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Tribe Trans: Live Together or Die Alone

Live together or die aloneNo, today’s post is not about ‘Lost’, though I freely admit that I still miss that show and unlike most, I loved the series finale. Look, you knew I was weird before you set out to read this. Recent events, however, brought me back to thinking about the first season when Jack (played by Charlie from ‘Party of 5’) said to Charlie (formerly a hobbit or something – see, this is why people found the show confusing) that the castaways had to decide whether to live together or die alone. What is bothering me is that the trans community, at least here in Buffalo, seems to be leaning toward the latter. I think this is a problem. By the way, thanks all for bearing with me in my absence – the event that inspired this post helped me procrastinate writing, but I’m back now.

On the second Friday of every month, we all come together to meet, share our experiences, ask each other questions, and bask in an environment where the inner drive and resultant anguish and triumphs are assumed and understood. I think the reason people are willing to give up a Friday evening (other than the fact that the ABC TGIF lineup bites since ‘Perfect Strangers’ was cancelled) is to enjoy the company of others who get us. People who we don’t have to explain much to. People for whom the primary self-identifying factor of gender isn’t a thing. With these people we seek common goals in self-protection and betterment to put us on equal footing with an expensive and socially debilitating gender issue. These understandings, paired with shared obstacles when it comes to employment, housing, medical care, and socialization, are fundamental enough to our collective well being to classify us as a tribe.

A tribe, as I see it, is a collective that takes care of its own. Like a family, we are not individuals who necessarily have anything in common but this one characteristic Like blood, it is fundamental enough to supersede all the other little quirks and rivalries that bring internal strife. We don’t have to be friends, or even like each other, but in choosing to come together in community, we show our colors in unity instead of taking the lonesome road that many others choose instead. What does it mean though to come together as a tribe? How are we supposed to behave toward each other? What does being part of this tribe really do for us? I’m beginning to think very few are even aware. Let’s talk about that.

The Bedouin, one of the few remaining tribal cultures, have a saying. “I against my brothers; my brothers and I against our cousins; I and my cousins against the tribe; the tribe against all.” It sounds pretty harsh, especially since it’s pretty exclusively masculine, but sets up an order of precedence in priority. Looking at it that way, it’s kind of a no brainer. Take care of yourself, those closest to you, and then your tribe. They are your refuge against the whole rest of the world. Whereas ‘Tribe Trans’ isn’t really looking to make a move against the other tribes out there, we have come together under the assumption that no matter what, this is where they have to take you. Much like the old definition of ‘home’ before it became untrue for so many in the Trans community.

Are we doing this? Are those of us who chose to become part of a recognized tribe making the effort to make this home for ourselves and our sisters and brothers? Are we truly here to support each other and give help and encouragement when the needs of a member arise, all the while knowing it will be us eventually? It makes sense, right? After all, if we are not here for that, why be part of a tribe at all? If we don’t come out for community, support, and advancement of the tribe, why are we even trying? After all, there is nothing else to be gained. No power, no fame, no wealth or status. If support and compassion are also absent, isn’t maybe better to stay home and see if Balki Bartokomous has returned to the Friday night lineup?

No one says we have to get along or even like each other. Individual disputes are inevitable; after all, we are still just people. If, however, the tribe fails to come together to support one of its own in need, then it really is no tribe. It is the compassion we show to each other that builds our strength. It’s our focus on our own in need that builds the tribe that can provide hope and encouragement to each one of us when our need comes. And it will. The great truth about being trans is that you will doubt your ability to go on, and probably more than once. Given the choices, I’d rather live together.

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.

9 responses »

  1. oh, lordy, michelle … having just returned from the atlanta conference, this post of yours has really reached me. …and even more so have the heart-wrenching comments from deanna, brettany and dianne. the isolation is a reality for me (more so than you can possibly know), but the sensibility and empathy you all show warms my heart and makes me feel connected even through the tears and perpetual sadness. many, many thanks…

  2. “A tribe, as I see it, is a collective that takes care of its own. ”

    Like the notion of a tribe rather than one of “community” I hear the second a lot, as in “LGBT community” or “trans community” but I’ve always found community a misnomer for trans folk. See a community seems to me a group of folk who tend to live in the same area and have common points of contact and at times values. Tribe on the other hand seems closer to trans experience.

    For me most of trans networking has been via friends, or friends of friends. But unlike lesbians and gays, who have a vested interest in having a community, that’s never been the case that much for trans – we’re not automatically attracted to each other for a start. And for another much of the outside focus of trans stuff seems to be the transition where things are in flux in the change from who we were (pretending to be) to who we become. But at some point one does BECOME that person, and the motivation to hang around those still becoming is far less than it was, like a law of diminishing returns. If you’ve been there and done that it’s tempting to pass on what you’ve learnt, but often either they don’t listen, or more likely we need need to learn different lessons, even in the same process.

