Wild and tame; the primary duality. We all need to be wild enough to be unique and special, we all need to be tame enough to fit appropriately in the group, following decorum and traditions.
ShamanGal just felt this reality play out in her workplace.
She arrived there two years ago as a well assimilated transwoman, having explored her trans expression for years, doing all the paperwork and such to give her a blended cover story, the twists in her life concealed as much as possible.
Her journey there has been around finding ways to come out some, revealing her trans nature and claiming her unique voice.
This week, another transwoman emerged into the office in a quite different way, transitioning in place. She starts instead from a place of wildness, boldly claiming her power of self expression. Rather than trying to blend in, she wants to stand out, letting her “I’m here, I’m queer, don’t mess with me!” attitude come to the fore.
While ShamanGal has been working with her co-worker over the last few months, taking her to her first trans support group and helping her shop for jeans and tops that work, the emergence is challenging the office.
How could ShamanGal both affirm the power of emergence and help others who found her co-worker’s expression rough, raw and in-your-face?
This challenge, how queer is too queer and how queer is not queer enough, has always been played out in the interlocking communities around trans. We know when others look like they are creating more friction than friends, and we know when others look like they are selling out, gaining favour by denying their essence.
In 1998, I wrote a poem in two voices pouring out this battle. Andrea Bennett liked it:
Ah, Callan, how I respect you, and your gift! Indeed there is so much of us in one another that the differences seem inconsequential. And it is such a short step from one role to another. Andrea
17 years later the battle still rages, especially as identity politics has gained traction. Being out, loud, challenging and trans is acceptable today as it never has been before.
It is a battle that we have to fight even when we don’t want to. “Oh, Caitlin Jenner’s coming out must have been a great thing for you!” one smart woman says to TBB, who has seen many newly out transpeople struggle with grace and integrity.
Finding transpeople mature enough to support us is hard. ShamanGal’s co-worker was delighted with the expression of support, even if she didn’t really understand (or want to understand) the words about the challenges of finding grace and growth in a trans journey.
ShamanGal can support her co-worker, but her co-worker can’t support ShamanGal. She is just not there, and may never be there as long as she needs to keep the armour up and the stick up her ass, asserting her wildness over acknowledging connection in diversity.
My essence is as likely to be stomped on and erased by a transperson, or someone who considers themselves an ally, even those who are lesbian and gay, as it is to be crushed by a fundamentalist heterosexist person.
It doesn’t matter to them how nuanced and polished my gender expression is, it only matters how I fit into their expectations of who and what I should be. Listening and respecting is just too hard; assumptions are so much easier.
Life is, very much, about what you are willing to fight for. Life without fight is life without meaning or growth.
Fighting alone, though, is more wearing than anyone who hasn’t done it can imagine.
I know what I am “supposed” to do, which is fight to speak for myself, to make my voice heard in the world. Clearly, 25 years of sharing my writing in public venues has not been enough to be heard, mostly because what I have to say isn’t what they expect and want to hear.
I am keenly aware, though, that being in-your-face has a high cost and limited rewards.
Sharon Ann Stuart tells the story of sharing a room at a trans conference with Virginia Prince who would come in every night, dress in an elaborate peignoir set, array herself out on the bed like laying out a bier, and then verbally go though all the arguments that she had won that day. This was how Prince kept themselves going for so many decades, the ego refreshing recitations of a solitary warrior.
Somehow, that doesn’t sound appealing to me. I like community, I like teams, I like working together, I like it when people take care of each other. I am a femme.
The magical thinking to believe that, somehow, people will see me as I want them to see me, is not in my repertoire. My way or fuck you has never been my approach to community and connection.
Standing up to support people who are making choices that I would never make for myself, well, that is what I do. I listen to their stories, respect their truths and value their diverse, unique human essence.
How, though, do I get them to hear my story?