Thursday, May 19, 2011

In which the curmudgeonly blogger goes to an FTM support group

I went to an FTM support group last night for the first time.

There were a lot of amazing things about it: About 30 people showed up, ranging in age from 17 to 50-something and equally diverse in how they’re transitioning and where they are in the process. One guy was from Scandinavia and another was from the Middle East. As we went around the room, several mentioned that their families were supportive of their transition, which kind of blew me away.

But, being by character far more predisposed to criticize than to join into any kind of group ethos, there were also inevitably several things that bothered me.

I went to this group in the East Bay because I’d been told the average age was significantly older than in the San Francisco group. I also hoped the bro-down coolness factor would be lower, which it was. But despite a range in age, there were several people there who had not yet graduated from college — and one who hadn’t graduated from high school. They were the biggest talkers in the group, airing their grievances with their parents. (What it is about youth that makes one take up so much space?) I felt compassionate but had a hard time identifying with them, since when I was their age it was still very difficult to come out as gay. I’d never even heard of transsexuality.

In fact, as a person whose friends are having babies, I found myself identifying more with the parents (who, in one case, were merely insisting that the youngin’ get regular gender therapy and come to the support group). I am, I’ve had to admit, kind of transphobic, which makes it that much easier for me to see where parents are coming from. In hindsight, I see how my parents, who grew up believing it was shameful to be gay, could have responded to me coming out by saying they worried my life would be awful and lonely. It seemed comically stupid to me at the time, but now that I keep running up against the image of the tragic transsexual in my head it seems less non-sensical.

Seeing the parents’ point of view made me realize that I want to approach the gender issue with my mother from a place of compassion, which made me feel good. But it also made me feel old — which isn’t unrelated to my ambivalence about making such a big change in my life.

The thing that really bugged me about the group was that two trans guys talked about their partners needing and demanding things from them emotionally in a way that really seemed to invoke the old “you know how women are” canard.

I was angry enough to compose a response in my head as I rode my bike to a doctor’s appointment (unrelated) earlier today.

Whether, as individuals, we think about it this way or not, transmen are one front in the war on the hierarchical gender binary. If we want support for our fight, we can’t be assholes to people holding down another front.

There is a stereotype that transmen become assholes, almost as if testosterone caused it directly. Like all other negative stereotypes, it’s hurtful to individuals — myself included. I am not suddenly the enemy — and I sure as hell haven’t gotten a promotion or a pay raise! Let’s not throw fuel on the stereotype that burns us.

A lot of the guys in the room talked about people in their lives blaming their transition for every annoying thing they did. I haven’t experienced that, but it scares me that I might. Imagine if every time you did something shitty or something that somebody you cared about didn’t get, they said it was because you’re gay. Ouch, right? But, to the extent that the people in the group were kind of rolling their eyes at women being women, they were doing exactly the same thing!

I guess I keep coming around in my thinking to a conflict between individuality and cultural norms. If you want to be read as masculine in our culture, you have to be read as male. So to be seen as who you are, you have to tithe at the altar of social conformity by altering who you are.

The most empowering stories of trans identity for me are those that don’t conform to the standardized narrative we’ve come up with to explain trans-ness: I was always a man; I’ve hated wearing dresses since I was a toddler; my boobs feel like somebody else’s. (I've never been girly, but none of these is exactly true either.) It’s like difference is a little oasis in a desert of sameness: I thirst for it, and I’m grateful when I find it.

If you enjoyed reading this post, please consider making a small donation for my surgery or buy a photograph with proceeds going to the surgery.