“They haven’t learned yet to stick with their own tribe” At a TDoR planning meeting we had back in October, one of our highly accomplished matriarchs was explaining how some of the younger trans folk she tries to help out end up getting themselves into trouble. She has much wisdom to pass on and I try to drink of it whenever I get the opportunity. Anyway, as usual, it got me thinking about things. I should probably start her story at the beginning.
It’s not exactly breaking news that trans* people often end up as the target of various levels of abuse. Some are screamed at while leaving Wegmans, and others are tortured and killed. So far I’ve been lucky and just the subject of awkward obvious stares from men who were poked in the ribs by their partner and casually turn around to “look for gum” in the checkout lane. Someone at work did tell me recently that, “you know people are laughing and making fun of you behind you back and all..”, which I kind of assumed, but now less comfortable about since it’s been confirmed. My friend was talking about a very particular kind of incidence.
“Some of these young trans like to head over to the straight bars and get a little attention. I get it, it feels good to be wanted, but then they end up in the car of some guy who really isn’t happy when he finds out what she has down there. They get screamed at, sometimes beaten up, and end up slinking back to the Underground (a gay bar) to regroup. They never learn though, because they are off doing the same thing the next Friday night. They haven’t learned to stick with their own tribe.” That was pretty much her story. No groundbreaking revelations this time, but the whole ‘tribe’ thing struck me.
First off, can we be considered to be a tribe by any stretch of the word? While there are national trans groups such as Chloe’s Pink Essence, I don’t think any of them really qualifies for the designation. We are bound by our trans-ness and desire for equal rights, but apart from that, we are a pretty diverse group. I don’t think she was talking about that though. I think she meant on the local level, which is really where anything that calls itself a tribe belongs. Still though, is this true?
If we look at just trans*, we do have a small, cohesive group here in Buffalo spread over 3 or 4 organizations separated by mission. Many local trans people belong to one or more of these, but it must be acknowledged that a significant portion of the population has eschewed any type of group affiliation due to a variety of reasons. Some have belonged and moved on, some simply aren’t interested in socializing, and I’m sure there are many more who are unaware that these groups even exist. We are working on that last one. I suppose these folks are my tribe. I really like everyone and I do feel a connection that probably started as a trans thing, but morphed into friendship, but is this really a tribe?
In the strict definition of things, probably not so much. Tribes generally, but not always, have strong leadership, cultures, norms, history, a list of prohibitive behaviors, and tend to form for their own protection or to compete with other tribes. The real kicker, and the point she was trying to get to I believe, is that tribe members associate primarily with their own. The first are kind of true in an abstract sort of way, but the last one is problematic.
While we have this bond and all, we all came into the tribe with most of our affiliations from outside still intact. I think it’s rare indeed to have any blood ties, or even shared experiences prior to transition. Most of us maintain close relations with our families, friends, co-workers, and sometimes spouses. There isn’t much intra-tribal romance going on, at least that I’m aware of anyway. I can only think of 2 instances I know of, and last I heard, one of them didn’t work out. As an aside, it’s a question for a later date as to whether trans people often find each other attractive in “that” way or not. It’s hard for me to say not currently having that kind of interest in anyone.
I don’t think my friend was wrong in terms of looking out for each other’s safety and traveling the treacherous straight bar scene in packs. I don’t think, however, that it’s reasonable to only stick with one’s own tribe, if such really exists. We come together for friendship, understanding, and advancing our mutual goals and interests, but at the end of the day, we are too few and too diverse to fully sustain each other’s needs in all ways.
And no, I won’t be getting the cute design in the pic tattooed on my lower back, thank you.