This one’s for Lezlie.
The Six Responses: Conceal, Concede, Confront, Convert, Clown, Calm
Date: Mon 15 Jun 1998
Ok, here is a theory.
When someone looks at a transgender person funny, challenges them, there seem to be six possible models of response. Usually, they are used in combination, rather than just one single option.
1) Conceal: “I didn’t hear anything!”
This model uses the power of denial to ignore challenges, choosing ignorance. It’s very effective with people who like to live in their own world, their own closet, but has the consequences of not being open to anyone, to never really be open to connection or constructive comments. We ignore.
When people pass perfectly, or even just believe they do, they use concealment, ignoring the challenge by hiding, either real hiding or the belief they are hiding well.
Note that showing only the assigned gender is the most common form of concealing — we are sure we have hidden our transgender nature enough that nobody can guess we are not normative.
Our concealing may be conscious or unconscious — we may be deliberately hiding or just deliberately ignoring, but the truth is the same.
2) Concede: “I’m sorry.”
We concede our own moral authority to others. This model plays on the shame of transgender, on an innate sense of trying to fit in and be “appropriate.” It drives people back into the closet by keeping an eye on the walls that other people claim, keeping them down by letting others define the walls. We flee.
3) Confront: “Screw you! What are you looking at?”
This model is a confrontational model of independence, an “in your face” idea of how to put the challenge on other people. It builds walls by blaming other people, staying in a defensive posture couched as an offensive posture. By being offensive, it moves ground but does not create connection. We fight.
This is the technique people who use shock value use.
4) Convert: “If you just let me explain, then you will understand. What you say is debatable, and if I just prove you wrong, you will have to see things my way and accept me.”
We live in the loophole when we want to rationalize and justify our choices, to argue our point in a way that creates conversion, be that religious fervour, even pagan religions, or legalistic, a logical argument which gets trans though as a technicality.
5) Clown: “HaHa! Almost fooled you! Aren’t I wacky! I’m such a clown!”
This is the essence of drag queen armour, the notion that if I make them laugh first, I defuse the threat. “As long as they think we are crazy, we are safe.” It is a classic model of transgender, as buffoon or clown, a softening of the atavistic sense of potency that always comes from being beyond social limits, walking between worlds.
6) Calm: “Thank you for sharing, but I have another view.”
This attitude is the hardest, because it demands we not have a strong emotional response to people’s comments, that we unwire the buttons that are easier to cover up with denial, respond to by fleeing or by fighting. We are open to what other people are saying without taking it personally, confident enough in our own choices, our own moral authority, to be open to others.
This is the model that lets us connect by addressing other people’s fears without triggering our own, but it demands that we have addressed our own fears, come to our own answers and our own maturity.
There may be one more, a sort of nurturing kindness which has sympathy for the confused, but I think that may well be part of “thank you for sharing,” a kind of acceptance.