There is an assumption that transpeople inhabit trans spaces.
That is rarely correct, simply because there are very few trans spaces in the world and most of those that do exist are ephemeral — an hour here, a weekend there.
In reviewing a recent reality show one person noted how good it was to see transpeople in a group rather than as solitary individuals walking in a challenging world.
While that image may have been appealing, it was one of the most unreal parts of the show. Transpeople, especially transpeople of different identifications, different maturity of expression, different classes and even different races very, very rarely gather together. It took television producers to make that coming together happen for the cameras.
When we do get together there is always a lot of identity politics going on. This focuses on how other transpeople are doing trans wrong, doing trans in a way that does not reflect how one wants to be seen in the world.
It’s easy to see what scares, annoys, offends or squicks us in others. It’s very hard to get to the point where you can support other people making choices that you would never, ever make for yourself. Saying, for example, “I could never wear that but it looks great on you!” takes a great deal of confidence and maturity.
There are very few benefits to identifying as a member of the group “trans.” If you identify as gay or lesbian you can hook up with other people who have that same identification, but trans does not open a world of interested partners to anyone.
We didn’t grow up wanting to be trans. We grew up wanting to be a beautiful woman or a handsome man, to be a straight person or a gay person or a lesbian, maybe even just wanting to be ourselves. Trans is just a means to claiming what we really desire, not something we always wanted.
All of this is most devastating to people who are just beginning to explore their own trans nature.
When these newbies reach out, they don’t find spaces with mature and confident people to support them in possibilities. Instead, they find spaces filled with other newbies and with the transpeople who have resisted emergence enough to stay stuck in the closet that isolated trans space offers them.
It is those closet dwellers that make mature transpeople resist trans spaces. We don’t need to go back and fight the battles we worked so hard to move beyond, don’t need to be told how we are doing trans wrong, often by people who often aren’t really living a wider life at all.
Transvestism is about changing your clothes, transsexualism is about changing your body, and transgender is about changing your mind.
To see the possibilities of trans emergence past your own fears, assumptions and expectations, you have to be willing to open your mind to the stories of other transpeople. These stories, though, will challenge the resistance that is in the mind of every transperson, the beliefs that have kept them closeted for so long.
That resistance, the defenses we made up to protect our trans heart, and the fantasies we created about the way our life, our body and our relationships should be, are the biggest block we hold to becoming new. The old patterns and tensions keep us fixed and small.
Every transperson I know dreams of safe trans spaces where we can be open, seen, affirmed and supported (1994). Many of us have even worked to create those spaces, in local groups, in conferences or even in a town that we could come to. Most of us, though, have walked away from that dream and learned to take care of ourselves. The cost of collision of armour is just too high.
We don’t inhabit trans spaces not because we don’t want or need trans spaces, but rather because those spaces are under so much pressure that they quickly become unsafe and very costly. This leaves us very much alone in navigating the world, defending what we have and husbanding our resources while we stay ragged and unhealed inside.
Newly out transpeople rarely find space where they can see themselves tenderly mirrored and have their unique possibilities affirmed in a mature and compassionate way. Instead, they usually get a dump of fear and rules from others, telling them so many different and shallow right ways to be trans in the world.
The trans spaces we inhabit aren’t in the world. That means that they have to be inside of us. We have to create our own safe space and always carry it with us.
When you have no good model for safe space in the world, this is a very, very difficult challenge. We know that other people need to feel safe around us, need to sense us as being comfortable in our own skin, but we have few places to practice that practice, few places to recoup and repair own own frayed safety.
The spaces we inhabit are almost totally spaces that are not built by or for transpeople. They are spaces where we tend to get forced to the edges, keeping our nature hidden and small so as to not create too much of a stir.
That lack of trans spaces, well, it keeps so many of us lonely and defended, unable to mature and feel safe.
And that continues to be a problem.