This post germinated some weeks ago as I read on-line comments expressing extreme disappointment (if not outright anger) that Cher continues to refer to her child as ‘she‘. Chaz Bono is trans*; born into a biologically female body he is now living his authentic self.
Certainly I understand how people who’ve seen Cher as a long-time hero (by our designation, not hers) to the gay community may be disappointed. Notice that I didn’t say ‘LGBT communities‘. Not that she doesn’t support or love the other letters, nor that many of them don’t appreciate her support and/or her music. Clearly the largest group of queer Cher fans, and perhaps the earliest, is gay men. Often young gays who party to her music. Basic queer history.
My reaction to the condemnation of Cher’s far-too human response is that we queer folk seem to have adopted the surrounding society’s far-too quick willingness to judge any imperfection (see this post for more). Of course I was disappointed when Bette Midler (in 2004, on Larry King) said she wasn’t sure when asked about same sex marriage; “I haven’t done enough research or reading on it to have an informed opinion.” Some of it because I had hoped she was fully supportive, but also because it was such a politician’s answer. As I considered her words and my reaction I was reminded of a quote (from so long ago that I can’t be sure of its source or precise wording) to the effect that many queer folk take years to reach the point of coming out; we need to allow family and friends time to process it as well.
And to be honest (to be really real, as it were) the idea that the gay community, which has its own checkered history of accepting and honouring the ‘T’ and other letters in the ever-growing label that I keep as LGBTITQQ2S, is throwing stones at Cher has a Biblical irony.
This is not the point where I reveal my own saintly acceptance of all the letters, nor a confession of deep-seated hatred. But it is important to me that I be open about my own journey; progress is a process.
In my alphabetical label, mentioned above, there are two Ts. Partly this is for the humourous placement of a TIT in the middle. But it also reflects my youth; we used ‘transexual‘ to refer to those who now tend to self-identify as ‘trans*‘ and ‘transvestite‘ to mean someone who derives sexual gratification from cross-dressing. The second group seems to have disappeared from most LGBT folks’ radar. Not sure if they are conflated with ‘drag queens‘ or perhaps now included in the broader category of ‘fetishists‘ – an accurate enough label.
I was never a fan of the word ‘tranny‘ as it seemed to be most often used with the same rancour as ‘fag‘ and ‘queer‘. Now of course some of us have adopted queer and some queer folk are OK with tranny. For me the rule is simple; don’t try to use a term with a heavy load of negativity as a positive unless the person being referred to has self-adopted the term.
But back to my history with trans* folk.
The first clearly trans* person I had any interaction with beyond the most superficial was an acquaintance back in Toronto. She was great fun despite an awful sense of humour, and was quite vocal in her interest in engaging in a threesome with my then-partner and I. That relationship had weathered one threesome and we were not going to try it again; my jealousy was (is) quite intense. That meant that I was not required to determine whether my lack of interest in such an encounter was based on jealousy, lack of sexual chemistry, or internalized issues around whether I could be gay (as I then self-identified) and have sex with someone who had male genitalia, developing breasts and female self-identity.
Skipping ahead from the 80s to this century. I attended IML (International Mr Leather) events in Chicago in May of 2001- shortly after my serious car accident. My physical recovery was ongoing and engaging in anything strenuous was out of the question. However the attentions and servitude of one young pup was welcome. Walking with crutches, it was nice to have someone fetch food and drink, attend to sore feet, and generally make me feel less like a decrepit old man. Our conversations centered on me and various other attendees of my acquaintance. The pup was open about his journeys; exploring his pup nature while working towards surgery to bring his physical body in line with his authentic self. Again, circumstances were such that I was not required to determine whether I was as fully-open and accepting as I like to think I am.
I’ve also developed friendships with trans* folk that presented absolutely no sexual interest on either part (well, as far as I know). Dad and his second wife have a friend who they’ve known for some time. We’ve met at their place over the years and I was kept up-to-date on her journey. One of the requirements for her undergoing gender reassignment surgery was to move to a new community and live for a full year as her chosen identity. She did not continue for the full 12 months. I’ve not had an opportunity to discuss with her what transpired (ooh, no pun intended) during that time to make her reconsider surgery. I’ve been told that she hasn’t changed her self-identity, so it may have been the costs involved or perhaps the finality of surgery. There’s no deep meaning to this story- other than illustrating that within every label or categorization, diversity remains. Painting any group as homogenous is both lazy and dangerous.
More recently my partner and I were befriended by a fascinating person who shared some of our fetish interests and worked at a gay-oriented business. When I was working 60+ hours a week at Depot and little interested in a night of bar-hopping, they would go out and enjoy the evening. Really a non-story, other perhaps than a reminder that just as gay folk are finding greater social acceptance by being visible, so too (hopefully) will trans* folk.
The latest trans* person to make my acquaintance has but newly arrived in my life so there’s not much to say as yet. His journey has some surface similarities to the others above, but as with all of us who honour our authentic self, is unique and fascinating. I can’t imagine how much richer my life is for knowing him; but I have no doubt it is. And that richness is a gift available to anyone who will approach the diversity of life with an open mind.