Simple Comfort

As the manager of a MAC cosmetics counter, Sarah understands trans in a simple and powerful way.

Trans is a need to be comfortable in your own skin by showing who you are on the inside on the outside.

Simple, yes.   And also very complicated, because to do that, we have to negotiate all the myriad things that cause us discomfort.

This means that discussing trans turns into a discussion of what causes us discomfort and the tools we have to build to negotiate a society where group identities, belief systems, imposed stereotypes and binary “us vs them” assumptions shape and limit the ways others can be seen.

I know that my life and my work has focused on using my mind to address the systems and limits which say that trans discomfort is good, right and proper, along with understanding and exposing the strategies that transpeople use to justify and rationalize their own trans expression while still attempting to cling onto normalcy.

But Sarah, well, she looked into my eyes — “those eyes!” —  saw who I was and she wanted to help me feel more comfortable and powerful facing the world, just like she would with any other woman who came to her counter.

It felt simple, affirming and amazing.  Thank you, Sara.

This doesn’t always happen.   I’ve had MAC artists who I could see try and figure out if I was a drag queen or a crossdresser, needing a label to guide them.   I’ve even had those who told me I educated them, even if I wasn’t ready to hear that.

The moment of simple comfort of being seen and accepted beyond boundaries is so rare for transpeople that it can often seem impossible.   Even in LGBTQI spaces, having to claim our identity within expectations is usually demanded and when we challenge identity assumptions we are erased and diminished.

Trans, at least at heart, is not a considered choice.   It reflects an inner knowledge, a core truth,  the powerful Eros of our heart.   Our trans nature just is, at least until we hit society and then puberty and then the rest of the demands of a culture in love with either/or.

Trans expression, though, is always a very considered choice, squeezed out into shapes that feel socially mandated: drag, sissy, crossdresser, transsexual and so on.   Pick a box and squeeze yourself to fit in it, often demanding to be seen in the way we think we should be seen.  Explicate yourself!

My life has been much more a consideration of trans than an expression of it.   Claiming how I identify was more important than just being who I am.  Rational descriptions of my current position, assertions that justified my choices are more important than the choices themselves.  I had to be on guard for any challenge that took away my standing, had to weave between identities that others claimed ownership of, had to respect the beliefs of those around me as they judged not my choices but rather whatever motivations behind those choices they assigned to me.

I was expected to base my comfort not on how I showed my nature but rather on how well I could explain my choices, not on my essence but rather on the conceptual structures I built around that essence, not on who I am but rather on how well I could make others comfortable with my choices.  Finding comfortable armour was much more valued than that ultimate trans surgery, pulling the stick out of your own ass.

Based on their own internalized system of what is right and correct, others first assigned me a box and then kept me there, adding details as they needed to.   Guy-In-A-Dress?   Check!  After all, what else could I be?  My every choice was seen as a political act.

Sara, though, looked into my eyes and knew what I was: just another woman wanting to look better and feel better about herself.   The truth was right there for her to see.

It’s easy for others to respond to my armour and what they need to believe is behind it.   It is often difficult for them to respond to the girl who has been trapped behind this trans-defence, stuck in a male body and the expectations dumped on it for a long, lonely life.   I know why I carry the armour, know why I have spent years trying to reduce it, working to show what is inside me, but I also know that whatever I do, I am going to be subject to the internalized assumptions of my audience.

Many transpeople get angry and lash out at other transpeople who seem to be setting up expectations and rationalizations that we find onerous, heavy to carry as they create noise in what we are trying to express.  For me, it is important to stay compassionate to all expressions, knowing that underneath whatever justifications they wear, every transperson is just trying to tell some deep and profound truth about their life.  (I will admit that when their stance is to deny that essential truth — “I’m just doing it for the show” or “Just having fun” or “Not really queer!” or “I fixed my birth defect, so I’m cured!” or such– I do find that posture very irritating.)

I know that I am supposed to be a grown up and deal with the world in a grown up manner, having a thick skin and striving to be “appropriate” in all my choices rather than pushing people’s buttons and challenging their comforting beliefs in separation and motives.   I can do that, but only at the cost of wrapping my essence in so much damn tip-toeing around that I lose touch with any power or beauty.

There are moments, though, such rare moments, when someone like Sara looks into my eyes and sees through my history and biology to the tender essence within.

Trans is a need to be comfortable in your own skin by showing who you are on the inside on the outside.

Simple, yes.   And also very complicated, because to do that, we have to negotiate all the myriad things that cause us discomfort.  We end up bound in armour.

But not, thankfully, to some precious people like Sarah.