How do you fix a problem like Maria?
Now, Maria is a transwoman who has been scared and shamed into the closet for years and is now trying to find some way to become more integrated and actualized in a very sex focused world.
The one thing we know is that you can’t reverse time. You can’t just rewind her life and have her start again with girl socialization and the inhibition of male puberty. That’s not an option.
Even if it were an option, it wouldn’t be a perfect one. Transkids who are supported in that way still face their share of problems, either having to hide their history and biology at a cost of denial, or to face fundamentalists who really believe that reproductive biology — birth genital configuration — defines who you are and even who God created you to be. They face crap, too.
We cannot yet change the sex of a human body, even if we can change various characteristics with hormones and surgery. Maybe in the future, maybe, but not anytime soon.
Any fix for Maria is going to involve compromise.
Maria can’t really be fixed, she can only be supported. Those who look for a cure won’t find one.
In her dreams, Maria knows what she wants. She wants to be transformed into her perfect model of womanhood, female and fabulous. Stripping off all that has been painful and challenging, she dreams of walking in the world with a new skin, one that fits her imagined self.
While the quest to achieve that change can be a crucial part of a trans life, the outcome will never, ever meet the color of Maria’s dreams. Compromises are inevitable when dreams meet reality. We have to learn to let go of our imaginings to get what we can get from reality, which may be better and more full, even if it isn’t what we thought we wanted.
Negotiating between dreams and reality is the enduring struggle of any human life, especially a trans life. We can never be unmarked by the experience of growing up in a gender that bruised and scarred us. We can never really manifest our dreams, instead scampering somewhere between.
Who do we love? Who will love us? How do we negotiate our place in a system of desire that seems to depend on a willingness to play the role our partner has in their head?
Fixing a problem like Maria isn’t simple and it isn’t any one shot operation, any more than fixing any human life is. We grow and we change and we have to become new, finding different ways to get what we need. Every choice is a trade off.
For researchers who want to solve a problem like Maria, this is a frustrating problem.
If the standard old solutions, like medical intervention with hormones and genital reconstruction surgery don’t fix trans people, then why are we doing them? They are expensive and intrusive and they don’t give the kind of clear statistical results that can justify the intervention, then they aren’t really productive.
But if medical intervention can’t solve the problem, what can? Should we just tell transpeople to suck it up, that no change is really possible, that they just need to stop carping?
In a world where Maria has endured the bruises and scars of being scared and shamed into the closet, where when Maria becomes visible, many will continue to see her as sick or freaky, a world where she has to keep her defenses up, what can possibly help her?
By putting so much emphasis on medical intervention, many transwomen place enormous expectations on the intervention process, believing that it won’t just change their body but it will also change the way that they are seen in the world, change the way people relate to them, change the burden of their history and scars, change them into women.
Anyone who goes into the process with those expectations is bound to be disappointed, if not be crushed. Their outcome will not make any doctor immediately think that the intervention to solve the problem was worth it.
I haven’t had to deal with a problem like Maria. I have had to deal with the actual problems of Callan.
In my first 15 years out, when I looked at the outcome of others who had hormonal and surgical intervention, I knew that wouldn’t directly change my life. It may give me more standing, more comfort, more empowerment, but it certainly didn’t come with any guarantee of happiness.
The change I needed wasn’t external, it was internal. I had to learn to engage my pain and shame, had to learn to change the way that I approached the world. I saw, quite clearly, that the ultimate tranny surgery was pulling the stick out of your own ass.
I did that work, but ran up against the “Guy-In-A-Dress Line” that place where the best you can ever really hope to be is bounded by your birth sex, by a body that clearly went through puberty as a male. That line is the powerful, the one that researchers come up against when they ponder how much gender can really change.
Having been an outsider since I was a kid, I knew the alternative. People would say things like “I see your gender as Callan.” That was an acknowledgement of my bold, individualistic approach to the world, of the truth that I walked through walls that constrained other people, but I knew that Callan wasn’t a gender.
I know how to be a weird iconoclast (shout out to Stu Rasmussen!), but I also know that approach doesn’t empower me to come from my feminine heart.
It was impossible to walk through the world without experiencing those moments that the sex of my body didn’t surface sometime, with people assigning me as a man-in-a-dress. This left me feeling unsafe when making the choices of a woman, knowing that the expectations around woman wouldn’t hold.
I’m a femme lesbian woman and that means I would be queer even if I was assigned as female at birth. That makes me double queer. My sister reminds me that my body was never slight, never easily femaled.
My challenge has been solving a problem like Callan. I used the best tools I had to do that, and as someone who leads with their brain, first experiences the world through sound, and has the bent of a theologian, I thought about the stories that surrounded my own nature.
The problem is that I need to make a new chapter in my life, have needed that for quite some time now. I need a new public persona, a new social identity with which to engage the world.
For me, though, that guy in a dress line gets to me. I know that truth has to be at the core of everything I do, especially after spending so many years examining the question of transgender and deceit.
While I admire many transwomen who have approached the world in a take charge, butch kind of way, that has never been the pattern of my heart. I have never, ever been cocky enough to make that strategy work for me. That also means that I have never been butch enough to find a femme who wants to invest in me.
The hardest thing about solving a problem like Callan has always been having to do it alone. There are no books, no coaches, no real supports that I have been able to find that are useful. It’s lovely that I can support others on their journey with notes from my travels and by reflecting what they manifest, but that doesn’t move me forward.
For people who see me as a guy-in-a-dress, a “man plus” as one therapist called it, they can’t imagine why I would want more or different. I seem to know how to do the whole quirky guy thing so well, and anything else seems impossible.
I know enough transwomen who have bodies shaped like mine to ever imagine that just hormonal and genital intervention will solve everything. Hell, at my age and with my body, I can’t even wear the lovely leather shoes I have collected.
How do you solve a problem like Maria? How do you have some sort of canned procedure that turns people who know that they are trans and who are soaked in so much pain that they will look for any hope that they can move beyond into happy, healthy, well integrated people still living in deeply binary world?
I have no idea.
I do know how to claim yourself, how to get more at peace with who you are, to find your own strengths.
Coming out from behind your armour, though, being vulnerable, open and free in the midst of other people, well, that is quite a challenge. When you keep getting reduced to the gendered expectations of others in a way that feels erasing and even abusive, you learn to stay guarded.
I need to open to the world. I have some things to say. If I have no next chapter, well, no next chapter.
And that is a problem.