Ate The T-Shirt

Been there, done that, ate the t-shirt, as the amazing Lindsay used to say.

I’ve been thinking about the challenges in transwoman performance, and I realize I have already done this work.

In 2002 I said that the most difficult thing about trans is negotiating other people’s fears.   The idea that somehow, because we are the phobogenic object, what people fear, that we have the obligation to negotiate other people’s fears is just impossible.

On the local list, a crossdresser just wrote that it’s hard to be trans, but it is a thousand times more difficult to be the spouse of a transperson.

Huh?  Do they have a lifetime of stigma?  Do they have zillions of impossibly hard choices?  OK, sure, they get it in more like one lump sum, and they get less benefit from us coming out than we do, but a thousand times more difficult?   No.  It’s just that we want to take care of others more than we want to take care of ourselves, and being trained as men, we especially want to take care of women.

Problem is that stops us from seeing ourselves and other transpeople as women, and that’s a huge loss.

I wrote about that big cleft in 1999, The Guy-In-A-Dress Line.

It’s funny reading Femulate; Lana is so clearly coming to trans, but her model, that the best people born male can do is emulate females (femulate) leads her to such binaries.  She has to identify people like Christine Jorgensen as men so she can say “He femulated,” when clearly Christine identified as a woman.  But Lana needs to defend that line to hold onto being a man for her wife, who won’t see her as trans.

I don’t want to be a man in men’s clothing.  “People who see you as a man must think ‘Oh, what a weird guy!'” TBB told me last week.

And I don’t want to be a man in women’s clothing.  In many ways that is even worse, because to pass as a tranny the defenses have to be even more defined.

TBB wanted to give my sister a break because “they are emotional, and have come to express emotionally.”   “But you are strong,” TBB tells me.  To her, that means I can’t be emotional, because that makes me “defensive,” and what is worse than being “defensive?”  Lots.

Problem is that the they vs. us paradigm leaves me out of woman.  Bite that.

The fear swells, so we hang onto our assigned gender, and then feel as constrained as men-in-dresses, which we hate.

How do we claim our own gender, especially in the face of so many who want birth genital status to be final, even so many who also identify as trans?

How do we jailbreak?

In my old writings, I find great descriptions of the problems.

The solutions, though, well, not so clear.

But I take heart in the words of a transfan who works with TBB.

“You did all this to become a woman.  So be one.”

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Shuckin’ & Jivin’

Sometimes, it was difficult to be a black person in the south.

So some black people developed a kind of role to be adopted in the presence of threatening people that played into stereotypes of blacks being stupid & lazy, while simultaneously offering ironic humour to other blacks around.

The roles combined the appearance of deference with the secret language of the oppressed to code multiple layers of meaning.

This performance was called shuckin’ and jivin’, and has long been held with ambivalence in the black community.

For example, starting in the 1920’s Lincoln Perry created the character Stepin Fetchit,  “the laziest man in the world,” playing out this schuckin’ and jivin’.   Was he just carrying on old stereotypes, or was he subverting them, honoring the survival strategies black people created to handle a living world of oppression and racism without losing their wit?  The debate goes on.

Maybe, we of the trans population need to think about the survival strategies we employ to handle living in a world of oppression and heterosexism without losing our wit.

TBB says that she just wants to be seen as normal in the world, and that’s the same as all her transsexual friends.

To me, that says that they all feel limited by the survival strategies — by the survival performance — that they feel forced to adopt.

These strategies may fall into categories, but in the end, we each build our own survival performance, our own version of schuckin’ and jivin’ that fits our needs.

We build these performances out of standard expectations, but tailor them to our own personality.

We may take a bit of “dragface,”  the “I only do it for the show” idea, and mix it with some “WBT,” the whole “I had a birth defect and now I am cured.”   Throw in some “HetCD,” where we only dress to play, and some “gender queer,” the idea that my expression is rebelling against authority, and you get another kind of performance.

