from Tina Russell, http://tinakellyrussell.com
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Painting Myself Blue

This piece is fun, salacious, and bittersweet, a full tour of my personality and my aspirations. It’s adapted from a speech I gave during the 2008 Transgender Week of Celebration at the University of Oregon, while I worked at the student Women’s Center there.

The cover

There was a time when I walked into my political science class at the University of Oregon, and I saw, scattered around the lecture hall... magazines.

Now, I used to go to a community college, so I am accustomed to this sort of mass marketing. This was, however, sort of....

It was a campus-themed magazine, one I'd never heard of, desperate to be seen as the “in” thing among impressionable college students. It was their “green” issue, which I found amusing; one should not, as a rule, promote a “green issue” of a college magazine by littering. As a shock cover, it had happy, naked women in the shower—together—with the caption, “save energy, shower with a roomie.”

This piece is about why that brought me to the brink of suicide.

Trans attack

This isn't the first time this has happened. I once read a Japanese comic book that had young girls frolicking in a hot spring—brink of suicide. Once, I say photos of happy, naked women at a street fair I had been to, but not then—brink of suicide. Besides that, I can name nearly a hundred examples of times I've gotten pit-of-my-stomach, bottom-of-my-heart depressed for seeing a naked woman.

...And I happen to like naked women.

A lot of it has to do with who I am. When I saw that cover, I was frustrated for more than one reason. The first is probably that I sort of felt I was supposed to be the one to bring this amazing concept to America, that there's nothing wrong with nudity in the concept of friendship or of everyday life. It's just your body; what's the big deal?

Bathrooms and showers

Most of it, however, was probably sheer jealousy.

I love bathrooms and showers. I find them exquisite, delicate, beautiful. I find the rubber duck to be something of a symbol of tenderness, of self-care, of friendship, no matter how hard the University of Oregon tried to make me associate it with its cult-worship of a duck mascot.

Dreams

I love dreams. I write down all my dreams, and it takes a goddamn while. I've been late for school before—I do not recommend this—because I had really weird dreams that I just had to write down.

And, in fact, the more I write down my dreams, the weirder and more real they become. My goal is to be an omnipotent goddess of the night, to be able to bend reality to my will after my head hits the pillow. I'll tell you how it goes.

Often my favorite dreams—or my scariest or most anxious dreams—involve me stepping into an enormous shower complex, one with toilet stalls and showerheads and sinks and bathtubs as far as the eye can see.

My hope is that, one day, I'll have a strong and sensitive husband who will build all this for me... and then fuck my brains out. Once the bathroom complex is finished, I'll bring my friends down there for tea and crumpets on the can. Anyway...

I'm also something of an exhibitionist, so the idea of a shower with no curtain—where I may clean myself, exposed to the world—I find very compelling and appears in a lot of my dreams.

In fact, I had one dream where...

Painting myself blue

It was inspired by a game called Jet Set Radio Future. I was Rhyth, a blue-haired punk with a powder-blue backless dress and rollerblades, rosy-red cheeks, and a heart of gold. I was in a kind of plain white, cylindrical training room, surrounded by the rails and floating cans of spraypaint that are found everywhere in the game.

I was curious, and I skated up to a wall, sparks trailing my rollerblades as they scraped against the concrete, and picked up a floating spraycan. Girlishly, and playfully, I sprayed my arm with it, giggling as I admired my now-blue skin.

Getting into it, I sprayed my shoulders as well. Carried away with this, I gleefully undid the straps of my dress and peeled off my panties, discarding my now-lifeless clothes onto the floor... I cackled, kicking off my rollerblades and madly painting myself blue, covering my breasts, my belly, my hips, and my legs in its hue. Feeling glorious, I perched my hands on my hips and stuck my chest out, my head high in the air, proclaiming I was Rhyth, the girl painted blue.

And now, I strode confidently toward the locker room, giggling, imagining what I'd do next: I would show off to my girlfriends in the shower room, caressing my body as I washed off the blue paint in full view, for their entertainment, the blue paint crackling as it hit the floor. I was overcome with joy. This sounded like fun.

