Trans Family Values.

I was the baby of the family, the youngest of three. This meant that by the time it got around to me, my parents had either gotten it right or had given up in the face of futility. Of course it was usually futility; I was a rotten brat of a child. I was supposed to be the smartest of the three too. This meant that I was going to be the one who was the most successful. There was the benefit of having the best education, of having parents who had experience with other kids, and having things laid out for me already. Nope. Still a petulant little brat, and sometimes even at this age I can still be one (though these days it’s a different “B-word” I’m called).
It wasn’t until recently that I realized that I’m also a middle child. Ah, the middle child. The older child get’s the benefit of having parents who have doted over their newness and the parent’s joy of sharing “firsts”. The younger has the benefit of experienced parents, and get to have the joy of rebelling against the set family ways. The middle kid though, they get kind of screwed. Either the parents are busy doting over the novelty of new things with the oldest, or trying to reign in the youngest to notice the middle kid, just kind of sitting there trying to be the balancing act between the two.
Of course, being a writer about transgender issues, I’m clearly using all this as an allegory about being transgender. You see, I’ve been living as a woman for about 7 years now, though I knew I was trans for about five years before that. I was of course one of those who grew up in an environment where it wasn’t easy to express that part of my life. There weren’t a lot of role models, much less good role models. Far too much of my exposure to trans people was either through that circus side show called Jerry Springer, or either movies and tv shows where they were the butt of jokes or freakish psychopaths. It’s no wonder that so many people even today think of them as people who mutilate their bodies, have some sort of sexual fetish, or are severely mentally disturbed. I assure you, my mental hang ups are related to entirely different issues than being trans. Hell, I got better after coming out! Only once the depression of never being able to find myself through other means overwhelmed my denial was I finally able to come out. By that point, there was already a growing presence of trans people in the media that wasn’t completely negative, and levels of acceptance spreading throughout the country.
In the decades before me, others had endured harassment, humiliation, and social stigma that resulted in building a community I found through the Wild West days of the internet. Back in the days of dial up modems and AOL cd’s trans people were gathering in groups on the web helping each other out. Okay, it’s a lot of the same thing it is today, lot’s of fawning over each others progress pictures and trying to find a cheap place to get size 13 shoes. But, that was unheard of back then! Because communities like that were built, trans people were able to organize and gain the attention of the greater LGBT community at large while at the same time, people like me were able to learn that we were not alone out there. People like Calpurnia Addams, Julia Seranno, Donna Rose, and Kate Bornstein built a legacy off of the foundations that people like Christine Jorgensen and Renee Richards started. Because of the tragedies people like Brandon Teena and Gwen Araujo suffered, people began to see us as people and not freaks. Thanks to them, and several supportive people who have been part of my life, I was able to finally gather the strength to overcome my own fears and transition. Those are my older trans siblings. Of course, because of them, I got the benefit of having supportive social circles. I found a job that had a not only a written policy of non-discrimination against trans people that allowed me to transition, but they also helped pay for the overwhelming costs of transitioning. Man, I miss that job. Okay…my bank account misses that job.

However, they never got to experience having the positive role models on tv. They never got to experience the benefits of sympathetic families and communities. There was never the amount of medical, psychological, and legal support that I got to experience just a few years later. Of course that means that with the ever growing acceptance trans people have, I’ll never get to have what those younger and earlier in their transition get to have. Those are my younger siblings.
Because they don’t face the same levels of bullying, ostracism, medical misunderstanding that even I did, they don’t understand what it was like just a few years before. Please don’t misunderstand me, I’m not saying it’s all Brady Bunch sing-a-long’s and Hallmark Cards for young LGBT people, but the world they live in, isn’t even the world of just ten years ago when I fully came to terms with who I was. There is still violence against LGBT people, there are still unfair laws, there is still a long way to go, but trust me, it’s come a long way. However, you have to understand, the very idea of letting your eight year old child decide they were a girl and letting them dress as one would have gotten them taken away by Child Welfare Services just a few years ago. When I was eight, liking anything that wasn’t G.I. Joe or He-Man would have gotten you strange looks from everyone. I remember when the hippie parents down the street let their daughter give me a Care Bear for my birthday. Mother of God! You know what would have happened if the other kids in Cub Scouts found out? Ass beatings. Hours of ass beating. For them of course. I was kind of a short fused and mean kid. Of course today, we hold parents who would let their kids go against gender norms up as paragons of virtue.
Being the middle child, I get to sit here in the middle seat of this mini-van we call social progress. I have to deal with my older sibling, all prim and proper, doing all the things that’s expected of them on one side. They’re tough, mature, responsible, and more than a little jealous of the kid on the other side of me, my petulant and impatient younger sibling, all dressed in black and listening to The Cure on their iPhone. The oldest can’t seem to understand why the baby get’s so upset about unfair rules and unkind words. They had to put up with it and dealt with stuff worse than that! The little brat should just grow up! The youngest of course thinks the oldest is being a mamma’s kid and a suck up. They say they don’t want to be liked by the cool kids at school like the oldest does (but they really do). Instead of trying to get everyone to like them, the youngster is telling us all about the latest counter culture and cutting edge ideas using words that no one in the rest of the car understands. My older sibling looks at me like I’m supposed know what the kid is talking about. I just shrug my shoulders too. I only caught half of what the kid is talking about. I try to keep the two from killing each other and ruining the whole trip for everybody. Both of them keep wanting me to take their side in the arguments and fights, but it’s hard to do when they’re both wrong so much of the time. I just want to sit here and read my book, is that too much to ask?!
I’m the middle child of the transgender struggle for acceptance. I was never part of those first attempts at acceptance. The idea that we had to conform to be welcomed. The idea that we had to keep our mouths shut and suffer in silence through our existence. Though now, I’m too far along to be angered at every perceived slight. I can see where the younger folks are coming from with their sense of being offended, but I often just can’t see it being something to get worked up about. At the same time, I won’t benefit from the ability to accept myself at a younger age, to have the freedoms to be who I should have been sooner. I think the older ones can be a bit too jaded and cynical, but the younger a bit too naive or entitled. Honestly, I could go either way with so much of what they want to fight about with each other and the world at large. Most days, I’m just happy to be here. In the end, I get to be the middle-child. The one who just wants every one to quit yelling at each other and fighting and try to just get my own little thing done. I love my siblings, they’re my family. But like all family, they can annoy the crap out of you sometimes.

Article origionally appeared in the November 2014 edition of The Gayly

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One thought on “Trans Family Values.

  1. Really appreciated this post right now! I just read an obituary for Leslie Feinberg that documented her/hir years of activism as a stone butch communist Jewish transgender lesbian activist, and the article used only “she” and “her” pronouns, taking the cue from Feinberg’s partner of 22 years, Minnie Pratt (Feinberg has stated that she/zie goes by either female or gender neutral pronouns and doesn’t really care which are used as long as the person using them is being honorable). Of course, the comments section erupted in a bloodbath between trans voices who claimed that using “she/her” was genderqueer erasure and and an act of violence and lesbians who claimed that denying Feinberg’s roots as a butch lesbian/accusing Feinberg’s partner of 22 years of cissexism was too reductionist. While I could, as usual, see both sides, I couldn’t help noticing that Feinberg’s 50+ years of queer activism were completely disregarded in favor of an hour of arguing over pronouns and who gets to decide how to refer to whom and “claim” a community figure after their passing. Sorry to ramble, but your blog post reminded me of that.

    Like

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