Trans Actions

Finding Balance as a Transgender Warrior-Bodhisattva
Apparently, Trans Actions turned 3 today! Perhaps one day, I’ll post something on it again! :)

Apparently, Trans Actions turned 3 today! Perhaps one day, I’ll post something on it again! :)

Why We Need Exit Strategies for Inappropriate Conversations

Today, I had a second interview for a job that draws on my theater experience.  This is a subject that is impossible to adequately discuss without mentioning that I coordinated a successful variety show on Bourbon Street for two years, and, with any in-depth discussion, that this involved me doing drag.  Going further in-depth, we of course cover that I was a drag king, not a queen, and what that means.  Long story short, this conversation took place in interview #1, which was via phone, and before I even met my potential employer, she knew that I’m trans.  

In today’s interview, we spent more time talking about my gender than we did about my credentials.  And the messed up part is that I engaged.  I had no exit or redirection strategy. Here’s just a small sampling of the questions and comments my potential employer brought up: 

  • "Well, you definitely can’t tell.  I mean, no offense, but I wasn’t sure what I was going to get when you showed up!"  
  • "It doesn’t matter to me - like I said, I have a friend who went the other way.  But we get some conservative clients, and I can’t very well have someone ambiguous representing the company." 
  • "I have lots of gay friends." 
  • "Is your family cool with it?" 
  • "So, who do you date?" 
  • "You have a fiancee? How?" 
  • "Is your fiancee a complete, regular girl?" (I asked to elaborate.) "You know, born that way and all?"
  • "So when did you go through the change?"
  • "When did you first know you were, you know, different?"
  • "I’d have been pissed if you didn’t tell me and I found out later - not that I could tell." (after I reiterated that this is not a topic I normally breach with potential employers)
  • "I just like to know about my people and get to know who I’m hiring." (in response to a query as to what all this had to do with the job.")
  • "I have a friend who’s just obsessed with this stuff, so I have to ask whenever I have the chance - transitioning, gay sex, whatever.” (Me: “Well, the internet is a wealth of information…”) 

I am on the fence about whether to proceed with the interview process.  After all, as inappropriate as this was, I can’t hold ignorance against someone before I have a chance to see if they’re educable.  I’ll sit on it, sleep on it, discuss it with some trusted allies, and get back to you.  
Until then, I have an assignment for myself and any readers: 
What is your exit strategy when a gender identity discussion turns inappropriate?  How do you educate without alienating? 
Thanks for reading.  

FYI: Why This Blog is on Hiatus

Hi everyone! 

I’m pleased to report that I’ve gotten settled in Paris after my move here Nov. 9.  I wanted to check in and let you know that TransActions is on an indefinite hiatus for two reasons: 

  1. I am focusing on my primary blog/business, Executive Dysfunctions. 
  2. I am in an observer phase of being trans in France, being that I am a foreigner who doesn’t speak the language well.  When I have things to report, I will.

In the meantime, I encourage you to share and comment here with your own experiences and insights on the ins and outs of trans activism in daily life!

Namaste, 

Steven

A Letter to HRC About the Little Things in Inclusivity

I sent this to HRC a few minutes ago.  If you agree with my stance or have something to add, send your own feedback at http://www.hrc.org/6260.htm. The form is at the bottom of the page. 

To Whom It May Concern: 

Today I signed HRC’s petition asking Oklahoma politicians to denounce Sen. Kern’s comments.  I was disappointed - angered, really - to find that leaving the “title” field blank was not an option, a discrepancy that would have caused me to leave the page altogether at a time in my life when I didn’t know how to choose my battles.  

Fortunately, for HRC’s campaign and for my own sanity, I’ve passed the point where I will retract my support from one worthy cause because it ignores/sets back another in semantics.  I have found that such reactionary behavior only creates further divisions where we should be finding common ground.  I now utilize available channels of communication that are intended to address such issues.  I’ll do my best to be concise in this one. 

