By Grayson Barnes
I am a Transman. I wrote that with capital ‘T’ because of what it took to get here. I haven’t “known all my life,” like some Transgender people have. My gender dysphoria overwhelms me only occasionally, not frequently (or often) as it does a number of my brothers and sisters. My body IS at odds with my identity, but I am not seeking to alter it drastically. Testosterone and two surgeries would be enough. Now you know pretty much where I stand on that aspect of my being. That doesn’t mean I speak for everyone else in the world who is Trans.
I want to put this out there, because it is bad enough to have to deal with being misgendered – to have someone call me ‘ma-am’ when I am a ‘sir’ – but it’s egregious to be called on to REPRESENT all Transpeople everywhere because I am often the only one in the room. I have purposely kept myself visible. Going from being an ‘out’ lesbian to a possibly stealth dude was one of the reasons I delayed hormone therapy for a whole year after I figured out who I truly am. I did not want to disappear into the woodwork and stop speaking for the disenfranchised.
In our culture, we seem to believe the story is authentic ONLY if comes from the actual people it affects. It doesn’t mean anyone will act on anything, but, if a seemingly straight white man tells us how he feels about a given situation, there is serious doubt about the validity of his opinion. Why do we think this way? He might have a range of experiences, he might be empathic, he might have family members who are involved. Maybe he has an excellent plan. If he’s a smart man, he will only act after he gets further information from those affected.
What allowed me to begin living authentically was I realized that I am a smart man. That aspect of me would never, ever be invisible. I needed to fight for that. Better yet -- I have had amazing experiences. I was in the military, I have a Master’s degree, and I realio-trulio lived as a woman. How many guys can say that? But, even then, I did not speak for ALL veterans, all people with graduate degrees, or all women. Today, although I have some good ideas because of my uniqueness, I don’t speak for all Transpeople either. It is wrong of anyone to expect that I should.
Imagine this – a variety of people are sitting in a room chatting. Someone says, “I have been reading this book and there’s this phrase in Spanish I don’t understand. Is there someone in here who speaks Spanish?” At the same time, the person asking the question turns his/her head and LOOKS RIGHT AT a woman with café au lait skin who might be Latina. I witnessed this exact situation once, and the querent was completely discomfited when the woman responded, “I never learned,” but a blond guy said, “I can help – I grew up in Mexico City.”
Amusing outcome aside, this is a form of something called a ‘microaggression.’ It’s when people make assumptions based on appearances or other not-so-visible aspects that might be mentioned (religion, sexual preference, dietary requirements). Although it isn’t outright inflammatory, it is dismissive. Microagressions do not take into account the whole person. Examples are expecting all women to know about the types of disposable diapers appropriate for different ages of babies or presuming all gay men are intimately knowledgeable about Drag Culture.
When I am the only Transman in the room, I don’t want people to turn to ME and expect me to speak for Transpeople everywhere, even though I openly share MY experience. I sit on panels, write about my life, and talk to people about what it is like for ME. Sometimes, I admit, I even get a bit uppity and vehemently defend those topics I feel I have a say about. Medical issues are a big one, because I am a dude with a uterus and ovaries that I can’t get rid of because they are still ‘functional’ and ‘healthy,’ although I am post-menopause. However, I am a smart enough man to know I can’t speak for Transmen who might want to carry children. They do exist.
After I have stepped off my Trans soapbox, I want to engage the other aspects of myself – pet-parent, friend, scholar – but I’ll need to clean my trifocals first. I am not all-Trans-all-of-the-time. To assume this is, again, a microaggression. Don’t ask me to answer “all things Trans” simply because I am. It is invasive. If there is someone Trans in your life, it isn’t his/her/hir/their job to educate you. Make an effort to learn on your own. Even I had to start with Google. l