This is an excellent summary of how news outlets are talking about transgender nowadays
Enough to make me sad, especially the bits about the “wrong body” narratives.
This is an excellent summary of how news outlets are talking about transgender nowadays
Enough to make me sad, especially the bits about the “wrong body” narratives.
Sarah, in response, says that what concerned her most about the women who talked about transwomen surrendering to vanity is how feirce — my word — the responses got. She wonders if we shouldn’t lighten up a bit.
I can think of many reasons why trannies are fierce:
For me, the mark of a mature tranny is the ability to respect ferocity in others, because when we know how to see and understand it in others, we can learn to shape and control it in ourselves.
I agree that way too many people in the world, transpeople included, act out of their own fears too much, trying to silence challenge rather than engage it. I always wanted a codicil to freedom of speech: the one thing you can’t do with it is use it to try to take away freedom of speech from others.
Of course, having people enact their own fears on you to try and silence you, well, that’s not really useful. It is easy to learn to become a bully by being bullied, a lifetime of stigma and silencing, of fear and falsehoods playing out in manipulating others into silence.
It’s my experience that our most toxic venom is saved for people who are like us, but are revealing bits that we cannot bear to see in ourselves yet. Those are the people we feel the need to silence much more than outsiders, who can easily be dismissed as just not understanding.
It’s the people who offer more understanding than we can yet tolerate, who touch places we have not yet healed for whom we usually reserve the total force of our wrath.
I just want people to get over their damnselves and open to others rather than trying to beat them into silence. It’s amazing how fierce and funny comments can help slice away the crap and leave the raw beauty exposed.
The fierce, raw, real beauty.
Sarah, in her new blog, writes about a woman who left a video on YouTube saying that she was heartbroken by how much her transwoman friends fell into vanity about their appearance.
I wrote a bit questioning if her heartbreak was because her friends betrayed her, or because they had to face a world that demanded certain looks, and if those transwomen failed, they paid a high price.
Yes; deeper is where she needs to go.
Was her heart broken by people who valued appearance more than she did, and therefore, dissapointed her, or was it broken by the pressures transwomen face about personal appearance in the world, the expectations to appear normative or be seen as a freak?
Her friends fell into vanity, which I take to mean concern about their appearance over other issues she believes are more valuable, you know, much like teen girls are vain because they have to both find their own expression and live under a magnifying glass where everyone feels that they have a right to judge.
That broke her heart. It would be nice, though, if that broken heart lead to a compassionate view of the challenges, rather than feeling to her ex-friends as just more judgment.
A young transwoman was asked about what surprised her most about her emergence into womanhood.
“Women compete!” she said. “I was amazed at how much women compete for boyfriends and status and everything else. I thought they were all nice and sweet, but when they get together, well, there’s so much competition!”
Men may fight over imagined slights, but women fight over practical things, competing for the most desirable thing. That’s one reason my friend Val helped guy friends by acting as if they were sexy & desirable, knowing that when women saw another woman wanting something, they knew it had value. There is a reason advertisers will jump through hoops to be featured on Oprah; if Oprah wants it it must be fabulous, great, and status giving.
As I break the expectations of gender, the one thing I know I will do is bring up other people’s distress about the expectations of gender placed on them. Everyone was pressured by the system of gender; that’s the way it works. They paid the price to fit in, and people who challenge that submission can be challenging, questioning the sacrifices people made to be normatively gendered, to be the copy that has no original, as Butler says.
For women, a big part of those expectations are expectations of beauty. Pretty is status. It’s where lots of angst is stored.
I have often heard women say “You look better than me!” believing that someone male bodied shouldn’t look so good.
My response is always the same: “Well, you are naturally beautiful; I have to work hard at it!”
This harkens back to Helena Rubenstein’s quote “There are no ugly women, only lazy ones.” And that, of course, throws the responsibility for looking good back on the woman who is surprised, which is usually not a responsibility they want to take.
When women feel challenged by me, I can often tell, even if I don’t have the acute sense that I might have if I went through high-school and college as a girl, being fully trained in women’s competitive combat manouveres.
When I hear that a woman is distressed about transwomen’s relationship to appearance in the world, I have to wonder if she has some issues about her own appearance. After all, when someone speaks up, especially to criticize, it usually tells you more about them than the object of their criticism.
We bring up the issues around gender, especially when we don’t cede our voice, our beauty and our power to the group of women, as women have been trained to do.
Claiming our own individual power, outside of group identity and outside of abjection — being the poor deformed tranny — challenges others to claim their own individual power, outside of group identity and outside of abjection.
