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The Sureality of Being Trans. Really, For Real.

Really for RealIt may just be me, nutty old Michelle and her crazy ideas again, but being transgender seems to lend a certain plasticity to the whole notion of “reality”. I am actually kind of wondering if it really is just me, so please feel free to speak up on the subject, or alternatively, call the men in the white suits and big net to haul me away in a cartoon van. That’s OK by the way, so long as I get to run the asylum. My point, however, is that it occurs to me that a lack of clarity and strong sense of fluidity about something so basic as gender may make a person somewhat fluid about the nature of existence as well. Put your existential hats on girls and boys, time to take a ride.

I started thinking about this after someone at work campaigned, quite successfully, to be the go to person on an effort I was managing. I promised her that she would get right of first refusal on this, which wasn’t hard because in my experience someone begging for the opportunity to do work that others might find unreasonably difficult makes choosing them a no brainer. When I said yes, she asked, “Really for real?”. I must have given a look because she explained, “If you say really for real, I’ll know it’s true.” I complied without hesitation. It occurred to me after that simply by stating my intention, I codified a reality for her she could take to the bank where without there would have been a nagging sense of uncertainty. I liked that because it felt like I carved out a pocket of reality, gave it a rule unique to that environment only, and obeyed it as much as I do gravity. The whole thing was entirely a fabrication, made up, and even after I took shit for it later, refused to reconsider.

As a child all of reality seemed extremely malleable to me. Having moments of understanding that I was a girl will do this to a person, especially as the doom of puberty approaches. I devoured everything I could get on fantasy poking into the “real” world, attempted magic, levitation through yoga, and even to control the weather through extreme concentration on cloud banks. In spite of some minor successes easily attributable to random chance, I became reasonably certain I was barking up the wrong tree. It was fairly disheartening, even though I retained the ability to vector my mind off to an alternate reality at any given moment through complex dissociation. My dismay, coupled by the incontrovertible yet nonsensical understanding that I wasn’t the gender I was presenting, led me in another direction.

By midway through college I had abandoned religion all together, stopped reading comic books, and considered myself a burgeoning hardcore skeptic. If the world could be codified in hard, fast, and inflexible terms, “really for real”, there would be a sense or pattern I could always bank on. I could walk through the woods of the Pacific northwest with no fear of encountering bigfoot. I could swim the Loch Ness without a single concern about Nessie biting my feet off. God, fairies, ghosts, and devils were all figments of the imagination; the stuff of children and adults who insisted on living in Neverland. I could also not, in any logical sense, be a girl. I buried it all in the same landfill along with psychics, UFOs, and anything unexplained.

The real piss of this was that the whole girl thing kept digging its way out and started walking around, proud as punch, on the surface. Heavy machinery and miles thick capstones of lead and concrete worked for a bit, but only that. The other stuff stayed buried where it was, but I was forced to rethink reality once again, and concluded that there was a certain liquidity to my gender. I was clearly both at once, sometimes the pool tilting and the contents gathering to one end or another. I thought this made me more of a complete person and went with it for as long as I could. Of course this was doomed as well.

Flashing forward to nearly the present, as this story is waxing kind of long, I came to find that the pool really only had that one end, and a funhouse mirror that made things seem otherwise. Appearances aside, the male side was the fabrication all along, like a mall Easter Bunny on the job too long and forgetting that it was just a suit. Early on in the old ‘gender assessment’ process, I told Dr. M that the whole thing was really a pretty big mindfuck. He liked that enough to write it down, even though I didn’t think it was really all that clever. It came as no big surprise when one of the creators of “The Matrix” came out as transgender.

Going through transition, reality once again has taken on the elasticity and malleable qualities it had when I was a child. The existence of a higher power and afterlife are back to unknowns instead of a hard no. Maybe some people did have a tenuous mental connection to things unknown and not all were malicious hucksters attempting to bilk the credulous by providing false hope. Perhaps the qualitative evidence of transexualism is more than sufficient to declare it a firm part of objective reality while the quantitative evidence slowly trickled in.

