Statement on the Trans Boxing Collective by Sydney Baloue

February 22, 2019

Statement on the Trans Boxing Collective:

Speaking out against racism in the trans and non-binary community

What am I writing and why?

My name is Syd Baloue and I am telling my story as it relates to the Trans Boxing Collective. The purpose is to create a greater space for others to share their stories of racism and reprehensible behavior from members of this organization in the trans and non-binary community. I hope that by sharing my story and my experience, this can open a space for others to feel heard as well.

What happened?

I was a member of the Trans Boxing Collective from August 2018 until December 2018. During this time as a Trainer and a Member of the Outreach Committee I endured a number of bad experiences that forced me to not continue my working relationship with this organization. These reasons include the following:

  • Lack of transparency with respect to collective financials, i.e. reneging on boxing training fees for trainers, maintaining a running negative balance of over $3000 as a result of embezzlement from leadership, unilateral decisions made by leadership without collective consent, etc.

  • Racist accusations of undeserved privilege toward POC (people of color), i.e. cavalier dismissal of POC-oriented LGBTQ groups, and disrespect to POC trainers

  • Behaviors inconsistent with stated intentions, i.e. consistently reneging on support of members of color and trans-femmes in leadership roles

  • Reduction of valid feedback and gaslighting, i.e. racist assertions of feeling “unsafe toward” black members of the collective

  • Failure to recognize the importance of inclusion of diverse/all trans people, i.e. resistance towards recruiting members of demographics who lack a presence in the collective, particularly femme-identified, black and brown trans people

  • Exclusion of individuals who provide constructive feedback and rejection and subsequent misappropriation of members ideas, i.e. dismissing ideas and claiming ownership of them when later used by members of privileged racial backgrounds

  • Similar accounts from other Black and POC members of the trans and non-binary community of racism and femmephobia from the Trans Boxing Collective and its leadership, in particular

What can be done?

I will not be working with the Trans Boxing Collective in any capacity. I highly stress to members of the Black, POC trans, and non-binary community that this organization and particularly its leadership is NOT a friend of our community. Many people within the trans, non-binary and queer communities at large wonder why there are often Black and/or POC-only spaces and it is precisely due to these behaviors, lack of care for our communities and exploitative behavior that necessitates our own spaces. Black and POC trans/NB communities can only thrive if there are safe spaces where we can be affirmed amidst a world that is hostile to our existence.

I welcome the potential for collaboration to create a space for Black/Brown, POC trans, non-binary, femme/feminine-identified, as well as masculine-identified folks, and those who reject or complicate those binaries, to come together and learn how to box. Our community is entitled to a caring and supportive environment free from racism, femmephobia and other prejudices that we already encounter in our daily lives. As such, if you have access to a space or know folks who are open to collaboration, let’s discuss opportunities for growth as I would love to share my resources.

My Black and POC trans/NB friends who have held space for me have been invaluable in helping me through this difficult time navigating my departure from the collective. By speaking out and making these issues clear, I am moving forward in my path to do the work that I was meant to do: make space for others in my situation or similar ones, so that we can know the beauty and power in speaking truth, echoing our collective strength, and supporting those who need it the most.

With love,


The Bureaucracy of Being Trans by Sydney Baloue

Yesterday was an interesting day of running around. I am sure if I told my friend Liv, they would gag that I covered so many miles in one day. It’s amazing to me that I even was able to end in the spot where I did, which is in the end, a good thing. Yesterday, I finally got my gender marker changed on my driver’s license. It wasn’t an easy process, but I am glad that it is finally finished. Now, it’s just a matter of waiting for the damn thing in the mail.

Throughout this process I was constantly reminded of the tedious bureaucracy of being trans. Transitioning and being trans is tied up in a ridiculously complex and bullshit web of bureaucracy. Cisgender people do not realize how much their lives are embedded in gender. It is the invisible thread that people cannot see if they are not aware that it even exists. It’s the emperor’s clothes of our everyday lives.