    Of course there’s always exceptions, like those who make a home in the LGBT / Queer communities, but that’s their choice, rather than a natural assumption. Doesn’t stop one wanting to help of course, but there are different ways of doing that.

  3. Love your thoughts on our issues and group.
    I feel that the local TG/TS groups help people in transite. Also gives the politicaly active a platform. So support, unity, politics and community. What happens when one has reached selfactualization essentialy the transition is complete and one is self satisfied? Essentially you blend and are acepted. Do your thoughts still lend themselves to this position?

  4. I try very hard to not think of myself as a bad person. “Bad” to my mind connotes either some sort of nascent evil present from development onward (think Damien from The Omen) or purposeful nastiness for personal gain without concern for anyone else, the roots of which could be any combination of environmental elements.

    Yet, when held up to self scrutiny, as when reading something like Michelle’s article this week, I feel I am a bad person. Maybe not intentionally, but as with so many things, if I know there is a better way to be, why am I so reluctant to be it? Why do I refuse to step into the circle and join the tribe? ANY tribe?

    I was born into the tribe of Asperger. I firmly believe I was crippled socially and in so many sensory and perceptive ways during my development. All my life I searched for answers as to why I was so messed up. No professional I’d seen found that all important key, and I was treated in basically useless ways, always coming out of therapy wondering why nothing felt different. There is so much to be thankful for now that the World Wide Web is at our fingertips. In 1998, after exhaustive searching, I finally found the lifeline, the explanation. There isn’t a cure for everything, but knowledge is power, and sometimes that’s enough to save your sanity. A professional confirmed my self diagnosis in 2009 while I was in the throes of a crumbling marriage. The seeds of that failure, a collusion of more than two decades, were steeped in my autistic disorder, but having come out to her as gender confused several years earlier just put the knife in the cake.

    “I against my brothers.” I had no innate sense of family as a child. I never did. I still don’t. I never understood relations. If someone started spewing about uncle and aunt whoever and cousin so-and-so, I got lost immediately. Family trees were like corn mazes to me. I was always and ever isolated. There was and is no natural draw to anything familial. So this isn’t a matter of my BEING “bad,” but does it MAKE me bad?

    “I and my cousins against the tribe.” Well, when you don’t feel any bond with your family, you wind up getting pulled in whatever direction they’re going without any feelings about it. Until, of course, you’re able to break free. Free to where? Asperger’s is a socially debilitating disorder. You don’t understand friendship. You don’t get why some people seem so close to each other. No matter the circumstance, you never feel any connection to someone else. It’s as if there’s a force field around you, or an aura. And so you remain isolated. And yet, in need. So some, like I did, used their bigendered nature to provide both halves of a whole, taking emotional nourishment from it.

    “The tribe against all.” Like it or not, one is lumped in with certain demographics without having any say. Being an essentially weak and insubstantial person, I found myself always so fortunate to be in tribes where I could fly under the radar and be protected by the overcoat of privilege. No, I was not born into wealth. I was just lucky enough to have been in a large enough tribe to avoid the sort of persecution others were suffering. Because I didn’t make waves and did as I was told, I would fall into favor with benefactors my whole life. I knew rebels in my youth. To this day, one with whom I was involved through church, school, and employment, and who I still observe, continues to rally against the “establishment,” shaking his fist at “the Man” and imagining he is a sort of Man of La Mancha. He tilts at windmills, literally. (Check out the Buffalo lakeshore.) I have no such compunction. No internal demand to right the unrightable wrong. More of a belief that there ARE unbeatable foes, and therefore, why pointlessly expend energy?

    A bad person. My whole life has been an exercise in self-sufficiency. Why? Because having others do for me meant obligation. Expenditure of not only time and energy and even money, but emotion as well. From whence comes this payment? My well is dry, I have nothing to give, not really. Altruism is a natural sensibility. To serve, to benefit others, first family, then the tribe, then all. Selflessness. And from that, peace. All of this I will never know.

    “If the tribe fails to come together to support one of its own in need…” Am I really not alone in this? Are others of the same ilk, and ironically, isolated themselves as well? Dustin Hoffman recently made some statements about the brainwashing of society regarding the worth of a person based on standards of what we consider to be beautiful. I won’t even imagine that any of us don’t know what concept is held as beauty in this world of ours, particularly when it comes to the feminine form. I know personally what I would wish to achieve, were it possible, and I strive to attain that within my meager boundaries. It isn’t enough to be a woman, as Hoffman told his makeup artist; he wanted to be transformed into a BEAUTIFUL woman. He was crushed by the realization that, regardless of how interesting a person his feminine persona might be, she would not be worth most people’s time if she were not a thing of beauty on the scale used by most of society.