Others offer the “off the grid” performance, just being out of time, while some just are rich enough to get away with “eccentric.”

For me, I knew the cost of being visible as trans in the world is the cost of adopting and maintaining my own survival performance.  And I have done that enough to know the limits of such a performance, the cost of being not seen as normal in the world.

Our survival performances give us the cover we need to walk in the world as transpeople, but they also limit us, crippling our freedom of expression and of claiming.

They free us and they hurt us.

And that’s why, I think, we need to understand them rather than just to wear them as shells that are somehow real.

Fun Defenses, Powerful Defenslessness.

So, you may have met the glib, charming TBB, who loves to talk to the other people at the bar, strike up conversations with passerby, and always chat with service staff.

But do you know the secret TBB, whose secret identity is still set as a model railroader (HO and Super-O gauge) and wants to create a hermit hideaway on a tract of land her uncle used to own in the Catskills?

Probably not.

That TBB, who even as she preens in the mirror in a new halter top cocktail dress and new jeweled heels, thinks she is just not pretty, well, that TBB is kept well hidden.   So well hidden, in fact, that TBB chooses not to write, in case someone else catches a glimpse of her.

TBB identifies with what she sees in so many transsexual women she knows: she just wants to be able to be seen as normal.

She doesn’t want to always have to walk around in armor, defended, always being the one who has to be big and gracious even as other people see her and fear her.  After all, they know that she is powerful enough to do what would scare the hell out of them, walking away from their group identity to claim individual expression.

It was in a workshop fifteen years ago now that I explained how it felt to see the fear in someone’s eyes when they saw me, as they thought “If this person is disconnected from social control enough to walk into here in a dress, what else are they capable of?”

A therapist who works with transpeople opened her eyes wide.  “That’s it!” she said.  “That’s why people are scared of transwomen.  I never thought of that before.”

In 1994, TBB and I did a skit about two transpeople driving to a meeting.  We both played out our fantasies and our defenses in a concentrated way.  She was glib with everyone, and I had to explain everything.

Things may have changed in 15 years, but not much.  Defenses are defenses.

As ACIM tells us, though, your power is in your defenslessness.

I told that to TBB.  She got it on a spiritual level, but on a practical level, when I suggested new strategies, she needed to tell me how she had tried them in the past and they had caused problems.

Yeah.  We don’t have defenses because we didn’t need them, because we didn’t found out that they worked.   Our defenses are there for a purpose, tried and true.

Problem is that every time we build a wall to protect ourselves, we also build a wall that blocks potential connection.

Your power is in your defenselessness.

Eeew, that sounds horrible.

TBB doesn’t want to always have to walk around in armor, defended, always being the one who has to be big and gracious even as other people see her and fear her.

That just sucks, for her and all the transwomen she knows.

But how do we trust that we can be naked and vulnerable and people won’t get all freaked out, all weird and nasty, acting out?

After all, all it takes is one person who feels blessed by their church to attack the immorality of queerness to do a hell of a lot of damage in our lives, causing us a lot of pain.

Transpeople, well, as I have said many times before, maybe we can most easily be categorized and grouped by the defenses we choose, and not the identities that we claim.

And our power is in in getting out from behind our defenses, in that final trans surgery, pulling the stick from our own ass.

But God, that is so hard.

Lies, Lies, Prison

My family lies.

Well, maybe not.

But they don’t always tell the truth.

My mother said I didn’t have to take her to Senior Expo at the mall yesterday.

But she told me what the schedule was, and then expected me to drag her around, take her through five or six other stores, all that.

Her intent was to give me time with TBB.  But the reality was the demands ended up with TBB saying goodbye early, and me not even getting a hour with her yesterday.

My mother really wants me to be happy, to be free.

She just wants what she wants more.

I invited my sister to meet TBB for breakfast at Panera.

My sister was weepy very soon in.  She was weepy that she hadn’t thought to schedule a time to meet the day before when I dug holes for her and my father.  She was weepy that her boyfriend is cranky about not having enough attention and empathy.  She was weepy about the demands of her job, which have been hell for over twelve years now.

