What You Need To Know About My Transgender
September 9, 2002
1) My transgender is about my work, my calling.
I see my clothes as my work clothes.
I don’t do trans to get dates — trans, in fact, requires leaving the system of desire.
I don’t do trans for simple reasons, though, like many, for me pure work is play, and fun. Being immersed and focused and feeling like you are creating good things is fun.
Trans may be about Eros, but about Eros in general, the passion for living, not just about sexuality. Things aren’t about sex or reality — they are about who we are in a whole, integrated way.
What this means is that it is only by being visible as trans, putting on the work clothes, making connections & building audiences, is the only way to do the work.
I see myself as the continuation of a long tradition of shamans who walk between worlds, even the worlds of men and women, who have existed in every human culture at every time. I am liminal, a door between worlds. My mission statement is in a phrase I heard from anthropologist Anne Bolin: “In cultures where gender is rigidly bi-polar, rituals of gender crossing remind us of our continuous common humanity.”
I remind people that separations are illusions, that we are all connected, and that has always been the message of the shaman.
2) The challenge for me is becoming product.
For good or for bad, getting what you need, be that as simple as cash, or as complicated as having people quote you in discussions, you have to become story. It’s about becoming abstracted, a hero AND a cartoon, which is both potent and risky.
This means that I have to become a symbol, a projection, an object, while still being human.
After you have spent all that time and effort breaking free of the box, moving from symbol to meaning, moving back into another box seems very, very hard.
3) The hardest thing about trans is doing it alone.
For most people, life is like riding a bicycle. Slow down, and momentum from people around you keeps pulling you forward.
For people on their own path, life is like running a marathon. Slow down and you lose momentum and have to restart.
Trannys don’t come from a community that is like them, so the issues aren’t taught, worked out. We each struggle very much alone, and that means we often lose momentum and falter.
4) The most difficult thing about trans is negotiating others fears.
Too often people feel scared by what challenges their assumptions, what makes them stretch, what brings up their own stuff, and when they get scared, they find it easier to blame it on what scares them than to confront the basis of their own fears. We become a “phobogenic object,” invested with their own terrors, and like voodoo, they assume that if we are erased, their fears will never have to be faced.
Transpeople learn early that expressing their nature brings torrents of abuse from the world. The world wants to do the good and nice and appropriate thing by shaming people into normativity, which is good for the status quo and good for the individual. The attempt to erase the nature is seen as caring and appropriate — these people should understand reality, or at least the reality as we have accepted it.
Even when talking with mothers of gay and lesbian children, they express fear for their kids, a fear that can never be removed, but a fear that their children have to get past. It’s not useful to have parents fear, it’s useful to have parents help and encourage.
There is an old joke about a top professional golfer who is offered an enormous sum to play a round. When they asked what handicap their opponent wanted, they were told “Three Gotchas.” They accepted the offer, and on the first hole, just as they were about to drive, their opponent rammed a hand between their legs and screamed “Gotcha!” which caused them to miss the shot. The same thing happened on the second green, just as they were about to putt. When the golfer got in the clubhouse, they had lost by seven strokes. When someone asked why they had lost, they said “Have you ever tried to play 17 holes waiting for the third gotcha?” This is the power of stigma — when you are used to abuse, you lose your grace and power.
When you think you are already on the edge, or even over it, it becomes hard to take the simple risks humans have to take to get others to agree with us, to take power in the world. When we play safe and defended, we rarely get what we need, rarely make the changes that we know will benefit all.
To ask the person assigned as fear producing, who has been bashed by stigma, to be the one who always has to negotiate the fears of others is a daunting and overwhelming task. People often assume that their fears must be respected, but to respect fear rather than real danger is to allow fear to shape our world, rather than to allow love to do that task.
5) The most painful thing about trans is not being able to give your gifts and have them accepted.
When we accept the gifts of another, we accept them. For many, who don’t want to accept people who challenge their beliefs in comforting boundaries that separate good from bad, accepting the gifts of people they believe are acting in immoral or inappropriate ways is impossible.
What does this mean? It means that because of other people’s belief in the need to keep separate, to minimize and stigmatize by isolation, to avoid what causes them challenge and discomfort, to believe in their fears, people who are diverse are seen as less than human and their gifts are not accepted.
It pains me most not to have been able to feel safe enough to give all of me to my community, and to get the simple rewards in return, just because my nature is one that many would rather not exist.
Trans rights are not about special rights, they are about simply having the right to contribute and be rewarded for those contributions to the mainstream. This right is key not only to our financial well being, it is key to our health & our pride, and, believe it or not, is a key to really embracing diversity and innovation for all of society.
6) I know that I will never be female.
We have no way to change sex, at least not today. We can change the appearance of sex, in some ways, but we can’t change sex.
If we could change sex, would I have made that choice? Probably. But since we can’t, it’s not a relevant question.
That means I have to change gender role without changing sex. An issue.
I know that bones don’t lie, that I won’t pass as being born female. Every tranny has a passing distance, a space within which their history and biology is revealed. For some trans, especially slight transwomen who transitioned early, or transmen, that passing distance is quite close, but at some point, they become visible.
My transgender is an attempt to tell the truth about my inner nature, not an attempt to lie about my sex.
7) I am not two people.
I am not two different people with two different names depending on my clothes. I find that model wrong and disconcerting. I do change role and clothes, but to me at this point, no more than anyone else who has plays multiple roles in their life, like mother, businessperson and laugher.
8 ) I am not typical of current transgender thought.
I have been strange from the first days when I was a guy in a dress, keeping my given name, which is different than traditional transvestite or transsexual behaviors. Today, I don’t fit neatly into any transgender model that exists.
I have always been striving for balance, in interesting ways. The vast majority of trannys are stuck in a second adolescence, because there are no grown up models for trans. That is a challenge — to create new models.
No matter how it makes you feel, my transgender expression is about my trying to find a connection to what links us all, to express my view of our shared truth as well as possible, not about claiming I speak for others.
9) The challenge is to both be defended and open.
In many ways, transpeople can best be categorized by their defenses. For many, they choose to create walls between themselves and others in order to stay beyond the pain of stigma that trannys are subject to.
For me, though, I have always needed to stay connected, which is why I have been too loathe to challenge the world with my transgender. I need to be in touch with the world to see and understand it, and I like connections.
This is a big challenge, to be both open and defended, between being so raw that you become brittle, breaking at every new affront or being so isolated that you never really open to others.
The trick is to stay in the story.
But that’s the bigger vision, right there.
I will quote you Callen!
I love your work and I remember it from years ago. I recently rediscovered your work during a search for my old user ID "vickiecd". Someone had saved the archives of the old email list Trans-Theory, and you had a post there about "emigrating to woman." I had a posting that was the "Next message:" after yours.
I am so glad I found you again.