Adam Sandler did a great bit by this title in which he played a bizarrely inappropriate and neurotic mom who continuously warns her kids that everyone is going to laugh at them. It got annoying quick, but mainly because he used that voice he does for female characters that sounds like a billy goat who just got a wedgie. Kind of like mine, now that I think about it. Good thing I’m getting some help. As an aside on things to laugh about, I’m looking forward to the first search that pairs ‘transgender + billy goat’ and brings a new reader. You think I jest, but in terms of inexplicable search parings, it’s nothing more than hum-drum run of the mill.
I know I’ve brought this up before, but I think the trans community, not everyone but enough, takes itself waaay too seriously sometimes. I’m not thinking this is such a great thing, and in truth, I’m diametrically opposed to this, or would be if I knew what ‘diametrically’ meant. Look, it sounded kind of cool and sciency, so I went for it. I’m going to get even more technical and state that this seems like heap bad juju to me.
Before you all go paint me as the Uncle Tom (or more appropriately I guess Mrs Uncle Tom since she was never mentioned) of the trans population, I’m going somewhere with this. I’m not saying you are going to like it, but get to the end before filling your shotguns with rock salt. They, not all of them, but a few, are going to laugh at you (and me for that matter) and we have to be OK with that. It’s not right, and often hurtful, but until we master the monumental task of educating the world population and attaining dignity through knowledge sharing, it’s an inevitable thing. In the mean time, we can choose to be laughed with or laughed at.
Culturally speaking, western culture (probably others, but western for sure) finds gender bending to be a hilarious thing. I don’t know the reason why, but Hollywood always manages to capture the taste of the lowest common denominator and cater to it. Hence, we end up with a lot of shitty movies, with a few good ones thrown in for good measure, and TV shows that center around some zany circumstance where men have to pretend to be women. Regardless of the fact that our lives don’t resemble any of this, the effect is felt from time to time.
We know it’s wrong and it does make us angry. It’s not terribly different than the old 1940’s era Warner Brothers cartoons and the hideous depiction of African and Asian minorities. OK, not quite that bad, but we often feel the same about it. The natural human response is to indignantly tell people off. This is a terrible idea. With the exception of truly horrific tragedy at the root, people generally don’t react with a lot of sympathy when told off with great indignation. If they were laughing to begin with, this is likely to make them laugh more and generate a sense of helpless fury. I certainly don’t want to feel helplessly furious and don’t want anyone else to either.
Instead our best path forward is to learn to laugh at ourselves a bit. I’m not saying to slap on some zany tights and implausibly oversize mary-janes and adopt the guise of Tranny the Clown or anything. I am saying that in a culture where dressing as the opposite gender is the epitome of hilarity, it behooves us to acknowledge the inherent humor in our transition predicament. It’s an awkward time for us and it’s just something people are going to notice, especially if they knew us “before”. The awkwardness is uncomfortable for us of course, but also for them, as I’ve droned on about so many times. Naturally awkwardness is rated as being even funnier than gender issues, compounding the issue. All we need to do is develop a propensity for slipping on banana peels and we’d be triple threats.
When we can recognize this and laugh at ourselves for it, we make ourselves human to those who laugh because we are hitting their cultural humor buttons as they figure out what to make of what they are seeing. There is dignity and strength in bemused public self reflection, and that is what we really want people to see, isn’t it? By recognizing that our transitions are an unavoidable source of amusement, accepting it, and validating the awkward discomfort of society, we highlight our inclusion as members and not bizarre outsiders. Becoming a big ball of pissiness does none of this. It takes strength to laugh at oneself and everyone knows that, and it’s so much better than crying.