Friday, 25 June 2010

You can't blame it for everything

    Have you ever known someone who is defined by membership of a minority? Someone who is not merely part of a group, but wears that group. It's the first thing you find out about them, and the perceived injustice it confers upon them they tell you is responsible for everything that happens to them, rather than the ups and downs of life that do the same for everyone else. I've known one or two like this over the years. It's not important under what minorities they defined themselves, only that by behaving in this way they not only made their own lives more difficult than those of people in the same group who just get on with it, but also that they made themselves somewhat of a pain in the arse for those around them.
     When you define yourself as part of a minority, it's easy to let that define you, subsuming your personal identity. In the case of gender dysphoria we have a disadvantage, here's an annoying condition that will quite happily take over your brain and colour everything you do if you let it. Once you come out to someone it could be all too easy to slip from being Just Another Person They Know through being The One Who Is Transgendered to becoming The One Who Is Transgendered And Keeps Going On About It.
     The other danger is to let your minority status become the single point of all blame for all your ills. I think I can justifiably claim that gender dysphoria has caused me significant problems in the past with depression and suicidal feelings and I believe it has an effect on my ability to do my job, but I can't blame it for things it's not responsible for. If it turned out for instance that I was simply crap at something in my work, sheltering behind my gender issues might get me off the hook but only at the expense of making them less credible as an excuse when they are genuinely to blame. Not clever.
     I have among my Friends Who Know, one or two people I've been able to talk to in-depth about all this. You know who you are if you're reading this, and thank you very much for your ears.
     It's odd to realise that with some of these friends I've slipped effortlessly into talking to them in girl mode and others I'm still speaking through the male impersonation. Either way it really helps to now have people to whom I can talk as who I feel like rather than who I look like. I just hope with them I'm still a me but from a different angle rather than a me Who Is Transgendered And Keeps Going On About It.


  1. I can tell you when I met you all I saw was a wonderful woman, funny, patient, caring with a huge heart. The only part of you I wished you could chagne was to become less critical of yourself.
    Big Hug and I hope to be passing soon to meet for a coffee.

  2. The problem you describe is actually two separate problems.

    There's the longing and wishing of gender dysphoria we're all familiar with. That green-eyed monster thats over our brains and it makes it hard to think about anything else.

    And then there's the sociopolitical element of community identity, spawned by things like inequality and discrimination, that require you to pay attention to it whether you like it or not, lest you become crushed under its weight.

    And the edges of those two things overlap and blur all the time.

    The first I knew very well from before my transition. The second I only came to understand afterward. But I can tell you with absolute certainty that the reason women, blacks, Muslims, gays, lesbians, disabled people, trans, and all the other minorities, blather on about their "perceived" woes is because those woes are very, very real. Or at the very least, in the absence of fairness and equality, it is impossible to tell which are rooted in truth and which aren't, which is itself an issue of fairness that needs to be corrected. And to not blather on about them, no matter how annoying some people might find it, is to concede any hope of getting a fair shake.

    We only have our voices. If we choose not to use them, we will never be understood.

    (that said, there are a lot of different ways we can use our voices...some more viable than others given the place and situation)

  3. But I can tell you with absolute certainty that the reason women, blacks, Muslims, gays, lesbians, disabled people, trans, and all the other minorities, blather on about their "perceived" woes is because those woes are very, very real.

    I think I need to answer this point head on.

    You are of course right. There are very real woes faced daily by people who identify as members of all the minorities you listed and more. And they should be shouted loudly about with complete justification. But those people were not the target of my piece.

    The trouble is, I can't be too specific about the acquaintances I was thinking about when I wrote the piece above because I don't want to bring what minority they are a part of into the picture. This is about the abstract, not about minority A or minority B. But in general terms I'll try to describe one of them.

    I went to an upmarket secondary school in a very respectable English city. Privilege gushing out of every orifice. It was a varied religious and ethnic mix, the entrance criteria were selective on intelligence and wealth. (As an impecunious metalworker's youngster I was paid for by Margaret Thatcher's Assisted Place scheme because I passed an exam) None of my classmates had ever faced a moment's discrimination or injustice in their feted lives.

    One of Britain's minorities was represented I am guessing more than in the general population. Several kids in my class belonged to it. One of them was J. J was the guy I was thinking of most when I wrote the above. I swear if he got gas he'd blame it on the injustice of what he was. By comparison his classmates from the same background simply got on with their lives like everyone else.

    I am certain that J did not do himself or people like him any favours. In effect by crying wolf he firmly established both himself as a figure of fun and his cause as one that was not to be taken seriously by the teenaged kids around him. Fortunately his classmates provided a better example.

    The concern I was expressing above is that *I* don't want to be like J. I'm already like him in two respects, I define myself as part of a minority and I live a life of privilege (Where I live and work this would apply to me as boy or less-than-convincing girl, cetainly not the case everywhere in this world, as I've said I'm lucky), I don't want to collect the hat-trick by emulating his unjustifiable outrage.

  4. I think there is a difference between for the one part the collective woes of a minority, which correctly need to be highlighted and addressed and the other part allowing those woes, and membership of the minority, to define you.

    I for one am very sympathetic to the extension of equality law, anti gender discrimination provision, anti sexual orientation (even if gender is often confused with sexual orientation) provision - tbh its a no brainer when you inhabit those worlds and that equality directly helps you and your, your peers and your acquaintances.

    However I'm dammed if that means I'm going to go around wearing a badge saying I'm-trans-you'd-better-respect-me - I want to be defined as a person, not by the specific stands of what makes me who I am.

    I get where you are coming from, Jenny.

  5. I have to admit to sometimes blaming being trans for some of my life's struggles. Part of that real but part is not wanting to take responsibility for my own failings. Sometimes we just want sympathy or an understanding ear.

    I have a sort of reverse girl mode to boy mode thing happening with my voice and mannerisms. I'm very self conscious of my voice and presentation and make the effort to be more female in work situations. But when I get down and relax with friends old male habits and inflections leak out.

    Before when I lived in boy mode my female mannerisms leaked out and often got noticed. It's nice when you can just be yourself around friends. Good to hear you're gaining such friends.

  6. I'm overjoyed! I learned a new word today, by reading your blog! Impecunious What a wondeful word! But now I'm also bitterly disappointed! If I wasn't transgendered, my bigoted teachers would have given me this wonderful word to add to my vocabulary. I can only conclude that they wanted me to be illiterate, because they resented me for being different! Damn them! ;-)

    Melissa XX (tongue planted firmly in cheek)

  7. @ Melissa


    @ Jenny

    I get what you're saying. I think it is hard to explain in the abstract like that, but I know what you mean.

    All I can say in response is that although it sucks, after suffering just so much discrimination, you become bitter, hardened, and jaded. It's almost not even your fault. I worry about that myself, just as you do here, because generally I'm an amiable person, but wow do I feel angry sometimes. I think that may be the worst casualty of all...that people lose themselves because of the hatred others feel for them.

    But yes, I can think of at least one person who uses community outrage in a way to consciously assemble his own identity, and he's a very distasteful person indeed.

  8. If only my propensity for squirrelling away obscure words and useless facts could be turned into a marketable skill. Pub quiz champion perhaps?

    It's not easy to explain something like that without all the details, guess I should have marshalled my thoughts a bit better before hitting the keyboard.

    I have no idea what J's doing a couple of decades later. A quick search fails to raise him. I doubt he'll have had an epiphany though. I wouldn't quite go as far as to describe him as distasteful, he was closer to simply annoying.