    A bad person. A worse woman. Vain. Critical. Discourteous. In my world, as a male, I am lackluster and ineffectual. I have nothing of interest to offer anyone. But thanks to genetics and self maintenance and dumb luck, I have enough material to work with to approach some standard of feminine beauty. I vainly believe I in some ways approach the image of what I hold to be the Holy Grail of womanhood. And, with pride, so must come a fall. I wished for a tribe of women like myself with whom to find home. Amazons. Good gosh, femmebots if need be. And instead, I found people. People who, despite being as gender-crossed as I am, didn’t look the way I wanted to look, the way I wanted THEM to look. The fall, the tumble into the abyss of loneliness comes from realizing that it was all a lie, that beauty is an illusion and that the only satisfaction I will ever receive from presenting myself as something to be desired are gracious comments from distanced peers or those who would be me, or those who would use me. Comfort comes in a mirror called a video chat screen. I bat my false lashes and pout and tease at my audience and in truth I am simply making love to myself and asking for applause.

    I can’t be part of a tribe, not really. I am morally bankrupt. If my sister does not hold up to the physical standards I believe are golden, I reject her. Instead of recognizing family, I see only the mask. To whom will I reach out in agony when my insides are torn apart by confusion and self-doubt? Only to she who walks in beauty? And if I, in all my vainglory, can have such tribulations, what of my sisters who can only peer across the chasm to the promised land? Is it the myth of physical loveliness that drives so many of us to self-destruction? Am I an unwitting soldier in the army of such falderal, and if so, perhaps I am part of the “all” that the tribe must be against.

  5. And here I thought it was just the “Trans Community Eating Itself” season! There have been some events in the news that have been amazingly divisive. I’ve watched a couple of discussion groups crater while people share their genuine anger regarding a soldier in prison and a TV news editor and their gender expressions. Yes, these events do shine a strange light on trans people. And the California schools decision has focused unwanted political attention on the trans world. I have had to fall back on my “don’t read the comments” policy on news articles lately to avoid the monkey poo flinging atmosphere.

    So yes, I think all that is contributing to a very polarizing time in the trans community. Then you can add a fresh flow of people who are frustrated that they are being included in the community along with “all of those others” against their will. And the people who are frustrated that the T community has the audacity to align itself with the LGB community “and all those other others.” It is a weird time indeed! Pressure from within and from without!!!

    Perhaps it’s a good time for everyone to just settle down and put in an extra pause between FEEL and REACT. Don’t be so defensive and don’t be so sensitive. Just realize that the spotlight will shift and some politician will have an affair and some celebrity will be publicly stupid and then we can all go back to normal.

    And Becky is right. It does seem to be human nature for every individual to need someone to stomp on. Gotta feel better and more powerful than somebody! “I may be an X but at least I’m not one of those Ys. They are real losers and freaks!”

    Guard emotions, pause before reacting, wait for some family values politician to get caught in an airport restroom soliciting sex and it will all be better.

  6. Thank you Michelle!

    I’ve been struggling with this a bit over recent months. More and more I have had the (once) intoxicating feeling of simply being recognized as a woman (vs being recognized as transgender). I say “once” because it’s something you get used to, and even come to expect…almost…almost as if this is the “normal” we long for: to simply be recognized by our true gender. BUT as I have become less easily recognized as transgender, there is the pull of not wanting to be recognized that way. Yet, I feel close kinship with my fellow trans folk. Yet, there is the infamous “Two Tranny Rule**.”

    There is the strong mutual attraction based on our being trans. Then as we transsexuals come to assimilate with our others of our true gender, there often develops a repulsion that is every bit at strong, and this drives us into isolation from each other. In the past, this isolation was part of the transition prescription. It’s no wonder that numbers of us have taken our lives due to our isolation and allegiance to the “god of stealth.” Stigma drives us to this. Nobody wants to be a freak; everyone needs love and acceptance.

