First off, a warning. This is going to be a heavy, long and probably controversial post. Sorry for that, but sometimes, some things need to be said, ventilated and explored.
Secondly, some context. As part of my New Year’s Eve cogitations, I thought it would be fun if Priscilla’s Services organised a ball for the transgender community. The idea would be to have a glamorous event that as many people as possible could attend. Hopefully it would become a big annual event that would act as an umbrella event for us all.
Now I know many of you may go ‘ho hum, how banal’. But please understand we in South Africa lack the organisations such as Sparkle so we do not have the Sparkle Ball, the Sparkle weekend or any other ‘big’ events such as the Detroit TG Invasion or in fact any major transgender events (our events tend to be small and decidedly ‘local’ meaning it is hard to forge connections and get a sense of a broad community). The closest we get is sometimes being thought of as part of a Pride march, but even these are fragmented and fractured (there are at least three Pride marches all with competing organisers and philosophies taking place at different times in our most populace metropolitan area).
The idea of a ball that could then become a ‘big event’ was therefore quite an exciting idea. I posted on my Facebook page, with a link to Priscilla’s Services and I tagged several of my South African friends who I thought would be interested in the idea to get a sense of what support there would be for the idea. It was at this point that things went pear shaped.
I made the mistake of tagging one of my American ‘friends’ in the post. I am not sure why or how that happened. Maybe it was a case of mistaken identity, maybe it was a slip of the finger (I was tagging a lot of people and mistakes do happen).
Anyway, after publishing the post I got a fair bit of positive feedback from my various friends. Then a random American (who I later ascertained was friends with the person I tagged in error), with whom I am not friends made a sarcastic comment asking if (and I paraphrase) ‘we would be bringing our wives and children to the event’. Some of my friends took exception to her tone and some of the language she used and said as much in the comments. I decided to use this as an opportunity to explain something of what Priscilla’s is about and said that whilst I was not sure how relevant this was, I personally would be bringing my spouse, but not my children and that we were open to all interested people, whether they were transgender, cisgender, male, female or whatever and that all we asked was that people are respectful and accepting of others.
This was followed up by more sarcastic and insulting comments from the person in question. My friends jumped in and started defending our community and questioning why this person was even interested in this and questioning some of her assumptions and positions. It all got quite heated. I stayed out of it. Then yesterday this person started making deeply insulting and hurtful homophobic, transphobic and possibly xenophobic comments on many of my other non-related Facebook posts. She attacked us on our Priscilla’s Facebook page and then made a comment on an anti-rape meme I posted that I believe constitutes hate speech. She said that getting raped was ‘every crossdresser’s dream’. This was a step too far. I messaged her asking her what I had ever done to her and I reported her posts to Facebook (I also tried blocking her but was unsuccessful). I would link to the various threads etc but I have subsequently (and after a great deal of soul searching) deleted them.
Now to the point of my blog (luckily, we are only 670 words in… I did warn you, this will be long) …
Whilst I found all of this rather distressing and even scary I have been wondering a lot about the divisions within the transgender community. This experience as well as the experience of another friend of mine who was blocked on Facebook when she sent a friend request to a self-identified ‘trans activist’ have got me thinking. The words we use are contested and definitions are fluid. We fight with each other over who is really trans and who is not. Some are ‘just crossdressers’ (which immediately invalidates them) and others are ‘fetishists’ (always said with a sneer). We all complain about a lack of acceptance from society, stating that we have a right to use public facilities (for example, public toilets, gym change rooms and fitting rooms in retail stores) as much as anyone else. But we refuse to accept people within our own community. We reject people who do not meet our own definitions we sneer at those who are not ‘trans enough’ and consider the fetishists and the admirers deviants or even perverts.
Now of course not all transgender people are ‘good’; not all admirers are ‘nice’ and some of us are downright nasty. But we should not judge people as classes. When we judge, if we must judge, we should judge individuals on their behaviour, not on who we think they are based on an identity we have given them. To do so is frankly prejudicial and if we object to prejudice from the cisgender, heteronormative society in which we live, how can we condone, let alone practice prejudice within our own community? I therefore believe that we all have a duty to call prejudice when we see it and oppose it when we find it.
I was then wondering why does this prejudice manifest itself? What could explain us behaving in this counter intuitive manner? So I did some navel gazing. It seems clear to me that those people who transition stand to lose (and often do lose) a lot. Careers, families, friends, children, spouses, identity, self-worth, sexuality, sexual pleasure, life savings and even lives (and possibly other ‘assets’ that I cannot comprehend) are all on the line when someone decides to transition. Some people lose more than others. But the transitioning person is prepared to risk all of this because their need to transition is so great, I understand this.
I also understand that when the transitioning or transitioned person looks at the ‘just a crossdresser’ who gets to throw on a dress and some heels and go to a club incognito and ‘be’ a woman for a few hours, possibly using the ladies’ room, a right that many transexual people have had to fight for and a right that is not yet a right for many, a right that is crucial to these people in their daily lives, not just a novelty on that one night a week, month, year (whatever) that the crossdresser goes out. I get that this is frustrating and possibly even insulting.
I get that when the transitioning person sees the crossdresser who can go about their business incognito and then return to daily life with career, family and security intact that they may feel a deep sense of injustice.
I understand that when general society lumps you (with your deep sense of unease with your identity) in the same boat as drag queens, crossdressers and fetishists (who you really identify very little with) that you feel completely misunderstood and even negated as an individual.
