refugee from manhood

Subject: refugee from manhood
Date: Fri 13 Aug 1999 - 14:23:15 BST

"Well, I knew I wasn't a man,
but I had to live in one country or the other,
so now I live in woman,
but not as a woman."


I see a difference in those who emigrate to woman and those who are in exile
from man. The biggest difference is simple: what core identity to we cling
to? Are we a "new woman" or an "ex-man?" Is it flags of the new country, or
mourning for the old?

I see that difference in how people choose to assimilate into a new culture,
to take on the characteristics of a target group in order to be identified as
a member of that group.

Do we see our assimilation into a new culture as a proud choice, or as an
oppressive burden? Do we see it as losing something old or gaining something

I have tended to see assimilation as oppressive, erasing identity. We lose
the old by embracing the new, turn our back on what we value, on tradition,
on the suffering we endured in the old world -- the attitude of many refugees.

Today, I wonder if assimilation isn't empowering in some way. When we
assimilate, we learn new language, new choices, new methods, new tools to be

I had one person who suggested that the reason we don't watch Oprah, or
women, is because we want to be ourselves rather than imitate someone else.
They were saying that while watching women may be good, a learning
experience, the real goal is to become more ourselves.

This is the old wild and tame line again -- slavishly imitating to be
accepted is to try to pass as something you want to be, while immersing
yourself in new cultures, choices and options, and then using them to express
both how you are like the group and how you are different is to be more
yourself. One is following fashion, the other is cultivating style, to use a
womanly allegory.

Do we lose ourselves in the immersion, or do we gain power and knowledge that
allows us to become more ourselves, more expressive of who we are inside? Do
we turn our back on our past, our heritage, or do we find new ways to express

Crossdressers are clear: they don't want to be women. They may play at being
woman, but they keep some tells which signal that the outfit is a costume,
the performance just an act. They are men at heart, and SSS even says that
anyone born male will always be a man, kind of like the Chinese government
declaring that all people of Chinese blood will always be citizens of the
People's Republic of China, no matter if they renounce it or take other vows.

I was a man-in-a-dress. I used a boys name.

I was a transgender person. Gender-neutral name and a real need to be clear
on my history, to not "fool" anyone.

I think I looked at womanhood like Christianity. I knew that there are lots
of good Christians in the world, but there have also been lots of nastiness
perpetrated in the name of Christ over the centuries. How could I identify
with a group that big and not be erased by the group, be signing up to
support all the people who identified as Christian, not just the ones who did
good things?

Does embracing a new label, a new category, erase our old categories, our old
beliefs, or does it just deepen us? Is life sequential or additive?

The great thing about getting older is that
you don't lose all the other ages you've been.
    Madeleine L'Engle

I told this to Kate and she immediately came back with my belief: you never
lose all the other genders you have been either, no matter how much you bury

Does accepting membership in a group sign us up for total acceptance of
anything anyone in that group has ever done? Does working to assimilate
erase all the truths we hold inside?

For me, I have been focused on being explicit about who I am, keeping
identity in the forefront. For most people, though, they are implicit about
who they are. Rather than claiming and expounding an identity, they just act
in the world, and who they are is revealed though their choices of word and

Going though the explicit stage may be crucial to gaining understanding, but
if we never move back to the implicit, just acting from that strong knowledge
of self even in the context of playing a role, fitting in a category, just
being one of the girls -- or boys.

When I asked people to explicitly understand who I am and my history, they
were baffled. My history was not the point to them, rather the point was
what I could add to our shared understanding of the world. They wanted to be
able to accept what they found valuable to me without having to understand
and approve of my whole life, the same way they accept their gender without
having to understand and approve of all the other people who identify in that

We are exiles from gender because we see its flaws. Yet, all gender roles
are flawed, like all humans, and to never accept anything which is not flawed
in exactly the same way we are is to be an exile from humanity. We can
choose to become stateless, without a country, of course, but that also makes
the choice never to have the protection of a country, the voice in
representation, to be without priviledge, without standing, without the
comfortable sense of having a home.

Dual citizenship is one thing, statelessness is another. One is belonging to
both, on some level, the other belonging to neither.

I believe that all transpeople are migrants, swans born into a gaggle of
geese, who need to make a journey to find a a home. Whenever we transition,
we have that sense of who we were before deeply rooted in us, will never
share a history with people who grew up feeling at home.

I also believe, though, that we make different decisions on how to see
ourselves. Do we see ourselves as moving to a new home, a new family, or do
we see ourselves as homeless and cut-off? Which identity do we hold onto?
Does accepting a new identity mean letting go of who we were/who we are? Do
we take power in a new land or remain in exile from both the country we were
born in and the one we moved to, staying within a community of émigrés,
gathering with other queer ex-pats in a ghetto of lost people?

We may be refugees, but we choose our own exile, from our lost twin, from our
new homeland, from social structures which we fear will crush us.

Choices, choices.




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