Trans, by definition, is about change. It is about becoming new, moving beyond bounds, finding what lies beyond.
For people in the throes of that change, there seems that there is only now. A few dreams may motivate them, and there may be echoes of a shrinking past, but trans is about recreation, about motion, sensation and Eros.
Trying to tell people who are claiming transness, working to jettison expectations and create new, about the importance of the long term, about the lessons of history, about core values and enduring lessons, well, you may as well try to tell stories to a cat.
It’s thirty years for me as an out, exploring transperson.
That makes little sense to anyone. Isn’t trans a moment where you cross between, say people who see trans as just one transitive moment? How can anyone stand between, in the liminal zone for three decades? What can there possibly be to learn, to change, to become in all that time?
My experience of trans is the experience of understanding, knowing that the longer I stay in the fire, the more the shit burns away and the purity is revealed.
Standing in the fire, though, seems crazy buckets to people. How can you build, grow and understand more deeply? Shouldn’t you just follow your impulses, burn the change out, and then fall back to whatever is left? Surely, the Phoenix needs to leave the fire when it stops being fun, right?
What does it mean to be trans in a way that isn’t just being stuck in a zone of change that will end, letting you fall back into some kind of presumed normalcy?
I have a narrative of 30 years of trans, but that experience, especially the mental experience that has been so profound to me, just can’t fit in the model of trans which is just about emergence and desire. Going deep and creating nuance doesn’t fit in that story, only playfulness and pain count, away from the workaday challenges of being trans and present for life.
To the young, history is just a concept. It doesn’t yet exist on their skin. And every newly out transperson, no matter what their chronological age, is young, just emerging into childlike dreams of blossoming. They can’t take on the weight of experience, they need the exuberance of emergence.
Teaching long term thinking to someone whose ego just wants to break the bounds of enforced childhood, who needs affirmation of their most sensuous desire is a very difficult task. Responsibility comes with maturity, and how can maturity be a trans thing?
Those who see trans as the rejection of social obligations and niceties are ready to blast away to maintain what they see as freedom and independence. They are rejecting their dependence on others, on structures, railing at how unfair and demanding they are.
For me, though, coming to the state of interdependence where we support each other to create a safe, nurturing world that supports diversity and growth is at the heart of the transgender journey. Transpeople know that they want this kind of care, they just are often unsure of how to also give it without letting go of their wild freedom.
Building structures with only the flexible bits — the transpeople — is almost impossible. Our role is connection and shock absorption. Playing that part, though, requires us to show up with respect and duty rather than with arrogance and ego. We can’t make it about us, have to be part of the team.
Trans is about change. That change, though, leaves a trail, a path, a journey. Through that trip lessons are offered to us — where we stumble, there lies a jewel — and we have to decide if we want to take that learning on board or stay in our own reverie of magical appearance.
When I hired staff, it was crucial that they could learn from their mistakes. It was much better, though, if they could learn from the mistakes of others, too, taking on board the gifts which others gained though the hard work of getting back up after they stumbled.
“But I don’t wanna be like that!” so many transpeople will wail, holding desperately onto the imagined outcomes which fuelled their emergence. The outcomes they see in transpeople around them are not the outcomes they want for themselves, not what they went through such pain and effort for.
Novelty is the essence of trans, at least according to those who see trans as type of freak show, an exhibition of external manipulation put on for their benefit. We are just theatre, separated from real life, playing out our own little acts for the amusement of ourselves and the normies.
My trans, though, is written in my history. Thirty years, three decades of being out, and a long time in the closet before that. I knew who I was very, very early, even if I didn’t know what being like me meant in the world.
Getting that history into the world, especially the non-objective history, my experience of life, has been enormously challenging, because so many want to believe that trans isn’t about history, but only about our claiming expression in the moment.
History is always the story of change. Those who are unaware of that, those who see themselves not in the context of a narrative but only as a the inhabitant of a moment in time leave themselves without any understanding of how to avoid the pitfalls of the past.
We are never separate from history; we make it with each of our choices.
Until we can respect the past, we can’t respect the future.
It’s great being intensely present, vulnerable, open and transforming beyond expectations, but having more than ego and sensation shape your choices is the only way to create better, outside of indulgence.
Trans is becoming new, no doubt. But it is always best done with a great respect for the old.