Penny's Story

A cute little drummer living her dream.

Learning the Language

Tell me about the man who became a woman.
— ten year-old to Bishop Tom Shaw after he received me into The Episcopal Church
Did you used to be a guy?
— The Darling Boyfriend right after I told him about my history of transsexualism

I’ve been talking a lot lately to a lot of people. I’ve been meeting new people. I’ve been reconnecting with old friends. I use specific language to tell my story when I speak with people, but other people make a muddle of all the words and concepts that they have for transsexualism, transgender, intersex, genderqueer, and queer folks. I’m not talking about people who think I’m some sort of freak or abomination; I’m talking about folks who are very new to the concept that a woman could be born with the wrong body – or that someone might not be comfortable with our easy little binary of “man ~OR~ woman” – or that someone might dress like what is perceived to be their opposite sex for either fun or profit – or that someone might feel more comfortable identifying with the opposite sex but might not need or want medical interventions. I’m talking about folks who are eager to understand, but don’t yet. And maybe they can never fully grok the experience, that’s fine. The very fact that they’re asking questions and interested in understanding as best they can is something that is really lovely.

All this expansion has taught me that I need to let go of my rigid sense of self when it comes to other peoples word choice. What does that mean? Well, I’m a woman. I get that. I was born with a birth defect. I get that. I’m heterosexual and so is my boyfriend. I get that. I’m my mother’s daughter. I get that. I’m infertile, and my infertility bites at me just like it would at any woman. I get that.

But I didn’t always have words to describe it. I don’t know anything now that I haven’t known for my entire life. But when I was six I didn’t have words – I just hurt myself. And when I was 12 I didn’t have words – I just tried to figure out why I felt like I might be a girl even though I had a penis. And when I was 16 I didn’t have words – I just knew I hated the effect testosterone had on me. And when I was 18 I didn’t have words – I just knew that I wanted to have sex with men. And when I was 20 I didn’t have words – I just knew that I wanted to wear feminine clothes. And when I was 25 I didn’t have words – I just wanted to paint my fingernails. And at none of these points could I see the whole picture. I was glimpsing pieces of the puzzle, never able to fully accept or process what I was seeing. What seems so annoyingly obvious in retrospect was completely confounding at the time – in the moment.

And so, if I didn’t always have the words for it ~while I was living it~, how can I possibly hold others to a higher standard than that? Why was it ever difficult to be patient with others? Maybe it was an expression of my own frustration finally coming out. Maybe I’ve been militant about language simply as a reaction to my own inability to find the right words for so much of my life. I guess I still have a lot to learn.

It was the bishop telling me about that question the 10 year-old asked him: “Tell me about the man who became a woman.” Six months ago my skin would have crawled and I would gotten all language-police about it – yes, even with a ten year old. But in the moment when the bishop said that I finally put it all together. I fully support the people who live very quietly about their medical history, but I think it’s important for the world to understand transsexualism and transgender and intersex. I think it’s important because people still misunderstand and hate and hurt. I believe that the world can be a better place. And so for me, right now, what I need to do is, as I said in my last post, tell my story.

For that ten year old, the words he has are “the man who became a woman.” For my Darling Boyfriend it was “used to be a guy.” Another thing I’ve heard from people is that I “decided to be a woman.” There are many more misconceptions and poor ways to word things, but almost always it seems like it’s done more from ignorance than hatred.

And so I have decided to make a conscious effort to not take the way anyone else describes me personally. It won’t always be easy, I’m pretty sensitive after all. But most people seem to be just curious and they’re doing their level best to understand. It’s tempting to react with Calpernia Addams’ “Bad Questions” when people are ignorant in ways that cause some discomfort, but I’m feeling like I don’t want to do that. I’m very lucky in that I blend really well, so nobody ambushes me with these questions anymore, and that is a help. I’m consciously putting myself out there from a position of strength to be a tool for education. Few people know the answers to these questions better than those of us living it; I think it makes sense for me to be answering those questions – even when they’re really personal. Who better, right?

So, while I will maintain my own focus and integrity with my story and will endeavor to be even more clear with my choice of language, I will also allow for the fact that many other folks will be learning things that they may have never considered before. They will need time, space, and patience to learn the correct language. It makes it especially difficult because there are several different ways to say so many of these things; there are so many different ways to tell the stories. I can offer my story, and I will do it sincerely, openly, and gently.

Let’s all educate each other…

Advertisements

No comments yet»

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: