“Aren’t there any mature transpeople who can appreciate what you have to offer?” Performance Guy asked me.
There are very few models for what it looks like to be a mature transperson. First, trans is a transitive identity, one that marks change in your life. When we are out and visible as trans it is usually because we are in transition, going from here to there, with trans as our primary identity.
Living with trans as your primary identity, though, is a very limiting thing. As Kate Stone said at TED, “I’m proud to be trans, but ask me about my work first!” When people can’t focus on what we have to offer, on what we have created, on what we are proud of all because our trans expression creates too much noise for them, that is a problem.
Almost nobody wants to be known as a professional transperson, being stuck in the trans spotlight and never getting to move past it and just get on with their other work. Being trapped in the jelly sounds awful to us, even if we are proud of who we are.
This is one key reason why the people who are speaking about transgender, the ones who are at the point of the interlocking communities around trans are almost always adolescents, people in their own transitions. This makes the structures in the trans community very gelatinous, full of distress, pitfalls and acting out, because in many ways, being a professional and being a person in the throes of transition are contradictory positions.
To gain power as a group, it is important that group members continue their affiliation and involvement as they mature. Models for how a grown up person like us acts are crucial, as is the leadership that can come from someone who has been there, done that and made their own mistakes.
In the interlocking communities around transgender, though, mature transpeople feel the need to enter another phase in their lives, making their trans nature less prominent, while incoming transpeople feel the need to work through their own issues, playing out the kind of growth and learning that befits as second adolescence. Adolescents, remember, are often rejecting the lessons of maturity, not embracing them.
Again, the theme of trans becomes transitional, a series of phases and turns, rather than being a continuous path. Janet Mock makes it clear that she left trans behind when she entered college with a femaled body and a change of paperwork, only coming back to it when she felt the need to be able to own her story rather than to silence it. Even now, though, she is uncomfortable when the first and often the only thing people see about her is her trans nature; she knows that she is much, much more than just that.
The practicality of this episodic nature of the trans experience is this: once we have gotten out armour on to enter the next stage of life, we don’t open it up again. We learn how to stabilize ourselves in the world, come off the journey, and do the best we can to remain fixed and stable so we and the world can focus on the gifts we have rather than our trans nature.
Those of us who have achieved position and status rarely feel the urge to get involved in the trans community unless we are politicians or therapeutic professionals, for whom the requirement to be out and engaging around transgender is continuing.
There is no real cohort of mature transpeople because almost by definition, becoming mature in this society means leaving trans behind, or at least minimizing it so much that it becomes almost invisible. Once we get in the armour, we stay in the armour.
I learned early that the most powerful force in my life is theology, the need to understand how story, belief and connection can lead us to a more centred and potent truth. For me, the journey of the seeker is at the heart of my life, and everything else, including my deep memory, my search for connections, my speaking in tongues (my Jonathan Winters energy) and my trans nature are all facets of that journeying.
Like any seeker, I use my own experience, augmented with all the other wisdom I can find, to search for deep meanings, universal truths and patterns that repeat across time and culture. My work is to keep understanding the experience of individual humans in the world and how it can be contextualized in a way that reminds us of our continuous common humanity.
These lessons are what give my life vitality, but they are not the kind of lessons that most people want to engage everyday. When people find a way to stabilize themselves in the world they rarely want to take another journey into the darkness to enter their own unhealed places and find cosmic connection.
Even people who think of themselves as seekers are usually looking for answers rather than questions, for solutions rather than challenges, for the comforting spiritual routine of preachers rather than the revelatory spiritual incisions of theological shamans.
I love who I am and what I do. It is a gift given to me by my mother in the sky, it is a burden given to me by my mother in the sky.
But it doesn’t come with safe and affirming community built in. It is far from a standard issue path for transpeople.
While there are transpeople who have learned to value my insights, especially those who have a personal relationship with me where I can help them understand their lives, giving them words and concepts that help them grow, getting to that point is not easy. Even the ones who do choose to hear me wish that more people did, that my offerings were in greater currency so they could be better understood in the broader world.
Mature transpeople are hard to find in this world. Once we get in the armour, we tend to stay in the armour. And transitioning transpeople often have no truck with the views of maturity as their struggle leads them to be rebels, fighting old expectations.
To me, though, I have trouble imagining life without the seeking part, because to me, all life is transitory.