    I think things are changing. I think it is *safer* for us to hang together as a tribe – possible because we know about each other and even those of us in deep stealth can safely communicate with each other. It is getting safer because of greater awareness and softening attitudes. It is getting safer because we are coming-out and being-out in greater numbers. It is getting safer because young people are discovering that gender is more varied and fluid than their parents ever thought (or were allowed) to believe

    So, maybe it will be that the younger folks, the Gender Queer, the people who don’t feel the need to assimilate strongly: maybe it will be they who anchor the tribe? They will be visible and we transsexuals will find our way into and out of the main doings of the tribe. BUT the difference now is that it is safer for I to maintain our connection to the tribe, and to come to offer to others and receive for ourselves. We need not be so isolated. AND part of this safety seems to be coming with the changing attitudes I am seeing with respect to passing. More of us are are “passing” for themselves more and for others somewhat less. Some of us are finding it okay to consider ourselves wo/men AND trans without feeling that to be contradictory. It is *safer* for us to realize, that we will *always* be natally-trans, as others are natally male and female. It is *safer* for us to embrace whole selves rather than feeling the pressure from society and our peers to cut ourselves off from our history and makeup.

    And so, I am a woman of transsexual experience. In my mundane activities, I am simply a woman, but I am okay with people realizing that once I lived as a “man,” *because* (gradually) more people are fine with my present and future as a woman. I am a woman; not a natal woman, but a transgender woman, a transsexual woman: we are both women. AND as we become better known as a kind of people, it has become safer to recognize and embrace my “(minor) Tranny Superpower of Masculinity, cleverly hidden beneath my bra!”

    AND SO, I am not ashamed to associate with my fellow trans folk, BECAUSE I am not ashamed of myself as one of them. I will always be trans, even though that is not my primary identity as a person. I seem to be accepted as a woman by other, natal, women, women who know me to be a transsexual woman. And to them, from feedback I’ve received, I’m a woman first, and transsexual has been tossed into the ‘so what?’ bin. THIS *security* gives me the safety to known as transsexual, to be seen with other trans folk. In a way, I’m an “immigrant,” and I will always speak with an accent, and I will have my history and traditions, but I am accepted as a citizen and I live mostly the life of a citizen. Other citizens don’t resent that I join with fellow immigrants occasionally, and even indulge in things about myself from the “old country.”

    I think, that we are “coming-out” as a people, and this is a *good* thing for our wholeness as individuals, both the older and younger generation of us.

    Anyway, that’s just a few of my thoughts for what they’re worth.

    **The “Two Tranny Rule” says that we are exponentially more likely to be recognized as transgender as group together. I might be easily recognized as a woman, but together with another transwoman, people *far* more likely to recognize us both as trans. Put three of us together and the likelihood is far greater. A gaggle of us make such recognition a near certainty regardless of how well any individual “passes.”

  7. Thank you for saying what has been on my mind for some time! Welcome back!

  8. Hiya Sis,

    Thought I’d chime in publicly on this for two reasons. First, I have been slow in completing the research that I promised to share with you which actually explains this (I’m in the library now working on a chapter section that deals with this exactly)

    Second, I think all your readers might benefit from this understanding.

    On top of all, your point is valid. Regardless of the flag under which we choose to gather, unity is more productive than divisiveness. Unfortunately, real human behaviour defies this simple logic.

    Reality is (I’ll leave out the specific sociological terms and references, but I have them for anyone who is interested) the process used by elites to establish and maintain their power creates a ripple effect where members of subordinate groups engage in similar behaviour toward their apparent peers based on some other artificially defined characteristics. In essence, they are creating, in the absence of the ability to climb any higher on the ladder themselves, a downhill trajectory for them to redirect the rubbish directed at them.

    In a community that is already widely diverse and divided as the transgender world is, this subordinate othering has fertile ground in which to take hold. It will always be a difficult battle to bring this community together for any more than brief alliances.

    Sorry to sound like a boring sociologist, but that is what I do. The community will always need strong voices like yours to urge it to come together, but the best advice I can offer is to begin mentoring your replacement shortly after you start. The battle burns people out and voices remain at the top for only a short period of time before they have no more energy. There is probably a fair amount of this behind the thing that has been occupying most of your time lately.

    Keep speaking for as long as you can. Yours is a level headed, positive and productive voice. We all need that.



    • My first reaction was “No!” I resist being “part of a community” because any community starts to expect behaviours and views, inevitably for its own cohesion. Is a tribe any better? Again, you can be kicked out, not for being who you are, but how you behave and what you believe. After a lifetime (>50 years) of living to others’ expectations I am determined to be authentic in my own terms alone.

      But I also speak out and blog weekly on “observations of gender dysphoria” as if I too am a representative, and thousands of my pages are read monthly. All I can do is be open, offer my perspective and respond to what others say. Clearly we do have a lot in common, and it helps to know that. But I have more in common with cis people who share my philosophy and understanding of life. I bring understanding to them too, and if I have a personal tribe, it has more cis people in it who have come to appreciate my gender experience, than trans people who share it from the inside.

      You are right Becky, we speak until we are tired of speaking and others take over. But clear-thinking and self-accepting trans writers are always needed, because it’s a difficult message to get across to the non-trans world.



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