I’m very open about a lot of highly stigmatized aspects of who I am. I speak more or less freely about the fact that I have a transsexual body, that I was assigned male at birth, that I suffered from a severe heroin addiction for several years, that I’m still dependent on a daily dose of methadone to remain functional, etc.
I’m an open book.
But not really. In each choice to be open about a particular aspect of who I am, or who I was, I made the decision deliberately, intentionally, with individual reasons for each. There are a variety of motivations, and sacrifices, beneath each choice I made to be “out” about something, be it transsexuality, addiction, atheism, sexual orientation, whatever. The reasons behind each choice were particular, and some were harder choices than others.
All that, though, has the somewhat undesired effect of obscuring the fact that there’s a great deal I don’t talk about.
Some of my books are closed.
There are, for each aspect of my life or past I’ve chosen to keep concealed (many of which are things so painful I often prefer to keep them concealed from myself as best I can), again particular reasons, particular motivations, particular sacrifices. Just like with those things about which I’m “out”, each “closet” is kept shut as an individual choice. A choice I have to periodically, painfully, renew.
But I’d rather it be very clear that one of the things that helps keep those books and closets closed is the fact that I’ve seen how trans women are treated when their narratives stray from the expected script. Or rather, when they reveal how their narratives stray from that script, as I have my doubts that many of our stories ever match it all that closely.
We have a political obligation to present some kind of unified identity. We need to be able to say “this is who we are. This is what defines us. These are our needs. This is what we ask”. We also have a political, cultural obligation to be comprehensible. They won’t see us if they can’t understand what they’re seeing, and they certainly wouldn’t know how to accept us. So we present our simplifications, our “X trapped in a Y’s body” metaphors, and obscure the endless complications and nuances and “well actually it’s not like that at all”s.
But actually it’s not like that at all.
Granted, there’s no universal narrative of cis men or cis women’s experiences either. But applying such simplifications to those of who are gender variant becomes particularly absurd, in that we are precisely defined by being variant, and not fitting the expected patterns. We’re the “miscellaneous”. The “other”. The “various artists”.
But beneath those simplifications and false universals we present to a cis-dominated world, so that we can be understood, heard and have at least some chance of fighting for our human rights, we should at least understand to one another that these things aren’t actually the truth of transgender or gender variant experience. We should be able to understand, at least in the company of our own, that our histories, bodies, desires, needs and everything else are individual, and fundamentally diverse.
But we don’t. Deviating from the script we crafted for the public is seen as a threat to our comprehensibility and cohesion. We demand of one another that we fit into our own simplifications. Maybe because far too many of us somehow forgot what they really are, and why they’re there.
“If being trans means fitting into this particular narrative that we tell everyone being trans is about, and you don’t fit into that, well you’re not trans. I don’t care about what your needs are, you don’t belong in the clubhouse!”
While even the clubhouse’s bouncers bury their own deviations from that narrative.
I’ve seen people be ignored, or hurt, or excluded, or accused of lying, or denied access to resources, or met with intense hostility by the trans community for failing to live up to a very narrow definition of what it is to be trans. Something extremely weird given how what makes us trans is exactly that we fall outside overly narrow definitions. We’re not a clubhouse. We’re the outside of the clubhouse.
Seeing people be treated that way, you eventually get the message, learn the lesson. If you want to be treated well, as a member of the trans community, you keep your damn mouth shut about anything that might threaten the easy comprehensibility of “transgender” and creaky, barely-held-together cohesion of “the trans community”.
We keep quiet about that stuff. We learn what is and isn’t safe to be “out” about. We know what elements of ourselves are acceptable, and what will be used against us.
Just please don’t assume a “conventional” narrative must lie in our unspoken histories.