AssImIlation

“I met someone who is the complete antithesis of you,” TBB told me on while leaving Thanksgiving Home.

“They just want to be normal.  Normal, normal, normal,” she continued.  “And they spent the evening ragging on people who they think don’t come up to standards, including one transwoman who they were calling by their given name.”

“Rude,”  I replied.  “Do not do unto others what would be hateful to you.  It seems they missed the golden rule.”

One of the things I hate about “the interlocking communities around transgender” is how much it is our adolescents who become the face of trans.  By definition, adolescent behavior is not mature behavior, maturity doesn’t need to belittle others to make itself feel bigger.

Gwyneth asks about the expression of womanhood.   I do, absolutely do, believe that expression and maturity go hand in hand.  We have to express who we are to own it, have to express who we are to knock off the edges of our own imaginings and find our own truth.

One of the biggest challenges that other people have with me is that I believe that expression contains meaning.  It may not be the meaning we thought that we were choosing to express, not the meaning that matches our rationalizations, but there is meaning there.

Many people have trouble with the idea that even our lies have meaning because they want to believe that the communicate only out of expediency, only to manipulate others so they can achieve a goal, and not because they are expressing their own beliefs, understandings and desires.

They don’t want me to take their words and choices to have meaning, rather they want me to respond to their words as programming to get me to do their bidding.  It’s a real pain in the ass when I analyze their symbols for meaning about them rather than just accept their will.

We lie to tell the truth, act “as-if,”  express our possibilities until they become us.  That is the process of becoming; we never are what we intend to be, but what we intend to be reveals us, and the process of working to substantiate those claims shapes us into who we become.

The difference between that tranny working to be “normal” and TBB is that TBB isn’t working to claim, rather she is working to become.   TBB isn’t just claiming normal, she is working the path of assimilation: How can she be one of the crowd while also being herself?

My knowledge of myself is in my knowledge of my changing choices.  If I had one thing to say to my younger self it would be this: Trust the truths inside of you, and trust that if you are open and responsive as you express those truths, you will find a place of authenticity.

I was terrified of my truths, so I chose against them rather than with them.   I fought them at every turn, trying to make the choices of a man, and working against my nature sabotaged and destroyed me.

My big breakthrough was when I finally owned my womanhood enough that other women heard me as speaking woman.  Crossdressers didn’t hear it, because they were pretending to speak woman as the Muppet’s Swedish Chef pretends to speak Swedish, and they assumed I was doing the same.  But when Shelia Kirk’s born female partner sat through a meeting with me and Melissa Sherill Lynn and told me “I love that you can say ‘fuck you’ in so many nice ways!” I knew I was onto it.

That continues.  When Jendi Rieter hears echoes of her own struggle in me, surprised to hear it from someone born male, or when someone who knows me as a woman sees me in boy clothes and gets how ill fitting the outfit is, I know that I have reached some kind of assimilation, some kind of truth.

I want to tell my truth, and I have worked hard to find it.  And the post Gwyneth commented on was about how hard it is when other people’s assumptions erase my truth.  Yes, as a woman, clothes are important to me, important as expression.  I have looked at one dress five times in the last few weeks, a rayon/spandex knee length black dress from J. Jill that is still $30 in my local outlet.  That dress calls to me, flowing, well cut and clerical.    I wait for the markdown because I know that even if I buy it now I have no place to wear it, no audience who will see it and understand my choice, understand how my choice of that dress fits into the other choices I make in expressing who I am.

This is a key challenge of being invisible to my self-absorbed parents; I feel destroyed.

I have no doubt that womanhood is discovered in the expression of womanhood and the reponse to reactions to one’s own expression.  Girls learn to be women by trying womanly things and getting feedback to shape and hone those expressions.   I call that process assimilation.

For many transwomen, though, I find that expression gets in the way of reactions.  The clothes become like armor, and we bull our way through any negative reaction, rather than being open and vulnerable enough to engage, respond and change.   That is the trap I did not want to fall into.

You can’t be a woman unless you can express yourself as a woman and have that expression affirmed by other women.  Women own womanhood.    It is a real challenge to walk between the fundamentalist women who reject anyone born male as not woman and the women who are willing to judge others on what they express, but that is the path that leads to connection for me.

I have seen transwomen who are not responsive to other women, who hold their own manly choices behind their expression, and, frankly, I don’t find that pretty.  The worst way to express gender is to tell someone who we are.  The best way is to show people who we are, and we can only do that when we have some mastery of our own expression, mastery that comes with making expressions getting feedback and then reshaping those expressions.

