Friday, March 27, 2015

"but does tell something in the end"

March 27, 2005, is the day I realized that I was transgender. That was ten years ago. Looking back now, I can't tell if that's a long time or a short time. It's a short amount of time to be living a real life. It's a long period of time to experience the upheaval that comes with living a real life.

I am happier than I've ever been in my life. I've experienced types of happiness that I never knew existed. The unhappiness that I never had a name for has gone away. I've had some losses, but it was worth it. (And I might have lost those things anyway.)

Transgender is such a foreign concept to most people that it's hard for us to understand: trans* people want the same things as everyone else. We want to be happy. We want to be safe. We need to use the bathroom. We want to be reasonably comfortable in our bodies and our lives. We want food, clothing, shelter, and love.

Society makes demands on everyone. It rewards conformity and punishes non-conformity. I don't just mean gender non-conformity. Insofar as we fail to conform to the standard of white, male, able-bodied, gender-normative, hetero-normative (or fail to affirm that those qualities deserve to be valued over all others), we are punished. We punish ourselves.

Even people who say that they believe in "freedom" or "equality," that they're not sexist/racist/whatever, have strange blind spots. And some people take "freedom" to mean that they have a license to be abusive - or that we can't stop other people from being abusive. If we all got to do whatever we wanted to do, would we automatically end up hurting other people? I don't know. I never wanted to believe that. We do end up hurting other people. (But sometimes we hurt them because we believe that's what society wants us to do.)

We all have something that drives us on. Something that means more than anything or anyone else in the world. (Some thing . . . one or two things, maybe.) If we're lucky we get to name that something. If we're lucky we get to pursue that something. If we're lucky, it's not something that will harm ourselves or others. If we're lucky, it's something that no one can take away from us.

Expressing that something in the world is a form of authenticity. And no matter what our status, no matter how privileged we are, society calls on us to renounce authenticity. It requires us to pretend to be either more or less than we really are.

Does authenticity count for anything? That is the question.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Different from the Others

Source: Wikipedia
You might have noticed that I like old movies. I just watched a silent German film from 1919, Anders als die Andern (English title: "Different from the Others.") It stars Conrad Veidt (on whom more later) and the famous Magnus Hirschfeld. Hirschfeld was probably the first person in the West to advocate for LGBT rights. He co-wrote this film and appears as a "sexologist," telling everyone that homosexuality and gender non-conformity are natural and should not be punished.

This film was made during that brief postwar period when people had more important things to worry about than film censorship. It dealt with Paragraph 175, the law which criminalized male homosexuality. Veidt plays a homosexual -- said to be the first openly homosexual character in film -- who's arrested under the law and ends up committing suicide. (Spoiler.)

Even his father says that suicide would be the honorable thing for him to do. Naturally this reminds me of the recent suicide of transgender teen Leelah Alcorn. Here we are a century later.

Well. Conrad Veidt. He's best known for playing the lead Nazi in Casablanca. In fact he was one of the many people who found it expedient to leave Nazi Germany. One of the stories told about him is that when the Nazis required people to provide their ethnic background on job applications, he always wrote Jude even though he was not Jewish. And then there's the "playing gay" thing.

I liked the film though. Just wanted to mention that although Hirschfeld subscribed to the then-popular belief that lesbians and gay men constituted a "third sex" and that they were all, in effect, transgender (being "male people in female bodies" or "female people in male bodies,") the sexologist does point out that in fact not all gay men are effeminate and not all feminine men are gay. It's a distinction that often gets overlooked when discussing the late 19th and early 20th century theories around gender and sexual orientation. 

Friday, November 28, 2014

TDOR 2014: Deaths in Foreign Countries

This past Saturday I went to a Transgender Day of Remembrance event at my church. It was much like the one I wrote about last year. I didn't go to any TDOR event hosted by people of color this year. But I did read the article "Remembering Us When We’re Gone, Ignoring Us While We’re Here," which agrees with my experience of white TDOR events:
Trans Day of Remembrance is filled to the brim with the names of murdered Black and brown trans women, but is a single evening of remembering enough? And what does it mean that TDoR doesn’t explicitly talk about race and is often dominated by white people? . . . We only hear about trans women after their deaths. And even our deaths are not our own. A week doesn’t go by without a white queer citing the deaths of trans women of color as the evidence of how oppressed they are.
Let me reiterate: white people using the deaths of people of color as an example of how much danger they, white people, are in, does not make sense. It is not fair. In fact, it's selfish.

One of the names we read was the name of a black trans woman who lived and died right here in New Orleans. Brenisha Hall. (Ironically, her name was spelled wrong on the list of names that was handed out to us.) As far as I know, none of the people at our event knew her personally. Why didn't we know her?

Also, no one mentioned Leslie Feinberg, who died on November 15. Technically ze was not murdered. But ze still deserves to be remembered. (How often does a famous transgender person die, anyway?)

Maybe I'm being overly judgmental. The other people at this event all seemed very much moved by the ceremony. But I can't put these questions out of my mind: do we, white trans people, have a relationship with trans people of color? What is that relationship? Shouldn't we acknowledge the relationship before they die, as well as afterwards? We claim their deaths as ours. But while they lived, they might as well have been living in a foreign country.