The Obligations Of (A) Character

Subject: The Obligations Of (A) Character
Date: Mon 27 Jul 1998 - 20:27:57 BST

Bold. Unique. Indvidual. Odd. Eccentric. Queer. Touched.

These are the words we use to describe the people who fall under the heading
of "a real character," people who stand out from the crowd, follow the beat of
their own drummer. They are out of society in some ways, following their own

Often we see these people in a kindly light, especialy if they are aged or
entertaining. Sometimes we see these people are troublemakers, especially if
they seem to be compent and compelling in fighting the status quo.

The diference between characters and other people is that character have a
real sense of honesty -- or a sense of self-indulgence -- that overrides what
people would consider social graces. They just let something hang out that
most would work to hide, show some face that most people would mask. The old
lady without the wig, High Heel Neil in his mini-skirt, Richard Simmons in his
shorts -- characters all. Characters show the odd, wild, underside of
humanity, speaking for the parts of humanity that are not spoken by polite
society -- be that filth, sex, freedom, wildness or just connection.

In some places, characters are revered, like big cities and small Southern
towns. Some places value their characters, like San Francisco valued it's
Emperor Norton in the 1880s and they still value the Widow Norton, drag diva
Jose Sarria who started the Imperial Court system 30 years ago and taking the
name of SF's greatest character. Yet, in suburbia, being a character is not
seen as good, for suburbia is a place where surface normativity is valued,
where people are quickly rated on how they follow the rules. In some of these
worlds character is hooted down, like on the Jerry Springer show, and in
others it is quietly spoken of, always with some odd mixture of respect for
those who can take the heat and disgust fo those who make a mockery of social
convention. Some people love characters, admire them for their tenacity,
percerverance and indviduality. Others hate characters, feeling challenged,
threatened and mocked by them.

--Question: By their very nature, are all transgendered people are characters,
showing their scars and their dirt in a way that others would find the mark of
a real character?

I know that many TG people don't want to be characters. We dream of being
normative, like I dream of just being another soccer mom, togged out in Lands
End and being part of their community. Some of us do make that dream of
normativity, the ones of us who can both rework ther bodies to look nornative
for their gender and to rework their souls to fit in.

Yet, in some way, everyone who is interesting, compelling or effective is a
character. Nobody can win just by following the rules -- the rules are
designed to just to keep losing to a minimum. To win, we have to break the
rules, do things our own way, like Donald Trump, Madonna or Mother Theresa --
characters all. To be famous in this culture is to become a character,
abstracted and unique, playing a role not only in your own life, but in the
conciousness of the masses.

Maybe the question everyone is faced with is not if they are a character or
not, but where in their life they choose to be a character, to withstand and
resist the social pressure of taming to follow their own wild heart. Maya
Angelou notes that courage is the most important of all the virtues, because
without courage we cannot follow any of the other virtues consistently. The
courage of our character, even where that character may conflict with the
expectations and mores of those around us, is the most difficult courage,
because it demands trusting our own heart, our own connection to the universe.

It is character that makes people distinctive and unique. It is the
distinctions between people, their unique gifts that make them special and
valued in society, where each of us brings our own talents to the table to
benefit the whole group. Character is what makes people attractive and
alluring at the same time it makes them not to some people's taste.

The nail that sticks up gets pounded down, as the Japanese say. How do we, as
indviduals who have been pounded down when our unique character was seen,
learn to trust that character, to feel safe and comfortable just being seen as
a character, just being the character who is us?

To be a character is to be seen, but worse, to be a character is to not be
seen. It's not the people that know you as a human that are the challenge, but
rather the people who just know you as a character. These people want to
abstract you, use you to play out their own stories that need a character like
you, in the same way that Kate Bornstein became a character in one of Rush
Limbaugh's books -- and Rush Limbaugh became a character in Al Franken. Dale
Gray has spoken here about the cost of becoming a character in an ex-lover's
story, for example.

A few years ago, the story of a pre-op MtF TS who was beaten by a security
guard after using a women's room in a local public library was run on the
cover of our local GLBT center's newsletters. A radio-talk show host picked
this up and chose to make it a story on his show, talking about "a guy in a
dress waving his hoo-haa around in the ladies room." I picked up his comments
and published them to Usenet, and the next day he commented on the e-mail he
had gotten.

"It's amazing," he said. "Even circus freaks have a lobby!" Yes, I wrote to
him, even circus freaks have a lobby. If anyone needs a lobby, it is those
humans that some paint as circus freaks. Do Circus Freaks deserve human
rights? Only if they are human. And too often we forget that people who are
not normal are just human too, whatever their "freakishness." Too tall, too
short, impervious to pain, born intersexed, born transgendered, skin problems,
those with stunted limbs, and so on -- all the mainstay of the freak show at
the carnival, and, surprise of surprises, all simply human. It is when people
decide to name call, rant with indignation at the requests of some to have
access to public facilities, chortle with incredulity at the needs and demands
of some, that people start forgetting that we are all just humans after all.

This is the challenge of character, the becoming a character in the stories of

Yet, I suspect that for any human to follow their heart, they have to be
willing to become a character. I suspect that on some level, every person who
decides to follow the callings of their heart and express their transgendered
nature is a character.

Or am I wrong?



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