Normal/Queer

My mother wishes she was normal.

She’s 82 this year and away at an Elderhostel full of people, including one pediatrican my mother has identified as a transwoman who dresses butch.  There are 38 other people from around the country, who she thinks are normal.

But she’s not normal.

“How long haven’t you been normal?” I asked her, thinking that maybe it was her walker that made her feel different.  After all, she was the only one who had to sit in the bus with the driver while the others took a walking tour of a quaint, historic neighborhood. 

“I don’t think I was ever normal,” she tells me. 

“Ah, so you were always special, unique and exceptional,” I say

“I was always weird,” she tells me. 

Carol Queen said that whenever queers tell their story, straights always think we are writing about them. 

I suspect that is true because we speak a truth that isn’t often heard in society.  The mainstream talks of normal people living normal lives, but inside each of those people, they know that they are different, special, unique and exceptional.  In other words, some nagging part of them tells them that they aren’t normal either.

Heck, the guy from eHarmony promises to find you a partner who can “See you, accept you, and love you passionately for who you are.”  Of course, he only makes that promise to straight people, who are the only ones eHarmony serves, but the fact the marketing wonks chose that statement tells you that even straight people don’t feel they are seen, accepted and loved passionately for who they are. 

This truth, that we all feel misunderstood and unseen is a blessing and a curse for queer people. 

It’s a blessing because it means that straights feel there is something they can learn from those on the edges, something about engaging that feeling of difference.

But it’s a curse because the limits of how they feel different are the limits of how they can understand how others feel different.  If we all don’t feel normal but can suck it up and fit in, then why can’t you?

The moment you step into queer is the moment at which you see and affirm choices others make that you would never make in your life, and beyond that, keep loving the people who make those choices.  The choices may squick you, may seem distasteful or weird, may feel scary or dangerous, may be ones others would separate from, would stigmatize and deride, may just be queer, but only affirming them can help you become at peace with your own queerness.

I realize that we do need some kind of line to separate good choices from evil ones, and for me that line is consent.  Killing, raping, stealing, all things done without consent, and all bad.  But just making others uncomfortable, just pushing the people’s buttons, just bringing queerness into a worldview they want to sanitize “for the kids,” well, in a free, pluralistic society, your comfort isn’t protected, just your rights.

My mother feels different and separate from the rest of her group.  She feels like she isn’t normal.

I know that.  I needed her to teach me how to nave normal relations with the community, to have friends and neighbors, and that wasn’t something she could do.  But neither could she teach me how to be happily and sucessfully weird, walking in the world with self-confidence and pride.

But how do I connect with all those people who fear they aren’t normal without triggering their fears that moving too much past normal will lose them everything, even if that just means standing with and for people who are very much not normal, standing with people who are queer?

The fear of being seen as not normal and being stigmatized for that difference is the tool society uses to keep people in line, and that fear is strong.

But that fear only works if people know one thing: that somewhere, inside, they are exceptional, different, unique and not just normal, and that must be hidden.

Imagine, though, what happens when we start to understand it isn’t just us who isn’t normal, it’s everybody who is exceptional, different and unique.  Then we can start to affirm their choices, even the choices we would never make for ourselves.

We can move from feeling abnormal to queer. 

And that, my friend, might just be liberation.

D/F, T/C

You won’t believe this, but when i look at myself in the mirror, I see all my weakest spots.  I mean, I see where the foundation doesn’t cover the places where my beard is turning black (everything else is turning grey, except along the fu-manchu line, which is going black — what’s up with that?), where the cheap wig is frizzing at the ends, the adams apple and big hands, I see it all.

Oh.  Wait.  I bet that you do believe that.  One woman reading me out to her husband in the Dollar Tree, and it’s just no fun. 

I mean, transgender is about revelation, but to get people to see past their assumptions, it becomes important that you conceal.  And, yes, I admit it, I like concealing maleness too.  I want to be pretty and femaled.  I tucked all the time until I read about how it seems to have some anecdotal link to pre-cancer tumors in the testes.  (There are so few of us that anecdotal medical information is the best we have.)  

I spent my time looking like a guy in a dress, and it was fine and fun, but now I have another message, other cues to give.  I remember turning to someone at a trans-event and noting how much work it was to read what people were trying to say with their presentation.  The other person looked at me like I had said “Which are beluga, which osetra and which sevruga?”  a nonsense question to all but those who appreciate caviar like I appreciate considered gender presentation.

There is a line between doubt and faith, between trembling and confidence that is hard for me.  A friend tried to explain to me that my time in the dressing room had to be full of doubt, questioning every choice and trying to create the best me, while in the world I needed to have faith in who I am so I could stop trembling and just be in the confidence that I am potent and pretty, and what some doesn’t matter because those with open eyes will see my heart.

