Traction

“How did you ever make it up here on these?” the mechanic asked me as he threw my old tires onto the scrap pile.  “They have almost no tread left.”

I thought about Tupperware.

Outside, the wet snow continued to pile up on the roads, with a good four inches already fallen and more on the way.   I had already driven 40 miles north this morning, up to this old mill town on the upper Hudson.

The drive had indeed taken focus as the very low visibility and the slush covered interstate created conditions where things could go wrong quickly.   Instead of steering, instead of stopping, your car could easily go into a slide, skidding out of control.

Traction is a precious thing, that confidence that nothing will get in the way of you exerting your will, create trouble with the choices you make inside your own cockpit.

On the highway, I drove like people who learned to drive in the north country, holding a speed that was slow enough not to make control loss catastrophic in an instant, spinning you into a ditch, but that was fast enough to offer momentum for control, some inertia to use as you tenderly got back on track.   Too slow and you brake too much with every push on the pedal another opportunity to slide.

The most dangerous thing, though, was other people on the road, people who didn’t understand this balance.  Those of us who got it left many car lengths between us, knowing that it took time and distance to correct errors, and being too close to someone else who was losing control was possibly catastrophic for both of you.

All of this played out that morning as a guy in front spun out and the traffic had to slow.   I pushed my brakes but started to slide, getting too close to the car in front.   Luckily the passing lane was still full of wet snow, so as I swerved into it, knowing I would miss the driver in front if I could not stop, the friction slowed me down, cooled my tires, and I felt the control come back.  I returned and resumed my place in lane.

Now the mechanic was telling me that my tires were a problem.  I knew that, though, six years ago, soon after my father chose them as the cheapest offered and certainly in my first winter driving on them.   When I braked on a slippery surface, one where something got in the way of traction, they spun and slid rather than gripping.

Maybe I should have complained, should have gotten them changed before one of the final days I could get the car inspected.   I was now paying $200 for a set of used tires pulled off the car of someone who turned them in after getting new, and even that felt like a chunk, something I should have avoided.

As a trans person, as the hyper-vigilant child of my mother, I learned very early about living in a world without traction, a place where my choices had to be measured, restrained and carefully applied or things would slide into disaster as other people missed the mark, got in the way and slid around on their own fear, arrogance and ignorance.

It was nineteen years ago, at OutWrite 1998, that we talked about how losing your gender role standing in society can leave you sliding out and spattering against the expectations & assumptions of others.

In a panel on “Post Gender” with Nancy Nangeroni, Mike Hernandez, Caitlin Sullivan and Matt Bernstein Sycamore, they spoke of the challenges of moving past gender, of the point where we lose the “traction” that comes from fixed gender roles engaging with each other and end up “splattering” into a place beyond interpersonal relationships.

Yes, moving past gender isn’t a new concept invented by today’s trans youth.

While so many other drivers on that highway were absolutely assured about their ability for control, I was sure that I didn’t have that control, sure that I had to stay alert, measured and focused to stay safe.  I knew that any one of them could cause me trouble in an instant just because they got too cocky, too ignorant, too stupid.

On Long Island, Aunt Barbara has sold Tupperware for many years, becoming one of the top earners in the country.   With her huge wig and bigger performance, she entertained, drawing people to her parties and sending them home with new storage ware.

This year, though, Aunt Barbra’s sales are very down.    Her campy act is the same, but instead of being played by a Robert Suchan,  gay man in drag, she is now played by an out and proud trans woman named Jennifer Bobbi Suchan, and that seems to make all the difference.

Jennifer needed to come out, to claim her feminine heart, as told in this great article in Mel Magazine, but even though Aunt Barbara’s act stayed the same, the responses of her customers did not.   They shrank back, moved away, got uncomfortable/

Transgender queered the deal, broke the binary expectations, and in that loss of traction, it put Suchan’s well oiled business schtick into a skid.   It wasn’t what Jennifer expected, but it is the result of choices she had to make to claim the truth of her own trans heart.

The tires someone else discarded are working better for me than the cheap ones ever did.  They are the kind that come standard with the car and they have plenty of life left in them, even if another person threw them away to grab something better, something they hoped would give them more control over their car and their life.

Trying to find a gender role that gives me more traction, more purchase, more stability in my life, though, is nowhere near as simple.  That makes driving my own life still demanding, scary and exhausting.  I can’t give up my queer voice, as some would suggest that I do, but can’t stay focused out on the edges, always on the edge of a nasty skid.

How do people become so assured about their own traction in the world?  I suppose it’s easy for them if they always stay in the lanes, always do the standards, always follow the rules.   It is us liminal people, on the margins, economically, socially and otherwise, who have to give them wide berth, knowing that if they ever slip out of control, they will look for someone to blame rather than taking responsibility for their own choices.

A life on the verge of “splattering” is a life consumed with diligence, focus and tension.

People who never doubt their own traction, well, that’s not something they even want to understand.    Better just to skip the show and buy food storage ware on line.   Simpler, cleaner.

Splatter.

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