The glaring error on HRC’s online form should be fairly apparent to any trans/genderqueer person or ally: To force visitors to choose a gendered title in order to participate in an activist campaign that supposedly includes those of non-binary gender identities is both exclusive and insulting - not to mention counterproductive to unity among groups with deep and long-standing wounds.  Especially in light of the fact that HRC is still mending its relationship with trans communities (following its alienating actions regarding the ENDA legislation in 2008-09), this seems a rather careless oversight.  

This may seem a minuscule issue, but for those of us who have experienced life on the fringes of society due to our uncommon gender identities/presentations, it feels like a slap in the face to be overlooked by the very organizations that purport to protect us, even in such minor details.  If HRC is to be truly inclusive and practice what it supposedly preaches - equality and acceptance for all people, regardless of sexual orientation of gender identity - then it would do well to ensure that it dots all its I’s and crosses all its T’s in regards to the more marginalized of its constituents.  As the saying goes, the Devil is in the details. 

Thank you for your time, attention, and action on this matter.  I hope that HRC will continue to grow in its efforts to truly include and represent all who experience gender-based oppression and hatred.  

Best regards, 

Steven Williams

Chaz Bono on TV: An Opportunity

Please be advised before you click: some of the comments quoted are pretty harsh, so if you tend to take such things to heart you may not want to read all of this.  Apparently Chaz’s selection for a popular show is bringing out the worst in some viewers - but the best in his mom and other allies! I’m not a TV fan, but like it or not, this exposure will open up a lot of discussion and visibility for trans people.  Cher’s handling it like a pro on twitter: http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/09/07/us-cher-idUSTRE78671R20110907. 

How will you respond when the subject inevitably comes up?  Will you take it as an opportunity for Trans Activism & education?

A quick update this week:

1. Check out the attached video that poignantly highlights a study by the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force - which reveals in statistical form just how much discrimination trans and gender non-conforming people, especially people of color, face in the US.

2. Check out this adaptation of Peggy McIntosh’s “Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” for people to check their privilege as cisgendered (gender conforming/non-trans) individuals.

Trans Action of the Week: Have a Conversation

This is a new idea I’m trying out to make this blog live up to its name: a weekly assignment/suggestion for transfolks and allies thereof that promotes trans activism in daily life.

This week’s assignment:
Take advantage of an opportunity to speak up about trans rights and/or gender identity issues.


We run into opportunities to do this at least once a week. In daily conversations with friends, family, coworkers, or strangers on the bus, the topic of gender identity or trans people comes up in some way, shape or form.

Perhaps someone says, “Is that a boy or a girl?” - emphasis on “that,” usually accompanied by a smirk that says the subject is ridiculous. Possible answer: “Why does it matter?” or “Why don’t you ask them?”

Maybe your seatmate on the bus makes a comment about “a time when men were men and women were women,” and you can ask them what that even means and why it’s preferable to people doing whatever makes them feel comfortable.

Or maybe someone tells a funny story about a “shemale” in the bathroom. Possible response: “I’ll bet it wasn’t very funny for them,” “Can’t a person just pee in peace?” or “It must be very stressful for that person to use the facilities when people like you won’t stop looking at them.”

If you’re really lucky, someone will give you a great opening, like, “I just don’t understand why anyone would want to be a transsexual.” You can offer them such suggestions as, “Well, it’s hard living in a body that doesn’t feel like your own,” or my favorite, “Imagine you wake up tomorrow, walk into the bathroom, and see a face of the opposite sex looking back at you. How would you feel?”

What you say depends on your aim and situation, of course - do you want/have time for a lengthy discussion of the gender spectrum and the trials and tribulations of those in its grayer areas, or do you want to cut off a derogatory discussion with a smart and snappy comeback?

