There was a time when I was really, really good at playing eccentric.
I knew I wasn’t one of the guys, so in my teens I had to learn how to play one, somehow.
Normal was never, ever going to work for me. I just never had the training, support or mind for it.
I remember watching men back then to figure out strategies. What could I pull off?
Between screenings of Casablanca at the Harvard Square cinema and Jonathan Winters, I figured out that iconoclastic curmudgeon was probably the right façade for me. Sly and witty, I could stay at a distance from the action, defended inside of my shell.
The lovely thing about this role was that by not caring what the hell other people thought of me, not playing for affection and affirmation, but instead focusing on respect and individualism.
Of course, this was just a continuation of the defensive callous that I had grown to survive inside of my family. I knew my mother liked to remind everyone how much pain she was in by spreading that pain around to others, that she needed to justify and defend her own self-pity by spraying her own failure cycles across the family. We were doomed, she knew, and ensured that outcome by sabotaging whatever she could.
I understood the boundaries of iconoclastic eccentricity. Fuck, I could do anything because it wasn’t about me.
Transgender emergence, though, changes all that. The more you go deep, the more you expose your own heart. The more you are exposed, the more vulnerable you are.
For people who have lived a normative life, it’s easy to see transgender expression as a form of iconoclastic eccentricity. This is the “Fuck You!” facet of transgender, letting your freak flag fly, not caring what anyone else thinks. You get to put on a shell, look however you want to look, and just snap at anyone who gives you a dirty look.
When I first came out, I was into gender play, a path towards balance and androgyny. A friend wondered if I was concerned about people finding out, so I asked her “Do you think anyone would be shocked by anything I do?” She thought for a minute and understood; I was already considered to be profoundly weird by the group, but was tolerated and respected for being smart and bold.
When I run into people who identify as genderqueer, rocking a boldly individual look in the world, they often look at me and write me off based on my conventional choices in appearance. When I speak for assimilation, they assume I am speaking for the choice I have always made, making a choice of fear and surrender. Most just can’t imagine how much I have walked in the world as a iconoclastic eccentric, from the mukluks I wore through high school to the chest hair under my glitter disco blouse when I first came out, any more than straight people who have seen me as male bodied can imagine that I can look presentable and even put-together as a woman.
I have been there, though, and I really, really, really don’t want to go back to that kind of “what the fuck” expression. I didn’t spent twenty years excavating my heart to have to bury it back up again, compartmentalize it off and just be tough & defended again. As a very queer identified person, I respect iconoclastic eccentricity, but it’s not where my heart is.
The problem with exposing your heart, though, especially after keeping it buried under freak mode and concierge mode for so many decades, is that it is weakened from years of abuse, denial and pain. Getting attenuated, modulated and stuck just isn’t good for the long term health of your heart, as I tried to explain 18 years ago.
I’m not stupid. I know that I will always be more iconoclastic and eccentric than your average bear. Being visibly trans, though, is wearing my heart on my sleeve, and that heart, well, it’s quite tattered.
One of the continual challenges of being trans, or at least of being trans like me, is that it becomes almost impossible to blend in easily. Most gay and lesbian people don’t wear what they would to a pride festival to work or to Sunday dinner with the relatives. They have options about their visibility, if they choose to take them.
I like and respect the fuck parts of trans — the “what the fuck,” the “I don’t give a fuck,” the “wanna fuck?” and even the “fuck you.” It’s just that my personal trans nature isn’t about that, rather it’s about expressions of gender crossing that reveal our continuous common humanity beyond the easy and false comfort of opposites.
My trans expression is about revealing my heart and being seen and valued for the unique and tender gifts I bring into the world.
I know eccentric. I know iconoclastic. I know individualist. I know “what the fuck.” I own them and have from a very young age, when those were the only gifts my parents could give me. They form the basis of my own commitment to queerness.
But I have also always known feminine, graceful, receptive, caretaking, tender and loving. I know my own heart and the hearts of others.
Storing all that in compartments again, trying to wrap myself in callous, well, that feels awful. Getting cut with every step feels awful too.
And so, I sit here, putting blog posts in bottles and throwing them out into the world, then being too scarred to look for replies.