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The other day, during a conversation with a trans-woman friend, I realized that, even though we were speaking english, we sounded like we were conversing in a foreign tongue.  It dawned on me for the first time that there is a complete and unique nomenclature to gender expression that people on the outside of the phenomenon probably find as in comprehensible as that African clicking language does to me.  Take gender-specific labels and references, for starters.

Within the trans community, you are what you say we are.  If you identify as female, the original, or even current, zoning of the real estate between your legs is immaterial.  Nor does it matter if you don’t live permanently in your gender identity.  In the trans-world, your word is your gender, end of story.  It’s totally normal for a middle aged man in a business suit to be referred to as, “she,” and, “her,” among our community because that is her authentic gender identity, regardless of her gender expression at any given moment.  And it was commonplace to hear phrases like, “her wife,” or, “his husband,” in reference to the genetic female or genetic male spouse of a trans-woman or trans-man years before same sex marriage became legal in this country.

Drag queens and female impersonators, like many artists and artisans, also have a distinct vocabulary.  For example, when they put on their makeup to perform on stage, it’s called getting in, “face.”  (As in, “I was driving home from a show the other night in full face and remembered I was all out of cat food and eggs.  So I ran into Walmart and picked out what I needed and went to the cashier.  I swear to God that woman was twice my age and she was wearing more makeup than I was!”)

Conversely, most in the transgender community who don’t do theatrical drag would never use a term like that. They refer to the act of assuming the outward accoutrements of their intended gender simply as, “dressing,” or being, “dressed.”  To wit, “I was meeting some friends for dinner last night, but I was going dressed, so I left work two hours early and had to dress like a bat out of hell, but I made the reservation.”  (FYI, for many non full-time trans-women, swapping out genders in just two hours would be setting a land speed record.  Adding curves where they don’t exist normally and replacing visible masculinity with convincing femininity can be a very involved, almost alchemical process.)

“In drab,” is the opposite of,  “dressing.”  That’s the term for assuming the attire of the physical gender one is given at birth – generally when we would prefer not to.  (And you can trust me on this.  Even if we don’t say anything, we seldom want to wear the mantle of our birth gender.)  Some trans-women who haven’t transitioned to living permanently in their gender identity even call it, “sending their evil twin.”  As in, “My wife and I got tickets for a play, but her sister’s going with us, and she doesn’t know Gina (or Ashley or Coleen), so my evil twin’s going in my place.”

Most transgender women, particularly heterosexual trans-women, start out dressing in secret.  They hide their activities from parents and siblings, friends and, later, girlfriends, spouses and children.  Consequently, as with lesbian, gay and bisexual individuals at the outset of their journeys, trans-women commonly begin, “in the closet.”  Very often, that soon ceases to quench the need to express their gender truth, so the trans-person musters the courage and finds opportunities to get “out” into the world presenting as their true gender.

(“Getting out,” and “being outed,” are two very different things.  Getting out is a momentous event in a trans-person’s life.  Being outed means being exposed involuntarily as transgender.  It is an act of malevolence that can sunder the soul of the victim.  Irrespective of how much or little material damage it does to the trans-person’s life, there are few things as wrenching as suddenly realizing that there is someone who is so evil, so consumed with hatred for you that they would deliberately attempt to destroy your world.)

For me, getting out took a weekend trip to New York for an amateur cooking class, a bottle of chardonnay, a denim miniskirt, a red peasant top and kitten heel black sandals.  I argued with myself for three hours in my hotel room while I got dressed.  And then, suddenly, before I realized what I was doing, I was standing on Sixth Avenue in my auburn wig, my makeup done as well as my limited skills could manage, feeling a pronounced draft up my skirt and waiting for a horde of angry villagers to start chasing me with torches and pitchforks.  I had been dressing in private in my home for years, and I was certain to the pit of my soul that, the moment I ventured into the world, everyone save the recently dead would see that I was a man in women’s clothing and would besiege me for besmirching my birth gender.

Surprisingly, no one seemed to notice me or, for that matter, care about my gender complexity if they did.  One elderly black gentleman eventually asked me, “are you lost, Miss?”  I wanted to offer to bear his children for the, “Miss,” but I resisted and merely shook my head.   I walked around Times Square for a couple of hours, window shopping and venturing into a few stores that first night.  I even got Starbucks and nearly cried when the barista asked for my name.  For the very first time ever I said, “Gina,” out loud, to another person!  It was one of the greatest moments of my life.  The woman inside me was in the outside world.  She was real!

