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Category Archives: Editorial

Why Labeling People “Privileged” Isn’t Helping

PrivilegeBack in October I tabled a Trans Health Initiative conference here in Buffalo. It was a great day and we actually appeared to have more cisgender folks there than trans for a change. This was fantastic because first hand, in person exposure to a trans person is the very best way to create understanding and a desire to be supportive. Usually anyway, but we’ll get to that in a moment. The keynote speaker was CeCe McDonald, and I was pretty excited we got her to come on down to Western New York and spread an inspirational message.

For the most part, her talk was very good, and I was glad I was there to see it. Her message was one of struggle, overcoming overwhelming adversity, and her personal courage. From my vantage point at the Spectrum table I could see that she was resonating with the audience and was overjoyed that she was reaching the cis folks as well. Then she went into privilege and one by one, I could see her losing them. From there she transitioned into white trans privilege and she started to even lose some of the trans folk. Nothing she said about this was the least bit untrue by the way, but nevertheless, the message was building up the very walls she so effectively knocked down moments before.

We speak of white privilege, male privilege, socio-economic privilege, cis privilege and so on. These are all true things, do really exist every day in the real world, and do impact everyone on the basis of whether or not they have these things. There is no denying it. Privilege exists and it has the power to profoundly impact, through opportunity or repression, what a person might achieve in this life. I can see very clearly what a huge advantage I had living as a white male and how far I have fallen as a white transgender woman. I can also see that where I am now is a far, far more advantageous position than if I was a black transgender woman who came from impoverished circumstances. There is no comparison. Here’s the thing though. People, particularly American people, absolutely despise the notion that they have been granted huge competitive advantages simply through the accident of birth.

American culture is funny that way. We admire and celebrate achievement, fame, and fortune. We hate the idea of these things, however, though any means other than overcoming great obstacles. We believe in the underdog, and nearly all of us secretly believes that we fall into that category. We are a nation who worships rugged individual achievement and abhors the concept of aristocratic entitlement by birth. One of our favorite pastimes is comparing how hard we had it growing up, and the guy who brags about his posh school or family’s wealth is generally labeled a complete schmuck. We all know this is true here. Accusations of advantage are overwhelmingly met with defensiveness. Understanding this about our culture, does it really seem like a smart strategy to start shaming the very people we want to support us?

I will reiterate again; privilege does exist, it is pervasive, and it has a huge impact. We can agree on this amongst ourselves and know that it is true. Some of us can also agree that not all trans begin the race at the same starting point, and that many of our sisters and brothers have many more hurdles to clear before even approaching the much cushier spot we drew. If you can, and want to use the knowledge to make a difference, great. If you can’t and the idea makes you pissy and contentious, just try not to think about it. When it comes to the cisgender population, it’s far better that we stop continuously pointing this out.

I can feel many of  you bristling from here. It’s OK. What I’m proposing sounds akin to staying silent in the face of racism, sexism, or any other ‘ism’ out there. I can also hear someone loading up the “… and there was no one left to say anything when they came  for me” quote. We need to recognize, however, that this isn’t about them, it’s about us. Calling out privilege will not take it away nor bestow it on the trans community, but it will create divisions. It’s not about being right, but being heard, recognized,  and embraced as equals. Emphasizing differences in a “j’accuse!” kind of way puts up walls and dulls the edge of empathy. It’s also good to remember that for all the privilege we assume someone enjoys, they may be facing their own struggles that we have no conception of.

Our true inroad to the hearts of the cis folk is our humanity. It is by living our lives, working, and struggling against inequity are the best tools to gain sympathy, solidarity, and general acceptance. Simply harping on how we are owed on the basis of cis advantage and cis privilege brings none of those things. Those capable of the self-awareness it requires to own their advantages and have clarity about the inequity are can understand this without our pointing it out. Those who are not can easily move from positions of support or even ambivalence to adverse, and that is not good for anyone. We get farther and faster fighting the good fight and inspiring the cheers of those who support us than railing against them for their comfortable seats outside the ring.

Trans and Faith: A Needless Dispute

MIS SmileI recently flew to St Louis to be in the wedding of my oldest friend, and wasn’t completely sure what to expect. The venue was a conservative denomination of Presbyterian, and although I had received nothing but unconditional loving support from my friend (whom I consider my brother), the notion that some of the congregants might have some feeling about yours truly up at the altar did come to mind. After all, our demographic does have some history with religious intolerance. The experience got me thinking about the problem of faith for so many trans people, as well as the problem that many people of faith have with the very concept of transgender. Let’s talk about that for a minute, shall we?

