Unanswered Mail

I sent this over a month ago, filling a request for details from one who said they hoped to open a correspondence, and haven’t yet gotten an answer.

I’ll file it here for reference.

Conscious gender always involves conscious performance of gender.  It is amazing how on What Not To Wear,a week in NYC” with a team of stylists and TV producers can remind women that performance is power, especially when that performance is centered in a deep self knowledge.

I know Aryn from her exhibition in Troy with Ethan Bach, and from the local list.  I suspect I was responding to some obligation to “represent,”  as they would tell blacks in the 1950’s and 1960s.

The whole go-around with Jessica about how she feels she was creating space for invisible transpeople reminded me that she was also creating space for transpeople to be invisible.

The people at St. Rose Speech Therapy thought I would be a good leader for  some young transwomen they have there.  I told them that they had missed the point; I am exactly what these young transwomen who are working to have a “female voice” don’t want to be, a big visible tranny.

I really get that dream; I went to bed every night wanting to be a girl too.  I just had to get to the point where I came to grips with two facts.

First, my body will never be female no matter how much I want it to be, and while I have gotten my “passing distance” down to very close, it can never be never read.

Second, the attempt to try to pass has a cost too, in feeling failure when I am read, and in requiring me to surrender or at least heavily filter my history and my experiences, surrendering my voice.

I know why transwomen dream of being invisible, know why so many transmen end up “in the woodwork.”    I just don’t believe that it makes the world better for more individual expression.  I won’t out people, of course, but neither will I speak for trans as something that we should hide to fit in polite society and get what we need.

I noted to Melissa that I am “double queer,” being a transwoman and a lesbian, and she noted that with me also being a femme, she sees me as “triple queer.”  Flip, flip, flip.

You ask why I think that starting to explain trans with lists of words is counterproductive.

To me, it goes back to that Jamison Green notion that rather than thinking of trans as a label like gay or lesbian, it is better to think of it as identifying people who are on a journey.

I don’t think anyone wants to be trans, dreams of being a transperson as a kid.  Instead we dream of the kind of person we want to be — I remember a prof who decided he wanted to be a fey English professor and became one — or the adventures we want to have.

Transpeople transition in a transitive state, transgressing gender norms in a process of transformation which transports them through their own journey.  We aren’t our current position, we are humans as Vonnegut’s Trafalmadorians see us, with a dimension of time, a snake with a baby at one end and an old person at the other.

I know some are seeking to speak this with a rejection of gender, to become genderblind, but I also know almost no one who wants to be ungendered.  To me the anger seems to be more about compulsory gender, bridling at the idea that we have to be limited by the expectations placed on our biology and history.

Transpeople move or have moved through gender.  For some, they want that to be a one way process, short and sweet, moving from box to box, but for many of us when we get unhooked we become queer, claiming personal identity beyond labels.

Those labels are functional to us and often represent not who we are at center, but where we are now anchored.  Certainly our university years are a chance for growth and exploration, and who we are today may not be who we are next year.  When I look at those anchor points, those labels, I am much more interested in why we grab them or why we assign them to others than I am about how they represent a useful way to categorize people.  In many ways those labels just want to classify today’s performance of gender rather than getting to any deep and substantial essence.

The handout I found most powerful is page 28, which speaks trans experience rather than categorizes or enjoins.  I’m sure Jessica could have found other pieces of trans narrative, poetry or prose, video or audio, that also opens the heart, but instead it seems she believes (as she said) that administrators respond to bulleted lists and that’s what she included, even though (as she also said) she finds broad strategic plans useless.

I have known a lot of transpeople over the years, and in the end I haven’t found trying to fit them into a taxonomy useful.

To me, it just seems to continue the fallacy we have about sex /gender, that dividing people by sex/gender is always useful rather than just being always easy or always conventional.

In the old days when I did such lectures I would note that while we can freeze dry statistics like “most men (males!) are taller than most women (females!)” and even say that males average 5′ 9″ and females average 5′ 6″ (or whatever), when we try to rehehydrate that data to tell us about an individual it tells us nothing.   If you know what birth sex someone is, do you know how tall they are?  You do not.

In fact, virtually every study trying to quantify “sex differences” ends up with a statement like “The variation between two members of the same sex may be greater than the variation between the norms of the sexes.”   That just means that one female may be 4′ 10 while another is 6′ 1″.

Still, that doesn’t stop us trying to cut data by sex and claim that is meaningful, even meaningful to understanding individuals.  But If I tell you someone was born with a penis, what can you tell me about them from statistics?  How tall are they?  Who do they love?  Do they enjoy sports or opera or both?  What can you tell me?

I’m just ranting now.  I know you are a sociologist, and sociology holds that groupings and statistics are valuable tools to help us understand humans and to help inform public policy about them.

It’s just that my experience with trans leads me to valuing the journey of a human life, the poetry rather than the prose, the way we synthesize and show ourselves, using all the bits we can grab, from knowing who we are, to fashion trends, to expectations of our race and class, to social power cues and all.  It all creates the performance, and the performance is who we are now, not who we are.

If I was doing an intro, I’d do a collection of narratives. Personally, I do this by shifting and by quotes, the kind of power Kate Bornstein caught you with when she expressed the trans experience through performance before others tried to quantify that experience, that role or those people in another way.

Teach it, and through teaching it you will learn it.  You a smart guy.

Callie