I’ve had a busy weekend. Christine and I went to the Holiday Party for my work last night, we went to a new church this morning, and I’m working on this blog, thinking about an episode of The Closer* that had been recommended to me (it’s episode 14, called “Make Over”, in case the link takes you to a more recent episode).

It seems that lately, life has been a mixed bag of acceptance and trans-misogyny, gendering and misgendering, and that for every good thing, there are at least two bad ones, and this weekend hasn’t strayed from that formula, and neither did that episode of The Closer.

Today was the day we went to St. George’s. Mass was just like any other Rite II mass I’ve ever been to, and I got to meet the person who had contacted me by email last week. After mass, we were introduced around, Christine saw one of her old bosses from Starbucks (a good thing, apparently, not a bad one), and we got to meet several people out of the church’s gay community and ministries. The good news is that everyone was incredibly nice.

I find that when you hang out with people that are trans or gay just because they’re trans or gay, you find out that being trans or gay is about all you have in common with them. Part of the reason is that variance of gender identity or sexual orientation can potentially affect anyone; it transcends class, race, education, social standing and faith. Trans support groups are great if you want to talk about trans-specific issues, but not so much if you’re looking for an actual friend. Trans people are still rare enough that the odds of finding a girlfriend that actually has some similar tastes is difficult– the cis woman I met at the shoe store last weekend is more likely to be a permanent shopping partner than any of my trans friends.

The positive thing about being hooked up with the lgbt community at church is that you don’t expect religion to be a point of contention, and it wasn’t. The people we met were nice, conversation was interesting, coffee hour (that unofficial Episcopalian sacrament) was filled with people who were willing to come sit down at our table and chat with us about anything. No one flinched when I introduced Christine as my wife. It seems there are enough lgbt people at the church that no one even gave us a second thought. It was more than either of us were hoping for, being so well accepted without precondition.

The sermon this morning was about that very thing– accepting grace from and through other people without precondition, using commonalities to build bridges rather than putting up barriers. I am not ashamed to admit that I almost cried (though I confess I am due for a shot tomorrow**).

It’s a huge contrast, that acceptance, not just with our current church, but with so many places that we’re known. I don’t feel like a lot of the people I know are unaccepting so much as maybe unfamiliar and unsure about how to treat me and by extension, us. It’s as though the past that I have with some people as a man prevents them from being able to treat me as a woman, which I understand, but also to treat me as a human, which I don’t.

My parents (and other family), some of my colleagues, some people at our church, all fall into that trap. People who never knew me before can still find out that I’m trans and not treat me any differently, but my boss gave me the oddest look when we ran into each other in the ladies room last night, as though I’d possibly go somewhere else when I had to pee.

Something I told our priest was that I don’t think I’m being horribly mistreated, and that I don’t think I’m manufacturing a reason that makes it psychologically easier for me to break away from our church. I have no illusion about it– I’m leaving for my own selfish reasons, not because I’m being persecuted with torches and pitchforks. The chance to be myself and to define myself as a person other than the trans woman with a different group of people is worth the cost of relocating, even if it means losing some of our close church family. It’s not a good reason to go, but it’s enough for me, and I think that in the long run it’s going to be a much more positive experience vis-à-vis my personal growth.

A lot of trans people move away from their old lives, not so much to break with their past (at least not anymore) so much as to keep it from interfering with their futures. Being a trans woman isn’t really something I’ll grow out of, and it’s not like I need to figure out who I am or re-define myself. In truth, I’ve already done those things, and what I have now is an identity as a trans woman that I will grow into, not leave behind. I will never be the same person again, hopefully able to re-integrate into my church at some point once I figure out who I am– I’m already irreversibly changed.

If there’s one thing that recent episode of The Closer was able to demonstrate with the gender-based bait-and-switch, it was that. On the episode, Beau Bridges plays the role of Georgette Andrews, a retired detective. I think he plays the role as sensitively as he could, trying (and at least partially succeeding) to make it clear that being trans isn’t something you put on and take off like a dress (or a suit)***.

