It intrigues me that those who try to speak for invisible transpeople often seem to make visible transpeople invisible.
When real narratives are shoved into theoretical constructs, real stories shoved into pigeon holes, the loser is more often the narrative rather than the belief structure.
I suppose this happens because narratives are messy, ambiguous and human while belief structures are clean, edited and designed to be strong.
As I sat in a room full of college students, I was reminded of how much of life remains invisible to them. The only way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time, and they are biting as fast as they can, working through their needs and process. Maybe it is no wonder then that they like the theoretical constructs; being young, they don’t yet have their own wider context to create their own deeper understanding.
Of course, when I look at them I can’t help but remember how much shit I was buried under at their age. Sure, I may have had other contexts — I was the one who organized support for the scared gay guy in my dorm who wanted to kill himself — but I had no language, no support, no structures that could help me find my own expression. I was buried under the challenge of negotiating my desires and my nature, and it took another twenty years to really start the process of digging out, and twenty after that to get to where I am.
I was given some notes on my comments on the conference; a note about the fact there was at least one transwoman who chose to stay invisible in a session, a note that it was improper to mention the name of a transman who is out on web pages he is responsible for, a note that not knowing and not saying the depth and duration of an ally’s work to educate on trans was “stinging” to them.
What I wasn’t given, though, was any engagement of my content, my open offerings of my feelings and my ideas as offered here. Those, I suspect, fell into the “too-hard pile.”
That means, of course, that it feels like my own exposure, while affirmed in concept — “thanks for the work you do” — was made invisible in practice, unable to be engaged because no one had the context for it.
There was significant chat about how queers change visibility as we walk through worlds; here we may be seen as an old white person, there as a queer, here as a woman, there as a tranny and so on. We are surfaced by the context and limits of the belief structures others hold to understand the world, our own complex narrative made invisible by the limits of their vision and their willingness to see beyond.
I am smart and well spoken and I work really hard to be mature and graceful in the world. The tagline of this blog, however, is and has always been “The Loneliness Of A Long-Lost Tranny.” I will tell you that, well, no matter how much I make connections, my sense of loneliness and my sense of being lost don’t go away. There is always someone to remind me how weird I am, and how my presence & expression make them uncomfortable. As I said to a butch woman at the conference, I find very few people who are dreaming of the day when they can hook up with a big, bright mature transwoman who can read them out. Very few.
The limits of visibility will always be the limits of vision, the limits of our own vision and the limits of the vision of the people around us. And when our allies have trouble engaging us, rather offering what feels like lip service rather than engagement and being stung by the way we see their offerings, well, that’s hard. It’s easy to be angry at an enemy, but when we feel we are made invisible by kind hearted people who want to be our allies, well, a double bind there.
Two notes: Always tell transpeople, especially transwomen, that they look great. They have never heard it enough in their splintered lives. And when a transwoman says that a gay man assumed she was in drag at a public event, have the courtesy to gasp at how much that must have hurt her.
I know why I am invisible, and I know why I often work to be invisible so people won’t be challenged and discomforted in their own space. Visibility requires work on the viewer’s part, and after half a century, I know very well how hard that work is.
But I won’t tell you that exposing yourself and then being made invisible by the limits of other’s sight ever feels good.