I Wasn’t Ready

I wasn’t ready.

I wasn’t ready for someone to be nice to me.

I just wasn’t ready.

When you walk in the world as a tranny, as someone who crosses the gender lines assigned at birth because their heart calls them so strongly, you know the cost.  You know that you are open season, fair game for everyone who wants to act out their own fears.

Packs of kids in the mall often laugh, or make rude comments, or just follow you around.  They feel comfortable humiliating you on your gender deviance, and why shouldn’t they?  After all, they suffer humiliation for their difference everyday at school, taunted, shamed and hurt because they aren’t man enough or woman enough to be given respect and dignity.  We let kids teach other kids how to be normative, and that’s not a pretty process — the imposition of stereotypes, handed down from TV and stamped on tender young teens, who only want what we each want, only want to be loved.

People of color often read you out — “what the fuck is that!” — someone who has fallen from white male power and broken the rules of acting like one of us or one of them can easily be the victim.  Blacks have found power & comfort in solidarity, and the lone individual often must take the abuse of the tribe.

Many people feel it’s OK to judge you, that they have some obligation to make a judgment on you, and notify you of their disdain.  You just aren’t right, and that shouldn’t be revealed in public, where children and the morally vulnerable might see you.  These people would never want someone judging them, but they are smug in their normativity — they are just like the group, and you are — well, you are a sign of decay, repugnant.

Walking in the world is walking in a minefield for a transgendered person, knowing that at any time, someone or something could explode.  You learn to avoid traps, learn that you are often denied public facilities, learn to always keep defended.  That’s the way stigma works — if we can keep people terrorized enough to be in fear, they won’t have the energy to really be strong enough to be a potent example of change in the world.

The problem with walking around in armor, though, is that while it may keep you defended, it also keeps you isolated, alone, and lonely.

That’s why I wasn’t ready.

I just wasn’t ready for someone to be nice to me.

The question everyone has to face in the world is simply this: Do you want to be more like everyone else, or do you want to be more like yourself?

We feel the face of the crowd all the time, staring at us, and wanting us to be tame, like them, one of the gang.  They want us to act in ways that make them comfortable, that affirm their values, that let them believe they are safe being part of the clique.

From inside though, we feel another face, our own face, the unique face our creator gave us.  This is our wild face, our special face, the one that lies behind the mask of normativity.  It may be silk, or it may be metal, but it is ours, personal and true.

People often assume that the transgendered are just wearing a mask.  It’s a funny costume designed to conceal what lies underneath, to hide the truth. That’s why they often feel safe in giving it a punch, just like they would hit the Chuck E. Cheese costume — after all, it’s not a real person, is it?

The truth is that the mask transgendered people wear is designed to reveal, and not to conceal.  Wearing that mask is a risky choice to show the wild face, the special face, the unique face their creator gave them.  It’s art that reveals more than it conceals — though being hidden allows some freedom.

Our face is our art, letting us paint the image of our soul onto the flesh of our body.  It may be a crude image, it may be a clumsy image, stuck between hiding and exposing.   Like any art, it takes time and effort to become a master, to have the skill and the courage to really show what is in our hearts where people can see it, but every attempt is one step farther to finding our own truth, to finding our own true face.

There is one place where this connection between our face and our art has always been understood.

Makeup Art Cosmetics  — M.A.C. — is committed to this connection.  I knew it when they used RuPaul as their first spokesperson, and saw the beautiful visions they created.  Maybe it’s the Canadian connection, where instead of a melting pot they have a mosaic, knowing that a few shiny tiles gives the whole composition color and vibrancy, but whatever it is, M.A.C. means art. Their motto is simple — All ages.  All races.  All sexes.   Everyone deserves the power of art to show what is inside of their heart on their own face, deserves respect for what they reveal.

I have always loved M.A.C. stores, where I often found a transgendered person behind the counter, someone who had created their own face as a work of art.  M.A.C. seemed to understand that if they wanted people to believe in art, they had to hire artists, people who pushed the edges, and gave a glimpse of what artistic freedom could mean in a life.  Not clones but creators, people who created their own face in new ways, showing the power of art in revelation.