As no religious demographic exists that fails to produce trans folk, waters can become challenging to horrendously difficult to navigate depending on the prevalent belief structure. Some faiths are very tolerant and welcoming, while others are downright sadistic in their treatment of the non-conforming. At the same time, trans folk are faced with attempting to reconcile their religious identity with their gender identity and often find themselves unable. Both cisgender and transgender people of faith find themselves wondering what kind of God would inflict someone with such a burden in life, especially if it flies in the face of cherished theology and dogma. The gap is too wide to ignore, and oftentimes the results are horrifying. Leelah Alcorn comes to mind.

In regards to religion, sacred documents and scripture are notoriously unclear how to handle our population, leaving the field open to wild interpretation. Many attempts have been made to shoehorn us into instruction on the treatment of eunuchs or homosexuals, with neither being a particularly good fit. While some genderqueer folk do consider themselves to be neither gender none of us identify as eunuchs regardless of pre, post, or non-surgical status. I do not consider myself a castrated man, I consider myself a woman. While we often align ourselves with the homosexual population for mutual interest, our numbers are equitable to the cisgender population in sexual orientation. Still, many religious entities find it impossible to leave this unclassified and unspoken and ultimately make some ruling rather than let the issue simply be. This sometimes works in our favor, and sometimes not, but in neither case does it intrinsically change our gender identities, but only make them more or less easy to come to terms with.

The secondary problem, and one that goes hand in hand with lack of citation in sacred writings, is an inability to classify what exactly causes the transgender condition. Theories abound ranging from pre-natal hormone wash, multiple souls, genetics, karmic punishment, nurture, sexuality, mental illness, lifestyle desires, and demonic possession. I even had gluten allergy proposed to me a few months back. Some theories are more credible than others obviously. Lacking clear and comprehensible evidence that transgender is a medical condition, psychological condition, lifestyle choice, or divine intervention, religious entities are left to pick one that best matches their particular belief system and provide guidance accordingly. Problems arise when the belief structure fails to match the first hand understanding of the trans person. Calling it a lifestyle choice, for example, when the trans person would gladly choose anything but, creates a crisis of faith. The religion may consider the trans person to be obstinate and willfully disobedient, while the trans person is left in crisis with a rapidly eroding certainty that their faith was well placed.

The answers that trans people come to are varied. A few are fortunate enough to belong to a belief system that embraces their identity. Some eschew faith all together and rely solely on observable, testable, and repeatable science to explain all aspects of the universe, denying even the possibility of a God or spirituality. Others attempt to find a variation of their original faith, or a different one all together, that is more accepting. A tiny handful attempt to stick it out and effect a change in understanding; how their existence is not incompatible with the core tenets of their religion. These, of course, are the ones who survive the process. Far too many, cast out by an inflexible system that includes their family and support network, see no other option than to take their own life and end the disparity once and for all.

It seems that at the core of this is the old duel between science and faith. The scientific process produces more evidence every year that ‘transgender’ is a real, verified, and enduring condition of existence for a certain percentage of the population. Some, but not all, religious belief systems cannot account for this in their cosmology and thereby view it as a willful rejection of God-given identity at birth. Man of science, woman of faith, the two shall forevermore be mutually exclusive and collectively exhaustive. Perhaps, but I don’t think so. I don’t really see why the two should be considered incompatible at all if looked at correctly. It’s only when we try to dissect one with the knife of the other do problems start to pop up.

As it’s the biggest tool in my box, I’ll reach in there and pull out an analogy. If one is a detective, he or she will examine each mystery in a precise and methodical way. Looking for clues, developing theories, testing them, weighing the results against existing knowledge, and eliminating the alternatives, a detective will drive to a conclusion that holds up in court. If one is an artist, however, the endless quest is to reflect the unquantifiable nature of the world and capture the emotional essence. If a crime is committed, the detective is most valuable. If creativity designed to produce an emotional response is desired, the artist is the best choice. Just as an abstract painter would be disastrous in working a crime scene, the analytic skills of the detective are fairly useless at the Louvre unless the Mona Lisa is stolen again. It’s not a perfect analogy, but represents what happens when the mind is used to quantify the heart, or the heart is used to puzzle something logistically tricky out.

When attempting to explain aspects of our physical universe, it makes much more sense to utilize the scientific tools we have to ferret out the answers. Using ancient documents, not so much. At the same time, mankind’s attempts to commune with a higher power, spiritually comfort one another, or find hope against all logic, faith is truly best. Each has its function and place, and reliance on only one for all things seems to be a recipe for failure half the time. Using faith to determine the age of the earth, the evolution of species, or whether Noah’s flood really happened or not is missing the point as these things truly don’t matter in a spiritual quest. Likewise, science is a poor tool for determining the nature of God, quantifying enlightenment, or nailing down the afterlife. Each is best in its own sphere, and left there, the constant animosity becomes irrelevant.