And when I got back from the restroom, TBB asked my weepy sister if she wanted to speak alone.

So I didn’t sit down, I moved on.

And I was pissed.  My sister was pulling weepy crap and expecting to be taken care of by me and TBB.  But if I pull weepy crap, she just gets cold.

My net net on my sister is simple: until she can be present for herself, she can’t be present for anyone else, including but not limited to me.

TBB wanted to tell me how my sister was caring and worried and weepy.  She loves me and wants me to be happy, to be free.

Yeah.

She just wants what she wants more.

TBB thought I would be delighted, doing the old support thing.

Problem is that I do that all the time, and I know my sister gets this all on a conceptual level.

She just doesn’t change her choices based on her knowledge.

TBB needed to call me defensive.

I needed to clairfy: I was emotional and tender on this, and that may have read as defensive, but the core was a history.

You see, I get to have emotions too.  It’s not just the person raised as a girl who gets to have them.  And I don’t have to always be above it.

“She just needs you to tell her exactly what to do,” TBB said.

Problem is that I have and she hasn’t followed through.

Sure she makes gestures, but those gestures, like the $100 birthday knife, often cause more problems and pain than solution.  She can’t engage my life until she can engage her own.

Now, I know all the newage stuff.  I shouldn’t let my ego expecting what I suffered in the past block change.  But then again, fool me once shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me.  One needs to be prudent and have a realistic view of what is actually changing.

I acknowledged TBB.  “Maybe this event with you is a catalyst, and she will be able to change,” I said.  “And if she does, I promise to accept that change.  But my experience tells me that her intention is very different from her actions, and in the end, it is her actions that count.”

“But, but, but,” TBB replied “you need to hear this.  She sees three people she cares about dying.  Do you get that?  She sees three people she cares about dying.”

“I am one of those people, and the one who has to check if my parents have died or stroked out,” I said.  “I get it.  And I have to handle it.”

“I just saw her being weepy about her own life,” I continued.

“Well, when you left, she was weepy about you.  You just didn’t see it,” TBB said.

“Oh,” she said.

“Right,” I replied.  “I just saw her being weepy about her life at my table, seeing her bring her crap to my table.  And I didn’t like it.”

I don’t doubt that my sister means it when she says she wants me to be happy, to be free.  I just think she, like my mother, want that to happen because that will make them less weepy, and if it means more challenges for them, well, that goes in the too hard basket.

But TBB bought the claims, and I felt dismissed and unheard.

I ended up taking care of TBB, with a big support session about her life the night before, and then shopping and a bar event that ended with me having to cancel her help me mount the big TV here.  And a quick McD drop off next morning, followed by a kiss-off when she saw how stressed my mothers demands had me.

I’ll write about TBB’s issues in a blog post: she wants to be seen as normal, even though she is secret model railroad geek who is stuck in a cycle of performance that both defends and limits her.  Our protection is our prison, and we have to jailbreak.

But I didn’t want to put this out on the blog.  Grace is peeved at me, wanting to know if I think we are pretty, and when I answer yes, but we have to get our bitterness out of the way to show it, she decides I am saying she is not pretty because she loves her bitterness.  Our protection is our prison, and we have to jailbreak.

Pet Nomenclature

On the local list, the moderator defined someone as a “genetic woman.”

That baffled me.

I might know what a “genetic female” is, assuming they meant “chromosomal female,” someone with XX chromosomes.  Of course, there are some women out there who have lived their lives as women and are not XX, but that’s a small number.

To me, though, woman is a gender term and female a biological term, describing reproductive biology or sex.  A woman is someone who lives as a woman who makes the choices of a woman, a female is someone who is (or was) an egg carrier, even if they are infertile.

I was knocked back, though.

“Everyone has their own pet nomenclature,” I was told, my own understandings knocked back into some kind of accessory.  “It’s just semantics.”

