Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Half-Life of an Out Transwoman

I've just finished doing two university classroom sessions where I basically field any question the students can come up with. It's basically a very enjoyable experience because in part I like making people laugh and I don't mind being honest. I'm also upfront with the fact that I'm only speaking for myself and my experiences and any thoughts I offer about the community at large are only my opinion and should be taken as such.

And yet... for the first time, it felt slightly odd. And I realized it will only get weirder.

There's a half-life to being an out transperson doing outreach. A period of time in which you can do it that has a finite lifespan.

I don't know what that period of time is, but I know it's not endless. And that my effectiveness will diminish if only because my life experiences will have begun to outstrip my willingness to bare my soul to strangers.

That's a good thing.

It's useful to know that your time on stage is limited. That there will become a time where you become reticent to share personal things in the hopes that you're putting a human face on trans things. That everything has a natural lifespan and trying to prolong it is not a good thing.

I'm a very private person. The irony.

But I do enjoy talking to people about my story. Not because I think it's particularly interesting but because I enjoy getting in front of audiences and talking about it. I like the connections I can make. I like the fact that I can put a human face on something that is usually reserved for either sensationalism or theory. I'm good at it.

But there's a half-life involved. I can't do this forever.

I don't know when it was that I transitioned. I couldn't give you a date or a time or a plan or anything. It just seemed to kind of happen. And yeah, that's weird. It's certainly not part of any standard narrative I've ever heard of. But it has happened.

I live life as a woman. I have for quite some time. It's only recently that I've taken steps that most of this community would recognize as "transition", i.e., hormones, legal stuff. For me the social aspect was always the big thing and that's what I focused on (if you could call it "focus"). But the bottom line is that I transitioned some time ago.

And talking to those classes these last couple of days brought that home in a way that airport security couldn't - I almost didn't make my flight here to Wisconsin because I don't look anything like my ID (I'm very lazy and the idea of dealing with bureaucracy makes me want to get back in bed). I can handle the temporary interactions with strangers with ease, but the sharing of my story, warts and all, with students over the course of two hours makes me think in a way that a confused TSA agent never will.

Half-Life. Or, all good things come to an end at some point.

I don't know when that will actually happen. It's just that now I know it will. And I didn't before. My life is beginning to outstrip - in lovely ways - my capacity to be a public figure.

And I can't help but wonder if that isn't something that all of us in this "community" who have public notoriety should pay attention to. That perhaps we should all be aware of that time when we gracefully take a bow and leave the stage. Because to stay too long there courts disaster, embarassment and a kind of "out of touch" that makes us a liability.

There will always be someone ready to take my place.

That's a good thing.


Gina said...

Betty, I agree with you how 'show and tell' gets tiring and there is a point when discussing the difference between 'transsexual' and 'transgender' starts sounding like a canned spiel much less something you even give a damn about. But... the problem with people quitting the informational sphere once they really live and integrate in their new life is that public information gets stuck at the 'transition' stage... the stage when one is most awkward, has the least perspective and mostly ungrounded. It focuses on the 'circus freak-half man-half-woman' phase that's as much about prurient interest as it is gender studies. They don't get any understanding about what it's like to really live long term as a woman who's undergone this unique passage... and with all due respect to the 'I was a transsexual, but now I'm cured crowd' there ARE trans issues that impact one's life looong after 'finishing transition' which come up again and again. More over, there are social and personal perspectives transpeople have that are important for the larger society to know about, perspectives that aren't overly developed when one is in the midst of transition. So... I get your fatigue, and the desire to step off the soapbox and you're so right someone else will come along and be happy to share their transition story ("I always knew I was a gurrl, yadda, yadda"). By all means, you deserve a gender vacation even a sabbatical. But there really is so much more about this amazing lifelong journey about which people could benefit from hearing. Anyway, time to put on your shades, get a lawn chair, and take a break.

kim in Denver said...

Although I didn't meet you as Betty, I love and care for you! I so enjoyed our short time together in Boulder. I think you are awesome!!