24 June 2013

Pride Week

“Pride Week” has begun here in New York.  It will culminate in the march that begins in Midtown Manhattan and follows Fifth Avenue, Washington Square and Christopher Street for about two and a half miles (four km) to the Stonewall Inn, where the modern LGBT movement began.

I will be involved with two events related to “Pride” (as nearly everyone here calls it) and will most likely march.  This will be my first Pride involvement in four years.  I marched in 2009, a mere nine days before my surgery, with a group of LGBT people I know from work.  After my surgery, I distanced myself from Pride and related events, and even LGBT organizations because I felt—as so many post-op people do—that I was no longer part of the “queer” community and was, in fact, more aligned with cisgender women.

Somehow, I still feel that way.  However, I also see that my life as a woman is taking a different direction from any I could have anticipated when I was living in anticipation of my surgery.

Although I could not see myself living a life like that of Christine Jorgensen or any of the early post-op women, I still believed that I would live the life of a cisgneder heterosexual woman and would fit into society’s standards of behavior and lifestyle—if not beauty—for such women.  In that sense, my life is what I expected:  I can’t remember the last time anyone looked at me askance and, unless I reveal my history (which I don’t do unless I’ve known someone for some time or there’s some other compelling reason), people treat me as if I’m a middle-aged (or perhaps slightly younger) woman.  Even after they know about my “secret”, people treat me as the woman I am. 

Still, I came to realize that my life could not be like that of any non-transgender woman or, for that matter, like that of the man I once was or that of any other man (not that I wanted the life of a man).  Only recently, though, have I come to realize some of the reasons why this is so. 

One, of course, is the fact that I lived as long as I did as a male.  Had I begun my transition at an earlier age, as another Trinidad “alumna” did, perhaps I could have re-written my history, as Christine Jorgensen and early transsexuals were advised to do.  Had I begun to take hormones and undergone gender-reassignment surgery before my puberty (as, to my knowledge, no one in my generation did), perhaps I could have denied that I had a childhood as a male.  Then again, I’m not so sure that such a denial would have been healthy.


Perhaps the best analogy I can find is in the academic world in which I have worked for more than a decade.  Some become faculty members or administrators after lives that were a “straight path”:  They went to elite private schools and colleges and, perhaps, one or both parents were professors.  On the other hand, there are those who, like me are a minority:  We grew up with no concept of what being a professor meant or, perhaps, that such a job even existed.  Our parents may not have finished college, or even high school:  Perhaps they didn’t even speak the language of the country in which we were raised, went to school or became faculty members.

Members of the latter group have, in essence, two choices.  They can deny their pasts and disavow their families and other people and things from their pasts.  I’ve met people who did that:  At best, they became very cold, detached people, which in some cases helped them advance—but only to a point.  Then there are the others who simply became warped or diseased.

Their other choice is to find new ways to forge identities as professors, scholars and educators, and to use those experiences that seemed not to prepare them for the lives on which they embarked. Some do so by incorporating their lives (or those of someone else) as children of blue collar, immigrant or racial “minority” families, or as kids who had to grow up with gender identities or sexual orientations that didn’t mirror the ones presented to them in their schools, families, churches, or in the media or the culture at large.

Even if you have the most supportive environment, there is little about your life in the gender to which you were assigned at birth—or even in your transition from it—that actually prepares you for your new life in the gender of your mind and spirit.  This is not an indictment of the counselors, therapists and doctors who guide our transitions.  Rather, it has more to do with having come into our womanhood or manhood (or however we express our gender identities) through means for which there is no guidebook, if you will—and, in many communities, no will to prepare someone for coming into one’s own self.


Also, I’ve come to realize that my life as a woman is taking a different turn because, ironically, of an experience too many other women (and men) have:  An intimate partner abused me.  Other women with whom I’ve shared the experienced have given me support, and even empathy, for which I am grateful.  I’m sure that some have experienced abuse that was even more intense and destructive than mine.  However, they have not experienced something I endured in my relationship:  a partner who used my very identity, and tried to turn my sense of self, against me.  

Now, I know that far too many women have had to deal with scrutiny, skepticism and worse when they reported the abuse they endured.  Even some female police officers and medical professionals treat female victims as if they somehow lacked credibility or, worse, as if they somehow “brought on” their abuse.  But my partner used my very identity—the fact that I lived for more than four decades as male, and that I transitioned—to portray me as a sexual predator.  Well, that’s what he tried to do, anyway.  Other trans women have endured similar treatment.

My experiences with law enforcement authorities had at least one parallel with those of gay men and lesbians who endured bias crimes:  We are seen as less credible, and less worthy of the help on which other people can depend, because we “brought it on ourselves” by choosing our “lifestyles”. 

A man who wakes up every day and puts on his suit and tie, or overalls, and who mounts his wife (or girlfriend) after dinner and libations is not seen as pursuing a “lifestyle”.  Nor is the woman who puts on her pearls and pumps, or her cocktail waitress uniform and, at the end of the day, allows the man to mount her after he’s given her a dozen roses.   So why is our natural expression of ourselves so dismissed?

That I must ask such a question is the reason why—for better and worse—I cannot completely separate myself from the LGBT community, at least not yet.