On The Tin

On paper, most transpeople don’t look very good.

When reduced to an ingredients label, our contents reveal a lot of bits that don’t seem to go together, like licorice and Limburger.

    What are little boys made of?
    What are little boys made of?

        Snips and snails
        And puppy-dogs' tails

    That's what little boys are made of

    What are little girls made of?
    What are little girls made of?

        Sugar and spice
        And everything nice 

    That's what little girls are made of.

When you look at what transpeople are made of, our recipe is not that simple or cute.   We are always an incredible melange, a perfumed tagine, an unfolding magic supper.

This is a problem whenever we have to reduce ourselves to a paragraph or two.  Our resumes often have strange gaps and curious leaps in responsibility and our on-line dating profiles often are built to conceal much more than they reveal.

We want to put our best face forward, but we are rarely sure about which one that is.   Will people see it and smile or will people see through it and wonder?

When someone hears we are trans, stereotypes dance in their heads.   It used to be flashes from cheap, sensationalist morning talk shows, but now it is often glimpses of celebrity played through the prism of churning reality show gossip.  It might be scare images, drawn from extremes that people put out to support fear politics, or it might be wild and over the top performance pictures, highly stylized and out of this world.

Whatever they imagine, it isn’t us.   Even the people who think that they know us know only their version of us, the us that fits into their assumptions and expectations.   We are as the iceberg; to the world, our size and shape always remaining mostly invisible.

Transpeople will always be much, much more than other people’s first impression of us.   How can we not be?  We have each lived many lives. We have surfaced spirit over simple, emerging beyond the assumptions they swaddled us with at birth.

This makes it very hard, though, to encapsulate us enough to quickly and effectively explain why we are amazing enough that we are worth letting in, worth getting to know.

Synergy means that we are always much more than the sum of our parts.  It is the energy that runs through us which makes us so valuable, not the convoluted details of our history, laced with denial and resistance, or the mixtape of our biology.

That energy, though, can often get lost when people try and pigeonhole us, working to fit us unto the already fixed map of their judgment.   They know what they want, what they dreamed of, and it isn’t us.  Looking for someone to meet the template in their mind, someone to fit the job description they already wrote, someone to match their ideal image is what they do.

I know that to connect with people they have to be willing to share with me. I will never fit neatly into their ongoing conversation, into the old patterns they so enjoy.   I want to meet them in discussion where I can share a bit of my own view, hoping that what I offer is compelling and fascinating enough that they want to know more.  They can’t possibly know me just on appearances alone.

I can never just ask the question “Are you open to transpeople?” because the answer to that will always be guarded and constrained.   They won’t know what they are getting, won’t be ready.

Instead, I have to walk in, with all the confidence and grace that I can muster, show myself off, and then, after they have gotten a glimpse, try and figure out if they are open to me.

If I am not feeling particularly confident and graceful, though, this is a problem.  It lets them read my fear and discomfort, which they may easily read as me trying to hide something, as me being defensive and squirrely.   Once they believe I am concealing something, their imagination can easily go wild, remembering all the scare statements they every heard about the perverts who try and disguise themselves across gender.   The situation can quickly go sour.

Being reduced to my components squeezes out the mystery, the spark, the spirit that makes me a unique and special person.   It flattens me out, turning me into the kind of theoretical tranny who gets erased in a cheap Trans 101 session. (2008)

If you just want to dismiss a transperson after reading the label, like so many fundamentalists do, be that religious zealotry or identity politics, you miss the real power in the person, the special sauce that they worked so hard to develop, the results of heat, pressure and transcendence.

Trying to judge the value of a queer person on a reductive read is not only crushing to them but is also stupid.  It limits your vision to what you already know and expect, eliminating any possibility of a divine surprise.

Transpeople, get out there and show yourselves.  Trying to fit into a neat bundle will always leave you at a disadvantage, because the magic you bring crosses boundaries.

Everyone else, take people where you meet them. (1996)  Sure, they will surprise you, but the vast majority of the time it will be in a most delightful way.

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