“Passing,” is the first Holy Grail for a trans-person.  It means to pass visually as a member of your intended gender.  When you start interacting with the world as the woman (or man) you’re supposed to be, nothing is more fulfilling than to be accepted as the person you are inside.  One of the first truths many of us learn, however, is that we don’t pass perfectly, and probably never will.  For a trans-woman, whether because of our physicality, our bearing, or our voice, people will generally always know we are smuggling Y chromosomes under our dress.  The more important second truth we discover is that passing is nothing more than a chimera.  Whether it happens or not is ultimately meaningless.  What matters is being accepted as our authentic self (first by ourselves, and then by the people who are important to us and, finally, by the world), is the only key to successfully transitioning.

Hopefully, if you have occasion to overhear, or participate, in a conversation with a transgender person, this will help you better understand what they’re talking about.

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By

Gina Conners

It’s doesn’t take the gift of clairvoyance to predict that this weekend’s deadly demonstrations by alt-right groups in Charlottesville, Virginia, will almost certainly be into the far Right’s next iconic rallying cry, just like Ruby Ridge and Waco were in the 90s. The radical starboard fringe cleave to any event or action they think will foment racial unrest on such a grand scale that it will lead to the violent, permanent dismantling of America’s culturally diverse status quo.

But there are other occurrences that also showcase the alt-Right’s native talent for engineering social change. These moments (which are, perhaps, even more emblematic of the movement’s true nature), should also be kept in mind as the media work themselves into a froth over the reach and scope of this extremist movement, especially now that they have a kindred spirit in the Oval Office.

Take, for example, what happened on November 15, 2014, in the village of Wunsiedel, Germany. Every fall for 25 years, neo-Nazi groups from all over the country would gather in the town for a march and rally on Rudolph Hess’ birthday to promote their white supremacist, anti-immigrant and pro-German nationalist views. (Hess was one of Adolph Hitler’s closest aides. He secretly flew to Scotland in 1941, supposedly to try to negotiate peace with Britain, but was taken prisoner by the British for the duration of the war and, later, convicted of war crimes and sentenced to life in Spandau Prison in Germany. Hess, the last prisoner in Spandau, is said to have committed suicide in 1987. Until 2011, when his body was disinterred, he was buried in Wunsiedel.)

The march and rally had become the biggest annual public event in the neo-Nazi calendar in Germany, much to the consternation of the residents of the Wunsiedel. Not surprisingly, they were less than ecstatic over the idea that their town was known as the home of right-wing extremism in the country. In 2014, they decided to do something about it. Something incredibly clever.

Instead of trying to stop the neo-Nazis from marching, they secretly turned the event into the, “most involuntary walkathon in the country.” Working with Exit Germany, the people of the town came together and pledged to donate 10 euros for ever meter the skinheads walked to the nonprofit. Exit Germany is a charity dedicated to helping neo-Nazis safely leave the neo-Nazi movement and return to normal living. The goal of the walkathon was to raise $10,000 euros for the charity.

The subterfuge was planned with the precision of a military operation. Hundreds of skinheads and neo-Nazis showed up at the appointed time and started their march carrying various symbols and signs to promote their cause. But moments after the march commenced, the towns people displayed billboards, signs and posters of their own. They called it the, “Nazis Against Nazis,” walkathon. The route was peppered with signs thanking the marchers and encouraging them to soldier on for the cause of dismantling their own movement. Helpful mile-markers were painted in the street showing how much money had been raised to that point by the marchers. There were even tables of free bananas for the participants to help ensure they had the stamina to finish the trek. A carefully coordinated social media campaign was also launched moments after the march began to tell the world about the Nazis marching to end their own movement.

Oh, by the way, that was the last year the neo-Nazis marched in Wunsiedel.

And that wasn’t even the first time Germany’s version of the alt-right got punked by Exit Germany. In 2011, the group staged the “Trojan T-Shirt,” coup. Several neo-Nazis musical groups had decided to come together and stage a massive right-wing rock concert to promote their common causes and recruit young people to their side. (What would you call such an event, “Hatestock?” “Hitlerpalooza?” “Reich-ella?”)

Exit Germany decided to help the Nazis with their event. Through a dummy front company, they gave the promoters of the concert more than 250 specially designed T-shirts that were to be distributed free to concert goers. The T-shirts had an elaborate design on the front that said, “Hardcore Rebels – National and Free!” Attendees snapped the freebie shirts up in minutes. They were less thrilled with their “big score,” however, when they got them home. After a single wash, the intricate design on the front of the shirts transmuted into the message, “If your T-Shirt Can do It, So Can You!” Contact information for Exit Germany was also helpfully provided on the shirt. Angry neos peppered the internet with statements of outrage at being duped which, of course, only caused news of the prank to spread even faster.

Putting aside, for the moment, whether the President’s remarks were appropriate (spoiler alert – they weren’t), one of the best ways to put these people back on the lonely, empty outskirts of common public discourse, is to show them for what a very high percentage of them are, ridiculous losers who, for the most part, swing from very, very low branches in the brain forest. There’s more than one reason they so admire Trump. In addition to echoing their hateful sentiments about race, gender and sexual orientation, he’s every bit as stupid as they are. Just as sunlight is the best disinfectant for public officials misdeeds, reason is the alt-Right’s kryptonite. Let’s give them a major dose, every time they heave their unibrows into public view.

