Sunday, June 10, 2007

The sound of one CD not transitioning...

A few days ago, a crossdresser posted to the Betty boards about how she was two years into her goal of a career in stand-up comedy -- as a comedian who crossdresses on stage. Part of her post was a reflection on how being out to audiences and fellow comedians had freed a part of her soul that had been trapped for years, as well as how she felt that we don't give the straight community enough credit sometimes. It ought to been a joyous occasion -- seeing someone achieving peace and self-acceptance with herself.

And yet it left, at best, a bittersweet taste in my mouth.

Why? There was a distinct dearth of kudos from the board's many transition-tracked people (whether pre-, post- or pondering). A reminder again about how so often crossdressers and their experiences don't seem to rate in the trans communities.

From the public shunning. For example Susan Stanton's statement* that she was trying to make herself available to the press because "For most people, a transgender person is not something you see every day. It's important for them to see that I'm not a freak, I'm not a pervert, I'm not a crossdresser. I'm just me." Et tu Susan? Now in fairness I realize what Stanton was probably trying to say: this is who I am, it's not an act. But dammit, the sort of thing hurts -- like a salt-encrusted cutlass to the guts -- when said by someone who's having CNN follow her around for a year to help educate the public about trans issues. (In my own public outreach appearances I've started saying crossdressers are both the dark matter and the Rodney Dangerfields of the trans communities. But no, I'm not bitter...)

To the little stuff, like the lack to response to the comedian's post. Write about how you've started hormones, or you're telling your boss you're transitioning or you're headed off to the Thailand for surgery and (at least in the MTF world) and you'll be met by a multitude of responses, from outright cheerleading -- "You go girl!" -- to congratulations that things are going well, to at least a cautious: "I hope this bring the peace of mind you're seeking." Many of those comments come from those of us not on the transition track. Because supportive comments like those aren't hard to do and often mean a lot to the recipient. And at least in my world being part of community means one ought to give as well as receive. Granted the post wasn't as obvious a "support situation" compared to the many sturm-und-angst posts I've seen from folks in transition, some of whom post on almost a daily basis. But it's one of the things that makes it hard for us non-transitioning folks: there's no public validation when one decides to accept being "just a crossdresser."

I suppose that's in part because there can be comparatively few milestones. Sure for those of us who go out in public, there's the terror and exhilaration of stepping out the house for the first time -- like I did a little over two years ago. Likewise, for those who do so, the act of coming out for the first time -- like I did a year ago. (And in fairness, posts about these sorts of things do get supportive responses.) But truly meanful milestones are often passed without notice. It wasn't until I recently also started performing as a drag queen and told co-workers about an upcoming performance that I realized I'd embraced being a crossdresser as part of who I am, and that I'm comfortable with others knowing about that part of me. (OK, maybe not everyone -- for me it's still a "don't advertise, don't deny" situation -- but the key thing for me is that if everyone did know, I could live with it.)

But you realize this only in retrospect and there's no clear before-and-after that way there often is with transition-track milestones. There's nothing to say you've "arrived." As Helen once said, it's the sound of the other shoe not dropping. (Which is one of the sources of anxiety for partners. All they've got is one's word that you're happy where you are on the trans spectrum.)

Which is why I was thrilled when Helen talked about how Reid's new book tried to reframe "transition" to express the moment when someone trans stops taking gender for granted and starts to deal with their gender variance, in one way or another. Because Reid rightly points out that changing one's gender presentation and/or surgery aren't the sole kinds of "transitions" that one can have in life. It was because I had such high hopes that I was quite disappointed when I read Reid’s book and found it was still very much about the context of those considering physical transformations (even if some of those folks decided they don’t need that). Don’t get me wrong, I think "Transition and Beyond" is an excellent and much-needed book, and there’s much that crossdressers like myself can extrapolate to help them in their efforts to come to terms with and even embrace their crossdressing. In fairness to Reid, the vast majority of his clients are trans people considering social and/or surgical transitions - folks like me just aren't that likely to seek out a gender therapist -- so it's hard for him to talk to our situations. Which is a shame, because there's so many crossdressers who could use help getting to self-acceptance and so little literature for therapists that's focused on our situations.

Such as how to mark - and celebrate - our own "transitions." As Margaret Cho said, where's my parade? Maybe we need to throw ourselves a "coming out" party, much like the (at least mythical) "singlehood celebrations" thrown by happy singletons. After all, most crossdressers would love a chance to wear an elegant party dress.

