29. My Place in the Trans* “Community”

That Is, My Lack of a Place

I've been thinking a lot lately about my connection to the "community." Essentially, I'm a bit of an outsider. The biggest source of ire about my work tends to come from other trans* people. Sure, I get some hate mail from cis people, but they never say that I'm *wrong* and being horrible for, and have no right to be, an advocate. I haven't had the same sorts of experiences as people who've been ridiculed, ostracized, harassed, or attacked. I have a lot of institutional power and support, whereas many do not. Most are powerless. Not only can I not relate easily to these people (though I advocate most strongly for them), they also can't easily relate to me. They tend to respond with hate because I've had a really easy go of things. So I respond by not going out of my way to connect to the community.

metamorphosis_support_hands.pngI had an interesting discussion with someone who was heavily involved in the women's lib movement of the 70s: one shift during that time was from a victim narrative to a survivor one. I think that the trans* movement is very much like the women's lib movement, but they're in the victim narrative stage (largely), and that's probably due to being a younger movement with less social capital than a comparably then young women's movement. It'd be great if the women's movement would take up the trans movement (that's what transfeminism is, after all), but much of the pushback against the trans movement is from some (often "radical") feminists and members of the women's movement.

The task should be understanding and celebrating the diversity in the trans community (which isn't currently happening), and then working towards empowerment. Focusing on how bad trans people have it is closer to the victim narrative. I want to work on empowerment while staying in touch and grounded, knowing that many trans people really do have it really hard. But I have no patience when those people seek to bring down those who've had an easier go of it, especially when we want to be advocates too.

Unfortunately, the trans community is often very toxic. This is the principal reason why I stayed away from trans support groups. I knew that the people who tend to populate those groups are the ones who struggle the most. That's fine; nothing wrong with that. The problem is that they often attempt to indoctrinate new members into their experiences of the world. If the leaders of these support groups lost their job, family support, and are constantly ridiculed and harassed, they often explain to new members that that's all they can expect from their lives: get ready for a miserable life, they say. You won't be respected, and you'll probably lose friends, family, and your job, they say. You'll also never make it in this world if people *know* you're trans: you have to try as hard as you can to look like a cis woman, or else your life will suck, they say. You have to go for facial surgery, SRS, voice training, etc., or you'll never be accepted, they say.

All of this poisons people to expect a certain experience and treatment from people. I suspect that this worldview creates some self-fulfilling prophecies. I've written about how early in my transition, I didn't go around looking nervously to see if people were "clocking" me as trans. I figured that that behaviour would make it more likely that people would be suspicious about me, and would be more likely to react negatively: if I look like I don't belong, then I'll be treated like I don't belong.

I can't say that anyone's ever stared at me or laughed. No one's made a single negative comment to me, or harassed me for being trans (I've experienced mistreatment for being female, but not for being a trans female). I've never been assaulted, and rather than rejected, I've been welcomed and embraced. For example, just Saturday night I was at the club with friends and colleagues. I was in a (hot!) red dress playing pool before we were going to go dance. And a group of 4 girls giddily approached me asking where I got my dress, and proceeded to take a picture. That's more typical of my experiences than anything negative. And because of this, the trans community tends to look upon me with suspicion, as an outsider. And so on the outside I stay: I'm not going to force my way into a group that mostly doesn't want me.

I can do my advocacy from the periphery. I'm also probably more effective here.

Yours truly,