It Gets Better…doesn’t it?

“To be, or not to be: that is the question.  Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to face the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,   and by opposing, end them.  To die, to sleep; to sleep, perchance to dream?  Ay, there’s the rub.   And in that sleep of death what dreams may come?” — HAMLET, Wm. Shakespeare.

When I began writing this blog, my intention was that I would post a new essay every Wednesday.  Now that not just one but two Wednesday deadlines have come and gone without a new posting, it would appear that I am afflicted with some infirmity of body if not mind.  I suppose that writer’s block is a combination of both categories of ailments:  the neurons in my cerebral cortex are, inexplicably, inhibited.  Consequently, impulses along the nerve tracts from my brain to my fingertips fail to transfer thought into words.  In other words, in recent weeks I have been struggling with the blues.

Mine are not the Delta blues of Bessie Smith or the Chicago blues of Buddy Guy, but rather a despondency of spirit.  I grieve for the perilous state of the planet’s biosphere.  Correspondingly, I grieve as well for the forthcoming triumph of the Corporatist Right in the upcoming election, the consequence of which will be further inaction on global warming.  As I grieve regarding this political situation, so too do I grieve for the interrelated social environment which drives young people to commit suicide.

Several days ago, I received a message on my Facebook account from a young trans woman.  In wake of the well-publicized suicides of young people who had felt persecuted by homophobic harassment, she brought to my attention the suicide of a trans woman.  No, I do not know the victim.  I can only speculate upon the reasons and circumstances that led her to terminate her own life.

The tragic consequences of the bullying of gay young people has resulted in a public outcry against their persecution, as well it should.  I commend President Obama for lending his time to the “It Gets Better” video project.  Even so, what I suspect will be overlooked (and forgotten, once the gay teen suicide story completes its spin in the news cycle) is the misogyny that motivates the schoolyard (and college dorm) bullies.  In their minds, “fag” equals femme.  This is a message that one finds reinforced in sports culture, hip-hop, fundamentalist religion, and politics:  in Minnesota, the Tea Party’s candidate for governor opposes anti-bullying programs in public schools on the pretext that this “promotes the chosen lifestyle of the homosexual”.

As I wrote in my previous posting, attacks against the civil rights and human dignity of gays and lesbians are just as easily applicable against trans people.  And while I do not know why the trans woman mentioned above took her life, it is easy to speculate why she did so.  There are particular sorrows which trans women experience.  Many of us fear being unable to transition, or, if doing so, being unable to bear the social ostracization, violence, and discrimination to which we are vulnerable.  The specter of being rejected by our families of origin, however much such families may have hurt us as children, is also perhaps too much for some of us to bear.

I am reminded of attending a gathering of trans people on the University of Minnesota campus in December 1996.  As usual, I found it difficult to sustain conversations with other trans women.  I would initiate a conversation with someone, only to be met with an quasi-autistic reaction of fear, as if in attempting to converse with them that I was threatening their safety.  At the gathering, I met an undergraduate from the university.  The student was just beginning to explore the possibility of transitioning.  However — perhaps in observing the self-imposed social isolation among the other trans women in attendance — she seemed tentative:  perhaps, she observed and worried, would the price of transitioning include having to become socially isolated in a subculture of other social isolates?

The following month, this student jumped off a bridge on campus into the Mississippi River.

As there are burdens that are particular to trans women, so must we organize to help build our community, if for no other reason than so that people do not have to come out and transition in isolation.  In spite of the Internet, our isolation remains.  And though information available through cyberspace has helped to circumvent the old university-based gender-identity clinic system that served to limit who and how one could transition, sex-reassignment surgery remains difficult to acquire.  If homophobia is now unacceptable in civilized society (however much it retains it appeal on the uncivilized political and cultural Right), transphobia, and trans-misogyny in particular, persists as acceptable forms of contempt.

So, does It Get Better?  Not unless we act to help other trans people and create a positive community for ourselves.  We cannot afford to be isolated from each other.  Silence will not protect us.

We have a choice:  in the words of W.H. Auden, “We must love one another, or die.”

