically deviant people can contribute to our overall understanding of the human condition. But beyond that, if they are happy and productive who is anyone to interfere? Such arguments are now being made in the case of autistic spectrum people, since cognitively nonconforming people are overrepresented as professionals in fields of research science. Mind you, no transsexual would take kindly to comparing their gender to autism for the obvious reason that gender, in its vast diversity, never manifests as a cognitive disability that impedes overall performance.

Though I’m not and never will be a cisgender woman I’m a kind of woman. Like most women I have estrogen in my body, the fact of how I get it there is irrelevant. My ovaries are plastic medicine bottles and I’m unashamed. Like millions of women I get my estrogen from a pharmacist, for one reason or another. Like numerous women, especially the menopausal, I lack the means necessary to produce significant estrogen on my own. In a way I’m grateful for this. I’ve learned secrets. I’ve gone from a body and mind saturated in testosterone to a body and mind saturated in estrogen and, occasionally, progesterone.

Like the typical woman, maybe even the stereotypical woman, my behavioral responses and attitudes have been shaped by estrogen. Molded towards a more feminine outcome, as varied as that may be. There’s much talk about how estrogen affects the transsexual body. There’s the tanner stages of breast development and timelines for fat redistribution. Oil secretions, texture of the dermis, hair consistency, muscle mass, and bone development are readily affected by hormonal changes to one degree or another, usually depending on age. All but bone development are true in my case, although like other women I’m at greater risk for osteoporosis. What’s less frequent are serious discussions on how hormones affect the mind and what we can learn from this.

I’ve become more cooperative and diplomatic, despite being prone to cattiness in my private moments. In general, I’m more calm and nurturing than prior to transition. I’m far more sensitive to emotional stimulation than ever. I cry but I also cry tears of joy. I recoil at unproductive competition. My sexuality is more tender and psychological rather than visual and like many women and girls I prefer emotionally engaging erotic literature to hardcore pornography, though I still watch porn. Dyke porn, because soft-butch women do it for me. And on the subject of sexuality, orgasms are longer, come in multiple waves, and are a full body experience. Some might call this misogyny to qualify exactly what the emotional, physical, and sexual feminine experience entails but this is my own subjective experience as a woman. There exists common threads of femininity that may defy explanation but most certainly defy erasure from the female norm.

There’s good reason for the emphasis on physical rather than psychological changes brought on by transition. It’s hard to be objective and it’s even more difficult to measure with scientific accuracy. Above all else it’s controversial – to suggest there are notable cognitive or emotional differences in women and men runs the risk of reinforcing stale tropes of female inferiority. Though I believe it’s a relevant discussion because prior to transition I was far from having internalized male socialization. I was a sensitive artist, obviously expressive and emotionally available. So a greater comfort with myself or breaking free of male conditioning are not the default causes of my psychological and emotional changes throughout transition. I don’t, however, reject these as potential causes.

The common threads of femininity may be controversial but if we’re forced to articulate, “What makes a woman?” and we’re forced to say “A woman is deeper than her vagina,” then we have to discuss those common threads. Those threads begin with birth, in features of the brain-body relationship. They begin in a wash of maternal chemicals and hormonal receptors. They also begin after birth, in yet another wash of chemicals, and in the conscious and unconscious lessons of socialization.

In my own socialization I’ve always preferred the company of other girls. Their speed was my speed. I was always one of the girls, it didn’t need to be said. It just was. Dolls, tea parties, and having detailed conversations about life were always preferable to rolling in the dirt with boys. And it’s not that women naturally gravitate towards dolls and tea parties themselves but the type of play and character building involved in those sorts of games are, in many ways, decidedly feminine. Pink and frilly things are simply a conduit for feminine manners. This is something ideologically purist feminism tends to reject without much thought. Though I myself know exactly how pronounced the differences are between estrogen and testosterone as behavioral catalysts, because I’ve directly experienced copious amounts of both. I am my own gender laboratory and a first hand witness of my experiment.

Only until it became “inappropriate” to have slumber parties with my Gal-Pal Best Friends Forever did I give a real shot at meaningful friendships with boys. Those were disastrous times. My best friends were stripped out of my life on the suspicion that sexy times might happen.

Forced integration into the tribe of men was completely toxic despite my best efforts. Fitting in meant getting beat half to death until my heart and body became hard as stone. Sports were attempted. I reacted to organized sports like an alien visitation. All of these matching boys, all of them with this thick cloud of “Fucking destroy! My father is reliving his youth through me.” The idea of “let’s play with a ball and have fun” was never on the menu.

I expect no pity for my trials. I experienced maleness as a shape-shifting fraud and in the process I learned a great deal. Obviously, I didn’t have the expected tools for positive relationships with men and boys despite having highly masculine role models at the ready; carpenters and outlaws, real manly men. Where I didn’t have tools I made my own. It took real effort but eventually I managed to run with the juvenile delinquents, taking pages from the film adaptation of Fight Club – which had just come out and teenage boys were taking it all too serious. Bare knuckle boxing was a thing, so was throwing friends down flights of stairs, getting heads bounced off concrete, and biting until the other kid tapped out. I differ from most women in my experience of that.

Meanwhile, my evenings meant typing up the phone line with hours long conversations with my female confidants. We had those heartfelt conversations boys often fail to have until they’re older, so goes the perception that girls mature faster. And it remains the case that I prefer female socialization and environments, though I cherish my male friends. I’m comfortable in identifying as a lesbian woman and being in a relationship with a gay woman who exudes queer, not heterosexual, standards of beauty. Romantic relationships with heterosexual women were always strained by the reality that I wasn’t as advertised. Prior to transition the healthiest and most respectful romantic relationships of my lifetime had been with women whose gaydar clocked me as an anomaly. Post-transition has been no different, except that my self-actualization makes longterm lesbian relationships possible.

All of this drives home an overarching point: none of this is decidedly male. This is not the male experience, neither physically nor psychologically nor socially. The accusation that a transsexual woman is actually “male” requires ignorance and denial, and even delusion. Only a delusional person could account for all of these factors and still see MALE, written as a profane four letter word, scrawled across another’s personhood with the sole purpose of erasure.

The confluence of my life, my biology, and my medical interventions can only read transsexual female.

It never reads just “woman,” but that’s not the point is it? Besides, what is the harm when transsexual women don’t constantly place a prefix before their gender? I’ve yet to hear an argument that didn’t resort to claims of moral degeneracy or, worse, the notion that transsexual women are rapists who seek to invade and colonize female spaces for psychosexual thrills.

Add in penchant for dresses, makeup, long hair, girly tattoos, leggings, perfume, and the situation is all the more damnable. I’m a chick, whether I like it or not.

But aside from the annoyance of living a bewildered, oftentimes hostile, sometimes murderous society and being held to toxic standards, I’m happy with it.

But aside from the annoyance of living a bewildered, oftentimes hostile, sometimes murderous society and being held to toxic standards, I’m happy with it.