And that can force them to bring upstuff.
There is a review in the NYT today of a new book by Joseph Ellis, AMERICAN CREATION: Triumphs and Tragedies at the Founding of the Republic. Ellis wants to speak about the ad-hoc and improvisational nature of the forming of the US
“What in retrospect has the look of a foreordained unfolding of God’s will was in reality an improvisational affair in which sheer chance, pure luck — both good and bad — and specific decisions made in the crucible of specific military and political crises determined the outcome.”
It’s amazing how stories read backwards make everything look foreordained, but as lived, they look chaotic and chancy. This is the problem of the classic trans biography, quickly written when one has finally become stabilized and needs to enshrine the correctness of the outcome by illuminating the path as obvious and the only one possible. It’s only when we get past that moment of bliss that we get back to the ambiguity of living a real trans life.
I think that the one thing I missed in this life is being more ad-hoc and improvisational. I am good on my feet, and I love being surprised by the viruosic quality of what comes out of me when I least expect it. I watch the Oprah and know I have a bit of that gift, to be in the moment, fluid & lucid, having an outline but making it up as I go along. Remember, when I was a kid, I wasn’t afraid I was trans: I was afraid that I was like Jonathan Winters.
Yet the one thing that I was trained not to trust is my instinct. After all, any instinct that calls a boy to wear a dress and respond like a woman, well, that’s an instinct that must be ill or evil, right? An instinct that must, must, must be stifled & hidden, right?
I’m getting a bit better, yes. The only person I have cut off is my sister’s friend who insisted on defining my sickness; up with that I will not put.
But I still have to filter so much, limit so much, edit so much, control so much that I feel cut off. My improvisational energy is cut down to a minimum, and that means I feel like I lose much of myself. Good calls with TBB are fun because I get to respond down a chain, always linking back, feeling power and grace come out of me.
There is so much to be said for trying lots and seeing what works, for the audience of engaged people with different viewpoints who can help separate good from bad in a way that often leads to excellence.
I miss that magic, I have missed that magic.
So it’s nice to know that even while fundamentalists read backwards to say that the US is a nice Christian country, foreordained by God, Ellis and others are talking about how crazy messes can make good stuff.
Even crazy messes like me.
“The young man’s eyes were on Eugenia, telling her that though she may be through with men, they would not be through with her.”
That quote is on the back of Banu Gibson’s My Romance CD, though without any source.
I know that my life would have been different if I looked different, different in a way that was attractive to men. It wouldn’t have changed my essentials, but I know it would have changed my behavior.
Imagine one of those classic “I hate my penis” MTF transsexuals getting a visit from a fairy godmother, feeling the magic, slipping their hand down to their crotch and feeling a vulva, moist vagina & labia and even a clitoris where their penis was. Then they look in the mirror and see that they still look like a male. They got what they said they wished for, replacement of their hated penis with perfect female genitalia, but without being seen as a female, does it really mean much?
Years ago, I wrote a poem called Look At Me, which attempts to convey the conflict between wanting to my heart to be seen, but not wanting to be seen as a freak whose insides have lead them astray, away from the expectations placed on their body.
Those expectations and projections placed on our bodies, by the men who were not yet through with Eugenia for example, well, they change you by changing the context you live in. I find it amusing that in the last week on our local trans list, one person has found me heinous for using statistics to challenge her beliefs about how transpeople are under attack — the statistics must be wrong, wrong, wrong, though she can’t show how — and another has decided my words are so seductive that I should have a profile to show my love — a profile like the profile she and so many crossdressers have to facilitate “hook-ups.” One hates me, one wants me, different projections of their own needs.
There is no way forward but forward. I cracked another tooth last night, and I can never go back to having it not cracked. From here on out, until something else happens, that is fact.
But still, all those missed whatevers in the past call to me. What if men had looked at me like they looked at Eugenia? How would my life be different? Heck, some MTF trannys have even created a whole narrative of their life as a woman born female, making up another history, and tried to live from that straightforward and fictionalized narrative rather than their own messy & twisted one. Of course, their narrative is limited to what makes sense; truth is always stranger than fiction because we expect fiction to make sense.
I know that one of the greatest joys to many transpeople assigned as male at birth is when women see them as another woman, and include them in their women’s games. It’s when we are looked at that way.
And crossdressers often seek places where they feel men are treating them as women, though usually as simplified women who have much less nuance than the raised women kind.
Not being looked at that way, well, it really defines much of a trans life. And being looked at as a freak, well, that defines much of the rest of it.
I expressed my views on fighting fear to a list where one person spoke strongly in favor of fear.
