The Six Responses: Conceal, Concede, Confront, Convert, Clown, Calm

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.

Expediency, Integrity

I have been listening to Stephen Ambrose’s Nothing Like It In The World, a history of the building of the US Transcontinental Railroad.  We are deep into the race now, the Central Pacific building furiously from Nevada and the Union Pacific building furiously from Wyoming, both trying to claim as much track in Utah as possible.

Ambrose relates the story of Strowbridge having to fire a man off the CP because he misloaded one train, even after years of good work.  It did scare people, did motivate them, and the man was rehired after a month, but Strow felt bad about what he had to do in the name of expediency in the heat of the battle.

It’s easy to rationalize, justify or even not question the call to expediency in battle.  I suspect that is why this president likes being a war president so much he started his own elective war. The problem is that today, the forces of business like to promulgate the notion that we are always at war, that there is always a fight to be made, that expediency — the end justifying the means — can always be demanded.

I know that this is the experience of many transpeople.  We feel that from an early age the world is at war with us, trying to destroy our own nature.  It’s an asymmetric war, parents and school and peers all ganging up on us, so we learn to be secretive with our plans and clever with our tactics, keeping our heart hidden and protected at all costs.  We have limited resources, so they have to be used powerfully, seducing some others with what they want to hear, and sacking the ones that will not be seduced.

What do we lose when we commit to the expedience of stories and ploys that work in the moment, that go though the weak spots, manipulating others?

It’s my sense that the cost of a commitment to the expedient is a loss of our own integrity.  We can no longer stand up for what is right, moral, balanced and proper if we only care about what is effective, quick, cheap and expediant. 

Where, in this fast, furious and thin world do we have the chance to be supported in our integrity, our standing for truth & the golden rule, our own attempts at integration?  I know that my mother has told me in the past that my problem was that I wasn’t compartmentalized enough, that I didn’t have enough sincere faces.   As someone who has been committed to integrity — heck, I was product manager for an integrated software package — I knew that wasn’t a choice I could make.

The problem, though, is that while I won’t tell a yarn, slip on a face, or lie to placate someone, I also know that the truth may be a little too complicated, or may not be what they want to hear.  That means that my choice for expediency is silence.  I just keep my head down and shut up.

It’s not enough, of course.   Others around me often tell me that I have to fight harder, just do what is required, be who is required, say what I know others want to hear.   I just shut up more, just die a bit more.

This struggle between integrity and expediency is a defining one in my life, a defining one in a world that wants to break queers, and a defining one in a modern world where relationships are fleeting and integrity is not always highly valued.

I need to be able to speak up, from an integrated and integral perspective, with truth and integrity, and not just shut up and stay hidden for the comfort of others.

But damn, that doesn’t feel expedient — or supported — at all.