Truth is always stranger than fiction because nobody will publish fiction unless it makes sense.
When we try and make stories our of lives, it’s always tempting to have a moment when everything changes. Tie your life to one clear turning point where things were never the same again, where you hit bottom and had to start coming back up again and people will be able to buy the change, accept that transformation really happened on the road to Damascus.
How sweet the sound
To save a wretch like me
I once was lost
But now am found
But now I see.
It’s the way our culture likes its magical stories, with a bang and a puff of smoke and a flourish, now you see it, now you don’t!
Change, though, doesn’t happen in a blinding flash. Change is an ongoing process of facing old stimuli, facing cultural convention, facing habit and training, facing social pressure and making new choices. Change is hard work, moving beyond comfort, and never one simple moment.
Alcoholics Anonymous knows this. You don’t stop being an alcoholic. You choose new behaviours today, then again tomorrow, one day at a time.
This is the same for everyone. Coming out isn’t something you do once. Being more open, more truthful, more authentic and less defended, rationalizing and compartmentalized is something you have to do every day, opening in new ways that push past fear, facing down the bear in the closet.
The traditional trans narrative, though, follows the transformation convention. I lived a bad and sad life being forced to follow the gendered expectations laid on my heart, then the doctors helped me change my sex and now everything is good. I am cured, so my current assertions are credible because the medical profession says so.
A real trans life, however, isn’t nearly as neat and simple, with an easy transformation story that any third grader can grasp. Instead, like any other human life, it is a struggle to become better, more whole and more authentic everyday, facing the same ideas and pressures that shamed us into the closet in the first place.
Of course, this is why my trans narrative is both so potent and so challenging, because it details that daily journey with such acute observation. I stay in the struggle, a struggle that most want to leave behind because it complicates and contradicts their narrative of a moment of transformation rather than a lifetime of change.
“You can change your life in 21 days!” goes the self help huckster, selling what the public want to hear.
For it is surely a lifetime work, this learning to be a woman.
— May Sarton
The truth of a trans life — the truth of every human life — is that every life is more complicated and more nuanced than any simple and easily comprehensible story can ever convey. Because we make new story everyday, that complexity continues to grow rather than diminish, especially on days we face challenges that are not routine.
Transpeople cross boundaries others see as solid all the time, so we are always faced with the discomfort of others whose conventional narratives about themselves are challenged by our very existence. We remind others of connection, of continuous common humanity in ways that stimulate their own understanding, sometimes helping them grow and sometimes causing them to act out to silence and erase us, trying to “put us in our place,” the place we belong in their comforting taxonomy of the world.
It is impossible to know how we exist in the stories of others, memorable even after years for how we speak a different truth, but we always end up queering their stories, making them more rich, nuanced and complex.
I know why we try to simplify our narratives to make them fit with normative assumptions about transformation and correction.
I also know why a trans life is always complex, always evolving, and always at least a little bit queer. We live in truth, not in constructed fictions, and truth is strange.
Strange, true and wonderful.