As being transgender almost certainly has a root cause in the physical world, it belongs to the realm of science to answer how and why. In the meantime I think it would make sense for faith based institutions to withhold judgment in this arena and welcome existing and new adherents who can contribute to the congregation and be simultaneously helped by the simple acceptance. Trans people could be relieved of the anxiety and guilt they may feel due to shaky interpretations of what God in any setting has been very unclear about. An embracing acceptance of what simply is seems much more in line with the tenets of love and compassion that run through all faiths.

Finally, I think it’s a mistake to assume one must be either a detective or an artist. A detective may use their finely honed logic to pick through meticulous detail and solve the mystery, then come home, get out the canvas and paint something both beautifully inspiring and wholly unrecognizable. It is the reconciliation of each aspect of our being as not incompatible but complimentary, that brings the best peace and greatest good.

Bigender Transition: The Switcheroo Times Two

bigenderMy employees at work are delighted for some reason when I refer to my transition as “my little switcheroo”. To give perspective, they are equally delighted when I leave for the day and say I’m making like a shepherd and getting the flock out of there. More likely the delight is in my departure rather than my corny witticisms. The reason I bring this up is because I have a friend who is executing the very difficult switcheroo times two. To be clear, male to female and back to male again. Let’s talk about that. This entry has been vetted by him, just so you don’t think I’m pulling the ultimate dick move.

To give some history, he identified as transgender some time ago and began formal transition in recent times. By the way, I’m going to flip-flop pronouns a lot here, so try and keep up. He now is living as a he, but when he was living as a she, I’ll call him her and she. Good lord, I’m already more lost then if I woke up wearing banana pants. Screw that, let’s go with ‘he’. He got as far as coming out at work, going to battle on the bathroom issue, changing his name, and living full time female. I think we can all admit that in the grand scheme of things, that’s pretty far, and required no small amount of chutzpa. I’d say cajones, but you know.

Over the summer he reconnected with the love of his life. She had tolerated his female side, but generally preferred him seven shades more butch. As star-crossed lovers are wont to do, they re-committed and bought a house together. Feeling more at home as a male in the relationship, he made the epic decision to transition back and now going through the undoubtedly onerous process of detransitioning. Name change again, frequent visitor to the men’s room at work, and what must be the worst, uncoming out to people. I’m not even sure how someone does this without a PowerPoint presentation and Rubik’s Cube for handy visual references and analogies. Here I will say that it must take major cajones and big brass ones at that; the kind that roll down ancient mountains and try to crush Indiana Jones.

Now that I dropped this little bombshell on you, I can feel some of you starting to bristle from here. Easy there hoss, let’s talk this through. Some are of the opinion that a single instance of detransition makes every trans person out there a suspect of future waffling. Some think we are arming the opposition with cause to believe transition is a lifestyle choice and not a medical necessity. Some will be inclined to predict dire consequences resulting from a future realization that a grave mistake was made. Those who fall into any of these fun little pools are probably going to argue strenuously with what I have to say next, but hear me out. I think these assumptions are wrong like Chong without a bong. Hard to argue with someone who uses obsolete rhymes, isn’t it?

Here is how I see it. Transition is a journey, a road, a path one takes to find the way home to feeling comfortable in one’s own body. There are as many roads as there are people. Some are straight, others curve, some go in circles, figure-eight, rhombuses, and even loop-de-loop. The whole point of traveling this rocky, ankle-breaking path, in heels nonetheless, is to make it to a safe place where obsessing about our gender identity takes a backseat to a life more ordinary. It’s really the whole point of it, isn’t it?

Most of us in the trans community have embraced the idea that gender is a spectrum. Where we fit may be more masculine, feminine, in between or off the scale altogether. We embrace each other as transgender, gender neutral, genderqueer, two-spirit, and even bi-gender (which is what this person identifies as). How we arrive at the sweet spot is our own journey, and one that often involves landing hither and thither a few times before finding Goldilocks. In that spirit, I find it impossible to wish him anything but joy and happiness for taking a very long and hard journey and embracing what he is meant to be. How can we do otherwise?

Finally, it’s worth remembering that people who incomprehensibly pour their energy into denying our clearly established existence and any semblance of human rights will continue to do so. Someone finding their way and ending up somewhere different than you or I is not going to make a spit of difference. In honoring our brother-turned-sister-turned-brother’s journey, we only validate the twists and turns our own takes. As for his future, who can say? Only he can determine what that is, and we can safely acknowledge that he’s put far more thought, care, and effort into understanding that than the rest of us combined, just as we have for ourselves.