...Most people have nightmares of being naked in public. For me, those dreams are overwhelmingly awesome. And yet, as often happens, my joy was too overwhelming, and it ended my dream. I had to go back to reality, my reality, with no floating spraycans, no blue-painted breasts and no girlfriends to cavort with in the shower room. It's a long way to come down.

Exhibitionism

So, yes, I am something of an exhibitionist. As a teenager, I wanted to be a stripper when I grew up. I thought that there could be nothing better than making people happy with your body. I would tell me friends “I want to be topless on the cover of Newsweek. I want to be a naked superstar. I wanted to be Lady Godiva with a million Peeping Toms. I wanted to be the confident girl in the locker room, who struts around without her material trappings and boasts of her dream. I wanted to be a goddess.

Nudism

There's one thing you may have noticed. I haven't talked about my body.

Now, I'm a nudist. That's not the same as an exhibitionist, I merely happen to be both. I simply believe that our bodies are gifts from God, and we should be proud of them, not hide them.

I'm a hypocrite in saying this, though. I'm not comfortable with my body.

Transsexuality

I'm transsexual. That can mean many things, but in general, it means that you're not comfortable or you don't identify with the sex you were assigned at birth. When I was born, I was incorrectly assigned male. Now, I have no problem with men—I rather happen to like them—but I'm not one. My name is Tina Russell, and you can't take that away from me.

If you were to see me naked, you’d see my predicament. My shoulders are broad, my chest is flat. My breasts are fake. My legs are hairy, and I have big feet. And my torso comes to a point and dangles at the end, making me feel like the worst woman who ever lived. (Note: as of summer 2010, this description is out of date; thanks to hormones, I do have breasts, young, growing ones. I feel differently about my body as well, which needs its own essay.)

I'm sorry; I don't mean to make myself sound like such a sad sack. There are wonderful things about being transsexual, and I'm sure that there is at least one transsexual reading this—if not many more—who would like to clobber me for my simplistic and cartoonish rendition of the concept of trans identity.

But it hurts, at the bottom of my soul, to feel like I am missing something that all my cisgender female friends have.

The pool party

Once, I went to a clothing-optional pool party. I was overjoyed; I always wanted to be nude in a casual, caring atmosphere like this. It was women only, so I felt it was guaranteed to be friendly and nurturing in its outlook; clearly, I think too much of my fellow woman. And before the party, I made absolutely sure, though a trusted friend, that it was okay for me to come. After all, I have a penis, and I would not want to make anyone uncomfortable.

Though the casual and clothing-optional—and, let me be clear, nonsexual—nature of the party was established near the beginning, nobody seemed to want to get naked in or get in the hot tub. That made me uncomfortable, as it was something I had been itching to do. One girl explained to me that people are shy about their bodies, and I should wait until people have had a few more drinks.

That should have been my first clue that I needed to leave right away.

But, I stuck it out. We brought out the hut tub, and I happily discarded my material trappings and jumped in. Later, I got out to get some food. There were strawberries, and you must now that there is little else better than eating strawberries naked, like eating yakisoba noodles naked, or apple crisp naked. Don't take my word for it, though...

I didn't know it then, but people were gossiping about me. I didn't know it, because outwardly, people were very nice to me. There was one tall, beautiful black woman with cornrows who playfully grabbed my ass. (If you’re reading this, write to me!) But yes, people were gossiping about me. What makes her think she can strut around naked like she owns the place? I thought people would be okay with this, since this party was billed as a European-style clothing-optional environment... and now, I wasn't the only naked person, as a few had entered the hot tub. (I told one that I hoped I could be an inspiration, as obviously, if Tina, a transsexual woman, can be comfortable in her own skin, anybody can.)

I should note that there's something I've only realized now, as I've been drafting this piece, that as horrible as that night was, I managed to complete a life goal. I was the confident naked woman, strutting around in the all no matter what anybody thought. That is pretty awesome.

So, all the gossip that had been going around came back to me when one woman confronted me about this frivolous, wanton nudity. She pretended to be nice and then insulted me right and left, grilling me on how, exactly, I came to think it was okay for me to come (I arranged it through a trusted friend), and what makes me think that I—not a woman in her eyes—could walk outside the hot tub, confidently, naked as the day I was born. She concealed her anger in fluffy, New Age language about giving and energy to try and make it sound like she was trying to help me... I wasn't fooled. I let her know, in neutral language, that she hurt me deeply... and she did.

