Living Symbolically

When I was trans, I hated being “the trans person” in the room. See, my fantasies about living as a man were about being received and reacted to as a man. But that never happened for me. I never passed, never even came close. So instead I was “the trans person” and that really is its own gender role. I think the ways you’re received and reacted to as “the trans person” changes quite a bit based on what people can tell your sex is, so to be specific I only know what being “the FAAB trans person” is like.

  1. You’re the most oppressed person in the room. People tell you to your face that your life must be so hard, that they can’t even imagine, that you’re so brave. And then they demonstrate their relationship to all oppressed peoples by their relationship to you. It was a time of lots of people wanting to take pictures with me and lots of people very, very quickly declaring me their friend.
  2. You’re a sexual adventure. Especially for people with a shaky claim to a queer identity- dudes and ladies who overwhelmingly are straight but wonder about themselves. They find you fascinating. They feel strangely drawn to you. Even stranger, they actually use that language to talk to you: “fascinating” and “strangely drawn.”
  3. Openness now becomes an expectation. People want in on every part of the journey. When you have observations and opinions about the world at large, that is much less interesting to them then getting to watch you, getting to watch what outfits you wear, what your friends look like, when your next medical intervention is coming up.

I hated being “the trans person.” Because I don’t like being a symbol. So much of being a woman feels like being a symbol.

Here comes macho dude, and look, you look like a pretty lady waitress, so macho dude is going to put on a little show for everyone about how he’s so powerful and he’s going to make you wait on him while he broadcasts to the whole restaurant that he’d fuck you, because that’s what macho dudes like him do to pretty lady waitresses like you.

But then it’s the same shit with being trans. Here comes enlightened queer lady, and she’s smarter than everybody and her queerness doesn’t obfuscate her unique feminine draw, and you look like a transmasculine person so she’s going to broadcast to the room that she’s your ally and she knows how everyone should address you and talk to you and she’s going to affirm your masculinity in the way only someone with her unique feminine draw can- having sex with you. More specifically, you’ll have sex with her, because she plans on being real pillow princess-y about the whole thing.

I’ve been having trouble with being detransitioned because it feels like some symbolism is sneaking into the persona. Like there are more and more people who have an idea of what a “detransitioned woman” should look like, think, and want from them. The more she looks like a trans guy the better. The more of a radical feminist she is the better. What people think she wants is actually pretty close to what people think trans people want- to be the most oppressed person in the room, the person horrible things have happened to, the warning of what this epidemic is going to do to all our daughters.

I definitely felt, when I was trans, that there were a lot of people who wanted me to perform my pain, to prove their political point about how society had to change. More and more I feel like performing pain is what people are looking for from detransitioned women. Like I’m most valuable not as a thinking person who can observe the world, but as a Woman Terrible Things Have Happened To. I happen to think a lot of the circumstances I have traveled through have been terrible. I also am very wary of attempts to reduce me to those circumstances. I’m proud I made it through those circumstances. I’m proud I’m a good writer, a smart person, a funny person, and someone who takes seriously the duty to be good to other people. I don’t want to ever have to put on a little performance of how sad my life is. I’ve worked very, very hard to make sure it is not a sad life, but rather a good fucking time.

People like to interact with symbolic people more than they like to interact with complicated people. Symbolic people are easy- that’s their appeal. You know the script to follow with a symbolic person. It’s like when Dave Chappelle goes to Disneyland and people shout “I’m Rick James Bitch!” at him and his family. You see Dave Chappelle. You know the script. He’s a symbol, and you know what to say to the symbol. Dave Chappelle- the father, the guy on vacation, the guy from Yellow Springs, the child of professors- that guy is harder to know how to act around. That guy requires some manners and some acknowledgement that you don’t actually know him or what he’s seen or how he likes to be treated. You have to be present and thoughtful with that guy.

Is there a way to express yourself without performing? Is there a way to tell the truth about your life without having to become a symbol people can play out their script with?

When I was going on job interviews all trans-guyed out and couldn’t get hired, femmephobia sounded like a total joke to me. I do mostly think it’s still the biggest fucking joke- Target has three aisles of makeup, don’t tell me femme women are socially punished for being femme. But I feel like I now have some insight into the experiences that feed the idea of femme-phobia. There are women who buy into the symbolism of a short haircut on a deep level. They turn to other women with short haircuts to parse out the world. I think it’s not so much a phobia as a social hierarchy in a very, very small culture. But it’s  hard to want to stick around a very small culture where you have to visually give off the right cues to have people want to talk to you.

Social hierarchies are so human. Wanting other people to be symbols is so human. I’m feeling so very burnt out on humans.


5 thoughts on “Living Symbolically”

  1. “Social hierarchies are so human. Wanting other people to be symbols is so human.”

    Tribalism is everywhere. No matter humanity’s attempts at enlightenment, we always seem to fall back on tribal identification. IMHO liberalism has utterly devolved to tribalism, i.e. Identity politics. Secular humanism is dead, replaced by atomization of groups into smaller and smaller sets and subsets and sub-sub-subsets. Gender identities, race identities, political identities, all seek firmer boundaries in order to maintain the “otherness” of those we don’t agree with… And agreement has to be 100% or there will be hell to pay.

    We seek cred in our “in” groups in many ways, one of which is as you describe—adopting a particular individual who is seen as particularly oppressed as a mascot to parade around with.

    I don’t think there’s a solution to this, as much as these behaviors are deeply wired into our brains and psyches. But being a bit more conscious of our tribal tendencies would help.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Speaking of tribalism as the opposite of enlightenment (a term I note that new ager types tend to use in place of “intelligence”) is a tad racist, don’t you think?

      A tribe is merely a social structure. There are good ones and bad ones, just like there are nice houses and crappy ones–house being another kind of structure.

      People are seeking tribes because we need to be able to identify with people we can actually interact with, y’know, people we see every day. Right now folks are trying to find that on the Internet, which is why it’s failing. Attempting it in person instead works better. But the tribe is the social unit of Homo sapiens, just like the pride is for lions or the colony is for ants. Trying to force us away from it is not good for our psychological health.

      That said, there are SO MANY different ways to find a tribe or create a tribe, SO MANY ways to establish who’s in-group and who’s not. Having a pet trans person is only one way, and not even a good way. Then again, queer ideology doesn’t make a good tribe, either.


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