To Something More

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.

7 thoughts on “To Something More”

  1. I know. “Third.” What is that about? If I had trouble with the unvoiced th, it would sound like “turd,” which is definitely not something I want to be. Even pronouncing it according to the accepted conventions of my native American English, I am not entirely convinced it is meaningful or an ideal moniker.

    You know that I was ranting a bit, and then a bit more in the emails I sent you afterwards. But I was also striving to be cheerful, and I was careful to work in lots anatomical words, because that is how we talk about trans issues, and I wanted to show I could be a good sport about it and play along too.

    The real thing that gets my goat is when I am given categories to work with, to live inside, that are not actually livable. And I kind of feel that we are only being given scraps from the table if we are expected to live inside of a certain formulation of “woman” that in certain respects must be especially inadequate to trans women. But then non-trans women have been talking about the limitations of conventional notions of womanhood for a while now already, so welcome to the sisterhood I guess.

    I just thought, if I am going to be othered, then I am going to move into the place and make it feel like home. Then all the haters will wish that they had thought of gentrifying the neighborhood first, painting the front door pink and growing excellent geraniums. Make third look appealing and soon we will be first!

    But I do not want to tell anyone else what their origin myth ought to be; I have my hands full getting right with my own. And in my heart of hearts, I do not really embrace “third,” because it actually feels to me that that would be a dodge, when what I really mean is, well, Woman. I just blush to say it loudly enough sometimes.

  2. I mean, I do not know for certain and always what “woman” means either. But it carries a complex of meanings (as does “man” also) that “third” really does not. And something about that has inspired me to set out on this trans journey.

    Whatever I am, whatever I shall become, I cannot deny that it was a star twinkling in the firmament that spoke to me, one of many in the mother’s mantle of stars, which she lays out over our sleeping globe at night to inspire in us dreams of ways onward through this life. And this star wakened in my heart images of being a woman, not a third.

    I must pursue this, not choose the dead end of a meaningless “third,” even while I feel I must be ready to negotiate the meaning of my gendered being outside the certainties of convention. Because it will be impugned by others again and again, and because, truth to tell, I cannot accept a simple story either, because I know my story to be more interesting than that, and because lying to myself and sequestering the hints of wider, “other” truth only eats me up with secret doubts inside.

    I am a woman if my womanhood can outlast my otherness, if in some way it is truly rooted in being. Has the Blessed Mother brought forth the Christ? Can I too be fruitful in a way that is deeply, humanly recognizable as womanly, or had I better abandon that word and find a truer term to describe myself?

  3. “But the Mother is silent, for she possesses a direct secret with God. She understands that this secret is one of the entire Church which is coming to be and that she therefore cannot dispose of it. As things are now there is nothing in it which would be suited for communication with Joseph.

    “She stands with her secret between the Old and the New Covenant in such a way that she can go to neither of them to reveal what has happened to her. In the synagogue they would not have believed her if she declared herself to be the Mother of the Messiah. And the priests of the New Covenant are not there yet. So she can only be silent.

    “Something of her situation will also be shared by those really entrusted with a mission later in the Church. The Church too will pass judgment only on what is already finished and carried out. What is still in genesis is never accepted; it can only be borne in silence. Mary, in giving birth to the Son, gives birth to the Church. She is welcomed by the Church only after everything has been accomplished in silence.

    “So her secret is not communicable; she is silent, and her silence grows along with the growing Child. The more he takes form, the more profound is her silence. And her silence in turn allows the hidden mystery to grow. In silence her assent grows stronger.”

    – Adrienne von Speyr, _Handmaid of the Lord_

  4. Woman, not woman, ungendered, it doesn’t matter to me how you identify. I promise that I will respect what you tell me about your own identity and self knowledge.

    What I don’t want is some official “other” box that people like Jeremy Clarkson (who has suggested such a thing in his column) can throw me into, denying any possibility of assimilation.

    The lovely thing about compulsory genders is that while you can be shamed and coerced into socially mandated behaviours, especially if you ever want to date, neither can you be denied gender. The legions of swish men and butch women have proved this for centuries.

