On Being Offended (Stop dragging my Trans around)

I’m allowed to be offended.

I just want to state that off the bat because I’ve heard it told that I should not be offended by things that offend me and if I am offended, I should at the very least keep my mouth shut about it because the act of taking offense can make people not offended feel uncomfortable because they were not offended.

Like when a TV show reinforces trans stereotypes, I should bite my tongue when others around me chuckle lest they be forced to confront the fact that I and those like me are worthy of ridicule by the media at large. I should just smile and reduce my presence so as to make everyone around me feel better. The needs of the many to laugh outweigh the needs of the few or the one to not be dehumanized. And too often, like the good girl that I am, I sit quietly and smile through the pain and try not to let my discomfort spoil everyone else’s good time.

But I’m allowed to be offended by the trans woman at the bar who the main character mistakenly hit on. I’m allowed to be offended by the trans woman in the documentary staring at herself in the mirror longingly (and all the other items that make up the drinking game often played when watching these shows). I’m allowed to be offended and to voice my offense and to make others uncomfortable for finding humor.

I’m also allowed to not be offended. I love the Rocky Horror Picture Show. It was a huge part of my life once upon a time and while I recognize that the film itself is pretty terrible, it’s still a whole lot of fun to be a part of in the performance space. This article from The Mary Sue rightly takes issue with the remake with Laverne Cox (because this is a bad idea for many many reasons most notably that RHPS should exist entirely within the midnight movie space is occupies), but goes a step further in the belief that this cultural thing should fade away because the author, who has never actually been to a live performance of the film, thinks it should. I think it is because she is offended and she wants everyone to be offended even though she says that she understands that people like it, but she knows people who don’t, so it should just go away.

She is allowed to be offended, as are others. She is allowed to voice her opinion as I am allowed to when I am offended or when I am not and I want to dance and sing along with Tim Curry (not Laverne Cox, though…at least not in this…I’ll happily dance and sing with Laverne elsewhere). And I suppose people are allowed to laugh at stereotypes of all flavors, as they do even when I am offended or others are offended. And sometimes they should be made to feel badly about it if the offended party feels that lines have been crossed. And if they are offended by my being offended, perhaps it can open up a line of dialogue about what it means to take offense or to just laugh at the absurdity of a thing.

Because really, being trans is terribly surreal and absurd in all of the best and worst ways. Unless you are trans, you don’t know what it means to be trans. You can’t hang out with us and get a sense of what our lives are really like. You just can’t. Our lives are often too weird and indescribable for you to get from a conversation. But I suppose you could say that about any group that you are a part of and others are not. Except seriously, trans is weirder.

And we trans take offense or don’t and you don’t know which way we think because we are not all the same and so if you are worried we might, you should probably just assume we are.

Am I woman enough yet? (You Don’t Know Trans, Noob!)

kd

Some question of trans life back some six years ago or so when I began this phase of my existence with a pill or two and a thought about who I was…

I used to keep another blog called “Always, No Something” (completely erased from the interwebs as far as I can tell) where I would espouse an ever changing ideology about the transiness of life and I met some good folks through it and some weird folks, and some very opinionated folks, too. And I blogged every day, sometimes twice so and held court over a very active set of comments. I’d comment on lots of other blogs about what trans was and how I could be trans but different or what it meant to be a woman after having lived as a man.

Inevitably, some old timer would tell me how wrong I was or how not trans I was. I was sometimes called names. I was sometimes accused of being intolerant or worse. Sometimes I was told I was a man and that I couldn’t really ever be a woman. I was told there was a right way to be trans and I wasn’t it or that there was a right way to be trans and I was it and should turn around and tell others that they were wrong.

Sometimes I thought I was helping and sometimes I knew I that I wasn’t. I trolled with the best of them and flamed better than most. I know what words can do and know how a simple twist of a sentence can chap hides. It was all in service to my identity and the growth from who I had been to who I would be and in my search for what that was, I pondered what it all meant and when it was ever enough. Would I ever really know what trans meant or what it meant to be a woman.

It’s been over half a decade now and half of that time since my surgery and I have thought about all that interaction and all those words spent on this journey, many of which I consigned to the garbage bin of my personal history…regretfully in some cases, I miss being able to read what I wrote and thought about. And though I try, I cannot remember in any real sense what it was live as a man. I remember things, but not the experience. Images, but not the feelings. I wonder if I put on men’s clothes and tried to pass as a man, would I be believable to myself (others are easily fooled). Would I look in the mirror and see the man I once saw or feel foolish, as I did when I first began to transition?

I wonder what the Sisters who once chided me for not being woman enough, not knowing what trans was, would say to me now? The Miz Know It All’s and the Annie Ro’s. How would I measure up to their high standards? All these years later would they still accuse me of playing at trans (which they did at times, accepting me at others) because I still think on what it actually means?

