I know that many people want what we call Trans 101, the old style lecture that sought to cut trans up into neat little slices, creating categories and definitions.
There was a time when I believed that Trans 101 was a useful way to talk about transgender in the world, a time when many people did. But as the New York Times has realized in their Transgender Today oped series — http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/projects/storywall/transgender-today/ — those separations not only are difficult to make, they get in the way of really understanding trans.
In the Trans 101 model, surgery status is a big deal. I assure you that in everyday life, it isn’t Only my doctors and my lovers need to know what is in my panties. Others who ask about it are seen as prurient, rude and intrusive with some belief that they are entitled to pry into my life because I am somehow sick or abject.
In my everyday life, trans is a big issue only to me and to other people who get queasy and uncomfortable when facing a world where clear lines are somehow violated. When someone has a very negative response to trans, feel they deserve to know, to pry, to pass judgment, that tells me much more about their stress around gender enforcement than about me.
One of the big breakthroughs around the acceptance of gay and lesbian people is how much their gender variation is terrifically unimportant. In the vast majority of interactions, it really makes no consequential difference if someone is gay. You don’t have any need to know unless they want to disclose, and even if they do, unless you are interested in sleeping with them, it just doesn’t matter.
Is the police officer you are speaking to going home to a wife or a husband. to a boyfriend or a girlfriend or even one of both? Do they like to be a top or a bottom? It really is irrelevant to your interaction with them because it really doesn’t matter.
The stories the share will be different on the surface, the issues that concern them are different, but in the end, that is true of every human. Our ethnicity, family situation, class and a whole mess of different factors colour our stories, and I think for the better.
This is very different from the days when homosexuality was seen as a sickness or a sin, where people felt that vigorously policing homosexuals, that enforcing gender normativity was vital to keep society and the family pure and virtuous.
Today, when someone is obsessed with explaining why homosexuality and homosexuals are evil, when they are filled with the need to dissect and judge homosexual behaviour, we know that says more about them and their beliefs than about the realities of gay and lesbian people.
Gays and lesbians are no longer freaks in a show put on to intrigue, entertain and titillate us. They are just other people with other stories. Engaging those stories is seeing more of humanity reflected. That is why, in a time when we are moving beyond clear boundaries around race and sexuality, media like the New York Times have moved to sharing stories and away from Trans 101.
I can, of course, answer the standard questions.
What is transgender? Transgender is the deep knowledge that compulsory gender roles assigned by dint of your reproductive biology don’t fit and that you have to move beyond convention to claim full, healthy and empowering gender expression.
That answer, I suspect, will not pass muster because it doesn’t fit the Trans 101 guidelines of clear separations that are comprehensible in a clean, binary and heterosexist view of either/or sex/gender boundaries.
Transpeople work hard to be come integrated, going on a very personal journey of discovery. We free ourselves from boxes and separations to find integrity and authenticity. The key thing we need to learn is that gender isn’t what defines people, that gender separations, in the world or in the mind, don’t have to be enforced with a vengeance, any more than strictures against homosexuality ever really needed to be enforced. While every one has their own unique flavor, their own special essence, fundamentally, humans just aren’t that different.
Trans 101 is the opposite of engaging the real life experiences of people who have flowed through gender, seeking a place where they are safe, connected and unique, at least to me. Trans 101 is not only not part of my life, but that I and many others seeing liberation for transgender people and expression find it trying to create simplistic definitions which pander to those who still crave neat gender boundaries to be counterproductive.