Some of what I have to say here may not be exactly super popular among the trans community, but hear me out. Tis far better to listen and consider than bury our heads in the sand and have our next salad taste like unwashed spinach. I am very much including myself in this, hence the word “we” instead of “you”, “y’all” or “youse guys”. Here goes. We often kind of suck at being women during, and even after transition. Go on, feel free to boo, I absolutely hate this idea too.
“Really Michelle? Really? We don’t get enough shit from the cisgender majority already about this?” Yes, really. We do. Suck I mean. No, I’m sure not everyone, but many or I dare say most. Plop any given one of us into a group of cisgender women and we stick out like a sore thumb, even if we do look picture perfect in a ogled “I would never know!” kind of way. We’ll attempt to dominate a conversation, fail to follow the multiple subtexts of any discussion, disregard the group hierarchy and unspoken rules, and often end up passively shunned with absolutely no idea why. I know, the whole idea of it makes me cringe as well. It’s OK though, it’s not totally our fault.
Let me be clear, we are women. I fully believe we have female brains from birth and ended up transitioning because it became way too uncomfortable not to. I also believe that nature and nurture are inextricably intertwined. Cisgender women are recognized as being so from birth (with some exceptions, granted), are socialized as such, develop rules, norms and hierarchies around common experiences and understandings. They all had to live though the adolescent years, which if I understand the experience right, we are just a little bit lucky to have been hiding out in boyville at the time. We also missed a lot of the good stuff as well, and those things shape a person as well. Then comes us, never having had any of these experiences, but attempting to integrate seamlessly into female culture. I’ve come to realize it’s way, way harder than we think without the checklist of ‘must-have’ items on the typical female resume.
And here I go with another analogy. In 1984 Israel kicked off Operation Moses to relocate thousands of Ethiopian Jews to safety from Sudan. These people, in appearance and culturally speaking, ethnic Ethiopians, were recognized as Jews and folded into the state of Israel. Think about what a culture shock that must have been attempting to integrate into a new place of people who yes, are the same, but came from a completely different set of shared experiences. What a clusterfluff! Sure their core identity was validated but oh how they must have stepped in it time and time again over the first few years. How could they not? I’m certain, however, that they set up their own micro societies and attempted to insulate themselves based on their own unique circumstance. Doesn’t this all sound a little familiar?
The good news is that the Ethiopian Jews stayed, at least most of them anyway. Not everyone adapts, even if they want to. In time many managed to assimilate into the Israeli culture, in no small part due to the efforts of the people already living there. I think you see where I’m going with this. We are women, but women without the benefit of decades of development. We skipped girlhood with all the critical trials and milestones, most often transitioning decades late; strangers in a strange land. Our rights to belong are inalienable, but masked by all of the quirks, thought processes, and social skills beaten into us by boy culture. No wonder we stick out!
With the exception of a few individuals here and there who are uncommonly good at assimilation through observation alone (of which I am not one), we need our cis sisters to help. My personal experience, confirmed typical by my therapist, is that trans hang with trans and cis hang with cis. I very much hope that barrier can be broken. Currently at the trans meetings I attend, the few cis women who show are supportive spouses. I could not help but notice that when informal socialization time begins, they tend to glom together. When they do, the tiny group they form appears very much different than the trans cliques, right down to the way they stand to the patois of their conversations.
In case you can’t tell, I’m thinking aloud as I write this. Wouldn’t it be helpful if we were to admit that perhaps we may be a little socially deficient in an area or two? For those who belong to groups, may it not be helpful to start inviting more cis women allies along with a humble entreaty that we could really use the pointers and encourage them to critique freely? We are smart, social, engaging, courageous (yes I said it, courageous!) women from all walks of life, but exist in a condition where we have a significant disadvantage. If we can admit it and ask for help, we can do much better for ourselves and blend just a little bit better. Face it, this is a much easier problem than big meaty Andre the Giant hands. With those we are just kind of screwed.