By

Gina Conners

The following are some of the firsts that happen in a trans-person’s life.  I don’t believe people who aren’t trans have many similar experiences. To be sure, not all trans-people experience all of them, but I think most will know many of them. And I’m pretty sure nearly every trans-person experiences some of them. In many ways, they define us, both to ourselves and the rest of the world.   

There are firsts you may or may not remember, depending on how old you are when they happen. Such as the instant you become aware that you’re different, when that narrator in your head first articulates the thought, “I don’t know why or how, but I’m not normal.” Or, some time after that, that you realize you’re actually more girl than the boy they’ve always said you were (or boy than girl), than everyone, including you, expected you to be. The farther into your youth you are when these moments happen, the more discomforting they often feel.

Later on, you experience that electrifying instant when you dress and present as your intended gender for the first time. It feels like a fuse has been lit in your soul when you see that person you’ve seen forever in your mind’s eye, standing before you in a mirror. It may be followed quickly, or not so quickly or, sadly, not at all, by your first steps beyond the chrysalis of your bedroom, or your bathroom, or the privacy of a hotel room – into the real world as the real you.

There is also the moment you curse the affliction of your gender the first time you lie to a loved one to get a few hours, or a few days, away from your “real life,” to be your authentic self. Unfortunately, the guilt usually lessens with time and guile and practice – the process of which leaves a different kind of emotional scar. Akin to this experience is the first time you are caught crossdressing by a loved one, friend, colleague or acquaintance. There’s that moment of cold terror in the pit of your stomach when you see the shock in their eyes and realize that the carefully made contrivance of your “real world,” may be over or, at the very least, never the same again.

Then there is the first time you get stopped by a cop. (This is almost an inevitability, no matter how virtuous or law abiding you may be. I don’t know why, but there is some sort of kismetic attraction between the exact moment when you are at your most real, and therefore your most vulnerable, and when you most want to blend in with the world around you – and the nearest member of law enforcement. It will happen. If you are extremely fortunate it won’t involve handcuffs, billy clubs, legal fees, or court dates.)

Even though a lot of us can’t find the words to talk about it, there is also a moment too many experience – the first time we consider suicide as a release from the prison of our turmoiled gender. Forty-three percent of transgender people do more than think about it. They attempt it. If they don’t succeed, it leaves a mark on their soul. If they do, it disfigures the souls of everyone their loss affects.

Please don’t misunderstand, living as a trans-individual isn’t only about shadowed truth, transient fear and episodic pain. Far from it. There are countless small triumphs and powerful moments that leave you dumbfounded that an act as mundane as crossdressing can cause, or be the catalyst for, so much joy in a human heart. The first time someone refers to you by the correct pronoun, or calls you “Miss,” or holds a door open or pulls a chair out for you (if you’re a trans-woman), is just such a powerful and affirming moment.

Then there is your maiden excursion shopping as your real self. You could be walking into Target to buy underwear, but the fact that you’re outside the exoskeleton of your birth gender in a public place shopping for the genuine you – you feel like Cinderella descending the main stairway to meet Prince Charming the night of the ball. You are terrified and exhilarated all at the same instant.

And then there is something like this. Three years ago I went to my first transgender conference, the Keystone Conference, in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. (yes, they actually have them, all over the world.) Keystone is the largest such gathering in the United States with nearly 700 trans-men and women attending every year. That first moment I walked into the hotel and saw so many people who were just like me, who had lived through so many of the same oddly-angled challenges and victories that had defined my life, it was impossible to find words to measure my feelings at that instant. Later, when the tears finally stopped, I understood exactly what I’d experienced. Even though I’d never set foot in that building before, it felt like I had come home. I felt safe and normal, for the first time in my life.

There is also the cascade of emotions you experience when you decide, after however many years, to come out as transgender to the people who populate your world. However well you know them, however sure you are that they love and value you, you are horrified that they will reject you because of your gender reality. Almost as much as you fear their disdain, you mourn the loss of the awkward comfort of the lie you’ve lived every moment of your life, up until that time. Once you are out, particularly if you’re coming out to transition to live full time in your intended gender, you can never go back in. And the unknown horizon beyond is terrifying.

After that conversation comes the inevitable regret. If it goes well, you regret all of the time you wasted hiding and lying and living as someone you weren’t. If it doesn’t go as you hoped, you regret having broached the subject in the first place. Either way, the regret is usually followed by the relief that the person you have always been, and the person you are to the rest of the world, are finally becoming one in the same.