When I encounter trans newbies, I try to remember what that was like, thinking I would be different or having no real idea of what I would become, but knowing I would become something. I’m not a butterfly…more of a koi dragon, having fought up the river and been transformed into something far more powerful than an ephemeral bug.  I want them to be koi dragons, too. To make it through this difficult test and become more powerful and beautiful from the challenge. I don’t want to tell them things I know they are mistaken about because I am wrong when I think it. My journey was mine and theirs will be theirs and while I might think I know more than they do, while I might actually, I also cannot tell them not to make mistakes or that what they are making are mistakes. It’s just not my place.

I can share, though. The river is big enough for us all to swim in and up…

Floating

Is it floating or is it ennui? I’m not sure right now. I’ve been under the weather consistently as of late, suffering pains of aging and misuse, and generally feeling run down and uninspired.

Uninspired. This is it. I am uninspired by life at this moment. Every project, artistic endeavor or whatever is just another thing and it’s hard for me to remain excited about any of it. It’s all just so…blah. I’m not sure why I’m doing any of it right now. I’m finishing my novel series just to finish, but it doesn’t excite me. I’m writing a play and a short story just to write a play and a short story, but neither project keeps me up at night contemplating the success of the work and what I can do to make it better. It’s all just words.

Days just roll on by and soon another round of whatever will pass and there will be highlights, but they won’t seem all that high really. I don’t want to see people anymore. I don’t care about the media I study or the news I read. It’s all just there and I have no connection to it other than disinterest.

And this seems depressing and I suppose I am somewhat depressed by it all. But I’m not even passionate about the depression. It’s simply a shrug like the pain in my elbow. It’s there and whatever. I still have to get up in the morning and make coffee and walk the dog and go to work.

And when I go to sleep at night, I imagine this amazing city where I ultimately isolate myself. I don’t like people all that much. Recent events seem to bear that out. People are disappointing. I want them to be better and they just aren’t. They have sapped my passions.

I see people who are far more passionate than I am. I tried to be passionate and it didn’t turn out well. I’m not sure why I should ever really try again because ultimately I feel doomed to some level of mediocrity. Even if I’m not mediocre, I will never life the life I really want, which is to be able to live in celebrated isolation. I suppose I admire Salinger for having done that.

I hope I find a reason to enjoy the world soon. I’m not planning on leaving it, so no worries. I just want to enjoy it and want to want to engage with it. Right now I don’t. Right now I’m just floating…

Which Stereotypes of a Woman are Acceptable?

In the New York Times on Sunday, a feminist writer worried that we trans women stake our “…claim to dignity as transgender people by trampling on [hers] as a woman.” She is worried that trans women and some men are redefining women by putting them “into tidy boxes, to reduce us to hoary stereotypes.” She goes on to discuss what are apparently the essential differences between women and men thusly:

Their truth is not my truth. Their female identities are not my female identity. They haven’t traveled through the world as women and been shaped by all that this entails. They haven’t suffered through business meetings with men talking to their breasts or woken up after sex terrified they’d forgotten to take their birth control pills the day before. They haven’t had to cope with the onset of their periods in the middle of a crowded subway, the humiliation of discovering that their male work partners’ checks were far larger than theirs, or the fear of being too weak to ward off rapists.

Oh. Okay, so her stereotypes are somehow less hoary (meaning ‘old and trite’ and not ‘grey and white’)? So while being a woman in the world, to this writer, should not be reduced to definitions regarding “our brains, our hearts, our bodies, even our moods,” it should be reduced to definitions regarding workplace struggles (regarding our bodies), sexual worries (still bodies), menstruation (bodies again), and the potential dangers of being raped (bodies bodies bodies).

So just to be clear, while I have not had to deal with the birth control thing nor menstruation issues, I have dealt with men talking to my breasts (made worse by my height, which places them at eye level or above for most), being thought less of at work (pay only an issue in that the teaching profession is traditionally a career chosen by women and, thus devalued and underpaid as a whole when the salaries of similarly educated professionals are taken into account). Most trans women, having given up their male lives, travel through the world as women, experience the world as women, fear rape as other women do – perhaps more (6’2″ women get raped as well and trans women are often murdered after the rape if they are discovered to be trans).

She takes great pains to state that she supports trans women, but doesn’t want us to be defined as women because our apparent “disregard for the fact that being a woman means having accrued certain experiences, endured certain indignities and relished certain courtesies in a culture that reacted to you as one.”