If you’re trans, you can use this as an objective conversation or make it more personal. I’m challenging myself to do the latter as often as possible, with the idea of speaking the truth, even if my voice shakes; in the battle for hearts and minds, the individual narrative is the most powerful tool available for re-humanizing stereotyped groups. I understand that not every situation allows for this, and that some of us feel that personal risk is too great for this kind of transparency. Do what feels right to you. I encourage stretching your comfort zone, though.

If you’re not trans and/or you “pass” as cisgendered, you are at an insider advantage: like it or not, your privilege gives you legitimacy with, and therefore access to, those who share it - something that androgynous, genderqueer, and otherwise non-binary-gendered people do not have.

I expect a full report by next Friday! Please tell me: what did you do and how did it go?

None Are Free If One is Not: Why Gay Activists Need to Stop Ignoring the Trannies

Note: I intended to publish this about a month ago… Better late than never!

My office email is for some reason included on an email list run by an older gay man who sends out very informative (but very conservative) discussions of the gay rights movement in history. Since it is not my personal email, I have restrained myself from rebutting his blatant omission of trans people from that history - which is probably not intentional, but is definitely unacceptable.

Today, a transwoman responded with a direct reality check, and I was inspired to respond when I saw that no one else had even acknowledged her comments. First, she said, stop quibbling over what individual does or doesn’t have a right to claim credit for any historic event - the credit belongs to everyone in the community. On that note, she said, trans people have been taking the beatings for the gay community for many years, only to be kicked out of pride parades and political caucuses for making them look bad.

Finally, she said something that made her my new hero: “..the gay-rights advocates have persistently solicited my support for half-a-loaf causes. Half a loaf means you get to share the pie with straight WASPs and my community gets to get beat up for you. All this petty bickering about who is important and who isn’t is disgusting. The truth is you’re all great and you’re all vicious, egotistic, twits, the same as me. The difference is that y’all have half a loaf and I have the bruises to show for it, so get over yourselves and get back to work. The war hasn’t been won just yet.”

Pam writes cultural commentary from arts to ‘zines here.

My response is pasted below.


Dear Pam,

I am appalled to see that no one has so much as acknowledged your response (even though a couple replied to your message in the thread), so I will. Thank you so much for sharing your experience and observations, and for holding the gay community accountable for the fact that we, as trans people, have taken more than our share of beatings (physical and otherwise, and often at its hands) for its advancement for many decades.

I’m a queer-identified FTM who first came out as a lesbian at age 15, then evolved into my true identity to begin medical transition at age 21. Because I was born in ’83, my experience of the gay rights movement has been primarily in the legal arena (as it rapidly gained ground in the cultural war in the mid-90s when realistic gay characters started appearing on TV). I have known what it feels like to fear for my life even in this changing climate – and every threat was directed at my gender presentation more than my sexual orientation. In sharing your story, you have given me a few pieces of my history that have otherwise been ignored or silenced by the larger community, and I am deeply grateful for that.

Even unacknowledged, your words must have at the very least shaken some readers’ convictions that if we can seriously discuss gay marriage and gays in the military, then it’s all downhill from here – because half the letters in the LG/BT alphabet soup are still fighting an uphill battle to be seen as human beings, let alone taken seriously. As a straight, cisgendered friend pointed out to me recently, transfolks are still in the thick of the cultural war, and we have a long way to go before we can hope for any success in fighting for our legal concerns. If the larger community truly wants us in its acronym, then it needs to start making sincere efforts to understand and advocate for our issues – rather than robbing Peter to pay Paul, as it were, for the past 40+ years. I am healthy, happy individual who leads what I think is a solidly respectable life, as I imagine are you. I am tired of being treated as an embarrassment to a community I’ve worked to advance for 12 years, and of being told that it’s not “the right time” to demand my rights along with the rest.

