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So We Have Some “Trans-generational” Differences

GenerationsIt seems to be a lot easier to transition between genders than it is to transition between generations. I had a question posed to me by a reader the other day that got me thinking on the subject. Her concern was that the younger trans in her tribe generally neglected to invite her out, and she was attributing that to reasons of passability. My thought was that it had way more to do with the fact that they were decades younger and may have not wanted ‘mom’ or ‘grandma’ along as a big buzz kill. It got me thinking about the whole ‘trans-generational’ thing, so let’s talk about that for a minute.

Having crossed the dreadful line of 40, I acknowledge that I am now considered to be closing in on ancient to many of the younger folks. Whether this is true of not is relative, but I will admit that my cultural IQ does not do me any favors. I can’t name one song by the Jonas Brothers, Justin Beaver, or The Kardashian’s. I don’t know how to use my Twitter account. I just found out about ‘Rickrolling’ through CNN but don’t get the joke; I love that song. I still find ‘The Simpson’s’ fresh, edgy, and in your face. I really don’t know why I’m telling all of you this, it’s not like I don’t get made fun of enough. Regardless, there is a significant cultural divide between trans people my age and older, and those damn kids who pierce their ears with poker chips and won’t stay off my lawn.

In strictly trans terms, I think the biggest difference is that kids are now transitioning in their teens and early twenties and comparing themselves to those of us who spent decades cowering in terror that someone would find out our deep dark secret. Just to be clear, I think it is awesome that they have the opportunity to do this in a kinder, gentler atmosphere. Not that it’s necessarily easy, but the chances of being committed to an asylum or being legally charged under some arcane law have gone down considerably.

I have heard some of the younger set pile some derision on we ‘later in life’ transsexuals, salting their language with peppy little terms like ‘denial’ and ‘scaredy pants’. It’s difficult for them to understand trying to achieve self-awareness in the pre-internet days. The closest we often got to understanding people like us actually existed was spotting something in adult shops that not only were we too afraid to purchase, but really painted a grotesque picture of what our lives would be like if this ever got out. So we buried it deep within, and now paying the price of all the efforts we undertook to try to fix ourselves. It’s very much my hope that those days are quickly diminishing the rear view mirror.

At the same time, we who are so fortunate to transition well into the 21st century are having a very different experience than those who had to do so well before the turn of the millennium. Back when we were simply known as ‘she-males’, there were only a handful of medical and mental health professionals in the country who had an inkling we existed, and the only career choices were living petrified half-lives, working in the sex industry, or going destitute. These grand ladies, those of whom are gracious enough to share their stories, paint a very bleak and depressing picture of what enduring life really meant, if one was so brave as to choose to live through it.

The point of course is that it is too our advantage to appreciate while everyone’s transition experience is unique, there is also a generational component that flavors those experiences in yet another way. Rather than disdaining new, young, millennial trans as having it so easy, it’s better to appreciate the progress that has been made and that the cubs of our own tribe are here to receive the benefits of progress. There is equal value in appreciating what I hope is becoming an endangered species; the trans who lived decades in fearful silence. Finally it is most important to value the efforts for everyone who has walked this path before us, knowing it was considerably harder, but that the footfalls of countless unknown trans tramped the way smooth and forced channels through all the debris. In time we will all be a slice of history highlighting the rapid ascent from darkness into the light of society in general, and it’s so much more of a compelling story if we know each other in the here and now.

About michellelianna

I'm a transgender woman now in the maintenance stages of transition having all the electrolysis and surgery one can reasonably be expected to undertake. While busy exploring my new world, I took to blogging about it with dubiously popular results. I don't have quite as much to say as I used to, but I'm not quite done yet either.

12 responses »

  1. as one of the older-gen transwomen, my two biggest memories of the early days is thinking from age 5 – 18 that “i’m the only one like this in the entire world, everyone else is a boy in a male body or a girl in a female body but i;m the only girl in a boy’s body that god ever created, ever” (and then i read that “My Daughter Changed Sex” article in Good Housekeeping magazine). I also remember spending the 70’s and most of the 80’s listening the head docs claim we were all crazy, it’s all in your head, there is no physical basis for this ….

