Sunday, May 3, 2009

On Why the Cat Is Mad

For most of my life I've been folded safely in the arms of privilege.

I grew up in the suburbs of a Great American Metropolis. My parents were both college-educated professionals. I'm white, and at the time I was male. In America, it doesn't really get too much better than that--we were the norm you were supposed to aspire to you. (Even people whose income put them in the upper classes describe themselves as "middle class.")

In my case, though, there was one flaw in the picture: I was trans. As early as three or four I knew I wanted to be a girl, though it took a long time for me to put that plan into action. So much of my mental energy went into managing that problem, especially once I started to crossdress in secret during junior high. I got good at lying, dissembling, concealing; my social life was a disaster; I probably hated myself.

Nothing special there, though--any number of trans people could tell that story.

No, what I want to get to is that despite my transness and its conflicts and encumbrances, I still could retreat into the safety of my white, (apparently) cis, (apparently) straight, middle class privilege. Even after I moved to Metropolis and became a regular in the trans subculture, I still had the refuge of putting myself out to the world as a white man.

Now, even before I began to transition, I was becoming aware of my privilege. I encountered the work of helen boyd, who challenged me to become a feminist. In the summer of 2005, the last happy year of my marriage, I embarked on a reading binge that changed my personal feminist convictions from lukewarm to white-hot.

That didn't change through the early days of my transition. As I became essentially fulltime, my convictions were nothing if not reinforced. How could they not be? Misogyny began to be something I had to deal with at street level.

All that said, there was still a--detachment, call it--from these things. After all, I still had plenty of privilege stockpiled--still white, still (apparently) cis, still (apparently) straight. The Great American Metropolis has liberal attitudes, and misogyny was something no longer overt. I could still blithely glide over things, if I chose.

Being able to ignore things is the essential definition of privilege.

What changed, was: I had surgery. And since then, my feminist convictions have changed from an intellectual pursuit to something I feel in my gut; they have become a viewpoint, the criterion I use to make sense of the world.

And you know what? It sucks that it took my surgery to do that. It sucks that even living and identifying as a woman I was still able to traipse lightly over inconvenient truths. I'm not proud of the fact that I needed the surgery to reach this point.

But I did. The major change I've noticed since the operation is that I no longer have reservations or doubts about being a woman. Not that I wasn't before: my womanhood is not transactional, and can't be limited or reduced.

Before, though, that was an intellectual conviction; today, it's something I feel in my soul.

And now, when I see misogyny, when I see stupid shit directed at women simply because they are women, I get pissed: "Hey! They're talking about me!" Again, it completely sucks that I took so long to reach this place. I am humbled by the women I know and admire who had to endure this from birth.

That didn't, couldn't happen to me. And maybe that's why I've become so engaged: that having seen, firsthand, how privilege can invisibly change your life, it's left me a bitter foe of it in all its manifestations. Not so much to lift my boat--this isn't an attempt for me to reclaim my lost male privilege. You can stuff male privilege.

No, it's more this: having had privilege, lost privilege, gained others (many would privilege me over other trans people because I am transsexual, have had the surgery, look female, etc.), I no longer want privilege to exist at all.

Maybe that's a radical position. Call me a Marxist, a bomb-thrower, a lunatic. Tell me that I only feel this way because I hurt so much and regret losing my former advantages.

I won't care. Because it doesn't matter how I got here; what matters is that I'm here now, and ready to start to pitch in.

And thus I dedicate this blog: to be a record of my implacable, boundless outrage; my mouthpiece to the world; my voice crying in the wilderness, adding itself to the chorus of other women everywhere.

I wasn't born to the fight; but I'll fight now forever.

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