Whose game do you want to play, the big, social wider game, or your own game?
The big game is always tempting. That’s where the players are, that’s where the heat is, that is where people expect you to play. We are taught that to be a success, we have to succeed on societies terms, get approval and rewards from those who have the power to give them.
In the big game, though, the odds always favour the house. The rich and powerful tend to get more rich and powerful and the marginalized tend to stay marginalized. The status quotidian, the entrenched structures all conspire to reject challenge and keep the game biased in the same old way.
New winners tend to come out of new games. When we do our own thing, a few people in a garage somewhere, and come up with something brilliant, we change the rules of the game. We disrupt the old conventions, make new possibilities.
When I first started seriously writing about transgender issues in the late 1980s, I was very political, trying to play in the big game. I wrote for the existing audience, addressed the concerns people raised, made sensible and appropriate challenges.
I began to figure out, though, that trying to say transpeople were not perverts, child abusers, or bathroom invaders wasn’t really useful. Every time I addressed those issues I was playing the challengers game and giving more heat and energy to their stories and objections.
That wasn’t satisfying to me. It wasn’t moving my own understanding forward, rather just keeping it at the level of the common conversation, nor did I see a way to transcend the petty and get people to see the whole issue of transgender in a new, different and revelatory way.
After Guy-In-A-Dress-Line (1999) I made a choice to stop doing what I considered reactionary writing and instead to write for motion. Instead of focusing on an audience, I focused on saying what I needed to hear, on exploring what I needed to explore. I decided to play my own game.
For me, this meant using my own story as a device to explore the experience of being trans in the world. It was my humanity that was going to free me, not the brilliant rational debate skills I had used to confront and challenge people who were saying things that I didn’t agree with.
Instead of telling the world why other people were wrong about trans, I chose to say out loud what I have found to be right. I spoke from a positive view of my own knowledge and feelings, moving away from rationalizations and defence and towards authenticity and vulnerability. Writing for me became expository rather than technical, narrative rather than manipulatively crafted polemics.
This meant walking away from trends, expectations, conventions and fashion. I meant not worrying if I was keeping my audience satisfied with fresh meat, but rather choosing to believe that if I honestly had something to say, there was someone who honestly needed to hear it.
History had shown me that someone has to strike out on their own, has to make change happen. Artists are not ahead of their time, they are of their time, but critics have to help the rest of the world catch up.
It amused me when, in 2014, a crossdresser asked me if they could read something of mine at an open mic, something I had written in 1996. Wouldn’t I want to read it instead? I, of course, have moved on a bit in the last eighteen years, but they are just getting to where I was, even if they can’t imagine where I am now.
I do keep aware of where society is on trans issues, but that isn’t where I want to be, isn’t the game I want to play.
My need, my desire, my craving is to own my own voice, outside of the current fashion.
I do imagine what I would say if I was given five minutes in front of a certain venue, but I never think about how to feed the audience what it wants to hear, how to pump out sound bytes and applause lines that pander to the emotions of the crowd. No matter what my training, I am not a politician or a missionary. Instead, I share my vision in as clear and compelling way as I can muster.
I don’t want to feed or challenge the machine. I want to offer a new viewpoint that can support new understandings and new possibilities.
For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us to temporarily beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change. Racism and homophobia are real conditions of all our lives in this place and time. I urge each one of us here to reach down into that deep place of knowledge inside herself and touch that terror and loathing of any difference that lives here. See whose face it wears. Then the personal as the political can begin to illuminate all our choices.
― Audre Lorde
The personal is political and is what, in the end, can illuminate our choices. The big change that happened in gay rights is not better debate but gay people learning how to own their own voices in the world, how to be out and proud, how to be visible and connected in society. Once people knew gay people, rather than understanding them as hidden freaks, continuous common humanity lead them away from dehumanization and into connection.
The ways gays and lesbians moved away from stereotypes to complex characters, each as different as their thumbprint, is what is happening with transpeople now. We are not all the same, not all expected, not all with the same goals or values.
Exposing our diversity — our humanity — only comes where there is a huge range of trans voices heard in the world, telling our stories and our truths. We need to change the game to one where trans isn’t about sickness or isn’t even the defining characteristic of who we are, rather it is just another way some humans are. We simply ask that you see beyond our genitals and into our character, engaging our stories beyond your binary expectations.
Fighting those who see themselves as our foes, or trying to fit into the expectations that the media hold about us is just playing their game. We can’t win at their game, because the rules are fixed.
Instead, we have to find our own game, claiming our own unique, authentic and potent voices. This is how we create new rules, new visions and new possibilities for people with hearts like ours in the future.
And we have to do that even if it means being ahead of the curve.