In A Word, Human
I have found transgender people to be pretty common in a number of respects. It is not always a pretty picture. There are some who are self-referential, if not narcissistic. Others do not have a very high EQ. Some march into transition without considering the cost to families, friends, and colleagues. They demand their rights without a willingness to let a stunned world catch up with their newfound freedoms. They are, in a word, human.
I was on a conference call that included a number of trans women. I had to chuckle. We were all pretty male-like on the call. I don’t mean our voices were male (though my voice is still a work in progress.) I mean we were confident, entitled, and talked over the top of each other more than a little. It reinforced what I have been saying for a long time. Transgender women are somewhere between male and female. We are that truck stop between Phoenix and Tucson, neither here nor there.
I love baseball, but I am thrilled I no longer have to pretend to like football. I love Broadway shows and women’s fashion, but I also love airplanes and mountain biking. I prefer the conversations of women. They are more collaborative and less competitive, at least most of the time. But I miss the decisiveness of a group of guys. There’s no sitting in the car deciding where to go to lunch. Somebody just decides. I know these are all stereotypes, but I’m leaving this paragraph in the post anyway.
There is a test on the Internet that purports to tell where you are on the gender spectrum. I think every transgender person has taken it, though its accuracy is suspect. It does, however, speak a great truth. Gender can be measured on a wide spectrum, with people populating every inch. We all land some place between what our culture sees as extremely macho and very feminine. Hawkeye Pierce was somewhere in the middle. (I know, that analogy dates me.) So was Golda Meir (also dates me.) At the extremes you’ve got Dolly Parton and Bill Belichick. Yeah, those are pretty extreme. In the pretend world there’s Barbie and G.I. Joe. (Ken does not appear anywhere on the spectrum. Ken is a little weird.)
But here’s the thing, people who appear to be at one extreme or the other can surprise you. Kristin Beck, a trans woman, was once a Navy SEAL. She played a very masculine role, though she knew it was not who she was. Trans women often take on macho roles in an attempt to rid themselves of gender dysphoria. It never works.
But back to the gender spectrum. Whether we like it or not, we live in a binary society that does not want us on any spectrum. It wants us to be either male or female, period. But a brief venture into the animal world shows there are gender variables in countless species. In the evolutionary scheme of things, being transgender is not all that unusual.
I believe the majority of gender is prenatally determined, though I do understand we are all subject to the drip, drip of gender reinforcement. Most are far enough on one side or the other to be comfortable in the gender assigned at birth. But for about .3 percent of us, that is not the case. And unless we want to identify as queer (I’ll write about that some other day), in a binary society we must choose one gender or the other. Often, our lives depend on it.
So, I live as Paula. The LifeTree Cafe division of Group Publishing has produced a group lesson on transgender issues. A good bit of the lesson is me, answering questions about what it means to be transgender. When I saw the video for the first time, I cried. (I also wished I had not worn that particular top – but, oh well.) I cried because the person I saw was known to me. I’ve known her for a long time. And she seemed more comfortable than the male version of the same person on the hundreds of PAX-TV shows I taped. The woman was at peace. I am at peace.
I am far less secure in American culture than Paul was. With his white entitlement, education, and success, Paul was pretty comfortable. Paula is a female and a member of a minority, not stations associated with power or status. But it is who I am, and I’ll take it. With great gratitude for those who have suffered through my transition with me, I will take it.
So, yes, I am a transgender woman, self-referential over the past couple of years, impatient to allow others the time truly needed to adjust. But trying hard to live authentically, one day at a time.
And so it goes.