They Slushied Unique!

Unique slushiedWell, it looks like they went ahead and shitcanned Unique, the first trans character on ‘Glee’. Relax everyone, this wasn’t an anti-trans thing where they quietly shoved out Alex Newell and then leaked a story to the gossip rags about “creative differences” while publically touting that he went on to pursue new opportunities. They also shitcanned the rest of the hated new class as well: Marley, Other Puck, New Quinn, and that gangly kid. Clearly they were all memorable, but none so much as Unique.

For those of you familiar with my other posts, most of them written in my young and fiery days as a newly transitioning woman, full of vim and vigor, piss and vinegar, and vitameatavegamin, I’ve gone on and on about Glee quite a bit. I was elated when they introduced Unique, had some heartache about the way they explained the character, defended her against conservative bullies like O’Reilly, but overall kept up the gushing. That was then. Now, after the fabulous 100th episode and a lackluster gay bashing very special episode, I’m somewhat incensed and want you to join me in my misery.

A quick aside, like I never do. I’m glad Ryan Murphy tackled the still very relevant topic of gay bashing. I am. But holy shit, could the show have done a shittier job of it? While I’m 100% certain this still takes place in tolerant old NYC, and probably every day, but by a couple of good old boys in a battered old pickup? I don’t think I’ve ever actually seen a pickup truck in New York City. Assuming they aren’t there on vacation, I would think it would be remarkably easy to track down these losers. Just look for the only pickup registered to Jim Bob Jethro on Manhattan and go arrest the sonofabitch. I think it’s a safe bet that it was probably him. Aside from that, even the event itself lacked the emotional depth we had long grown used to.

Remember when the show had Karofsky, the closeted gay bully who forced Kurt to change schools, then later got bullied himself by the evil leader of the Warblers and tried to commit suicide? I just described three episodes in one sentence that made me cry. Or when Kurt’s dad had the heart attack and Kurt sang to him? Or Quinn giving up her baby? Even Grilled Cheezus had more heart and he was just a sandwich. This was my thought process while the credits rolled. Glee no longer has any heart, and without heart, the apathy grows.

OK, I’m going to stop waxing nostalgic for the evil Vocal Adrenaline, lovely guidance pamphlets like “You and Your Hag, the Zizes-Puckerman romance, and guest stars with awesome names like Brian Ryan. And the slushies. Oh, the slushies. These stories are done and told. That’s fine, turn the page and life goes on. But they still had a character they could have used to inject some life back in to the show, that in my opinion, really died with the Mighty Finn. Unique still had a story to tell and huge challenges to overcome. Given the history of the show, it really wouldn’t have been all that hard to grant her early admission to NYADA and stick her in the unrealistically spacious Manhattan loft with the drearily self-involved remaining cast.

To Ryan Murphy and the writers of Glee, I thank you for the awesome work you did, especially in the area of promoting LGBT issues to the great unwashed. I think your efforts went a long way toward bringing America to the tipping point on rights and equality and no one can ever take that away from you. At the same time, you just brought your beloved platform into ‘Saved by the Bell: The College Years’ territory, or worse yet, ‘Showgirls’, and it just breaks my heart to see it. No longer unique, no longer effervescent, like a ginger ale that sat open on the counter for a good week, please, close your eyes and have a slushie on me.

Fosters Guy

FostersRemember when not too long ago I said I was going to move on to other things and write about those here? Yeah, yeah, that’s all going to happen, but give me a minute. Jeesh! As my son used to say at 2, “Don’ pooosh me!” For the record, we never did in the literal sense and were gratified that he was able to use the phrase in the correct cultural context. We are proud and all, but wish he would have stopped once he got to the ‘F’ word and other little horrifying utterances when grandma is around. Great, now you got me all off topic.

Today I want to gush about one of my new favorite shows out there. “The Fosters”. It’s airs on ABC Family one of the nights of the week. I’m never really sure since we filter everything through Tivo and constantly surprised by the weather as a result. Don’t tell me who the Oscar winners were, not to mention who got kicked off the island in ‘Survivor’, ‘Hell’s Kitchen’, or even ‘Lost’. I love ‘The Fosters’ for a number of reasons, all of which are worth mentioning, but mainly because they recently introduced a trans character and managed to do it way better than ‘Glee’. Just in case you tend to shy away from ABC Family because you think it’s going to be all ‘Walton’s’ or worse, ‘Family’, it’s a lot more progressive than I originally assumed. Once I determined that they featured ‘Kyle XY’, the first genetically engineered super being who is clearly gay, I was willing to give them a shot.