    The challenge you posit, though, of making a space that is home, actually livable, where we can feel safe, welcome and fruitful, our gifts seen, understood and valued by the community, is the huge deal we all face.

    We understand how to live in the margins as trans, but how do we live in the mainstream? How do we build structures, structures of language and of understanding, that make room for us to be ourselves without having to cut off parts to fit in? Where are the tools and tents that provide us shelter, warmth and shared caring?

    To me, this is the ultimate goal of all that I say in the world, an attempt to create structures of home that not only comfortably accommodate us but also give us a foundation for growth and productivity, a place to support thriving in our shared world.

    To Joseph Campbell, this is the return of the gift, bringing it to a world that needs it but that does not want it because they fear what it will demand of them. It is the hardest part of the hero’s journey, the part where we have to leave the wilderness and re-enter a society that did not offer what we desperately needed in the first place.

    Make space past the old tropes, empowering, enlightened space, is very hard.

    But you are right. It seems to be our calling.

  5. I see. That puts it clearly. No official other box.

    If there were an official other box, then that might well become my compulsory gender, since of course I have been so recalcitrant in my rejection of the first one they tried to stick me with. It would be an open and shut case, sequestering me in no-man’s/no-woman’s/[no-sexed-being’s] land without possibility of appeal, without space to be heard and seen for what I have to offer. That would be an easy way of sweeping the challenge posed by trans and gender non-conformity under the rug, so that normal people would not have to trouble themselves over it.

    Things being as they are, I do not particularly relish the thought of being “other” simply because it has no resonance and no spark, because it seems so terribly disempowering, not just in the world, but in the sphere of the inner life, in the realm of the psyche, where man and woman are resonant, and other is… de-sexed and de-potentiated, a non-entity.

    On the other hand, if I am going to be fruitful and potent, in any way engaged in the circle of life, then I have to work with what I have to work with, and cannot simply pretend that things are otherwise than they are: and this seems to bring me back to “other” all the same, like it or not–not necessarily other as “anomaly,” but simply as “none of the above,” because my gender has not been listed yet. If there were four conventional and established genders instead of two, then it might be easier to slot myself into a more or less workable category, which I could move into and make my own to a certain degree, and where I would not be under perpetual threat of having my affirmed gender taken from me by someone who knows better. Because I cannot build my house upon this sand.

    So this is where I get trans woman. That is the best I can do right now. Because of the nature of what stirs in me, as near as I can discern, I consciously choose to retain “woman” in the name, begging pardon for my boldness of those whom it might offend. (Much could be added here. Another time perhaps.) But I also modify this with “trans,” because it is true there is a place I come from and a history that I am not comfortable papering over either.

    This is a compromise, which mixes elements of my personal narrative and the symbols that trigger my Eros, with the categories, discourses, and political relations that exist in society. And it is a right mess, as far as the lyricism and longing of my soul are concerned, but it does something to acknowledge the realities, the constraints we live under, and to situate myself within a shared set of meanings.

    I suppose I have made it a question of reconciling _what I understand myself to be_ with _what others will accept as me as_. Yet I believe it ought to be a question of _what I really am_: the only question being, how in God’s name do I answer that question in truth?

    My life is on the line in the midst of a cultural battlefield. Is there more than one way to arrive at manhood, more than one way to arrive at womanhood? Is there a category other than man and woman? Do the categories even have meaning going forward, or ought we to be working towards abolishing them, they being tools of oppression, or at least to diminish their importance to the absolute minimum we can sustain and still hook up and make babies? Is there any room for celebrating one’s manhood, for celebrating one’s womanhood? If so, what does that look like?

    I can come up with a pragmatic answer to my dilemma that hopes to see me through the world day by day, getting at least a little of what I need, a little of what I believe I want from life, while seeking to minimize the potential pain points.