In “A Course In Miracles,” (ACIM) human motivations are simplifed to two. We either act from love or from fear. We act from love when we open up and do the right thing, regardless of the consequences, and we act from fear when we close up, and our ego tries to avoid loss or separation with attack or manipulation.
In ACIM, every moment is an opportunity for learning, and miracles occur when we transcend fear to approach situations with love rather than fear.
While I wouldn’t suggest judging “A Course In Miracles” from my tiny summary, I do know that love and fear are important to me. That is why it is so important to me to speak against fear whenever I can, rather than to play into the easy and imprisoning fear that can cripple people.
The two primary lessons from death are:
1) We are vulnerable people and we have to do everything we can to wall ourselves off from that which might hurt us
2) Death is invitable, so we better grab all the living we can while we are here.
The first, of course, is a lesson from fear, and the second is a lesson from love. Fear may tell us to lock kids in their room to try to keep them safe, while love might tell us to tell them we love them every morning, and then send them out to find & express their own love in this world, their own desire, their own possibilities, their own greatness.
We live in a society that venerates fear. That’s why, while I think we have to acknowledge and learn from death, it is so important that I fight that fear whenever I can. I know that this opens me up to those who those who believe the lessons are about fear and not love, about crucifixion and not resurrection. For many, fear is comfort, removing personal responsibility for acting with love and connection in the world, allowing blame to be placed on them, the evil ones, who are out to separate us in every moment.
To embrace the concept that in the end, our strength comes out of our defenselessness, that our power comes out of our openness & vulnerability, is not easy in a world where people have created fear to keep us small. But how do we take real power without connecting with others on a deep & intimate level?
When fear requires we believe that there is secret knowledge of oppression that keeps us small, that others are killing us, than that fear becomes consuming. And consuming fear keeps our love hidden, which in turn allows people to claim that we are not love, we are something to be feared.
I know that to be love, to be in love, to be loved, I have to come from love and not fear. And if I want people like me to be seen as lovable, well then I have to walk unafraid and show that we can come from love.
That’s way hard when people want to act out of their own fear against people like me, against me.
But is there any other choice?
Well, this marks two years since the start of this blog, and in those 730 days, I have left 673 posts, for an average of about 10 posts every 12 days.
And as people have noted, my posts usually have some heft to them, “winding roads that force the reader to focus,” as Marti Abernathy said. I am prone to taking people down the back road to come upon another vista which overlooks things we think are familiar, because my experience is that seeing things from a point of view different than the conventional often offers insight and learning.
“Let her talk, let her talk,” someone once said when I was being interrupted. “She will get to the point, just in a different way.”
I remember Wendy Parker telling me that Sandra Cole would her to read my old one page pieces. “The first time through they make no sense to me,” Wendy told me, “but Sandra thinks they are good so I read them again, and on the second pass, I see your discussion as obvious and insightful.”
Lovely Sarah Sands recently said that “so much” of my work is beautiful. I appreciate that feedback — I always appreciate engaged feedback — but I tend to believe that all of the work is beautiful, even the really unpleasant journeys. It may not be as well constructed or as fluidly written. may be a bit that is said better somewhere else, but I have to believe that there is an essential beauty in truth, or even in the attempt to reach for the truth, wherever it lies.
Gwyneth, always a joy on this blog, has talked about the way I use stories to evoke thought, to be “provocative” as Terry Murphy offered, which I take to mean provoking feelings & thought in readers.
I remember as a kid being fascinated with women who told stories, who turned their life into tales. I knew that was a turn that was also part of me, though, like so much of the ritual of woman, it was a talent I had to consciously develop, rather than one that was supported by the world from the start.
This blog is a tool I use to stay stable, to be present in the world with a strong voice even when I am invisible in all the many ways transpeople are made invisible in this culture. What I write here is about me, not you, an attempt to make my stories visible in a way that most transpeople cannot.
To me, the attitude to approach this blog is the same attitude I use when I meet other people, when I listen to trannys in the world: What are they trying to say here?
I know that we don’t see things as they are, we see them as they are (Anaïs Nin), and that figuring out what Callan is trying to say here isn’t as easy for others as it is for someone who thinks like Callan (and, by that, I mean as easy as it is for me.) I know that my opening up hasn’t been easy.
But staying open, vulnerable and soft never is.
I went on a missionary trip to Springfield, Massachusetts, to witness to Spanish-speaking families, mostly from Puerto Rico. They were very poor and lived in ramshackle apartment buildings near a shut-down textile mill. My partner was Eloy Cruz, a remarkable Cuban-American who pastored a small church in Brooklyn.
