Does Transitioning Liberate One From Engaging in Activism?

As a trans woman myself, it’s something that I’ve had multiple conversations about with friends in my community. There have been instances whereupon, once a Transgender woman goes through the complete process of facial feminization, breast augmentation, body shaping and genital reconstruction, they manage to seamlessly mesh into mainstream society without a backward glance. It isn’t unusual for those of us, once friends, to witness them acquire a new circle of cishet friends, frequent straight clubs and do the things most of us would, in fact, like to do, but with less resistance.

And good for them. Doesn’t that essentially summarize the general goal of most Trans women? We don’t want to stand apart from the rest, or worse yet, be singled out for discrimination. And dating? Well, that becomes an obstacle course of fear and anxiety that rivals any theme park roller coaster. We never know when it’s safe to open our eyes or when to expect the downward spiral. As soon as we muster enough confidence in our journey with a partner, the bottom can drop out at any minute. The very anticipation of this can be soul-gnawing. No one really wants to have that “disclosure” conversation with someone they’d like to keep. A Trans woman, sadly, has to acknowledge with herself that she may be providing them a reason to abandon her, regardless of the bond they’ve developed. It’s a degree of emotional discord that few can appreciate, much less will they ever experience.

We’d rather not have to discuss our private parts with prospective partners… or doctors, or work-out buddies who wonder why we don’t undress in the locker room, or somersault over those pestering questions as to why we won’t don that fashionable bikini at the beach. If anything, we want to blend, unrestricted, without the obstacles most of us face with obnoxious stares, inflammatory remarks on our appearance or be the unwitting target of hate-motivated violence.

“I just want to be viewed as woman. I am just a woman.” One friend, a well respected businesswoman, told me while we discussed the topic over a casual Facebook chat. “I don’t want to be a spokesperson, a figurehead, an activist, a person referred to as ‘That Trans girl’ by my colleagues, employers or mainstream society. I don’t want to build my brand exclusively on the fact that I’m Trans.”

I asked her if she thought that by doing so, she could help increase Trans visibility, ultimately normalizing Trans women as part of our collective culture instead of a side-culture unto their own.

“I just want to stealth through, go about my life, date, work, marry, buy a house. I should be able to do that. We all should. There will be people who label me as transphobic because I don’t want to carry that banner over my head and invite the struggle. I love my Trans sisters. I’m not turning my back on them. I’m not ashamed of my journey, but I don’t want to be defined by it or conduct myself in a manner that is inherently separatist from everyone else. I worked too hard to get here.” She says.

And she’s right. To a degree, I completely understand where she’s coming from. It would be nice to remove the label “Transgender” from our orbit. The majority of society doesn’t see Trans identifying people as “just like everyobody else.” Unconsciously, in most cases, their focus gravitates toward our surgeries, our genitalia, our sexual proclivities and they find themselves closely examining us from head to toe, looking for any sign, any give-away; The stubble on our face or a pronounced adam’s apple. They listen closely to the tone of our voice, look for hair on our hands… It’s not malicious, but instead almost a passive effort to unravel our mystery and, for their own satisfaction, determine our gender on their own, as if they’ve solved a great puzzle. “Ah ha! There’s the male.”

We’ve all heard it at one time or another- at least I have. “You don’t look like a man.” or “I wouldn’t have guessed until got a closer look.” Some Trans women don’t even have the privilege of ignorant subtleties undermining their gender identity. This leads us to the toxic, demoralizing requisite many Trans women and men feel an urgency to pursue; passability. It’s to avoid judgmental stares and the frequency of being misgendered, often deliberately by the waiter serving them lunch or the clerk at the local convenience store. Despite how they present physically, they find themselves constantly addressed by the wrong pronoun. It knocks the wind from their sails, destroys their confidence and results in them searching for the nearest hole to take refuge in, reeling from the crippling fear and heartbreak that they’ll never fit the gender role they wish to inhabit and will always face resistance or rejection.

I’m going to take this opportunity to extend tremendous respect and admiration for the Trans women and men whose paths have been excessively burdened by male/female dominated features. Sometimes their shoulders are too broad. Sometimes their hair is too thick. Something their jawline is too strong or their voice to deep. In other cases they’re very tall, making clothing hard to find. For the case of Trans men, they have to bind their breasts, and hope that no one challenges their soft features or diminutive build.

I cannot dismiss my privilege in passing- a word I loathe- instead we’ll say navigating binary situations with greater ease. Any one of us fortunate enough to have this privilege should consider ourselves possessing a distinct advantage that some of our sisters and brothers do not have, and it’s hugely inappropriate to turn our backs on them while we enjoy the embrace of social norms. Regardless of how convincingly a woman or man passes from the gaze of the general public, they are still our sisters and brothers. They should not be left behind.

