For most of my life, when I looked at the people passing by in my daily activities, on some subconscious level I felt like I was one of them. Beneath whatever surface tensions, we were all part of the human family, and aside from my transition I wasn't terribly unlike most of them when it came to the basics. But even more so than a lifetime of almost numbingly commonplace rejection, the heartbreaking contempt toward transsexual people (as part of the GLBT community) exposed by the heightened politics around the 2008 Presidential election has left me feeling like I need to examine closely who and what I am a part of. For trans people, gender is forced into being a social, political and legal issue as a matter of simple survival.
Almost one transsexual person is murdered in the US every month, which is an astounding number considering how few of us there are nationwide. We have been at the center of legal attacks from schoolteacher Dana Rivers to wife Christie Lee Littleton to Colorado's recent and typical scare-tactic PSA against trans people being allowed to use public spaces such as the restroom by positioning it as "what if a MAN was in the restroom with your daughter?!" Look at my photo next to this blog entry. That is the face of someone who would be forced to use the men's restroom by these people. Trust me, my interest in teenage girls extends only so far as they can accurately fill my order at the local hamburger drive-thru.
Most recently, after watching national leaders represent their constituencies' beliefs by seeking to restrict marriage with Constitutional amendments redefining it as "between one man and one woman" and using condescending terms such as "tolerance", I fear that next steps will inevitably involve imposing into the Constitution their definition of what exactly a man or a woman is. Should one's gender be defined by reproductive ability? Then what about men and women born sterile? What about impotent older men and post-menopausal women? Does genitalia define gender? Then what are intersex people? Is it chromosomes? Then should we do a chromosomal assay on every newborn and adult, and do we claim to fully understand all aspects of the human genome anyway now? Very few opponents of non-hetero, non-gender normative people understand the science behind these questions, and many would eschew science in favor of religious interpretations anyway. In any case, it's an unwinnable situation for us in their minds. We are "gross", scary and threatening. All their rationalizations against us fall into line behind these gut-level feelings. These beliefs, held by politically powerful and wealthy people, directly influence my daily life and set a tone for the national zeitgeist that says trans people, as part of the GLBT community, are "less than", and worthy of "tolerance" at best. If I sent you an invitation to my birthday party which said, "Calpernia will tolerate your presence at her upcoming birthday celebration on February 20th, 2009", would you want to come?
Why did I "choose" this "lifestyle" of being a gender rebel? All I can say is that one's soul seems to be whatever it will be, and our only choice is how to express it in our lives. At very early ages, I began to discover differences that went beyond the average person's. Many things I wanted to do would upset the adults and other children, who seemed to follow their own hearts' desires with the loving hands of the community guiding them onward while they reprimanded and punished me. My eyes were drawn to things like the games that the girls played with each other on the monkey bars, sharing secrets while perched like birds in a tree. They talked and watched the boys, or a leader would direct the others in improvised routines of flips and twirls done in hypnotic unison. I wanted to hang upside down with them and shake my own curtain of silky hair that swept the ground. I wanted to hear the whispered secrets, and receive the frightened consideration of the boys who were happy to be separated but endlessly fascinated with the girls.
I had never heard of transsexualism or homosexuality. I had never seen a drag queen or transsexual, never read "Heather Has Two Mommies", never encountered anything other than simple suburban Southern folk in a Christian home. Yet these needs were there, from the earliest ages. My only choice was whether to hide my true self, or cherish and express it.
I discovered quickly that hiding it was my only option, as I was not welcomed by the girls, and while the boys had no desire to include the feminine child I was in their games, they rained down all the derision they could muster when I left them to flip and twirl on a lonely perch atop the parallel bars by myself. But I still felt like I was one of them all, a person among persons. Just not a popular one. If worse came to worst, we were all in this life together as human beings, I seemed to know without putting it into words. I would learn in the coming years that I was not considered "one of them" by the majority, to my great disadvantage.
In my world, it is simply a fact that social and religious conservatives are horrified by people who transgress the gender boundaries that they have set up. This is backed up by a lifetime of personal experience. Never mind that current gender boundaries are mostly fabricated based on what is comfortable and familiar to the majority, and have little to do with anything "universal". "Well, my little Joe likes trucks and baseball, so all boys should!" Here in America, men don't wear dresses, women do. Men have short hair, women have long hair. Boys wear blue, girls wear pink. Mostly meaningless, but crossing those lines has often stirred up fevered responses driven by terror from mostly conservative and religious citizens. Trust me, I've walked through a mall full of conservative Southern families as a fledgeling transsexual woman. I've seen the responses.
There are certainly a few religious groups who welcome or at least "tolerate" gay, lesbian and transsexual people without subjecting them to "reparative therapy". I can't think of any socially conservative groups who are welcoming, but in any case none of these small groups seem to be in a position to dictate public policy, legal precedent or social moires in the way that I see from the major religious and conservative groups. And by "dictate policy", I mean legislate me out of the fabric of society.
A lifetime or two has passed since those childhood days, and now I am a battle-hardened and battle-weary veteran of the rejection that only grew more complex and urgent as those children grew into adults. Where they once excluded me, the feminine little boy, from their playground games, now they vote and litigate to exclude me, the transsexual woman, from their social institutions, workplaces, schools and hospitals. But looking beyond the immediate threat of debates on whether a transsexual woman is legally a "woman", and thus belongs within or outside of things like California's upcoming anti-gay-marriage "Proposition 8" initiative, I look at what these questions mean about what these people would do with us, if they had the power to do so. Where would they have us go? How would they have us live?
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