By

Gina Conners

(I belong to a local transgender support group in the Washington, DC area, and we hold social gatherings every so often to which everyone in the transgender community is invited. After one of these recent gatherings, a local trans-woman posted a comment online to the effect that she didn’t think that many of the trans-women who attended the event were “really” transgender because they hadn’t transitioned and had gender confirmation surgery. She also derided the “crossdressers” because she thought they were detracting from the image of transgender women the fulltimers had been trying to create. A lot of people responded to her comments. Here is my reply.)

I think you can see from the responses to your comments that you’ve touched a nerve among the members of this group. What you have done is articulate one side of the most fundamental fissure that exists among the transgender community – who exactly is, and who isn’t transgender.

There is a subset among transsexuals who believe that, unless you have transitioned to living full time on a permanent basis and had gender confirmation surgery, you are not, and can’t be truly transgender. Often, those trans-people deride and belittle “part timers,” calling them fetish crossdressers who only “indulge” for the sexual pleasure it engenders.

Personally, I believe that view starts from a flawed predicate. Transsexuality, crossdressing, transvestism, etc., are not separate conditions derived from unrelated origins. I am convinced that there is only one factor that “causes” every gender issue in every person, irrespective of how it may be expressed in their lives. Every transgender person is motivated by the same thing, a seminal disquiet in the center of our being with our physical gender.

I know this to be true because my life has exemplified this reality. I’m 60 years old. I don’t remember a time when I didn’t feel that I was living in someone else’s body, that the gender the world told me I was wasn’t the way I felt inside. I know – now – that the voice inside me that told me that wasn’t a lonely singer in a desolate wilderness. She was one among a choir of voices within the hearts of millions of individuals around the world who, at the same time as me and forever before and after, were struggling to make peace with their own gender.

Like most of us, I began by “borrowing” things from my mother and dressing in secret. As a teenager that progressed into acquiring a small wardrobe of my own and dressing at every conceivable opportunity. But, no matter how often or seldom I dressed, doing so was never far from the center of my mind. The moments when I could see the girl inside me actually in the mirror were the only instances of true peace I experienced in my childhood. But, this was also the mid-1970s and, while Stonewall had taken place and changes were happening in society, they weren’t happening in the world in which I lived. The community where I lived most of my youth was said to be so Republican that Democrats didn’t get their trash collected. (It wasn’t true, but three members of Ronald Reagan’s first cabinet came from my home county.)

Add to that the fact that both my grandfather and father were Marines, and my dad spent his entire career in the Marines. And, even though my parents separated when I was eight, the ethos of the Corps suffused the tapestry of my childhood. Men, in that world, didn’t dislike being men. Men, in that world, didn’t want to be women. When I came of age I wound up facing what I have come to learn since is the dilemma almost every trans-individual of my era dealt with: do I pursue a path in life that lets me become the gender I knew I was inside, or do I fulfill the role I had been conditioned to live since birth? In short, do I choose my gender identity or my “social” identity. I’ve also learned since that I chose the path that most transgender people like me did at that time – I chose the responsibilities and affirmation of society over my personal fulfillment.

But, again, while I stopped dressing throughout my 20s and 30s to marry, raise a son and pursue a career, a day didn’t go by that I didn’t think about the woman inside me. I felt her presence in everything I did. I wondered what she would be doing at different moments had I chosen that other path in life. Quite frankly, because this was also the time when AIDS was devastating the LGBTQ community, I wasn’t at all sure that I wouldn’t have fallen victim to the disease and ended up a square in the AIDS quilt they assembled on the national mall in Washington in the 80s.

It wasn’t until I was 45 and had had gastric bypass surgery (two years before) and lost 200 pounds that I met that girl inside again. I was on a business trip to Boston and decided to visit a makeup artist who specialized in transgender makeovers. I told myself it was just a lark, just a small indulgence to see how I might look as a woman after losing all of that weight. And that’s all I really thought it was, until the makeup artist turned me around to face the mirror when he’d finished his work.  

Several seconds went by before I remembered to breath again. There was that girl, now grown into a woman. She was there in the world again after more than 25 years. She wasn’t an illusion born of artifice and artistry. She was an inner truth made real and whole by that person’s expertise. And even though she doesn’t live day to day full time even now, she has never gone back into the shadows since that first time.

The point of recounting my experience is to show you that you and I, and every other trans-person no matter where they may fall on the spectrum of transgender expression, are the same. We are kindred victims and beneficiaries of the gender diversity that exists within us. And even though we may have chosen different paths through life, we have experienced many of the same trials and triumphs in learning to live with our unique complexity. We have felt the same pains and experienced the same pleasures. And we seek the same sense of fulfillment and the same inner peace, whatever our individual journeys.

C_____ is right. None of us are better than any other of us. But all of us are better if we recognize that we need each other to find a better place for our community in the world. Petty insults and meaningless derisions only detract from that larger purpose.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    

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