The big war for transpeople is over being real.
Some of us fight hard to make it clear that our trans expression is unreal, is a costume, just drag or cross dressing. We are really who we were told we were when people first saw our birth genitals and nothing will ever change that.
Some of us fight hard to make it clear that whoever we were before wasn’t the real us, that only now are we authentic and real. Our past is as much as an offensive lie as our “dead name,” just an artifact of an oppressive culture, unreal and warped.
Sometimes we want to make clear that we aren’t performing, we are expressing reality and other times we want to make clear that our performance is our reality, revealing who we are beyond everyday assumptions.
In all of these situations, reality becomes defined by declaring unreality, by claiming to reveal the false. “Transpeople are really defined by their birth identification, so any other claim they make is false, fraudulent, idol and dangerous!”
When you feel like people are always looking for some crack, some factor, some facet that they can use to declare your identity false you end up living a life of concealment, defence and terror. In other words, you learn to keep a stick up your ass to stay as constrained and protected as possible.
This is not a strategy for becoming true, authentic and potent in the world. Feeling like you have to hide your truth because others might find them contradictory and challenging and end up dismissing and dehumanizing you because of them just leads to a shit life.
I want to say to transpeople everywhere “Be proud of your reality, no matter how curvy and fluid it has been.”
This is not an easy thing for most transpeople to hear. Their history is laced with shame, first the shame they were dished up over showing a “corrupt” heart, the shame designed to keep them normative, and second the shame over what they did to try and keep themselves small and “proper,” including both self-sabotage and acting out against others who triggered our internal pain.
We were taught to be ashamed of who we are and then we are ashamed of what we did to try and cut ourselves and our world down to size, stuffing and slashing. There have been so few models of what a grown-up transperson can look like that it is easier to know what we don’t want to be than what we can imagine ourselves becoming.
To cope with this we created narratives, stories with heroes and villains that we told to explain and rationalize our choices. I have always been fascinated by the way we follow the expeditious in creating these tales, trying to purge anything that might make people get squicked and call us unreal. We follow templates of trans explanations, leaving our narratives parrotlike.
For example, the clubs FPE and SSS asserted that there was no sexual component to crossdressing, that it was just about “femiphilia” where we loved women so much we wanted to pay tribute to them by “femulating” them. Transsexuals and homosexuals were purged from these groups to maintain a story intended to comfort wives, even though they always really knew the erotic charge crossdressing revealed.
“Where there is smoke there is fire,” the old adage goes, and I asserted where there are symbols of gender crossing there is also meaning. There are many costumes men have worn though the ages, so when a man picks a costume that females him, even only for a night, they are revealing something inside themselves.
This was not something easy to hear, either for those who wanted to assert it was only a meaningless hobby or for those who needed a clear diagnosis between real transsexuals and gynandrophiles, a separation that made them and their stories real while dismissing any tales from false transpeople. (1999)
The core belief behind this battle is simple: only one of us can have the real story. If my version is true, then yours is false. Your narrative challenges mine, so you are trying to challenge me.
When our identity is built on a story that other people are doing their darnedest to declare false, they are working to declare us as false, untrue, a liar, a fraudster, as someone who can be dismissed and who deserves whatever they get.
Lie, erasing any twists in your story, or be called a liar, someone who is just blowing smoke, we are told.
The truth of transpeople, though, as sinuous, faceted, shimmering and challenging as it may be, is the truth of trans lives. Having to cut off our stories to try and maintain our standing in the world is devastating and heinous.
When we believe that the only way we can assert our own truth is by denial, denying the twists in our story or denying the assertions of others about us, we live a small, defensive and tragic life. We are always looking over our shoulder, waiting for the third gotcha, trying to keep within our shell.
Trusting in our wild and expansive truth, though, as laced as it is with shame and as triggering as we have learned it can be to others, is very hard work. We don’t have people who say yes to our frayed, tattered and glorious life, as they instead want simple, easy-to-digest stories which fit neatly into their own expectations and affirm their own beliefs. If we don’t do that, we demand they confront what they believe to be real, and that is always a difficult moment, an instant when they often feel they have to decide between what they already know or supporting you. You lose.
The war for transpeople is becoming real, authentic, true.
The truth, though, is that we have always been real, authentic, true. We may have denied or attacked parts of ourselves, tried to stuff and run, struck out trying to hurt what we saw as too queer, but somewhere, in that mammoth, lifetime battle, the truth ran through it.
We aren’t just this or that and never have been. Our emergence, though, the revelation that comes from struggle, isn’t about true vs false, it is always about true vs true.
The opposite of a fact is falsehood,
but the opposite of one profound truth
may very well be another profound truth.
— Niels Bohr
That is a very queer idea to wrap your head around, it is true, but one that transpeople have always spoken for in the world. We bring context to the world, honouring a circle of truth beyond the simple either/or.
In a world where gender is rigidly bi-polar, rituals of gender crossing remind us of our continuous common humanity.
— Anne Bolin, anthropologist
We aren’t one or the other, rather our truth is liminal, crossing assumptions and expectations.
Our truths is real, even if other people don’t get the joke and want to silence & destroy us because of it.
Playing small to try and hide that truth does not make it less real.
Showing more than people are comfortable with does not make us less real.
Attacking other people who challenge our truth does not make us more real.
Our reality becomes more shining and more potent the more that we own it. Denying it leaves it mixed up, inaccessible and tainted with shame, but owning our rich and complex truth in a brave and bold way gives us power and light.
Every time you fear that somehow, someone is ready to smash and destroy your truth, remember that truth endures. It is only the expectations and rationalizations we applied to it which can be broken, clearing the way to see flickering truth more clearly and more honestly.
Your comforting wishes and illusions may need to go, but revelation has to be worth that price. Revealing truth is the force, beyond ease and into durable, robust and resilient wisdom.
Working to hide part of you so you can be seen as real is fraud, no matter how much you believe it will make dealing with others easier.
Owning your own truth is empowering, glistening and beautiful. The gift of a lifetime is becoming who you are.
And that’s true.