I have begun a wonderful correspondence in Facebook with an old graduate school buddy, whose invitation to be her friend came out of the blue to me. Rachel Peacock writes about how, as a lesbian, she felt pressured to be the go-to woman for all things queer, including teaching queer theory, retooling her research interests to cover queer issues, and generally embodying the concept of queer in her person and her job. She describes her metamorphosis from Rachel to “The Queer” as the old faculty retired and were gradually replaced by newer scholars. She also writes about the few times we met in the past, but never got beyond the cordial how-do-you-do’s, and laments why we didn’t talk more substantially.
I especially feel for her as she battles the sticky label of “The Queer” — in fact, it really frightens me, the possibility (eventuality?) of my becoming “The Tranny,” because it’s not an identity I aspire to, but rather just a nature I’m becoming. If we express our nature, it’s both invisible and pervasive because it’s not something we wear or put on airs about, but something that infuses our countenances and our speech and our gestures. You can see it if you look hard enough for it (like Whitman under your bootsoles), but it’s invisible in normal relations. I’m intellectually excited about the times to come, and I’ll help out around the university and the city when it comes to trans* issues, but I’d rather not be the token Trans*person. It’s as frightening as being the Black, or the Woman, or the Marxist — those categories box us in and the labels are so sticky as to be virtually indelible.
In reflecting on Rachel, I thought she didn’t like me when we were introduced. Contrary to her hypothesis that I held back because I might be discovered, I didn’t really ever worry about being discovered by lesbians or gays because I had learned over the years that just because you had Gaydar didn’t mean you had Transdar (see Ellen Andersen’s column about my announcement in Bilerico). But what I was afraid of, especially with Out gays and lesbians, is that I would feel squashed down into my little pre-defined category of straight, boring, white guy, when inside I knew I was a lot more than that. I envied their exuberance and ended up becoming exactly what frightened me most: the uber-closeted tranny, thus perpetuating the shell I disliked.
Rachel was much more closed, or perhaps subtle, and I doubt I felt these things about her. If I can recall, I suspect that I felt her judgment, intellectual, gender, and human — maybe that’s my fault for building her up as a person of exceptional quality, or maybe it’s just that people who are like her and me, naturally quiet and reserved, convey what other people perceive as judgment or confidence, when in reality, we’re just observing the world and listening to the non-stop inner monologue that narrates our lives. If Rachel feels that she missed out in chumming it up with me, I feel an equal loss.
I wonder how many potential relationships end up in the “non-actualized” pile because of mutual fear, hesitation, or reticence? It’s not really a rhetorical question, at least these days, because what I’ve discovered is that when you make an earth-shattering announcement about your very identity, the people who don’t run screaming (and they aren’t many, really) see it as an occasion to open up and share their stories. I have “met” a bunch of people I thought I already knew before, but actually only skimmed the surface, and I like it. I feel like I’m part of humanity, like I’m finally part of a larger conversation that I barely knew was happening. I’ve been standing outside a nice house, seeing through partially shuttered windows the party guests laughing and chatting and touching and whispering, not fathoming what they’re saying or doing, but knowing deep down that I have been excluded somehow.
The internet is a beautiful thing, a garden that allows these sorts of relationships to grow — maybe because we’re unburdened from our face-to-face sizing-each-other-up or our jealousy or our sexual attraction or our timidity. However these seedlings get started, I’m committed to nurturing them, and living the second half of my life tending them — there’s a lot of living to do and a lot of hiding to make up for, and if flying to meet Rachel or flying her down to Bedford Falls to spend some time is part of that process of relationship husbandry, I’m game.