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Trans women: Tell your stories

September 21, 2009

As I have discussed before, I am approaching one of those personal milestones that arose from our ability to tell time. The thing I keep returning to, as a source of amusement, is the memory of thinking I could never trust a trans woman in her 40’s. I felt this strongly when I was in my early twenties, after some abuse and a great deal of alienation in my attempt to find community. Looking back (from nearly 40), I realize much of my frustration was that – although I hadn’t yet formalized the idea – I had never come across a trans woman who was transitioning to or living the sort of life I wanted to live.

As I look back now I see the first trans women I came across with whom I felt a deep affinity for (through our atypical approach to the prescribed narrative of being trans) were my contemporaries (a fantastic group of women who probably saved my life). Our personal contexts as women were deeply rooted in either a formal feminist self-analysis or one which would nonetheless assert the right of self-determination in identity for trans women; Although we may have had experience with the old HBSOC approach and formalized gender clinics (as I certainly did), we rejected that approach and claimed our lives for ourselves. Those are lofty words, it seems, but that was what it felt like. Now I can look around my communities and see dozens and hundreds of trans women whose experience I implicitly understand, even if the details of our lives are on the surface tremendously different (even if I find some of them frustrating and misguided).

It was the lack of older trans women in my life that motivated me to start writing here. I’ve been around for a long time, mostly glad to let others take the mic and keep a low profile, but I was lucky to take part in discussing and formulating some ideas that while they are now becoming commonplace were once revolutionary (I spent countless hours explaining to people why they needed to put a space in trans woman!). I’m most excited, though, to live in a community in which there is beginning to be that sort of historical context. Even though I don’t know many trans women from the generation before me who would have fit easily into these ideas, I am sure they exist. I hope the internet will find a venue for their stories.

I feel like most of the writing we do – or at least most of the writing done by trans women whose writing I enjoy – is done in the arenas of feminism, and in debating our rights with those who would and do other us and put our lives in peril. I believe this focus itself is a function of cis-dominance, transmisogyny, and marginalization. It saddens me, though, as it deprives us of sharing our experiences with one another. That is when community really begins to weave tightly: Not in the exhaustion of defending our rights, but in the ability to see others who are living lives like us, and are happy.

Make this your new radical stance: Stop arguing in their debate. Well, take a break from it sometimes, at least, and talk about yourself. Give trans women the chance to see the real lives of women like them, not the ones cis-dominant media portrays, and maybe pick up some of the cis people who sense the way things currently are isn’t how they should be. Give history more than just the fact you were right.


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