“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?