Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Problem Is Me

There’s been a lot of political talk lately about the status of transgenders. There have been victories – the state of New York approved gay marriage (which is sure to affect many TV/CD/TG girls), and the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) was recently held up in order to make it transgender-inclusive.
Yet, it still bothers people that the transgender community hasn’t made more headway in both political and social circles. We just observed the 42nd anniversary of the Stonewall Riots in NYC. Those riots were a flashpoint for the gay community – and since that event, gays and lesbians have made great strides in society as a whole. But what about us? What about transgendered folks? How much progress have we made?

The great irony here is that Stonewall and many of the other early gay rights protests were started by transgenders or occurred at clubs where TG persons where known to hang out.

So what exactly is the problem? Obviously, there’s no one problem. Like all societal issues, this is a complicated matter with a variety of forces working for us and against us. But it seems to me that the key problem is a simple one. An obvious one:

Visibility.

Gays and lesbians struggled with this same problem years ago. But little by little they became more visible. They literally came out. They launched a movement from Stonewall and they haven’t stopped since. And there have been setbacks. Huge setbacks. I remember when AIDS was first called, GRID (Gay Related Immune Deficiency). AIDS caused a backlash among conservatives and the religious right who saw the disease as God’s retribution for an immoral lifestyle. This caused a lot of stress and distress in the community (particularly among gays who considered themselves religious). But at the same time, the backlash only seemed to strengthen the movement’s resolve. Having a very loud (and often obnoxious) adversary seemed to fire up the gays and lesbians even more. “We’re here. We’re queer. Get used to it!”

The result? By the time AIDS had been in the national consciousness for ten or fifteen years (and beloved basketball star Magic Johnson had admitted that he had AIDS), homosexuals were coming out in droves. Even celebrities. Even politicians. People who once thought they had a lot to lose by being gay now saw power in personal honesty. In truthfulness. In a confident sense of self.

The media – always a strong indicator of society’s acceptance (sometimes by leading, sometimes by following) – was now peopled with gay figures. Tom Hanks won an Oscar for his role in “Philadelphia.” Ellen Degeneres’ first onscreen lesbian kiss was a ratings bonanza. And Elton John’s Academy Awards Night Party became one of the premier events of Hollywood’s most glamorous night.

Television shows from the more comic (“Will and Grace,” “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy”) to the more serious (“The L Word,” “Queer as Folk”) became successes. New Hampshire ordained a gay bishop.

The transgender community also made great strides – although in much more modest circles. RuPaul (a cult favorite in the 90’s) became a verifiable media franchise in the new millennium. Movies from “Girls Don’t Cry” and “Transamerica” to “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” became hits, if not blockbusters. And the staged version of “Priscilla” is now doing well on Broadway. Candis Cayne appeared in the short lived television series, “Dirty, Sexy, Money,” and Chastity Bono (quite publically) has transitioned from a woman to a man.

All very positive signs. And yet, there hasn’t been a corresponding movement among the general public. At least, it doesn’t seem to me that there has.

Now, as an active member of the TV/CD community these past five years, I have seen many of my friends in the community come out, or begin living 24/7, or begin physically transitioning. But, my point is, if I wasn’t in this community, I would know very few openly transgendered people. As a comparison, I work at a fairly large (and fairly liberal) four-year university. We have a staff of thousands, and yet in the five years that I’ve worked there, I’ve met only one openly TG girl on staff. (She was only a part-time worker, and she didn’t last long.) On the other hand, there are many openly gay and lesbian staff members in nearly every division of our school.

In other words, we still have a long way to go. And I can already hear the many reasons and excuses for this situation. Many of them quite valid. By coming out, a tg man or woman risks their job, their marriage, their visitation rights to their children -- not to mention risking being ostracized from their friends and family and from society as a whole.

But the sad truth is… our gay brothers and lesbian sisters faced those very same risks. And they still face those same risks today in the form of family pressures, religious teachings, prejudice on the job, and simple small town backward thinking.

But they still keep coming out. So what’s our excuse?

Drag queens have always been out – and thanks to TV shows like “RuPaul’s Drag Race” and “Trantasia” – they are perhaps more visible than ever. Some will argue that drag queens really belong more properly in the gay category (if you’re into categorizing your TG sisters), while others insist that drag performers perpetuate old flamboyant stereotypes of the TG lifestyle. But you know what? Drag queens still provide our most visible and our most public connection to mainstream society.

