I very much want the same thing I wanted as a young child, lying in bed and praying that I would wake up as a female, being able to assimilate in the world as a woman.
What I knew even then, though, was that I needed to be myself, to hold on to what made me unique. The limits of femaling my body were clear to me, so I only prayed for a miracle, not for some kind of medical intervention.
As I look to claim some space in society again, look to getting back on the grid, I need to consider where I can fit. It needs to be a place where I can fit with my own heart, my own history and my own expression, and it needs to be a plac where I can fit into social structures, being a part of the group.
Wild and Tame are the primary duality of humans, as I have written about for over twenty years now, the challenge we have of both being unique & individual while also being well assimilated & fitting in.
How much of myself am I willing to cut off to fit in? How much will doing that really change how people see me?
Learn to lie or be called a liar was at the heart of this dilemma when I first came out in the late 1980s. I passed through periods where others wanted me to surrender my challenging voice to the group, staying silent to not upset the status quo. Today, the challenge is around trans as other, standing proud while also being politically correct and supporting feminist models.
I am continuously reminded, though, of how much I don’t fit, how much assimilation will always be denied to me.
One person kindly suggests that I need to join a larger community, like that of a church or a recovery program, being able to find my commonality with a wide range of people, understanding my essential humanity.
When I have tried that, when other transpeople have tried that, I have found that the real challenge is having them find their commonality with me. My narrative crosses lines that they think are hard and fast, so they have difficult really engaging my story.
People often want to substitute their knowledge for my own knowledge about my experience. Looking through fresh eyes, going back to basics is always valuable, allowing us to get outside our own expectations and assumptions.
Often, though, those other viewpoints miss nuance and concerns that are real and important, simplifying beyond understanding. When scholars look at variations of handwritten biblical texts they prefer the more complicated & challenging version as they work to roll back the tendency to simplify and remove nuanced meaning. I have spent much energy negotiating other people’s fears, having other people dismiss my reality and replace it with their own.
Another group running a mastery course for women tells me that while they find me brave and abject, that their women’s space isn’t really for people like me. I am not welcome there.
The message becomes clear: you are a man, albeit a man in a dress, and as long as you are ready to accept that line, you are welcome. The best you can ever be is a warrant woman.
I have lived my life as a gender variant man, restricted by the heterosexist convention that people are defined, always and forever, by the shape of their birth genitals and not by the shape pf their heart. Even feminists who support transgender expression have usually expressed that belief, grouping people easily by biology and “learned experience.”
To be accepted as a woman, I have to make big parts of me invisible. If I do that, though. I lose what makes me special and unique.
To people who see reproductive sex as fundamental, teal, true, simple, inerrant and unchangeable, this isn’t a big deal. I should just accept my fate and get on with it, accepting the conventional wisdom of sex differences.
To transpeople, especially queer transpeople, who know that people are defined by their character and revealed by their choices, not by their birth biology, this has always been the challenge. We may be able to change the appearance of our biology somewhat, but to be defined by our looks feels oppressive, to have our role compulsorily constrained by our birth genitals feels abusive.
People do that, though, easily and without thought.
When I look at a meetup of mature women getting together for “entertainment and camaraderie” I have to consider how I fit into that group. Do I have to make my own trans history invisible? What happens if people clock me, or worse, read me out? Am I safe there? Do I make others unsafe?
Is that space for people like me?
It’s easy for people to say “well, you are just a human and humans are welcome,” but the fact is that gender defines so much of how we shape our spaces. This is the secret truth beneath the bathroom fight which so often erupts as an anti-trans posturing: should we allow people who are “really” whatever to enter that safe space?
When you don’t fit in man land and don’t fit in woman land you end up occupying that No Man’s/No Woman’s land that defines the battleground between the genders. That is a dangerous place, with missiles coming from both sides.
The moment when your gender changes in someone’s eyes is always terrifying, tossing you into enemy camp, a deceiver who doesn’t respect something you see as fundamental.
If the solution for this challenge is only to enter neutral spaces, then you are forced off the grid, with not only no public restroom or dressing room, but also no safe space to find “entertainment and camaraderie.”
I have told my story as a transperson for many decades now, as clearly, truthfully and elegantly as I know how to do it. I have worked hard to be gracious, respectful and considerate.
My experience is that people often find it interesting. but they rarely find it connective, getting the joke and wanting to enter dialogue and relationship with me. They are OK when I reveal my commonality with them, seeing them clearly, but engaging their commonality with me, seeing me clearly, is just too much to ask.
My challenge is getting connected with the world. People tell me to enter shared space, but they also resist me entering spaces that they wish to remain well policed. They want me to modulate and attenuate myself so I am not challenging to the separations that they value, not intrusive upon their comforting divisions.
Self policing is part of shame. It is part of that inhibitory shame my mother passed on to all her children, making us ashamed when we revealed our humanity and exuberance in ways that stimulated her own treasured narcissistic martyrdom.
How do I both become new and stay neatly in the box others want to put me in?
It is reported that Bruce Jenner, coming up on a big and hyper public transgender emergence, is feeling lonely these days. Welcome to the club. There is a reason I have had that tag line on this blog since 2005. I was tranny when tranny wasn’t trendy.
I want to fit in. Getting sliced up and still find that I am not safe to enter never seemed like an option for me.
I reach out to find spaces and I am knocked back, much like I have been for many decades now.
Finding a place where I am seen, understood, valued and affirmed has been an almost impossible task.
Some may suggest that I should accept that this challenge may mean I am off the mark, not healthy, and need to assimilate more, letting go of queerness and accepting convention and conventional boundaries. To me, after such a struggle, that feels like destruction.
Not finding safe & affirming space, though, makes it very hard to get a bigger connection with the wider world, getting back on the grid.
Do I need to be more tamed, more assimilated, at the cost of erasing my hard won knowledge? Or do I need to hold on to my bold, individual and unique voice, even if that tenacity leaves me hungry?
What kind of destruction should I choose?
That’s the question that I, as a transperson erased by this culture, have struggled with all my life.