Unquestionably, it is these trans people challenging- shattering- the constructs and stereotypes of what defines a woman or a man. They persist, despite the impedance of others who see the world as black and white or indisputably, what constitutes an authentic man or a woman. They are the real heroes of the gender revolution, but the toll taken on them, both emotionally and psychologically, is amplified by comparison to what we experience. These women and men need our support, and more importantly need to be counted among our ranks, just as important with identities just as valid.

So, I ask, do Trans women who spend countless sums of money to align their bodies with their gender identity leave the rest of us behind. Once they’ve freed themselves from the shackles of an ambiguous gender, shedding their old skin and all the burdens along with it that we bare socially as Trans people, do they dance off into the sunset and forget the rest of us exist now that they’re perceived as “normal?”

Last year I met a fully transitioned Trans woman in a group I belonged to. She was a successful, incredibly intelligent and beautiful individual who was, without a doubt, climbing the ladder in her industry. We developed an acquaintanceship that I thought might turn into a friendship, but it didn’t. While I tried to open a dialogue with her on multiple occasions, her responses were brief and formal- if she bothered answering at all. Given we were the only two Trans people in the group, I was keenly aware that her behavior clearly demonstrated a vested effort in avoiding any public interaction with me while, instead, she carried on extensive conversations with cisgender women, flirted with men, played practical jokes on her cis friends and altogether dismissed my presence, even when I tried to ingratiate myself into the social activities.Was it a matter of “I’m not like her anymore, I’m a real woman.” Maybe she just didn’t like me, which is altogether possible, or perhaps I represented an association that brought down her status as an accepted woman and popular figure in her peer group. A peer group I struggled to develop relationships within because, me being an outspoken, proud Trans woman often left them uncomfortable- especially the male subset. Maybe they were afraid I was some tyrannical activist baiting them into offending me, or waiting to pounce, rip off their clothes, and molest them if they dared express the most remote gesture of kindness. My acquaintance, however, didn’t have to worry about that. In contrast, her traditional male/female interactions were welcomed. They laughed at her jokes, made innocuous innuendo and treated her like- well- men treat women. It could be that by associating with me, it served as an unwelcome reminder to those whose company she enjoyed what she used to be.

She knew that I was a staunch supporter of Trans rights; Of LGBT equality. I count myself a proud, unapologetic feminist. I’m that person that feels division and elitism is damaging. I’m that speaker who feels that someone hoarding rights from the underprivileged, the minorities, the impoverished is an act of abuse. Clearly, I’m opinionated, but whenever possible, I’m open to having those opinions expounded upon and informed by those who know better than I do. I felt like I could have benefited from knowing her, and learning how her life changed once she transitioned from the state of ‘Othered” to a women initiated into the ranks of a traditional gender role. The whole Caterpillar turning into a butterfly routine. Many of us are still caterpillars. It’s natural to wonder what the rest of the world looks like from the sky. How it feels when the wind carries your forward on it’s currents instead of pushes against you.

It goes without saying that my respect for all Trans women and men is unsurpassed. Our journeys are markedly different, most pocked with turmoil and tragedy, self hatred and, at one point or another, resenting our challenges that most others don’t have to overcome in order to simply thrive. I remember being 8 years old, the first time I was told I had to be a boy. I curled up on my bed and wept for days. I cried in school. I cried in church. I hated the image staring back at me in the mirror, with my crew cut that my Father made me get because “Boys keep their hair short.” Simple as it seems, I was not allowed to develop. My evolution, my very growth as an independent entity was disrupted- intercepted. Others had it much worse.

Thus, after so many years of pursuing the goal of inhabiting ones authentic skin, hundreds of thousand of dollars in procedures to ensure easy passage, how does one reach those golden gates of gender inclusion and suddenly forget that there are still so many of us still struggling to fit in, sitting on the sidelines of society, dodging ridicule and dehumanizing legislation that puts a target on our back. How can one turn a blind eye to the very real plight of Trans women of color who are being murdered in record numbers. Just because you can now pee without being interrogated or accused of being a rapist or pedophile, how does one justify their reticence to stand up and defend those who have no such rights. Why the silence?

I’m elated for those Trans women and men who have achieved their dreams of living a life more ordinary than less so. They stand as a testament to the possibilities, and their uncontested inclusion in mainstream society demonstrates that it can be done- it should be done- but not just for them. We shouldn’t have to go bankrupt to fit the mold created for us. Even if we could, why do we bend to man-made rules of what determines gender, and why must we hate ourselves until we can “fix” it for the comfort of others? To sit at the table with the cool kids?

I only wish that once they crossed that threshold where they finally met societies standard of acceptability when it comes to gender conformity that they wouldn’t abandoned their activism just because life is easier. Certainly this isn’t always the case. We have Laverne Cox, Janet Mock, Laith Ashley and other higher profile Trans public figures who stand as an inspiration to the rest of us.

Sometimes fighting for what is right doesn’t mean just campaigning for yourself or your own interests as long as they apply to you. The oppressors haven’t gone away just because you now fall within their goal posts. Sometimes you fight because of the throngs of people who’ve been left behind need to be reminded that they are not alone.

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