My womanhood is in my choices, not my assertions.  And when other women experience those choices in a way that resonates with their own experience of being a woman, well, that’s good, at least to me.

The experience of being human is prose and is prosaic; we all have the same needs.  The experience of living in gender is poetry and poetic; we have our own approach to things.  I remember a femme friend who had a special denim maxi skirt for working under the car; all the better to wipe greasy tools.  It wasn’t repairing cars that marked her as femme, it was the way she approached those repairs.

There is no doubt that for me, writing is my primary form of expression.  That doesn’t mean I don’t have mastery of dressing myself, or that I don’t love the symbols of dressing as much as I love language.  I agree with that Kentucky woman on “Throwdown With Bobby Flay” that “Any day you get to wear false eyelashes is a good day!”

It’s just that I, like many other women, have limitations that hinder me from that kind of broad expression.  The other women might be physically disabled, may be of size, may have limited means, may be in tough situations, or whatever, but our challenges are similar.  A farm wife may spend most of her life in boots and overalls, but that doesn’t mean she isn’t a woman.  She needs to have some mastery of expression with dress, sure, but not the same level of mastery that a Manhattan socialite needs.

I believe in gender as a system of communication, but then, as I said, I believe in humanity as a system of communication.   We are always telling who we are, even as we may think we are trying to hide it.   The one thing I want to people to know about transpeople is that we are working to tell the truth about ourselves, however twisted that seems.

It’s just when we come to an understanding of ourselves as like others, as sharing with others, and they see themselves in us that we begin to have a grouped identity.

The primary duality is between being tame enough to be a member of the group and wild enough to be our own unique person.  That is the challenge every human has.

Where does womanhood inhere?

In here.

2 thoughts on “AssImIlation”

  1. Sadly, we biological women police each other’s authentic femininity all the time. In other words, two X chromosomes are no guarantee of acceptance. I’m sure the same is true among men. Transphobia comes out of fear that we have failed to “perform” our gender correctly–in the case of women, the fear that we are not pretty, not refined, not wearing the right thing. Fear seeks scapegoats to define ourselves against. It’s hard to detach from others’ expectations of what a correct gender performance is. For many years I felt angry and embarrassed if someone mistakenly addressed mail to me as “Mr. Jendi Reiter”. Now I’m like, “hell yeah, maybe I am!”

    Out in Scripture has a series of reflections on the Advent and Christmas season through a transgender lens:
    http://www.hrc.org/scripture/oiseason.asp

    Holiday blessings to you!

  2. Jendi, you are right. Gender is a system of communication, and gender roles are “an imitation for which there is no original” as Butler says. Like any social system, such as race or class, membership is enforced by stigma, so individuals feel a compulsion to remain one of the group by following the expectations that define normativity.

    I remember telling my 13 year old niece that her challenges over the next few years were working through her parents unresolved issues and deciding how she wanted to fit in and how she wanted to stand out. I was greeted with a blank stare, and proceeded to watch her become a clone, one of the gang.

    The process of self policing that keeps us trying to perform our role “correctly,” whatever the norms of our family and our peers, so that we are not separated and stigmatized is crucial, but I wouldn’t call the underlying fear transphobia. Studies have shown that homophobic (rather than just homo-negative) people have a higher response to homoerotic stimuli. In other words, their homophobia is an externalized response to an internalized struggle to deny themselves and be normative.

    I agree that it is when we get past our attempts to reject what is different and queer about ourselves — say, in your case, a gender neutral name — that we can claim our own individuality, that we can stand up to the group pressure to be normative.

    Yet, while everyone faces the challenge of having their standing in social systems challenged, accused of not being enough of a man, a woman, a Christian, an American or whatever, the dismissal that comes from crossing the heterosexist binary of male == man, female == woman, is a big challenge.

    The primary duality for everyone is how we are tame enough to stay well entrenched in the group and wild enough to stand as uniquely ourselves. Getting past social pressure is the only way to claim our own truth, and a suburban, transient culture that asserts sameness is on our skin rather than in our hearts makes that very challenging for everyone. I have seen too many transpeople who want to claim a title, like “man,” but who reject the assimilation that “men” put each other through. It’s my belief that you have to be a “man” (or whatever else) before you can be “not man” and the process of engaging that social pressure before moving beyond it, as you did, is crucial to owning it. We each feel the pressure, and we each find our own way of both fitting in and standing out.

    Thanks for sharing your experience of coming to a place where you don’t feel compelled to fit in and upset when you don’t, but rather are willing to look in the big mirror and say “Hell, yeah, maybe I am!”

    Blessings to you at this time when as the light outside dims, we share the light inside.

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