Just as the actions I took after accepting “really for real” as a truism validated it, so do my actions and those of people like me validate the reality of transexualism. Declarations of falsehood on either count change nothing whatsoever. Honestly, it’s nice to have this back.

As a final note of clarity, so none of this is misconstrued, I am in no way making the case that being transgender is a contrived condition, or exists only in the subjective minds of certain people. The intent was to explore the effect that being transgender has on their perception of the world all together; if it sways anyone other than myself to or from a ‘2+2=4’ outlook to a more flexible “sometimes ‘Y’ is a vowel, sometimes not” one. Questioning your sense of what is remains highly recommended.

About michellelianna

I'm a transgendered woman now deep within the second year of transition. While busy exploring my new world, I took to blogging about it with dubiously popular results. I still don't know where this road leads in the end (well, except the very end and all) and can't wait to find out.

7 responses »

  1. I know the feeling, Michelle, and I was laughing all the way down the page after I was able to read the second paragraph, because, you seemed to have left out too many essential commas and did not put quotes or italics around colloquialisms such as “go to person” for me to read it silently, so that, I had to re-read the paragraph out loud, one–word– at– a– time and put in the necessary pauses and (parenthesize), with commas, your colloquialisms, in order to get through it.
    You might want to go back and try reading the second paragraph out loud to yourself so that you can see what I’m talking about so that I don’t think that my cognitive abilities haven’t been compromised by the meds I’m taking or because I have been suffering, since my wife died, with “bereavement-related cognitive impairment.” You can google it yourself to see that I’m not making that affliction up. Deanna

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  2. Yes, reality is a funny thing, because what we think of as real is often merely assumption on our part. And assumptions often stay unchallenged for a long long time, until (if false) they topple away, perhaps to be replaced with other assumptions. As humans we seem to have both a text/language based, and a image based capacity. In the end it’s all playing with symbols, but language being iconic, is less obvious.

    When I was young I ran head first into a drain pipe w (while playing “British Bulldog”). Thereafter I had was was then called grand mal epilepsy for the next 10 years. Eventually medication got that under control but a side effect was that I had visions and saw things that didn’t seem to be there for other people. I saw a giant rat staring at me while i had a shower once. Another time while riding my bicycle home I had an internal vision of someone making a deal from the boot of a car about guns. I got used to these and just shut up about them, and eventually most of them went away. But a side effect was an interest in the weird and the bizarre. This eventually became my interest in Forteana, which is about the weird things that people report and seem to believe – NOT believing say, in UFOs, but looking at what people do with the idea, both pro and con. But there were other effects as well. Often I still have impressions of unseen forces and people near me. Rather than fight that I just accept it as something I have. And often it seems to give me a premonition of danger or opportunity.

    The flip side to that was that for years, although I “knew what I was”, I repressed that rather than pursue it, because I couldn’t trust whether the internal feelings were an illusion as well, just another form of vision.

    No surprise then when I developed as a pagan, a follower of Cybele, the Magna Mater. I seem to have met her (only recognising the icon much later) twice in dreams. In the first dream I was last and she gave me a lift home in a car (with two big cats in the back seat). I’m a boy when I get in, a girl when I get out. The second time, I was undecided in real life about whether to get surgery in NSW, or go to Phuket for it. She came again in a dream and gave me good advice. Some have said that in both cases I was “tapping in to my inherent femininity”, but how is that more sensible or likely than meeting a goddess instead?  To really be pagan is not to buy into all the superfluous jiggery-pokery, flim-flam and paraphenalia, it’s to seek out the source of one’s character in the internal imagery. In the past as well I’ve read Tarot as well, but that’s a co-operative process between reader and querent, where I detached (for a short time) my ego and picked up on information I must have subconsciously read in the querent, not a “cold reading” or “psychic” means. I was reasonably good at this, but I told people what they needed to know rather than what they wanted to hear, and was less popular because of that. Eventually I wove the symbolism of the Tarot into a series of prints about gender transition for my honours in Fine Art (each is a journey).