He always seemed to know exactly what to say and formed an instant intimacy with the people whose homes we entered. With the simplest words, he could capture their imaginations and souls.
As we prepared to say good-bye at the end of the week, I asked him about what made him so gentle but so effective as a Christian witness, and he was quite disconcerted. He finally said, “Pues, Nuestro Señor no puede hacer mucho con un hombre que es duro.” (Well, our Savior cannot do much with a man who is hard.) He noted that Christ Himself, although the Son of God, was always gentle, especially with those who were poor or weak. He went on to say that he always tried to follow a simple rule: “You only have to have two loves in your life—for God, and for the person in front of you at any particular time.”
—Jimmy Carter in Living Faith
Can our mother in the sky do much with someone who has gone hard? I heard him read this and thought of the vulnerability crisis among trans-leadership, how easy it is for others to hit the steel doors we have had to install in ourselves to live in a world of fierce & ferocious stigma.
To me, I think that the only way to not go hard is to be open to story, the symbols of story, the poetry of story, and the meaning of story, both of out stories and the stories of others. We need to be aware of what the world brings up in us, need to spin that out, rather than just keep it locked inside.
And that’s what this blog has helped me with, being visible not only to others but more than that, visible to myself. I don’t write here to justify or move, I write here to expose all the beauty inside, even the bits I have trouble believing contain beauty.
It’s still a lonely, lonely life, but being visible helps, and being affirmed in that visibility by those who engage me, well, that is a gift too.
I don’t know what happens next. But thanks to this blog, I am pretty clear on what happened in the last two years, at least when I “needledrop” on it.
Thanks to all who have stopped by, even those who have run away screaming. I hope that in some tiny way, well, I have provoked them, at least a little bit.
working on a table grace for today:
On this thanksgiving, let us give thanks for not only the staff of life — the bread, warmth, & health we are grateful for everyday — but also for the flavor of life — the tang, the passion, the joy and the delight that exist in the world.
It is important to be grateful for the sustenance that sustains subsistence, but vital to be grateful to the spark that gives us life, life that lets us grow, develop and be engaged & alive in every moment.
On this thanksgiving, let us celebrate the joys of life, honoring and affirming the desires and drives that keep us curious and keep us climbing towards greater heights, greater focus, greater energy, greater knowledge, greater relationship with creation, and greater exuberance in expressing and creating our own experience of life, and in sharing that exuberance of creation with others.
Let us celebrate the joys that those we love bring into the world, affirming and encouraging them to season every season by brining forth the gifts their creator placed inside of them.
Today, we give thanks not just for the necessities of life, but also for the possibilities of life, for our ability to create and to be better in every day. Thanks for a creator who gave us this spark, and thanks for people around us who turn that spark into tangible energy that lights the world with joy, exuberance and delight.
It is impossible to be a gay man or a lesbian without wanting to be part of the group. “An army of ex-lovers cannot fail.”
It is impossible to be a tranny without wanting to leave the group, to claim your own path.
And until lesbian and gay politico types understand that, they will never understand why the soothing techniques that work so well on gays and lesbians will not work on trannys, who are, by definition, their own hard-headed people.
“You spend your whole life looking for answers, because you think the next answer will change something, maybe make you a little less miserable.
“And you know that when you run out of questions, you don’t just run out of answers.
“You run out of hope.”
— Number 13 to House, M.D. , “You Don’t Want To Know,” Season 4, Episode 8
Oprah was in full bore huckster mode today, giving away thousands of dollars of “her favorite things” to Maconites who earned the honor by worshipping Oprah the most, watching her more than anyplace else.
Oprah always grates on me when she does the hooty inflections of a carnival barker, something she often does when she wants to punch something up. When she combines this with the entitlement of a privileged woman — “No one has ever bought just one thing at Target! It’s so cute you have to buy more!” — it gets right under my skin.
Of course, it gets under her audience’s skin too, as they turn into a mob, salivating, hooting and urinating at every new twist.
If Oprah knew she was a huckster, like strike-breaking Ellen DeGeneres knows, that’s one thing. But with Oprah, everything seems like a gift to the world, a celebration of the spirit of consumerism, a prayer to the desire for what other people don’t have but want.
It just gets to me, especially as I have to prepare dinner with her shrieking on.
I know part of it is just the sound of it. I hear the cadences and crescendos of the sacred pitch, and that’s enough to set me off, especially knowing that it is all both unconscious and manipulative, Oprah just wanting to stop the show, thrill the crowd, bring the excitement higher with no real thought about the implications of her rap.