I have been silently observing these email discussions since I took over as office manager here in August, and have on multiple occasions begun to write replies expressing similar sentiments to yours. For example, a couple of months ago, my blood set to boiling at a thread that discussed Stonewall without once mentioning the “T” word. As I’m sure you’re aware from having lived through that time, transwomen and drag queens were the first to stand up and fight back, but LG”BT” history scarcely acknowledges their presence that night. I did not send this or other responses because, while I am personally a trans and queer/bi activist and advocate, this is not my personal email address and it is not appropriate for me to express my personal opinion as a representative of an organization, let alone one that is not involved in LG/BT affairs.

I just couldn’t keep quiet on this one, though, so I am sending my response with a disclaimer: the thoughts expressed in this email are solely my own, and do not represent the views of my organization.

Thank you again for taking a stand, both on trans invisibility and on the core issue – that everyone in the LGBT community deserves credit for their part in its advancement.

Namaste,

Steven Williams
http://TransActionsBlog.tumblr.com

Why L, G and B Can’t Always Include the T: A Letter to the Straight Spouse Network

Tonight, while perusing resources for friends and family of LGBQ and T people, I found the Straight Spouse Network, which, in its own words:

"…is an international organization that provides personal, confidential support and information to heterosexual spouses/partners, current or former, of gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender mates and mixed-orientation couples for constructively resolving coming-out problems. SSN also offers research-based information about spouse, couple, and family issues and resources to other family members, professionals, community organizations, and the public. SSN is the only support network of its kind in the world."

From what I can tell, it is an excellent resource. However, it is in need of some input from current and former partners of trans people (including cross dressers), so if you have a moment to submit your story, please go here! In the interest of being helpful, I sent them the following letter, which, for the same purpose, I will now share with you. More on this topic - the importance of differentiating the T from the LGB - to come in future posts.


Dear SSN,

First, I would like to say that I’m very glad to see that this organization exists. I found the link on PFLAG’s site. So thank you for that.

My suggestion has to do with the at times inaccurate use of the acronym “LGBT” - in particular, the inclusion of the “T” when discussing sexual orientation. I see on your “Personal Stories” section that you are looking for input from partners of Trans or Cross-Dressing people. I cannot offer that, but I can offer the perspective of a trans person who has a straight partner and has led Transgender 101 workshops.

The inclusion of “T” - or gender identity overall - when discussing sexual orientation is actually a dangerous one in terms of promoting understanding of either, especially when the target audience is likely unfamiliar with the nuances of the subjects. Just as GLBQ people deal with misconceptions about their gender identity based on their sexual orientation, trans people deal with the reverse, and both scenarios are frustrating at best, alienating at worst. When I and most other trans people and allies I know begin a discussion of gender identity, we start with the very basics: the definitions of biological sex, gender identity, and sexual orientation. We acknowledge that all are interrelated, but none are synonymous and should not be used as such, as it only serves to underscore existing misunderstandings. In brief, gender identity is how you emotionally, sexually and socially relate to your own body; sexual orientation is how you relate to others’.

When discussing the “T” in terms of its implication for straight spouses, the conversation is necessarily different than when discussing LGB issues. In the latter, the key factor is the attraction between the spouses - specifically, that the LGB spouse’s attraction to the straight one may be different than previously assumed. In a partnership wherein a partner comes out as trans (-gender and/or -sexual, or -vestite), attraction can be a factor (usually for the straight spouse) and sex certainly is, but both of these stem from the primary issue: the trans spouse’s emotional, physical and social identity and how the couple can navigate it together, whether that means as a couple or as friends. In the case of the “T,” real or perceived cheating is less often an issue, and while the straight spouse’s decision may be, “Do I stay or do I go?” the questions they must answer to make that decision are quite different than if their partner had said they were attracted to other types of people.

