What people don’t know how to see, they just don’t see.
And, of course, they don’t know that they don’t see it.
Ms. Rachelle — the brilliant Rachel Pollack when not under her nom-de-blog here — said long ago that employers don’t necessarily ask transpeople to pass as being born the appropriate sex for their gender, rather they just want them to be passable enough that people can assign normativity to them.
That’s the magic we queers, the ones who have opened our eyes to human queerness, often forget.
The vast majority of people assume normativity unless they are forced to do otherwise. They look at people, then dip into the bank of stereotypes and assign one that they think fits the other person. It often takes some time for them to be willing to see the individuality behind their own expectations.
TBB knows this. “When people see you as a woman, whatever voice comes out of you, they hear that as a woman’s voice.” That mirrors the old speech training given to Benjamin era transsexuals to not speak until someone has seen you full face and identified you as a woman. People just don’t want to be wrong about their assumptions.
Ms. Rachelle plays poker a few nights a month. She assumes that everyone there knows she is trans — she has never hidden the fact — but surprised that it never comes up in conversation. It’s just buried by expectations of normativity.
This was even more noticeable to her when there was another transsexual woman in the game, but the topic never came up.
Because of this floating blanket of normative expectation, we never know what other transpeople are assuming about their own invisibility. Do they know they are being seen because others in the room can see enough to see them, or do they assume that barrier of normative expectations and social blindness still covers their own history and biology?
Carol Queen says that one outcome of this blanket, this limit of seeing only what we expect to see, is that straights always think the stories of queers are about them.
Kate Bornstein talks of straight women coming up to her after a performance and saying “That was amazing! You told my story!” Kate looks at them, thinking, “No, I don’t think I did,” but as the consummate performer she is, Kate just smiles at them and says “Thank you!”
The joy of luncheon with Ms. Rachelle was being with someone who also sees beyond the normative, and who has also struggled to find words for it. In shamanic terms, it’s like having another person who also sees the ghosts in the system, the trailing connections and twisting queerness, so you can share with them.
“I have no interest in doing a book about trans for nons,” she tells me. “People have often suggested that over the years, but trying to simplify queerness for those who can’t see it is just not a rewarding task.” I reflect on my frustration this summer with Southern Comfort: The Musical, where the potent stories of my friends have been oversimplified so nons can try to get it.
When you live in a world laced with symbols, you live in a world laced with connection. And you can’t live in a world laced with connection unless you can see beyond the normative expectations so many people live with.
Ms. Rachelle knows that it is seeing beyond that blows up assumptions. That’s what she does when she pulls out her deck of symbols and reads meaning into them for an individual. She gives them a picogram of her own insight, and to them it is like plutonium, expanding the boundaries of their vision and giving them a new way to see their lives.
What they don’t understand is that she has a few kilos more inside that they just can’t see, as their blanket of normative expectations covers her up. That’s why normies love the stories of queers; they can take away just the little bits they can handle easily, without having to have their vision blown open, without having to have their boundary walls which are made of nothing but assumptions blown away.
To be attractive to others is usually not to be seen by them, but rather to stimulate something in their own expectations, their own imagination. Attraction is most often a casting call, trying to assign someone to a role we already have imagined, rather than an opening to seeing a new world through new eyes.
As a noted science fiction writer and futurist, Ms. Rachelle wrote about the future for her local paper. She said she was looking forward to the lack of privacy that the information age was bringing.
To her, it meant two things. First, it meant that people would no longer have incentive to twist themselves into knots to try and stay hidden from the world.
But more than that, it meant that the world would have to face the true diversity humans hold, not just demanding compliance to a surface normativity.
The lack of secrecy, in other words, requires an embrace of the essential queerness of humans.
Maybe that’s why there has been such a change around gay marriage and even transgender acceptance over the past decade.
But at the poker table, the subject still doesn’t come up.