“And we have groups for trans kids,” the program director for the local gay & lesbian centre told the seminar on trans health issues.
“Aren’t trans kids just amazing?” they burbled to the audience.
If trans kids are an amazing group, then what group isn’t amazing?
The answer bubbled to the top soon afterwards in a comment about the challenge of “high-need” transpeople. They are the opposite of trans-kids, no longer fresh and hopeful, trusting and able to be managed with peer pressure & promises, ready and willing to learn, but rather crusty, ornery and challenging.
The audience laughed loudly when I asked my question about who wasn’t amazing. Since most worked in the field of delivering trans-health, they knew the answer in their gut. They knew about the problem trannys.
Every transperson, though, was a transkid once, was an open mind & heart wanting to find a way to both be deeply connected and profoundly themselves in the world.
For most of us, though, the word “transkid” didn’t even exist, let alone a world where we could be supported and embraced into happy and powerful expression.
Rather, we were shamed into the closet, taught fear and denial, made to believe that we were broken somehow, that if we showed ourselves we would suffer social alienation and emotional pain. We learned to compartmentalize, to shatter ourselves, to kill parts of ourselves off, learned to twist our thinking and our explanation of self to try and get a little bit of what we needed so desperately.
I went through my own story, from only hearing echoes of who I was when Virginia Prince was on late night adult talk radio to dumping a copy of Harry Benjamin’s “The Transsexual Phenomenon” at the last subway station before I had to get back in my parents car in 1969.
I spoke of helping with support groups in the 1980s to getting an award from the local centre twenty years ago in 1997.
My question to the panel was simple.
I know that they are working with the visible, emerging transpeople out there, the ones struggling at this moment to claim trans-identity.
But how are they opening to the vast population of us who have already been shamed into the closet, those of us who have become hidden and resistant to even identifying publicly as trans?
In the past eleven years, that has been the top post on this blog. We never dreamed of being trans, rather we dreamed of being strong, attractive, beautiful, hoped to be seen, understood and valued, hoped to be embraced for who we are inside even when that crosses the nice binary lines that so many people, even gay & lesbian people, find so comforting and enforceable.
There are few benefits in being visibly trans and lots of costs as others try to enforce their visions of the right way to be trans, setting up a crossfire where fundamental beliefs, from religious doctrine to call out culture just create a battleground that we have learned to run from rather than safe spaces.
Five or six transpeople came up to me after the event to talk about how my remarks mirrored their experience in the world.
None of the seven or eight professionals on the panel, though, chose to follow up with me, to affirm my remarks or see if I could share anything of use with them or their organizations.
They all laughed when I asked what group wasn’t amazing, and then they quickly and profoundly understood that I was very much a member of that group, the ornery and scarred transpeople whose history of neglect and abuse makes me high need rather than cute, motivated and manipulable.
Every transperson, no matter what their relationship to the institutional structures being constructed around trans is, was a tender, sweet, vulnerable and hurting trans kid once.
The vast majority of us, though, learned to fracture and hide that nature, turning our needs into embedded and often infected shards rather than being able to open and blossom.
And all those twisted and compartmentalized transpeople out there are deeply suspect about opening to and trusting structures of power that find sweet trans-kids amazing and our own identity and stories incorrect, tainted, broken and too high need to be serviced.
We know the “third gotcha,” that moment when even those who claim to be allies impose their own dogma onto us, cutting us again and sending us away from another political battle that just feels like it slices our heart.
We know the scars on our own soul.
And when I shared that experience, bringing together the lessons from the thousands and thousands of trans stories, trans theologies that I have heard over the last fifty years, none of these “professionals” even did the graceful thing of acknowledging the pain.
Instead, they saw me as one of those “too-hard” trannys, the high-need broken people who just are not, just are never “amazing!” to work with.
Yet, I spoke out for all those voices and many transpeople in the room understood the challenge I crystallized.
We aren’t trans to fit neatly in nice boxes, to comply with some model of abjection and obedience.
The trans inside of us, rather, is the place where the break between our own hearts and the demands of social stereotyping splintered us, where our dreams and social expectations created a place where we were shamed and abused into making our shattered heart invisible.
That’s why we are so hard to serve, because when we needed service we were only given political and doctrinal demands.
And the pros in the room, well, they know how to laugh at the vision of challenging, individual and needy transpeople, but having the skills and compassion to actually open to and engage them?
That just isn’t something they have the amazing skills and intention to do.