Can you understand, categorize and define me by looking at people with whom I share one attribute?
People identified as male at birth who choose to wear women’s clothing; aren’t they all alike? Know one and you know them all?
It’s amazing how many who would hate to be pigeonholed because they share an attribute — the sex identified at their birth, for example — seem to lump others together in a way they would reject, would call “sexist.”
Having spent 35 years as an out transperson, I have seen how negative identity definition — “I am not like them! They are doing it all wrong! They don’t understand!” — has kept us spinning and blaming. It becomes very hard to know who you are if you have to keep asserting who you aren’t.
I wrote about this twenty years ago in “The “Guy-In-A-Dress” Line. It’s at the heart of transgender — and why people reject the whole transgender idea.” Is transformation possible, I pondered, or is the best anyone identified at birth can be “a guy-in-a-dress?”
Since then, my work has been largely ignored in trans circles because I talk about individual responsibility, about owning our queer, about having to enter our own discomfort to find integration and healing. Others feel the need to ignore or reject me because what I say doesn’t fit their view, is politically incorrect, too intellectual, too emotional, too challenging so therefore must be wrong.
It is easy for me to look at transpeople and see where they need healing, need to move beyond their own blocks and gain a wider, more whole picture. Sissies, drags, crossdressers, transsexuals almost always have deliberate blindspots, parts they cannot see or engage without threatening their standing and comfort, so they resist.
Being forced to somehow “prove” I am not like them, that somehow they got their choices “wrong” while mine are “right” is a reactionary exercise in identity politics. “Calling out” others who are struggling to own their own nature, a nature stigmatized, marginalized and oppressed by a binary-loving culture — “Are they this or are they that? — doesn’t allow space for exploration, growth and healing.
I have been resisting the polarizing, binary pressures of identity politics for over 25 years now. My call to accept others as individuals, not simply as group members, has always been disquieting to those who want to feel sanctified by identifying an enemy, some group that is the problem and needs to change in the way we demand.
“I have met the enemy and he is us,” as Walt Kelly’s Pogo said so long ago.
The only person we can change in this world is ourself. That’s not easy to hear when the people around you find it so easy to find people to blame. After all, if you don’t go along with them, then they may start blaming you, exerting social pressure to either bring you around to their beliefs or cast you out.
I hate being lumped in with others who I know are very different than me just because of a happenstance of birth an a choice or two. That processes me erases who I am, denies the work I have done, makes my truth invisible, all to satisfy those who defend binaries.
“Well, if you do this, you must be that, and any claim to being different is just a dammed lie.” There is nothing I can do to change that binary assessment as it reduces me to a stereotype in a way that most people would hate to be reduced.
The moment I you stop seeing me as an individual is the moment you stop acknowledging your own individuality, the ways that you transcend the expectations you know were lumped onto you. Tar others with a big brush and you are just asking to be tarred in the same way.
Learning not to be triggered by such reductionist shots is not easy. We know we are being attacked, that our life is being made harder every time someone reduces people like us to just an object of mockery. It is easy to understand the separation response of “It’s them who are bad, not me!” comes so quickly, why this kind of identity diminishment creates in-fighting and defensive behaviours that stop us from moving beyond to see connections, boldly facing our own shared humanity.
Can you understand, categorize and define me by looking at people with whom I share one attribute? Am I nothing but a common member of a group you created by finding and asserting some either/or binary?
Is it my job to try and prove to you that I am not whatever you assert me to be by creating some other line in the sand, some constructed division that separates the real from the fake, the good from the bad? The number of transsexual women who had genital surgery just to “prove” they were really “female” is huge, but many of them found that their “blood sacrifice” meant nothing; they were still lumped in with whoever their enemies wanted to tar.
I am an individual. I cross boundaries, transcend assumptions, connect that which many want to see as unconnectable. It’s the same job trans shamans have been doing across history and across cultures, reminding us of our continuous common humanity.
I am, also, an exhausted individual, tired of the expectations imposed on me, of the demands others make to maintain comforting binaries, of the way people reject my gifts because to accept them would demand they open their eyes, minds and hearts to their own individual responsibility in the world.
Being stigmatized is painful, as women who fought for equal rights know.
Stigmatizing others, though, often just seems “common sense” to maintain comforting separations.
It’s just something that I, as one who needs to support the possibility of growth, healing and transformation in the world, know is plain selfish, small minded and wrong.