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Acceptance, Transphobia, and Slippery Slopes January 29, 2008

Posted by Tina Simmons in Uncategorized.
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But Susan has said all along that she’s not like other transgender people. She feels uncomfortable even looking at some, “like I’m seeing a bunch of men in dresses.”Susan Stanton’s Lonely Transformation, St. Petersburg Times, December 31, 2007

When I first read this paragraph I found this paragraph very troubling. At first it was the “men in dresses” comment (which I blogged about previously), but the more I thought about it the more I realized that there were aspects of my own evolution that I had to grapple with. (Now I know that Susan Stanton has issued a “clarification” of this article, but in the clarification she doesn’t actually deny saying the above.) (BTW, I would put in a link to her “clarification” but I cannot find it).

We like to talk about acceptance as if it’s this all-or-nothing idea. The truth is that there are different levels or areas of acceptance. For example, there are people who only accept transsexuals as people who are going to have all the surgeries to become their true gender; anything else means you are not transsexual to them. Or those who look down on cross dressers. There are cross dressers who think that any surgery is self-mutilation. Et cetera. And it changes based on how you evolve and grow.

In my own case, the first step was to accept that I was transgendered. That took me about 40 years or so. I didn’t want to be “different”, I wanted to be “normal” just like everyone else. After all, those transgendered types are just crazy, right?

So what changed in me? In my case, it was dealing with the after-effects of this denial. I would do anything to make sure that nobody knew whenever I “failed” and dressed as a woman or expressed my internal femininity. The hiding of money to pay for this “habit” meant I had to lie. Once you start lying it’s a slippery slope, and you start finding excuses to lie about other things. After a while I didn’t really know who I was, but I didn’t like the person I was acting like. So I found the way to dig myself out of this hole. And I was lucky to have a wife who was willing to try to figure out what this meant for us.

I don’t think it’s a stretch to say the lying and the hiding was due to transphobia directed at myself. But the next thing was to start reaching out and talking to other transgendered people. And there are a lot of people with different life stories, experiences, wants, needs, and understanding than I have. People who will never transition, those who are pretty far in the closet, those who are out living as women. Every trans-person is a different story.

And I was repulsed by some of them. They made it harder on the rest of us – can’t they just figure it out and keep out of sight? Once I made a comment about a person who was a sissy and how I thought she made it hard for “the cause”. The person I made the comment to (a transsexual who has transitioned in her life) dressed me down. If I couldn’t be accepting of the sissy, how could I expect others to be accepting of me? It made me realize at the time that I have to re-evaluate how I view people who are transgendered and different from me.

Then the ENDA debate rolled around, and I saw us being thrown under the bus by the HRC and the House leadership, and it made it even clearer to me – if I reject any of the transgendered community I am no better than those people. I talk a lot about allowing people to express themselves, even if I disagree with it, but here I was making distinctions for my own self-interest, when in fact my own self-interest really benefits when I accept others, including sissy’s and other types of transgendered people. Who am I to decide who should be included and excluded from a transgendered bill? If my argument is that there are transgendered workers who are supporting families and they should have the right to earn a living for themselves and their families, aren’t sissy’s and others included in having that right? Or transsexuals, pre- or post- or non-operative?

Susan Stanton makes statements about how might be “too early” for the federal protections of the ENDA legislation. This just doesn’t make any sense to me. If not now, when? What is the standard that we need to meet so we deserve these protections? For the life of me I just can’t make any sense of this without the context of transphobia and acceptance. In this case, the transphobia Susan Stanton is showing for others strikes me as her dealing with her own inner transphobia. And that’s when I realized that for all the strides she’s made in transitioning, the one stride she has yet to make is to accept herself fully.

So it’s kind of ironic to me that she may have figured out herself with respect to her transgenderism (whereas I have not) but on this point I can accept her for who she is. Can she accept me for who I am? And I have a family – do I deserve to keep my job?