Imagine a meeting room at the library filled with 100 people from the community, ready to hear about the homosexuals who live among us.
A panel, lead by a board member of a reproductive rights organization, includes a medical doctor, a trained therapist, and the mother of a homosexual.
There are two homosexuals on the panel, too, one who tells the stories they have learned to entertain normal people, and the other imported from 150 miles away, who only identifies as a kind of straight homosexual, who spent most of their life presenting as normative and married, but now uses their training in corporate presentations to affirm the way they fit in with normal people.
In the edges of this, a few people who always talk to the media are there to be on camera, just waiting for the press to show up. They are ready to explain that homosexuals are among us and we need to be nice to them, even if we don’t really understand them, because they are kind of like us.
This may be the kind of presentation that would be put on in 1967, a panel of curiosity and normative power, but any gay person showing up at this kind of presentation in 2017 would feel like a insect on a pin as these people did Homosexual 101 out of a kind of do-gooder separation, helping the abject, twisted and almost incomprehensible.
Last night I attended exactly that presentation, but about transgender.
And it made me feel like a bug.
Transgender isn’t a form of sexual orientation, but gay is a kind of gender variance, people who feel the need to go against gendered conventions to claim their truth.
Gay, though, is gender variance that affirms the underlying duality of heterosexism. People can be easily separated by biology & history and homosexual desire affirms those divisions, keeping men as men and women as women, even if some men want to have sex with other men and some women want to have sex with other women.
At that imaginary 1967 library panel, how long until one of the people from the audience asked “So, which one of you is the man and and which the woman?” Heck, lots of people still ask that today, applying heteronormative expectations to the varied relationships that are not as simple for gay people.
Transgender people walk in their bisexuality, though, carrying the reality of crossing gendered boundaries in their body and their choices.
In cultures where gender is rigidly bi-polar, rituals of gender crossing remind us of our continuous common humanity.
— Anne Bolin, anthropologist, author of “In Search Of Eve: Transsexual Rites of Passage”
I knew that was my mission statement when I heard it in 1993. It has guided all the work I have done since then.
Transgender people express gender variance that questions and challenges heteronormativity and the identity politics rooted in those binary beliefs.
Today, though, gender variant people who reinforce heterosexism, that kind of biological determinism that supports the belief in walls between us and them, are being forced to include transgender in their public positions.
What better way to squeeze the queerness out of trans expression and trans lives than by having people who aren’t trans explain it to the world?
By doing that, lesbians can keep their position in the hierarchy while diminishing transpeople, identifying them as those we have to be nice to in a kind, liberal way. They reinforce their own belief systems by putting transpeople in a context that marginalizes them as people who need to be helped into the LGbt community.
It’s hard to identify as gay unless you have relationships with other gay people, fitting in with their expectations in way that makes you a comfortable and attractive partner. Assimilation comes from that kind of behaviour as you shape your own expression to be part of the group, different from them.
To know yourself as trans, though, you have to claim the power and truth of your own heart in a powerful and profoundly individual way. You need to push past the social conventions placed on your biology and history in a way that lets you be you, not just one of the group.
Doing that demands understanding how heterosexism constrains us all, demands making hard choices. No matter how hard we try to fit in there will always be a piece of us that stands out, crossing the norms, that can be seen when people get inside our passing distance.
Transpeople have always been forced to make hard choices in creating expression. We have to balance how we can blend and how we have to hold onto our queerness. These kind of challenges may seem easier today, as transkids are affirmed and supported earlier, but no one knows how these changes will play out.
When society finds comforting transpeople to hold up as examples, those who have learned to limit themselves to speaking in ways that don’t scare the horses, playing along with experts and politicians to keep expressing trans in a way that supports rather than challenges the status quo, well, they don’t really engage the shimmering and transcendent truths of trans lives.
There is hope. On last night’s panel, the therapist did try to open the space for transcendence, talking about how she had to move beyond her expectations to grasp the truth of trans, even in ways that felt clumsy and a little painful.
But there is also oppression, feeling like transgender truth is being contextualized and put in place by those who have proven that they don’t value the kind of queerness that speaks to continuous common humanity.
As transpeople, we have individual voices, not the kind of group voice that can be kept in discipline by denying membership in a group identity. We speak of how everyone has parts that transcend boxes, how only by taking people at their own meaning can we celebrate, value and benefit from the myriad facets of diversity.
That doesn’t mean that we don’t want to be fit in, don’t want to try and be tame enough to be one of the gang, don’t want to try and play the game that paints us as normative, with just a little tiny twist. “We are normal people,” many homosexuals used to say, “just like everyone else, but with a bit of sodomy on Saturday night.”
We aren’t just among, you, though, we are you. Our difference is that we don’t show interrupted identity, this or that, rather we show continuous common humanity, this and that. We are queer, no matter how much we dream of just being normative, and our lives are a struggle to find a balance of expression that works for us.
Being in a room where over 100 people come together for “trans talks” tells me that we are now on the radar.
Having that room dominated by people who want to put us in our nice place, using the kind of Trans 101 that creates boxes (2006), though, well that makes me heartbroken among them.