‘The Fosters’ is about a lesbian couple, the Fosters, who have one biological child, two adopted children (who are biological brother and sister), and for whatever contrived reason I can’t remember, end up fostering a girl and boy, who are also biological brother and sister. That the fostering couple is named the Fosters is clearly intended to double justify the name of the show in a clever little unsubtle way. Now in the second season, after undergoing the appropriate amount of drama, the fostered girl ends up in a group home for wicked girls. Sorry, I forgot it’s not the 1940’s anymore, and they did replace a paddle wielding Miss Hannigan type with Rosie O’Donnell, who is arguably a teensy bit nicer.

In the home for wicked girls exists a trans man, and to my gratified amazement, he’s treated like a trans man. Not a butch girl, not a confused rebellious chick, and not a scheming meemie out to fool everyone. He says he’s a dude, dresses like one, and acts with conviction and in accordance with his gender identity. While not allowed any privacy or accommodation, the subject of pronouns comes up more than once and reinforced positively by Miss Hannigan. Sorry… Rosie. On a field trip, they even portrayed a bathroom issue where the young trans man is blocked from entering a men’s room at a zoo. The scene is poignant and the outraged humiliation one generally feels when being denied access to facilities is well portrayed.

What I think I enjoyed most about this character is that they went with a trans man for a change. I’ll be honest, as a trans woman I’m often gratified at seeing my own up on the screen, either being portrayed with heart and elegance or being butchered. I’m also very well aware that trans women have more of a ‘freak factor’ that makes more interesting TV and is probably the reason we are seeing an increasing number of iterations. It’s time our brothers got a little more time in the sun, and it pleased me to no end that they got the main issues and characterization down very well. Well true, someone in a home for wicked girls usually doesn’t have the wherewithal to sneak out and obtain a huge dose of black market injectable testosterone and OD on it, it is an ABC Family drama, so some dramatic license is expected.

I really hope they keep the character. He is the most accurate trans man I’ve seen since ‘Boys Don’t Cry’, and it’s such a boost to Tribe Trans when the media somehow goes and gets is right for a change. The show is worth watching anyway, so long as they don’t cancel it on a cliff hanger like they did with ‘Kyle XY’, which in spite of including a “girlfriend”, was shaping up to be the best gay melodrama since ‘Queer As Folk’.

Ride’s Not Over Yet

CometOK, my last post was really all about schilling for a worthy endeavor, but the spike in my traffic reminded me that I seem to have maintained a readership in spite of going silent for a few months. Huh. Well, that’s a surprise. Here I thought everyone was here for the jokes or seeing what crazy way ol’ Michelle managed to publically humiliate herself this week. Therein lies the rub. The huge cascade of interesting things that had been happening to me for almost two straight years has finally become a trickle of molasses in January. Or this year, I guess March. Let’s talk about that for a minute. Not the weather; I haven’t gotten that pathetic just yet.

Somehow, in spite of my best efforts to remain in Neverland (the good one, not the one with the evil Peter Pan from ‘Once Upon a Time’ who is somehow related to 43 other fables), I went and kind of grew up. Ugh. I hate even saying the words! A few years ago, before I took my first Estrodial or Spiro, before I ventured out in daylight to anywhere but Belles or Spectrum meetings, a post-operative trans woman said to the table of transsexuals and cross-dressers, “It’s feels good to be in the right body, but it’s also depressing.” I asked her what she meant and she just held it out as a certainty without really explaining. Because of that, I chalked it up to bullshit. I mean who can’t explain their own experiences? Apparently she couldn’t, but it didn’t make it any less true.

The early days of self-discovery are so exciting. You don’t know what’s going to happen, what you are going to be doing, what the consequences will be, and what you will be at the end of it. Every single day is a roller coaster of exhilaration of crossing a new inch stone and mortal terror of discovery and repercussions. Every tiny step of it is something you just could not have imagined a few years, or even a few months prior. A trip to the grocery store becomes a major achievement, not to mention hitting the Allentown Art Festival or Taste of Buffalo, surrounded by thousands, some of whom you are bound to know, and wondering if you will be recognized, outed and have your secret self thrust into the spotlight of harsh judgment or warming embrace. Every outfit is a dare, a new expression of your personality. Every intervention: hormones, electrolysis, laser and surgery becomes a new high, a new heady plateau in rarified atmosphere, closer to the golden glow of achieving the nirvana of self-realization. Scraped, bloody, humiliated, and filled with the holy spirit of feminine righteousness, we clamber to the peak. I am woman, hear me roar.

