I believe that our stories shape our lives.
It’s not how the world is that defines our experience, it is how we understand the world which creates our reality. For example, Dr J’s mom just doesn’t remember the bad things, and that’s why she is such a Polyanna, a trait she passed on to her bright & intense daughter.
Our stories form the context of our understanding, provide the foundations that we cling to when we feel troubled. Joe Solmonese of HRC explained to the SCC crowd that the LGBT crowd thought that the challenge to the Hate Crimes bill would come down to our classic internalized question, “How queer is too queer?” trying to draw a line between protected expression and unprotected, but instead, they went to characterize how this bill might stifle their religious expression. “What if we cast these queers as sinners, then someone acts out against them? Wouldn’t we be liable just for calling queerness the sick perversion that it is?”
We may or may not die to defend money or property, but we will stand up to defend the stories that sustain us, as TBB proved when she felt Solmonese was unfairly smearing Roman Catholics, and challenged him. She needs to believe in her stories of the church, and often repeats her explanations of how, even with Rome’s history & continuing denials and a large conservative base, the Roman Catholic church supports people like her.
My role in the thinly spread transcommunities is to stand as the theologian. When many hear that word, they assume that I am defending Christian principles, or interpreting the laws.
That’s not me. I’m much more interested in the personal creation stories of transpeople, the way we create and use stories to oppress and liberate us, the way what we hold defines us. Those three key questions: “Where do we come from?” (or “How did we get this way?”), “Where do we go after here?” and “What should we be doing when we are here?” (or “What are our obligations in this world?”) define us.
In this, I’m much more interested in the work of Joseph Campbell, who by looking at comparative mythology seemed to find elements of continuous common human stories whose meaning exists almost universally, even if the symbols & metaphors to describe them change over geography & history.
I shared the story of one transsexual woman who has to leap to a new life with Jennifer Finney Boylan, telling her how the woman was conniving to appear that she was pushed rather than jumped, and Boylan just stared blankly at me. The idea of creating stories for sale, transgender as a marketing challenge, isn’t one she could enter at that moment, a moment when she was more interested in recreating the experience of palling around with girlfriends.
To me, though, this idea of stories as functional tools just ties in with my understanding of gender as a system of communication used to manage procreation & child rearing. We are trained in gender roles, and we communicate how we were trained, who we know ourselves to be, and what we desire in our expression. That’s one reason Dr. Jaye isn’t as clear about her smarts on her MySpace page; like Annie Savoy in Bull Durham, men will tolerate a great deal if they think it’s foreplay. Let them get hooked, and then they can learn more, a plan that I, without such a pretty package, have found hard to execute.
By the way, Boylan admitted in her session that she wishes she had waited to write and publish her biography, “She’s Not There,” now understanding it has the limits of so many rushed transsexual stories, even if it is the only best-selling one.
I believe in the power of stories. At SCC I watched the limits of our stories again, how they form the walls we use to act in the world, defending us and restricting us at the same time.
Since we can’t get our stories from conventional places, we need to pull them together from many sources, and that collage has challenges. One session at SCC on words we can use was limited to those who believe we live in a context of patriarchal oppression, that we are crushed by those who own class and race and gender, and that they need to change for us to be free. If you didn’t agree with that assumption — that lifemyth, that story — then you shouldn’t participate there.
The only way we can create shared language is to create shared metaphors, and that means creating shared stories. Dr. J and I can bond over the stories of our shared girlfriends, Carrie, Miranda (me!), Charlotte (her!) and Samantha (TBB, though she doesn’t know it), and through them (and the writers, producers & actresses who create them) we can talk about our views of being a woman in the world.
I came away from SCC with an understanding that I have to be more clear, explicit and accessible about my view of theology, of how we need to own our stories to own our lives.