Now I have been living as a woman full time since 2011. I have accrued 4 years of experiences, indignities and courtesies. Is that enough for me to be a woman now? Can we add the additional indignities of being a trans woman to my score sheet? How many years does one need in the game to earn the title? She says, “the very definition of female is a social construct that has subordinated us.” But she has defined it and I find her definitions to be equally guilty of subordination of the female experience.

Worse, she breaks out the tired argument that being trans, suffering being trans, can be compared to a white person who thinks they were born black. She does this because she does not accept structural differences in the brains of males and females, even those these things are documented. She tries to make an argument that if cab drivers and musicians have aspects of their brain structure enhanced by lived experience, it is proof of nurture over nature. Having no experience with dysphoria, she simply negates it.

What she really wants to do in this article is make an argument that only cis women can be called women and that trans women should refrain because we don’t have the right kind of experiences. She brings up a few other points about her dissatisfaction with trans activists whilst ignoring that many of the arguments being made are being made by and for trans men or gender queer folks. It’s easy to leave them out of these kinds of articles. They are inconvenient to feminists such as this author, just as they are to to those making bathroom arguments.

What this is really a response to is Caitlyn Jenner’s pretty cover photo and the false argument that trans women reinforce gender stereotypes regarding expected appearance and behavior. It fails to acknowledge that for trans women, if we wish to blend in and not be clocked, attacked, or mocked, we have to pay extra attention to gender indicators such as hair, clothes, make-up. Yesterday at my theatre, a trans person came to see the play who, to me, was not making an attempt to blend and I had that little judgey voice in the back of my head criticizing that I had to quiet. It’s not my place to judge. Just because I want to exist in the world a certain way or be treated a certain way, it doesn’t make my truth or experience the essential one, just as this writer’s experience with birth control panic does not make her experience essential.

The fact is, she does not know what kinds of pressure are on Caitlyn Jenner to appear as she does or embrace very femme stereotypes. She does not live in that spotlight of judgement. Nor do I (thankfully!). It’s also easy to blame Jenner and trans woman in general for reinforcing femme stereotypes, but I notice that at no time at all does she take any cis woman to task for doing the exact same thing. There are many more cis women on magazine covers and in photo spreads who talk about and present aspects of being very femme that are often unattainable to anyone. While I am sure this author has aimed her feminist gaze at these women as well, in this article, she is presenting an indictment of trans women as being in league with Men to subordinate women. It is entirely unfair and does not even begin to take into account our lived experience as women and how we are at best a sub-class of women, treated far worse and subordinated to a much greater degree. She and her fellow feminists that she speaks of can shake their hoary heads (meaning ‘grey and white’ and not ‘old and trite’ – I assume she does not dye the grey from her head to satisfy the societal expectation of women to remain youthful in appearance for as long as possible) at Jenner’s remarks about nail polish, but they do not get the metaphor that being able to wear it until it chips away is a signifier for not having to hide being a woman anymore, not having to constantly put the male costume back on.

What she can never understand or experience is what it is to have to fight for her right to be accepted as a woman.

Being Openly Open

As I am coming to the end of my second year back in L.A. as a teacher and my first year back in high school, I have noticed a change in my attitude about my public identity (how out I am, as it were). At my job in Arizona, I didn’t have much of a choice about who knew I was trans. I transitioned on the job. The only people who didn’t know were the freshmen who came in the following year and it didn’t take them too long to find out. When I taught middle school last spring, I didn’t see the advantage in sharing my story in that environment. The students were hard enough to deal with as it was and while I would have liked to expand their minds as to what it meant to know a trans person, I wasn’t in a good head space for it.

This year has been different. When I came into the school I am working at now, I did not have a plan for being out or openly trans. I just figured I would play it by ear, or that people just know. I always assume people just know, but I’m often wrong. Case and point, my spouse was getting some work done by a tattoo artist we have both had work done by. Marni was talking to her about my self-perception, to which the artist said:

“She doesn’t know, does she?”

Apparently, people generally don’t just know that I am trans. I’ve spoken with a number of folks who have shared the same with me. More and more I am thinking that most people simply do not have enough experience with trans people to come to the conclusion that they are in our company. All for good, I know. I am happy to be accepted for me as I am and seen for me as I am, but I am also always slightly en garde (like a Canadian anthem singer I am) against those who know and think I am trying to fool them and don’t like it. Mostly when I am with my daughter in the locker room at the pool where she swims. I have that niggling worry that the pod people will point at me…

So if people don’t know I’m trans, do I want them to? I am open about it with my friends, the folks at the theatre I work at, and with any of my students who ask. I’m the GSA advisor and I’m not even sure if all the kids get that I am trans. I know they think I am a lesbian because I am married to a woman. But I haven’t ever come out and talked about it in a meaningful way. There are times when I want to and it’s silly, I know. But it just isn’t something that comes up in casual conversation or as part of a lesson. Even in a GSA meeting, I haven’t really felt it germaine or organic.