Because I am not in the position of straight spouse, I cannot give much more insight into those questions. However, on behalf my straight (though a little queerer now) fiancee and others like her, I can make suggestions for content to seek and include: resources for dealing with family; recommendations for couples counseling with a trans-savvy provider; and links to sites that give more information about the trans spectrum, including definitions, options for medical treatment of gender dysphoria (including no treatment), and advice on being a good friend, family member, or ally for a trans person (PFLAG is a good place to start; a Google search will reveal many others, including this one, which offers many support resources for SOFFAs of transpeople: http://www.ftminfo.net/soffa.html - there is an online section after the state list).

I wish you the best of luck in finding partners of trans people to offer their stories. I will post a link to your site on my blog and my Facebook to encourage SOFFAs in my network to submit. Currently, my fiancee and I are looking for resources for dealing with her mother, who is less than accepting of my status and her daughter’s involvement with me. If you know of any, please send them my way!

Thank you for your time, and please feel free to contact me if I can be of assistance.

Best regards,

Steven Williams


P.S. to Readers: PFLAG also has youth-specific resources here.

An Open Letter to the Young People in My Life

I am obligated, as someone who loves you, to call you out on something. I have noticed a word you use repeatedly in your Facebook posts that I feel a need to address, especially because I am relatively sure (or at least I hope) that it doesn’t accurately reflect the way you feel. My instinct is that you probably use this term the way you do because your friends do. I could be wrong, and don’t hesitate to correct me if I am.

The word is “faggot,” and variations thereof. I know that a lot of kids use it as a general insult and claim that they don’t mean it offensively toward gay people, and I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt and assume that that you’re in this camp (rather than actively being homophobic). But that’s no different than using “nigger” as a general insult and trying to say that it’s not meant to offend black people. It’s a loaded term. Period. And it hurts people who get hurt enough as it is just by living in this society.

Words have power. And people in positions of social power have used derogatory ones to systematically oppress entire populations for the entirety of history. Using such words as “general insults” only reinforces the idea that those populations deserve to be ridiculed as being lesser humans.

You may not realize it, but as a straight, white, middle-class kid, you are by default in a position of social power. With power comes responsibility. Be aware of that and act accordingly, because believe it or not, what you say matters. Even if the word isn’t originally yours (i.e., it’s on a viral meme you pulled from the internet), you take responsibility for it by passing it on.

Think about what you’re really saying. You are way too smart to use such uneducated language just because your friends do. If you want to crudely insult someone, call them an asshole, a douchebag, a motherfucker, a dickwad, a sack of shit - there are plenty of colorful terms out there that don’t hurt anyone but the target. (You can also get creative - “asshat” is a personal favorite.)

That’s my “social responsibility” argument against using that word. Now here’s my personal one.

I have had “faggot” and related words used against me - not only as slurs, but as outright and very real threats - since I was younger than you. Words like “fag,” “queer,” and “dyke” have accompanied hard stares on the street, shoulder-thrusts into lockers, a brick thrown at my car, and a bottle thrown at my head - all before the age of 20. I’ve made a concerted effort to be present and visible in your life as a positive example of a queer person so that you would grow up knowing that you’d be loved for whoever you were - and so that you would know better than to inflict the pain I grew up with on other people. I can’t expect you to have already known that, since I’ve never told you before. But now I have. So I now expect you to know that it hurts me - deeply - to see someone I love carelessly throwing around the words that have been the tools of my oppression.

What you do with these thoughts is entirely up to you. This message is not intended to “lay down the law,” but to make you think and hopefully start a conversation. I’m not angry at you; I’m just doing what people who really care about each other do: encouraging your growth by holding you accountable. I would welcome a response and a dialogue about this if there’s anything I’ve said that you disagree with, don’t understand, or just want to know more about.

I hope all is well in your world.

Namaste.

Vlog #1 - The Flack Jacket

Taking the patches of the transgender rights/anti-war flack jacket I lovingly made almost 8 years ago because I haven’t worn it in 5, and only recently can articulate why that is. I literally and intellectually deconstruct my own wearable art, and conclude why it never served the purpose I wanted it to - and posit how to reach those who most need to open their ears, minds and hearts.

