The thing about being gracious is, as soon as you let up, everyone notices. There’s no reward for seeming snappy, even if it bites at the heels of years of diplomacy and smoothed over tensions. So at the risk of letting my slip of hostility show under my skirt, let me just say that I am not a fan of the zoological presentation of transfolk as the primary means of educating the non-trans public. I am a fan of careful conversation, principled debate, and sensitive discourse when interfacing with any marginalized community.
Many of us have heard the now-standard “Trans 101” talking points: don’t ask what surgeries we’ve had, what our former names were, or other invasive questions about our bodies you wouldn’t want to answer yourself. But there are still more questions that deflect from a helpful give-and-take between parties, or that make some of us trans people weary and exhausted, well intentioned though these questions may be. So when I’m feeling ungracious, I may use some of these following answers. Apologies in advance for my snippishness, really. But when I’m on the edge, my responses may look like this:
Question 1: What’s your story?
There are many versions of this question, so much so that they may sound like different interrogatives, but really, they boil down to this: how in hell did you realize you were the wrong gender? And they’re often predicated on this: I’ve never considered anything even remotely as weird as that! It is a bit of a puzzler, at least as far as my experience goes, but the explanations get old faster than a baked avocado. So my answer to this is: “What, you haven’t read my memoir yet?”
Now I recognize that not every trans person out there has written a memoir or book detailing the blow-by-blow process of their transition. So for those people with a better sense of how to spend their time, I offer this: “Realized I needed to have a sex change/transition/explore my gender identity, got pissed off, found a way to do it. The end.” Just don’t say the slashes out loud. It’s a rough retelling without going through the list of assorted paperwork, surgeries, medications, diagnoses, and responses from loved ones. Which is probably what that inquirer wants to know. Only we’re not required to relay all of that.
Question #2: Are you at peace now?
I was actually asked this the other night, and my snappy comeback was this: “I’m a half-Catholic, half-Jewish neurotic from New Jersey, I’m never at peace!” I followed it up with the but I have a gorgeous baby and a loving partner and a pretty cool job, so I’m happy. Because everyone around me laughed at the comeback. If they hadn’t laughed, I wouldn’t have felt the need to follow up with a real answer. Well, honestly, they’re both true answers. And no, transitioning isn’t a salve that makes all stress evaporate in the sun. I still got bills to pay.
Question #3: What’s been the hardest part about this journey?
Answering dumb ass questions like these. Next.
Question #4: Do you feel like being trans is a kind of gift, that helps you be more self-actualized?
Jung could have had a whole different kind of career if he’d just transitioned first, is that it? Actually, I kind of like the idea of the Maslow self-actualization pyramid having a big, gorgeous trans woman on top, in her favorite outfit, and laughing about the ridiculousness about the whole thing.
Look, trans people aren’t saints or shamans. We’re people who did what we needed to do for ourselves. We’re also not unrepentant narcissists–there’s no need to reverse the dial to depravity. But if you’re going to ask me if making all of the legal, medical, social, and emotional maneuvers to transition gives me some kind of special insight on life? Well, then I have this answer:
I’m very good at spotting dumb questions now, that’s for sure.
Question #5: What should be our takeaway from this conversation? Or, what one thing should I learn about trans people from interacting with you?
That we’re not geothermal power, endangered wolves, an unemployment rate, or any other “issue” that comes with a set of talking points. We’re people, with varied experiences and we disagree even with each other about what all of this means. How about you “take away” that people in a marginalized community can’t be understood in one simple way or with one specific metaphor?
Question #6: There was a time when civil rights for blacks [sic] came about, and a time for civil rights for gays. Is it your time now?
Just look at your watch, wait a second and announce it is NOW time for your civil rights. All that work on civil rights last week was just a red herring.