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Transcending Ridicule

| May 16, 2011
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Christine Beatty

Nobody likes to feel foolish; it’s what stings the most about being mocked or otherwise ridiculed. Even a creature as relatively simple as a house cat dislikes being laughed at. As anyone who has a cat can tell you, they know when they’re being made fun of. For a sentient being capable of self-doubt and emotional pain, being held up to ridicule can be especially devastating. And when that being is a transwoman or a transman not far along in transition and/or has unbearable insecurities, facing the business end of cruel or thoughtless ridicule can be crushing.

My own experience has included many of the difficulties most transwoman face. Aside from relationship drama, physical pain, medical costs and the barrage of emotional travails, I faced the frequent unsolicited, scurrilous crap from total strangers. It’s bad enough that your family rejects you, that electrolysis sessions so painful you think they should replace waterboarding as a torture method, that you’ve your drained bank account and briefly entertain desperate thoughts of prostitution to pay your bills, too frequently scared, resentful and depressed. No, you’ve also got to put up with some cretin on the street playing Spot-the-Tranny by announcing to everyone within earshot — at least one hundred yards — “see the man in a dress!” or something similar. That can make a bad day even worse, can make you doubt yourself even worse, and can even drive you to self-destructive behavior.

Even the strongest proponents of trans visibility would agree that the easiest way to avoid being singled out for abuse is not standing out. To this end, a transwoman who blends in as a GG will avoid most of the grief routinely aimed at obvious T-girls. But what if you can’t or refuse to pass for a GG? What if you pass as a GG in some situations but stand out as TG in others? Well, get ready for some amateur comedian work out on you.

Blending in can be affected by everything from time of day — it’s a given that even most GGs don’t look so hot in the bright of day — or much more capricious factors, such as geography. For instance, you might think that San Francisco’s reputation for being a tolerant and accepting town, not to mention the sheer size of its trans community, would tend to reduce the amount of abuse, but you’d only be partly correct. It is that large presence combined with a knowledgeable audience that heightens the awareness of most residents to overly tall women and unusually short men, plus the other variations in gender characteristics that we have. Combine heightened awareness with a boor’s insensitivity and a large trans population to aim at, and the number of demeaning incidents that you face can far exceed what you might encounter in a far less “accepting” town.

It might help to consider that anyone who verbally or physically abuses total strangers are seldom the happiest of campers. As I postulate in my Misery Loves Company YouTube video, those who live to dump on others are usually insecure, unhappy and possibly even abusees themselves. Feeling miserable, powerless or inconsequential, they try to salvage their own battered egos by attacking someone else, in their own minds making them superior to the target of their derision. The double tragedy of this useless strategy is that the temporary boost of ego is followed by the inevitable return of the misery — treating the symptoms instead of the underlying condition — and  it hurts another person for no good reason at all. The only way to improve self-esteem is to better oneself or one’s situation, and there’s no way attacking a total stranger can accomplish that.

Then there is the other main reason for transphobia: the attacker is either attracted to transwomen or fears he may be one himself. This is the same dynamic that causes deeply closeted homosexual politicians to vote against anything that would help the community they are afraid to acknowledge belonging to. In the late eighties my best friend Nola and I watched a carload of guys drive past, most of them jeering us. One of them was furiously yelling at us like we’d murdered his family, and we could see his buddies looking at him strangely, like “what the hell, dude?” They were merely having a “good” time (and strutting for each other, waxing their male egos) by playing Spot-the-Tranny, but the other guy had a serious problem with us. After they were down the block, Nola and I speculated how much “shemale” porn he had purged throughout his life.

Recognizing the common shortcomings — unhappiness and shame — of those who ridicule us can go a long way in taking away the power that we give to them when we allow them to make us feel bad. Two of the three main principles of transcending ridicule may have slipped past you in the previous sentence, so let’s belabor those two points: the people who attempt to make you feel bad actually feel bad themselves, and it is only with our permission that they have that power. Let’s break those two down even further, starting with the last point.

