Do you think that transpeople are trying to hide their biology to fool other people or that they are trying to reveal their heart to connect with other people?
That’s a question I would ask when doing outreach over a decade ago now. If you read this blog at all, you know what my answer is to that question, know what I strive to do everyday.
The problem, though, is noise. Any communicator knows that if they want to get others to pay attention to the important points they have to not clutter their communication with distracting details that detract from the core message.
Practically, this means that trans expression always has a component of concealment, not for any reason of deception but just to help people get the main message quickly & easily, with a small amount of noise.
Everyone does some version of this minimizing, of course. We understanding the problem of TMI — too much information — signal that distracts from rather than enhancing communication. Media celebrities know this, working to create a maintain a consistent image that supports quick identification and effective message discipline.
For transpeople, this is big challenge because to the conventional viewpoint, our messages can easily seem contradictory and crazy making. “Does Not Compute! Does Not Compute!” ends up playing, leaving many people fall back on convention, choosing to believe in the “truth” of our biology rather than the direct evidence of the choices that reveal the contents of our heart.
Producers of media on trans know this problem. “Southern Comfort: The Musical” drastically oversimplified the story of the original “Southern Comfort” film in a way that erased the truth of my friends. When pitching “TransAmerica,” Felicity Huffman had to tell people that it wasn’t a depressing transfilm, it was fun!, consigning many transpeople to the sick pile.
We want to be authentic, honest and forthright, but then again, we also don’t want to make noise when it’s not really going to give much benefit. Sometimes that means just not speaking up, other times it means not sharing our more complicated stories.
This always leaves us being very conscious not just of safety margins, but also of choices that might just cause confusion and separation.
For example, I, like many transwomen, wear a wig, or, as we prefer to say, my hair isn’t really attached. There are many disadvantages to wearing a wig, like summer time. Wearing wigs, though, is conventional among women of colour, who find it easier and more elegant than working with their own hair. They know that the big advantage of wigs is that you can change your hairstyle easily and make a dramatic difference.
That convention, though, isn’t understood in all communities. Orthodox Jewish women, who wear a wig — a sheitel — usually try to show their hair as naturalistic as possible, working to blend in. And for most American communities, wig wearing is only a party or performance thing, is always a mark of artifice and not authenticity.
As a transwoman, is it easier and less noisy to give a consistent appearance, or should I be more open about my appearance and take advantage of the possibility of change?
The Legendary Barbara, who bought her first wig from Montgomery Wards when she was just 14 and then wore it to ride around on buses, once told me her plan for going full time. “I bought the same style wig in a bunch of different colours, so can I can look the same.” I chuckled at this plan; most women change their hairstyle much more often than they change the colour.
As TBB will be glad to tell you, the key to being taken seriously is the hair, and she knows it’s not just transpeople who understand this. If anyone understands that style communicates it is women, but too many of them only think of fashion, following the trends or failing to be camera ready.
The choice of what to keep silent, what to conceal, in order to more effectively reveal the most important messages we have is always a challenge. Giving too much information, trying to explain the whole circle in one burst, rather than a series of snapshots over time, can just inhibit and disrupt communication rather than further and enhance it.
I know that I can err on the side of safety and on the side of focus. That may make me seem more cerebral rather than more playful and more vital, which are often the energies that engage other people.
I know that to reveal myself in the world I need to be able to conceal parts of me. In order to get out important messages, I have to silence other messages. To achieve key goals, I have to say no to other goals. To hold onto what what is crucial, I have to let go of what is not.
In every moment, I use my acute situational awareness to decide what to reveal and what to conceal, what to play up and what to play down. While there is no perfect choice, I do know that we can always do better, always get more clear and more effective.
My goal is always revealing my knowledge of my heart, being authentic and open in the moment.
My challenge is always knowing what to I should hide l to do that as effectively as possible.