“You want to get through to our audience, don’t you?” the online producer said. “Here is a map of their experience, outlining their expectations.
“All you have to do is plot your journey on this map. It’s simple and easy!”
“But,” I replied, “My journey took me off that map, into liminal spaces. I had to go through no man’s/no woman’s land, where the standard landmarks and signposts don’t exist.”
“How can anything possibly not be part of the experience we already understand?” she asked. “We understand the territory of man or woman really well because we were raised in the land of gender. We went through the pressures to fit in with gender stereotypes. Just use those common reference points.”
“The land between gender, though,” I tried to explain,” is a place where gender isn’t fixed or conventional. It is a place where you are no gender at all, where you are all genders at the same time, where you are between and both.”
“Gender is a binary system,” the producer told me. “You are a guy or a gal. What’s so hard about that? You used to be a guy, now you are a gal. Just explain that using the experiences of those who have live inside of gender everyday. Simple!”
“Gender is a performative construction,” I uttered, “a copy with no original! You will always be all the genders you ever were! Gender is layers of convention that creates a distinction without a difference! The cultural constructions of gender filter every view of gender with their binary, heterosexist assumptions!”
“Gender is a binary system,” the producer told me, not having heard anything I just said. “You are a guy or a gal. What’s so hard about that? You used to be a guy, now you are a gal. Just explain that using the experiences of those who have live inside of gender everyday. Simple!”
How do you explain to flatlanders about the third dimension? How do you describe a place where there is no GPS, no easy Gender Positioning System?
The experience of going past the social pressure for compulsory gender assumptions based on reproductive biology isn’t the same as staying within the bounds.
Our experience isn’t just feeling the social pressure to fit in, to be appropriately gendered, it is the experience of feeling the need to break out and then to reinvent ourselves, knowing that we will always feel an imposter without that binary ring of absolute and essential truth. We don’t slip neatly between the experience of being a man and being a woman, instead having the experience of being trans. Our gendering will always be different because we didn’t fit easily into the gender training we got assigned, and we were never gender trained in the gender we feel called to express.
Somewhere inside of us, we always know that we can’t fit in, that we have to keep part of us deeply hidden and silenced to even try, because most people will just get freaked by our whole truth. Our authenticity isn’t in one or the other, it is in what others see as contradiction, bullshit and sickness.
We take the Heroes Journey, into the place beyond the bounds of the known world, through the spaces that our family and friends find so foreign that it scares them. Those underworlds and otherworlds have always existed, but are left in shadows to stop them from threatening the status quo.
They are the places parents fear their children will go, the nexus of fear and transformation. Policemen are installed, keeping queer out of schools, out of sight, and threats are made, embedding the policing deep in the minds of tender children.
Transpeople have always had to tread with care through those minefields, taut that our gendered identity will change in someone else’s eyes in a moment, turning us into a fear freak, someone who has given up any right to social protection or even humanity sometimes.
The map that producers want us to draw our journey on does not include diagrams of those dark places, places that they know audiences don’t want to know about, don’t want their children to know about. The map makes invisible the boundaries of the hell we have to walk through (1996), the hell we face that burns away the false part of us to reveal the authentic and intense.
Any real map would have too much information on it, information that would squick people, turning them queasy, information they don’t want to fall into the wrong hands. Truth that isn’t on the approved paths is truth that can’t exist in a polite society where advertisers pay the bills.
Our story without the sharp edges, without the twists and turns, without the dark places, without the searing internal monologue, without tales of facing the sadistic gender police outside and inside our heads is not our story.
Our story sanitized for the comfort and protection of those who don’t want to go to the tough places and do the hard work ends up being just a sensationalized tale of standard gender expectations, crossdressing and generic heartbreak, of conventions challenged and then reaffirmed in spades.
We don’t have the experience of tourists, staying on the map and having a bit of a thrill, rather we have the experience of travellers who cast off for the unknown (1999) and find something inside of us that has been hidden, purged and demonized in the land of our birth.
It is the transitory, transformational, transitional journey of transgender where we find the jewels of our life, hidden deep under the conventions and expectations laid on us by society. Read your Joseph Campbell; it’s all there, even the reasons why society doesn’t have those jewels and why they the gift is so damn hard to return to a world that clings to comfortable maps with clear boundaries.
Like any traveller, I share the tales of my journey, and a few, a very few who need to go outside and beyond the known will take them and find a clue, a signpost or a clarification in them.
But putting my experience on the old map I had to flee from just to entertain and titillate those who want their own images of separation affirmed and aggrandized?
I don’t know how to do that.