P.S. - sorry for the blinding light behind me - I used a digital camera to film this and couldn’t see the glare during that process.

P.P.S. - I actually made this in mid-August, and was very sad when I discovered that tumblr won’t upload videos longer than 5 minutes. It took me this long to realize that I didn’t have to edit it down (which I’ve been procrastinating) but could embed it through YouTube. Ah, the joys of being a beginning blogger! (Feel free to laugh uproariously at my obliviousness…)

TransActions: Introductory Post (reposted from original location @artremindsthesoul)

Last night, a good friend of mine picked me up from the airport, and we ended up sitting in his van outside my house talking about the paradoxes of the most effective routes of effecting social change and justice. As he shared a perspective I’d not considered, and expounded on one I am sad to say I’ve often avoided, I felt a tingle in my solar plexus chakra.

Today, these messages came to me in my morning emails:

In our era, the road to holiness necessarily passes through the world of action. - Dag Hammarskjold - from a daily spiritual quotation. Upon seeing this, my chakra warmed again.

and

http://www.farbeyondthestars.com/the-unconventional-guide-to-changing-the-future-of-the-human-race/ - Everett Bogue’s latest blog post. It urges each of us to stop resisting our own power to make some small difference in the world. At first, honestly, the post read as cheesy. But it gathered momentum and in one of its last lines, spoke to me:

"You are able to change everything with one idea, one thought, one moment when you choose to stand up and make a difference in the reality of the entire human race."

By the end, my chakra’s fire burned bright, and I knew I had to follow through. Time to sit down and write.




I long ago discarded the idea of being a trans writer. I felt that there were already so many who could tell their stories just as well as I could, if they hadn’t yet. My story, I thought, was nothing special. I have struggled, but not profoundly; I have been blessed with support, been spared violence, hit only minor roadblocks in my medical care. I should leave the storytelling to those who’ve not been so privileged - their voices are hard enough to project, and I do them and the world no favors by making mine another noise to drown them out. I would make my voice through art. Words, though a masterful medium of mine, were not the way to go.

To a degree, I still believe this. My life story is not as compelling as Leslie Feinberg’s, not as inspiring and tragic as Sylvia Rivera’s. In the realm of biography, I have little to share that is truly unique. The journey into one’s right body is well-documented by many talented writers.

The journey that follows, however, is not. Yes, many writers have touched on the struggle of re-socialization that happens post-transition. But few have truly delved into it. This is what I have to offer. Experience and musings on being true to one’s history while living one’s present. It is a delicate balance for which I am continually striving.



What do I mean by this?

“Being true to one’s history” means that we do not discard, dismiss, or diminish our experience before and during our transition; though we may always have felt like our true gender, we did not always live in it. We are men who were socialized as women, women who were socialized as men, genderqueers who were socialized in a binary. We made our transitions to be true to ourselves. Yet so many of us leave our old selves at the door, and never look back, never mention them again - and that is not truth. That is omission. Omission is no better than lying.

“Living one’s present” means that we are living our right gender now, and we should not be hindered from doing so by the fact that we haven’t always been able to. Just as some deny their trans history, others, in guilt, deny their current place in the social construct of gender. They say, “I’m a man, but I’m not part of the male dominance. I’m a man, but I reject my male privilege. I’m a woman, but I’m not affected by the repression of women. I’m a woman, but I still have male privilege.” These ideals - which they are, as in a perfect world, they would be true - are simply not the case. Like it or not, we still live in a hegemonic gender binary, in which those who are perceived as male receive automatic, unearned privileges that are denied to those who are perceived as female. If you are perceived as male, you have male privilege; you are perceived by women and men alike to be part of the dominant male class. Denying this does nothing to change it - it only perpetuates it. Consent by default. Acceptance through ignorance. The same is true for transwomen who ignore the repression they experience post-transition. Ignoring it doesn’t make it go away. Your silence will not protect you.



