Activism Period

The biggest problem facing transgender activists is that for most transpeople their activism period is quite short.   They aren’t activists until they emerge as trans, not fighting from the closet, and they only stay activists until they find a way to assimilate, blending into a full life.

While gay & lesbian are lifetime identities — you are always with a partner or looking for a new one — in many ways trans is traditionally a transitive identity.   You emerge as trans, do the work of finding yourself and then you take on a more normative identity again, still trans but moving that bit to the background where it won’t get in the way of doing other work.

The people in this activity period are therefore quite raw, unformed and undependable.   They are in the process of change, so they can change at any time, resetting priorities and acting out against former allies.

As a mature person who happens to be trans, why do we want to be identified with these raw people?   We know that they are likely to bite the hand that reaches out to help them, acting out of pain, aggression and rebellion.   Their rawness is obvious to us even as they try to claim a voice, so we know to keep out of their way.

So many trans activists are in their raw activity period that as a group they have trouble respecting or even understanding those transpeople who have chosen a measure of assimilation for themselves.   They come from “call out culture,” the pattern of slamming and shaming people who don’t play along, who don’t surrender their voice to the will of the mob.

Since these raw activists reject any aspiration of assimilating, they reject people who carry those values, even if those values are crucial to transpeople taking their part in mature political action.

For most mature transpeople, they did their work in the mess and drama of the interlocking communities around trans and have little interest in going back there.

Besides, what does being big, bold and trans gain them, anyway?   For gay & lesbian folks their identification gains them access to a network of potential partners, but since transgender isn’t an orientation, there is no such benefit built in.

Transpeople out of their activism period have had to learn to live within the society as it is, figuring out how to keep their heads down, stay invisible enough and get what they need without additional legislation or the demand that everyone wear a pin with their chosen pronoun on it.    They learned how to show themselves in the world, learned how to make peace with the limits of their expression, learned, at least to some degree to have the courage to change what they can change, the serenity to accept what they cannot change and the wisdom to know the difference.

Activists want transpeople to make political choices, throwing themselves against the status quo.  Transpeople outside of their activity period, though, want to make life choices, fitting in where they can, claiming a full life and only pushing for change where it is possible and really needed.

Personally, I don’t need my life to be more politicized, by people who want to erase people like me or by people who want people like me to be tools to be thrown against the establishment.

So many tools that activists use, like the overblown fear of murder (2006) or the rage around bathroom policing are based around promoting a mindset of fear, abjection and victimization in transpeople.   While this may be effective for those in the activist period, mature transpeople have had to work hard to let go of their shame and fear to claim effectiveness in the organizations and communities they belong to.

In the long term, political effectiveness has to be built around possibility and hope, the idea that if we build communal structures that we can get behind we can lift up all of us, offering a kind of integration which allows the benefits of belonging flow even to the least among us.

As long as emerging transpeople have the loudest voice, though, as long as their flaming rebellion setting the agenda, attempts to build structures of inclusion will always be the targets of bomb throwers who have the arrogance and ignorance to reject compromise and destroy the good.   The perfect is the enemy of the good, because perfect is impossible, no matter how much you want to pick apart rather than build up.

Activists often grab the spotlight to inflame anger, believing that is the way to get cohesion and action in the mob.   They like being the point of the spear, focusing their own rage against any who don’t fall into line and do what they define as “the right thing.”

Expanding the activism period for transpeople can never be about getting more people more upset, rather it has to be about offering a mature, considered, attentive and responsive movement that feels inclusive & valuable rather than just feeling demanding & sensational.

This is not easy.   I spent a decade leading a trans group in the area and I know well the experience of putting together events and then being alone at them as I waited to support and encourage other transpeople.   If they were in a closet, either the closet before emergence or the closet at the end of the rainbow, shrunken to assimilate, they weren’t ready to maturely engage with other raw transpeople in a mature way.

There may be few benefits to being a visible transperson, but making being less than visible intolerable by those who are still raw and raging will never change the benefits, never expand the base.

We need something clear and gracious to fight for, not some bogeyman to fight against.   And we need to believe that if we show up we will not be shamed by some raw and raging transpeople.

Pride has long been the focus of gay & lesbian political action, but it is hard to join a movement full of those we do not feel proud of standing with.   No matter how much activists tell us we need to surrender our voice to victims, to the weakest of us, those taking responsibility and acting with grace towards people who aren’t like them are much easier to support.

