My spouse/ sister and I just finished watching a 10 part documentary on National Geographic called ‘Amish – Out of Order’. If you ever wondered how interesting my day to day life is, the fact that I managed to watch a 10 hour educational documentary in just under a week and call it “the exciting part”, should give you a good window into my harum-scarum action packed adventures. We watched because it focused on the fabulous Mose Gingerich; slow talking reality TV superstar from the long defunct ‘Amish in the City’. We love Mose, and I was glad to see he’s doing well and is now the undisputed Zen master of the ex-Amish community. In that 10 hours with lots and lots of recaps, I had time to do some slow thinking of my own.
Something Mose kept reiterating was that the ex-Amish are people who don’t really fit into either world – The Amish, or the English. The “English”, is the Amish catch all for anyone is who is not Amish. Not that they are unique in this at all; a small population coming up with a catchy moniker for the vast majority of “outsiders”. Jews and the goyim; Evangelicals and the damned; Trans and the Cisgenders. The list goes on. Anyway, that last one I mentioned kind of rings a bell, doesn’t it? While true, our mission is to go from a life in one gender to a more accurate life in the other, ideally without anyone being the wiser, in reality we are slipping out of a cisgender identity into a trans one. OK, it’s not a perfect analogy, so don’t get all fussy britches on me; I’m going somewhere with this.
I, like many other trans folk, like to idealize my transition. I like to think of myself as having always been a woman, albeit a fugly one with poorly designed plumbing leading people, like you know, me, to overlook this basic fact, but a woman nevertheless. In less optimistic moments, I get flashes of despair over the fact that I can’t ever be never a “man”. I looked like one, was socialized as one, became a husband and a father, and this past is irrefutable no matter what my present might be. I know I’ve talked about this before, if you were paying attention, ahem. Just as the ex-Amish will forever feel just a tiny bit out of place in the English world due to their upbringing, so are we, at least just a little bit.
Hold on just a minute; I can feel your indignation from here, and I will be gracious enough to allow that maybe you are different and embraced immediately into your true gender seamlessly and phased through every obstacle like some insubstantial wraith. I wish! For most of us, just as many of the ex-Amish can honestly say that they never really bought into the whole ‘plain folk’ schtick, they were still stuck there for some amount of time, and so were we as “men” and “women”. Unless you transitioned at 3, you had years of experience as the other gender, and for most of us, really defining shit like puberty, sex, relationships, and parenthood.
My whole point is that it’s OK to acknowledge this and work with it. The ex-Amish, while now living English lives, with English jobs, and English relationships, all surrounded by the English who didn’t even know they were designated English to begin with, still find community in each other for that common past only they can understand. This is a good thing. It doesn’t make them non-English, but allows the shared experiences and how much is sucked to be Amish with other people who get it. This is good for us too. As much as it feels right to hang with the cis women and find acceptance, only other trans women can relate to formative year horrors like classroom wood, even if we don’t talk much about such things.
Some resist joining trans groups because they feel there is a stigma in admitting their former lives, or like to go all Lone Ranger about it, but honestly I think they are missing out on the community support that shared understanding brings. I really liked that the ex-Amish were able to do this and it was inspiring what it brought them all. Even more inspiring was Mose himself, who after 9 years of fully inserting himself into a true blue English existence, stuck around to help those who came after to adjust to what is a better way of life for them. It made me immensely grateful for the transwomen who although fully passable in every sense of the word, remained to help and guide. It’s a good thing to blaze a trail through the wilderness, but truly great to remain in the middle of it just to wave forward the successive band of neophytes stumbling forward with wild looks on shaky heels. I don’t usually do this, name names that is, but thank you Patti, Ari, Tina, Caroline, and many more. The best I can aspire to is to follow your example.