Part of it is the separation of it. I was never one of the crowd of girls and never will be . The girls are bonded in consumer lust, and I am not one of them
And part of it is just the whole celebration of disposable income, of going over the top with gadgets, gimmicks and snobbishness. Hell, wrap it all in a few pieces of Hallmark “Red” paper and think you are helping AIDS in Africa, and it WON’T make it all right.
I know that money movement is important, that I need to affirm other’s desires, that the economy is the economy, that not everyone who wants to fill their life with machine-made stuff is evil. I bless their desires.
It’s their deliberate ignorance and rationalizations, though, that grate.
Tonight is Transgender Day Of Rememberance. I didn’t go to the local center for a number of reasons; there is work to do here, it’s a lot of work and stress to change in hiding (but not in secret), they are showing a pimpass film produced by Gloria Alred, most of the people will be young and shallow, just lots of reasons it didn’t seem worth the limited resources I have.
And when TBB called at 2:15 on Sunday wanting me to be an hour and a half away in an hour and forty-five minutes (4:00) to spend a half hour, well, that didn’t work either. Car, father’s paper, Sunday dinner in the oven, just too much.
But all those women shrieking with ecstatic delight at the expensive products they were being pimped, well, they gave me quite a headache I can’t even imagine a holiday like that, like anything really. I can’t and won’t buy into Oprah’s vision, and the other visions, well they dead.
On this transgender day of remembrance, I remember all those transpeople who lost their lives and who lost life to the fear of others, lost to the acting out and abuse that our stole life energy, that demanded our self-sabotage to keep us in the shadows.
I vow to hold the stories of those who loss to keep them alive, and to remind us to claim life while we can, for them and for us.
I know, and I know this for it has happened to me, that it is possible for one statement from me can queer the deal.
I have a queer mouth and a sharp tongue, the extensions of my heart and mind. I am a scalpel, a porcupine, a drug, a chainsaw and all the other metaphors I have used for my own brilliant & insightful queerness over the years.
It is the reverse Midas. I turn relationships into shit with one word, one touch of my tongue.
I don’t know how to be anyone else. I don’t know how to be less smart, less intense, less visceral, less emotional, less whatever.
I have tried to learn to modulate myself over the years. You can see in this blog some examples of where I have made my inner statement visible, followed by a crafted reply designed to carry that same truth with grace, with acknowledgment & assent to others, with self deprecation, with gentled phrase. I know how to do it.
But damnit, I hate the fact that everything has to go out filtered, that no one comes to meet me, that I have to mitigate myself to try to minimize the fear I inspire in others.
I know that I’m not the only person like this. I watch the yada-yada talking heads my father fills this room with blabber about Hillary as if she is only a manipulator, or only a bitch. I know she is both of those things and much, much more, a very real woman who was always a bit too damn smart for her own good. “Who the hell would want to be married to someone like her?” they blabber. Luckily for the country, Bill did.
I hate it when I feel someone shrink back when sliced by me. It’s never intentional anymore, never. I just don’t do that, and haven’t done it for years. But it does happen, and then I get sliced back’ “You will push away everyone who tries to help.”
Kids need love the most when they are the least loveable. That’s true of everyone, really. When we hurt, when we bleed, when we are in our own filth, when we have been beaten, when we are raging, well, that is when we need, need, need, need someone to enter our world and touch our heart. If the demand is that we clean up, act well and meet expectations to get affection & support, how will we ever feel loved for who we are and not how we have to act?
I learned to say everything fast because I don’t believe anyone will stick around to hear more. I know that just makes people crazier, but in the line between getting them to fall for you first or being upfront to clear out the deadwood fast, well, I don’t really have much of a choice.
I queer the deal. I know that. And it happens not out of any malice, but rather when I slip up and forget to hide, forget to keep my intensity and smarts and let my feelings and knowledge out.
And since I see no way not to be, well, queer, I also see no way to change this.
Maybe, just maybe, there is magic in being more out, so I am more centered and who I am is more visible. People will see and understand me in context, and I won’t seem so, so, whatever. That is a tiny shard of hope that I cling to, but truth be told, I don’t hold much faith in the idea.
I tell TBB that I have to remember to smile, and she says “You have to remember?” Would that change?
So I leave myself here, dried up upon some altered electrons, and fear that if they see what I say, well, it won’t make me more endearing, more fascinating, more intriguing, more loveable, that instead, it will just queer the deal.
And that, well, keeps me even more queer.
So I spent a few hours pushing my mother through the mall today, after her ortho appointment (“Just keep it in the boot and come back in a month.”
