“Who do you want to be when you grow up?” was the only diagnostic question the therapist knew to determine my gender identity back in the day.
She knew that we create who we are in the world by making a kind of collage, taking behaviours, choices and attitudes from other people we see in the world and assembling them to create an expression to fit us. All of our hopes, our dreams, our knowledge, our fears and our constraints get pieced together into an identity we hope gets us what we want in the world, a mixture of acceptance, individuality and understanding.
We look for people who embody something we find compelling in the world, for whatever reason, and we aspire to own a bit of what they have, integrating it into our own presence in the world.
Knowing what attracts us, what we find aspirational (2008) is one way we shape our own choices and control the direction of our lives. We see something we want to invoke and try to claim it.
Reality shows claim us with their drama, but more than that, they offer aspirational viewing, letting us see worlds beyond our own, rich and luxe, see people who we love to love and people we love to hate. We imagine ourselves in that world and are taken away, at least for a moment.
It’s hard for me to imagine that I will ever be an aspirational figure in the world, to imagine that people would want to emulate my choices.
Then again, it’s hard for me to imagine that any mature transperson will catch the aspirations of the young, even someone who, say, was a well known Olympic athlete, a recurring character on a “reality” show and who spent millions of dollars to female their body and wardrobe.
Sure, they may be seen as courageous and ballsy, especially if they hold on tight to crusty political views which served them well as an old rich guy on the golf course, but will people really want to enter their world and spend time with them? Will others dream of being like them?
The trans journey is, in the end, a very personal one. We emerge to be boldly ourselves, not to easily fit into some stereotype or role. By crossing gender expectations we embody beyond conventional divisions, always challenging in the way a transcendent being moves beyond simple expectations.
No trans person ever dreamed of being trans when they grew up.
It just wasn’t our aspiration to be stuck in between, baffling those around us who can’t even imagine how weird we must be if we don’t understand the fixed and firm boundaries between the sex/gender lines.
We never wanted to play our rounds just waiting for the third gotcha, that moment when our gender assignment slips and people remove our standing by regendering us.
Having to map our colourful view of life onto the black and white expectations and archetypes of others is not what we wanted to do. We want to be seen, understood and valued for our unique contributions to the group, not be an object of fear, ridicule and marginalization by people who can’t afford to see through our liminal eyes.
We dreamed, instead, of being strong or beautiful, shining and loved, a member of the community held as precious. There were human cultures where the gift of transcendence was respected and needed, but this is not yet one of them.
So we end up fighting to squeeze in between, to play within the lines as much as we can, working to choose the ways we are erased, struggling to emerge as healthy and mature while being confronted with a society that always makes choices feel dangerous and damaging.
When we see images of people like us, they are never simply aspirational. Our inner police ego immediately comes into play, asking the key question: How queer is too queer? How queer is not queer enough?
We want to be authentic, yes, but not at the cost of being unattractive, whatever we have internalized that to mean. Being outside of conventional beauty is a hard place, but it is one we have to navigate, often at the cost of amazing amounts of judgment and loathing.
We aspire to be just the right amount of queer, authentically ourselves, while still being desirable. Knowing the costs of a reduced Potential Partner Pool (PPP) we will often bend ourselves into knots just to remain connected (2006).
What we want to be when we grow up and what we know is actually available to us is usually very, very different. As much as we ask for the serenity to accept what we can not change, we know that our courage has limits, the boundaries of what those around us can understand, grasp and accept.
I understand why many reality shows are aspirational, offering a glimpse into a world we would like to inhabit, a reflection of people we want to be more like.
For transpeople, though, images that we want to embody are rarely queer ones. What we want to be when we grow up, well, I was smart enough by 13 to know that my dreams weren’t going to be available to me and I had to make the best out of who I am.
The gift of a lifetime is becoming who you are, even when you aren’t someone who easily fits into the expectations of others. Being not just in the present, a participant, but also in the understanding, an observer, is something you have to learn to own.
Who do you want to be if you grow up? What do you want to pursue, to claim ownership of, to chase? What are your aspirations?
I bet, if you are any kind of mature at all, you don’t aspire to being a character on a TV show.
There has to be something bigger than that.