A list post from me, responding to a transman who wants to create an egalitarian process to create joint access on healthcare, the kind of process learned in twenty years as a lesbian.
One of the key differences between trans-identity and GL-identity is that by definition, Gays and Lesbians want to be part of a group.
Gays and Lesbians want to meet others like them and have relationships of some sort. That’s the premise of the whole sexual identity thing; you want to have sexual relationships with people.
Transpeople, on the other hand, aren’t in it to shape an expression that will attract others. We tend to be on a path to shape and expression that allows us to be visible as a unique individual rather than as a member of a group.
And very often, the group identities we do hold are at odds with our trans-expression. We hold group identities that are designed to get us what we believe we need; jobs, status, relationships. How many transsexual women continue to identify as gay men to stay in relationship with men, or identify as heterosexual crossdressers to stay in relationship with women?
In the midst of these conflicting challenges, an attempt to declare wild & free individuality and an attempt to maintain status & connection by being a tame member of community, the conflicts of connecting with other transpeople most often comes down the line, a lower priority.
It’s my experience that the kind of group identity formation that is common for lesbians and gays does not work very well for transpeople. We don’t have the same desires and needs. Trans is a very individual path, first, and it demands being able to walk away from group identity and find our own voices. Most of us never were very well assimilated, and virtually all of us lack childhood and adolescent training in the mores and habits of our gender of choice.
The most successful transpeople I have seen are the ones who are able to express individual leadership, and not the ones who want to form group identities and egalitarian think that surrenders our own impetus to the group.
For me, the most empowering and interweaving comes from a commitment to queer process. Queer means celebrating the individual over the group, coming to the place where you can affirm and celebrate choices others make that you would never, ever make for yourself. To me, as long as the behavior others do is consensual and not destructive, I support their choices and hope that they will support mine.
This celebration of individuality and queerness as being at the heart of process can often be very difficult for those who like a more homogeneous group. I remember one transwoman who decided that all transpeople should see themselves as being on a team like the Montreal Canadiens. I asked about the benefits people would get from team membership; was there a training program, job support, social events, status or anything else? No, she replied. She just was uncomfortable with transwomen who made choices she found icky, and wanted them to clean up their act (read: be more like her, follow her choices.)
Healthcare is an important issue for transpeople, yes.
But my experience says that empowerment is even more important, because when you feel empowered you can not only stand up for yourself, you can also stand up for others who make choices you would never make for yourself.
And that kind of empowerment is very hard for those who need, need, need, need to use denial to stay anchored in group identities that reject queer expression. It’s not until you are there in accepting your own queerness that you can accept the queerness of others, at least as far as I have seen.
I do know that this statement will probably baffling to many members of the group, who want everything to be as simple as their explanations need to be.
But it is a statement of what I have come to know in 25 years wandering through the interlocking communities around transgender.
A followup, discussing the need to find others like us while also rejecting those we don’t yet have the capacity to like because they challenge our unhealed places
One of the blessings of a big city is that there is a large enough population to get affinity groups of transpeople, micro-communities of transpeople that can’t be supported without the density of population.
You say that you want to connect with a group caled “Tgirls,” who presumably have a reasonable amount in common. I suspect that I would not find those groups particularly comfortable for me.
As I noted, I don’t believe that there is one trans-community, but a number of interlocking communities around trans, interlocking because a few members of one group also belong to another group, creating links. This list is community, but it isn’t home for everyone.
We do need connections, and we do find them, but being so thin on the ground, we tend to focus on our little group, and move on as that group no longer meets our needs. Transpeople are always coming and going into our bits of community, leaving to explore or focus on what we need, and checking back in after a few months or years, then leaving again.
We all want to find people like us, but in my experience, that sense of being at one point is a transitory event for transpeople, who stay and learn, and then move on.
And one more:
When you talk about space where we feel safe, you hit the nail on the head.
There are so many ways transpeople can feel not safe. After all, the one thing we share is being shamed into the closet, feeling the social stigma against being too queer, too wild, too deviant, against crossing the lines of gender that most people see as real and rigid.
And that vital question, how queer is too queer, how queer is not queer enough seems often to be at the root of feeling unsafe.
We hold our own worldview and when that worldview is challenged we often don’t tend to come back.
For crossdressers that challenge can often be in queerness itself. SSS put up organizational blocks against transsexuals and homosexuals; they just didn’t want to go there, saying that it would scare off the wives.
For more mature transpeople, it is the trans as hobby or party attitude that can feel unsafe. If people don’t want to see their trans expression as real, rather as just play, they often work to diminish the reality of others, asserting that change is impossible.
So much of the trans experience is about being in an adolescent state, trying on new ways to be that often fit only part of us. Like any adolescent, part of that process is also rejecting what is uncool; rather than making statements about who we are, we make statements about who we are not. To be in the in-group there must also be an out-group, and rejection becomes how we define our identity.
To be a mature transperson is to be confident enough in who you are that the you don’t find the choices of others to be threatening. Of course, it’s still easy to find them tedious and immature.
Language, though, is a precious thing. I don’t yet believe that we do have a language that we share about expressing the trans experience. In my mind, the tradition of the first thing many say to explain trans proves that: “There are crossdressers, drags and transsexuals,” making statements about separating facets of trans expression rather than making statements about connecting facets.
I have run through the last 25 years trying to create language about shared trans-identity, listening to the narratives of other transpeople and reflecting the common themes in my own words. Rather than trying to assert my beliefs against the stories & beliefs of others, I try to shape my understanding so there is room for their concerns and expression in my worldview; just another attempt at a queer process.
We do need shared language. I just think that means that some language has to go to find better, more common and more effective language that can make connections rather than just separations.
But that’s just me.