“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.