*     *     *

On a perhaps lighter — if no less ludicrous — note, I read in the Oct. 10, 2010 New York Times that the right-wing hate peddler Ann Coulter is endeavoring a career makeover to become, in Coulter’s words, “the Judy Garland of the Right.” Recurrently in desperate need of attention, and perhaps having become upstaged in recent months by the (corporate-sponsored) Tea Party phenomenon, the article details Coulter’s speaking appearance before a Manhattan gathering of politically conservative (and wealthy) gay men.  Once vitriolically contemptuous of gays, Coulter is seeking a niche in the Right wing’s punditocracy as an advocate of (some) gay rights.

There has long been derisive speculation as to whether a hidden diagnosis of Androgen-Insensitivity Syndrome or Klinefelter’s Syndrome explains Coulter’s appearance (Coulter’s deep voice and prominent trachea being accentuated all the more — not less — by the black mini-dresses in which Coulter is always attired.).  Alas, Coulter’s errors lie not in chromosomes but in words:  Coulter has advocated the suppression of free speech of those of us on the political left, including our incarceration and execution on the purported basis of our “treason”.  As seen on television, Coulter repeatedly interrupts and slanders anyone with an opposing opinion.

Thus, I read the news of the reinvention of Coulter’s career with wry amusement:  with friends — let alone fiends — like these, who needs enemies?

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“A Republic…if you can keep it.”

If I am not for myself, who will be?  But if I am only for myself, who am I?  And if not now, when?  And if not me, who?” — Hillel the Elder.

Every week in my short — and decidedly obscure — career as a blogger, I attempt to make sense in roughly a thousand words or so.  Since I have no way of knowing who, if anyone, reads my weekly offering of prose, I cannot be certain what reaction, if any, I am provoking.  Is anyone’s mind being nourished by the food for thought I offer?  The blog entries I write are as messages placed inside of bottles that are cast upon the tides of cyberspace.

When I began my career as a blogger (the pay is lousy, but the hours are flexible) I did so to apply the means of communication in the hopes of helping to build a trans women’s community.  There are particular issues, experiences, and obstacles that are unique to the Transgender community and, more specifically, to trans women.  Ours is a decidedly minute segment of the population.    And yet the issues which affect the quality of our lives are invariably interconnected with the political, social, and economic circumstances which impact the other 99.9% of the population.  The personal is the political, and the sphere of our private lives is invariably affected by what happens in the public sphere.

When you change sex, you automatically become involved in politics.

It is my hope that anyone reading this blog who is eligible to do so is registered to vote on Tuesday, November 2, 2010.  For those of you who are legally eligible to vote but have not yet registered, I urge you to do so as soon as possible.  Although casting ballots is by no means the only political action which an individual can (or should) undertake, it is a moral and ethical imperative that we vote in the 2010 election.  The future of our nation — and the prospects of achieving a more just and humane society — are at stake.

America’s vicious and indefatigable Right wing — flush with abundant corporate campaign financing and dominating the nation’s airwaves — is determined to regain power in the Congress and in state capitals across the U.S.  The Right’s agenda — of perpetual militarism, corporate dominance of the economy, disregard for the natural environment, and reversals of gains in health care reform and civil rights — will have dire consequences for our nation as well as for our planet should the Right triumph at the polls.  If the Corporatist Right is organized and planning to get out the vote, those of us on the Democratic Left have a moral obligation to counter them in turn.

Indeed, given the influence of corporate power, the very future of our nation’s status as a democracy with representative government is in doubt.  Nearing the end of his life, Benjamin Franklin offered this caveat at the conclusion of the Constitutional Convention:  “You will have a republic…if you can keep it.”  We can keep our republic, but only if we participate in the activities that will keep that republic sustainable.  To do so, we must inform ourselves of the political issues facing our society.

When I consider this election, I think in particular of three issues which effect the quality of our lives:  the economy, health care, the environment, and human rights.

Regarding the latter, as trans people it is crucial to our very survival that we should have recourse to laws which serve to protect us from criminal violence as well as discrimination in employment, education, housing, and other public accommodations.  Consequently, it is vitally important that we elect public officials who will advocate for our civil rights.

However, statutes which prohibit employment discrimination are of little relevance if there is no employment available.  It is hardly a secret that trans persons tend to live in poverty, and our economic straits are made all the more dire when unemployment is as high as it is at present.  Thus, where possible we must vote for candidates who will seek to mitigate the deleterious effects of corporate capitalism.