Transsexuals are pretty much out by definition. These are individuals who have physically transformed themselves (usually through surgical means) into the gender of their own choosing and now live 24/7 that way. But while very visible, many TS girls prefer to blend into society, and many go to great lengths to hide their male pasts. This is their choice, of course. Not everyone is Chastity Bono. Not everyone is comfortable in the public eye. And most importantly, many of these individuals – male and female – have survived a lifetime full of shame, and fear, and pain – both physical and emotional. And if they want to leave that past far behind them, who can blame them? So they are out. And in full public view. Yet ironically, they are often not “visible” members of the TG community.

So who does that leave?
Well, unfortunately, that leaves me. I’m pretty much the typical garden variety crossdresser. I don’t take female hormones for men. I’ve never had surgery. And, at this point in my life, I have no plans to transition or to live my life as a woman. I do go out as CiCi… I’ve been out in clubs in several cities, and I’ve attended many fetish events as well. So I go out. But I’m not out. For all that running around in public (often in spiked heels or thigh high boots!), my lifestyle is still hidden from almost everyone I know. I’ve told a few friends here and there. But to most of the world – and to my extended family – I remain a pretty typical American male.

For the past ten years, while CiCi was emerging as a major force in my life, I was a married professional raising a stepson, struggling to pay my mortgage, and trying to keep the weeds and gophers in my backyard under control. I earned a Master’s Degree, enjoyed hiking and theme parks, and watched way too much ESPN.

So when I did come out to a few of my friends, they were shocked. Not because I’m such a macho guy that the idea of me being feminine was totally out of the question (believe me, I’m not). But because there were no signs. No hints. I’d covered my tracks. Nothing in my life (as they knew it), that would lead them to believe I was anything other than the man I presented myself to be. Sure I have some feminine traits. But so do a lot of men. I don’t think most of the people in mainstream society make the leap from noticing a few feminine traits in a man to seriously thinking that man is transgendered. I know I don’t.
So I lived a double life. A secret life. And that I think is the problem. I am the problem. My friends were shocked to find that I was a t-girl simply because I live a very mainstream life… and my friends don’t associate tgirls and transgenders with mainstream life. To them, t-girls are people who inhabit the fringes of society. Way out on the edge of society’s norms and mores. Out at the edge of acceptability and decency.

The nerdy guy with the graying hair and the reading glasses who sits in the cubicle next to them just doesn’t fit that alternative image. People don’t see me in guy mode and think, “gender rebel” or “sexual outlaw”!

In our community, we get mad because mainstream America thinks that transgenders are all drag queens or hookers on Santa Monica Boulevard. But what else is America to think if those are the only images of transgendered people they get to see?

Mainstream America doesn’t think that the boy next door could ever be transgendered because no “boys-next-door” have ever come out. (Now, I should pause here to say that many people know a cross dresser in their neighborhood or their family… but they think it’s an aberration. They keep it hush-hush. And that silence only serves to reinforce the idea that each case of trans-sexuality is nothing more than that… an isolated aberration.)

Now before I go any further, let me say that as of right now I have no plans to come out. For all the reasons I’ve listed above – family, friends, employment – I’m planning on remaining in the closet. You can blast me for this. And I wouldn’t blame you. I blast myself for this all of the time. (As I’ve said in this column, “The problem is me.”)

But what if we did? What if hundreds of mainstream guys – who hunt and fish and raise families and go bowling with their co-workers – suddenly came out? What if America – and the world -- finally saw that cross dressers aren’t an aberration? What if America saw that crossdressers are the same men who patrol their streets, fight their wars, lead their corporations, star in their movies, sing beautiful love songs, raise beautiful families, and live pretty normal lives?

That’s when true acceptance would start to set in. That’s when legislation would change. That’s when prejudice would start to end.

But someone has to start it. It’s like that fairy tale, “Belling the Cat.” All the mice can believe in their heart of hearts that the world would be a better place if the cat had a bell on its collar, but one brave little mouse has to step forward and risk his life to “bell the cat.” And brave little mice are hard to come by.

