Recently, a friend of mine mentioned that she was impressed of my ‘out-ness.’ My pride in my trans identity. My willingness to share myself with the world, on this blog and through performance.
It was already kind of an emotional conversation, so it was only a slight surprise to me when tears started down my face, as I replied, “Do you really think I have a choice about being out?”
I live within five miles of where I grew up. I keep up a relationship with my immediate and extended family. I work at one job where I’ve taken classes since I was 19 or 20, and another where I’ve taken classes since I was nine. I have two roommates, each of whom I went to high school with. The vast majority of my friends have known me since before I started transitioning (in one case since I was maybe three years old).
To keep all of that – and I do want to keep it – means that I inherently have to be out about my status as trans. When such a history exists, the option for stealth living diminishes greatly: I’d need to refuse to acknowledge my trans-ness with people who did know, cut off contact with people who couldn’t handle that, and not acknowledge it to new acquaintances.
I meant all that when I said “Do you really think I have a choice about being out?”
But being out doesn’t necessitate doing a solo performance about my experiences as a trans woman. Or sharing that part of myself via this blog.
I continued explaining my thoughts to my friend, saying that I still don’t feel like I’m perceived as a woman. I don’t feel like a woman. Accurate or inaccurate, I assume people are going to know I’m trans, and judge me for it.
And so claiming that trans identity – being Loud and Proud, as it were – is a way of preempting that derision. Because if I acknowledge it first, if I pretend it’s something I’m OK with, then it lessens the ability for others to use my trans identity as a weapon to hurt me.
I’m pretty sure, intellectually, that most of the people in my life who have known me since before I transitioned do perceive me as a woman. And that, when meeting new people, they perceive me as a woman, too. But I’m still trying to perceive myself as a woman. I wholeheartedly agree with gudbuytjane that the concept of passing is an oppressive force. That…
Passing is a system used by cissexist cultures to control trans people, to ostracize, and to justify violence perpetrated against them. Although passing is presented as a trans endeavor or desire, the truth is it is a system for cis people to identify trans people and to alert other cis people to their presence. Whether used to mollify trans people with suggestions that other cis people don’t know about their trans status, or to shame them because other people do, it is centered in the cis person’s perspectives and assumptions. It is the constant reminder that in the power relationship between cis and trans, cis dominates.
But I’m still struggling with internalized transphobia. How do you deal with not living up to your own standards of ‘woman,’ of not passing in your own mind’s eye?
Last night I was talking in my kitchen with a different friend, while my roommates were holding a party in the living room. She and I were catching up, and so not really interested in the noisy, drunken revelry happening down the hall. I was saying I’d been having a rough time of things, and she reminded me about all I accomplished over the past year-and-a-half: living full-time as Rebecca, completing one successful solo show as part of an evening of solo shows, and one successful single-billing solo show all by my lonesome, getting a raise, and so on.
Her deluge of compliments literally left me teary-eyed, and not from joy. Even with a list of accomplishments that, objectively, I know is amazing and something to be proud of, I still fall so far short of my own unreasonable standards for myself. Professionally, personally, artistically, intellectually, appearance-ally. (OK, I made that last word up.) So far short that the very act of being complimented drives me to tears.
I’m working on getting past all that, working on actually being proud of myself. And I fake it pretty well, because few things are more awkward than having someone compliment you and denying the compliment (let alone bursting into tears).
But it’s slow going.