The health care reform legislation signed into law by President Obama is a proverbial “foot-in-the-door” for the future prospect of establishing universal health insurance coverage for all American citizens, but at present the legislation is far less than what is needed to counter the health care crisis that afflicts American society.  Even with this legislation (most of its mandates do not become effective until 2014), millions of Americans remain either uninsured if not under-insured and mal-insured.

Access to quality health care is a crucial issue for that determines the well-being of trans people’s lives, and we must continue to work for a society where health care is a right and not merely an economic privilege.  As a Minnesota resident, I will be casting my ballot for gubernatorial and state legislative candidates who have avowed their commitment to establishing a state-wide “public-option” health insurance coverage that would insure all Minnesota residents.

As for myself, I am to the democratic left of the Democratic Party.  Though I supported, and voted for, Barack Obama for the presidency two years ago, I have grown dismayed at his conspicuous lack of leadership regarding the peril caused by global warming.  Indeed, global warming and the result catastrophe of climate change is not a mere hypothetical possibility for the distant future, but, rather, it is an inconvenient truth — and menace — of our present.  Our lives as trans people are difficult enough given our condition — how far more unbearable shall our lives become on a planet that is too hot for humans to survive?

Finally, we must vote to counter the resurgent Right wing.  As always, much of the impetus informing the American Right is motivated by status anxiety:  their resentment of the traditionally disadvantaged and the fear that in gaining recourse to legal protections as well as social and economic opportunities that this will deprive the erstwhile advantaged groups of their supposed privileges.  Hence, the notion that legal recognition of same-sex marriages will somehow undermine and devalue opposite-sex marriage.   Indeed, politics that is motivated by homophobia can — and will —  just as easily be used to target trans people.

Thus, we must organize for political action, and express our wishes and grievances.  When necessary, we must demonstrate and protest.  And we must also endeavor within our daily, private lives to change attitudes from fear, bigotry and violence to understanding, tolerance and civility.

We must also vote.

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“Hopeth all hopes, endureth all pains…”

Many years ago, when I fancied myself to be a teenage intellectual (the adjective, at least, can be verified in fact:  I was indeed 15 years of age), one idle afternoon I poured over the latest issue of that journal of the highbrow intelligentsia, Newsweek magazine.  There, in the waning days of the maligned 1970’s, the issue featured short essays by various writers in which they anticipated the perils and promise of the coming decade of the 1980’s, the decade in which I would, at last, be recognized as an adult (or, failing that, at least be old enough to have a driver’s license).

One essay in particular caught my attention.  “Can Love be Reinvented?“, asked Octavio Paz.  The question struck me as odd if not contrary to the obvious:  after all, the fact that Mary Margaret Gillogly, the smart and pretty new girl at my high school, informed me of her plans to enter a convent did not particularly mitigate the (decidedly unrequited) crush that I had on her.

Love, Paz wrote, is “attraction for a soul.”  He lamented that in the present zeitgeist, “love is becoming an abstraction”, conspicuous in its absence from the sexual revolution that was permeating Western culture, circa 1979.  The concept of the soul had become subordinated to sex, which was in turn subordinate to politics.  If love cannot be reimagined, and hence revived as central to the human experience, “life is going to be a desert.”

I have been reminded of Paz’s essay in recent months as I have sought for the signs of the existence of a trans women’s community.  In my searches on the Internet and my sojourn to Camp Trans, I have encountered a publication with the unambiguous title of (expletive deleted) Trans Women. The expletive alluded to begins with the letter “F” and rhymes with the verb, “ducking”.

That the word in question is employed as a verb rather than as a pejorative does little to mitigate the phallocentric context in which it is applied.  On the zine’s cover, one finds an anime-style image of pig-tailed vixen clad in a miniskirt (the front of which intimates the underlying presence of a bulge) and thigh-high leather boots while brandishing a whip.  The message is succinct (if also, like the image on the cover, banal) :  trans women are sexual — and sexualized — objects.  In the absence of love — and social justice —  we have recourse to sex, or at least to being presented as having the agency to participate in the degradation of our body, and, therefore, soul.

