In a country that has as its national mantra, “I’m special,” it can be difficult to see the overlaps and similarities we have with other people. We mark our sense of style as unique to each of us, even as we shop at the same globally positioned clothiers, or second hand shops that sell the mass-manufactured fashions of thirty years ago. We rail against the evil of larger systems from our seats in the college auditorium. We complain about nasty customers as we daydream about spitting into their food that we’re trying to prepare for them. We lament the oligarchs even though there are so many of us who loathe them that we could theoretically do something about their power if only we banded together about it. Instead of maybe standing in our fierce independentness. But I digress. My point is that we may have distinct DNA and unparalleled lived experience, but we have great similarity to our families (chosen or not), our friends, and even to strangers.
Being a parent for thirty-two months is not much of a history, I know, but it’s enough to realize that many other people have had experiences near the ones I live through these days. Even though I am singularly located in my own place and time and history. There are so many parents out there that I see every day, bargaining with their children, looking joyful or exhausted or proud or revolted (“BOOGER, Daddy!”), sharing a scoop of ice cream or just trying to fucking get their kid into the car because they needed to leave five minutes ago. They are everywhere, parents. There’s no denying it, no hearings on Capitol Hill about whether they exist or not, even as we walk away from broad access to contraception and family planning and free breakfasts for poor kids and welfare to help support families through hard times. Nobody says we can convert parents into being non-parents. The head of Jelly Belly isn’t shelling out five million samoleans to prevent parents from existing in California. We parents know we are something of an entity, even if we don’t go around calling ourselves a “community” per se.
It’s different with transition and transgender stuff. Instead of seeing other trans folks around me and finding refuge that they were making it and I could make it, too, I had one trans person telling me I wasn’t real. I didn’t exist. I was doing it wrong, I didn’t know as much as they did, and I was stealing their identity. I can’t imagine a father walking up to me and telling me that I was stealing his identity as a parent. (But if he did I’d probably guffaw in his face.) Transition, for many reasons, felt like a solitary, alienating process, even as I felt more at ease with myself with each new facial hair. But there was a lot to the experience that highlighted my uniqueness. Nobody goes through puberty (first or second) in exactly the same way. It’s just that when we were teenagers many of us were paying less attention to the mechanics than to the effects.
I know first hand that transition is frightening and destabilizing, in that “is this really real, am I really doing this” insecure way. Of course not everyone gets through their transition in exactly that way, but I’ve never heard anyone describe it as simple or straightforward or without any moment of doubt. So because I am committed to helping fellow transfolk, especially those taking their first steps to transition, I try to offer direct support. I don’t call myself a mentor, really. I just try to give them the headspace to get to the next day, or phase, or dose of hormones. I attempt not to focus on things like their “bravery,” which cispeople love to hand to us like it’s a gift, or on the negative things they’re hearing from the people around them. I focus instead on getting them to listen to themselves, to trust themselves, and to take it like a journey and not an end result.
Some people seem to come through transition thinking they’re ridiculously impressive. It is impressive to survive, yes, but it behooves all of us in the trans umbrella to be considerate of those of us who have struggled more than we have to stay alive. I don’t want anyone to point and me and mutter about my hubris or egotism. I don’t know everything there is to know about being trans, and I couldn’t even if I wanted to. I walk through the world with a lot of privilege due to my race and class and age and as the gender I get read all of the time. I pass 99% of the time (except on the phone, in which I get “ma’am” at least half the time). I know there are similarities between my transition history and others, and that there are dissimilarities the further from my intersections of identity to which I compare myself.
One thing that has no room in our community of shared experience is the concept of who is a “real” trans person and who is a poseur. I’ve talked to trans people who have dismissed others because oh “she’s just a drag queen, really,” or because of how they dress or talk or date or where they live or who they know or what line of work they do. It is as ridiculous as it sounds, and hurtful toward actual people, not to mention an erasure of history. We may feel anger at Ru Paul for his ongoing transphobia and the space that has occupied on the one and only LGBT cable channel in the country (I still miss Dyke TV), but it’s unfair to cast this anger at all drag queens. Guess who was fighting at The Stonewall Inn? Drag queens. And whether a queen identifies as male or female, or did in that long standoff against the oppressive police in Manhattan, we must acknowledge that drag has helped open up a space for our contemporary conversations about gender identity, expression, and presentation. I am no fan of Eve Sedgewick’s concept of the performative, but it did something in the 1990s to de-essentialize gender. What are we as people if we can’t acknowledge earlier thought as a foundation for today?
No, I’m not special because I’m trans, just like I’m not special because I’m half-Lebanese, or a native New Jerseyan, or because I have a decent intelligence quotient, last rated in 1986 (and I’m sure I’ve lost some points since then). I’m less concerned about my specialness than whether I’m giving my time and energy to people who need it, whether I’m raising two conscientious young boys, whether I’m a supportive partner and friend, and whether my last book was any good at all. Anyone who thinks they should have a social media platform simply because of their gender identity has missed the point of the whole burrito.