I was working as a contract employee in IT at a big company where I was not loved by many of the rank and file staffers. They found me a bit smart and challenging, which they tended to find threatening.
I was training one woman and she was getting my approach. When I sent out an e-mail with a series of points to be considered, some needed to dismiss and mock it.
“I started to defend you,” my co-worker said, “because your mail made perfect sense to me. But then I thought better of it.”
I got it. By defending me, she would lose credibility with other staff members she had to work with everyday. Standing up for me was just not a good career move for her. I didn’t blame her.
Most of the shit I deal with in the world doesn’t come from people who hate me and want to damage me. Most of it comes, instead, from people who like me and want to support me, but in the end, can’t find a way to pay the price of that support in their lives.
Every transperson has had the experience of being told that they were okay in society, but what about that other person who could be identified as trans. Weren’t they just too out, too challenging, too rude, too weird, too freaky, too unhooked, too perverted, too sick? How can anyone support trans if it means supporting people like that?
This threat plays big in trans life. We often see people across the room who are doing transgender in a whole different way than we are, and we immediately try to move away from them.
We don’t want people to associate us with that kind of transperson, don’t want to be forced to defend their choices, and most of all, don’t want to see our own expression and challenges reflected in them. We have enough trouble getting up everyday with our own burdens and our own blinders, so having to carry them too just seems too much.
If we have trouble standing up for other transpeople who seem to cross that boundary into being “just too queer,” how can our loved ones stand up for us and others like us?
I’ve seen more than one parent of a trans child snub other transpeople, focused on their child’s challenges. In their focused vision, they just can’t imagine how understanding and supporting transpeople like them can at all help their child. It’s just too much work, isn’t it?
My family was more than willing to accept my narrative of transgender for twenty years, from the early 1990s until now unless I actually made them do the work.
People know that if you won’t fight with them, you won’t fight for them, and in the end, that’s what every transperson needs and wants, someone to be there and fight for them, someone to help take the continuous pressure of swimming through shit off for a bit so we can feel safe and cared for.
Most people’s lives, though, are about them and their challenges, not about serving others.
As transpeople we know that whenever we express our challenges in the world, other people will make it about themselves, about their emotions and thoughts and concerns.
This means, of course, that we don’t just have to carry our own fears and challenges, we have to also carry the fears and challenges of others.
In other words, when we share our burdens, we end up being expected to also carry the burdens of others, the burdens that they believe are caused by our “choice” to express our queerness in the world. We get blamed and we get dumped on for making their lives harder and less pleasant.
So, instead of having allies who can fight with us and for us, caring for us, our shit gets thicker and heavier and harder to swim though.
We get allies who want to simplify and clean up trans so it is easier for them to explain it to their audience, trying to sanitize and package us rather than to embrace and fight for all of who we are.
The real destruction of transpeople comes not from people who hate us and want to attack us, rather it comes from people who love us but because they don’t do their own healing work end up dumping more on us, drowning us more.
It’s hard to get angry and motivated when people we love turn from us because supporting us would just be too much work and a bad career move.
Usually, what we end up doing is swallowing our own queerness and trying to play small so as not to put the ones we love too much in the firing line. We internalize their fear and discomfort, which becomes the basis for more self-loathing and acting out against other transpeople who just seem too queer for us to stand by.
It’s this vicious circle of stigma that keeps it so potent. It’s not just us in the firing line, rather it takes our whole family hostage and threatens to hurt them for our actions. That’s not something we want to take responsibility for.
Our family doesn’t get the same benefit from us being out as we do. That makes it much easier for them to be swamped by the fears and opinions of others, much easier for them to expect that we will cut back to make their life easier. TBB is clear that the best part about her GRS was that it finally stopped her family from begging her to give up the whole public transgender thing.
We are tethered to those we love, so society taking them hostage with stigma is a direct attack on us. We understand why they make things harder for us, out of an assertion of deep caring and profound fear for our well-being, but we also know that taking on their fears at all just makes the shit we swim in heavier and stinkier.
When others who care for us, be they friends, family or other transpeople, can’t stand up and fight for us, can’t find the time, energy or space to do the kind of growth and healing to make safe space for us, but instead just play out their own damn fear and expectations, instead just blame us for adding to their burdens, the shit gets worse.
And we end up swimming in the shit more alone and more exhausted, more likely to drown.