I responded that I thought words are important, and the only tool we, as humans, have to create a shared understanding.

I must think that, with the number of them I have gone through in the past twenty years trying to understand, explain, and get feedback on my own understanding of myself and the world.

It’s not the words that are important, of course.  Words are just symbols.

It’s the meaning that is important, and more than that, the worldview that the meaning lives in.

“I am the shadows my words cast,” as Octavio Paz said.   Not the words, but the shadows behind them.

It has always made me crazy that people talk about gender but can’t then define that word.  What is gender?  To me, gender is a system of communication around reproductive biology  that defines and enforce roles around reproduction and child rearing.  Race and Class are other systems of communication that define and enforce social roles, too, but they are rules about wealth, power and status.

Sure, people talk about “my gender,”  but that is a discussion of where they see themselves in that communication, their limits and challenges in that system.

If we don’t have meaning for the terms we use, and if we dismiss the terms others use as just semantics, does that mean we don’t have a clear worldview?

I suspect that it does.

And I suspect that for all transpeople complain about people not understanding them, about how we can’t come together, work together and create community, in the dark background, there is a reason we resist a clear worldview that might let us explain and connect.

Fuzzy, you see, lets us rationalize and float in the moment.

For example, if we are clear about who we are, well, how can we be who our wife needs us to be too?

We are used to using words not as a clear statement but rather as a flexible identity, allowing us to shift, sway and manipulate in the moment.

As long as nothing has meaning, as long as it’s only semantics, as long as everyone has a pet nomenclature and one has no more credibility than another, then whatever we say in the moment is fine, true, real.

Normal people, those in the mainstream, never have to work to test and understand their worldview.  It is only challenges that test us, that require us to figure out what is truly important to us, what is at the base and bedrock of who we are.   Illness, failure, whatever; the result is the same.  We have to get clear and make choices, choices that “normal” people take for granted.

Joseph Campbell talks about the most powerful rituals always being around this theme.  It is when people have to let go of things they like or desire in order to hold onto what they value that they really have to struggle with themselves.

For transpeople who want to hold on, and not fall into the fire that burns away what is not really us, a fuzzy and flexible approach to language allows wiggle room, enough room to not have to be clear, present and profound.

Dismissing words that challenge us as just semantics, a kind of pet nomenclature, is dismissing challenges to our own worldview, dismissing the call to be clear and specific about what we believe, especially the contradictions and ambiguity we hold close to us.

Every hero’s journey is about finding truth, truth hidden behind the fuzzyness of social creation.

And that’s why it is always terrifying.

Shazam!

Do you every feel like Billy Batson?

All Billy had to do was say Shazam! and the wizard Shazam hits him with a lightening bolt that gives Billy the strength of six mythical heroes.

Shazam!

My Billy Batson feeling is a bit different.

TBB is in NY this week to visit her son at her old alma mater.  And at the end of the week, her daughter comes up and the three of them spend some time in NYC, where TBB grew up.

The last time they were all in NYC they saw the movie TransAmerica.  It was a transsexual woman named Bree traveling the country with her son and daughter  watching a movie about about a transsexual woman named Bree crossing the country with her son.   In this case, life is more compelling than art.

But what will TBB do midweek, when kids are not available?

Shazam!

A wizard named TBB descends on me like a lightening bolt!

Do I engage the magic or just let it fall?

Dr. Phil and Oprah make me stupid.  I find it hard to concentrate on things like cooking with them nattering in the background, but I have no other choice.  That’s why I do things like burn myself like I did today, because I can’t be in and of my self, focused and concentrated.  The burn on my left index finger compliments the deep, deep cut still trying to heal on my left thumb.

It’s my parents house that makes me stupid, of course, so much power that I need to ground out, to blunt and to bleed out.

But TBB, well, she is like a lens.  Her kinesthetic power just opens up everything, cracks shells and lights up the dark corners so nothing can hide.

