Date: Tue 20 Jul 1999 - 04:47:42 BST
A few years ago on this list, we played with some numbers to see how many
people actually participated in what I called "the interlocking communities
of interest around trans" or "gender community" for short -- everything from
political action groups like PFC, GPAC and ITA, to Internet mailing lists to
local groups to regional conferences. As I recall, we figured that the
number of people who were active was very low, well under 5000 in the US,
which is like 0.001% of the population.
To me, that means the "gender community" doesn't even well represent those
people who could be identified as trans. There is no reason to assume that
the incidence of trans is less in other racial groups or classes, but the
"gender community" is predominantly upscale, white (and born male.)
There is a phenomenon known as "churchburn," a term used to describe people
who have had bad experiences with religion and are therefore wary of it,
keeping their distance. After listening to a lot of trans-narratives, I
suspect that there is also "trannyburn," people who have had bad experiences
with the "gender community" and are therefore wary of it, keeping their
I have been involved with a local trans organization for about 15 years now,
and during that time I have seen lots of people come though the door, stay
for a bit, and never return. For some reason, they just didn't feel
comfortable, or they didn't feel the benefits of the group were worth the
Part of this is attributable to the transitional nature of trans -- people
come out, explore, change, and then go back in, return to a new life. It's
true that the trans newsgroups and lists, for example, recycle the same
material over and over in the same way that magazines for brides do. Every
bride needs to learn, to do, and then she moves on.
But I know that, at least in my local case, part of this is due to the kind
of people who cluster around the group, the long timers. They tend not to be
people who have matured and stay to act as mentor, but rather to be people
who like to stay in place, who are comfortable in this closeted space. They
often have their own fears and pain, and rather than get over them, they stay
and act from that pain, seeking new ears for their old stories. I have
described them as slit which falls to the bottom of the stream, and tends to
block the stream, causing free flowing water to move faster over them.
Especially for creating political change, the ways lesbians and gays have,
there is great benefit in having as many and as diverse a group of trannies
as possible be in "the interlocking communities of interest around trans."
Yet, many, if not most of these people feel trannyburn, being wary and
distant from trans groups after being burned. They have felt the pain of big
egos playing little games, of hurting trannies acting out, of identity
enforcers who pound on the one right way to be trans, and of stagnant
trannies who act as dreamkillers rather than empowering, and they don't see
any benefit in it for them in facing those people again. It's just not worth
I remember one IFGE volunteer who told me that as a tranny, my duty was to
stand firm against oppression, to be out and in people's faces like a brave
soldier, to fight and to suffer as much as possible. Somehow, this doesn't
sound like an effective slapstick to make one want to join the team.
One of the problems in talking about churchburn in the context of the church
is that people who are committed to the church, who see the church as
positive and good, often have trouble understanding how anyone could feel
burned from what gives them so much comfort. The only way they can
understand it is to listen to the stories of people who have left the church,
to try to hear why those people felt uncomfortable and hurt by their
experience with church.
It may be that talking about trannyburn in the context of people who are
committed and embedded in those interlocking communities may also be very,
very difficult. How are we willing to hear people say bad things about that
which we hold dear and sacred?
This is not a unique situation to trans -- there are plenty of people burned
from my local lesbian & gay center also, who have chosen to walk away rather
than fight the politics and games.
Still, I think that anyone who seriously wants to have an effective "gender
community" must consider why so many people feel burned by that group, have a
bad taste that keeps them from coming together to pitch in.
I hear stories of trannyburn, and those stories make me feel bad, to know how
people who suffered in a heterosexist culture then suffered at the hands of
those who also faced the same challenges of gender expectations. Maybe,
though, its the people who walked away from the gender community who are the
real heroes, going out and making a life for themselves on their own terms.
What can we do to understand and combat trannyburn, both in finding ways to
minimize it, and in finding ways to heal the pain it has left in its wake?
This archive was generated by hypermail 2a23 : Mon 02 Aug 1999 - 01:25:26 BST