Former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” You have to believe at some level that you deserve whatever aspersions someone casts at you, that to some degree they are right about you. Never mind they likely don’t know a damn thing about you except that you are different from the norm, the fact that you are different is the easy target to swing at. The main thing your detractor has going against you is the fact that (A) by being trans you are different, and (B) those who are different, especially in an uptight culture skewed by rampant fundamentalist religion, are viewed with skepticism, distaste, disgust and even fear. Not only does your detractor have the weight of social opinion on their side, to some degree it may still be working on you.

The best way to wriggle out from social judgment — and the weight it gives to transphobes — is to recall two basic tenets: (A) people, both individually and collectively, are frequently very wrong about things they take to heart, and (B) History eventually proves them wrong and, at the very least, their descendents correct the mistakes. Ever since Copernicus disproving the notion of the sun revolving around the earth, Columbus proving the world wasn’t flat, and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 not leading to the end of the world, cherished beliefs have been debunked for millennia. And someday it will become widely recognized that trans people are not “sick” or “sinful” or otherwise less deserving of respect than anyone else. Until that time comes to pass, you must stand firm in that belief, with as much conviction as Columbus stayed the course that everyone said would take his ships over the “edge” of the world. Knowing in your heart the guy calling you names is dead wrong, takes away his power over your self-esteem. Finally, it’s important to realize that when somebody attacks you without good reason other than you being an “easy” target, it really says nothing about you and everything about them. Happy, serene people who have true self-esteem do not need to attack strangers merely for being different.

After twenty-six years since my first transition I know how long it takes to internalize all I’ve said so far. Given the gender rules we are raised with, the extreme taboo against violating gender rules, the natural discomfort of standing out, the bombardment of religious judgment and the very disorientation of going through gender transition, all factored together make it nearly impossible not to feel insecurity that outweighs any reassurance you or a trusted friend offers yourself. And the sooner you learn self-acceptance, the sooner you can let go of all sensibilities that would see you miserably trapped in your birth-assigned sex.

The good news is that many transwomen and transmen learn self-confidence in their gender, and as community grows in strength and positive visibility, and as society follows the track of its growing “so what?” attitude toward trans people, the less likely it is the next transwoman to come along will have to struggle for years against ridicule and prejudice. And hopefully before too many more years elapse, it will be the catcallers and the other haters who end up looking foolish.


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Category: Transgender Body & Soul, Transgender How To

Christine_Beatty

About the Author ()

Christine Beatty is a familiar name to TGForum readers. In 2010 she wrote the TransActive column here, and she was featured in the Perpetual Change column back in 2001 as part of the rock duo Glamazon. Along with her musical endeavors, she is also a TG activist, an author and a poet. She has recently published "Misery Loves Company" and has had articles appear in such publications as Chrysalis Quarterly, Transgender Tapestry, Spectator, and TransSisters.

Comments (4)

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  1. says:

    Interesting article, however you don’t touch on trans violence. Where do they fit in?

  2. says:

    I must say that I have not had any one comment but many looks. I’m retired so most mornings I get the USA newspaper and go out for breakfast & then to the mall, food store and cleaners dressed in all female clothes, skirt-dress-heels-shorts & tops with a bra & lipstick & no wig as I can’t pass. I feel like a female so I dress like one & my wife dosen’t say anything as she knows it’s what makes me happy even tho she wishes I wouldn’t. I have my nails done with solar white fairly long, have for the past 12 years while I was working & wear three rings & necklace that are all female. It’s who I am and if anyone dosen’t like it, to bad.

  3. dina dina says:

    Christine,
    Very good article. This is something that any of us who have gone about in public – no matter the venue, TS or CD – have encountered in one form or another. Thanks.
    Dina

  4. I should have mentioned when we last spoke I have launched a publishing company, Glamazon Press, with the specific intent of bringing transwomen’s voices to the mainstream. Visit us at http://www.glamazonpress.com

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