My life has been a constant stagger between “That’s way too much information!” and “Why didn’t you tell me that right away?”
I have never known exactly how much information I should disclose in any given interaction with other humans.
Watching them glaze over, turn away or, worst, recoil in disgust when I show them a part of me that they find less than palatable is not a pleasant experience. I was taught early that it was not only unsafe to disclose my heart, but also that it was rude.
“Look,” so many people would say, “I’m fine with whatever you do in the privacy of wherever you do it, but I don’t really want to see it, and for God’s sake, don’t expose the innocent and pure children!”
Trans is based in Eros, driven from the desire in our heart. Because it was often a segmented, unintegrated part of our expression, it was where we could “let it all hang out,” revealing deep, potent adult desires that seemed rude in mixed company. Fetish, drag, crossdressing and more brought an uncomfortable rawness to what we revealed, something that squicked other people and made them queasy.
Deciding where the line between appropriate and unsavoury lay was always difficult. Because I had to police myself, I always over policed, staying in the shadows if there was any possibility that my appearance would cause questions that parents would rather not answer.
This behaviour, though, sometimes lead people to believe that I was ashamed of my trans nature, trying to hide it. I’ve been talking openly about my trans for at least twenty years, but I have also resisted showing it, not wanting to be too “in your face.”
Many transpeople address this concern by going to extreme lengths to conceal their trans truth, using surgery and other methods to try and conceal their trans body, attempting to pass as having gone through puberty as the appropriate sex for their gender presentation.
I knew that approach wouldn’t work for me. In the first place, I would be a failed transsexual, but more importantly, I knew that my work required I be able to talk about the experience of being trans, using my voice to speak for queerness and continuous common humanity.
My choice was to be honest about trans but to avoid having to feel the fear of trying to pass in the world. With my feminine heart, I needed the connection more than I did wearing the clothes that I wanted, knowing they would put barriers up. My beauty couldn’t lay in the way I met normative expectations, as Riki Wilchins notes, but rather in the way I shared my vision.
Humans, though, operate on assumptions, applying their own expectations to others they meet. Those expectations, as I and so many other transpeople found, just don’t usually include understanding people like us, those who make the choices and create the expressions that we do.
That “third gotcha” moment, where your gender changes in someone’s eyes, is one of the most unsettling experiences ever. For this reason, many transwomen keep a “tell” around, knowing that it can be dangerous to not reveal our trans nature right up front, even if that means we are always stuck on the “guy-in-a-dress line.” (1999)
While this is terrifying, I have written about it often over the past twenty years or so. My choice was to try and be myself on the inside, wearing a uniform, rather than pressing the point on the outside.
Because I mostly share using explicit and potent language, rather than just the symbols of clothing, my “too much information” experience is when I try to talk about my experience, my feelings, my life.
I learned long ago that unless someone was ready, primed and open to engage what I had to offer, I had to modulate, reduce and be very circumspect about what I share with them.
We know we are being heard when we hear our stories mirrored, when our own ideas and phrases come back to us, or when people change their choices to consider what we have shared with them, showing that they understand and have integrated what we revealed to them into their own mental model of who we are, how we feel and what we need.
My experience, though, is that most people have a great deal of difficulty moving beyond their own deep assumptions and beliefs to grasp and integrate my sharing.
The only man who behaves sensibly is my tailor; he takes my measure anew every time he sees me, whilst all the rest go on with their old measurements, and expect them to fit me.
– George Bernard Shaw
Never try to teach a pig to sing. It just wastes your time and annoys the pig.
– Robert Heinlein
People grow and heal in their own time and in their own way. If they aren’t yet ready to hear what I offer, well, there isn’t much I can do to change that. They have to want to be able to open to me, want to be able to engage me, want to fight with and for me.
That’s not an easy ask, I know. People want to offer what worked for them, want to suggest that I dial it back, that I just get over it. That’s sweet, but the odds are high that I have already tried what they suggest; after all, I have been at this trans shaman challenge for many, many decades now.
I have spent a long time and a lot of energy coming to my own understanding, and if people want to shoot back at me “Well, I’m just not that enlightened!” like my sister did, I just need to accept that.
The problem comes when something does come up and they demand “Why didn’t you tell me? We could have done something about that!”
Well, you have failed me so many times in the past, not hearing me and showing that by not following through with what you suggested that I have learned to just keep my mouth shut and talk about you instead.
Why should I expect different behaviour than you have shown me the enormous number of times I tried to share and you just shut down, not able to hear or engage me because you had no context, no ability and no will to change to embrace what I offered?
As a transperson with my history, I learned very early to gauge the timbre of the transactions I had with other people. What were they willing and able to take in? How much sharing was too much? Did they want to separate from me, even for sweet and liberal reasons?
Learning to self-police myself in those interactions left me almost always erring on the safe side, on holding the contents of my heart and mind back unless there was no other choice. I learned that it was nothing for me to be too high voltage, too fast, too overwhelming, too challenging, too porcupine for others to hear and take in what I tried to offer. Attempting to share my gifts usually got me slammed or isolated, not valued.
It became my habit to back off quickly, to simmer down, to not be seen as a monster.
This has left me with writing so punchy that audiences shy away from the intensity of thought & emotion, finding it not worth their resources, and a life dialed back so far that I have very little interaction and relationship with the humans I pass by now and then.
I stagger between “That’s way too much information!” and “Why didn’t you tell me that right away?” sharing too much or sharing too little and not getting what I need from either.
So much we need to share and so much resistance from others as they hold onto comforting dogma, doctrine, belief and habit that just wants to erase what doesn’t fit neatly into what they already expect. I am too queer, too whatever for the room.
And that feels like a telling hallmark of a trans life.