Walking in the world as a visible transperson often feels like you are a one person parade.
In a sea of other people, you know that you are the one who is concerned about standing out, about concealing what might set off other people, about keeping everything in place as you move through your life.
The experience of being the centre of attention, a curiosity, a freak that looky-loos feel free to gawk at, that is something you know about from the early days when your appearance wasn’t polished or seamless.
Does every waitress in the joint come over to refill your iced tea just so they can get a close up look? That just reminds you that you are fair game, marked as a parade balloon that is asking for whatever attention they get, good, neutral or bad.
You may have worked hard not to look like a drag queen, painted and plastered to draw eyeballs, but once that slide starts, you get the same kind of stares, though often accompanied by scowls rather than tips. “Not in front of the children!” they seem to say.
To be a visible transperson is to be trapped in performance, trapped in a one person parade. It is not the performance of gender that dominates our capture, that collage expression that everyone in the world does to express who they know themselves to be in the context of a gendered system, rather it is the assault of scrutiny that drives our performance.
When you are a one person parade, a visible transperson, you know that you are in the spotlight. You cannot simply look to blend into the crowd of other transpeople in the corner, disappearing into a knot of humans, blending away the way we stand out, so alone. You don’t have a bunch of pals who can rally around, give affirmation, keep each other safe.
Instead, you have the sense of always being examined, always being judged, always being on display. People see you as strange, odd, weird enough to be fascinating but too weird to be entirely safe, leaving you in a kind of inhuman limbo.
When you are conscious of the scrutiny, you are conscious of your performance. You edit, compress and police yourself, trying to only show the best of you, only the bits that reveal you in your best light.
You end up concealing as much of your raw humanity as possible, trying to convey what you want others to see and not the twists that have gotten you in trouble in the past. You want to try and put off that moment when your gender shifts in the eyes of another, that moment of the third gotcha.
This performance, the performance that comes from feeling like you are a one person parade, is the reason we get stiff and defended, the reason we feel like we have to have a stick up our bum to stay stable. We know that if we want to be out as a visible transperson we have to bear the scrutiny until we can return to someplace safe, someplace we can lock the door behind us and let our raw, human and complex self out.
Continuing to be a one person parade after performing that ultimate trans surgery, pulling the stick out of our own ass, takes a commitment to living in the flow, being able to move smoothly from openness to defence and back again. It’s one thing to be able to do that when we are in a safe space, surrounded by people who know all of us and will have our back, and another thing altogether to do that as a solo effort.
We each have to find that space where we can let down our guard, release our performance and feel able to explore the parts of us which have threaded through our lives, the ones that challenge and confront even us. For me, writing has been my salvation, a place to be all of myself in a way that is both public and protected.
Even after having that transcendent and safe space, though, we still have to be able to walk into the world as a visible transperson, as a one person parade once more, just out to do what we need to do, but still having some people see our expression as political, as inappropriate, as sick. They assume we want to be a bloody parade, want to stand out, want to be in their face, want to be marginalized and misunderstood rather than just wanting our hearts to be seen.
Trans is a very personal, very individual and very lonely path, one that claims our gnosis, expressing our inner knowledge on the outside. Walking it in the spotlight, in the judgment, with a target on our back and everybody staring, well, that is the reason so many of us stay stuck, sad and broken.
There may be moments in life when anyone would want to be in a parade, standing up, smiling, dancing, entertaining and drawing attention to your cause. It’s easy to see the fun in that, even if you have never the considered the cost of carrying that separation and clownishness in every exposed moment of your life.
Being a one person parade, though, even when you are just stopping at the market to grab some toilet paper, though, is very different.
The cost to transpeople to try and remain invisible, small and hidden, is very high. We need to be able to be truthful, authentic and open about who we are, even about the places where we have walked through walls others want to see as real and fixed.
No parade float is ever fully human, and we know that. Trying to hide ourselves to not be seen as a one person parade has a cost, but so does being visible, trans and being a one person parade.
That’s an experience, though, that every transperson has experienced, at least once, and a reason why so many of us work so hard to stay hidden and small.
We just want the parade to pass us by, want to choose when we are in the parade, want to have space to be safe, seen and valued.
Somehow, that doesn’t seem so much to ask.