  2. “Her concern was that the younger trans in her tribe generally neglected to invite her out, and she was attributing that to reasons of passability.”

    When I ran CHAMELEONS in the early 90s there were folk who had exactly that attitude. A turn-around for the group was regular social outings, because once folk actually got out and enjoyed themselves in public, the fear of “being read” tended to hold them back. At 55 I sort of get the grandmother effect at SPECTRUM, a queer social group at the university I’m doing my Masters at. Everybody else is very late teens to very early 30s.

    I came across the divide just after my SRS in a trans chat room when some young thing asked me about FFS vs SRS, asking which was more important. I said I’d never heard of “FFS” and they explained that it was “Facial Feminisation Surgery” (altering of noses and chins mostly) and when I said everyone had to sort out their own priorities that said I was “WRONG”, that FFS was more important because it helped one pass in public. You know, I got my SRS at 43 and frankly having stuff done to my face never even came into my mind (and I decided against breast enhancement because I really didn’t want possible repairative surgery when I was 63).

    But nowadays I almost image, that with earlier transitions, that might not even come up, because hormones might change things before it becomes an issue. It used to be very tempting for me to think “if only I’d transitioned when I was in my teens or twenties. But really I was dealing with epilepsy at the time and one step at a time, please! Also that was the late 70s/early 80s, and surgical techniques were less advanced back then. There’s no percentage to thinking about “what might have been” or comparing oneself to others on a similar path, that road leads to either depression or arrogance.

    “Not that it’s necessarily easy, but the chances of being committed to an asylum or being legally charged under some arcane law have gone down considerably.”

    Being committed to an asylum was a HUGE fear of mine as well. Probably delayed my transition by five years at least.

    “Back when we were simply known as ‘she-males’, there were only a handful of medical and mental health professionals in the country who had an inkling we existed, and the only career choices were living petrified half-lives, working in the sex industry, or going destitute. ”

    I never heard the term “she-male” until after I transitioned in ’94. Found out it was a term used in the porn industry! But those choices seemed like mine as well. I started with a cushy government job that I was “gazetted” to in the Australian Public Service – that meant that even if I lost my position they’d have to find me an equivalent job at the same pay level. But after 18 months I realised I couldn’t stay in it, because it was part of the old life I was leaving, and holding me back. Anyway I knew I’d never work in the sex industry, but instead moved cross-country to study a Visual Art Bachelor’s at University of Newcastle. Destitution’s not so bad if you can manage things and have 20 years of superannuation to draw on. But there were tough times and I ended up with chronic depression and an anxiety disorder, so am now on disability. So it goes.

    Hopefully the kids nowadays have a better time in that respect, but there’s a fight for that possibility and it’s not won all at once or across the board.

  3. This post reminds me of a conversation over dinner with the mother of two very hip, well adjusted 30 something young women. Mom was a practical feminist who fought for equality where it counted. In the workplace, in woman’s healthcare and so forth. She fought to keep her maiden name as a symbol of not losing her identity when she married. Now in her middle 60s she shakes her head at how cavalierly her daughters either take for granted those hard fought gains or scoff at her old fashioned ideas. She had to bite her tongue when her oldest changed her name to her husbands. And I think those are some of the generational parallels. Young transwomen just may not appreciate that they climb on the backs of giants, women who took huge risks so that medicine could advance, the law could change and they could look forward to a life that is as normal as any of their peers. Its not all milk and honey of course. They have their own issues and hills to climb but I think they lack the perspective and generational memory to appreciate what came before and how they have benefited. But then again, they are just teenagers in trans years and teenagers can be so insufferable.

  4. I also am happy for the young ones, but they don’t have it easy. They have to come out to everyone and change right before everyone’s eyes. I know how hard that is at 68. It must be so much harder at a young age. The one I met had lots of family support and our support group just loved her, but she still did something desperate. And she is not the first young trans person to do the same, even with family support. Transition is never easy.