She didn’t like the women’s department in JC Penny. Too much sparkly stuff.
“Well this is the season for sparkles,” I said. “Don’t you want to shine in the long dark nights, keeping light and hope in the world?”
“No,” she plainly answered.
Ah, yes, well, that is one more place where she and I differ.
Got to see the documentary about the Cockettes today, the legendary troupe of artistes who sparkled, shine and shimmied past gender in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. Even their audience was in the act, open and playful.
So much to not like there; the anarchy, the drugs, the over the top self-indulgence.
But so much to love there, too; the celebration, the joy, the exuberance, the play, the Eros, the love.
I’m not in love with much of the aesthetic, but then again, I identify with Fayette, one of the born female members, much more than with the gay guys. She was just going for the glamour, past the expectations of being just a woman.
And now the holidays start, with a trek into the North Country for a thanksgiving celebration held around my brother’s daughter.
Will there be celebration, joy, exuberance, play, Eros & love as part of the celebration? Judging from long experience, I would say not.
You know, I often wonder if the last pastor who went chill on me did so because I said I wanted porn star lips. If so, that’s hilarious, because I haven’t had relations with anyone in a decade now, and before then my love love was so sparse to be negligible.
Maybe it would have been better to say I want Univision lips, like those bold and dramatic latin performers who smoke up the screen no matter what they do.
In any case, I know it wouldn’t have been useful to talk about the Cockettes, so many gone now after the scourge of AIDS in the 1980s, even though each and every one of them understood the spiritual power of a set of false lashes, understood that sparkling may be the best way we can celebrate the gifts we got from our creator.
It’s another holiday season where I feel the need to keep my light in a sack, or more accurately in jeans, polo shirt & fleece quarter-zip.
The season that celebrates the birth of light in the darkness will be dark for ne,
And just the thought of that makes me sad.
Hard to sparkle when you are sad.
a list post:
Is trans about rejecting the gender assigned to us, or is it about claiming the gender we know ourselves to be?
Is trans about casting off the shackles of expectation & responsibility placed on us, or is it about creating new expectations and responsibilities that more match our nature?
Is trans about concealing our history & biology, or is trans about revealing our essence and our power?
If trans is about rejecting gender, then the claim that there is no real difference between men and women is sensible.
The problem with that claim, it seems to me, is that the vast majority of transpeople revel in the symbols & language of gender. Few of us try to nullify ourselves, becoming like Julia Sweeny’s “It’s Pat” (or her friend Chris). Instead, we celebrate gender, even when we mix what might appear to be contradictory gender symbols in genderfuck.
For those who are firmly fixed in a gender role, like being a “heterosexual crossdresser” or a gay man, then, yes, their experience of trans may well be just casting off manhood on a Saturday night, with no intention of claiming womanhood.
For those who don’t want to slip out of role, like people born female who do not want to be seen as an oppressor, as a man, then yes, their experience of trans may well just be claiming masculine gender symbols with no intention of claiming manhood.
Still, these people who don’t want to claim use the rich symbology, the rich language of gender to express how they are not simply man or not simply woman in this moment.
Kate Bornstein said “I was man, I was not-man, I was woman, I am not-woman.” This is her journey, claiming then rejecting, knowing that it is impossible to be not-man unless you were man, impossible to be not-woman unless you were woman. You can’t push against something unless that something exists, so we need gender to have transgender. Many have tried to find language out of gender, language that doesn’t start with the need for a definition of gender to express what we call transgender, but I am not aware of any who have succeeded in this quest.
For the language of gender to be potent, there have to be differences between gender roles, be that between man and woman in a bifurcated heterosexist culture, or between a range of roles in a more organic culture. And those roles have to come with expectations and obligations to the tribe in order to be part of the circle.
I like gender and gender differences, because I think they allow us to find and fill our potential as unique humans, both in being able to claim them and to reject them to express and claim who we are in the world.
I’m glad to see people going to Deborah Tannen and others to understand how gender differences can be seen in this culture. That was an important part of my development too, as I moved through rejecting manhood, to claiming womanhood, and then to moving beyond that too.
But this is my question for you: Is your trans expression about rejecting who they told you you had to be, about saying “No! I’m not like that!” or is it about claiming who you do know yourself to be, about saying “Yes. This is who I am”?
My answer to that question has changed over my two and a half decades of exposure, of being more and more out, but asking myself that question has always been key.
The discussion I triggered is still going on the local list.
They still want to minimize the differences between men and women, to say there is no essential difference. (Remember, I say there is no fundamental difference, but there are essential differences.)