Ultimately, neither the title of the ‘zine nor its contents is of significant note.  Pornography is, of necessity, an inadequate substitute for sex.  And absent of love, what meaning can mere sexual behavior possibly have?  Indeed, absent of the transcendence of love, what meaning is there to life, this vail of tears that Lord MacBeth laments as “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”?

I will show you a still more excellent way“, reads the sentence that immediately precedes a poem from which the title of today’s posting is derived.  “Love is patient, love is kind,” a verse reads in part.  “Love rejoiceth not in falsehood, but, rather rejoiceth in the truth; bearing all burdens, believeth all truths, hopeth all hopes, endureth all pains, Love faileth never.”

The siloquoy is included in the “Letters” section of a controversial bestseller.  Though I am most familiar with the Elizabethan cadence into which it was rendered in the translation commissioned by James VI of Scotland, the poem may have been written in Greek as late as the mid-1st Century of the Common Era.  Exactly who composed such words is lost to history.

There are many kinds, and gifts, of love, but the one same Spirit from which love emanates.  Perhaps one might regard love as a latent energy that remains inert until that latency is converted into expression.  Or so, on this 29th day of September, I am reminded — and haunted — once again.

Thirty-five years ago this morning, September 29, 1975, I noticed that I had slept late and that, as such, I was late for school.  Clad in my t-shirt, jeans, and sneakers, I hastened from my bedroom to the kitchen to retrieve my lunch sack and run down the street to the school.

On this Monday morning, I noticed that my older sisters were also not in school.  Indeed, my father had not gone into work that morning.  Both of my grandmothers were inside of our house, one of whom said that my father wanted to speak with me.  “You won’t be going to school for a few days,” she was obliged to inform me.

A few minutes later, my father explained to me that during the night at the hospital, his wife, my sisters’s mother, had concluded her six-year ordeal with lymphatic cancer.  She was 46 years old, which is also my current age.

Three-and-a-half decades later, my intention in stating such facts is not to elicit sympathy:  everyone’s mother dies.  Even so, my memory of that day is forever shrouded in guilt.  “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I reasoned as a child“, reads a line from that ancient poem.  As such, I did not comprehend that, six months previous, her oncologist had informed her that she had only a few months left to live.  Thus, I didn’t get to say goodbye, or tell her one last time that I loved her.

Love faileth never, the anonymous poet wrote.  And yet, love also has to be reinvented, and renewed, demonstrated and expressed anew again.

A few Autumns later, Mike Royko penned an open letter to the readers of his Chicago Sun-Times column.  His wife had recently — and suddenly — died in her mid-40’s.  He wrote that he would be taking a leave of absence from writing the column which his newspaper had published six days a week.  I find it fitting then, to finish with the words of wisdom with which he concluded his brief October 5, 1979 posting:

“In the meantime, do her and me a favor.  If there’s someone you love but haven’t said so in a while, say it now.

“Always, always say it now.”

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The Trouble with ‘Women’s’ Clothing

If my memory is correct, there is a passage towards the end of Joanna Meyerowitz’s How Sex was Changed:  Transsexuality in America in which a trans woman states that “What all transsexuals have in common is our love of ‘Star Trek’.”

We do?  I concede that part of the enduring appeal of that television and movie series — and cultural phenomenom — is the wealth of ideas which are drawn upon in each episode.  Star Trek’s devotees are legion, and I can appreciate how the show appeals to their intellect and imagination.

Even so, as I confessed to my good friend (and devout Trekkie) Shannon Egan, any personal appeal to the series — in any of its various series’ — eludes me.  “Too bad for you,” she replied.  “You don’t know what you’re missing.  Have you sought out psychiatric treatment for your lack of interest?”

I answered that my insurance policy doesn’t cover such disabilities, and, besides, I am well aware of the source of my aversion to Star Trek: the mere sight of the costumes worn by the crew of the USS Enterprise makes my skin break out in a rash.

“But dontcha see,” my friend laughs, “the dorky polyester uniforms that the cast wears — in the first two series, especially — are part of its camp value.  They’re probably meant to be a joke.”

