Symbolic Bleed

Liev Schriber talks about his role as Vilma in Ang Lee’s Taking Woodstock.

According to Schriber, Ang Lee’s vision of Vilma is an “angel” who proves to the protagonist that if she can be comfortable in her own skin, anyone can, affirming the possibility of transformation.

Yeah. Vilma is a stylized and symbolic character who plays her part in the story.  She is constructed to make a point, not to breathe.

Just like Miss Vida Boheme in To Wang Foo, Thanks For Everything, Julie Newmar.  “Is it OK if I think of you as an angel? ”  “That’ll do.”   When she has to pee, does she have to use the little Angel’s room?  No.  Fictional characters don’t have to use the toilet.

And when she got played back to me as the way a transperson can be in the world, well, I wasn’t happy.

It might be different if people knew a range of transpeople in their lives, knowing them as people first.

But when our only media representations are as symbolic characters, most often played by non-trans people, well, that smells.

“I see the negro character as a representation of oppression, and the way that Woody Harrelson plays him is really transcendent.”

Somehow, I don’t think so.

Every character in a story may carry symbols.

But when they don’t carry the blood of human truth, well, that makes me feel like they are reduced.

And that hurts.


One big fallacy inside the transgender community — heck, one big fallacy inside of American culture — is the notion that all we communicate is what we intend to communicate.

Isn’t the whole point of therapy learning to listen to ourselves to find that we are disconnected from inside of us?   Therapy presumes that wee need to know more than our conscious thoughts to understand our choices, our actions.  We need to know what we do not yet have voice or words for, need to know what drives us on other than conscious levels.  A therapist is someone who sees something in you that you cannot yet see in yourself, someone who helps with the revelation of you to you.

There is so much we don’t easily communicate to ourselves, but that doesn’t mean we don’t communicate that stuff to others.  We are always communicating, on so many levels.

Trans, of course, is an exercise in expression.  We need, need, need, need to communicate our self, our inner truth in the world.  If we didn’t need to explore expression, we wouldn’t be trans.  And if we didn’t need the feedback of others to affirm and reflect that expression, we would be able to stay in the closet forever.

Yet, it’s hard to be comfortable knowing that we are leaking our unconscious in every moment of our expression.  It’s hard to be comfortable knowing that others are catching a glimpse of what we are not yet comfortable seeing in ourselves.

For many transsexuals and crossdressers, their preferred solution is to silence those who see or reflect what they don’t want to be exposed in themselves.  For example, some transsexuals want to be cured, want to be nothing but women so much that they shoot at everyone who might offer a glimpse of them as someone with a crossing history, as someone with a queer story.   They demand that anyone who says anything that might reflect on them must have approval, demand that the only acceptable view of themselves is the view they themselves claim.

Any dissonance between the view they claim and the view others have may be called abuse; they want the way people experience them to be constrained to their own claims, even as they demand the right to characterize others who challenge them in any way they want.

To be actualized, at least to me, is to move past the fallacy that all we communicate is what we intend to communicate, to stop trying so hard to claim our own rationalized view of ourselves, and start trying to pay attention to what we are actually communicating, to accept the reflections of others, sorting out between the projections and the revelations, and use those reflections to discover more about who we are and what we are putting out.

This is important to me because I have identified a great area of loss over the past decades has been based on desperately trying to filter my communications rather than just trusting who I am.

My mother and father taught me early how to walk on eggshells, holding back and controlling.

Today I know that people who control and constrain are never seen as being as accessible and engaging as people who come from a deep and clear truth, people who are comfortable in their own skin.

In the end, projecting who you want to be is different than just being yourself.   If you are aware and conscious of your expressions, you can learn much, much more from revelation than from projection.

I understand why I walk on eggshells, why I still do.

But I also understand why it is just that control that holds me back, constraining and hurting me.

My mother took the injunction “If Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy” way too literally.

If being happy will piss her off, make her act out to sabotage, does that mean I have no right to be happy?

I know, know, know that if I want to connect with other people, I have to be present for myself, have to move beyond the fallacy that in the long run, more control can get you anything other than more strain.

If I stop my truth from being present, how can I live my truth in the world?

Asked And Told

TBB is out on the ship now.

Well, it’s more that TBB knows she is out on the ship now, and that’s good.

Since the first things you find when you Google her name are testimony before Congress on transgender job discrimination and a feature length documentary on the sex change capitol of the world, well, I doubt she was really “in the closet” for very long anyway.

And while I love her, she passes as transsexual, not as female.  Bones, voice, all those things, you know.  I said to her “Well, you ain’t 5′ 2″,” and she readily agreed.  Of course, that didn’t stop her from asking me not to go with her to her Salsa classes; her born-female pal said that being with another transwoman would out her.  It’s been two years now, though; I think she is past that.