For me, I have been meaning to do this gender marker change for some time, but have been putting it off mainly because I feel like I have more important things to worry about (like finding a job). But I figured since elections are coming up and my address has changed, this thing that has been sitting in my to-do list, should finally get done. So, last Thursday I went down to the DMV to see what I could do. I had an application filled out as well as a letter from my former general practitioner as a Penn student with the wording and everything that I originally had for the gender marker change on a Pennsylvania driver’s license when I thought I would do it in Philadelphia. Sadly, I totally forgot to bring my passport and social security card, so the lady at the front desk kindly told me to return with that as well as a bank statement or gas/electric bill. I then, head to the local public library (thank goodness for them!) to print out all these things. I was reminded of when I lived in Paris and Germany as I had to do the same thing in order to get things like visa extensions or do the extra steps of establishing residency in those countries. Bureaucracy is something I am well acquainted with after living in European welfare state countries.

Living in Europe, in a nutshell.

Nonetheless, I return the next day (Friday) to the DMV in Brooklyn armed with all of my official documents. I get past the first line, then it’s on to the photo. Now, here the woman at the front desk is befuddled with my application that seeks to change my gender and my state (I had a California license before). I guess it was too much for her to handle. She takes a look at the letter from my doctor in Philadelphia, and even though it clearly states that I am changing my gender from female to male, she calls her colleague over, they debate the paper, and then she says that it doesn’t have enough information on it in order for me to get a gender change on my driver’s license. Imagine that! An official statement from your doctor, with proper letter heading, and the doctor’s license number, certification, etc. wasn’t enough. She tells me a hodge podge answer that it needed to say something like, “one gender predominates over the other.” I asked her where this was stated, as this was not on the DMV’s website, nor did they have any kind of written form that explained this. She can’t come up with anything and continues to state this muddled answer of hers whilst denying me my license. It amazed me that she was so determined to deny me my driver’s license change even though I knew she was full of shit. I was trying to contain how livid I was after I had gone through so much trouble to get all of these documents together, including the letter from my doctor and I asked her why this wasn’t enough. In full bureaucrat mode, she kept defending her bullshit answer. I knew she knew she was wrong and actually didn’t know what she was talking about. This moment often happens in these situations, so I asked her to write down exactly what it was that my GP needed to write in her letter as she herself had no proof of what she was saying. Quite odd in a setting like the DMV considering that all of their work is clearly stated in writing SOMEWHERE. Nevertheless, she wrote down her mangled language on a green sheet of paper and gave it to me. There is no handbook for this. These people are clearly not trained in what to do. Again, pretty odd since there are a ton of trans people in New York City. I was so pissed I wanted to cry. Like an idiot, this woman asked me what I wanted to do, as if I would want to go through the trouble of having to get an ID twice. The moment was a very transphobic one. And I will name that. I don’t think I was treated with dignity and I know I wasn’t treated with respect. I know for certain had I had another bureaucrat, this would not have been a problem. I approached that kiosk with respect and of course, this was not reciprocated. What can you do in these situations? Everyone knows the DMV is like being caught in some horrible vortex of paperwork purgatory. This was mine, apparently.

I took all of my documents and headed for the door. At first, I was deeply pissed, but then I decided to keep moving. There is something about the energy in New York City that always does that for me. I grieve for a moment, and then I get to strategizing about the next step. So, immediately I emailed my old GP in Philly to see if they could help me out. I also called my former GP’s offices in Manhattan, Callen-Lorde. I explained my situation and they said I could see a case manager, but I would have to wait until 1:00pm. It was 11:45am. I took a small pizza break and then headed up to 18th Street in Manhattan from Bed Stuy. I got to the offices at 12:15pm and decided to do work on my laptop while I waited. When I finally had a meeting with a case manager, I was given another delightful set of fuckery. According to this case manager, my former GP at Callen-Lorde had left (I lived in Brooklyn last year before moving to Philly), so in order for them to write me a letter, I would need to see a new GP and the next available appointment was on Oct. 29. But you know, I could call “everyday to see if there is an opening.” Eye roll. I decided to show this case manager the letter I had from my Philly care provider and I asked what Callen-Lorde puts on their letters in this case, just to compare. The case manager was very quick to tell me that I couldn’t actually see their letter (god forbid!), but she could read it out to me. Double eye roll.

All the things.

All the things.

