Subject: Owning Your Story
Date: Sun 31 May 1998 - 22:44:14 BST
from the archives. . .
Subj: Owning Your Story
Copyright Callan Williams (c) 1997
"So, I found out that she had told her sister about my crossdressing, and then
her kids knew, and they told other people, and without my knowing it everyone
knew all about me," said a crossdresser. He was feeling exposed, betrayed,
like his life was out of control, that other people had taken charge of his
They had taken charge of his secret because he had not taken control of his
secret. By leaving it hidden, he had ceded control of his story to others,
who told it in their own way, with their own biases and subjective viewpoint.
By believing that his story was secret, he felt he didn't have to face it.
But when he told his wife, she had to cope with that secret, and she chose to
share the burden of it, to get support.
The challenge we each have as transgendered people is taking charge of our own
narrative, our own story, so that others don't take control of it for us. We
want people to understand our own motives and feelings so they don't feel
compelled to assign their own view of our motives to our actions, and then,
very possibly, judge us on those assigned motives. For example, if they
decide we express transgender just for erotic purposes, then they may condemn
our not stopping in the same way they condemn adultery, or they may be
uncomfortable with allowing children to see what they consider erotic
It is a real challenge to find a way to tell our story in an honest and
comprehensible way. There is no language in heterosexist culture for people
who live between the poles, who are simulaneously "both" and "none of the
above." We end up finding narratives that seem to work and then choosing the
facts of our life that fit that pattern.
Winnie Brandt, in the June 97 TGIC Transgenderist, suggests a number of these
-- the "super-heterosexual" viewpoint: "I like women so much that I want to be
one," or "I am a male lesbian."
-- the "in-your-face crossdresser" challenge: "I'm just a guy in a dress --
what's your problem?"
-- the "gay drag queen" perspective: "I'm just having fun but all my friends
know what is under my dress."
-- the "classic transsexual" concept: "I'm a woman trapped in a male body"
These are all just starting points. We may want to say that our transgender
expression is just erotic, or we may want to see our expression as the same as
two-spirit shamans. We may be working for freedom of people to express the
full range of gender, or work hard to maintain our claim to the privlidges
give to heterosexual men. We may see ourselves as transgressing gender, see
ourselves as queer like gays, or we may see ourselves as expressing our true
gender, ending our gender masquerade by expressing what we feel inside.
In any case, it is our story that we need to be concerned with -- what we want
to say, how we want to say it, and what the long term implications of making
those statements are. The classic "gender commnity" spends a great amount of
time expressing and questioining the stories of transgender to see what the
implications are. Does the story of one of us invalidate the story of
another? Does focus on our dressing make it harder to have people accept that
we are essentialy transgendered? What does the word transgender mean? Are TV
& TS just different expressions of the same call, or fundamentally different
There are volumes written on these subjects, and we each have our own
perspective. The reason that this is so hot is because our stories very much
define who we are to other people, and we know that we need to care about how
people see us. To cede the right to tell our story to others, because we are
keeping it secret means we cede the right to ourselves, because we are our
choices: our words, our actions.
David Hare said "The act of writing is the act of discovering what we
believe." Until we are clear on what we believe, we cannot expect others to
understand what we are saying. This can be hard on people raised as men, who
were not trained to express emotions and feelings as well as women. The
partners of transgendered males often complain that they feel dumped on by the
revelation of transgender in a relationship. Not only do they have to work
though their own feelings, but they also feel an obligation to work though
their partners feelings, to maintain emotional stability, and to keep an
enormous secret from the support system they have built on trust and
No one is responsible for our stories, our choices, our actions, our secrets
and our happiness but us. We cannot cede that responsibility without losing
control of our lives.
The process of understanding our stories is something that many people find it
useful to work with a therapist on. A good therapist can work with males to
learn how to cope with feelings, will not try to cure our transgender but to
help us intergrate it into a full and happy life, and will provide a safe
space to say our darkest and scariest thoughts and feelings so that we can
explore and understand them.
At some point, every person who is transgendered sits down and writes out
their story, what they want people to know about them. This process of
exposing how we feel and helping others put it in context so that they won't
have to make guesses that are often wrong is a key step in beginning to own
our stories. To do this is to face the embrassing, scary, shameful and guilt
ridden truths of our lives and start to have some pride in who we are, in the
choices we have made to survive.
How do we get to a point where we can simply be honest about who we are, where
disclosures of our transgendered nature is not a big deal? When we have spent
our lives hiding who we are, the notion of coming out into the light, of just
exposing that part of us that we worked so hard to hide can be terrifying.
To tell our story, with truth and grace, we must be able to tell even the
embrassing bits, the pieces we have hidden to save face, so that others will
not think badly of us. We have to give up our the false dignity that we have
tried to construct though obscuring our messy bits and claim the true dignity
that we each have simply because we are a human. Achieving the impossible
requires attempting the absurd, and as long as we reject the absurd, we reject
To be honest and forthright, to open ourselves to others, we must first take
responsibility for our own stories, our own lives --- even the scary bits.
We don't have to do it all at once-- for many people, just knowing that we are
working on understanding, maybe with a therapist, maybe by writing, maybe with
workshops, can be a big step. People understand ambivilence, and will respect
it when you open to them.
The big challenge for every TG person is how out to be. The two extremes,
hiding all the time, and telling everybody everything about your life, are not
good choices. We each have to know who to tell what, where and when is
appropriate. We have to listen to feedback and get more clear, both with who
we are and wto make sure that the language we use conveys the meanings that we
want to convey.
Rachel Miller has argued that we must plan to come at least a little more out
every year, to become more open and honest. That may start with a therapist,
a partner or a support group, may move on to conferences, may include
political action, or education in schools or other ways, or just with our
intimate friends. Anyone who comes out know that there is nothing that feels
as good as taking another step towards honesty, towards fresh air and light in
But the first step in taking charge ouf our lives is taking charge of our
stories, sticking our heads out of the closet enough to tell people who we
are, and to then allow them to feel free enough to start talking with us about
their feelings. Our being in the closet forces others around us into the
closet, and we all know that being in the closet can build anger, fear and
There is nothing more important than owning our stories, understanding our
narratives and what they mean, to us, to our choices, to the people who hear
them, and to our future. Our personal power in getting people to work with us
is, in the long term, based on developing honest, open and resiliant
relationships. Our strength is in our defenselessness, in our truth, not our
Undersatanding yourself, learning how to come from your truths, facing the
things that scare and embarrass you in your heart is the first step to
reclaiming your story. And reclaiming your story is the first step to
reclaiming your life.
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