If the pain of one of us is the pain of all of us, then the joy of one of is is also the joy of all of us.  When support groups can affirm the transperson who just got the promotion at work, now able to buy a better car rather than shaming that sharing, asking us to consider the weakest and most broken of us and how that sharing makes them feel, then we start to have the basis for healthy, inclusive community and effective political action.

It would be great for transpeople to have a more powerful voice in society.

I just don’t think we get that by striving to keep them raw and raging for more time.

2 thoughts on “Activism Period”

  1. Amen.

    I emerged, the better to integrate the spectrum of my being from toe to head into a noble and lovely telling, whether under the sun or beneath the raindrops. I do not want to rage and tear like ravening wolves at the edges of another’s being, insisting they must rip out their regressive thinking now or face the full righteousness of my enlightened wrath. Moreover, the traditions of society, culture, and especially Religion are important to me, and this rioting Let Rome Burn while I hold placards and shout is anathema.

    If the personal is political (this phrase is liable to make me shudder), what more can I do for the cause but to live my life and give a positive example of being trans, and a respectful and upstanding human being doing my best to walk in charity towards God and neighbor?

    I am not sure, but I feel it is inevitable that I will always be something of an outsider as a trans person, however loved by those near and dear to me, and however much respect I may win in the eyes of others. This is a part of the very reality of being trans, and we ought to be cautious about insisting the mainstream make more room for us. There is something about trans that is marginal, I think, and only makes sense when regarded from the margins.

    I cannot give birth, and whom shall I marry? I have an enduring sense that this body, though soft and dear and deserving of love, does nonetheless misgender me somehow. I had a peculiar time of it growing up, unsure where I fit in, and I continue with a certain split in my narrative today, showing gaps here where you expect the familiar, and other parts filled in by what you did not expect to find in me. (Besides that, I remain an epileptic and a dreamer, always.)

    This is surely a cross to bear… but I regret no cross, having heard the Good News of the one who bore His Cross before me and triumphed for the sake of all the world.

    The challenging, peculiar realities of my life endure, and I would rather have a community that acknowledges them plainly (though with respect for my modesty, not making them a familiar topic of confessional, self-revelatory conversation), while offering steady communal support in bearing and “offering up” the struggle and the pain they do sometimes occasion. I would rather be part of this than of a political movement that co-opts these human realities into a one-track narrative of oppression, with lots of shouting.

    I suppose it need not be either/or, political activism or making the best of what we have today. But I would like to see more peace, acceptance, steadiness, and serene smiles in the world, and consider myself on the side of this.

  2. For me, the question is about identity vs being. We will always be trans, our heart and our body not normatively congruent, but we may not always be trans identified, listing trans as one of the banners we want to march under in the world.

    The state leader last night announced that they hoped to eliminate the label “trans” in the future and only go by the term GNC, Gender Non-Conforming. While I understood where they felt comfortable with this intention — they also identify as a “woman” and “heterosexual” even though they love women, as many trans people who start as crossdressers and come our late in life do — I was deeply aware of how disquieting this label would be to transpeople who very strongly identify their heart and their gender as being congruent, even if their body is not the typical form.

    She is very happy with a trans identity, but so many of us worked so hard to move beyond trans identity to claim something that feels more potent, more congruent, more deeply us. As I noted in the big hit post on this blog, I don’t know any transpeople who dreamed of growing up to be trans, rather we dreamed of being something beautiful, or strong, or whatever. Trans was just the means we found to that end.

    Out may empower our voices, letting us speak from our entire experience rather than keeping part of who we are in the darkness so that people don’t blanch, but just being out does not mean we want to be seen as a professional tranny, with a big transgender placard on our back (or worse, an GNC label placed there.

    As much as the state leader may love being the go-to spokesperson for what it means to be trans — ahh, GNC — enjoying it when media calls and they get to crank out soundbytes and lead the GNC troops into battle, well, that’s not something most transpeople want to sign up for, as revealed by the pitiful showing at last nights event.

    It never is either/or. We all have an obligation to do what we can to make a better world, especially for those coming after us and those suffering today, but that need is probably not best served by being dragged in as cannon fodder for would be generals.

    Thank you for sharing, and you are right; it would be good to be respected rather than conscripted.

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