It’s a sign of the shame we are still indoctrinated to feel, or the fear that comes from being aware of the culture in which we live, or the trepidation we feel at being too “real” about our condition, that we struggle so with interactions even among others like ourselves. Or is it just me? I know I do. In fact, I’ll wager I have more trouble broaching the subject of being trans with other trans people than I do with supportive cis-people.
I have a friend that I’ve known for over 30 years. She, like me, knew as a small child that she was “different” – that there was, pardon the expression, a girl inside. But beyond that our lives took a very different course. At the time I first met her she identified, outwardly, as a gay man – this was in the mid-’80s – but she engaged heavily in the drag scene on the weekends and so she was much more in touch with her female self then that I was (I was bound up in religious-fueled denial and repression). She doesn’t suggest that she really accepted herself as trans and female in those days, but she had the opportunity to walk through at least some part of the world presenting as female and knowing how well that fit her inward feelings.
It would be another 25 years, and after I had “gone full time” in this little town where to do so is to be very notorious, before a serious of unfortunate events in her life pushed her trans status out into the daylight and it took her some time even then to fully accept the identity. She had claimed the label of gay male for so long that it was as difficult for her to come out again as it had been for me to come out of a very Traditionalist background.
I tell you all this to say this. When it became clear that my friend was no presenting as female full time, I wanted to ask her about her experience – how long she had known and how she came to be coming out as trans (by act, not statement) after such a long time of being “out” as gay and so forth – but I found myself very reluctant to invoke the T word in conversations with her, fearful that to assume she was trans and be wrong would be offensive, and likewise fearful that to question what she may have intended to be obvious would be an insult. It was only tonight, 4-5 years after I first realized she was “full time” that we had a real conversation as fellow travelers towards the same destination (albeit via wildly different roads.
For another example, I was recently shopping in a nearby outlet store, when i found myself in the checkout behind a couple. The “husband” of the two was a large, “husky” individual, slightly taller and thicker than me, though not as fat. There was a long graying salt-and-pepper ponytail (not uncommon in males in this area) but what caught my eye was a clearly well-groomed face, including waxed or plucked eyebrows, and what seemed to be a smoother complexion than someone who still could grow a beard would have. On the other hand, male appearing clothes and an absence of make-up indicated caution about assumptions would be best. Then, as s/he took hands from pockets for the first time, to scan the bank card, there was a set of lovely manicured purple nails at a length no “man” would wear beyond the drag stage.
I was instantly conflicted. I know from my own experience how isolating it can be to not interact, face to fact, with another out trans person (my friend above is basically the only “real life” trans acquaintance that I have who’s out and known to me). On the other hand, how does one say to a stranger “Oh, I see you are trans too” without being completely rude. I wouldn’t hesitate to speak up if I noted another Browncoat (Firefly/Serenity fan) or some such, but this seemed incredibly awkward to even contemplate. While i mulled my options they slipped out the door and out of my life and over a week later I still wish I had said something.
I honestly don’t have some grand conclusion to reach this time, I don’t know what the right answer is. I just think the situation kinda sucks.
Photo credit: peasap