The letter she read out to me said nothing about gender “predominating over the other” and was just another nonsensical statement from a doctor about gender. All of these letters are nonsensical and silly statements. It’s literally insane that you have to have a “medical professional” write about how their patient “feels and acts” and lives their lives in one gender or another. The way the world treats gender is just so insane. But I guess this is for the really lost souls who are convinced of the emperor’s clothes. These idiot people. FFS. Again, trying to contain my frustration at the situation, I just decided to take this silly Oct. 29 appointment and accept the fact that a good chunk of my Friday was lost on ridiculous bureaucracy.

That day, I made sure to write to my top surgery surgeon at NYU whom I saw last December to see if at least they could write a letter perhaps. The case manager at Callen-Lorde said that surgeons usually don’t write letters. Luckily for me, this case manager was wrong (triple eye roll) as my surgeon’s office got back to me yesterday and told me that they could mail the letter or I could pick it up. I decided that I might as well just get this silly thing done and over with, so I don’t have to deal with it again. So, yesterday, I trekked out from Bed Stuy to NYU Langone Center in Murray Hill, picked up the letter and headed cross town to the DMV at 34th Street. I got there just in time at 4:30pm as they close the doors at 6pm. After some waiting and watching silly New Yorker shouting matches break out between pushy DMV “customers” and DMV staff (it’s like watching two pitbulls snarl at each other) I finally got my picture, waited another hour and a half and finally got to the final booth. This time I got another pushy DMV worker, who was actually quite respectful, albeit still very New York-sassy. She was somewhat confused about how to process my application. She had to bring her colleague round to sort out what to do. There were a bunch of questions back and forth and then the most obvious answer (just change the letter from F to M in the computer – go figure!) came about. They were being very whisper-y and super discreet, which was somewhat odd to me. I realized perhaps it was more out of respect for me, that I might not want the rest of the DMV to know that I am changing my gender marker. I realized every time I said this, people would give me a funny stare there. Honestly, why the fuck would I care what some randos at the DMV think about my gender? However, for safety and security purposes, perhaps for others (especially transwomen?) this might be an issue of some sort. Nonetheless, the damn thing got done. I registered to vote, I got more sass, paid my $60 and went on my merry way with my temporary license.

I wish there was more explanation of the difficulty in dealing with bureaucracy when it comes to being trans. This is something that rarely if ever gets discussed. The ridiculous web of changes that has to occur. The begging doctors for letters. The begging bureaucrats to be recognized as human. The paperwork. Oh, the paperwork! I used to look at trans people before transitioning and think, “Wow, they’re so angry. I don’t want to transition because I don’t want to be like them.” Now, it makes sense why we’re angry. We have to deal with so much shit that cis people just never have to deal with much less even THINK about. This is something that people take for granted. I am applying for jobs and you know what? It’s nice to have a legal form of identification that actually affirms who I am, so I don’t have to answer dumb questions from people. I didn’t even get in to how idiotic these letters are and how much they intrinsically linked to having to undergo medical treatments (hormone replacement therapy and/or gender affirming surgeries). I wonder what the experience of a non-binary person or someone who has undergone neither would be like. I’m just glad that I don’t need to change my name. At least my parents got one thing right when I was a kid.

10 Years of Queer: Reflections on Pride by Sydney Baloue

My mother sent me perhaps some of the best photos of Pride that I have seen. There is one of her, our family friend/cousin from Guyana, who recently came out, and another with a bunch of people from my mother's work in San Francisco, including her boss, who is the sweetest German lesbian chaplain at the hospital where my mother works all marching through SF Pride. My mom told me about how much fun she had walking the parade this year with her colleagues and my little sister and also how much fun she had going out on a night on the town with our cousin/family friend as he took her to a bar in the Castro with his friends! I couldn't get over my mother's wild night out as it seemed like something out of one of my early clubnights oh, so many moons ago. You know the one where there is an enormous line at the door, a ridiculous cover charge, lapdances, lots of loud music, laughs, and someone gets too drunk and has to leave the establishment? Yeah, it was that kind of night for my 60 year-old mother. I asked her if any of the people in the club knew that she was twice their age if not more. She quickly assured me that no one had this insider information. haha! I look forward to aging as gracefully and hopefully having as much fun as she.

My mom with our family friend at San Francisco Pride!