That’s a challenge.  I feel shaken and then I see a mirror and I don’t see positive and present, I see all the places I have failed to be perfect. 

So many trannys love pictures of themselves, still images that capture a perfect image.  That was true when I came out, and with Photoshop it’s even more true today.  All we can see in the mirror is a still image, because the moment we snap into observer mode, we snap out of the mode of just being ourselves.

But I know that I can’t be in the world as a flawless image, helped along by dark bars, stylized outfits, selective lighting and drunken observers.  My beauty, if it exists at all, exists in the pores and wrinkles that make up the real me, all the scars that I show, not just the ones I conceal.  And finding an observer who values, understands and encourages that,  well, hard.

I flipped though a show on poker playing, and Annie Duke was explaining why bluffing almost never works.  “The unconcious things you do are readable, but when you try and conciously convey something, it almost always looks big and fake.”  That’s one thing actors know, it’s not actng the moment, it’s being in the moment.

And when I am not feeling strong and potent and pretty, well, that moment has pretty well passed. 

The obligations of a tranny in public are many.  We have to put the people who fear us at ease, have to take the people who doubt us and negotiate feelings that they have which they have never put into words.

From 2002: 

3) The hardest thing about trans is doing it alone.
For most people, life is like riding a bicycle. Slow down, and momentum from people around you keeps pulling you forward.
For people on their own path, life is like running a marathon.  Slow down and you lose momentum and have to restart.
Trannys don’t come from a community that is like them, so the issues aren’t taught, worked out.  We each struggle very much alone, and that means we often lose momentum and falter.
4) The most difficult thing about trans is negotiating others fears.
Too often people feel scared by what challenges their assumptions, what makes them stretch, what brings up their own stuff, and when they get scared, they find it easier to blame it on what scares them than to confront the basis of their own fears.  We become a “phobogenic object,”  invested with their own terrors, and like voodoo, they assume that if we are erased, their fears will never have to be faced.
Transpeople learn early that expressing their nature brings torrents of abuse from the world.  The world wants to do the good and nice and appropriate thing by shaming people into normativity, which is good for the status quo and good for the individual.  The attempt to erase the nature is seen as caring and appropriate — these people should understand reality, or at least the reality as we have accepted it.
Even when talking with mothers of gay and lesbian children, they express fear for their kids, a fear that can never be removed, but a fear that their children have to get past.  It’s not useful to have parents fear, it’s useful to have parents help and encourage.
There is an old joke about a top professional golfer who is offered an enormous sum to play a round.  When they asked what handicap their opponent wanted, they were told “Three Gotchas.”  They accepted the offer, and on the first hole, just as they were about to drive, their opponent rammed a hand between their legs and screamed “Gotcha!” which caused them to miss the shot.  The same thing happened on the second green, just as they were about to putt.  When the golfer got in the clubhouse, they had lost by seven strokes.  When someone asked why they had lost, they said “Have you ever tried to play 17 holes waiting for the third gotcha?”  This is the power of stigma — when you are used to abuse, you lose your grace and power.
When you think you are already on the edge, or even over it, it becomes hard to take the simple risks humans have to take to get others to agree with us, to take power in the world.  When we play safe and defended, we rarely get what we need, rarely make the changes that we know will benefit all.
To ask the person assigned as fear producing, who has been bashed by stigma, to be the one who always has to negotiate the fears of others is a daunting and overwhelming task.  People often assume that their fears must be respected, but to respect fear rather than real danger is to allow fear to shape our world, rather than to allow love to do that task.
5) The most painful thing about trans is not being able to give your gifts and have them accepted.
When we accept the gifts of another, we accept them.  For many, who don’t want to accept people who challenge their beliefs in comforting boundaries that separate good from bad, accepting the gifts of people they believe are acting in immoral or inappropriate ways is impossible.
What does this mean?  It means that because of other people’s belief in the need to keep separate, to minimize and stigmatize by isolation, to avoid what causes them challenge and discomfort, to believe in their fears, people who are diverse are seen as less than human and their gifts are not accepted.
It pains me most not to have been able to feel safe enough to give all of me to my community, and to get the simple rewards in return, just because my nature is one that many would rather not exist.
Trans rights are not about special rights, they are about simply having the right to contribute and be rewarded for those contributions to the mainstream.  This right is key not only to our financial well being, it is key to our health & our pride, and, believe it or not, is a key to really embracing diversity and innovation for all of society.

To stay in the faith and show the confidence, while always keeping the doubt which allows you to tremble before God, well, that’s hard.

How did Reinhold Niebuhr put it?

God, give us grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed,
courage to change the things
which should be changed,
and the wisdom to distinguish
the one from the other. 

Mr N. did it through faith in Jesus. 

But defending a God who creates people like me to remind the world of our continuous common humanity?

I’m tired.