It was nearly 15 years ago, when I was still agonizing over the very thought of transitioning from one gender to another, that I thought about what I really wanted. I just wanted a “normal” life. The whole nice suburban house and oh, gosh, let’s throw in a white picket fence while we’re at it. I also felt, then, that there was no such thing in the cards for me. Of course, I also knew at the time that I did not want that “normal” life if it meant remaining who I was then. There was no future in that life if it meant remaining with what passed for a status quo.
At that point I made a distinct decision. I knew that I would have to do what I had to do to be happy with myself, even if it meant not having that strange construct of “normal.” I had to take a leap of faith that I would be happier in spite of it all, and that a transition in genders would be worth the sacrifice.
When one is transgender — unless one is lucky in the looks department, or can afford a whole lot of extra plastic surgery — we don’t often have the chance to fully avoid our transgender selves. Even if, somewhere down the line, your transgender history is not written on your flesh in some way, it’s quite likely there will be a time in the midst of transition where you will have to face being seen as something not quite man or woman.
For that matter, there will always be things in our experiences that will be different from those who have not had to consider the gender they were brought up in, and who have sought to change. There are things in my past that will always be specific to me and other transgender people. It’s the nature of the beast.
I bring all this up because, so often, I hear about some transgender people deciding to tear down others within the community based on their “passibility,” how much they identify with one gender or another, or some other arbitrary rules designed to keep out anyone who is not “normal” enough for someone’s comfort. By the same token, I hear this in the larger LGBT community, as transgender people get pushed to the back of the bus because we’re too different and too “out there” for the otherwise “normal” gay and lesbian majority.
People complained when Thomas Beatie got pregnant not just once, but twice. Ire is raised at those who transition, then transition again when they decide that their initial change was not the right answer for them. Some are irked that the Logo program “RuPaul’s Drag Race” shows a version of transgender life different from their own. People get upset with transgender people who opt to inhabit a third gender space rather than “picking a side.” Some got upset at transgender people who did not eschew their birth histories. Others got up in arms with those who opted to opt out of surgical options, instead living with their original equipment. Heck, some get their dander up simply because this or that transgender person is not “trying hard enough” to be a particular gender, whatever that means. Meanwhile, all around were those who decided they weren’t comfortable with the lot of us, because we were deciding to change from one gender expression or identity to some other.
To hell with that.
You see, I learned not only that I would have to do what I had to do to be happy regardless of the struggles I would face, but also that I was the only person responsible for my own comfort or discomfort about my gender. I could wrinkle my nose about what someone else might do or what have you, but ultimately I knew that what others did could not change who I was.
This isn’t to say there’s no such thing as defamation. Far from it. There is always a need to watch for those people and situations that exist to attack us as a whole. We can’t turn away from right-wing demagogues who will insist that the word of the doctor who proclaimed our gender at birth somehow holds more sway over our bodies than the world of those who inhabit it.
Yet just as anyone can call me whatever they want, it is up to me to decide to answer to their terms. More than this, it should be irrelevant for me to worry about what any other transgender person opts to do, and how their actions somehow change who I am. They cannot.
I know what I am. I know that I’m a transgender woman, and that I am — by and large — happy with where I am in this world. I’m far from perfect, and I could give you a list as long as my arms of the things I’d love to change. Nevertheless, I am still here, and I am still me, and no one can change that without my permission.
That’s the important thing to me. Be whoever — whatever — you wish to be. You need not my permission. At the same time, understand that it cuts both ways. Afford me and everyone the luxury of following their own path, much like I welcome you to find your place. Their decisions are not yours and, while you might learn a thing or two about yourself from what others do, the biggest lesson is that you will always remain you, regardless of what anyone else does with their lives.
Gwen Smith lives in a nice suburban house but, oh gosh, it has no white picket fence. You can find her on the Web at www.gwensmith.com.
Mark My Words is on vacation and will return next week.