But I also think the show can’t get past its own trans-misogyny. The character of Lt. Provenza is the mouthpiece for most of it, and while I think the writers try to make him seem like an unreliable narrator, or at least to help the viewer question Provenza’s absolute morality, there’s a whole subtext that goes unaddressed. There is laughter in the squad room, plenty of gender entitlement (and misgendering), and a painful bit of trans-interrogation that warrants a “That is so inappropriate!” from the Deputy Chief, but not an actual stop to the behavior on the part of the officers.

Worse, the writers decide to actually have the trans character accede to answer the questions, explaining herself and her choices as though it were any of the officers’ (or our) business. I do not see it as my mission to educate people about the intricacies of GRS if they’re acting that hostilely toward me.

I think the show also perpetuates some inappropriate stereotypes about trans people, portraying us as “men in dresses” which despite his acting and nice hair, is all Beau Bridges really is. It’s true that for older transitioners, the effects of so many years of testosterone tend to reduce the efficacy of estrogen, the virilized features pretty well set in stone (or bone, as it were). But even amongst those older women I know, androgen blockers and estrogen can work wonders for a woman’s appearance: skin becomes lighter with more of a glow, body fat redistributes, and even if you’re stuck with the world’s worst caveman brow line, you’re going to look worlds different after hormones. The difference between the pre- and post- transition appearance of Bridges’ character would still be night and day– Provenza shouldn’t have even recognized her right away, wondering instead who the woman with her hands on his face was.

That a male was selected to play the role is what wrecked it for me. It seems like a very natural choice, to have a man play the role of man-who-became-a-woman, but I think Felicity Huffman pretty much demolished that paradigm about four years ago. Not that Transamerica was a perfect film, because it wasn’t, just that Huffman was able to do what Bridges was not– convince me that there was something real underneath. I realize Huffman had a full length feature in which to convince me, but everything about her was right, from the bright pink suit**** down to the voice that’s a little too deep: you’re not really sure if she’s a cis woman, and you’re hooked within the first 5 minutes. Admittedly, Huffman doesn’t deserve all the credit for Bree, but she deserves a lot.

For all the ups and downs over the last few weeks, and even the last few years, I think there’s a lot to being faithful to ourselves. Huffman and Bridges both did well getting that across with their characters. If I had to pick the one thing I think that episode of The Closer did right, it was to show that being true to yourself can cost you a lot, but that your happiness is usually worth the price. That is borne out in my own experiences, from family to church to work. The one thing I think that they missed in the TV show was the payoff to all the gambling and sacrifice– Detective Andrews went off alone at the end of the episode, presumably to be alone, with a weak and bitter smile on her face, as though we have the choice to be loved or to be ourselves but not both. Happily, I think I’ve got a photo around here that shows that’s just not the case.

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* The “Dramatic Pause” button on the top right of their video viewer is worth checking out, even if you’re completely uninterested in watching the full episode. I’ll wait while you check it out… … … See? I’ve seen those kind of things before but this one popped up quickly and it was funny.

** I call the week before I’m due for an injection the trans equivalent of PMS. Whether it’s real or just a matter of perception isn’t something I’m certain about.

*** I should mention that I’m skeptical of the way trans people are frequently depicted in media of any kind. I usually keep Julia Serano’s list of cissexism nearby. As a slightly funnier aside, and as a service to those of you unfamiliar with it, there’s also the Trans Documentary Drinking Game. I provide the rules now in case you happen to see one and I don’t have time to forewarn (or forearm) you.

**** The pink suit is another one of those trans stereotypes, but I fear this one is grounded in some kind of reality. People who transition in their twenties or thirties have usually missed out on some of the socialization that occurs with cissexuals. So we go through something like a second puberty, not just with the body changes and the hormones, but with trying to figure out clothes, hair, and makeup, something you’d have done during that awkward teenage phase when you had braces and weren’t cool anyway. We don’t (I didn’t) have our parents or a lot of cisgender friends to help us along and some of us make disastrous fashion choices, as Bree did in Transamerica. I made a couple of disastrous decisions, too, but fortunately there is no photographic evidence of it.

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