[This post started with me thinking about Natalie Reed’s Trans 101. I will be talking about posts by her quite a bit.]
I left trans town some time ago, by choice. When I decided to come back recently, I didn’t find the town I knew. I’ve found some new, off-the-beaten-path places that are great – refreshingly different, working with people from other towns on projects, not kicking out those that don’t “mesh well,” wanting to help the whole community. Some just moved to a new address or changed the name of their company.
But what’s struck me the most is it seems like a lot of the town has been renovated – new paint, new decor, remodeling. People from all over have actually started paying attention to our small-but-growing town, so it’s natural to want to make a good impression. We want to be accessible, familiar. Safe. Yes, we’re doing very well, thank you for noticing our town. We smile. We give the same answers to the same questions. We ignore the jokes and the little snide remarks. We don’t show anger, but make polite (but firm!) statements reminding visitors that people deserve to have their humanity respected. And as you can see, we’re people. Just like you.
Every one of us knows why. Don’t fuck it up for everyone. More of us are getting what we need than ever. Don’t do anything to make them take it all away.
When someone is getting too much attention for saying the wrong things, enough of us come down on them in fearful rage to remind them. Don’t let them hear you say that. It’s okay when it’s just us, but they won’t understand. It will make them afraid and they will punish all of us for it.
At this point, it’d be easy for a lot of you from out-of-town to say, “You should stand up for yourselves! Fight! Don’t just take it! How is anything going to change if you don’t do something?” (Protip: Don’t be that person.)
The thing is these fears are well-founded. Our town has a high rate of unemployment and poverty. Violence against us happens daily – too many become the victims of murder, rape, assault. Too many of us cannot get the medical care we need. Too many cannot even visit their home towns. Laws are made explicitly to hurt us and we are intentionally left out of laws that will protect others. This doesn’t even begin to cover the uncountable micro-aggressions we deal with on a day-to-day basis – the slurs, the erasure, the jokes – that are cogs that keep this system going.
This current state of affairs is understandable. The sense of precariousness is palpable. A few of the significant points of progress made in the last several years have happened in government offices through relatively small changes, revisions, and clarifications. They weren’t big news stories picked up by the major networks. It almost felt purposefully clandestine. We’ve been watching what can happen when the majority is allowed to vote on the rights of a minority: getting marriage equality initiatives passed in “liberal” states has been an uphill battle, forget about everywhere else. Flying under radar, intentional or not, may have been the best way for us to make progress on issues related to the government and legal system.
My major problem with all this is that only trans people otherwise largely privileged by our society are setting the narrative. Most of this is their fear. They have something to lose. They get to access the gatekeepers, and hell, some of them have become gatekeepers. They are writing the script – in university classes, with published works, working with LGB organizations. We all get a copy sooner or later: The Transgender Tragedy. We are all influenced by what society says about gender. By keeping it firmly in the frame society has set up, it mostly avoids forcing cis people to consider their own ideas about gender, how those ideas affect their lives and identities, because doing so upsets and scares them. The Transgender Tragedy remains the only canonical narrative because it doesn’t actually pose a threat to theirs.
I left because I was tired of being The Trans Person all the time, reciting my lines. Things were lurking in the back of my mind about the Trans 101 concepts and narratives I had been telling anyone who would listen. I couldn’t figure out what was nudging at me. And frankly, my life was not stable. I had been taking testosterone long enough that I was gendered as a guy 100% of the time, and I really needed to figure out how to navigate this new world that I suddenly found myself in. I needed to shut the fuck up and listen to people. I had to step off the stage.
So I just… lived my life. I could never ignore gender, though. The way it colors every single interaction. Eventually, things settled down, and I found myself missing being part of discussions of gender and trans issues and queerness. Concepts and ideas had slowly evolved, but I didn’t have the language to talk about them. Then one day, I got in my car and started driving for no reason and ended up back in the old neighborhood – reading, catching up. I’ve been doing that for about a month. Now I need to talk/write my way through all this.
I did a whole mess of generalizing and oversimplification in this post, which I dislike doing. I want to get going, see where things lead. Think of this as me waving my hand toward a direction, in a vague kind of way. I’m going that way. Mostly forward, I hope.