That was all really freaking awesome and all, but after enough roaring to necessitate a trip to the corner for some Ludens, the rest of life has to go and continue. Because I was lucky enough to keep my job through transition, and living situation, it’s basically the same life I’m continuing from before transition, except with more hassles. I still have to get my little guy to school every day and pick him up, do the grocery shopping, write the same performance reviews, and attend the same staff meetings. I still take out the garbage every Wednesday, snow blow the driveway, mow the lawn, and help my mom with her taxes. The difference is that it now takes me longer to get ready for work, I’m still dilating three times a day, and the supply list of shit I need every day is considerably longer. It’s all very routine, mundane, and not worth of being mentioned, even though I just filled your eyes with it all and made you wonder if you should just unsubscribe to this already. Seriously, don’t though. I’ll know, and make it a point to write some knockout material just to piss you off.

I miss the excitement. The uncertainty. Doing things that could radically change my future and lead to dizzying heights and soul crushing lows. This is a good thing. I lived through transition and the world didn’t end. It didn’t break me, or even really come close. OK, yeah, I had some dreary, weepy days in there over the past year, but I’m going to conveniently blame hormones on that, evidence or none. I had a little rest, and now it’s time to climb some new mountains.

Am I still going to maintain this blog and share my experiences? In the words of Tina Fey in one of her minor roles, “you betcha!” What I can add to the body of knowledge regarding transition is probably more limited, though I’ll still write trans posts. I’ll also be vectoring into other areas as I see fit, and promise to try to keep up the funny schtick as much as possible. All the transition knowledge I have to share is conveniently accessible if you access the ‘Topics’ tab up at the top where you can find my blathering on almost any topic, or will once I get around to updating the damn thing. Ride’s not over yet.

PS – The picture, in case are wondering, is in homage to one of the greatest trans blogs ever written, “I Hate Roller Coasters”, by my sister, Becky Kent. This one’s for you sis. 🙂

PPS – Um, just so we are clear, Becky is still with us and doing incredibly well. Her blog is gone, hence the homage, but seriously, she’s fine and if I can ever convince her to do a guest post, I’ll prove it.

Clothes Really Don’t Make the Woman

Badly DressedI really used to look like an idiot. I’m not talking about back when I looked male (or more accurately, more male than I do now), but when I first started out in my transition. What brought this to mind was something a friend said about an acquaintance of hers. “It takes her 4 hours to get ready just to go to the grocery store! Then she’s the only one there who looks like they just came from a formal ball and she wonders why people stare.” I laughed at first, but then thought about it and concluded, yeah, that was so me not really all that long ago. My friend was able to admit the same about herself, so I began thinking that this would be a great topic to write about and maybe have a few laughs.

The very first time I ventured out past the backyard and into public was a Buffalo Belles meeting. I wore a black mini with white embroidery, a chiffon lace black top, and large hole pattern tights you would expect to see at Hot Topic. Oh, and heels of course. I accessorized with a big beaded necklace and enough Cover Girl to fill in every pore to the top and finish it with a half inch of powder. I was pretty happy with the way I looked. When I arrived, I felt like I fit right in. I did actually, but this was mainly because the majority of the membership consisted of cross-dressers, most of whom had only dressed for meetings at the super-duper secret location. If anything I was way underdressed for sitting in a dimly lit, well curtained room. It really kind of set the tone for the months to come.

For some reason, I, and probably you if you are trans, completely failed to open my eyes and look at what the women around me were wearing in day to day life. Somehow I was blind to the fact that the other women at Wegman’s or the Eden Corn Festival did not look like they stepped off the set of ‘Heathers’ or out of a 1996 Delia’s catalog. Unfortunately, both the aforementioned sources were great inspirations for me, though two decades removed from the present and my current age. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with having a little panache and a unique sense of style, but neither are things that are really going to help one blend in. I think it’s OK if you are a cross-dresser to look like you are in costume, in private anyway, but when making permanent life changes picking an outfit from Spencer’s is probably not the best of ideas.

For the longest time I simply didn’t get it. I mean I waited three long decades and change to finally express my gender, so why not go whole hog with it? Why not find the prettiest, frilliest, fluffiest, patent, sequined, ruffled, baby-doll, girliest thing in the whole wide world and just wear that from sun up to sun down? Fuck pants. Pants are for men. So are shoes with less than a 4 inch heel, shirts that can’t be used as distress flags, and hosiery that doesn’t have Hello Kitty on it. Thankfully, my spouse wasn’t feeling overly vindictive, and was kind enough to stop me before heading into the world looking like a deranged old Shirley Temple or Pollyanna. Bless you if you get my references without having to look them up on Wikipedia.