But one of them has pulled out a 1993 Deborah Tannen essay from the NYT that has been copied (and title changed) by a professor.
If they are finding Tannen, and responding to her as something new and insightful, well, then I have to let them go and do the work.
One of my favourite stories from Tannen is when she reviews a tape of a conversation between boys that she had dismissed because they didn’t look like they were being intimate, and listens to the content. She realizes how powerful the conversation is, and has to rethink what she expects of intimacy.
Tannen does very well talk about essential differences, even while honoring fundamental similarities.
But this whole thing just reminds me why I am such a bad leader inside the community. People grow, change and heal in their own time, not in mine. They have to do their own work.
The answer to this comes from an old management textbook. People respect those who can talk outside. It’s not talking to transpeople that is important to me, it is talking to the world about trans. And if the world listens, well, then transpeople need to listen too. It’s the external response that gives credibility, the only power checking tool that works.
It’s the same premise as “no one is a star in their hometown.” To make it, a band has to make it somewhere bigger, then come back and get the acclaim.
May they take the walk I have taken with strength and verve.
And, I suppose, even though it is hard for me to say, may I take the further walk I need to take with strength and verve, too.
I’ll say it again.
I am in favor of gender.
I like a system that controls reproduction & child rearing, because I think the fruits of fucking deserve to be cared for, helped to grow into healthy adults.
I like a system that lets me express who I know myself to be with a wide range of gendered symbols, from neckties to high heels. Communication is good, and hot.
I am, however, against compulsory, heterosexist gender, which assigns a binary role to you based solely on your reproductive organs and not on the contents of your heart & soul.
I like gender, the ability to know that we are like ice-cream; all fundamentally the same, made out of the same stuff, but essentially different, with our own unique flavor. This society often presses us to be the same on the outside and hide our differences, but that seems to miss two keys, the deep connection at our core, and the powerful & unique individual gifts we can bring to our community. Diversity is valuable.
Problem is that when, inside the “gender community” I suggest that gender is good, that gender differences create complimentary roles that create a tapestry of caring, I am most often shouted down. People want to tell me that gender is essentially oppressive and we need to just throw it all out in the cause of freedom.
I believe there is valuable purpose to the system of gender, and while it can be misused and abused, it offers benefits communities need and like. We need families and villages to form the circles that care for each other,
This argument doesn’t hold much weight, though, for people who are still suffering under separations, who just want to claim their own freedom without reinventing themselves. They want freedom without responsibility, which isn’t really a good way to build communities. This is often the plaint of partners, who feel shoved with more responsibility as their transpartner searches for more freedom.
I guess this is one area in which I have a bit of agreement with the “women born transsexual” people, who don’t want gender demolished, and don’t enjoy being lumped in with those who do. They want separation, which is hard.
(As a parenthetical aside, I note that Helen Boyd was asked to pass judgement on an oddball tranny, judgment on on “defending the children”, being handed the challenge all of us face when we are asked to defend or decry a bit of extreme behavior. Do we stand up for freedom even if we find the act distasteful, or do we try to draw lines about what is not right? Gwen & I used to collect stories of people who committed crimes while crossdressed; what is the position on that?)
I’m in favor of gender, with the same limit I have on all systems and behaviors; it has to be consensual and not forced.
That opinion, however, is often not well respected in the “gender community,” especially by those who can’t even give a definition of what gender is, beyond their own internal sense of self or their radical view of women’s studies. They just want freedom, whatever rationalizations are required to justify their own choices.
I think it’s sad that when someone is in a trans-space and says that they like gender, that they want to assimilate in a gender role, that they are attacked for having that desire. It’s nasty, though, when they are attacked because their desires challenge the rationalizations of those who feel the need to find a way to deny responsibility to justify their own choices.
I like and respect diversity. And a world where everything is pulled down to some kind of bland androgyny, where gender expression isn’t connected to meaning, well, that seems creepy to me.
Especially when enforced by people who just want to say no, and not yes to building community.
I just got called misogynistic on a crossdreser list because I responded to someone who wrestles as a man-in-a-dress using a woman’s name who said “Who said you can’t be tough wearing a dress?” by saying that I have seen lots of men who get even tougher when wearing a dress to play against their outfit.
I said that I valued those who play into the outfit, allowing themselves to be vulnerable and pretty.
That view, according to a poster, just valued the over-it archetype of the hyper-femme crossdresser or transwoman, and was misogynistic.
I was trying to value what I experience as the core of womanhood, valuing the exposure of intimacy and the attempt to reveal inner beauty, and I got slapped as being “against women.”
