The brilliant Erin offered this up as a comment to my post on Immigrant Costs and I don’t think it should be missed:
It is true. In this brave new age of trans visibility, when in the popular media we can hear nice, normative people affirm that trans folks are not such freaks after all, and deserve some respect and even trans-sensitive accommodations in society (all of a sudden they are scrambling to make room at the inn for us?), what is getting lost is the fact that trans–but always–is a non-normative experience. Why should I have to settle for being a cut-rate facsimile of a non-trans woman? Certain things are closed to me because I am trans; others might open, but only if I can accept that I have my own brand of magic to spell, which is not exactly equivalent to what it might be if I were not trans. When no trans woman’s vagina leads to a uterus, how are we to be fruitful and multiply? (Obviously not trying to reduce anyone to their reproductive biology here. Just saying it is kind of an interesting metaphor.) It is true that I have a deep desire in my heart to grow into the ways of womanhood, to be a woman in this world. And I believe that this is legit, because, though I am not a (cis) woman, I am a trans woman, and that is indeed something, which can be real and bear fruit in the world. It is just that… I can be more fully the woman I am if I acknowledge I am a non-normative woman (and more specifically, a trans woman), than if I am trying to restrict myself to the fish bladder of overlap in the Venn diagram, between trans woman and “ordinary” woman, which leaves me with a relatively meager row to hoe. This is what “trans visibility” and mainstreaming is showing me. It is forcing me, through its insufficiency as a narrative, to claim and embody that greater meaning which I do believe lies behind trans expression (and human life in general, for that matter). As you have pointed out, no one grows up wanting to be one of the marginal, liminal ones–and I am no exception here. For a long time following my initial steps at trans emergence, I did hope to pass for normative, and was reluctant and tongue-tied about speaking to my particular history and experiences. (I am not completely over this hump now, but I feel it as more and more imperative.) And certainly I am glad that on one level it is becoming easier to be trans in the world, because as far as it goes we are just human beings who need to pee after drinking our coffee, and who desire to have a certain basic level of humanity imputed to us in society. But this could be a dead end. There is something more needing to be acknowledged, wanting to be brought to light alongside the process of our individual trans emergence. Yet in our impoverished worldview, where the understanding of a trans woman is “born with a penis and a woman’s brain”… I mean, geez, how reductive, unpoetic, and uninspiring can we get? This is never going to fly. Trans points to something more–something more human, more nourishing, more interesting, more queer–although I am not yet 100% sure what. But I am a witch, perhaps a priestess, and ideally a contemplative, and I am going to find out. I am going to walk this road because I believe it is a calling. (Honestly, it is either a calling or something approaching insanity, as far as I can tell. How _can_ someone be trans and “normal”?) And finally, by walking this way perhaps I can offer something uniquely my own, and uniquely trans, to my non-trans sisters and brothers, who are not always normative or normal either, and who also long for new and inspiring ways to be themselves in the world. (In the truly dark ages of the patriarchy, women were the mysterious “other” full of weirding ways, hexes, and charms. As sacred Third, I am happy to take over this role now, so that all the boring normal women can be relieved of such collective projections, and can get on with running for President and enjoying televised sporting events (not just for men and barbarians anymore!) in peace.)
For myself, I have no doubt that being queer in this world is a calling (1997), but then again I believe myself to be spirit living a human life.
Does the fact that I believe that, though, mean that all transpeople have to believe that, that they have to hold the same creation myth?
I deeply care about creation myths (1995) but I am not at all sure I get to tell other people what their creation myth should be. I do want to be able to get them to open up their minds and examine the creation myth they do hold, however, understanding the way their beliefs end up shaping their choices and their connections.
In that 1995 speech I called for moving beyond the “birth defect” and the “just dress up” creation myths so we can move to a myth that supports the expression of transpeople in the world, whatever we have to express.
Deciding that we are only going to support transpeople whose stories agree with ours and worse, that we will work to convert, erase and destroy anyone whose stories challenge ours is an expression of internalized shame, playing the game of our oppressors.
