It’s International Trans Day of Remembrance as I write this column. Thanks to a young trans man’s attempt to use the male bathroom in his high school, things trans are on my mind. I also just finished John Irving’s very affecting In One Person, which is a love letter to things trans. And then there is the way so many trans people have agitated for recognition and acceptance even as they lose valued community members to assault, suicide and murder.
The challenge many people have with the trans community is that they are not aware of the many variations in trans identity and how they play out in the real world. Knowing whether someone is a crossdresser, a transvestite, a transsexual or transgender can be confusing, and there are certain elements within the trans community who do themselves no favours by reacting with derision or hostility when the uninitiated use the incorrect label.
The difference between straight men who dress as women for sexual pleasure, gay men who dress as women in a form of gender satire, people who are trapped in the body of the opposite sex or those who want to do away with gender roles entirely and inhabit forms that become something new by using both male and female traits and anatomy, is not always easy to discern.
When you add to this how rigid our society likes to be in terms of sexual roles/gender identity, it’s easy to see why some people on every side of each divide are troubled by trans-anything. However, it would be wrong to assume these transphobes are from one particular class or place; transphobia cuts across all socioeconomic strata.
This is also true of those who are attracted to trans folk, and they appear to be a much larger group than one might originally think. While these types tend to be of the most “normal” of appearances, it must be said that their taste for “guys with pies” or “chicks with dicks” makes them equally as exotic as the objects of their desire. Like the trans community, their lovers are getting more public in demanding that their love and desire not be denigrated.
It’s true that, historically and culturally, a great deal of fun has been had at the expense of the trans-person, but it’s also understandable because when humans examine ourselves we often do it by looking through the eyes of our exact opposite. For many people their exact opposite is the sex they’re not.
For some members of the mainstream gay community, those focused on their fascination with members of their own sex, the idea of wanting to switch genders is repellent. When you add the varied sexual interests of trans people to the mix — some become female and partner with women and others become male and live in the gay world, while many wish to lead only a “normal” heterosexual life — the whole thing becomes even more confusing to those who lack the empathy to see anything from any perspective but their own.
In the end though, it’s not the trans community’s job to explain who they are to us any more than the gay who does drag has to explain himself to the clone who doesn’t or the straight man who loves to spank his wife has to explain himself to the guy who finds the missionary position imaginative. We live in a democracy where all people have the same rights — specifically so trans people, and anyone else not in the heterosexual majority, can’t be victimized.
I’ve always had immense respect for trans people because it’s been so easy to see just how brave they are. For those of us who “pass” for generally straight, generally white and generally recognizable as male or female, life is simpler. For those who have no choice but to allow their true identity to find a way to overwrite the identity they were born with, life is a lot more complicated and dangerous.
Of all the outsiders who fight for recognition, I find trans people the most courageous of all.
Brad Fraser is a Canadian playwright. Fraser's Edge appears in every second issue of Xtra.