Walking in the world as a transwoman, it is easy to feel very visible. I have big bones, big hands, feet, shoulders, my voice is not sweet, I have an adam’s apple, my skin is far from flawless, and I know that the fact I went through puberty as a male is written on my body.
Walking in the world as a transwoman, it is easy to feel very invisible. I know that few people have any experience of women with a trans history, and that makes it very hard for them to read the symbols of my expression. My story isn’t a straight line, isn’t really straight at all, and those twists are not in their understanding. People tend to surface me, assuming I am “really” one thing or another, some model they understand. My individual story gets surfaced by other people’s expectations.
I felt invisible last night at a meeting of Transgender Advocates, much as I did at a Trans Meet and Greet. There, a group of transpeople and their advocates wanted to talk about getting local transpeople to fill out surveys to determine needs, to talk about potential social impact of legislation, to talk about process and liberalism, and not to engage the individual stories of those in the room.
The introduction circle asked us to state a name, a preferred pronoun and one word about how we were feeling. Not why we were there, or one thing we think was important for the group, but one word about feelings.
I said that I was feeling “Old.” I know that I look like the mother of many people in the room, and I know from experience that age can easily make someone invisible to young people. It’s often hard to grasp a longer life lived in a historical terrain for someone who needs to be very focused on the choices they are making now. It is easy and reasonable to be self-centered when you are young, especially when you are a young transperson, both very visible and very invisible in the world.
The leaders of the group very much wanted media training. Locally, there was an award winning series on trans in the paper, and many participated. They know, though, that exposing their stories is a challenge, because it doesn’t just expose what they want to show, it also shows the blank bits and twists they have used to construct a life that is both very visible and very invisible.
Years back I used my television interviewing skills to grill another group of trans advocates, and when I was done, they had a sense of revelation, seeing connections they hadn’t thought about before.
In the end, we know our story by telling our story, we learn to stay on message by deeply understanding our message, we learn to make a strong showing by showing ourselves in the mirrors.
That’s clearly what I have been doing here, trying for revelation of a complex, nuanced and thoughtful life.
But that’s not the way most of the world works. “How could anyone ever dream of having a relationship with someone like you when they never met someone like you?” a friend told me years ago.
My experience with trans advocacy is simple. What is going to get done is what individuals step up to do. We have no staff, no budget, can’t assign the work to committees. Instead, we need to support each other in stepping up and doing the work.
To me, the first work is making trans stories visible. The big change in lesbian and gay rights came when more people had relationships with out lesbian and gay people, in real life or in the media, when people understood the challenges of walking in the world as gay or lesbian.
Last night there was some chat about a Trans-Night-Out, preferably, at least to leadership, at a bar.
My suggestion was that we choose public events and make them trans-night-out, with a advocates offering big day-glo stickers that said “I’m willing to talk about Trans.” Give them to everyone who will take them, let the openness be visible event by event. Open the a little space in the world to trans expression, making even normative people aware of the need to be open to stories they may find rather queer.
A leader of the group pooh-poohed the idea, saying that buttons already exist, showing their own. Yes, but it’s not really visible from a distance, not an option for straights, doesn’t open up the straights. I have worn the buttons, Holly’s trans symbol as interpreted by Nancy Nangeroni, a No TransPhobia Button, Rikki’s “Take A Transsexual to Lunch” and more. She is right, that many transpeople don’t choose to be visible in the world, don’t want to be out, because they fear that being out offers people a reason to deny gender; if they are out, they must really be whatever their birth sex says they are.
But opening up the space for transpeople to feel safe being visible, to feel really seen rather than just surfaced, well, that seems important.
And yes, that seems hard, because to tell our stories we have to understand our stories, and that means understanding ourselves beyond rationalization and defence.
I know how many words I have gone through to make my own inner self visible in this blog, in other places.
But walking in the world as a transperson it is easy to feel visible, exposed as a character in the wrong stories. It is easy to feel invisible, beyond the comprehension and expectation of others.
Even at a meeting of self-proclaimed trans advocates.