I was at a halloween party over the weekend, and a woman was telling me about this guy she hangs out with a bunch and what a great feminist he is. She says, “I like a man so gentle he’s confused about his gender identity.”
I laughed, or scoffed maybe, and this came out of my mouth before I could even think it: “I can tell you for sure that’s not the way that works.”
She looked confused but she went on, “A guy who hates violence so much he doesn’t know if he’s a guy.”
I shook my head and sidestepped the conversation into moving plans. Socializing with a certain subset of young white people is impossible for me now. Young white people for whom being an ally to trans people is a moral requirement, but who are also functionally straight and thus never around trans people, are my least favorite kind of people to find myself trapped in conversation with. At least among trans people no one would be so naive to think gender identity confusion and gentleness were in any way related. At least among straight people who don’t feel a compulsion towards allyship the subject would never come up.
I’m very picky with my socializing now. I have the blessing/curse of a face that tells people they can speak freely without fear of judgment. For years I thought this was because some inner goodness of mine was shining through, but actually, it’s because we all watch tv where white ladies are invariably nice motherly martyr characters. More and more I see that tv is a kind of mass hypnotism, that we cannot help but look at the faces of strangers and ascribe the character traits to them the lady in charge of casting SVU would ascribe to them. This is particularly deadly for people who aren’t white. But here I am, with this white face, and the privileges attendant.
It’s just too bad about the expectation of no judgment, because people tell me things I absolutely do not want to know. The message of this face combined with the identity of “trans guy” was a particularly awful combo for this. During the time I identified as a trans guy I had a man tell me about participating in a gang rape, two different men told me about one on one rapes they committed, another two men told me about ongoing sexual relationships they had with teenagers, and of course a smattering of guys attempted to revel with me in our assumed shared disdain for the minds and bodies of women. I believe in evil now. I think evil is when you treat what’s sacred as a joke. Most men think people who are female are jokes.
To know that is hard because other people do not want to know that, and will get really angry with you if you talk about it. There’s lots of true things about this world people will get viciously angry with you if you say. They live their lives and make their choices navigating these truths, they validate these truths in all their actions, but saying these truths is not ok.
When I was trans and particularly lonely, when I’d left the Berkeley hippie house after my good guy friend had attempted to revel in shared disdain for his girlfriend with me, right after I’d quit the rich guy club, a trans guy I sort of barely knew hooked me up with two friends of his. A cis lady and a trans lady. (I know the word “cis” is a can of worms, I have no idea how at peace with lady-ness this lady was, I’m just using it as a shorthand. A lady born female, a lady born male.) I really, really needed trans friends. We all went for a walk around Lake Merritt.
I wish I remembered the specifics of this moment better. The trans lady started talking about bathrooms. She’d worked on a bathroom access ordinance for trans people at one point. She said something about how trans rhetoric had gotten so extreme she was worried about the backlash, that the trans women on the internet who made no effort to pass as women but demanded access to women’s groups and bathrooms were doing a lot of harm.
Honestly, that may not have been what she said. She criticized the rhetoric of the trans community in some way. I just remember this moment because the world literally spun for me. We were sitting on the grass by the lake, and I was looking at a blade of grass in my hand, and she said something that was critical of the trans community, and I looked up at the sky and it was spinning. I had no idea what was happening. (What was happening is I was disassociating, as is my way.) The cis lady said something like, “It must be so hard not to pass.” And then the trans lady held her ground and said some more things about the backlash she was worried about because of the extremity of online trans rhetoric. Then she said she was afraid to say any of this at her job, which wasn’t at a trans nonprofit but was a professional liberal kind of job.
You maybe won’t believe this, but I looked up at the sky and it was spinning and I thought, “This must be some kind of trap. This woman must be trying to bait and trap me.”
Because I knew what were the correct things to believe about the trans community, and this woman wasn’t saying them, and I knew that people, people I called my friends, would have no qualms about trying to fuck her life up if they heard her say this stuff. I was just trying to find a pocket of the trans community to make a little life in. I certainly wasn’t ready to fall out of line with the ideology of the group.
We hung out a couple more times. We’re still in contact. It took me awhile but I came around to trusting that she wasn’t trying to trap me. I think she just is the kind of person who is particularly resistant to unspoken group rules.
What’s interesting is it took me literally months to decide it wasn’t a trap. Because the trans community is a very tense milieu to move around in. People attack people over much less than what that woman said by the lake that day, and by “attack” I mean try to take their jobs and friends away from them. She was being wise to not say any of that at her job.
I don’t hang out in LGBT spaces anymore. A huge part of this is that testosterone turned me straight, so how would I explain what I’m doing there? But a much bigger part is that I’m not willing to be around people who are so quick to attack. A bunch of ideas isn’t worth making someone a scapegoat and screwing up their life for. Nor is a bunch of ideas worth putting myself in a room with people looking for scapegoats to screw with.
When I find myself trapped in conversation with someone well-intentioned and naive, I just sidestep and go home. I know most people cannot deal with what I would say about my experiences. I know most people love a scapegoat. I know people will do horrible things to scapegoats if they think they are bad enough people. The week I moved home Leelah Alcorn killed herself, and lots and lots of well-intentioned people took to the internet to call her parents evil. When that happened I knew I’d done the right thing for myself putting up a wall between me and the trans community. Because knowing that a person has just had their child kill themselves, and then wanting to attack that person further, and scapegoat them, and call them evil- you’re lost in your ideology at that point. You’re lost and you’re doing a terrible thing. I don’t know what else you are capable of if you can react that way to a parent in that situation. I don’t need to interact with people who can do that to people.
I’ve never been in a community where you were actually allowed to say exactly what you believed. I come from a pretty ideological family. We are much more comfortable attacking each other for being insufficiently leftist in our political analysis than we are saying, “I really need someone to listen to and comfort me right now, could you do that?” Asking for stuff, especially emotional stuff, is weak enough to be kind of disgusting to us. Attacking is strong. It means we fundamentally love ideas more than we love each other. It means we don’t even tell each other how we could show each other love because we are too afraid of being weak and wrong.
When I knew I had to get out of the trans nonprofit I was at and I had to get away from the community, I couldn’t find a way to match those truths with my standards of what a good person believed. I thought a lot about mothering, because I had had this profound spiritual experience of connecting with God as a mother. I decided my spiritual duty was to love people, and loving people is not about a relationship to their ideas. It’s more a relationship to their bodies. Loving someone on some level means, “regardless of the dumb shit you think i’m going to make sure your body has the food/rest/resources it needs to be healthy and you have the resources you need to grow into the best person you can be.”
I don’t know, it’s a real tightrope figuring out how to love people these days. A lot of being loving is being silent. But then being wise enough to know when speaking up will actually be helpful to know. You got to learn how to walk on a knife edge, and get comfortable getting cut. Without bleeding out. Are things supposed to be this hard?