We Come From You - Transsexual People and Politics
Transsexual people are not "the other." We come from you.
Posted Nov 04, 2008
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?
I won't even go into the fact here that the biggest threat to heterosexual marriage and families is obviously a little something called "divorce", which rends up to half of all hetero families in two. What if the tens of millions of dollars they spent fighting the tiny threat of GLBT marriage had been spent fighting divorce?
Keeping us out of the concepts of "family", marriage, the workplace, schools, health care and the very fabric of society is part of a larger mission of "othering" us as much as possible in the current legal framework. I wholly believe that people seeking to push us out of those spaces in society would ultimately only be happy if we didn't exist at all, in any way. If we can't work, study, take care of ourselves or be a part of families, what's left?
What has become most distressing to me over the past few years is the attempt by religious and social conservatives to exclude trans people (as part of the GLBT umbrella) from the universal concept of "family". As if we came from something other than a family ourselves. A prime example of one of the groups that uses the word "family" to mean "not Calpernia Addams" is the online Journal of the American Family Association. They even put my picture on the cover of their July 2006 issue, as an example of "sexual radicals who hate Christianity". While "hate" is a rather strong word, considering my treatment by the institution, you can bet I don't "love" them. They are one of countless conservative and politically active groups using the term "family" as something that doesn't include GLBT people, and scaring members by holding up their children as assumed targets of our imagined nefarious schemings.
The word "family" has been appropriated by conservative religious people as a code that means "NOT gay, lesbian or transgendered". Where once the word meant "mom, dad, brother and sister" to me, now it means "NOT YOU!", which is a terrible shame. And a terrible way to position another human being's place in this society.
Because, you see, we are not the monstrous aliens from some other dimension who hunger for the souls of your children, as conservative media personalities would have you believe.
We come from you.
In recent years, some lesbian women have chosen to bear children through various means, and some gay men have adopted. Some few GLBT people have children from previous mixed gender relationships. But for the most part, historically the GLBT community has not made up a large segment of the reproducing population. And even when we do reproduce, our children only have the same tiny percentage chance of being GLBT as anyone else's. Most likely, we're making more of you, not more of us.
For the most part, we do not reproduce ourselves. We are not born from space pods, or made from string and twigs by witches. You, the average heterosexual gender-normative couples, make us. We are made up out of your offspring, and your families. We come from you.
Yes, "families", that word from which they work so hard to exclude us. Every time you, your relatives, your friends, have a baby, you are rolling the dice and a small number of times out of every so many babies, a child comes who will eventually be attracted to members of the same sex or who will not fit gender stereotypes. This is just a fact, played out throughout recorded history and across the world in every culture.
Not only were we once children, just like the precious ones held up as shields by the terrified parishioners who fund scare-tactic television ads and websites encouraging you to push us out of the fabric of society. But some of those little angels who play among your own children right now in school, church and the neighborhood are young gay, lesbian and transgendered human beings just like I and my GLBT friends once were. Some of your own children are young gay, lesbian and transgendered human beings, just as some are young heterosexual and young gender normative humans.
As most GLBT people will tell you, we always knew something was different. We weren't hetero-normative and gender-normative kids who decided at age 21 to become gay or to transition. We may have learned to fake it, or tried to suppress it, but most who I've met always knew something was going on. We were gay, lesbian and transgendered children, just as others were straight and gender-normative kids. Yet, we had birthday cakes with big wax candles in the shape of the #1, just as other kids did. We watched cartoons and wanted to eat too much candy. We studied for algebra tests, attended or rejected the prom and had all the same human moments that you all had, albeit with an added layer of strife due to the rejection of our sexuality or gender identity by society.
We are not "the other", we are not monsters. We come from you. It's a very simple thing, but it's one that bears mentioning to the many who would "otherize" and demonize us as monstrous threats to "their" proprietary ideas of family and children.
And it's something that I must remind myself, too, when I look out my window now at the people walking down the street. I struggle with bitter knee-jerk thoughts of "are you the one who votes against me, or apathetically doesn't support me? Are you the one who rejected me, mocked me and insulted me from childhood all the way up to now? Are you the one who lackadaisically sits in judgment of whether or not the things most natural and comfortable to me are acceptable to you in a social, workplace, medical, legal or entertainment setting, while your most natural and comfortable urges often get a free pass by your own religions and social systems?" I then have to remind myself to hope that these strangers are not a cruel, unified, hypocritical majority of "others", but that they are imperfect human beings just like me, and that I do indeed come from them, so there is a possibility that someday they will see me as one of them. That I am still part of the human family, and that there is still some thin hope that the hypocrisy and hate will end one day.