If someone gave you five minutes to speak to an audience you had an interest in, what would you say to them?
This thought exercise has always been important to my understanding of what I know and how the best way might be to share that message. I wrote essays and speeches starting in the 1980s, even if I knew I would never share them with any audience, and in many ways, my daily blog posts have been just another version of that exercise.
Today is the local Pride festival in the park, a huge fundraiser for our local lesbian & gay centre. This is the biggest deal of their year, bringing thousands together and making money from vendors and sponsors.
If I could stand on stage and have that audience for five minutes, what would I want to communicate and how would the best way be to share that?
There was only one trans event planned for this pride season, Trans Power held at a local gay bar. The last Facebook blurb the committee published about this event turned me cold:
Capital Pride June 10 at 5:30pm · Headed out to Trans Power at Rocks? Check out the special PRIDE Drink menu, and try a special PRIDE cocktail from our Platinum sponsors, Ketel One, Hendrick's Gin, 1800 Tequila, Grand Marnier, Barefoot Wine & Bubbly, or Viniq - something for every taste!
That may be a fine blurb for a dance party. One trans event, though, and urging to people to buy premium booze reminded me how the much the young, politically correct staff are completely disconnected from the real lives of transgender people in the region.
In my experience, they find transpeople to be flaky crackpots who don’t know how to play the game and be members of the group, iconoclasts who demand their own individual freedom of expression. For them, this means transpeople can be marginalized as freaks, even though for me, that rugged individualism is the defining and best part of people strong and bold enough to claim their own heart in the world.
We don’t need an injunction to buy top shelf hooch. We need people to understand we are the icebreakers who have always lead the way in claiming freedom beyond gender roles that said, for example, that men should never love men and women should never love women.
Standing in line at Walmart yesterday, the cashier liked a dress a mother was buying for a young girl, who looked to me to be about a second grader. “She is going to Pride tomorrow,” mom explained, and the cashier hoped that she had sparkly rainbows to wear with it.
Pride has come a long way from the riots outside Stonewall to the point where it is a family festival full of music and clowns in elaborate dresses who kids love. When the teenagers next door figured out I was trans, they once chased the car to get a look at me only to be disappointing that I didn’t look like a contestant on Drag Race.
The hugely enlarged audience means both that there are more allies “standing up for gay people” as the local pride co-chairs explained on a video yesterday, queers, transpeople and bisexuals not being considered, and it means that the producers of these events feel the need to simplify these events, pulling back the queer to serve the commercial.
I remembered my experience with a youth group vigil where I felt the real torment of queer people was trivialized, reduced to something that could be dealt with by hugs. This kind of mainstreaming of real challenges feels shallow and dismissive to me, marginalizing people who don’t play the pretty game of fitting in.
So, if I was given five minutes on stage at Pride, how would I make my point?
Self-immolation. It can mean any suicide for political purposes, but in this century it mostly means killing yourself in flames, soaked with flammable liquids.
I would stand on that stage, douse myself, flick a Bic, and turn myself into a human torch. The cameras would show the outline of a human body written in flame, but everyone there would always remember the acrid stench of burning flesh, a scent burned into their memories.
What else would break through the expectations and assumptions of all the partiers? Would words alone tell my story, make me heard? Would words make people come to account for why one transperson felt so erased that they needed to burn themselves to a crispy pile melted onto the stage at the festival? Would words break through into the media to spread the message, or at least the questions, wider?
It’s the year of the celebrity tranny. They even have one at the local event here this year, showing their sensitivity by bringing in a headliner who can out a fun face on while making people think they are being open. You get to be a celebrity tranny by playing the game.
Self-immolation is not playing the game. It is making the burning hell that transpeople go through manifest, the world where they are erased in the process of pounding them into normalcy, even by those who give lip service to being their allies.
I have spent too long trying to be heard and reflected in the world and I am burned out. Being burned up may be the only way to get a message out in an unforgettable way, stuck into the insipid social media gawking of the world.
The negative reaction would be amazing. My act would be more proof that transpeople are mentally ill and deserve whatever abuse they get, proof that we are self-centred and indulgent, because nobody should ever do this to the poor children. I would be dismissed, marginalized, and demonized.
At least, though, I would be talked about. It might drive a few people to ask how someone can get to this point, a few people to actually engage what I have been saying for so long.
If you are going to go, why not go in a ball of fire where you can be hated, but cannot be erased?
I have tried words for a long, long time (1997). I have tried being polite and gracious. That hasn’t gotten anyone to really do the work to engage what I am saying in the world. I try harder and harder and seem to get farther and farther away from breaking through. People tell me to play their game better, but the limits of that strategy are written on my body.
What could I do to break through? What could I do but burn through?