I went back to the hot tub to decompress. I wanted to cry. I explained to the girls there what happened. The worst part was that they sympathized, but didn't seem to get why it was bad. One asked if I knew of anyplace I could go where I could commiserate with women like me.

I said, that's the thing... I don't want to go to Xavier's School for Gifted Transsexuals. (Nobody got that joke, unfortunately.) I don't want to be just a transsexual girl... I just want to be a girl...

I just want to be me.

At that point, I cried.

You're probably not aware of this, but I have super-sensitive skin. I'm sensitive to my own sweat, meaning that I have to sleep naked—or wear loose-fitting pajamas with no underwear—if I want to recover from a grueling sixteen hours of wearing clothes. (Yeah, woe is me.) I'm also sensitive to my own tears, so crying makes my eyes hurt, making me cry more, and causing me to flail around in desperate search for a tissue. This time, I needed a towel, and I was naked, in a hot tub, full of women I didn't know, flailing around for it. It was pretty embarrassing.

Three things

I want to get three things across.

The first is this: if you do not think I'll be safe at your party, don't fucking invite me. Or, make active effort to keep me safe. It's your choice.

The second thing is that I am a full set. You cannot pick and choose which tender cuts of Tina you like the best. After the party was over, I sorely suspected that they let me come because they wanted to appear “trans-friendly,” but were not willing to expend the effort or support to make that claim true.

If you have a problem with my body, you are not my friend.

I lost a friend once in high school when she started bugging me about the Michigan Women's Music Festival and their horrendous, bigoted policy of “womyn-born-womyn only,” as though I were mere degrees from a wild animal. What did I think, what did I think? Not comfortable being asked—I was immature, back then—I deferred, and said I simply didn't like the policy. I don't.

She said yeah, but you have to understand... what about areas involving nudity? She thought it was reasonable there. I left her in silence, and to this day I wish I had talked to her about this instead of merely letting a cherished girlfriend drift away.

If you have a problem with my body, you are not my friend.

The third thing is that I will not stand by your side during photo ops and be your transsexual friend. I will not sit next to you and explain to you how fluid and amazing gender can be. I will not be your gender sensei, challenging you to climb to the top of the sheer Mount Androgyny and experience the enlightenment of gender fluidity. I won't, okay? Stop asking. Deal.

...Sorry about that.

Pool party, continued

This pool party, as you can expect, drove me to the brink of suicide. Fortunately, things got better after that. The next day, a dear friend of mine brought over his PS2 and Katamari Damacy and I played that for hours... Rolling up the world into a ball before flinging it into the sky is a very relaxing activity, if you do not know. He comforted me, and the next day, I went to church, where my pastor asked me why I was so down.

“Someone said mean things to me at a party,” I said.

She called for the healing power of Jesus to wash over me and cause those nasty words to slide right off. Later, I told her what had happened. That meant telling her I'm a nudist, and I was relieved that she still loved and cherished me after that. She told me I'm probably just unprepared, as a transsexual, for how “catty” women can be... for how women can act nice while saying mean things. That makes me sad, but it's probably true.

Back to the cover

No, what stung me the most about seeing that cover—the “shower with a roomie” one, remember?—was feeling, at the pit of my stomach... who would shower with me? Who would tenderly wash my back? There's something inescapably different about me from other women, I felt, something that's hard to escape. That made me want to cry.

If there's anything I'd like to establish for you now, besides the fact that I like to titillate myself by writing about nudity for a large audience, it’s this: gender-inclusive language is great. Respect my pronouns; that's great. Go on a date with a transsexual you know. That's great.

Set up gender-neutral bathrooms, that's great. Shower with a transsexual—one you feel safe around—that's great. Take a transsexual shopping for clothes; that's great. Teach a transsexual woman how to use makeup—she probably never had girlfriends to teach her how—that's great.

Being an ally is great. But the most important thing I can tell you is this: don't just be my ally. Be my friend.

And please, if you would... wash my back.

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