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.

Check out a nicely argued article from Advocate.com by Jenni Olson, who makes the case for T to be an essential part of the LGBQ agenda, especially in light of Shannon Minter’s role in the same-sex marriage case before the California Supreme Court last month (Minter is FTM).

Standing By Shannon
“Shannon Minter argued in California’s supreme court for my right to marry. I won’t rest until he’s protected in a trans-inclusive ENDA.”

Read the rest

I spent the entire Saturday in Austin as Joyce, which was very easy to do, and suggests a trajectory of becoming that seems nothing but easy. However embodied and comfortable I am, though, the presentation is still minimalism. So after a pozole lunch with my friend Honoria and her eclectic group of friends at El Sol Y La Luna restaurant on South Congress street, off we went to shop.

Honoria is an artist and a consultant and a whimsical shopper, so we started at a place called Big Bertha’s Bargain Basement, where Henry the proprietor has some truly amazing (and amazingly festive) dresses, jackets, hats, and accouterments. I tried on a variety of dresses of various vintage and found only one, a stretchy black dress that seemed quite plausible (with the right accessories, of course).

Henry modifies jackets with some of the most amazing artwork I’ve ever seen, and these jackets and the other dresses I tried on fall into that category of “fun to wear but hard to picture.” What I mean is that if one wanted to look fabulous, Big Bertha’s is one of the key places to go, but “fabulous” may not be the right look to aim for right now for two reasons: my stated aesthetic of minimalism and the lack of places/events in humble Bedford Falls where “fabulous” is called for.

There was a time when “fabulous” would have been the only thing that interested me, not having an emerging feminine lifeworld, but rather a series of little outings. We might call it “drag,” if we want, but I’m not sure that term (which is an acronym, by the way: Dressed As A Girl) was appropriate for my explorations into early, proto-Joyce, and I am certain that it’s not appropriate for me now.

These thoughts were on my mind as Honoria and I shopped, and I realized that I was finding it hard to imagine my immediate future in Bedford Falls, the mundane activities of taking the kids to school, teaching my students, doing yardwork, eating dinner, and a thousand other mundane tasks that comprise my lifeworld. In other words, shopping for “fabulous” seemed to me to be bringing two opposite poles into direct confrontation in my mind: the 99% routine world where minimalism is almost certainly appropriate, and the 1% special world where “fabulous” is acceptable and expected.

If I’m wrong on the categories or percentages, it doesn’t really matter — the conflict is what’s important. And this conflict immediately reminded me of another one I have had (moreso a year ago), about timelines, one being fast and exciting and the other being slow and prudent. It’s hard changing your identity radically, partly because the new identity will have this same sort of mix between the mundane and the highly differentiated — most of human existence overlaps in the same activities, and if they were the only things involved in radical identity change, there would be no problems. But the small percentage of activities or thoughts that are highly differentiated between and among identities — ahhh, there’s where the disruptive change is hard.

The desire to move quickly, to buy fabulous things, to become a differentiated persona is natural, and even desirable. After all, if transition is a journey, then this is the destination, or at least a recognizable landmark that identifies the destination.

But that speed, that glamor, and differentiation is exactly what makes impatient people so funny and alien to others. Feeding the horses in a pink kimono, wearing bright blue eyeshadow and juvenile accessories to teach a graduate course, sharing too much information in situations where discretion is the norm — these are signs of impatience.

The opposite is just as bad — severe prudence, even when “fabulous” and differentiated looks are called for, going too slow on a journey that does appear to have a destination, hazy as it might be off in the distance. If friends’ advice to the too-speedy transitioner is “Grow up,” then advice to the slowpoke might be “Live a little and enjoy your new life.”

Given these thoughts–of my twin desires to populate my world with special and fabulous things and to live a normal and mundane life–I suggested to Honoria that we stop shopping and sit down and talk, to take a breather even before we were winded. We talked, a we did in the old days, playfully, happily, intellectually, and I put my concerns about becoming embodied over the next few months aside and simply enjoyed our connection–simultaneously mundane and fabulous, as it should be with good friends.

It’s hard to know what my friends and family think about my transsexual transition — maybe they’re being polite by not asking questions, or maybe they’re really busy with their own lives, or maybe they simply don’t care. Whatever the reason, I feel as if I get very little sense of how others process my situation. Mind you, I’m getting lots of support and love and trust, and I’m not wondering what people think about me per se — what I’m curious about is how they themselves feel in light of my change. I hope they’re all writing furiously about how they feel as they watch a family member or friend change, but I cannot be sure.

An exception is my friend Ellen, who blogged her reaction to my disclosure over on The Bilerico Project. She regrets not having figured out my transgendered nature and wonders what signs she missed.