Subject: emigrating to woman
Date: Wed 11 Aug 1999 - 12:34:50 BST
I often give newly transitioning transsexuals a word of advice -- and most of
the transsexuals I talk to are over forty, which makes them ________.
"Talk to women." I say. "Join women's groups. Hang out with women. You can
find out how they address the kinds of problems you face. Remember, only
women can teach people how to be women."
I usually get a weak reaction. "I don't have time," they say. "I don't know
if I could do that."
"Well, if you can't do that, this is the simple plan: Tape the Oprah Winfrey
show everyday and watch it. For good or for bad, Oprah is at the cutting
edge of what it means to be a woman in this culture, and by watching that
everyday, you can learn an enormous amount about what women care about, how
they talk to each other, the choices women make."
I don't know one who has taken up this suggestion.
Is there a difference between being a "Polish American" and an "American of
Polish Descent?" Does the fact that we lead with one label or the other
signal a difference in the approach and priority we have?
Are we "transsexuals" or are we "women of transsexual origin?" Is
transsexuality one fact in our past, or something we lead with?
On the BBC Radio Five Live Show yesterday, an employer called in. "We had
one person who transitioned from man to woman in the office. They were
nervous, but I hadn't hired them for their gender, rather for their skills.
Their sexuality is a big deal to them, but to me it's terrifically
uninteresting. I value them for other reasons."
Is the reason that Suzan and others find "transgender" so problematic because
the transgender myth demands we lead with our gender life? Is the meaning of
transsexual, at least to __________ who transitioned early, just something to
do to get on with a life? Do they see themselves as "women with a
transsexual background" and not "transsexuals?" Maybe this is what the myth
of "ex-transsexual" was designed to address, a need for moving on.
Still, "Americans of Polish Descent" have some things in common that other
Americans don't, from a taste for peroigi to a hunger for old rituals to an
understanding of what it means to grow up Polish. They may not put "Betcha
Dupa I'm Polish!" bumperstickers on their car or belong to the Polish lodge,
but they do like perogi now and then.
To be assimilated, to move past leading without nationality of origin by
learning to act like an American, or past our identity of transition as an
immigrant, is part of the process. And just as in any assimilation, the ones
of us who do it earlier in life tend to handle it better -- many immigrant
parents depended on their children to help them function in a new world.
I know that it was hard for me to learn to speak woman -- it took lots of
Oprah and other listening -- and that I will always speak it with an accent
that transwomen who transitioned earlier won't have. My first language will
tell, in tiny bits.
Many immigrants who had a hard time assimilating stayed in enclaves of people
like them. They fell back on the immigrant community in a way that younger
immigrants never did, because young ones were not so marked by the old tales.
That doesn't mean that the parents didn't try to mark them with the
traditions, try to keep them bound to the past and have valued things carried
on, but each generation had to come back to decide what of the old baggage
they would carry, and which they would let go for the new.
Can young upwardly mobile Poles who just want a bite of kielbasa really sit
in a room with the people who never left the old neighborhood and find some
kind of center, agreement? Or is there a sense that some have turned their
back on the immigrant community and or some have never fulfilled their
potential by staying stagnant?
What do we lead with -- our participation in the world, or our ethnic/_____
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