When I went to my first trans support group in the 1980s, you were asked to declare your dream at the door.
Did you dream of playing at being a woman for the night, dressing up in finery, having drinks and conversation, maybe getting into a little trouble, and then going home where you could scrub off the makeup and go to work as a man the next morning?
Or did you dream of making the blood sacrifice on the surgeon’s altar, having your birth defect fixed, your sex changed, so you could blend into society and go to work as the woman you always really had been the next morning?
(There were almost no visible transpeople born female in those places)
These were the sanctioned dreams, one codified by Virginia Prince, the other by Harry Benjamin, the binary from which you had to choose.
Personally, I resisted this choice.
I walked in as a guy in a dress, chest hair peeping out of my blouse, my birth name offered in welcome. My goal was gender play, swinging the pendulum towards androgyny, trying to find a way in the world that honoured both the truth of my history and male-pubertied body and the knowledge in my heart.
I had done the work, reading both “A Year Among The Girls” and “The Transsexual Phenomenon” in high school, though I ended up leaving them in the subway before getting into my parent’s car. I knew who I was since I was very young, like most of the people who walked into that room.
I also knew at the age of twelve that neither of those dreams would work for me. When a therapist asked me who I would want to be if I could be anything — a crude attempt at differential diagnosis — I answered that I wanted to be myself. She was frustrated when I refused to budge, though the gift of a lifetime is becoming who you are, I understood, though I wouldn’t have the words until I read Joseph Campbell.
I may have resisted fitting into the nice binary boxes at that first support group, holding onto my hard won knowledge, but that never meant I didn’t understand the dream, the same dream that almost everyone had.
If there had been a magical real sex-change, reversing puberty and letting us walk female bodied in the world, we would have taken it. That knowledge we had to hide weighed each one of us down, drove us to this dark and almost secret bar on a side street in an empty neighbourhood.
We all knew by this point, though, that prayer wouldn’t be answered and we had to make the best out of what we got.
Everyone in this room had already given up on their original, most primal dream, of transformation to female, and instead was working on the best substitute they could muster, a night of play, a life of claims. We were choosing which parts of us to make visible in this space, which parts we were willing to keep closeted and hidden in the world.
My choice wasn’t transvestite or transsexual, it was transgender, which was far from common then. I didn’t share either of the standardized and approved dreams.
The dream I did share with everyone else in the room, though, was that dream of being able to be seen for the content of my heart instead of being put in a cage based on the shape of my body. I dreamed of being seen as cute, sweet, pretty, feminine, real.
We each hid that dream under the armour we picked up to defend ourselves in the world, the “I just do this because I love women,” or the “I was born with a birth defect and the doctor says so,” shields we carried.
I knew early that the best I could ever be was someone liminal, someone doing the work betwixt and between.
But that didn’t mean then and doesn’t mean now that I didn’t share the dream of being safe and seen for who I am inside, as the unique and feminine person who was forced to wear a box of binary issue.
I have had to walk past so many officially sanctioned binary dreams, but in the end, well that simple, child’s dream is still swirling inside of me.