Maybe so, I reply, but at least Kirk and Spock get to wear pants.  What alienates me from following the show are the skimpy dresses and the knee high boots worn by the actresses on the crew of the show’s Original Series.

“Oh, c’mon now!  No one expects us to dress up like the female cast,” she laughs.

Really?  I’m not so sure, I reply to my friend.

Shannon is not only a friend, but a sister, “a member of the tribe”.  If the media is to be believed, she and I and all trans women always comport ourselves in outlandish and skimpy clothing, at once highly provocative yet ludicrously (if not dangerously) impractical.  In mini-skirts, heels, and high-maintenance hairstyles, the subtext to this media narrative is that such attire is a contemptible, if also pathetic, attempt to accentuate an femininity which, of necessity, shall forever elude those individuals who choose to live as women.  The more femme we appear, the more vulnerable we are to violence once that femininity comes into question.  Moreover, this meta-narrative implies, this is our just reward for perpetrating the crime of gender deception.

For most of my adult life, I have resided in Minneapolis.  Although the Twin Cities are no less vulnerable to the plague of the untreated global warming that is wreaking havoc on our planet’s atmosphere, Minnesota’s climate tends to be cooler than that experienced in locales to the south.  Tomorrow is the Autumnal equinox, and during the past two weeks I have slowly relinquished my summer ‘uniform’ of shorts and short-sleeved polo shirts for a ‘uniform’ of long sleeves that cover arms and shins which otherwise went bare during the previous four months.  Several weeks from now, it will be necessary for me to clad myself in thicker layers of clothing in order to contend with the sub-arctic chill.

My various seasonal uniforms do not include dresses, or skirts, let alone the attire frequently adorning the female panelists on the Jerry Springer Show.  I have no occasion to wear such articles, and in the blue-collar job where I work, they would make for impractical clothing.

Likewise, at 5’7″ I am tall enough to eschew the need to clad my feet in heels.  Indeed, I wouldn’t wear such shoes if I was paid to do so; the same applies to nylon stockings, the feel and sight of which repels me.  My gray hair looks much better shorter than longer, and thus my tonsorial ‘overhead’ is minimal.  If I am no one’s exemplar of feminine beauty and grace, I contend that there is a practical utility to my personal appearance.

Given my wardrobe choices (as well as my afore-mentioned benign indifference to Star Trek), perhaps my credentials as a trans woman are subject to debate if not revocation.  Even so, I bitterly resent the implication and expectation that, as a woman-by-choice, I am either inclined or obliged to doll myself as a patriarchal construct.  The right for women to wear practical clothing was a feminist issue in the 19th and 20th centuries, and as this effects our personal autonomy, it remains cause for concern.  The women in my life do not comport themselves as Hollywood divas or supermodels, let alone as drag queens.  We need not make an effort to dress up like women; rather, it suffices that we simply experience our lives as women.

I do not expect other women (trans, and otherwise) to look and dress as I do.  Even so, the personal is the political, and so is the clothing that we wear, either by choice or compulsion.  Clothing that restricts the movement of women or which serves as a symbol of our subservient status ultimately imposes on the exercise of our personal freedom as well the assertion of our human dignity.

To be a self-respecting woman is, by implication, to be a feminist.  As trans women, we have a moral and intellectual obligation to develop our feminist consciousness with which to make personal choices that will affirm our dignity.   We need to make choices in our lifestyle — and styles of living and dress— which reflect how we value ourselves as human beings.  Consequently, we need to be alert to patriarchally-defined concepts of femininity that, rather than enhancing female beauty, serve as symbols of our subserviant status in the human race.

In conclusion, it doesn’t take a lot of money to comport oneself with dignity.  Indeed, it is often less expensive than investing time and money into someone else’s oppressive idea of how women should dress and appear.

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Good Boys, Good Guys

We few, we happy few, we band of brothers” — Shakespeare, Henry V

Perhaps because it is a time of transition, the month of September seems to evoke certain childhood memories in my consciousness.  Although the warmth of the summer may remain, the presence and the spirit of the season slowly cedes to the passage of time.  For many of us, September is as much the commencement of a new year as the first day of January.