I can speak of these ideas because I have done them. A few months into my transition, I unexpectedly “went stealth” - meaning, I did not want anyone to know I was trans. This was something that I never thought I would do - I, with the self-designed trans symbol tattooed on my arm, with the “Tranarchy” patch on my army jacket. Out of unforeseen circumstantial necessity, though, I made that choice in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, when I suddenly found myself in the unknown and terrifyingly conservative city of Dallas, numbly holding the fragments of my life and unable to conceive of trying to navigate challenges to my gender identity at the same time I was trying to weave those fragments into a new whole. So I hid, for self-preservation. I felt justified in doing so because I needed all the energy I had to mourn and survive the trauma of losing my city and my life as I knew them. I still believe it was the right thing for me at the time. I considered it a temporary state of affairs. I had no idea how long it would take me to remove my shell again.

That was five years ago, almost exactly. Five years ago today, I was holed up in my boyfriend’s cousin’s apartment, trying to get through to FEMA and preparing for my first day of work at a new Starbucks location, fretting over the question of whether to go stealth. Since then, I have moved to Tulsa, where I grew up, and thus forced myself to be a little more out by virtue of the fact that people would know me from before. Two years ago, I moved back to New Orleans, where again, people had known me as a dyke. I thought I was no longer stealth because I no longer actively hid my trans status; if asked, I would divulge. Occasionally, I would divulge of my own volition, like telling someone a secret.

Recently, I began to realize that passive outness was not enough. (See this post.) I felt like a coward standing in frozen silence behind my bar as my coworker laughed about a “shim” with our guests. In that moment, I knew something had to change. I had to change.



Last night, my friend Sebastian said something that resonated with me. I mention his name because the coming quotation deserves citation. He is unabashedly out as a transman. He divulges to his employer as soon as he starts a job. He tells new friends immediately. He has a lack of fear that I admire. He said, “When you tell selected people, like it’s a secret, you give them power with that information. They can use it however they like, and they can use it against you. If you are unapologetically you, transness and all, you deny them that power. They cannot hurt you with your own truth.”

With that, I return to the first quotation: The road to holiness necessarily passes through the world of action. In my spirituality, social justice and the striving therefor is holy. Equality is holy. Respect is holy.

And if I want this holiness for myself and for my siblings, I must take action.

With that, I welcome you to the new blog: TransActions: Journeys on the Road of a Transgender Warrior-Bodhisattva.

© Steven Williams, 2010

The Sex Which is Not Seen (re-posted from my other blog)

The truth began with an episode of Nip/Tuck.

My fiancee was watching it when I got home from a slow and irritating shift at the hotel bar where I work. I caught a scene of Christian visiting Matt in the hospital after he was beaten by a gang of angry transsexual women, one of whom he’d beaten when he found out she was pre-op (in a rage he’d redirected from his older girlfriend’s revelation that she was post-op). Christian did not share his rage, but empathized with him for being “fooled.”

I said I was going to go in the other room, having had enough tranny-bashing for one day.

She asked what happened. I tried to play it off. Just hetero guys talking like hetero guys about a “she-male” in the bathroom.

She hugged me and said that if it was any consolation, Alec Baldwin had played the girlfriend’s plastic surgeon and given a wonderfully sympathetic performance.

I told her that it was not, but thank you.

Then the truth came out.

I have transcribed and expounded upon it here.



I am tired of being told that I should be grateful for what I have. Because it’s not enough.

I am tired of seeing people like me portrayed on TV as something other (less) than human, something to be ridiculed, something to be stared at like a circus sideshow, treated atrociously and objectified by every other character (until one, in the end, says something redeeming that is somehow supposed to absolve them and everyone else). I am tired of my harsh critiques of such portrayals being met with responses that I’m overreacting, it wasn’t all bad, at least we’re being shown at all. Bad publicity is better than none, right?

Wrong.