It was so funny hearing my mother's telling of this and also just so great when I think about our journey together as mother and daughter and now as mother and son. I feel like I have watched my mother flourish in her life after leaving an awful marriage of 25 years to my father. Seeing her have fun with friends and others is such a privilege and a blessing in its own right. I could never imagine her being able to truly enjoy herself in the company of others when I was growing up. Even more so, I reflect on how I felt way back when I first came out. I have talked to a couple of queer/LGBT folk around my age, especially for friends who are trans, the world seemed very different not even ten years ago. I feel like back then barely anyone was talking about trans issues in the mainstream. I also feel like just being a lesbian was hard enough. I remember when I came out as a lesbian in the early 2000s and I just think of the ostracization I constantly felt in so many circles, whether it was straight, black/POC or LGBT at school during internships, at work, etc. I don't think I ever quite had the words for what I faced back then, but I knew that there was not really a place or space for me, which is why I kept trying to carve something out for myself wherever I went. Lesbophobia is definitely a thing and is still a thing, even in the LGBT community at large. I find myself still searching for my own space in a certain kind of way. Although trans issues appear more mainstream (appear is the key word), I find I am still on the margins, just in a new way. Barely anyone seems to really talk about transmasculinity in a concrete way. People love to ogle or fetishize us on social media, but rarely is there ever space for us to speak. Or even for us to speak to each other. As I reflected on Pride this year, I thought about how particularly lonely transitioning is. For one, there is the loss of friends, or people who you thought were your friends, but who don't really understand or care to understand how you're doing. There is also the fact that as a community, I don't find transmasculine people to be very, well, community-oriented. As in, rarely do I see bunches of us hanging out together or doing stuff together. There's a ton of self promotion on Instagram or Facebook, but the actual being in each other's company thing, doesn't really seem to be a thing. I would really like to change that and it's an intention I would like to put out to the Universe in my second year of medical transition.

My mother, my little sister, our family friend, and my mom's German lesbian boss, Berthe at San Francisco Pride

My mother, my little sister, our family friend, and my mom's German lesbian boss, Berthe at San Francisco Pride

Regardless, thinking about where I am now as I have entered my second year of medical transition and social transition, I realize how fortunate and how special it is that I have my mom for support. So many trans and LGBT people overall, do not have their biological families for support. The fact that my mother was super supportive to me and has been by my side as I have taken this next step in my life is something I really treasure from her. It has been a very long journey for us to arrive at this point and when I reflect on what "pride" means to me year, I feel as much as my identity has evolved over time, I am so very proud of my mother for being so supportive and loving of me in this process. It makes me so proud that my mom sees me for who I am in my authentic skin and cares as much as she does. Our family has been through so many ups and downs and knowing I have her solid support is something I truly cherish and do not take for granted. To see her photos from Pride (which she was very excited about) was such a huge moment for me to take in and even hearing about her crazy night out in the Castro (I know, I'm still taking it in) was more affirmation for me that we're more closely linked that I realized (We both love a good party! maybe it's a Trini thing?). I found it a little hard to even share with friends as I know so many of them have very fraught relationships with their parents about their identity. I remember when I first officially came out to my mom as a lesbian 8 years ago. I did it over the phone after I came back from Paris. By this point I had been out to my circle of friends for 2 years and was living in DC for the summer. I said it rather matter-of-factly in the midst of a conversation about something mundane. She just responded sweetly, as my mom does, "I know," and then we had a short conversation about it and that was kind of that. Since I have been away from home for quite some time, I only really see my mother at Christmas. So much of our relationship to each other has been over Skype rather than in person at this point. Regardless, I grateful that I have come this far in my journey.

I can only wonder what another 10 years from now will look like for myself. I am grateful for all the changes, all the mistakes and all of the lessons I have learned over time. More importantly, I am so grateful for all the community and alternate forms of family I have also cultivated in this time too. I have at least 4 mothers and 2 fathers as well as tons of brothers and sisters everywhere in the world. Being in New York this past week for Pride reminded me of this journey that I am on and of all the great wonders and support I have had to get here. For that, I am grateful and very proud.

