Who gets to tell stories about transpeople?
Clearly, anybody can tell those stories. In a culture of free expression, there are few limits to the stories we tell about anyone.
The stories they tell about people like us, though, often feel icky, manipulative and unfair. They set us up to be the enemy, the other, the objects of fear & ridicule. We are cracked or manipulative, they say, sad people who don’t understand the true fixed relationship of biological sex & gender or devious people out to fool the righteous into betraying their healthy, natural, god-given purity.
Somewhere between a freak and a demon, anyone who reveals queer behaviour is open to abuse and stigma in an effort to protect the virtue of the family. People can prove their orthodoxy and goodness by mocking, humiliating and even bashing queers. This proof is especially important, of course, for those who are afraid that their own queer thoughts & desires might be surfaced.
Queers were whoever they imagined them to be, whoever they needed them to be for their own political and proselytizing purposes. Nothing unifies a group as easily as a shared enemy, especially one who wants to steal children and break up healthy, normal families with sick sexual perversion.
Stories which cast us as the bogeyman, the spectre of all fears, corruption & sickness, are dehumanizing and therefore very dangerous to people like us and we very much know it. Those tales forced us into hiding, denying us a the opportunity to own our nature in a healthy, respectful way. They broke us, just like they were intended to, cutting us off from our possibilities, leaving us feeling terrified of exposure.
Who gets to tell stories about people like us? And what can we do if those stories seem totally false to us, using characters they claim represent us to only play out the imaginary projections and fears of those who have set themselves against us?
If anyone gets to tell stories about us then we have to figure out what our response is to those stories.
Do we spend our energy hiding from those stories, keeping ourself apart so we won’t be tarred by them?
Do we spend our energy declaiming those stories, pointing out their falsehoods, striving to identify the suspect motives and faulty understanding of those who tell them?
Or do we spend our energy telling our own stories, so clear, powerful and compelling that they wash away lies with honesty, truth and integrity?
For people trapped in the shadows of myth it is much easier to know what we aren’t than to know what we are. We have never been able to stretch our legs, to emerge into the sunlight, to do the work of separating our dreams from our reality.
We are very clear, though, what upsets, disgusts and hurts us, what makes us feel unsafe and abused, what we know to be lies, what we need to be lies. We can point to scary images and scream “That’s not me! That’s not me! I know it!”
This shaping of negative identity runs through all of human expression, the identification of other. We are not gay, not a clown, not predatory, not confused, not sick, not broken, not terrifying, not absurd, not playing, not lying, not one of those people.
Knowing what we are, though, is much harder. To find that, we need healthy and effective mirroring, putting our best effort forward and seeing the results reflected in the people and situations around us. Emerging as potent requires letting go of old habits and assumptions to claim our own persona and effectiveness in the world.
One of the reasons this emergence is so damn hard is because we often end up mired in the old stories around us. Moving past the assumptions of other people is very hard, be those the negative assumptions of those who want to stigmatize us, defending the status quo by keeping us in our assigned place on the guy-in-a-dress line, or the negative assumptions of those who claim to be like us who strive to enforce their politically correct vision of what people like us should be.
Those who have not yet fully emerged as trans are often the most forceful and vociferous critics of other transpeople. It isn’t the complex actuality of trans life that they want to engage, rather their stake is in vigorously defending their dreams, their cherished illusions of the way that life should be and the way it will be when they finally get to the point of emergence.
It is this defence of “should” that always triggers the most venomous attacks, whoever they come from. Reality is hard to argue with, but our dreams are crucial and must be defended from corruption at all costs, or what will we have to comfort us?
Telling stories that counter people’s fervent wishes is always hard especially when those wishes belong to us. Our hopes fuel us even when what is confronts and challenges them, so we often stick to dogma, doctrine and rationalization even in the face of clear and compelling evidence to the contrary.
Expository writing needs to expose. By being as clear as possible about reality we can make powerful exposition of oppression, of challenge, of possibility, of the huge connective power of continuous common humanity. Telling true stories allows an influence far beyond the imaginary construction of bogeymen, touching minds and hearts in a powerful way.
Who gets to tell stories about transpeople?
While anyone can, the most potent stories about the experience and outlook of transpeople in the world must always come from transpeople and those who have had deep and intimate relationships with them. Truth will always trump imagination because the deep and complex aspect of truth, the vulnerable exposure of real embodied humanity is what changes the world.
Like any marginalized people, it is only when our voices are heard that our presence is felt, moving us from the shadows into the mainstream. As we become visible the scarecrows that attempted to demonize us are swept away, leaving space for our own messy human reality.
Anyone can tell stories about transpeople, dammit.
But only transpeople can tell true stories about transpeople. As we claim our presence, moving beyond “should” to truth, we change the conversation, opening the understanding and making a better world for those transpeople yet to emerge and claim their own beautiful story.