a house divided, the politics of gender variance

16/02/2009

Spend any length of time in the trans … community, and you’re gonna come away with the distinct impression that everybody hates everybody else. Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating, just a wee bit, but the ill-omened “transgender-as-umbrella-term” community sometimes makes a Taiwanese parliamentary session look like a game of bowls between Harriet’s Harriers and The Knitting Circle.

I was prompted to write this post after a slew of “us vs. them”-type discussions recently on various discussion boards and on some of the blogs I frequent. After a while they wear you down, and you just get tired of the nastiness. And while each side will claim the other is wrong or misguided or even insane, everybody gets emotional eventually, nothing is achieved … and next week we do it all over again once we’ve had a chance to cool down and catch our breath.

It’s not all that surprising though, I suppose. We all start out alone, not knowing who or what we are. Our mind says one thing, but everything else – our parents, our friends, our teachers, our own bodies are all telling us different. So we try so very hard to listen to all of them, but we just can’t ever shut out that deepest part of us that keeps on shouting.

So when we do finally find other people like us, it’s just such a relief. And suddenly you’re not crazy anymore, ’cause “Look Ma! I’m not alone! I’m not the only one.” or “There’s a reason for why I’m like this! It’s biology so you can’t blame me anymore!” and you gradually start to piece together your identity and your sense of self and your self-esteem.

Of course, you soon realise that the best you can hope for is similarity with some of them and support from some more. And then you start to notice the differences, and that fragile sense of self confidence you just started building takes some hard knocks again, ’cause what, you’re supposed to be like THEM now?! Worse, what if other people confuse you with THOSE people?! You’ve worked so hard at trying rebuild not only that sense of yourself, but the life you were denied before. You’ve found a community that accepts you, be it queer or gay or female or cisgender or male or whatever … and now the freaks threaten EVERYTHING, because your community might just decide you’re more like the freaks than like them after all…

The thing is, the bigots in your community only ever compare you to one person: themselves, and if you don’t fit that mould closely enough, you will be something to be hated, no matter how similar or different you are to that other freak over there. It’s a losing game no matter how you play it, because you will never conform closely enough, and you’re always only a slip or an accident away from discovery.

On the other hand, most people discriminate purely out of ignorance. They don’t understand us, so they fear us. We’re different, so we’re something to be wary of, to be kept at arms length. The only thing that’s ever going to change that, is to show them that the differences are cosmetic at best. The only way to do that is by living authentically, confidently, whatever that might mean to you, and not relying on your similarities or your differences to be accepted.

Live your truth and people will learn to trust that truth.

We have enough people out there who want nothing so much as to drive us into the sea. Between the religious conservatives and their dogged literalism around Adam and Eve, or the Autogynaephilia gang suddenly in a position to subvert the DSM, or the reparative therapy snake-oil sellers building an audience through daytime-television, we have no shortage of enemies. The last thing we need to do is go look for more enemies in groups of people that could be our allies. Transgender, classic transsexual, HBS man or woman, androgyne, stealth, queer, crossdresser, open, whatever … they may all be related or they may not be – ultimately only time and research will settle that question, but there is no reason for us to be fighting one another. Not if we consider ourselves any different from the people who hate and fear us. And not if we want to survive.

Mina.

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