Transgender: Renegotiating Your Communication With The World.

Subject: Transgender: Renegotiating Your Communication With The World.
Date: Fri 07 Aug 1998 - 15:06:57 BST

If gender is the system through which humans communicate who they are in the
world, particularly around communicating what role they are willing and able
to play, then isn't coming out as transgender just an attempt to renegotiate
one's communication with the world?

The number one complaint of humans is simple: "People just don't understand
me." Of course, this usually means that other people don't do what we want
them to do, don't agree with us, but the challenge of communicating our
feelings, our beliefs is one of the hardest things humans can do. We feel
frustrated by the limits of symbol to communicate our meanings, to get over
the difference in perspective and history to transfer the essence of meaning
from one person to another.

To communincate who we are takes art, the art of creation. Shelby Foote has
noted that art creates nature, that until we have the shared vision that is
created by artists to refer to, the details of nature are not in the shared
public conciousness, and that in this way, art shapes and defines nature for

Making art, however is hard. It's so much easier to use the vocabulary that
exists to communicate, even if that vocabulary is limited and doesn't over
what we need. Rather than trying to shape new art, we adapt art to suit
ourselves. Deborah Tannen notes that women do this in a very concious way,
"marking" themselves in a linguistic sense though use of symbol to communicate
who we are.

What do transgendered people do but try to renegotiate their communication
with society, to express part of themselves that others have demanded stay
hidden? Some say "this is just a small part of me I let out sometimes,"
others say "I am really one of these not one of those," and others say "I am
my own person created in a unique image."

When we do create art though our choices, though how we perform our gender in
the world, everyone seems to become an art critic. They feel they have the
power to declare our choices invalid, to invalidate our attempt to express who
we are by removing our standing, calling us liars.

Sometimes, they even declare the art we create of ourselves subversive and
destructive, and truth be told, it is subversive, because we do need to
subvert the dominant pardigm to create symbols for ourselves.

The frustration comes mostly, though, in the hard work of communicating a new
mode in the world. People need to change their mindset to embrace our
communication, our art. I'm never sure which is worse, having to explain who
I am over and over again, or feeling erased by people who don't understand
what I am trying to communicate, or don't care, and just simplify me out of
existance, into a stereotype they are comfortable with.

For me, this is the challenge of transgender. How do I communicate myself in
a world that doesn't yet have a language for the things I want to say? Do I
take the "easy" and pragmatic road of accepting the language that exists and
fitting myself to it, or do I take the "hard" and idealistic road of creating
new language and entering into a conversation with culture to create space for
my words, my meanings? "Easy" and "hard" are in quotes because the pragmatic
road is easier in the short term but harder in the long term as their words
being to bind, and the hard road is harder in the short term but easier in the
long term as new symbols that more accurately reflect my meanings are created.

Of course, this isn't an either/or situation. There is no need to create new
language with every shop-clerk, and there is every need to create new language
with those we are very close to. It's just another balance to be found, where
we create new art and where we simply fit into the art that already exists.

If gender is a system of communication, and we all want to communicate
ourselves in the world, then transgender is just a need to expand the
communications about who we are inside, what we feel and what people can
expect from us, beyond the limits that are linked to birth sex.

Or do I have all of this wrong?



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