If I had to cast myself in the world, I’d place me as an old broad. Not a frail pensioner, but rather as a mature, confident woman who knows herself well, a gal who can read people and situations, one who has moved beyond the games of youth to a wiser, more balanced viewpoint.
Trans is a game of youth. It is about emerging and emerging again, the cycle of death and rebirth that keeps one fresh, raw and present in the world (1996). The price of living as trans in the world, from negotiating people’s fears to being forced to grow without a support network that understands the challenges (2002), is very, very high.
Every new transperson feels like they are inventing the world again, struggling to find a way to both fit in and stand out, negotiating the space between gendered expectations and individual possibilities. The first step is always the rejection of imposed rules and assumptions, the throwing off of chains, and that always includes the rejection of anyone who looks like an authority figure.
Instead most struggle to find a group of cool people to join, or we make our own path in the world, not having easy and useful networks to join. Playing out our own dreams and wishes can mean we become isolated, not maturing and growing our power, or that we keep power by being willing to be seen as an idiosyncratic man expressing their androgyny.
It may be easy to cast me as an old broad, a smart, grown up mother, and that identification wouldn’t be wrong. It would, however, be massively insufficient, not identifying both the gaps in my experience — I was never someone’s hot girlfriend, for example — and the unique pressures of being trans in the world, like having the experience of expecting the third gotcha.
The events of my life are thinly spread out, not a tumult of interactions but instead few that were followed by long periods of recovery and consideration, fed by the scarcity that defined my life.
In one meeting, I spoke up in a group of people concerned about the arts and was greeted after by affirmation from some smart old broads, women who could hear the value in what I offered. They were interested and curious about me, but instead of following up, I focused on one young woman who seemed to have the self confidence to perform. Learning from her would be a good thing, I thought, but very quickly it became clear that my maturity just was too challenging for her, as she wanted to stay popular and trendy.
The gaps and pressures in my history are not easy for others to understand, let alone read, but they define so much of my own worldview, shaping my choices. I am not what I look like so I am not what people expect. I may be able to fill that role, but without the network behind me to keep me strong and cared for, the play just falls apart.
The pressure to simplification is clear in this world of ever shrinking attention spans. More is less in that context; people today like being able to fill in the details of another person’s story with their own assumptions and explanations rather than having to pick through complicated backstory and elucidation. They only want what they already know that they want, so letting them project what they want onto you is the easiest way to satisfy them.
Often, I wish I could simply play the role which others would cast me in. The role of a smart old broad is a role I feel drawn to, one that I admire. When I see that kind of mature, witty, wise and empowered woman, confident in her femininity while taking a broader power in the world, I smile. They have always been my role models, the women who may not have ever been the flavour of the month but who grew into their strong, caring, empowering leadership status.
Those personal gaps and social pressures, though, work to define the arc of my life. I can never really rewrite my history anymore than I can really change my biology.
My work seems to be to help others be more themselves, alloying the tame social skills with the wild authenticity of their creation. That’s always a tough road, exposed and vulnerable, a torrid bounce between audience satisfaction and honouring creation.
How do I fit in while respecting my fragile and immensely valuable life? What is the casting that not only takes into account my gaps and pressures, but also venerates them?