When TBB and I brought The Drama Queens out of retirement for IFGE Toronto, we were called to the banquet stage by surprise. Or at least a surprise to my character, who had transitioned, fully identifying as a woman. TBB though, was her crossdresser self, changing into a platinum blonde china girl wig and sequins to take the stage by storm. I had to explain, though, that I could no longer participate in mocking women, in rowdy hi-jinks, because my consciousness raising group had agreed that such performance lacked dignity and was inappropriate as long as anyone was suffering anywhere in the world.
We battled on stage, with all the requisite weapons used between transsexual and transvestite, until TBB finally got me to look into the spotlight, see myself on the big screen and hear the audience laugh. I finally couldn’t resist anymore, so I threw back my shoulders, lifted my chin, and together we recited our mantra: “We have no act! We have no talent! We are …. The Drama Queens!”
Today, I passed that gift on. A leader of the local Transgender Advocates, the one who stopped me in the middle of an old joke to tell me that ranking oppressions was not useful, outed herself in the meeting. She was talking about some theatrical protests she wanted to do about the state Gender Non-Discrimination Act, and said “I mean, what queer activist hasn’t wanted to be dragged out of a building by the cops?”
I saw the light in her eyes as she said that, a devilish gleam.
After the meeting, which was all agendas and action items and concern for every abject class of people imaginable, I took her aside.
“You have the universe’s permission,” I told her, “to be a Drama Queen.”
She smiled. Back beyond all that forceful political correctness, was something that runs deep in real trans expression: the heart of the imp, the jester, the truth-teller. The rage that drives the raging outrageous fun of drag is something that some of us feel like we should hide, but that’s just not right. After all, the heart of trans is not class based oppression but rather the truth of the individual journey to self-actualization. If that journey if that runs through the shimmering pool of theatrical magic, well, that’s where it goes, right?
Not everyone got this. The meeting was a bit late starting, so I pulled out the old aphorism, “If it’s not late, it’s not fabulous!” A few enjoyed that, repeating it later, but the one of us who has the heart that bleeds the most for the plight of all groups was a bit uncomfortable. “I’m on time! What is it if it is on time?” “Earnest,” I replied, and they took that answer with a big grin.
The professional organizer, who has been on the job for two years, told the story about a woman at a recent Trans-Rights Open Mic who talked about her time as a medical school vagina model, offering her not-so private parts for training of tomorrows doctors. He enjoyed the story, especially about how she decorated herself for holidays.
“Yes,” I agreed. “That’s her experience of being queer, and she felt safe sharing it. It’s amazing how transpeople — well, at least visibly trans people — move the goalposts of individual expression so that everyone feels safer sharing a bit of their own wildness.” It didn’t seem to be an idea he had engaged before.
For me, the challenges are basic. How do we do the consciousness raising to help transpeople take their place in the world? How do we move our own role and our own stories? There was some chat about a viral video project, and I just imagined asking people to fill in the end of this statement: “I wish that transpeople ________________”
However they answer would be enlightening, from “I wish that transpeople would feel safe enough to give their gifts to the world” to “I wish that transpeople wouldn’t corrupt our children” and everything in between. Short, pithy, and easily edited into a compelling video, with surprising supportive answers and useful negative ones. We need to get the fears about transpeople on the table before we can address them, and we need to get the hopes and love for transpeople on the table before we can embrace them.
A retired hospital chaplain was there for the first time tonight, supporting everyone including her son who recently came out as trans. She and I connected, on the grounds of theology, of caretaking and just on the grounds of being a grown-up who has learned to be a parent.
“I don’t know much about trans people,” she admitted.
“You know what they need,” I told her. “It’s the same thing that all those families in the hospital needed: someone to listen to them. It’s really easy to be shamed into the closet, and that leaves so many of us stunted and a bit twisted. We need to trust people can hear us.” This made perfect sense to her, having seen the people in the meeting, and having dealt with thousands of people in her life.
When asked about why fewer people come to these meetings — the first had over twenty attendees, this one only seven — the glib answer was given that “some people don’t want to do the work.”
I think every transperson wants to do the work in front of them, but their most important work is finding a path for themselves. Unless an enterprise seems to be reflective and empowering, it’s not worth facing down the challenge to be there, with so many other demands.
I knew what my job was there tonight. It was to listen and reflect, to entertain and empower. These bold and brave young trans warriors can use seeing themselves through other eyes, to be valued for their earnestness, their queerness, and even the drama queen hidden behind the politically correct front.
There are so many challenges in the world, so many inequalities, so many problems to be solved. I can’t debate that, not at all.
But it seems to me that a group calling themselves trans advocates shouldn’t be looking at all the inequity and suffering around. Instead, they should be out and advocating for transpeople, and the most fundamental part of that seems to me to be making sure that transpeople are heard and reflected in the world.
We need to make sure transpeople feel they have permission to be the best them they can be in the world, and we need to do that my making sure the world is more affirming and supportive.
And we need to do this not just for transpeople, but because the more transpeople are empowered to be potent and unique individuals, the more the goalposts are moved and others around them feel safe to express their own unique and potent human nature. To support the beautiful diversity of humanity, beyond fear and political correctness, is to create love in the world, human connection not just at a surface level but deep down where our creator have us a each unique spark.
That simple, and that challenging.
Somehow, I suspect that a playful drama queen sitting at the centre of the meetings will be much more welcoming, enjoyable and empowering.
And I say that, maybe, because it takes one to know one.