Binds that tie, Ties that break by Sydney Baloue

I am less than 48 hours away from undergoing top surgery. It is an interesting and hectic time to say the least. On the one hand, I found myself over the last couple of weeks finding it impossible to wear my binder. For those who are unfamiliar with these contraptions, they're something like a 21st century girdle. I always thought it was weird that these things are sold in sex positive/queer shops as the concept of having a slimming effect for one's silhouette is seriously centuries old (think: 19th century corsets). Nonetheless, this was my little gender-affirming masculine bodice, which I have outgrown. I think it's mainly because of the testosterone as one's fat and muscle rearrange in a masculine way. Also, I work out a lot, so I think the muscle growth in my upper body just wasn't cutting it anymore and wearing my binder was making it hard for me to breathe. Metaphors. This, of course was great timing as my surgery date was right around the corner. But still, the prospect of not being able to wear it worried me as wearing my binder allowed me to "pass" well in public and feel affirmed. I had to wear baggy sweaters and layers for a while over these past few weeks to have a similar effect. It sucks because this is both a safety issue (especially in regards to using the men's toilet at work) and also it is difficult knowing that I am under the gaze of otherwise very trans-unfriendly people at my university and in my department. It was interesting to note how often I was misgendered without my binder over the past few weeks in public places and spaces (Uber rides, restaurants, etc.). And by "interesting" I also mean, "annoying" as well as "bothersome" and "troublesome."

Illustration by Jackson James

Illustration by Jackson James


However, now I am hours away from getting top surgery. There are tons of fora, YouTube videos and other info that you can learn more about this as I don't have the time or energy to delve that deep. In a nutshell, top surgery is a way of masculinizing the chest through a double mastectomy. It's slightly different from the kind of double mastectomy that breast cancer survivors receive as its purpose is to masculinize the chest. There are tons of details and things on the Internet that can go in to depth about why this is different. I will let you, dear reader, seek that info for yourself if you are so inclined.

However, this is an exhilarating, exciting and somewhat nerve-wrecking step. I applaud myself for taking the initiative to be able to get this far with the amazing help and support of so many people. When I think back to where I was a year ago in London having just graduated from my Masters program at the LSE and knowing that this was something I wanted to do, but was having enormous difficulty accessing trans health care in the UK (I could seriously, write a book) to thinking about where I am now, I am grateful and amazed. I am grateful that I have access to incredible trans health care through my student health insurance and that not only will my surgery be covered, but the deductible (for friends outside of the US, this is the nasty extra bit that you still have to pay after your insurance picks up the majority of the tab) will also be covered by a special fund set up by Leslie Townsend, a transgender alumna of Penn who created a fund for Penn students seeking gender-affirming surgery. Amazing, right? I know. I am definitely grateful and I hope to figure out some way in my life to pay this forward. Hopefully, the right moment will come along as I recognize that not everybody gets this opportunity.

That said, I look forward to my mother coming in to town and my best friends coming to help me recover. My surgery date is Wednesday, December 13 and I apparently go under the knife at 12pm EST. The surgery will be 2-3 hours long. I have an incredible surgeon at NYU, Dr. Rachel Bluebond-Langner, who is highly regarded in her field for trans* gender affirming surgeries. She was recommended to me by my health care provider in New York, Callen-Lorde, (again, amazing people). At my last consultation visit, I felt extra special as there was a famous transgender celebrity in the waiting room, whom someone clocked. Apparently, she, the celebrity, was waiting to see her specialist who is also at this practice (that's New York City!). All the more reason for me to feel extra special in getting my work done amongst the stars because obviously, this puts me one step closer to greatness.

But on a serious note, I am grateful to get this work done, not only for it to affirm myself, but it also does feel symbolic that something so personal would happen in New York City, the site of my heart, my community of friends as well as my chosen family, and also my spiritual site of self - Ballroom, West Indian community, Harlem, house music, etc. There is something affirming about that and I'm glad it worked out for me in this way.

It has taken me forever to write a public statement on this because I am in the midst of finals and papers are piling up. As much as I would love to delve in to the greater meanings of transness and so on, I have to acknowledge that a lot of my inability to write comes down to dealing with heaps of bureaucracy, managerial work and other annoying labor that takes away from my "work" of being a PhD student. I have had to deal with my insurance company in making sure that all of the surgeons working on my "team" are covered under my insurance plan. I have had to coordinate with my mother and my friends for their accommodations, figure out transportation to and from the hospital from Philadelphia, as well as figure out the itinerary for the day of surgery itself. All of this while trying to finish a couple 15-20 page essays and presentations. Yep.