As a child, the beginning of a new elementary school year in late summer signified the start of another year’s journey through my particular — and peculiar — childhood.  Within the first couple of weeks of school, the inevitable question would arise.  My parents — or sometimes my oldest sister — would ask me if I was “making any (new) friends in school this year?”

Just as inevitably, I would obfuscate my answer.  “They’re all just the same kids from last year”, I would shrug.

“Well, are you going to be friends with any of them?”

“I don’t know”, I would mumble.

“What do you mean you ‘don’t know’?”, I would be interrogated further.  “Don’t you play with anyone at recess?”

“Sometimes”, I would look downcast in shame, “I guess.”  There was some truth to my answer:  sometimes girls would be engaged in some gender-neutral activity in which my participation would not be considered too deviant from either gender code as to cause a scandal.

Still, my answers would be invariably unsatisfactory to the inquirers:  another school year had begun, and I was still not going to finally become, in my father’s angry lament, “normal like other boys, damnit!”  Though I conceded that I was identifiable as male, I could never figure out how I was supposed to be a boy.  Indeed, I was rather scared of boys.  There were no brothers in the household where I resided, and I regarded my father with fear and distrust.  From my observations, boys preoccupied themselves with all manner of rambunctious behavior that merited the disapproval of my mother.  And what my mother disapproved of, her jealously loyal husband brutally enforced as a display of fealty to her.

Moreover, other boys that I would have ostensibly played with or befriended seemed to instinctively deduce that, appearances to the contrary, I was not a member of their “tribe.”  I was slow if not oblivious in picking up on the social cues of boys.  In lieu of their companionship, I kept to myself, or played with dogs.  When I grew up, I consoled myself, opportunities would present themselves which would finally allow me to “fit in” to society.

In middle age, I write such words not in bitterness but, rather, as mere statement of fact.  Growing up is never easy for anyone, of any gender.  As I told another trans person recently, I suspect that many of us spend our adult lives compensating for the childhoods and adolesence which we were not quite able to experience when we were younger.  Perhaps, I told him, this accounts for a certain kind of playful boyishness that I observe in a lot of trans men.

In many ways, trans men remind me of the kind of boys whom I would have liked to have had as friends when I was a child.  Many of the trans men whom I have met possess a sense of fun and mischief that I find appealing.  They seem to exude an adventurousness and daring, and as a trans woman I observe in groups of trans men a distinct comraderie, an esprit de corps, that I find wanting among trans women.

Simultaneously, many of these same men also possess a sensitivity regarding the restrictions that are placed on women.  Trans men have experienced sexism in its many oppressive guises, and some of them, like Brandon Teena, have lost their lives to it. That much transphobic violence and contempt is directed at trans women for choosing to live as women in a misogynist culture does not diminish the particular oppression which trans men have endured:  in being rendered invisible, so too have trans men been silenced and marginalized.

Writing sweeping generalizations of groups of people can make for inaccuracy and stereotyping.  As in any group, there are bullies, sourpusses, and killjoys in all subcategories of the human race.  There are doubtlessly some trans men who are as paralyzed by shyness and introversion as any trans woman, and just as emotionally fragile.  Still, at risk of perpetrating a blanket judgment on a set of people, I observe evidence of a certain psychological resilience among trans men that, I conclude, serves to fortify their character.

And at the heart of character is, well, the heart itself.  I recently had the good fortune of meeting a beautiful young couple in a northern forest.  What I found beautiful was the depth of their love for each other, and the spirit of their love seemed as if to form a glowing light around them.  And it was from their love, I sensed, that they extended their friendship to me, an ertswhile stranger who had come to the forest rather unprepared for the elements.

Incidentallly, one member of this couple is a trans man; that he is trans is, in one context, a mere incident of fact.  Yet, in other ways, my new friend seems to be an example of what I have found in many of the trans men who I have met.  It is as if these men constitute an underground river whose current runs counter to the aethos of manhood that predominates in patriarchical society.  If my friend is any example of this underground current, then his is a masculinity that expresses itself in love.  And it is in love that the world can be healed and renewed.

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I went to the Woods: Camp Trans 2010

I went to the woods because I wanted to live deliberately.  I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to put to rout all that was not life and not, when I had come to die, discover that I had not lived.” — Henry Thoreau, Walden.

I, too, went to the woods.

