Recipe for an Uppity Queer
Take one feminist, inject 40 years of male privilege. Bake slowly
Candlemas marks a new season
This week we begin the next cross quarter on February 2, with the Celebration of Imbolc (literally ewes’ milk). It is the time when in northern maritime climates we see the lambs, snowbells and alder pollen that proclaims the start of the new season. We have converted it to Ground Hog’s day and made it the socially accepted day for prognostication. At XQQ we use another one of the other names, Candlemas, as a sign of inclusion to kin who follow the Galilean.
Our theme for this quarter is history, beginnings, resilience. Our topic for the week is – The Stories They Tell about Us. Unhelpfully, my focus lately has been on wellness and what it is and what it isn’t. It was a bit of a stretch to work wellness into the quarterly and weekly themes, but the editor reminded me that we had agreed on the first together – and the second was my suggestion. I was the one who had suggested matching weekly themes to a set of workshops by kori doty, which also begin this week. I do see a thin fabric covering all, and so the stretch begins, all the way back……
I grew up just north of the Bible belt in the USA and sixty years later, given the gorging in the culture wars by the dark side creature who overlays its boundaries, my hometown is likely inside it. I am not sure, I haven’t been back since my parents decided to leave.
In the pioneer cemetery in that small town was a large, tombstone inscribed with “Is Your Soul Saved”. I have come to think of that grave as the epicenter of my childhood. Whether you were a boy or a girl was far down the list of what was important. Understanding the risk of sin and avoiding it was what we were to be concerned about. And I do mean boys and girls, that is, cultural gender roles, not male and female children. The fact that we were the two parts of a sexually reproducing species was even further down the list. Whatever it was that was different about myself, I understood it was something that I was much better off keeping to myself, and so I did.
We did have some gender variant role models to observe. The nuns that taught us all had male names like Sister Paul, and Sister James, and the medieval fashion they wore, long black billowy gowns and headpieces would probably get them kicked off a soccer team or limit their employment opportunities in parts of Canada today. In the main, they were kindly people, with a few notable exceptions. Compared to many we were well cared for. The rules were simple and we were rewarded for compliance. The little girl inside me experienced a certain relief in that mismatch between her and her body. It just did not matter very much. Salvation, that was important. She followed the rules and kept quiet about those other things, just as everyone else did.
Moving to another country is a hard thing, at least at the outset. Such was true for my family and my teenage years in the 1970’s Vancouver were tumultuous, in part to the psychotropic substances that were the common fare of the day. Though brief in time, the chaos of those few years resulted in a psychic moment when I made the deal to be locked inside, like Hildegard, and let the external male self be the provider of safety.
The final brick in her entombment was laid in my early twenties, when (trigger warning – weird part coming up) I relived a violent episode from a past life. Whether blind belief or enlightened understanding, from then on I viewed myself as being in one of many incarnations, most of which I had been a woman. Whatever its true source, that rationalization became the linchpin of a durable enclosure. The story of my life from then to the day the she in me was freed is for another day.
The stories they tell about us as trans can be so easily sensationalized – it can blind us to the stories told about others and the effect it has on them. We are all subject to cultural narratives that affect our stories as much as the binding of the gender norms.
As powerful as the stories they tell about us are, the most powerful story is the one we tell ourselves. Kori uses the concept of vampire as the cultural mirror for trans. Mostly – there is no image – but if revealed what is shown is more monster than not. Definitely not someone to share a bottle of wine with into a late evening or introduce your sister to. Hearing that story is disturbing and we repeat it to ourselves. This can make the call to be quiet in ourselves so strong, it makes the binary social norm so compelling we disassociate with our own kin.
If we envision health indicators, they can look like a set of markers from the worst to the best. We can pick any aspect of wellness such as; nutrition, sleep, sex or body strength and find status marks. Too little sleep and we are unfocused and irritable (symptoms). The zero line is where we are simply maintaining the status quo. Below that symptoms appear. Managing wellness is maintaining ourselves above the level of symptoms. To use Julia Serano’s terms, for trans people it means managing our gender dissonance to avoid the symptoms of gender dysphoria. A very big part of maintaining ourselves is the story we tell ourselves.
As trans folks, we love labels. We like to differentiate our particular slice of gender diversity with the precision of ordering a six dollar drink at Starbucks. We are pansexual, trans-feminine, trans men, trans sexual, bi-polar overlaid with toppings of anxiety and depression. It’s true, each of us is unique mixture of those features. We are all of these things and we are none of them. We are alive and they are no more than fleeting cultural constructs. We change ourselves, labels cannot change neither themselves nor us. But sometimes we use labels to change ourselves. The environment says freak, but it is we who attach it to our souls. Sometimes their shouting seems so loud – it is hard to ignore.
That is why peer support groups work for all kinds of people from alcoholics to new parents. In a room full of people like yourself you can tell your story and people get it. You don’t have to explain the puns or the punchline. That is the truth that underlies the effectiveness of Hans Kai for Trans – Group wellness works.
It’s your story. That story will say if you are strong or weak, whether you are resilient or not. It’s your beginning.
And in six weeks, it will be your history.