It is all the more frustrating to also figure out how to make space for this and for my recovery at my workplace, especially given the precipitation of the past very transphobic events. Recovery from surgery usually lasts about 6-8 weeks. Apparently, you're feeling "fine" around the 4-week mark, but really shouldn't lift anything. And then around 6 weeks, you're back on your feet 100%. This means that I will have a little overlap with classes beginning again next year. Luckily, I have been able to get a new, good academic advisor whom I told about my surgery and who was really affirming. I worry, of course about my department itself. I realized that top surgery should be treated something like a pregnancy in the office at least in terms of reactionary affect. Yes, it's time for celebration and a kind of "birth" in a sense. But of course, when you're dealing with people who are at ground zero in terms of trans knowledge, etiquette, awareness and so on, where does that conversation even begin? One thing I have noticed in the academy is that part of the toxicity and what I would consider toxic masculine behavior is the inability of people to acknowledge when they do not know something. Quite literally saying, "I don't know" sends people in to a state of shock, panic and disorder and many, instead of admitting the obvious, prefer to bullshit their way around, attack "new ideas" and otherwise implode. This is the "nerdy end" of the toxic masculine equation (think: Gamergate, but with JSTOR articles). And in regards to trans health care or awareness where I am surrounded by clueless people who cannot humble themselves in this regard, finding the space to be visible proves difficult yet again. However, if my budding wisdom is correct, patience and mindfulness will allow the universe to reveal the answer of what I am to do at some point along the way.

My main concern is not so much for myself, but rather for future trans students in my department or elsewhere as I want to make sure that they feel that they have the opportunity to transition publicly without any damage to their sense of self in regards to others. I cannot help but think about the transmasculine student of color, Justin Hamano, who committed suicide in the Penn Law School this past semester. One of four deaths on Penn's campus (two of which were suicides) within the first four weeks of school, I was told by a Penn Law student that apparently, this third year law student was living "stealth" (i.e. not out as trans) and was outed as trans. Daring to be visible is not something that is easy for trans people and involves an enormous amount of risk (something that is very clear to me at my university). The unfortunate death of this student and the circumstances around it make me aware of the political significance of me being visible and also of my obligation and duty as someone who has the emotional, social, and political capacity to be visible at Penn. I also recognize the privilege of being extroverted and having quite literally, a global community of queers who live fiercely and unapologetically supporting me. The fact that I have the emotional capacity to deal with whatever comes next, offers me space to care for other trans folks in their journey. Thus, in recognizing that I am not alone in my trans identity, I see that the opportunity for top surgery is something that has been bestowed upon me by trans elders who dared to be visible, organize for their/our rights and create space where there otherwise was none. In that regard, I do not take this next step for me lightly as I know that it also comes with a social and political obligation to others who will come after me. Finding how I pay it forward will definitely be on my mind and suggestions are most welcome.

Besides just prepping logistics, my guided meditation teacher gave me some tips on things to do. One of them was to write a good-bye letter to my breasts. I think this is something breast cancer survivors do, I imagine. She suggested I frame it as a kind of 'it didn't work out, but we can part ways amicably' sort of letters. I think I did a good job of that and could have been a bit more harsh, but hopefully, my breasts got the drift.

I am excited to have something to look forward to in the New Year and this makes me feel less bad for not being able to to walk ball competitions as many of my friends are doing this at the moment around the world. I am excited as this will be the next step in affirming and reclaiming my personhood. Again, I am grateful to my community and my many communities around the world and appreciate being held in this moment of immense vulnerability.

A poem for brown women by Sydney Baloue

This is a poem for Brown Women

For brown women who do the work without being asked

For brown women who work 2, 3 jobs with little pay

For brown women who drive minivans

For brown women whose credibility is questioned in white spaces and in black spaces because there are no spaces for them

For Filipina nurses who drive their kids to CCD at night

For Korean moms who pack kimchi in their kids’ lunches instead of Lunchables

For Dominican moms who make mangú on Sundays

For brown women who suffer in silence

For brown women who are entrepreneurs

For brown women who do the work that nobody else wants to do

For brown women who go back “home” to a faraway land they left many years ago to care for their dying parents

For brown women who like clean houses

For brown women who make you take your shoes off in their house

For brown women who support their kids even when they don’t understand them

For brown women who paid for band camp

For brown women who care for everybody

For brown women who are hurt

For brown women who make your clothes smell like curry for an entire week at school

For brown women who want the best for you with a side of respectability politics

For brown women who don’t complain when they should or could

For brown women who know how to “do” black hair

For brown women who wanted to start a new life for themselves because “home” was not an option

For brown women whose hair is curly or wavy, kinky or straight

For brown women, you should know your dreams are never too late

Transphobia is... by Sydney Baloue

...when your grad chair says that "steroids" are making you crazy.