I think of it as the curse of trans adolescence. Not necessarily dressing age inappropriate as we’ve discussed before, but putting way too much time and energy into nipping out for more onions and Grilled Bear flavored Doritos. It’s wearing heels when you know you will be walking on gravel. It’s wearing a skirt you didn’t realize rides up past your crotch when you sit because you only tried it on standing up. It’s wearing pantyhose when the situation doesn’t absolutely demand it. It’s all those little things that cause the world to stop for a moment, stare, and wonder, “wait, what the hell am I looking at there anyway?” It’s a painful anxious time, and I could not be happier that it’s over. Well, for the most part. I still get the occasional, “Um, you aren’t seriously wearing that to work, are you?” It’s a process.

The great lesson learned is that clothes do not make the woman. You are the same you whether dressed to the nines or slogging around in old jeans and a tee shirt, except in the latter most people won’t give you a second glance. Well, until you open your mouth and give your best Gary Busey impression, but that is another story.

Another Trans Celebrity? … Crap. Well, That’s Just Great

CelebrityMy spouse, an ardent follower of celebrity gossip, forwarded me a blind item the other day. By blind I don’t mean the person mentioned was blind, but that the name of the person is currently being withheld by the person writing the story, presumably either for liability or complete fabrication reasons. Anyway, as the story goes, the lead singer from an uber-popular band with a boatload of hits in the 90’s, who is married to a super model/ actress or actress/ model, is undergoing gender transition and making a documentary of it along the way. My immediate reaction was a little sour. Great, now I’m going to be bumped down one to being the 24,753rd most influential trans person. Just fucking wonderful. My chances of getting a Wikipedia entry just became a bit more slim. So, let’s dish about trans celebrities, as I gnaw on my bitter bone of discontent.

I think none of us has failed to notice the sudden rise in individuals of full blown, or at least quasi, celebrity status undergoing gender transition. I mean, sure, it’s not exactly unheard of, what with Alexis Arquette, Calpernia Addams, and Andrea James bouncing around since the late 90’s/ early 00’s, but in spite of some amazing talent in that mix, they weren’t exactly making headlines. Then the teens hit and it’s a full blown eruption. Chaz Bono, Laura Jane Grace, Janet Mock, Lana Wachowski, and Chelsea Manning. OK, the celebrity thing is a stretch with Chelsea, but she was still a household name before she came out after the conviction. It’s a wonderful thing, right? A massive injection of trans awareness into the public sphere; bold inoculation against full blown ignorance and demographic degradation.

Here’s the thing that makes me just a tiny bit nervous. Since 1954, I don’t think one parent ever leaned over to their child looking wide eyed up at the movie screen and said, “See those people up there child? You do whatever you can to find out what they do, and dad-gum, you do the same thing.” Famous people hold our fascination almost completely for the train-wreck factor. The tabloids make billions off of the meltdowns of young starlets and crushing indiscretions. Amanda Bynes will always trump the juicy bit that Ron Pearlman likes to make his own quilts with hand ticking on Friday nights. Nobody cares about the good stuff; just those wacky zany antics. DUIs, domestic assaults, head shavings, gender transitions… I think you see my point.

Now, I’m not saying that the general public is going to suddenly think that being transgender is just another crazy trend sweeping Hollywood. I am worried, however, that people are going to get a bit of a misrepresentation. I’m sure serious practitioners of Kabbalah and Jewish mysticism were not super excited when Madonna and other celebs jumped on board and made a very old, deep and rich quest for spiritual understanding look like a fashion trend. Not exactly the same thing, but you get my point. Suddenly years of focused study, prayer and meditation appear to be replaced with slapping on a red string bracelet and everyone is equal.

I’m not saying being transgender is not tremendously difficult for anyone; Hollywood, one-percenters (the rich ones, not the crank fueled hog rider ones), and others. The same crushing fear, emotional difficulties, and painful coming out process definitely applies. The problem is that the general audience doesn’t really see all that. Unlike movies where we get a nice montage set to ominous music when someone is struggling with a seemingly insurmountable issue, the real anguish is off stage and in the back somewhere. In spite of tearful Oprah interviews, the main perception is that so-and-so was a dude and now appears to be a chick. Good for them. Go so-and-so! You can barely tell he… I mean she… used to be a dude! It sure doesn’t hurt to have ample funds, private doctors and surgeons, and at-will time off  to manage these huge changes. I pretty much see this ship docking in the port of, “Everyone and their brother is changing genders, Michelle. Doesn’t seem to be a thing to it, so what the hell have you been crabbing about?”