After many years of considering such a visit, I finally made a pilgrimage to Camp Trans this August.  At last, I decided, the time had come for me to venture into the northern Michigan forest for this unique gathering.  After all, I am aging, and like Thoreau I am also confronted by the possibility that when my mortal journey concludes, I shall come to the end without having lived.

In contrast to Thoreau, who sought solitude in the forest, I traveled into the wilderness to find community.  Indeed, I discovered the presence of a counter-culture which appears to be especially resistant to assimilation into the mainstream of American culture.  Living and working in a city, I had forgotten the experience of spending time in the countryside, let alone in a forest.  At night, away from the city lights, the stars were as radiant as they were innumerable .  Above the clearing in the forest where we had gathered, the Milky Way provided a canopy to the evening’s concerts.  Most heartening of all, I encountered young trans people who have pride in themselves and (unlike a quarter-century ago when I was young and coming out in isolation) who have a community of companions for their journey.   I am fortunate to have found new friends amongst this young tribe.

Even so, my search for community has only just begun.  As some of you may be aware, this year’s gathering at Camp Trans was marred by discord.  At issue was an incident with a tow truck driver who had threatened violence against several Camp Trans attendees who were participating in a protest vigil at the gates of the adjacent Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival (Full disclosure: you couldn’t pay me Rush Limbaugh’s annual salary as a professional liar to step foot on such sacred ground).  In wake of the confrontation with the driver (who was working on behalf of MichFest), there was fierce disagreement within Camp Trans on how best to respond to the incident.  The articulation of some trans women that Camp Trans has abandoned its original mission of campaigning for the inclusion of trans women at MichFest seemed only to further the rancor at the camp.  As I write this, there remains uncertainty as to whether Camp Trans will reconvene in 2011, and if so, to what extent trans women will be involved.

Despite the controversy, I consider my sojourn to Camp Trans well worth my time.  I had come to pay overdue homage to the location where, one night in August 1991, a trans-misogynist expulsion from the MichFest grounds of a trans woman Festival attendee resulted in the birth of a new resistance to transphobia.  Since that time, Camp Trans has served as a site of resistance, a legacy of our community’s very own Stonewall Uprising.  In the nearly two decades since my sex-reassignment surgery, I consider my visit one of the most profound and positive experiences of my life as a trans woman.  I had never been around so many other trans folk at one time, and for once we were the majority of the (temporary) population.   As one who is apparently able to pass through straight society relatively undetected as a trans woman, I felt a unique permission to proclaim the truth of my identity to others.  My experience at Camp Trans has revived a long-dormant interest in the trans community and our issues.

Sometime in the mid-1990’s, I drifted away from the trans community in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area where I reside.  The greater my exposure to this new, Transgender, movement, the more alienated I became.  I was, at best, indifferent to the emphasis on drag queen culture.  The new Transgender movement of this time seemed to be dominated by the issues and interests of those who used to be known as transvestites, and as such a model of femininity was being promoted that I found absent from, and irrelevant to, my life and the lives of women I know.  Very few women live and dress as Hollywood starlets and supermodels.  The post-modern tomes of gender theory impressed me mainly for their garbled prose (and ideas).  In this new Transgender movement, I found a de-emphasis on the necessity of sex-reassignment surgery as well as a marginalization of those who seek or who have undergone such medical intervention.  In this new category of Transgender, I concluded that Transsexual identity was being silenced if not conceptualized out of existence.

Disillusioned, I drifted away from the movement.  A decade-and-a- half later, I feel a need to do my part to help create community.  Specifically, I want to help build a community of politically-conscious trans women who reject false concepts of femininity.  I want to help sustain a trans-feminist community that understands the necessity of controlling the destiny of our lives and bodies.  Finally, I want to help create social space where trans women can meet and talk, where we can exchange ideas and information and, perhaps by doing so, build the community that we need.  We need to talk to each other.

All this is easier said than done.  At present, I wander through the forest with few directions.  Even so, I must do my part.  In closing, I am reminded of the words of Audre Lorde:  “Your silence will not protect you…there is no liberation without community.”  To which I add, or without communication. Communication helps build community:  it is my hope that this first entry to this blog will help to generate a conversation.

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