Transpeople can do anything normative humans do, we just do it in our own way.
That’s true for all humans, of course. There is only one human nature and we all share it, making us fundamentally the same. We are, though, essentially different, coming out of different cultures, backgrounds and viewpoints in a way that makes us unique.
This diversity only becomes a problem when we encounter the expectations of others that there is one right, proper, appropriate and good way to do things. When they assume that the way they have been taught things should be is the one way to righteousness, then they close their mind and heart to the rainbow of possibility that exists across human nature.
Those expectations of others form the minefield that we have to negotiate to get what we need and what we want. When others assume that if we don’t do it their way we are doing it wrong, whatever their way is, they feel entitled to berate, slap and slam us, to shame and abuse us, because they are blessed and we are an insult to their heritage & beliefs.
In relationship, this becomes hard. In the workplace, in romance, or in any other relationship, when others have an expectation of what their ideal partner should be, they carry expectations we have to negotiate. Wanting us to fit into a role that they have already cast in their head means we have to make hard choices about how much we play along to get what we need and how much we stand out to bring our own unique gifts to the relationship.
Working the balance between playing to expectations and being ourselves is tough. Every transperson has to walk away from the expectations placed on them by dint of their reproductive biology in order to claim more authentic and full expression of what they know to be true about their heart. We have to be able to say “fuck you” and “what the fuck” to go beyond the limiting roles we were cast in.
Not being willing or able to play any role in relationship, though, leaves us alone, separate and not getting our needs met. Everybody has to play along some, has to be who the other person wants and needs them to be in some way. Kids, for example, need someone to play the role of parent to survive and thrive, and the better we play that role, the better they develop.
Playing a role means we have to put parts of ourselves in the background, keeping them out of the way to get things done. How much we are willing to get over our own powerful claims and feelings, how much does that feel like erasure and denial?
Every human has this challenge, how much they are willing to be tame, assimilated, playing along, and how much they need to be wild, exceptional and standing out, but for transpeople the pressures always come to the forefront. We spend years trying to keep our own knowledge down, then we spend years trying to build a new life that accommodates and celebrates more of us than was previously possible.
To do that, though, we need to negotiate the expectations of others. Most people just can’t imagine the range of experiences and pressures that make up a trans life, so they assume a kind of normativity based on their own cultural expectations.
These assumptions create the context we have to negotiate in the world. When we violate the assumptions of others, it triggers reactions, creates demands, engenders costs that someone has to pay.
Do other people open up, letting go of their expectations of how things should be to understand and embrace us with compassion, or do they demand that we play along with the roles in their head or lose their caring?
The power of should is threaded all through assumptions of normativity. If we play by the rules, being who others say we should be, modelling ourselves after the expectations of those around us, we should get what we need and want, get the rewards that compliance appears to promise.
Struggling to be who we “should” be, following the cultural pressures and assumptions laid onto us always has a cost, even for the straightest and most normative people around. The more we have to fight to fit into “should” the more we lose ourselves, become frustrated and out of touch with our own nature.
Those shoulds, though, are deeply rooted in our beliefs, assumptions and expectations, so when other people don’t follow how we think they should be, it is easy for us to get angry, for us to want to blame them for the world being the way it should be, for us to lash out, acting out our pain and frustration at a life spent following rules but feeling like we never got the happiness and success we were promised.
Someone to blame, someone to scapegoat, always comes in handy when you don’t want to have to face the fact that you have work to do, have to give up your expectations to accept life as it is. Truth can always be challenging to the dreams and illusions we hold close, the notions that we have clung to, so silencing those who won’t play along seems a good idea.
Often, these “should” ideas collide as two or more people struggle to get what they imagined by struggling to be what they should be, forcing others to be who the should be. When it becomes about how we should act, who we should be, everything gets screwed up.
Facing the expectations of others over the role they need us to play so they can stay in their own comfort zone, responsive and interacting with us is a major challenge. Do we play along or move beyond, and in what balance?
The reward for playing along is sometimes clear, as it is for transwomen who choose, as escorts and sex workers, to play along with fantasies in return for cash, playing out the role their clients expect in a clear trade.
Mostly, though, the reward for playing along is much more subtle and dangerous, for example with employers or dates who really need to believe that what they want to see, what they need to see is all there is of us. In that case, if someone sees beyond, breaks the spell, we become blamed for lying, for not really being who they expected and demanded us to be.
Without good and mature support structures, figuring out this balance is hard. It often seems much easier to deny everything, even to ourselves, to fit into the normative expectations of others, to fit into the normative dreams we were issued before we had to claim our own bold, individual queerness.
Transpeople can do anything other humans can do, just in our own way. But when that way is seen as wrong and twisted by others, we get caught between our own mature growth and meeting the comfortable expectations of others by hiding our own queer nature.
And that choice, playing along to get what we need or playing big to be more us, more of who we are, is always, always challenging.