  5. themodernidiot

    Don’t worry-when they’re 40, they’ll be telling their own horror stories of having to walk to school in the snow, uphill,both ways 😉

  6. I feel like a “tween” in that I didn’t have the extreme hell of trans folks transitioning decades ago, but it was still not safe or possible to transition young: most of my life has been spent as a woman “driving” a (largely) male body.

    Others before me have made my difficulties pale in comparison, and I am *so grateful* to them!

    At the same time, I want to make my contribution so that It’s better for others still in the closet whatever age they are.

    For me, it is a privilege to be seen as trans and to hold my head high as a worthwhile human being with a very rare experience.

    To me, “transsexual” and “woman” are not mutually exclusive things. I am a woman, and transsexual describes how I have come into my womanhood.

    I *do* wish I could have grown-up as a girl with her experiences, and have a more womanly body now (sigh).

  7. It’s so strange to be crossing over that generational gap. It creeps up on you and you find yourself on the far side of middle age so fast.

    I am a cisgendered lesbian who came to my sexuality in my 30’s and 40 is staring me in the face. I grew up in a time period where the LGBT community lived largely in the closet and “the gays” were characters in movies and TV shows or a poor pitied soul in real life. I wasn’t able to come to own or even examine my sexuality until my mid to late twenties because anything other than straight was simply not an option.

    Now I see the new generation discovering, embracing and accepting their sexuality younger and younger. And I celebrate it, I’m happy, I rejoice at the changes that have been made to allow that to happen.

    And I’m jealous, a little angry and a little bitter. I wonder if I had been able to know who i was and live that openly and fully would I have ended up in a decade long abusive relationship? Would I be happier with myself? How would my life be different?

    I know my experience is valuable. Having straight privilege and losing it helps me to appreciate and work through and with my white and cisgendered privilege. I think that it makes me a better ally and a better person. But a tiny part of me would almost settle for being a worse person who didn’t have all those years of hiding from myself.

  8. As a “late transitioner” I will admit that I unabashedly cry when I talk with younger folks about the past. They get a glimpse of how it was to have no information and no resources and no hope for a healthy, “safe” and stable future. They know that I hid because the path was way too dark and untrodden. And I rejoice with them about how much better it is now And then we sit down and talk about their parents, or how peers at school can be turds or how the girls at the bar give them shit. We talk about how they wonder who will want to spend a life with them because they are different. Then I realize that the times are better but that transitioning early in life has it’s own fresh crap. Neither of us would trade so we just help each other along!

  9. … can so relate! stop me if you’ve heard this story before.
    a half century later, a vivid memory for me still is peddling my j.c.higgins 3 speed bicycle for 40 blocks down clark street in chicago just to get a glimpse of the life size black and white photos on the outside walls of the Baton Show Lounge . …. and then peddling back home almost in tears, knowing that that was my only future if i didn’t get jesus’ help to stop that awful thing i was thinking and doing all the time. (on the other hand, it was somehow sadly, sickly comforting to know that i wasn’t gonna be the only one like me in purgatory!)

    but these days, like you, i am so very enthused and joyful over the numbers of lovely young- uns, boys and girls, that are able to so quickly grow into themselves as they grow up.

  10. As a 20-something, I tend to forget, or not realize, how much things have changed in a short period of time. So thanks for the wider picture and the appreciation of the current times! PS – there are still some of us who love Rick Astley and don’t care for Twitter 😉

  11. Really well said. I feel just the same, knowing many youngsters for whom the experience really is different. I have the life experience and maturity, and they have the impatience of trying not to get too hormonally damaged before proper treatment. But it is only being trans* that connects us, not our culture or taste in music, nor the way we might find partners. So whilst we connect, we don’t mix well socially. They will never quite understand what it’s like to spend 40 adult years acutely aware something unspoken or unspeakable is wrong – thank goodness!


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