    But to answer my calling I must hope to understand in truth who I am and what God is asking of me. Risking charges of heresy, I find myself claiming to be a woman. (Would it be more accurate to say a feminine human being? Would that make a difference?) But I would not dare to do so if I did not feel myself compelled to hope and believe that there is some (I do not know how this should be) deep reason for my making the claim, and possibly even significant truth behind the claim. I have too much respect for the things which are brought into discussion (truth, fruitfulness, womanhood, God, human life) to take them lightly or to adapt them to my own meanings without heed for what they signify traditionally and to others.

    The calling is to bear the unknowing. It is to hope in an impossible fruitfulness at the last, because of a promise made in words that can scarce be uttered. It is to find peace in the midst of the struggle, and to carry it with me through my days.

    That is what I am working with at the moment.

  6. Would gender matter if you were cast away by yourself on a tropical island? Or is gender only relevant in relationship?

    And even in relationship, if there were two of you on that island, would gender be relevant, or would you just know the other person as an individual?

    Gender is a social system of communication that allows us to communicate the roles we were trained & willing to perform and the essence of who we know ourselves to be. There have been human societies with more than two genders, but breeding pressure spun our big economic engine of a culture to a heterosexist binary, which marketers love because they can use the pressure to fit better into gender roles to sell stuff.

    Anyone can identify as an eccentric loner, away from trying to fit in some social role, but when we choose that path, our effectiveness in relationship, in using our personal power to get what we want and need becomes limited. That’s why my first question at my first trans conference was about how gender shift required power shift, finding new ways of convincing people to work with you in relationship.

    My first years after emerging as trans were spent trying to understand truth and lies. How could I tell the truth of my self-knowledge without having to lie about the truth of my biology and history? How could I speak my truth when it crossed the binary assumptions implanted by culture in the people around me?

    That’s easier now that there is much more of a pool of language around trans, but the third gotcha is still there; someone is going to take offence and lash out sometime.

    I believe in gender because I need that system to communicate who I know myself to be. I believe in gender because gender exists, at a very deep level, to protect children by assigning responsibility to roles around reproduction and child rearing.

    Knowing who I am is easy.

    Communicating that knowledge, playing that role in relationship is hard.

    Until I work at building relationships, though, the intellectual exercise of deciding what would be optimal and perfect is just a diversion. Sure, planning is vital but plans are useless; relationships are built on much more than a logical and canonical basis.

    In the midst of all this agita around trans focused bathroom terrorism, I look at the terrorists as sad and lost people, fighting imaginary battles over some kind of projected impurity that only lies within their own hurting soul.

    Instead, what gives me hope is the way their polarizing actions have forced people to make a choice in the world. So many people and companies are standing up to support the freedom of people like me that I am heartened beyond the twisted attacks.

    Those who stand up for people like me are those who are ready to have a relationship with people like me. Sure, it will take time to build smart and respectful relationships, moving beyond old habits, ignorance and fear, but that creates possibilities, if not for me, for people like me who are coming along.

    There is so much more willingness for relationship today than when I emerged that I am heartened, but I know that the only way anyone can benefit from that is to enter into relationship, working to find rhythms and routines that respect each participant.

    Gender isn’t an abstract idea, something to be perfectly crafted on a bench.

    Gender is a relational thing, a push and pull, give and take thing that is polished only by the interaction of relationship.

    You have so much to give, so much transgender priestess worth to offer. The kind of trust it takes to risk showing that to others, letting them reflect, challenge and love you, is wicked hard.

    I suspect that you fit much more effectively into the concept of woman than you do into the concept of man, though you always will be full of mystery, power and iconoclastic beauty.

    Who you “really are” is an abstract and unknowable notion, for each human is multitudes, living an embodied life with forced choices to help them reveal more truth about themselves.

    You are who you pretend to be, as Vonnegut notes, playing a role that offers up what you can offer and getting back what others see you as. This is, Campbell tells us, the gift of a lifetime.

    Gender is always relational. And we only reveal more of who we are when we go and have relations with others.

    1. It is probably true. Mostly when I live and do my best to relate to people, it turns out well. I am trying to do more of that.

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