Because every time Dr. Christian Troy refers to a transwoman’s vagina as “something artificial,” every time Brian Griffin projectile vomits for a full 30 seconds after learning his new lady is post-op, it legitimizes those responses in real life. The fact that Dr. Troy uses no explicitly derogatory terms does not make it better. Neither does Quagmire’s 30-second acceptance speech with his dad at the end of the episode. These “baby steps” may represent a glimmer of progress in the social mindset, but they do practically nothing for the average viewer to counterbalance the previous half hour of tranny-bashing or the lifetime of implicit and explicit messages that “otherly” gendered people are not. And they certainly don’t offset a damn thing for those of us on the other side of that “other” who have endured a lifetime of what we just saw on the screen. Those “small victories,” as our well-intentioned allies like to see them, feel like no such thing to us.

It’s not enough.

It’s not enough because the first time I came out to another person was fifteen years ago, and the gut-wrenching fear leading up to that moment is no less today than it was then; the only difference is that I’ve grown used to it. It’s still just as gripping, just as paralyzing, just as primal. The fear today of what might happen if my co-workers find out I was born female is the same fear I felt towards my classmates in seventh grade when I began to realize I liked girls more than boys.

It’s not enough because even now, as one of the privileged transsexual people who is invisible as such, I am afraid of going to the public restroom. I am afraid of going to the hospital. I am afraid of airport security. I am afraid of the police even though I am as law-abiding a citizen as they come, and even more, I am afraid of going to jail. I am afraid of what happens if They find out. Not of what They’ll think — I didn’t make it through 27 years of life and 5 years of medical transition worrying about that — but of what They’ll do. Will They see me fumbling with my prosthetic urinary device and beat me senseless? Will They refuse to treat me, or refer to me in female pronouns, or ask me completely irrelevant questions about my genitalia when it’s my arm that might be broken? Will They detain me for having “fraudulent” identification that states I am male when Their space-age X-ray security reveals what’s not between my legs? Will They arrest me on those same grounds when They run my ID and my birth name, for reasons unknown, appears on Their screen?

It’s not enough because even though, in my daily life, I’ve learned to used my new unearned privilege as a white, (apparently) heterosexual, lower-middle-class male to educate others of this description and advocate for those who experience less privilege, I am utterly unable to do so for myself as a gender minority — and often for gender minorities in general. I don’t join or respond to the conversation. I physically can’t, it seems. My voice catches, my vocabulary disappears, and I find my usual eloquence frozen by deep and unmitigated fear of a sort that I do not allow to perpetuate in any other area of my life. I feel like a coward. I feel guilty for being in a unique position to expand horizons and failing to act on it. But really, what do I say from my position behind the bar as a witness to the server’s 30-second conversation with my patron about the “shim” in the bathroom? It takes my brain so long to shake the shock, anger, and fear that by the time I come up with an intelligent observation about my otherwise liberal coworker’s bigotry, the moment has long passed into sports and politics, and I see no way to broach the subject without an abrupt and awkward turn.

I’m not in the closet. But I’m invisible — an immense privilege for which many of my siblings would give their right arms, I know, but it comes with its own set of curses. I’m wedged into a box labeled “M” that only fits a fraction of my being. I do my best to deconstruct it daily, and in my personal life I succeed; but somehow I remain awkwardly confined when it comes to the impersonal.

Baby steps are better than none. But it’s not enough.



"So do something about it," says my lovely, cisgendered fiancee when I finish my rant.

"Like what?" I say. I know that change is best affected one person at a time. But I feel so inadequate person-to-person.

She gives me the sweetest look of “duh” possible. “Blog,” she says. “Write about it. Pass your message. Art. Make paintings of it. That’s your difference to make.”

And of course, as usual, she’s right.

~S. L. Williams, ©2010

Out in the Club. Mixed media on plywood. ©2007 S. L. Williams/EarthPhoenix Art