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Sunday, June 29, 2014
Why Is America So Afraid of Me? A Blog for Suddenly Fem by CiCi Kytten
I’m a pretty nice person. I work hard. I raised a family. Paid my way (or should I say, “borrowed my way”) through higher education. I vote. I recycle. And I often give to charity when I’ve got a little extra in my pocket. I’ve rescued strays. I have no criminal convictions more serious than a traffic ticket. And I often let people with one or two items go ahead of me in the grocery store line.
When I was a kid, I always went to the local fireworks on the 4th of July, always marched with my Cub Scout Troop in the Memorial Day parade, and I’ve stood in the hushed silence of the Viet Nam War Memorial and rubbed off a copy of the name of a very dear family friend.
I’m far from perfect. I’ve battled my share of demons. Broken a few hearts. Made some bad decisions. And generally acted in ways that were wholly selfish and thoughtless. But all in all, I’ve lived the majority of my life as a very conventional, traditional American citizen. And here’s the real key. I still do.
I’m not a rebel by nature. I’m generally pretty shy and quiet. I don’t go out of my way to challenge authority or upset the status quo. That’s just not my personality. It’s not something I enjoy.
But one thing I do enjoy is dressing like a woman. I don’t know why. I’ve actually stopped questioning why. I just know that I enjoy doing it. And I really enjoy hanging out with other people who enjoy doing it. And while I can’t vouch for everyone that self-identifies under the trans umbrella, most of the trans people I’ve met seem like pretty decent folks. Sure there are few assholes here and there... maybe even a few felons... but that’s true of any group in America.
For most of America’s 238 years, trans people and cross dressers like myself haven’t had much of an impact. We’ve hidden in closets, lurked in alternative clubs, and hooked up in dark alleys. But those days are over. We’re getting stronger and braver and more self-confident -- as a community and as individuals. And the numbers of openly proud and unashamed trans people are only going to grow in the coming years.
So I thought I’d take a moment to reassure the rest of America. You really have nothing to fear. Cultures change and morph over time. This is just another such change. I’m not sure what awful consequences or side effects you see occurring in society just because a few individuals decide to dress in a gender non-conforming way. But, don’t forget, we as a country have been through this before, and we seem none the worse for it. For decades now, the women of America have been dressing in a way that was once considered masculine. It’s become so accepted, we don’t even notice it any more.
Unfortunately, all of this is happening too late to help all of the innocent trans people who have, in the past and in the current day, been abused, insulted, humiliated, assaulted, murdered, or driven to suicide. Not to mention, those who were kept from living a happy life thanks to society’s ignorance and stubbornness.
And it’s happening too late to help Chase Culpepper, a teen in South Carolina, who was asked to remove her makeup before taking her drivers’ license photo. Apparently, SC DMV officials consider her makeup a “disguise.” How odd. Women have been wearing makeup for years in their DMV photos. (And believe me, I used to work in Hollywood, I’ve seen many actresses and models report to the set without makeup -- and OMG... do they ever look different once they’ve been through makeup!) Why is it acceptable for one gender to wear makeup and one not to? In the non-trans world, makeup has been a part of the goth scene, the punk scene, the glam scene... hell, my elderly Uncle Lee used to draw on his pencil-thin mustache. Was that a disguise?
Some of the internet commentators have compared Chase’s situation to... and I’m not exaggerating this... to showing up for your photo dressed as a clown or as a blue being from the movie, Avatar. I’ve seen photos of Chase. She does not look like a clown. I’ve seen good Christian, church-going, God-fearing, New England housewives who wear way more makeup than Chase. Are they in disguise?
Others argue if she had posed in makeup that Chase’s photo would be deceptive. After all, the whole purpose of a DMV photo is for accurate identification. But, if that’s the case, I bet you’ll find a person like Chase in makeup behind the wheel more often than not. So for her to pose without makeup would be deceptive. Not the other way around.
And then lastly, people point to simple biology. Chase was born male. As one particularly crude commenter said, “Take a look under your dress. You’re a guy.” It’s simple science. Except of course that science is never simple. When I was a kid, my favorite dinosaur was a brontosaurus. My favorite planet -- and the planet associated with my birth month -- was Pluto. Flash forward thirty years and we’ve now learned that Pluto isn’t really a planet and the brontosaurus never existed. Apparently some scientist mistakenly put the head of a camarasaurus on the body of an apatosaurus, and no one questioned it for decades. Bye bye Thunder Lizard. Bye bye Sinclair Oil mascot.
Science isn’t perfect. Nor should we expect it to be. Research observations change with updated methods and improved observational technology. And if errors can happen with astronomy and paleontology, they can certainly happen in areas as relatively new as genetics and genomics. My instincts tell me we might have a very different view of gender in the years to come. A view that incorporates much more than simple physicality or appearances.
Still, none of this explains -- at least not to me -- why America is so afraid of me. Or people like me. Or a cute kid like Chase. Why are we so hesitant to alter current standards, and even laws, to accommodate trans Americans? We’ve done it before for all kinds of different U.S. populations from the rich to the poor, from Native Americans to the disabled, from gays and lesbians to the KKK and the Westboro Church. We defend free speech. We champion freedom of expression. And we try as best as we can to provide equal opportunity for all.
We fail often. But at least we try.
It hasn’t been easy. And it never will be. Providing a level playing field within the world’s greatest -- and most diverse -- democracy will never be an easy task. But I think America has much bigger problems than a brave young teen wearing eyeliner. And much more to fear from ignorance and hate than from me and my friends pursuing our inalienable right to happiness.
Happy Birthday, America. You’re 238. Isn’t it time you grew up?