What will it take before large groups of mainstream men will start admitting to the world that they are transgendered? Maybe a movie or TV show will air that will start the conversation. Maybe a rock star or movie star (or OMG… a famous athlete!) will come out. Maybe some WikiLeaks-style hacker will infiltrate our websites and chat rooms and “out” us all to the public against our will. (How scary is that thought?) Or, on a more positive note, maybe it will all just have to wait for the next generation – a generation raised with the amazing resources and support found on the internet. Resources and support that our generation never had. Maybe they will do it.

I wish it could be me. I wish I was that brave mouse. But I’m not. I’m a typical guy with typical fears and typical responsibilities that – at least for the time being – prevent me from being willing to take that step. I wish I was that brave. That strong. That daring. But instead, like I said in the title of this blog…

The problem is me.

Take care out there.
Be safe. Be smart. Be sexy.

xoxo,
CiCi

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

CiCi if you are the problem then so am I... I really look up to you and hear where you are coming from. Hopefully some day (soon) we will be able to present our true selves without fear.

Lisa

SandyTG2 said...

CiCi, I don't think you are part of the problem or part of the solution.

Now if you were living 24/7 as a female then you might be able to say that about yourself. There is no reason for you or anyone else that dresses for pleasure to come out to the world. I mean you don't tell everyone about everything you do from the mundane to the outrageous. You are a very kinky girl too and would you tell everyone about your kinks? I kind of doubt it unless you were living the lifestyle 24/7 and/or making a living at it.

Now I am living 24/7 and a transsexual so I would be classified as part of the problem if I was stealth. I try not to be part of the problem and not hide who I am but I am not promoting it. Maybe I should. It does disappoint me that I don't pass 100% of the time but if someone notices and asks me I will not shy away from telling them about myself and being truthful.

I have gone through most of the problems that arise when a transsexual comes out. The only people who don't know are my family. All of my local friends have abandoned me except for one and she has a problem with it still. That still hurts a lot that they left me because I am changing gender.

I guess I could do something to promote trans here in Missouri but I am honestly afraid to do anything. I haven't met any others like me locally so doing it by myself might be a little too dangerous. We can still be killed out of hand for who we are around here. So I don't rock the boat.

Lord knows it would be great if we were accepted all over the US but I don't think I will see that in my lifetime.

Sandy

Anonymous said...

Hi CICI. I think the resolve is to remember that we are human, and have very special needs. No matter what the case. I have sceen time after time the media bash the cultprit. the thing is, those arrested deserved their punishment. mostly intoxicated driving and arrested for indecency. Thats why we suffer. Media makes a mockery of our trivial meaning. And the public goes along with the resolve. Its a shame. We mean no harm at all to anyone..I have discovered that being a crossdresser gives me hope. I cant seem to find that in a relationship. My past experiences have always been selfish women wanting thier way. women can be demanding, but if a guy realy makes it with his wife, in the sense of security and happiness, then that is great too.
I think God made us to be self supportive. I have always believed that our destiny is submissed thru our inner self. We cant judge and less not be judjed. My mom, who has passed away, taught me to never compare myself to anyone else. She said just be you!. She was the best mom ever. I sure miss her wisdom and tranquility. The casual complicity that we endure is just public ridicule. More men should not be scared. I think cross dressing is a serious form of flattery to the oppissite sex. I adore women and what god has put the 2 sexes on this earth. A woman is a provider and a caregiver and a mentor and a precious resorce for love. It cant go unmentioned. Only women that extort themselves have issues. For example the porn industry. Many women have been abused and treated with disrespect. I shame those types of men that treat women horribly.. example, the movie Kalifornia. Brad Pitt showed how men can be forcefull. I cant and wont accept women treated this way. Thats why I am reclused for my segregation. But someday, I will find the solution.
Just as you have, I have told very close family and friends of my desires. I do it for personal sexual reasons. It makes me happy to know that Im not getting any STDs and not hurting anyone. Im pure in my demise and will always adore women. I thank God for giving us the opposite sex. Men are great... dont forget that. Id love to meet you face to face and discuss our ideals. Love ya Benny

Anonymous said...

Have you ever read Julia Serano's book
"Whipping Girl" In it she talks about cross dressing and shines a very different light on the subject.

