So, years ago Arlene Istar Lev was wondering why people were so afraid of transpeople.
“If this man can walk in here wearing a dress,” I offered, “then what other socially deviant behaviour is he capable of?”
“Yes, of course,” she agreed. “I hadn’t thought it through.”
The world is different all these years later, where transpeople are much more visible and mainstream, I agree. Most people don’t have the same fears.
But that’s not universal.
There are many people out there who believe that those who express transgender are essentially deranged. They believe that their moral and religious code allows them to reject and berate transpeople as others. It may not be as bad as the days of Tyra Hunter, when a DC paramedic stopped treatment when he realized the woman he was treating had a penis, but they are still out there.
I have been screamed at by those who felt entitled to judge my behaviour as sick, deviant and morally repugnant. I have been called too queer even inside the LGBT community, and people have acted on that belief. I know that I can’t trust LGBT people to stand up for me, or even to try to understand me, for that matter.
But beyond that minefield are the people who, while not rejecting transpeople, don’t really accept them either. These are the people who want to be gracious, but are just squicked enough to keep their distance, keep transpeople apart as “them” and not “us.”
“When I go into a gay bar, the lesbians look at me and see man in a dress, assuming I’m a drag queen. And the gay men look at my sensible shoes and assume I’m a lesbian,” goes an old line I used to use. The number of times people have warmed to me, then backed away again after being “warned” by their friends about people like me — after being threatened with group disapproval if they continued the relationship — is uncountable. This is where “Thirdhand Fear” comes from.
The women’s room is supposed to be a place of safety. But if someone in there sees you as “other,” it is not.
I was, I am, other. And sadly, being other can easily lead to being dehumanized. We are more an object, a meaning, an abstraction. Too often people assume that if they can’t grok the feeling of someone else, then that feeling must not be, well, normal or normative, or even human. That’s one reason for the volumes I have written, to convey my tender humanity between being brave and broken. Yet, I know that the very fact I have written so much indicates to some that I must be other, someone not like them, not quite human.
I have often talked about the difference between preachy preachers, who locate evil outside of them and their congregation, finding ways to dehumanize those who are too challenging, and teachy preachers, who locate evil inside of us and offer us the challenge of transcending our fear of separation to find connection with the one human nature that we all share. I know, for example, that many preachy preachers are violently anti-intellectual, because intellectuals venerate questions and personal responsibility, rather than venerating pure belief and compliance to the group.
There is no way to be out and trans without being an iconoclast, one who has left assigned group identity to claim individual expression. Sure, some of us may dream about ending up in “the closet at the end of the rainbow” as Dallas Denny called it, reassimilated perfectly across the gender divide, but few of us make it, and those who do often find that space too confining for a full life. The challenge of a human life is to balance wild independence with tame assimilation, and transpeople do this on a grand scale, often ending up in no-man’s/no-woman’s land.
In the end, it is hard knowing that I will always be other, if not the other that the sanctimonious feel entitled to destroy, then the other who is politely accepted but will never really be “one of us.”
This doesn’t mean I can’t get out there and live a full life, claiming my own humanity, but it does mean that scare, the one they used to pound me into normative expression, the one that some use to hit me, and even the one that means people will back away from me when they feel social pressure to do so, will always be with me.
That’s why it’s scary to be other. Our strength is in our defenselessness, the way that people rise to help people like them. But if I am other, well, that leaves me on unstable and potentially dangerous ground.