27 October 2012

Two Members Of The Lost Generation Do Lunch

Yesterday I had a late lunch/early dinner with a friend who's just passed a significant milestone in her transition.  

She is a few years older than I am, and came from what are, on the surface, very different circumstances than mine.  However, for both of us, growing up meant inhabiting a world that isolated both of us, save for when our peers bullied or otherwise abused us.  Her parents were openly hostile to non-heterosexual, non-gender-conforming, people, while my parents' understanding was merely a reflection of what most people understood, or misunderstood, when I was growing up.  That is not to denigrate my parents: Neither they nor I had the knowledge or the language to understand what I was going through.  Still, in my own way, I spent my childhood and most of my adult life as isolated, emotionally and spiritually, as my friend spent hers.

After we parted, I realized that our isolation was such that we could not have known each other.  We might have recognized each other on some subconscious, intuitive level that I would not have acknowledged and, in fact, would have tried to suppress.  But I don't think we could--or, at least I would--have based our friendship, if we had one, on an understanding of a basic truth about ourselves.  It then goes without saying that we could not have offered each other advice, encouragement or support--or, at least, the kind either of us needed.

But, as my friend pointed out, that isolation may have kept us alive.  Had we started our transitions in our early 20's instead of our mid 40's or early 50's, we probably would have ended up as sex workers, or under even worse circumstances.  As I've mentioned in other posts, few other lines of work expose its practitioners to the prospect of incurring violence that could be fatal.  If we hadn't been beaten or shot to death in some back alley, or succumbed to an overdose or drugs or alcohol, being sex workers would have broken us mentally and spiritually.  At least, I know that would have happened to me.

We are indeed part of the Lost Generation of Transgenders I've described in a few previous posts.  During the two decades or so that followed the onslaught of Second Wave Feminism (and the concurrent conservative religious and political movements that had more in common with it than most people realize), people like me and my friend lived our lives, as best we knew how, as members of the gender indicated on our birth certificates.  We may have been reading the works of Second-Wave feminists and other writings that have become part of the canons of Women's Studies, Gender Studies and Queer Studies. (Please don't construe my use of the latter term as an endorsement of it:  I'm simply using the term the field's practitioners use!)  And some of us "cross-dressed" or occasionally interacted with the underground world of cross-gender entertainment and such.  But we did so in isolation, and were therefore unable to learn many of the lessons we could have gotten from the transsexuals and other gender-variant people (few though they were in number) who were around at that time.  We could have better understood how to navigate the world we would face--and that, in spite of the bigotry we might sometimes face, it hadn't changed, at least not fundamentally.  Although some of us would get educations (or, at any rate, credentials) and careers or vocations, we would fully understand what was, and wasn't, important and useful about them only after we began our transitions.  We'd learn the ways in which we had to educate ourselves, and each other, because those normally charged with instructing and directing us couldn't do so, sometimes because they didn't know how.  

Because we had to learn those lessons for ourselves--without the mentors and role models we might have had if we could have transitioned ealier in our lives--there is not a continuity between us and our ancestors, if you will (most of whom are dead) and the ones who transition while they are in college, or even high school.  I think now of the student of mine who said he couldn't understand why someone would "go through all the trouble of changing their sex, only to become a sex worker" and of the young trans people who think that if you don't have surgery by the time you're 25, you're not really a transsexual. They remind me of a young woman who remarked that she doesn't care about the debates over Roe v Wade or other "women's" issues; in her words, "Taxes affect my life every day; those things, almost never."

As much as I love history, it is not the only reason why I lament the fact that there had to be a "lost generation" of transgender people, and that people like me and my friend had to be among its survivors in order to transition in these times.  The fact that a generation had to be "lost" had tragic consequences.  I think now of someone I've called Corey in this blog.  I was with her on the last night of her life.  She was reaching out to me; she had recognized something in me that I was doing everything I could not to acknowledge.  Given where we were--geographically as well as historically--I might have been the closest thing to, if not a mentor, then at least a sympathiser, that she could find.  She, too, might be alive today--and, I would hope, living as the female she truly was--had I or someone been able to give her the understanding, if not the support, she needed.  

I also wonder whether I could have helped someone else who committed suicide, in part over his gender identity, when I was a little more than a year into my transition.  He was the same age as my friend is now and, not long before he OD'd, he told me of his gender identity conflict and how he admired my "courage."  I realize now that the unease I felt in hearing that came from understanding that his praise was really a cry for help, or at least a lament for what could have been.  All I can do now is to remember him in his true gender, as I remember Corey in hers.