Also some thoughts on the word "passing"

1) "Woman" and "transsexual" are not mutually exclusive. By telling someone you're trans, you are NOT telling them you're not a woman.
2) "Passing" is such a problematic term. It implies you're passing yourself off as something you're not. It also hides the real way gendering works: There is no inherent quality to gender that allows people to read each other. Gendered cues are cultural and regional. Gendering someone is an act, a verb. Rather than saying "you passed", try "you were read as cisgender". It's far more accurate, and it takes the responsibility off the trans person and puts it on the person observing, where it belongs.
Cisgender people get misread all the time, but I never hear anyone say they "didn't pass" when it happens. That's because "passing" has an underlying assumption that transgender identities are less real than cisgender ones. Which is an ugly (and incorrect) assumption to make.

cici said...

Thanks, Lisa. That's kind of my point. When will that time come (if ever) and what will cause that societal change to occur?

Hi Sandy. Always so good to hear from you, hun. And I realize that I don't have to tell everyone every little secret about myself. I was just thinking that if more crossdressers like myself did reveal themselves, the world would have a chance to see the reality rather than the stereotypes they currently have in their minds. And the reality is that all kinds of guys from all over the world and lots of different backgrounds do this, enjoy this, and (sadly) are riddled with anxiety over this.

And btw... i don't blame you for being afraid to come out if you're the only one in your area. it's so much easier when there's a group... a community.

And i also don't think you should judge your own personal progress on that. I've watched from afar your personal transformation... and it's both beautiful and inspiring.

xoxo,
CiCi

CiCi said...

Benny,
Thanks for responding. And, yes, the media does make a mockery of us. that's what bugs me... not that they do it (they're notorious for picking out easy targets)... but how do we change it? how do we start controlling the messages that are out there? (and i think that only comes with coming out.)

Anonymous,
Thanks for the tip on "Whipping Girl." i'll have to check it out!

xoxo,
CiCi

Nikki said...

as always, an enthralling and enjoyable read from Cici's keyboard.

You do a wonderful job of keeping vibrant the blog sites etc where you post your writings, shining a light on tg issues by rendering to print your thoughts and personal experiences.
That, to me, says your not part of the problem, but part of the solution .

Nikki

Anonymous said...

Dear CiCi,
first off, I've been reading your posts for a few months now. They're a big part of what finally got me to start coming out to my friends and eventually my family. I went full time with my crossdressing and living my life as a t-girl in June. I just wanted to say that for every one of us not ready to leave the closet there is still a considerable number of us stepping all the way from the closet out the front door and into the street. I know I'm not the only full timer in my area, hell I dated a t-girl in high school.:P We all do our part, wether we know it or not and regardless of how we choose to do it. The simple act of admitting to yourself and a small group of friends is a service to the community if only because it introduces more people to our world. Everyday I go out in one of my skirts and my beat up old running shoes and sling my purse proudly over my shoulder, knowing full and well most people see me as a boy in a skirt. Admittedly I've had to deal with some unpleasantness such as a bald and quite intimidating fellow telling me that if I ever go down a certain street in my city that I'll be beaten quite viciously, but that's life and I can't really blame someone for their ignorance and fear of that which is different. I'm sure that no matter how much acceptance the trans community gains there will always be those who hate us all the same, but who cares what they think. I live my life free from compromise and with an undying faith in better days. Anyways, back to my point. Because of you and this blog there is another t-girl out and about and living her day to day life the way she's always dreamed. Of anything you're just another part of the solution.:)

Cheers,
Kylie

Brie Danyelz said...

When you said maybe the next generation will change things...they are. Compared to what life was like for me as an 18 year old with nothing but unanswered questions and a dictionary that didn't have the word transvestite in it..things will be a whole lot better sooner than later. I just hit that OMG mark of over 60. I feel about 35 and I attribute that to my personal grooming to retain a female complexion and figure. If only I was 18 now...I'd be in the clubs and not my closet.

CiCi said...

Nikki, Brie and Kylie,
Thanks so much for your comments. You made my day! I still think that if more cd's like me came out, the stereotypical image of a crossdresser would change. But I'm so happy to hear your stories. Brie, i know exactly what you mean about feeling 25 years younger! (I feel it too!) And Kylie, I'm so happy for you and for your progress into a 24/7 lifestyle. To me, that's nothing short of amazing. And if anything I've ever written has helped or inspired you, I'm just happy for the small role i could play in your brave and honest journey. I loved that line you used: "I live my life free from compromise and with an undying faith in better days." It'd be a pretty amazing world if everyone (in all walks of life) could live that way.
Thanks again, girls!
xoxo,
CiCi