The Comm-Un-ity

Oh, God help me. I have been called an a abuser in the “Transgender Community” again.

I don’t think there is a transgender community. Communities form around shared interests, and all people who might be called trans don’t have shared interests. Rather, we find people with whom we do have shared interests — crossdressing, drag, women, politics, whatever — and then those communities interlock. Each of us belongs to a few of them at some level, and they tie together.

There are only six trannies in the world, anyway, or at least only six trannies in the US. You know that old game, Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon? Well, with trannies, it works the same way. You would be hard to find anyone, except on the fringes you can’t link to in six or less. We are thin on the ground, we are, and we connect.

I laughed when I read BC Holmes commenting that people like Rachel Pollack and Holly Boswell were trans spiritual gurus. I don’t think those two have ever met, but I have been tightly connected with both of them, the sinew between. And BC Holmes? We met in a subway car and chatted, but never really clicked.

Anyway, one local tranny was dissapointed that an organizational meeting didn’t happen and took out her frustration in strong language, saying she spoke for over 100 local trannies. Well, I knew she didn’t speak for me, and I wondered if the people she was speaking for appreciated her speech in their name. I forwarded her note to a local list with a few questions, and it apparently caused a commotion.

I got a note from her, accusing me of doing the same toxic things that had been done to me, but more than that, saying that I wasn’t a very good “role model” because I didn’t just say good things about trannies. I talked about our failures too much.

Oy.

Imagine if they read my “Wary Of TG,” which I wrote when a baby tranny said they wanted to communicate to lesbians. I thought the fears needed to be engaged and acknowledged before we could move on. They wanted shiny purple paint and glitter over all the problems, and didn’t like the piece.

I learned a long time ago that the biggest challenge that any LGBT person has when they become visible is to handle the complaint that they aren’t speaking well for the community, aren’t properly representing all of us.

There is only one answer to that challenge, and it’s the one all have to come to: I speak for myself and not for you.

That’s hard to hear for people who just want to see someone like them visible in society, who have craved that affirmation since they were tiny. I wanted to see someone speaking for me, I did.

But the problem is that I can’t demand anyone speak for me. I have to speak for myself. And the answer to anyone who thinks that I am not properly speaking for them is always to listen and see if there are any changes I can make, then to tell them the hard, nasty, unpleasant and difficult truth: If they want someone out there speaking for them, they have to get out there and speak for themselves.

The problem with community is that we often are asked to speak for the most damaged members rather than speak for the healthy ones. This means we can’t talk about healing, we have to talk about sickness, and boy, that always sets us up for failure.

In the trans-communities, one of the biggest sticks we have is to call someone an oppressor, just like That Big Freak, the one who is so full of internalized pain and self-loathing that they prefer to try to destroy others rather than succeed themselves. My trans-experience is very much tied into the idea that if I’m gonna look like that person, I’ll just pass, thanks. I know the scary trannies, and they shape my fears of what I look like in the mirror.

How much do we use the stick of being denied community to demand people do what we want? And how much is individual expression about having to bear the marks of that stick and learn to separate from others and their demands we stay sick like them. (And yes, Christine was often concerned about the stigmata marks she saw on my back.)

So I stay out, but when I saw one person I care about lashing out at others I care about, I felt the need to hold up a mirror.

You know what people do when they see a reflection of themselves they don’t like, one that doesn’t show them as they want to be seen? They smash at the mirror, saying that it’s just immoral to reflect what should stay hidden, be that our Eros, our failures, our vulnerability, our liminality, the pain and damage from years of stigma, or anything else. They say that we should respect people by only saying what they approve of, always speaking for them.

The local GL center’s newsletter used to be called community, but some earnest person changed it to Comm-Unity, demanding unity. I once had a public forum with a Black leader and asked him if his goal was to build strong Black voices or to build a strong Black voice. It was a question he hadn’t considered.

If trans is about anything, it is about valuing the indvidual’s discovered truth over assigned group values, about moving from compulsory roles to mature roles. And when community is used to try to silence voices that open questions, it becomes oppressive.

I’m in favor of people coming together, but I don’t think the responsibility for adaptation lies only with the indvidual, rather it lies with all the indviduals, facing challenges to their own identities.

Do we really want to force challenges out of community by making life so unpleasant that they will shut up and leave?

Or, more to the point, do we really think a community that does that, where the most toxic control the floor and silt up the stream will ever become mature?