It’s my experience that crossdressers don’t really like women, because women challenge their appropriation of the symbols of womanhood while they dismiss the meaning of those symbols. I think that crossdressers do that because they need to hold fast to the notion that the symbols they claim for themselves do not express any meaning that might challenge their status as real men.
And it is also my experience that men tend to like to shout down challengers, even with the ironic twist of shouting down women who defend womanhood by calling them misogynistic.
After all, isn’t challenging the idea that a woman can be just like a man anti-woman?
The poster ended by echoing my line that I was over the comedy of guys-in-dresses by saying that they were over people who were vulnerable and pretty.
That, well, that sounded pretty misogynistic to me.
Is there really much doubt of why women-identified people leave trans space? When tough men challenge those who value the womanhood whose symbols crossdressers claim, then there is no space left for valuing the meaning women hold in their lives.
It’s just, well, misogynistic.
Portia de Rossi is doing what she considers to be a breakthrough role on Nip/Tuck this season. She’s playing a lesbian.
Now, of course, she is a lesbian. Partnered with Ellen DeGeneres and all. But she thinks she is finally ready to stop passing as het on-screen, now, years in.
I saw Ms. de Rossi on Ally McBeal years ago and something twigged instantly. I could tell she wasn’t just a straight girl. Nora Yates of ESPA says that her gaydar isn’t as good as she would like. She doesn’t always pick out available lesbians, but femmes like her? They pop instantaneously. She knew I was a femme by the way I sat in my skirt and boots.
This has always been one of my challenges. I don’t just identify as a straight woman who is moved by hot men, I realized that I am a femme lesbian and always have been.
If femmes feel they have to be able to pass as straight girls, then what do I have to do? Pass as female, then be femme, then pass as straight? Oy! What a twist!
Femme women, well, they aren’t at all men, but they are ballsy. I knew one green-haired femme who kept a special denim maxi-skirt to wear while working under the car. The better to wipe greasy wrenches, do you see?
Problem is that a transsexual woman who is ballsy, well, that can easily be read as something manly. Not correct, of course — I am much more powerful as a femme woman than I ever was as a neutered man — but still a challenge.
I envy transwomen who love men. It makes things easier for them. I remember being in The MotherLode and a gal trying to help, explaining that if a man bought me a drink all they got was the “Courtesy Ten,” ten minutes of attention and chat. When I said I was interested, she asked me if I liked girls, and I said yes.
“Oooh, I’m so sorry,” she said to me with noticeable pity.
She was right. I may understand men, may like them, and men may know I get their challenges, but men don’t really light my flame. They don’t make me melt.
And that changes how I stand in the world as a woman.
Double Queer, as I have said before.
Well, anyway, I wish Ms. Di Rossi the best on shedding her ingenue image, the one where people projected their own desires onto her, and actually being visible in her more powerful, more complex and more complicated womanhood.
Hell, I wish myself the best in the same thing, more powerful, more complex and more complicated womanhood.
“Yeah,” TBB said to me. “Being big is the only thing that works for me. But just because I’m big doesn’t mean I can’t be uhhh…..”
“Graceful?” I suggested.
“Graceful,” she agreed. “You would have been so proud of me. We were taking down a fence and I deliberately went back to the truck, got a notepad and sketched the parts before taking it down. When we were through, someone asked ‘How do we get this back together?’ I pulled out my sketch and asked ‘Would this help?’ They were thrilled.
“Ten years and I finally learned how to just lay back some and be graceful. I’m learning. Dr. J took me to see her boat, and my old merchant marine training started to kick in, but I realized that was who I was, not who I am. I just told her ‘This is my old life,” and laid back. She was cool with that.
“Besides,” she continued, “I told her that she should just sell this boat and get a new one that doesn’t need the upkeep she doesn’t have time for anymore.”
“Sounds like a sensible woman answer to me,” I agreed.
“Dr J has such a straightforward view, not looking around. It will be challenging for her to be happy with a man,” TBB said.
“Reminds me of that line Nia Vardalos used in My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” I said “Yes, the man is the head of the household, but the woman is the neck. The head looks where the neck wants it to.”
TBB laughed. “Dr J just doesn’t do that wiggle, that looking around, all that checking out how people are and what the options may be.
“But I am doing more of it,” she announced.
“Yes. You have moved away from manview, and you are finding ways to take power as a woman. Gosh, that was the first thing I ever said to you and Holly and Renee Chevalier, that first morning of my first SCC. ‘Men and women take power differently in the world. How do you shift your power?'”
“I’m learning,” she said.
“After all, it’s the only thing that lets me be both big and graceful at the same time.”