Last month’s column addressed suicide and the sense of victimization that is often associated with it. This is not the only face of being trans. There are many instances of success and many trans persons who have escaped the despair which often accompanies minimal survival. In most cases, the taking of one’s own life stems from the disparity between an innate sense of who we are and the persona and collateral baggage with which society would like to burden us. When that discord is removed, there is every reason to expect life to be endurable and more!
I hesitate to use the word “normal” — most of us are a little (or a lot) ambivalent about what that elusive word means. Still, there is no reason to assume that any innate or lasting emotional or psychological infirmity accompanies the actualization of expressing one’s true self.
It is my opinion that therapy is and should be a personal choice. My experience has been that therapy did help me to alleviate some of the dissonance I experienced resulting from years of denial, autopsychoanalysis and confusion. It was neither critical nor cathartic, certainly not indispensable, but it gave me a sense of direction I might have lacked. In no way do I consider gender diversity to be, in and of itself, pathological or problematic. The initial response I had to acknowledging being gender diverse was a feeling of great relief. My shoulders actually felt like that burden had been removed. It’s amazing how we can externalize our inner conflicts and how these externalizations manifest (or disappear) after the blockage has been removed. I think I even stood a little straighter and taller! Have I fully resolved the dissonance? Probably not. But, it feels like most of the discord is an artifact of finding my place in a world which has a hard time accepting differences and/or individuality. I have found happiness in the authenticity of learning about myself, yet sadness in dealing with a world which does not accept.
I think it’s critical to draw a distinction between what might be perceived as a “normal” life and a so-called assimilated life. This is often a bone of contention which carries a lot of emotional baggage and is furiously debated. Assimilation harkens back to a Mattachine mindset and I know very few activists or advocates who would accept it as a viable course of action. There are others, however, who do choose to “blend” into whatever they perceive to be their expressed gender’s world. Neither choice is, in and of itself, right or wrong. It depends on the person. Normal, to me, implies the condition of wanting to live one’s life with friends, families, goals, health and happiness — the kind of things we might wish everyone would or could enjoy. How we do that is up to each of us — individuality mandates that each of us decides which path to walk. Regardless, it should never be forgotten that, in many cases, it has been the work of activists which has made the choice of others easier should they opt to blend.
Some might suggest that it takes money and the ability to “pass” to avoid cultural bigotry, and it would be ignorant and incorrect to deny that those with money and those who readily pass might conceivably have an advantage. It’s easier to survive when homelesssness is not staring you down, when you have a good job, a place to live and your world is not stress laden. This uncertainty is the root of much of that trans despair.
I would suggest that this is not always the case and not always what it seems to be.
It might not necessarily be easy, and it might not necessarily be right for each individual, but given a certain mindset, the dual obstacles of money and passability can be overcome. Perhaps most important is a sense of confidence and a feeling of being at home in one’s skin. The ease with which we project ourselves into the world often plays a significant part in how we fare. Even those who pass but lack confidence may have difficulties. Conversely, those who pass less readily but whose sense of self is secure will probably be better prepared for success.
Money is a more formidable obstacle and the one which is most onerous for me, and others, I suspect. And there is no good answer that can be readily dispensed to assuage the fear which arises when we are forced to confront monetary misfortune and discord, other than to work for workplace equality. What I suggest to myself is that I cannot know what is around the corner in my life. That, in and of itself, has had to suffice to keep a flame of optimism alive even when despair threatens to overwhelm me. I try to focus on the feeling that the tide is changing as seeds I planted previously find some root and start to grow. At least this realization helps me to retain that sense of optimism.
Lynn Conway’s website is, perhaps, the most valuable resource to the trans community regarding success stories. She has accumulated stories of gender diverse individuals whose stories prove that we can have fulfilling lives, careers, partners and families. For more, visit ai.eecs.umich.edu/people/ conway/TSsuccesses/TSsuccesses.html.
I will continue to work for the day when the keys to success for trans persons are their abilities, their desires, and their training. When we can be treated with the same respect and judged by the same criteria which others receive and expect, then we can say that equal opportunity and success are realities. Until that day, activists and advocates, as well as individuals themselves, will need to be vigilant to ensure that the list on Lynn Conway’s website continues to grow. The fact that success always seems to breed success is a good thought to hold onto! : :
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