07 November 2012

A New Sundance Series And The Lost Generation Of Trans Men

The Sundance Channel has just list of original scripted series for the 2013-14 television season.  Among those new shows is one about a trans man dealing with his new life as a male and his past as a lesbian activist.

That outline also defines the lives of a few trans men I know.  They, like me and many trans women I know, transitioned in their 40's or 50's.  Some have had gender-reassignment surgery, as the protagonist of the Sundance series has.  Others took hormones and managed to "pass" well enough to live as male.  And I know of two who looked so masculine they didn't need to take hormones or have surgery.

The ones who lived as "butch" lesbians and were activists also described a common experience:  rejection.  One trans man I know was a lesbian activist for about three decades before he finally transitioned.  Once he started living as male, he lost  friends and allies with whom he shared hunger and meals, apartments and homelessness, and even jail cells.  An organizer with one organization flatly told him he was no longer welcome; others shunned him or simply stopped returning his calls and e-mails.

When he tells people of such experiences, he's often told the same thing I often hear:  "Well, they weren't really your friends, were they?"  While that may be true, losing the companionship and emotional "safety net" such people once provided still hurts.  And, for many of us, their support was a lifeline, literally as well as figuratively.  That is especially true for those whose families and communities cast them away, and who lost jobs or were kicked out of schools or other institutions because of their non-conformity to accepted gender roles and mores about sexuality.

Also, most of the people who think they're consoling us, or simply giving us good advice, have never had their friendships similarly tested. Most people don't ever have to know whether or not their friends are as true as they believe them to be.  Knowing who your friends is, of course, invaluable. But you can pay a terrible price for it.

The trans men (and trans women) who have transitioned in middle age during the past fifteen years or so are, as I have mentioned in previous posts, part of the Lost Generation of Transgender people.  These trans men and women share the experience of being cut off from earlier and subsequent generations of trans people.  Many of our contemporaries who transitioned (or, at least, started dressing and otherwise living as members of the "other" gender) when they were young are dead now. Others are broken in various ways.  And then, of course, there are those who never transitioned or who lived "underground." 

Those of us who survived long enough to transition in middle age were sustained, in part, by whatever relationships and organizations we had in our lives.  I was living as a male in the straight-to-bisexual part of the spectrum of sexual orientation; thus, even though I had gay male friends and acquaintances, I really wasn't involved with LGBT political or social movements.  But other sorts of relationships with individuals and groups, some of which I lost during my transition, sustained me.  Those who were involved in LGBT movements--particularly trans men who were lesbian activists--may have depended on them for emotional, intellectual and spiritual sustenance, or even their very identities to an even greater degree than I had to depend on my involvements and entanglements.

So, when those trans men transitioned, they had to build new friendships, communities and other support networks, much as I had to do when I did in my passage from living as Nick to life as Justine.  Sometimes young trans people are willing to be friends or at least allies, and I love them for that.  However, they don't understand what it's like to be the person who is nearest, rather than the truest, to what they are.  The ones who are transitioning while they're in college, or in other relatively supportive (or at least non-hostile) communities, aren't going to understand what it's like to give up those to whom they have given, and who have given to them.  And they won't have to experience those people giving up on, or rejecting them.  

While I am happy that those young people may not have to face the same kinds of loss and rejection my trans friends and peers have faced, it's sad to know that they'll never truly understand that the gaping chasm of loss, rejection, abandonment and death that stretches between them and us.  I am glad that Sundance plans to fill at least some part of that gap.

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