M.A.C stores were places where performance was valued because in performance, the heart is revealed.  In there, you were never stuck with what God gave you on the outside, rather you were gifted with what God gave you on the inside, all that beauty and drama which could be revealed with the stroke of a brush.  You come and touch the cosmetics, and in those pots is not just something to hide who you are, but something which lets you uncover who you are and declare that to the world.

Still, I wasn’t ready.

I wasn’t ready for someone to be nice to me.

We have M.A.C counter in Albany now.  Counters are always different than stores, because they stand exposed in a department store.  They don’t have the concentrated space to keep things going, rather the energy bleeds away.

It was late one Saturday night when I went there.  I had a $100 gift certificate, and was ready to spend it, still remembering the laughter I had at the Montreal Pro store just a few weeks before.

It wasn’t a good night.  I asked for the brush I wanted, they were out of the Infamous paint.  The gal behind the counter seemed a little uncomfortable, like she wasn’t there.  I asked about crème liner, and she asked what color my eyes were — something most makeup artists would know of a customer in the first few moments.

I pulled back.  This wasn’t fun.  The hardest thing about being a tranny is that when you are feeling most vulnerable is the time when you have to be most gracious.  Other people feel their own discomfort and fears kick up — they don’t know how to handle people like you, don’t have any experience, so they get clumsy.  You, then, should to read their actions as discomfort and put them at ease, but mostly you don’t.  You read their actions as judgment, as fear, as a mark that they are unsafe to be around, and you tighten up, get more defensive.

This is the same pattern for all marginalized people.  We learn to oppress ourselves, to read the choices of others as signs that we are not wanted, that they don’t like us.  When a waitress drops a plate a little hard in front of a white person, they probably think she is just a clumsy waitress, but when a waitress drops a plate in front of a person of color, they may read that as a sign that they are not worth serving, read that as a message about her own racism.

When my gift certificate was rung out, she didn’t exactly know what to do. She asked others for help, and in the process said that talked about “his” certificate, what she should do for “him.”

I took my change, and let vent.  “This is M.A.C.   When someone shows you their face, please respect it.  All ages.  All races.  All sexes.  Treat a transperson as they reveal themselves to you, honor their art, no matter how crude it may be.”

I left and went for a drink.

That’s why I wasn’t ready.

I just wasn’t ready for someone to be nice to me.

I have been by the M.A.C. counter a few times since then, though hidden under my boy clothes.  For perceptive artists, though, that is rarely a problem — they see the eyebrows and the stance, and they know there is something else there.

I started a conversation when a display pot clattered to the floor, jostled by me somehow.  She was young and intense, and behind her was our own local male behind the counter, today in feather collar and rhinestoned eyelids. We spoke about trans, and the incident I had had.  She had heard of it. “Well, she’s older, you know and. . . ”

She offered to do my makeup sometime.  I said I wanted her to see me in my other clothes first, so she knew more about me.  In other words, I felt safe enough to want to show myself to her.

I came in Monday night, as I was heading to an event at the Unitarian church.  The young woman wasn’t there, but the older woman was, as I came around the counter. “Hello!” she call out warmly to me.

I started heading her way, looking stunned.  “Do you remember me? You bought some makeup from me.”

“Yes,” I replied.  “We had a little incident. ”

“I know.  I learned a lot. I talked about it afterwards”

“Well, it’s important… and we… and RuPaul is a good teacher” I blathered on, completely taken aback by her openness and support.

“You are a good teacher,” she said to me.

“Thanks,” I mumbled and staggered off, as stunned as if I had been hit by a car.

I wasn’t ready.

I just wasn’t ready for someone to be nice to me.

I know how to stay defended, to handle the destructive surprises, but the positive ones?  They just blow me away.

That’s the problem with living inside a shell.  You are always on tenterhooks, waiting for the third gotcha, so you are never ready for someone to be nice, open, caring and gracious.  Then they do, and your world is turned upside down for a moment, that moment when someone sees your heart and not your crotch, when someone affirms your spirit and not your flesh.

Art is about making spirit visible, and when it is seen, it can blow you away.

I wasn’t ready.

I just wasn’t ready for someone to be nice to me.

But they were.

And it was a gift.

Callan Williams, 13 March 2001

2 thoughts on “I Wasn’t Ready”

  1. Pingback: Ma’am | Callan

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