My parents, well, they have been hit before.

After all, they have had Kate Bornstein in their living room after the Kriplau debacle almost seven years ago now.

The problem is that I still have to be here after TBB leaves.

Who the hell else will take care of my parents?

And I don’t want them to have a bite at my own powerful, deep, inner and developed self.

Better they get my slave name and my dumbed down actions, the better for them to correct me over.

I want the magic, the lightening bolt, the energy of six mythological figures to be unleashed in me.

I want to feel the power of TBB, and use her like the booster she is.

But I don’t want to have to feel the creep of collapse afterwards.  I’ve been there too many times; it hurts.

A force of nature, here with a huge heart.

And me staying small.

Shazam.

most of a bitter fruit.

From a powerful post that talked about being a “sideshow” in the pursuit of sex, saying “if i turned men down for being married or having a GF,  i would never get laid,”  and discussing how partners wanted a penis, I called this the quote of the day on a list:

“In the meantime
i’ll take the sex
where i can
and
make the most
of a bitter fruit.”

The author thought I was mocking her, putting down her sexual choices, and wanted to make it clear that everything would change once she got genital reconstruction surgery.

Don’t assume, as they said on “The Odd Couple.”

I found your comments honest and raw, and that made them refreshing.

So much of trannydom is about denying our Eros, not about engaging it.

I affirm your choices, and the fresh way you speak them out loud.

I will note that know many transwomen who functioned as “she-males” in relationships and then found genital reconstruction challenging.  Some found that without their “something special” that they were just another woman, and competing with women born female was a challenge; they had neither the pedigee or the goods to play on that field.  Others realized this would happen and eventually chose to not get genital reconstruction so they still had “something special” for partners.

As for me, I don’t have any comment on what you are “supposed” to do; you need to find your own path to a full life, and for most people, that is deciding where to follow the rules and where to break them.

E-mail has no tone; it’s just text on a screen.

Please don’t assume people disapprove of you; you may find that they find honest and straightforward expression to be a gift.

Even when it’s about the price we pay to get what we need, what our heart craves, in such a heterosexist culture.

The author answered, saying sex with men was very “notch on the belt,” while women opened her heart.  She talked about having a chip on her shoulder that kept her safe, and how after she had surgery, she would be able to walk around a womens locker room without anxiety.

I replied:

You have the power to reshape your body in any way that satisfies you, in any way that expresses who you know yourself to be.

You should do what you feel called to do.

In my experience, though, there are limits to the power we have to female a body that went through puberty as a male.

Bones don’t lie, and a lost girlhood, those days of change and potency and bonding, can never really be recovered.

The challenge, of course, is not just how you see yourself but how others see you.

Will a reshaped pudenda be enough for you to let go of your anxieties and chips?

I’d love to believe that surgery is magical, powerfully changing the way others see us, but in my experience I haven’t seen that happen for most people.

After all, if people as beautiful as Candis Cayne can’t pass as female, even after feminizing surgery, many of us have much less chance.

Maybe the real transcendence of heterosexism is accepting that being a woman is about our choices and our knowledge, and not about the shape of our crotch.

Maybe the defect isn’t between our legs, but in the culture that affirms crotches over hearts.

Shape your body the way that makes you comfortable, yes.

But don’t invest genital reconstruction with too much magic; that can lead to disappointment.

Eros is potent, the desires we have inside, from the desire to be beautiful, to the desire to be affirmed, to the desire to connect with others.

Eros has to drive our choices, following desire.

But we are human, and Eros tempered with sensibility has often turned out to be the best course, balancing the fire of the heart with the ice of the mind.

In the end, I decided that humans are much more likely to make mistakes than God, and she has made people like me through all human history.

And in many cultures, people like me were valued and respected for our own unique gifts, rather than asked to try to fit in one box or another.

It’s the human created boxes I ended up seeing as creating anxiety and chips, not any God created defects.

But that’s just where I came out.

Blessings on your journey, wherever it takes you.