So… yeah. I think it’s good that transgender people who live in the public limelight are demonstrating the tremendous courage it takes to embrace their true selves. They are our sisters and brothers just as all trans people are, and any one of them would be very welcome at one of my meetings; not as a celebrity, but a trans person just like the rest of us seeking community. At the same time I wish they would acknowledge and promote the fact that while their inner difficulties are the same, that it might be just a little harder if they also had to worry about becoming unemployable or unable to fund any of the treatment they need in order to feel like a complete person. They helped the world understand that transgender is a real thing, but now I would love it if they expanded the message that it is also a hard thing.

By the way, I’m very much hoping that the person referenced in the first paragraph turns out to be John Rzeznik of the Goo Goo Dolls. He’s official Buffalo NY Royalty and we sure could use him (or her?) on the team. I mean, who could pen a song like ‘Iris’ without a female spirit? Maybe he’d even play at our annual holiday party to his smallest ever audience of 8 to 11 people. I can dream, can’t I?

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.

Tolerated, Accepted or Supported?

SupportWhen announcing a huge ass decision such as undergoing gender transition, many people around you will declare in loud voices that they totally support you. Many of them, as you will come to discover, are filthy disgusting liars, which honestly, is kind of what they think of you. The topic for today is the difference between being supported, being accepted, and being tolerated. As I’m sure you have guessed by now, they are not at all the same thing. They are, however, better than being disparaged, abhorred, or killed, so we are really talking positives here, as thin as some of them may seem.

Many of the people who come out to say they support you in fact only tolerate you. There are two types of tolerance really – by choice, or enforced. Enforced tolerance is the kind you may expect to see at work. Because they are without options that won’t land them in the HR office hearing about what a huge dick they are being, they continue working with you, though may be visibly unhappy about it. This type also can apply to family. If the acknowledged head of the family is favorable to your transition, almost everyone else feels the need to toe the line, siblings often being the exception. By the way, I’ve noticed that negative reactions from siblings are very common and always wondered why. Either way, they stand to win, and you if you have siblings, you know good and damn well that there is a hierarchy there. If you were the golden child, your siblings should be ecstatic about your fall from grace and be bending backwards to assist you. If you were the black sheep, this only cements their standing. This should be really good news for them regardless.

The other kind of tolerance is by choice and generally occurs when they have no skin in the game. Your transition doesn’t really affect them in any appreciable way and they don’t have any strong prejudices about it. These are people who aren’t going to decline social engagements because they hear you are going to be there, but they also aren’t going to invite you to anything either. This will apply to the vast majority of people who know you. It is wise to understand who these people are, because they are certainly the ones who don’t want to hear the gory details of your electrolysis, breast growth, or GRS, especially if male. One might be tempted to amp up the tragic nature of transition, but this is a big mistake. Chances are, they view what you are doing is a lifestyle decision and any whining can quickly turn tolerance into scorn.

Better than being tolerated is being accepted. Generally this applies to friends, family, and other individuals who do actually have skin in the game. At some point they had to make a decision as whether the personal feeling they have about this is a deal breaker in the relationship. They can either walk away or come to the decision that they can accept what is going on here, even if they feel you were a deceitful scumbag for most of your life. The biggest mistake people tend to make in regards to people who accept them is that they are willing to help you. Most of the time, they are not. They can understand that you needed to do something here, but they certainly aren’t very excited to be a part of it. It is also worthwhile to note that people who accept you probably also resent you at the same time. They still like you as you, but are less than thrilled to lose a poker buddy, romantic partner, or heir to the family name.

The rarest class is those who support you. Often times, these are folks with a lot of skin in the game of you and are willing to put their money where their mouth is and step in and help. These folks are willing hear your stories, may come to your support meetings, or even help facilitate aspects of your transition. If you are smart, you will do whatever is necessary to keep such people in your life because they are pure gold in terms of helping you to feel all right about yourself. Transition is a horribly selfish process and many of us suffer from more than a little guilt about the perceived wake of destruction left in your path to happiness. There is a good chance that supporters were caught in that wave and probably have some feelings about it as their lives were irrevocably changed and in some cases temporarily ruined. Accepting that responsibility is a good idea because as crappy as it feels sometimes, they payback is well worth it.

Transition is a high risk venture, and everyone who doesn’t oppose you should be appreciated whether they stand on the sidelines, decide you are the world’s greatest asshole but their asshole, or are willing to travel hundreds of miles just to drive you from the hospital to a GRS recovery location. It may not be all you were hoping for, but be grateful for what and who you have.

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