Subject: Playing Roles: Mine, Theirs & She-Males
Date: Sun 12 Jul 1998 - 16:57:00 BST
I had a lovely day in Manhattan yesterday, visting a friend who is taking care
of a terminally ill mother. We drove in from Jersey and had a number of
fortuitous events, starting with a parking space that after we parkes, she
realized was half a block from Patricia Feld, the store you saw in "Wigstock:
If all of Manhattan is a stage set, then Patricia Feld is the costume shop for
queens. I ogled the makeup as we walked in, then saw a salespeson in floor
length skirt, translucent Nikes, mohawk, makeup and a cropped-off t-shirt
saying "I (heart) Trannies," a takeoff on the "I (heart) NY" logo.
I browsed though the racks, looking at platforms and latex jumpsuits and
dresses that lace up the front and cotton candy wigs styled into amazing
shapes, and thought about performance. In this world, trannies need a bit of
protection, and one protection that I have used is "Drag Queen Armor," a look
so performative that it is clear it is a costume, so outrageous that it
becomes a charicature, so over the top that it becomes impossible to satirize,
so outrageous that it is beyond humilation. Drag queen armor says "I am
already a parody, so you cannot touch me. I laugh first, so your laughs are
with me, not at me."
There is an interview in the latest Transgender Tapestry with Kate Bornstien
and Barbera Carellas, and one of the questions asked was about trans-clothing,
why some people dress in boring, business, blendable clothes rather than being
bold in clothing choices. Kate and Barbara are sympatheic, noting that they
both went though a stage of trying to fit in, but they outgrew it. I found it
interesting because the interview was done at OutWrite, where there were very
few transwomen -- and I was the one in the navy blue Andrea Jovine suit.
For me, of course, the challenge is wild/tame -- how are we tame enough to fit
into our community and still wild enough to tell the indvidual truth of our
heart? Not everyone lives within walking distance of Patricia Feld, in the
stage set of Manhattan, the gay ghetto. Trans is a very indvidual pursuit,
done in many places, and not every pattern fits every person.
The problem with drag queen armor, that costume/performance that says "I am a
man in a dress, but it's a fabulous dress, so screw you!," is, at least for
me, that it creates a barrier between the performer and the audience, sets one
up as the "fool" in a spiritual sense and isolates from connection. I loved
the "man-in-a-dress" mode when I came out, so performative in a calculated
way, and effective too - with my snappy self-depricating put-downs, I could
always stay in control. For me, though I decided that my staying in control
was my staying away from growth, away from being open to real connection.
Real connection terrfies me, or so I thought. I worry that if I opened my
self up, became vulnerable, people could hurt me simply by denying and
depricating the truth of what I was trying to say. As a guy-in-a-dress, I was
invulnerable to put-downs, my heart hidden behing drag queen armor, but as a
transgendered woman, I was open and sensitive, the real me on display, feeling
every cut and barb. I was making my heart naked by clothing it in simple
garb, without even the protection of a doctor's diagnosis of gender dysphoria.
I was driving home last night and stopped in Kingston to get some OJ -- close
enough that I could make it home to pee, something trannies think about. A
yellow Geo Tracker pulled up next to me at a stoplight, with two college age
boys in the back seat, a black one in the front, a white one in the back. I
heard the calls:
Where Do You Hide That Thing?
Do You Have a Penis?
Where Do You Hide That Thing?
My Friend Wants You!
I looked at them once and rolled my eyes, slightly, a 40-something woman
looking askance at college kids and drove on when the light changed. I called
my friend Penny in Richmond, and she said that she has been screening calls
for the last week because a man who came to see the Chevelle she is selling to
help pay for her SRS read her as a "man" and wanted to see her penis. She has
When this happened to me in Boston, walking by the Playland bar in the Combat
Zone around noon, just to honor the memory of Chanelle Pickett, and two older
black men whistled and hooted and told me where to go, I told a friend of mine
who was raised as a woman. "They were transphobic," I said.
"How do you know that they didn't really like you, that they were attracted to
you?" she asked. In that moment last night, I knew that these kids were not
after this rather normal and boring transwoman they saw in a car, but were
reacting to some secret sexual stimuli, the lure of the she-male right next to
them. No matter how sexless and boring I felt, to these kids, I was a sex
creature, driving home and drinking orange juice.
I believe that she-males are like Disney characters, only existing in the
pages of porn magazines and in the flickering images of XXX videos. When real
she-males exist, they exist like Disney Characters exist, people playing that
role for a clear reward, like the money to pay the rent.
Women are also objectified in porn, no doubt. But to virtually every man,
women also exist as mothers, sisters, teachers and friends, while she-males
are limited only to the print and screen. Men rarely feel so ashamed of their
desires for women that they feel the need to destroy the object of their lust,
to act out against their own inner desires, though it does happen. SheMales
are practical, looking like women with the sex drive of men, so they don't
demand relationships -- sex is the point, and it is there for the asking. I
have written about this in larger form if someone is interested.
My point, though, is that I have begun to believe that I am not afraid of real
connection with people. What I am afraid of though, is the people for whom
real connection is impossible, who demand that I be a projection of their
fears, that I play a part they determine, who read me as in a costume of their
own making. This is the hardest part for transpeople, this being a screen for
the projections of others, and it's a great reason to wear armor, not because
people will hurt us for our humanity, but because people will hurt us because
they don't see our humanity, but rather see us as circus-freaks, agents of the
devil, or she-males.
This is the fear, that somehow, I will be killed / hurt / injured / attacked
not for who I am, but for who people pereieve me to be, acting out their own
fears, desires, and the fear of their own desires that reveal to themselves
that they are living, a lie I mock by my very existance.
This is the tale of the crucifixion, the demand to silence the good news that
we are of God and our free will is at odds with the expectations of our life.
So I come back from Manhattan and think of the roles I play, not just the
roles I choose to play, but the roles I am cast in by others, and frankly, it
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