Tools to Change Society
As a bisexual woman, i understand my orientation is not only personal but political. I'm a part of a community that has had to fight for the right to work, where to live, and still fights for the ability to marry. I have a responsibility as a member of that community to try to understand all points of view within and without. Most importantly, I must be the tolerance I seek elsewhere. And in that I have been wrestling with one issue - I'm transphobic.
Yes, I'm coming out, and its not something I'm proud of but I think its important to look at and work on. You must be the change you want in the world, right?
It didn't pre-exist before a recent situation. I grew up in Canada, in an era where it seemed impossibly stupid and shallow to judge anyone on their race or sexual orientation. Canadian men i grew up were just guys. There was no cultural need as there is here in the US to be overtly macho. I didn't grow up with cheerleaders and football, fraternities and sororieties as parts of the cultural landscape. Egalitarianism at it highest, it seemed.
That's not to say there weren't issues, like some peoples overt prejudice toward native populations, which seemed like unreasonable hate. The proudest part of being a Canadian (-raised American) is the constitution, which clearly states no person can be discrimated against based on anything - race, sex, age, gender, sexual orientation, physical ability. Bam! That's a country to be proud of that can write and live by something like that, and continually look at working towards the better.
I never really thought about it until I had a really creepy, manipulative situation with a transgendered person, who wasn't
upfront about who they were, and hit on me inappropriately, while we shared a live/work space as roommates. That situation really disturbed and scared me. And I know distinctly out of that my transphobia arose. I became suspicious of any man who'd want to become a woman, to be with women. It was a mindfuck to me, I couldn't grasp that one aspect of transgenderism. Specifically, MTF lesbians. It kinda seemed counter-intuitive at best.
The discussions about the surgeries and how that is or isn't self mutilation specifically had me thinking. At first, yes, that sounds exactly what it is. But I had breast reduction surgery. I had almost 15 pounds taken off my chest when I was thirty, for the better of my back, neck and appearance. They were just too big for my body. I felt that my entire life. I was told at 17 to do this, to have the surgery. I struggled mostly with my fear of surgery and doctors, but also with a feminist thinking how could I self mutilate one of the most female parts of my body? Is that not being shallow, conforming to social norms dictated by patriarchy? (Yes, I do overanalyze EVERYTHING - this noggin never shuts off.)
When I had the surgery, it changed my life. I could walk better, sleep better, and my sensisitivity increasead a thousand fold in that area. I was never shy about my body but now, I had no problem pointing out my very new boobs to everyone, every where, at any time. I was liberated. Liberated. Hmmmm...
If this surgery helped me feel more at home in my body, how can I judge anyone's desire to do something similar. Yes, health reasons were primary, but lets face it, I had a great surgeon. That was 11 years ago, and I have never regretted the 6 hour surgery, the month long recovery or the scars. I'm proud of them. I dared to do something that at one time I couldn't bear to think of.
There are plenty of reasons to pick apart someone's psyche or motivations but why? Our bodies are the sole province of our beings, and no one should be able to tell us what to do with them. Like who can and can't get an abortion.
All these rights and freedoms are related. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms taught me that. The screwed up family full of politics and activism and chaos taught me that. The schools and teachers and world I grew up in taught me these gentle lessons of everyday tolerance.
I know how hate grows. I know what it comes from. I saw it burst from a wound, a loss of trust, a feeling of being manipulated and trapped. I saw how my intelligence wrapped around my anger and gave birth to rationalizations seeking like minds. Give me validation, give me proof that my hate is justified. For any hatred, sadly, that is easy enough to find.
I am also very stubborn, and moving taken on positions, especially emotionally based ones, is very difficult for me. Being right is just so important. Its not justice, though. Its not right.
Wounds heal, walls stay up, and if you are wise, your perspective changes. You realize what you were thinking and feeling, and you know its not really who you are. Its a wound. Its the everywound that every human being has - the disappointment, the let down, the hurt that gives birth to hate. Who you direct it at depends on where you are wounded.
I chose to forgive someone from a distance and choose not to ever engage them. I also chose to forgive myself and look at the whys of my transphobia.
There are plenty of super radical feminist arguments for why in particular MTF transphobia is valid. There is an underlying suspicious of any male privilege or agenda. There is the discussion and spaces for womyn born womyn only, both pro and con. There are times I feel queasy reading these, knowing my anger can find purchase with some of these and my intellect can twist enough to support it. And there are times where I do feel violated, where I want that womyn only space, where that demand by MTF groups to be included in and of itself is a male seeming move. My hackles get raised. I don't know where or what to believe, and I sit with justified anger.
The thing about justified anger is that it doesn't move you forward. Sure, I may have been justifiably angry at the sleazy tactics of the transgendered person I had a negative experience with. But it didn't help me to hold on to it, to stay angry. It was time to face it.
I am transphobic. I don't truly believe I will always be. For most transpersons, I'm not. For MTF lesbians, yah, I'm wary.
So this year, for Pride, I face and embrace the change I want to see in the world. And hope you will to.
Melissa Ulto is a film maker, photographer, and artist working in New York City.