I also understand that when your sex drive has diminished to zero, when your ability to derive sexual pleasure is reduced and that when finding a sexual partner is so difficult (because of societal stigmas and prejudice) and you then see a hypersexualised image of a woman dancing on the floor and being ‘chased’ by admirers that you feel resentful, alienated and indeed angry.
I can understand all of this… I also understand that there is probably much more going on and that I cannot understand the enormity of the situation. But I do empathise. I do see that there is a reason for people feeling the way they do. I cannot feel what the transitioning person feels and I do not presume to do so. But I can, I should and I do empathise (or at least try to empathise) with them.
However, (you knew that was coming didn’t you), I do not think that the person who has decided to transition considers what the non-transitioning person sacrifices. There are those of us who, for our own reasons, decide not to transition. We sacrifice our own gender identity because we value those things that we stand to lose above our own gender identity. Maybe we are lucky that our dysphoria is less severe than others. Maybe we are more altruistic, putting family and children ahead of our own self-interest. Maybe we are just cowards afraid of what others may think of us. Maybe we are all of these things (and more).
The point is though that these people do lose as well. They lose the ability to be their true selves 24/7. They lose the ability to let those closest to them see who they truly are. They lose connected-ness and they live in fear of being found out. And these are pretty scary things too. Some of us feel a deep sense of self-loathing, knowing that we are living a lie of our own making. Some of us regret the decisions we took. Some of us regret not having transitioned at a young age. Some of us do not know what we feel but we know we feel something… and it is ‘wrong’.
So, these people are sacrificing something. Whether it is a greater or lesser sacrifice I cannot say. Every person’s sense of sacrifice is unique to that person. Every person’s experiences, motivations and inner mind is knowable only (if at all) to the individual concerned. Furthermore, sacrifices are sacrifices and are all valid. I see no value in playing the ‘mine is bigger than yours’ game. Children do this all the time on the playground, adults should move on.
I am sure the fetishist, the ‘just a crossdresser’, admirers et al also have their unique issues and circumstances. Admirers probably risk much by just ‘perving’ photos on the internet. I do not know. I do not judge.
I do wonder why this happens. I suspect it has something to do with the base emotions that all human beings feel. It is about jealousy and envy, fear and loathing, love and hate.
I wonder whether some people who have transitioned and lost so much look back and wonder was it all worth it? If they do then instead of taking their anger out on their follow birth gender non-conforming people, they should rather direct their anger at a society that has cost them so much.
Do some transitioned people who get misgendered by family and friends (completely understandable given that they have ‘known’ the person by the other gender for far longer than the correct gender and given that people are essentially creatures of habit) think that it was all for nothing if those closest to them still see the wrong gender?
Do transitioned people who simply cannot ‘pass’ in society as their correct gender, look at those part timers who, by sheer luck of their genes, manage to ‘pass’ (even if only momentarily) and feel a deep sense of resentment?
Do non-transitioned people look at our transitioned siblings and feel jealous of their freedom to be their true selves?
Do those who have not had bottom surgery envy those who have?
Do those male to females on hormones, but who have been unable to grow breasts envy those who have or those who have had implants?
Do female to male people envy those people with penises (controversial, I know)?
Do those who have lost families and romantic partners look at those with romantic partners and/or children and regret their decisions and feel envy for those things?
Do people transitioning look at what others have lost and fear losing it all?
Do those not transitioning look at what they stand to lose should they be discovered and fear losing it all?
If any of this happens (and I am fairly sure some of it at least does happen on some level to some people) does the lack of love, the fear, the jealousy and the envy lead to loathing and hatred? In some cases, I am sure it does. Does this explain (at least in part) the anger and divisions within our community? I think (in part) it may. Instead of directing anger at our compatriots we should work together to find ways of changing the society that we live in. A united community can achieve much more than a fragmented one.
This will mean we will need to adopt a united position on who and what we as a community are, what we stand for and what we want to achieve. This will mean abandoning some of our individual identities and beliefs. It will not however negate us as individuals. It is important to understand the difference between necessary and sufficient conditions. It is not necessary for me to be identical to all other human beings to be considered a human being. It is sufficient that I meet the minimum standards to be one. My being human does not negate or invalidate those factors that make me different to other humans it just means that I am part of a broader community. This is a good thing! We need to do this to give society an easily understood base line position. As long as we are insistent on trying to differentiate transexual, transgender, intersex, gender fluid, non-binary, crossdressing fetishist and who knows what other people when speaking to cisgender people who have no understanding or experience of who we are, we will simply confuse people. Yes, we will lose some of the shades of grey and whilst acknowledging that things are not black and white we do need to give people something to hook on to. Then we can tell them what we want and why it is important to us and why they need to accept us, our rights and our needs.
If we extend love and trust to those around us, those in our birth gender non-conforming community, we will see that we are all far more alike than we think. Ultimately, we all have the same emotions, the same fears and similar aspirations. We all need to be loved and to love. we all fear rejection and the loss of affection and community. We are all looking for these things. But seemingly many of us are not prepared to give to those most like us. Perhaps we should start with each other. Let us embrace member of our own community (including our cisgender allies and friends) first. Let us show the world how much we can love and who knows where that will lead.
As long as we spend more time fighting amongst ourselves, debating who is really something as opposed to who is not that something, the less likely we are to achieve acceptance and further our position in society. The point is we should try to understand the rest of our own community far better than we currently do. We need to get out of our camps, we need to abandon our entrenched positions and engage with one another whilst fighting our real enemies of prejudice, discrimination and ignorance. To do this we need to decide what ignorance to combat, what knowledge to convey and crucially we need to stop being prejudiced to one another. Our prejudice of our siblings simply validates the prejudice we experience from segments in society. Let’s stop doing that!