...when you are the only student male professors interrupt as you're saying something intelligent in class.

...when there are no gender neutral toilets in your department and you're glad you pass "well enough" to go to the men's toilets even though you're outraged that not everyone has that luxury.

...when you don't fit someone else's expectations of what it means to be a black person because of your gender identity and expression.

...when you correct someone's incorrect usage of gender pronouns and they give you a nasty stare in response.

...when you tell your mentor that another professor makes you feel uncomfortable and unsafe and they don't believe you, do nothing, and try to invalidate your feelings.

...when you tell your grad chair that the death of a trans-masculine student of color (a confirmed suicide) in the Penn Law school makes you feel bad and your grad chair can't understand why you would feel upset about the incident.

...when after telling your grad chair about this death and how upset you feel, you're labelled "crazy" because you actually felt something in an environment that is hostile towards emotions.

...when you're cut off every time you try to incorporate trans identity in class discussions regarding identity politics.

...when others try to weaponize your trans-ness against you.

...when a cis male professor jokes about how "stupid"  gender pronouns are with a cis male student in front of you at a department dinner and thinks nothing of it.

...when queer cis students aggressively try to shut down your ability to speak in class on queer issues.

...when two cis male professors label you "aggressive" for asking a thought-provoking and generative question another professor had a difficult time answering at a Q&A.

...when cis straight black people attack your perspective on queer/LGBT issues and say that you have "an agenda" as "an activist."

...when you're labelled "an activist" for daring to be visible and unapologetic.

...when cisgender people who try to pass themselves off as "mentors" and think very highly of themselves in terms of identity politics regressively dismiss your experience as a trans* person.

...when it's clear that you were (in the words of Audre Lorde) "never meant to survive" and being intelligent and daring enough to even show up ends up being an act of resistance.

Meetings, class time, and the neoliberal classroom by Sydney Baloue

Once you recognize that a PhD in 2017 has a very different connotation to PhD work in previous years, then a lot of its oddities make more sense. For instance, the role of the classroom shifts completely in meaning. For me, I had a major breakthrough within the past couple of months once I realized that a PhD in its true essence is really just the freelance work of "knowledge production." For me, I treat this time in my life like a job, which it is (ableit the university is fighting the emerging student union on this point at Penn, but that's another topic). I go in from 9am to 5pm and I get my 35-40 hours in per week. I give myself at least one day of rest and I step away from work at the end of the day, i.e. when I leave "the office," which is our graduate student room where my desk is. I am grateful to be old enough at this point to know that I need to pace myself in this world because just as many of my friends in the world of freelance, DIY work or tech startups find early on, there will always be more work to do. This is why we had to create unions, to limit the amount of work that a person has to do because the work will always be endless.

What is interesting about this setup in the academy, however is that in this weird world of "knowledge production," (a silly term that academia uses to describe what it does - this is how this particular world views the journal articles, literature, and other academic materials it creates) work is unending. With other jobs, you can walk away from the office and not think about work, not look at emails, turn off your phone, etc. However, if your work is predicated on you coming up with ideas, then how does one turn off one's brain? In the first couple weeks of my PhD, I found myself coming up with new ideas while I would engage in mundane life activities outside of work. For example, I was in the gym working out and then out of nowhere a solution to an idea I had been working on in a paper came to me - in the middle of a bicep curl! Madness. I spoke with a professor about this and while she cautioned me that yes, it is good to delineate time/space between work and my life outside of this institution, she also said that sometimes those moments can be helpful and it's best to write down whatever you thought about, so it can still live somewhere else and that I should just move on with what I was doing that wasn't work-related. I really like this idea, that the issue I was trying to solve and its solution will come out somewhere and that I can capture it, like a thought bubble, and then put it away in a little cupboard drawer to pull out later when I need it. Helpful.