For decades, I have said that trans expression holds trans meanings. The symbols that trigger our Eros are not just playthings, rather they represent our essence.
This message was not easily embraced by those who didn’t want to be seen as queer and transgressive. They wanted to fit in a nice socially explainable context, like having an illness or just honouring women.
For me, though, seeing the power behind the drive to cross assigned gender, the willingness to enter no man’s/no woman’s land to claim who you know yourself to be inside speaks to power beyond convention, expectation and binary assumptions. That’s why I started listening to our stories, finding the threads that connect us, finding ways to put shared experience into words.
This is why I have trouble with the whole “third” construction. The transpeople I know don’t fit neatly into some category, rather they walk away from categories to find their own blend of wild individualism and tame cooperation. They are each unique.
To call us “third” plays into the notion that the binary is real, that most people neatly fit into boxes and there are just some special ones who fit into the “other/neither/third” category.
Knowing that someone is “third” doesn’t tell you anything useful about them other than their history is not conventional. It doesn’t help you understand them as an individual.
More than that, I don’t believe it is only the visibly queer people who represent the power of the human spirit over history and biology. In my view, every person is spirit living a human life, has a connection to the universe beyond binary inside of them.
The trans experience in a heterosexist binary world is one topic of discussion, but the another topic, one much more powerful to me, is the experience of embracing our own unique individuality, our power beyond normative convention, our queerness in the world.
The people I connect with are the travellers, the people who see themselves on a journey. They may see their journey towards enlightenment, towards actualization, towards a more righteous posture, towards deeper connection, towards healing or a whole range of other notions, but they each know that to become better everyday, they have to engage and learn from the divine surprises that reflect them differently everyday.
To me, these are the people who engage their own queerness, their own brave, essential and unique spirit in the world. Rather than craving comfortable separation, they don’t fear going to the places where they will be revealed to have deep connections with everything. They walk in love.
I know many transpeople who very much reject their own queerness. I know many people who are not trans who have chosen to be open and vulnerable, seeing individual connection and delighting in diversity, even if they don’t call that celebrating queer.
People heal in their own time and in their own way. I can’t get people who really, really, really want to fit in to own their own special spirit. They have to find that need for themselves. I don’t get to pick their creation myth for them, don’t get to tell them what their trans nature means on a deep level.
I do know that being human, a member of a tribe, a village, a corporation, a family, means we have to cooperate, be interdependent with others around us, even if being spirit means we have to transcend peer pressure, seeking for and doing what we know to be the right thing.
That balance is tough for every human on the planet. And, at some point in their lives, every human is going to have to make hard choices over complying with norms, assumptions & rules or following their inner truth to stand out and stand up. Their normal will shatter and they will have to come to their own peace with greater creation.
It’s my job to leave a bit of a journal that might help some others on that journey to themselves, offering a map and some nomenclature which might make the struggle a bit easier or more elegant.
Erin, your message is so powerful because you have chosen to engage a journey to connect with spirit, something you started off resisting as you yearned for normative and easy. The messages you offer from your path have illuminated my own path, showing me a very different way to embrace spirit than I would ever have chosen. You are powerful because of your uniqueness, not because you slide in as a Third.
My own journey is driven by my own experience of being trans in a world that wants to erase and mainstream people like me, first as not-trans and now, maybe, as nice-trans.
Other people, though, have different entry points and different trajectories to their own journey to calling. You don’t have to be trans to crack open and humbly touch the face of your creator, but it helps.
For those people who aren’t ready to claim themselves beyond convention, though, even the ones who strongly show their own trans nature in the world, I think they get the same courtesy I would extend to normative humans; they get to heal in their own time and their own way. Who am I to ever say that their journey is wrong?
Now, the ones who have to put others down to put themselves up, to limit, oppress, restrict and kill others because they have the one right way, these people do need to be confronted. I just suspect, though, that often they are just trying to destroy external symbols of what they are running from inside of them. They are trying to show zeal to take the spotlight off their own differences, fitting in as converts. Sad and broken.
Thank you for your smart writing. Your sharing is a gift to me and to everyone who reads it.