It’s a strange time to be trans to even be entertaining these thoughts…I’m glad I can be openly open and I think as time goes on, I’ll find the more organic and comfortable way to be so.

Not Transitioning Is Easier

If I were still passing as a man in the world, life would be so much easier. Not better, mind you. Life now is better. But certainly not simpler. Certainly not easier.

Shopping? Easier.

Relationships? Easier.

Work? Easier.

Priviledge? Much easier.

Parenting? Easier (not better, but easier).

But life is better. I am happy being me. I accept the complications because at the end of the day, when I go to sleep, I am mostly comfortable in my skin. My spouse pointed out to me the other day just how unhappy I was in my simpler life. Before she knew the truth of me, she knew that I was suffering. But it was easier to suffer in silence.

Easier, not better.

But there are times I reflect on this life of mine and weigh the ease of living against the complexity of living well. Easy is sometimes appealing in retrospect. It’s hard to remember pain when it’s so far gone. I see pictures of an apparently happy me, videos of a guy good at not showing the darkness inside and he doesn’t seem all that unhappy. I know he was, I was. But I don’t remember the pain. I know I had it, but I don’t remember it.

It’s easy to remember the good things. Those are the events and people who are worth holding on to. It’s natural to forget the pain, what the pain felt like. Like a bruise, it hurt in the moment, but now the moment’s gone and there’s nothing left but the memory of being hit and even that slowly fades over time.

Some complications are more painful than others. Some leave more lasting injury. Life is not always good.

But in the balance, I’d rather take my lumps as they come now. Life is better.

The Fool

The problems that I have now are not the problems that I had prior to transitioning. Or, more true, they are the problems I had, but was often blind to because of the gravitational focus of transitioning. They are problems, however, and I am sometimes successful in dealing with them and sometimes not so much. I am as liable to become stressed out now as I was before and I am often no better at dealing with the stress than I was before and more likely now than before to be more bluntly emotional as I deal with things…and just as likely to eat a problem or two into a carb cloud of “I don’t want to think about it right now”.

Transitioning solves a bunch of problems, but not all and, yes, I never expected it to do so. I’m not a fool. At least not a total fool.

Image

Ok, maybe I am a fool. In my classroom, I have a rather large version of this tarot card decorating part of the wall. It is a reminder that the journey of my life is a Fool’s quest and my head is often in the clouds not noticing where my feet are leading me. I think that for many of us, transitioning is a Fool’s journey. We have an idealized version of what it will mean to get to our destination, but we are really just  taking a leap of faith off of a cliff and hoping that it all works out for the best.

Sometimes things do work out. Heck, discarding the trappings of the male from my life has been a great relief and even though it has placed me in an embattled minority or two, I’m good with who I am. I like me, mostly. I like me now and I am often pissed at the person I was because I made a lot of mistakes born of self-loathing. If I had only known that I would not always have loathed myself, I might have been more inclined to forethought and less likely to look back, shaking my head at the idiocy of my youth.

I don’t think one has to be trans to look back at youthful transgressions. I think one simply has to live long enough to have enough distance to recognize that mistakes were made. But being youthfully trans made me more inclined towards the kinds of self-destructive activities that now occasionally haunt my present. Transitioning doesn’t change one’s fingerprints and I still own the actions done under a discarded name.

So it goes.

I have a better life, but it is not as good as it could or should be. Transitioning has not remade me perfect. I’m a woman with problems still. I saw my therapist a couple of weeks ago and she asked why I still talked about trans things. She said I wasn’t trans anymore and should leave that part of my identity behind. Not quite stealth, really. Just not existing in that space of being trans in any fashion. I defended my trans identity to a point, but really, I don’t actively engage in trans related activities. I am, but I don’t do. It’s like being Jewish. I am, but I don’t do. But when someone attacks trans people or Jewish people, I feel the sting of it. And if called to fight, I will fight.

I’m not called to fight, though. As I don’t exist in any real Jewish space, I don’t exist in any trans space. Aside from talking about it with a class at a local community college, I just about never talk about it. I think I thought while I was transitioning that it would be important to maintain some kind of active trans involvement, but when it comes down to it, I have problems still. Problems that need my attention and they are not always my problems, but many are and I need to address them more so that I do the problems of trans people. In some respects, I want to be more involved, but that would mean I have enough time in my life, fewer immediate problems in my life, to give me time to participate.

So it goes.

So it goes for me. I cannot be anyone but myself. I’ve worked hard to be able to be just me. I’m not perfect by any stretch and often quite foolish. And I’m alive and human, which is an inherently foolish thing to be.