Also, I think a lot about some PhD advice I received from a dear friend of mine in London. My friend, Brooke, told me to find a way to incorporate meditation in to my regular self-care practice. I find this to be the most gratifying and rewarding thing I have done in recent years. Weekly, I attend a guided meditation session, which is provided by a woman from student health at Penn. This hour out of my week is extremely helpful in allowing me to slow down, focus, and feel less stressed by the enormous amount of work I am constantly being asked to produce. I think this is another way to make a deep separation between work and "real life." While I am very grateful for this opportunity, the angry little Marxist inside of me is slightly outraged that academia is such that we must take these extreme measures of "self management" in order to combat the never-ending pile of work and stress that accompanies this particular neoliberal paradigm of academic "knowledge production." I guess to some, they would see this as "a choice" that one must make in self time management. I'll just leave this thought here for those who engage in critique of this sort of thing...

As it relates to classtime, however this is an even more complex and bothersome thing and my current conundrum. Contrary to the fun intellectual conversations I have had amongst friends at dinner parties and other casual settings, classtime in the PhD world is absolutely atrocious. This setting is a particular kind of purgatory that I can only imagine happens because of this new paradigm of "learning" that exists in the academy. I am grateful that I have lived outside of academia and particularly in Europe where the idea of casual engagement with intellectual ideas over dinner, get-togethers, community events, and other 21st century makeshift "salons," as these previous experiences have taught me that there are healthier and more enriching ways of engaging in intellectual thought and even by the standards of the academy "knowledge production," which do not and perhaps never will happen in a classroom. Class time in the PhD is a bizarre time and geographic space where a variety of ideas, feelings and enormous anxieties are expressed. To describe it as tortuous does not even begin to describe the enormous level of discomfort, absurdity and general disarray that comes from this period.

Much of the nature of this period is dictated by the facilitator, i.e. the professor, who teaches the course and so much can be determined by this one person's particular mood, affect, and ability (or more often than not, inability) to organize and take leadership over this group dynamic and activity. In short, much of the terrible nature of this time comes down to management. To me, the failure of professors in taking leadership, ownership, etc. over this space says that this is one of the aspects of this pedagogical project, which is not taken seriously by the academy. There is a science to group management (which is why you have entire fields, MBA programs, etc. which are devoted to studying it). Of course, this is overlooked by the academy because this is already an archaic field, which is suspicious of "new ideas." Also, perhaps the irony of any sort of real investment in looking at this time is that while so many other aspects of the new PhD neoliberal educational paradigm are in alignment with "new public management," the efficacy of the facilitator, their (in)ability to engage in class management, etc. has not been accounted for or really properly examined, modified, etc.

Regardless, I recognize that in the world that we live in, class time, as it relates to my self-managed 35-40 hour work-week, is really just what those in corporate spheres call, "meetings." And you know what is funny about meetings? Everybody hates them! Like, everybody. Again, I am so grateful to have had the time outside of the academy to recognize why this time spent together with classmates/colleagues is so dreadful: it just is. Rarely, do people enjoy meetings in work settings - this awful time when we have to be exposed to other people whom we don't really like and/or are not "friends" with. In German, they at least have this nice word for "people from university," which draws distinction between friend and not-quite-foe-but-something-that-isn't-a-friend: Kommilitone. In this way, at least linguistically, we can give nuance to these people who are in our peer group, who aren't really our friends, and who we are with together in this scholarly environment that is quasi-professional, quasi-casual. The annoying thing about these "meetings," of course is that inside this geographic-time space, all of the unresolved issues of other people come out in unexpected, unsightly and often uncomfortable ways. Whether it's someone else's insecurities around being "good enough" or "smart enough" amongst their peers or a professor's insecurities around their abilities in relation to a student or some past life trauma a professor or student has suffered, under the guise of "analyzing a text" or "class discussion" these issues leak out and create the perfect storm for discomfort, unease and general dread.

That said, I find myself in the difficult position of trying to find how I can manage this awful thing I call "meetings" and my schedule calls "class." If only there were a way to get out of this! Or at least recuperate the time. Part of me says I should check in with my corporate friends and see what methods they use to mitigate the awful nature of meetings. It seems like such a high price to pay for my overarching goals and aspirations, which go beyond the academy. I am certain there is a way to get out of it. I guess this is my current Rubik's Cube of amusement in the ivory tower.