* Update: I'm now told that reportedly Stanton was misquoted (although there's no word on what she actually said). But regardless of what Stanton did/didn't say, I've heard too many other trans folks publicly throw crossdressers under the proverbial train.


trickster108 said...

Hi Lena,

Sadly, I must agree with you...the dearth of response is due to the fact that our community is so splintered and fragmented and, what is worse, subject to the same kind of elitist BS that we have fought so hard to remove and/or overcome. Time and time again, I have heard comments that suggest that being post-op is better than being pre-op, which, in turn, is better than being non-op. All of which are, according, to this distorted mindset, superior to the crossdresser, who is superior to the drag queens.

I have seen this phenomenon happen throughout history...the elitist replacement syndrome. A group becomes comfortable when it reaches a certain plateau of success, or inclusiion, or whatever, and is then ready to exclude the next group which comes down the pike. They often have a plethora of reasons...they are not as worthy as us...they have values we don't understand...they're different from us...they haven't imvested the time...they haven't been here long enough...let them wait their turn...

I can only suggest that those who hold this view take a step back and see how ridiculous this perspective it defeats everything that needs to be accomplished, how it gives creedence to the lack of inclusion the TG community has been accorded, until recently, by many members of the gay and lesbian community.

The truth is that, until we are able to effect some kind of cohesion WITHIN our community, we will never be able to effect change without. The same can be said for the manner in and the extent to which trans people are able to unite and work with the LGBTQIAW community at large.

It astounds me that persons who have experienced the slight of discrimination would trun around and foist that very same treatment upon another...and...I expect much more from those whose influence stands to help us achieve equality in the workplace (ENDA) and protection from needless hate (Matthew Shepard Act).

Now is the time for solidarity, not factionalism; the time for union, not divisiveness; the time for projecting our goals outward, not squabbling amongst ourselves.

I appeal to everyone to see the bigger picture, to recall how it felt when someone excluded or marginalized you, and to welcome and congratulate each and every person who celebrates diversity and pursues her/his own individuality.

robbi cohn aka trickster108

Richard M. Juang said...

The marginalization of crossdressers in transgender advocacy is a serious problem. Here in MA (which is not, contrary to media perception, just a big left-wing, queer bastion) one of the members of the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition came out, very publicly in her town, outside of the greater Boston area, as a crossdresser. She did so, I think, both for personal reasons and to support our current legislative efforts. She's a very strong activist.

Ironically, it's not clear that our legislative efforts support her, as much as she supports the legislation. In our messaging, which is consistent with messaging used across the country on transgender employment discrimination, we say that employers have a right to mandate dress codes, as long as those codes are applied consistently and are respectful of someone's gender identity.

Basically, that's done to reassure employers that "crossdressing on the job" won't be a problem. The consequence of the messaging, however, is to marginalize crossdressers (as well as people who may not have a consistent gender presentation, more broadly).

Although it's not politically feasible, I would much prefer to say to people who get panicky about crossdressers, "Oh, just grow up!"

Lena Dahlstrom said...

Thanks Robbi and Richard for your voice of support, it's much appreciated.

That said, while the marginalization of crossdressers is a serious issue that needs to be discussed/addressed, that main point I wanted to raise -- simply because I've not seen it talked about -- is the whole "lack of recognized milestones" issue.

Apologies if I wasn't clear about it in the post -- the incident stirred up a bunch of emotions, so it was a tough to write about, and I did worry I was touching on too many points at once.

Anyway, as I said, there are some milestones. But to me, it's when going out in public is routine or when you mention in passing that you crossdress without really thinking about it that are equally important -- and in some ways more more important -- milestones. But by their nature, they're ones that you don't really notice at the time. By the time you realize that it's become a "normal" part of yourself and your life, it's a "And you may ask yourself - well... how did I get here?" moment. Which is why, even if it's after-the-fact, it would be nice to celebrate reaching this state-of-mind.

OTOH, in some ways I'm ambivalent about mentioning these as moments that are worthing celebrating. Mainly because they could become goals that a "successful" crossdresser is supposed to achieve -- much as there can be a similar kind of pressure to transition. Which is one reason I've started including a "standard disclaimer" on posts about my being out in public that while doing that is right for me, it may not be right for others. I know folks who've never left the house who are content. So I hate to create yet another hierarchy.

But I suppose the difference is that I think most people would agree that being at peace with oneself is a Good Thing. So I suppose it's really more achieving that state of mind I want to celebrate than whether one does or doesn't do a particular thing out in the world.

helen_boyd said...

& for the record, Mara Keisling mentioned that Susan Stanton was misquoted when she (didn't) say that. I don't know what she did say, though.