In the end, she is a pro, really good at what she does, mature and trustworthy.  That’s enough, it turns out, even for a veteran of the submarine service, who as management doesn’t think they did enough to ensure her a safe & comfortable work place, nor that they acted rapidly enough to address threats to her.

Years ago a friend who was working so hard to keep her head down at the local addiction clinic where she worked came in and found an article that mentioned her trans activism on the bulletin board.  The note was from the boss, congratulating her on being noted.  It turned out she wasn’t really in the closet, either.

TBB feels good that people are finally relaxed enough to talk about “the elephant in the room,”  though she notes that much of the old elephant is now located in medical waste dump in Utah.

In the end, it’s better not to have to hide.

And better to know that a woman can get respect and dignity, even if she happened to be identified as male at birth.

Does Queer Theory Help?

The question: “Is it possible to live life in more than one gender and still not be rejected by almost every LGB I meet”gays who broadly can’t fathom “cutting it off” (freak) and lesbians don’t want “former men” into the girls club. I don`t seem to fit in anywhere unless change occured.”

My answer:

The reason Queer Theory is taboo is simple; it challenges feminist theory.

And all university students are inculcated into feminist theory.

The basis of current, second wave, feminism is that there are overlapping systems of oppression based on race, class and gender groupings, and we must band together as groups to challenge this oppression.

Therefore, the whole thing is about group identity, about admitting that by being raised as a white christian male you are an oppressor.

The basis of this second wave is political, creating an us vs them belief systems, allowing victimhood to be valor, demanding obedience to the most damaged.  It very much follows black identity formation, where us vs them creates space for black leaders.

Queer theory, which I identify as trans, is more rooted in 1960s first wave feminism, where the goal was around “the belief that women are people too.”  In this model, feminists wanted a fair and equal playing field, not the kind of continuing affirmative action that second wave demands to aid oppressed groups, the kind of breaks that allow us vs them politics.

In queer theory, the individual is key, not the group.    We need to allow individuals free expression, beyond social demands.

LG theory (and I don’t include bisexual in this) is very much based on group identity formation.

In the heterosexist model, group identity is formed by birth reproductive biology, the penised vs the unpenised.  It posits that if you just know someone’s birth genitals, you know a great deal about them, maybe everything you need to know, especially if you also know skin color and class status.

The homo model likes that simple division, just adding two twists, females who love females and males who love males.

It’s a simplified model that abhors ambiguity and nuance.

And that’s the problem.  Bisexuals and transpeople, well, we break those nice, clean group boundaries.

So LG people often want to enforce those boundaries even more than het people.  Candis Cayne says it was always a gay guy who had to make sure everyone at the casting table knew she was “really a man.”   It’s a way they sell out to the normies; “I’m not queer or gender variant.   I’m just a normal man who needs sodomy on a Saturday night.”

What does this mean?

You know what it means.  It means we can never pass the basic tests of group identity.  As a woman, I can’t hate men, for example, can’t see them as the oppressor group.  Instead, I see them as individuals.

And that means we are left to create our own queer spaces where people are accepted and embraced for who they are as an individual, not their group identity.

Clearly, this is a huge subject, and the basis for lots of struggle.

In the end, though, I suspect that no matter how much you want to simply be a group member, you are past all that.  You can’t cut off parts of your heart, your head, your experience, your spirit, even if you can reshape your body.

You have to be yourself, whoever that is.  And you have to find your own balance between being tame enough to fit in to community well enough to get what you need & want, and being wild enough to always stand proud as who you are.

In the end, that’s the struggle everyone has, it’s just they don’t always know it yet.

But you?

If awareness was just bliss, everyone would already have it.

A followup:

Me being me, I have continued to think about why L & G people have such a desire to reject the basis of transgender.

They really want sexual orientation to be the overarching tent, what we all stand under.

We, on the other hand, want gender expression to be that encompassing issue.

“Straight acting” people who happen to be gay or lesbian have much less challenge in the world.  What they do in the bedroom is their business.

It’s the visibly gay people who offer the challenge, the feys and the butches.

And what they want is to hold onto their issued gender at all costs.  “Sure I dress as a woman for shows, but I am really a man,” say drags, just as crossdressers say “Sure I dress up as a hobby, but I am always really a man.”

And this is the basis of their politics that birth genitals are all, untranscendable, so they don’t see transwomen as trans, they see them as drags (or crossdressers.)

It’s this kind of thing:

In 1999, I wrote a long piece that made it into IFGE Tapestry on this:

Maybe that would give you something to think on.

I had the sense this all didn’t make her happy, so I sent this:

I like this quote:

The great thing about getting older is that
you don’t lose all the other ages you’ve been.
— Madeleine L’Engle


When I told it to Kate Bornstein, she laughed with glee.

“And all the other genders!” she immediately added.

Whoever you are tomorrow, you will never lose who you were today, who you were yesterday, and who you were a decade ago.

And that’s the gift of a complicated life.