    Perhaps too this is why I revel in comics and cartooning, but reading and making them. Comics combine the text and the imagery that in general humans respond to. My life has always had a “certain weirdness” to it, but at least now (like a SubGenius) I can embrace and run with that, rather than trying to be someone I’m not.

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  3. I sort of came from the other direction. It was only while I was ridiculously superstitious and talked to my imaginary friend in the sky constantly that I was able to suppress my true identity. I didn’t have the epiphany reaccepting my transsexualism until many months later, but it was jettisoning all the fairy tales and adopting a 2+2=4 mentality that enabled to me to be myself again. I thank God I’m an atheist.* If I weren’t, I’d still be miserable and alone in the closet. With just a DVD player for company.

    *Quoting Michael Stivic on All in the Family.

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  4. While you are on the subject, can you address whether we all see the same thing when we look at a purple object?

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  5. I don’t believe me being transgender has helped or hindered my perspective of reality, As Reality is based of facts. (See,hear,touch,smell) There is a reality based off guess and imagination but till the “false reality” is (seen,heard,touched or smelled) it’s just a concept.

    Believing in false realities like (God,bigfoot,etc) are pointless. many facts based off reality have disproved the false realities many times over.

    Being transgender and wanting to be the other gender can be based off Facts,testing and more, bragging it into reality.

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  6. Hey michellelianna,

    Thanks for this post!

    I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how different communities decide what’s true, via their own processes of “knowing”. About how these processes (more formally called “epistemologies”) vary between communities, and how they’re formed to meet the needs of that community.

    About epistemologies of domination: “Because I said so.” About epistemologies based on history and place: “Because it’s always been this way.” About the epistemology of feminist consciousness-raising: “What we thought was personal, but found we had in common, we decided was political reality.” About epistemology that refuses to be pinned down and unfolds itself through stories.

    And about trans* epistemologies. What sentence sums up trans* epistemology? Obviously not just one. The Harry Benjamin “true transsexual” approach constructs truth about transsexuality in a very different way to radical transfeminism, and differently again to queer politics.

    But are there common threads? What I keep coming back to is noticing that there’s a validation of each others’ realities. “It’s true for you because you say it is,” perhaps. And that while “constellations of truths” arise from multiple, interrelated personal truths, there’s a strong resistance to reifying any one of those truths – raising it to the level of “pure truth”.

    Obviously we have good reason for that. “Pure truth” hasn’t really worked in our favour, or the favour of many minorities, one reason being that dominant epistemology (“because I said so”) creates what it calls “pure truth” that is in fact shaped in the interest of dominants.

    I wonder if the way we distribute our epistemological authority among many is a way of resisting that dominance. In a way, we remind me of Terry Pratchett’s “Wee Free Men”, saying, “Nae King! Nae quin! Nae Laird! Nae master! We willna be fooled again!”

    But I also worry about the limitations of this fractured epistemology. At the same time as it gives us a way to resist outright dominance, what does it do for internalised oppression? If we distribute the authority to create truth by affirming each other’s truths, are we also creating a way for multiple articulations of individual, internalised oppression to coagulate into shared reality?

    And perhaps, when we see tools like “That’s not true!” as one of Audre Lorde’s “Master’s Tools” and disarm ourselves of it, have we also compromised our ability to challenge such coagulations of oppression?

    I hope not. I believe there are deep resources in trans* community. I think there are dissenting voices to every trend which threatens us. But I wonder if they’re being heard.

    (originally posted here)

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  7. I believe we create our own reality as we interact with others. And being trans does put us on shaky ground whereby something most people consider inviolate–gender solidity–is actually fluid. We are born one gender but present as another. And if others echo that other, it becomes reality.

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