Monday, April 28, 2014

Out of the Shadows and Making Our Own Light.

Recently, an old grammar school friend resurfaced in my life thanks to Facebook. It's been nearly fifty years since we've spoken, but the bonds of having survived Catholic grammar school, deranged Franciscan nuns and the never-ending reminders that the bloodied body which was nailed to the cross and which hung above the blackboard was there because of my miserable, sinful, ten-year-old life is the glue which allows us to reassemble our friendship in these, the beginning of our sunset years.

 Old friend Peter, with whom I graduated kindergarten; Peter, whose mother was my den mother and who taught us how to grow grass in an eggshell filled with dirt, and with whom I later served Mass dutifully as an altar boy, writes a column for a well known financial magazine. But he occasionally strays, as all Catholic boys do, from his mission to write of other things unrelated to the wonderful, wacky, world of finance.

One of his well-thought out and articulate columns had to do with the radical feminist Cathy Brennan's views on male privilege and her obvious resentment toward transgendered women moving in on what she considers her "turf".

Peter stated that our parochial school education and the behaviors of the nuns was similar to Ms. Brennan's in their resentment of male privilege. Having lived with both tribes, and having experience such privilege and then having it removed, he was interested in my perception of the whole shebang. Here is my response.

 This year marks the 12th year since my surgery and my 14th since beginning this whole process. During that time I have spent a great deal of it pondering exactly what I am.

In the early years, I made every attempt to justify myself as fully female. I guess I needed the validation from others, and so I stayed firmly entrenched on the third of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs (Acceptance and Love from others) for quite some time. As much as I wanted to be 'fully female' and as much as I wanted to be in a lesbian relationship, the reality and politics of the LGBT world, and particularly Lesbiana, reminded me time and time again that while I could have friends (some close, some not so much), the bulk of Lesbiana would always view me as an "other".  This attitude was never as clear to me as the year some of my friends decided to go to Michfest. I was told that it was for "womyn born womyn" and that I could not attend even if I wanted to do so.

This was about five years ago and at the time I found the statement quite hurtful. But what it drove home to me was that no matter how I viewed myself, I would never...NEVER be considered 100% female by those folks. But like anything, some good comes out of every negative and it forced me to come to grips with what and who I was.

 To them, I would always be an interloper; that no matter how much surgery I had or how much I gussied myself up, I would forever be inexorably male to them. And for years, I resented that and countered with the quip, "I got my ticket to this club the hard way and I don't intend to be stopped at the gate now."

Over time though, I began to realize that the closer I got to the gate, the less I wanted to go through it. Where I once marched in LGBT parades on Pride Day, I began to realize that the Trans community was woefully represented in them. Where I once attended lesbian groups (both social and political) regularly, I began to sense that I would never BE one of them. And so gradually, I began to pull away. I found that the political component of being a lesbian far outweighed the possibility that a woman could put aside the "trans" part of what I was and just accept who I was as a human being. I came to understand that the politics of being a lesbian was as much a part of the whole thing as being attracted to a same sex member. Through my eyes (and remember, this is just my opinion), women found themselves unable to give up that badge of honor that allows lesbians to say, we don't need men in our lives. After years of exposure to that kind of thinking, I found myself back at square one. If I was not a woman, and I certainly was not a man, then just what was I? All of my childhood training about gender was about to get thrown out the window.

As you might imagine, back when I began this process (1999-2000), there was very little information regarding how we trans folk came to be, but the prevailing theory then (as now) is that this is not a mental disorder but an organic one. Nature loves variety as we know, and the growing number of trans-identified folk coming out each year coupled with history being rife with trans types (see the trial transcript of Joan of Arc)  gave credence to the theory that trans folk did not just suddenly pop onto radar, but that we have been around since the beginning of recorded time.

 Now of course, the Internet provides us with a preponderance of information regarding trans society and has opened up so many people's eyes about what we are and where we fit in the world.  

I have learned to view gender as a continuum. To me, there is no absolute male or female. We are all somewhere on that line. And while society does tend to still classify gender as absolute, I believe that those lines are being blurred too, mostly because of the growing transgender population. When so many people are declaring themselves as "other", as they are these days, isn't the idea of a gender continuum more reasonable than absolute male or female?

Yet there is that nagging question of male privilege. Does it exist? Yes. In my field of comedy for instance, it is very pronounced. There is still a large segment of both the entertainment industry and the general public who believe that female comics are not as funny as their male counterparts. Female comedians are paid less and generally will not headline a show. Nor will you see two female comedians on the same show and when there are, club owners rarely place them back to back on the lineup. Having worked as a comedian for both tribes, I can tell you that it is markedly different for women, and not in a good way.

But back to the radical feminists. I believe (again my own personal opinion) that when movements begin, it is because of the radical factions. Their zeal, no matter how angry or discriminatory it may seem, is often the power behind the growth of a movement. Once that movement gets a foothold in the mainstream it begins to grow organically, and the very militants who sired it often are pushed back to the fringes in favor of a more centrist majority. Once dialogue ensues between the "warring" parties, assimilation begins. We've seen it in race relations in this country, with European immigrants in the late 19th and early 20th century and most recently, with our gay and lesbian populations. Trans people are next in line and have finally begun to unite. But it has been the young trans radicals who are at the forefront of the fight. No longer content with being shunned by genetic "cis" women as in the case of Michfest, or with being on fringes of the LGBT family, trans women and men are discovering that united, they too can have the power to change things. Right now, there is a brouhaha going on within our own community over drag queen RuPaul's use of the word 'tranny' and she-male. Many of us find those words demeaning and derogatory because in most cases, the context of the sentence is meant to do just that.

Our young people in the arts have begun to demand that movies, television and film begin to cast trans folk in their productions. Jaret Leto's portrayal of a trans woman in Dallas Buyers Club for instance, was the subject of much rancor within the trans community. Many of us felt that this could have been a breakout role for a trans actress, but none were auditioned for the part.

 And so in closing, I believe that the growing number of visible, vocal trans people are questioning and redefining gender all over the world. I believe that in the next three or four generations, acceptance of  the gender continuum will make the current absolute definition archaic. I believe that in time, trans people will have trans role models to look toward and the desire to feel or be 100% female will disappear. Finally, I believe that someday, many will look at the trans community with some degree of envy because we who were blessed with this very natural way of being have the decided advantage of seeing, feeling and actually living with the points of view of both genders. Already, scientists are pointing toward genetic and chemical causes for gender dysphoria, itself a misnomer as it implies being trans as negative. Ask any trans person how they feel after coming out and the answer is more likely to imply euphoria than dysphoria. And who needs radical feminists for validation? I am happy. That is validation enough.