Defining Ourselves.  Defying Others.

“If I didn’t define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people’s fantasies for me and eaten alive.” –Audre Lorde

So true, Audre.  And defining one’s self is no easy task.  First, this task requires us to know who we are and where we have come from.  That can be a challenge.

But the second part of defining ourselves can be even harder.  To fully define who we are, we must also be aware that parts of ourselves are still becoming, growing, shifting, changing, and existing outside of the world of things that can be adequately described by words (words!  Oh – rough instruments that you are!).  Ideally we are trees in Spring time.  Most of the self is sturdy and has been around for a while, but parts of our identity are just starting to shoot and bud.  Some of this new growth will become another branch of us, eventually easy to label, easy to see in ourselves.  Some of this new growth won’t become much at all.  But we can’t know the future.  We can’t know where all this growth will end up.

Our identities are a mix of solid and evolving parts of self.

Why We Must Know Of Our Inchoate Edges

When I first read this Lorde quote, I thought these were wise words to help protect me from people who aren’t looking out for my interests and needs.  Now I read a new layer in this quote.  It is sometimes the most well-meaning, supportive people in our lives who can accidentally squash us in their need to understand us.  This truth becomes most visible for me in the stories that I hear from people who are transitioning.

It is understandable that when a person decides to transition, supportive people will have questions.   These well-meaning people with their well-intended questions can be VERY insistent.

“Did you always know?”

“WHEN did you know?”

“You don’t look like….  “

“Won’t you miss….”

I recently read a great post about how other people’s insistence for a clean narrative about transitioning can block someone from understanding the often richer, deeper complexity of their story. Here is a sample from this super post (I highly recommend you read the whole thing!):

But it’s true that, before I said it, I carefully mined my personal history for examples of how I was never really a girl. And when I presented my decision to transition to my friends and family, it was with the “always knew” narrative well rehearsed. In that, I’m like almost every other trans* person I’ve ever talked to about the coming out process.

Why is “I always knew” the common narrative? Why do so many of us tell some version of that story even if it isn’t true?

There are several reasons that come to mind, and I think they all play a part.

These words make my heart heavy. Sweet Lorde, I wouldn’t be able to neatly answer many of the common questions people get when they are transitioning, and I’m in a relatively stable spot in my life!

So this post has two endings.

ONE.

I love my fuzzy edges. I look forward to seeing what I become. I embrace the journey.  Parts of me are easy to explain to others.  Other parts of me are hard to even explain to myself.  And when I think about it,  it’s the fuzzy parts of me which are hard to pin down with words that are my very favorite parts of me.

TWO.

Psychologists can get a pretty bad rap in trans communities.  If you are in the process of transitioning and looking for a psychologist, I want you to know that we psychologists aren’t all the same.  Good psychologists don’t see themselves as gatekeepers.  We don’t need to hear the “Right Story.”  In fact, I’ve never heard the same story twice.  I know my profession has created a problematic structure with “Gender Identity Disorder.”  But hey – I like to think of my profession as being a big ol’ dysfunctional family.  PLEASE don’t assume I share the views of my kooky relatives.

I largely see my role as helping keep you safe from being “crunched into other people’s fantasies and eaten alive.”  I largely see my role as helping you embrace your own story – including learning about the fuzzy, wonderful edges of your being.

Voting While Trans

October 11, 2012

Be sure your voice is heard.  Don’t forget to vote.  Get more info at http://www.votingwhiletrans.org

A son likes to wear dresses.

A father has a problem.

And so he address the problem by going for a walk with his son in their new town, both dressed in skirts.  Did you just feel your heart melt a little bit?  Read the full article here.

This Daily Beast article is one of the better pieces I have seen recently in relatively mainstream media on the topic of excessive rates of violence experienced by members in the transgendered community.  I could do without the Ru Paul comment, but overall I am happy to see someone acknowledge that fitting in is not always a person’s end goal, and not fitting in is absolutely a personal choice and not a reasonable defense for violence.

My busy week precludes me from adding much more than these two cents to this topic, but the article is worth a read.  Hopefully more media outlets will follow this lead.

Trans: The Movie

The other night I was lucky enough to catch a screening of Trans The Movie at the Common Ground Theater in Durham.  I didn’t know much about the movie beforehand.  I was worried that it would be another disappointing portrayal of folks from the trans community, told in a way that mystifies the topic and objectifies the people.  (Quick – name the first three trans characters you can think of from popular movies or TV shows.  IF you were able to name three, I’ll bet my hat that each character can either be labeled as one of the following:  pathetic or deceptive.  Just let me know if I owe you my sombrero.)

Much to my relief, this is perhaps the first (can that be right?) movie I’ve seen which lets people tell their own stories in a non-sensationalized manner.  These are real people, and real families, telling their stories directly to the audience.  This movie did it’s best to capture the diversity that exists in the trans experience.  And, as is true in real life, some folks have an easier time than others.

Do you have a doctor’s note for that gender?

My one hesitation about this movie is the over-emphasis of the medical options that exist for people who are transitioning.  It’s wonderful that there are so many options these days but let’s not lose sight of the fact that the trans experience pre-dates modern medicine by like a bajillion years. I worry that a lot of cis folks think medical procedures are what make a person transsexual, rather than viewing medical procedures as affirming what is already there.  (Perhaps this is why so many cis folks think it’s totally reasonable to ask a complete stranger some very intimate questions, as if they need to know if you actually have permission from medical doctors to be declaring your own gender.)

The reality is that there are many people who fully identify as being trans and don’t do any medical procedures, whether by choice or lack of access because of geography or finances.  My worry is that by focusing on medical options we lose sight of the fact that a person can forgo all medical options for transitioning and still fully embrace their trans identity and lead a happy full life.

Fight boredom.  Learn your gender.

That said, a producer of the movie took questions after the screening and he was very clear that he knew this movie only told part of the story.  And really, no one movie could ever tell the full story of the trans experience.  The complexity of gender equals the complexity of each person’s unique story and life experience.  Thank goodness.  I’d get bored too easily if it were any other way.

Watching this movie is a great way to peak behind the curtain of our culture and see some of the brave souls who dare to do the hard work of learning how to be themselves.

Side note:  When it rains it pours.  Click here to learn more about the upcoming screening of Southern Comfort on May 24 in Carrboro NC.