That title should more properly read:
… but really should probably be something like “on identifying as Trans and what it means when some folks who are actually doing something mean by trans community”…
… or some such unappealing guff that makes people stop wanting to read the undoubtedly long form post that is going to follow.
So, first off, for the lazy:
TL:DR — you do not have to identify as Trans or be interested in or hang out around, or be part of Trans things in order to be part of the Trans Community. (really, really offensive oversimplification of what comes along in a moment, but hey, some people like the offensive, over simplified stuff. Me, not so much…)
Following that, for those with a drink and snack handy, the following:
I have no idea who 95% of the people I generally encounter something by or that I’ve followed on tumblr are. I don’t know their lives, I don’t know the ins and outs of their hopes and reams, and this applies even if that’s pretty much all they talk about.
I can make some damned good guesses. I cheat when I do that, though, and I always cross the line of propriety, so I don’t do it, even in person when people ask me. Its not merely rude, its just flat out wrong, and I have a lot of experience with doing it.
But I can say something that I do know, as a factual statement, simply because I have come across their stuff, which is usually because it is related to transness in particular.
I can say that odds are many of them don’t actually know another trans person in meatspace — the offline world of reality where people generally don’t call you a heterosexual woman when you are a gay man to your face (but might think it) because, well, the real world, if you will pardon the aphorism, is a space where people still generally avoid conflict that might complicate their personal lives and/or start a riot that could get them killed.
Now, some folks might want to know how I know this, and if I know this, then why do so few other people know this.
Well, I know this because I spend my time thinking about what a community is, and then testing it against the world around me. In some ways, that’s been my job for a long time, even if I often didn’t get paid for it. I’m not alone in doing that, either — there is an entire field of science that deals in this problem. Go figure — people who go to school to learn what other people who didn’t go to school figured out so that they can then, later, figure out new stuff on their own without having to reinvent the wheel each time. On an aside, I can note that the reason I can do that is directly related to my being trans, but that’s an aside, so we’ll leave it at that.
As to why so few other people know this, well, I have only the vaguest fucking clue, and it goes something like this: they haven’t spent years and years thinking about what a community is and testing it against the world around them.
Community is not, oddly enough, predicated on occupying the same space. Community is not predicated — that is, it isn’t based in or spring from — having the same ideas, same outlook, same culture, same philosophy, same approach, or anything else like that.
It *can* be, mind you. But simply because one *can* do something does not mean that one *does* it.
And that is an important distinction that I made just there — Community *isn’t* based in such, but can be.
THis is because there are lots of different kinds of community, an when you talk about them, you should rely on either context of the subject or go with the one that makes the most sense.
When it comes to trans people, there are about four that apply:
Online community – formed by a tendency to share the same concepts, subjects, and general (not personal or specific) history and/or key element.
Economic community — in this case, it isn’t about money (though people think of economics that way for some weird reason). It is about trade, the exchange of stuff. The Trans Community trades in information and knowledge and experience.
Social community — this one can be online or off, and is based in the people one deals with frequently. Contextually, I deal with the social community frequently — from when I wrote for Bilerico and commented frequently on PHB, to my own blog and the blogs of other popular folks, on to the work I do every day dealing with trans people, their friends, their immediate families, and their significant others.
Affinity Community — this is the whole “I identify as” group. Oddly enough, while I interact with this community, and I am, for some reason probably related to my activism and advocacy, associated with it, I’m not entirely a member of it in my own mind, but I am in the minds of others. Affinity groups are structured primarily by the way people react to other people — in this case, the way that cis folk react to people who are not cis and put them all in one group.
That one group is then divided up into much smaller groups within the whole scheme of things, some of whom from entirely because they don’t want to be part of that affinity group and others that form because they feel that some other people shouldn’t be part of that affinity group.
Now, due to a whole bunch of things called “intersections” that are derived from this idea called “intersectionality” that has nothing, really, to do with “identity politics” but at the same times does have something to do with identity, the Trans Community, as a whole, is *all* of those different kinds.
And here’s the worst part — if you can say that you engage, on a daily basis, with even one other person who is trans, you are part of the trans community.
And when I say engage, allow me to point out that if you are reading this, you have engaged.
Its like that.
Here’s the thing:
The trans community is not all of one mind, or one history, or one narrative, or one kind, or one way, or one set up.
Some of them don’t call themselves trans, or transgender, or transsexual, or pick your term of the moment. It has a culture, a history, and a language that are unique to it, and that are growing and evolving and changing and I’m going to take a risk here and say that it may be the first digital culture, because most of the growth and exploration and development of it came from work online.
Which makes sense when you realize that most trans people for most of history rarely knew more than 10 others. In their lives. And they almost always didn’t live too close by.
What they call themselves doesn’t matter so much in the greater picture of things because if they can be described as such, then things suddenly work, and you realize that “identity” is just a way of saying that someone can describe me as such, and I approve of that in some way, even if I might not like it.
I identify as Toni D’orsay. That’s a shorthand for my sense of identity. I do not identify as a woman, or black, or white, or lakota. I do not identify as an American or a USian, or liberal or democrat, because those are not the things that identify me as who I am and what I am.
who and what I am is pretty simple, really, and can be summed up by simply using my name. All the rest of it is a part, a small part. It is like an arm or a leg or a finger or an ear. This is notable, because it means that to me, when someone says they are trans, they may as well be saying they are redheads, or they have small ears. It tells me *something* about them, but not who they are.
And that’s a key and critical part of this whole thing.
I write and work mostly in the space of something called stigma. some of the movie buffs out there may think of stigmata, which is actually related in some way, but has a rather useful fictionally aspect to it.
It is a “mark”, a stain on the person that is visible in social situations.
Like that mustard and ketchup stain on the 5000 dollar Burberry suit you see a certain Presidential Candidate wearing. Wait, what? You don’t?
Isn’t that because if there was one on there you *would* see it? And, indeed, it would be close to all you see, even though it doesn’t really determine anything about the person except that they didn’t catch that drip from whatever they were eating?
And didn’t you figure that whatever they were eating that had mustard and ketchup on it had to be either a sausage or a hamburger?
But that stain is what a stigma is like when people become aware of it — in this case, when people realize that a person is Trans; including trans people, themselves, who are raised the same way the people around them are (larger picture, perspective, social acculturation); these people, seeing this, start to apply what stereotypes they have been introduced to that person in the same way that anyone who is reading this and really being honest is going to say yeah, they did think of the person eating a hot dog or a hamburger.
Now, add into that some odd stuff.
Trans people are taught not to be honest. Seriously. I get a lot of argument from trans people on this one. I will live. Because they are taught that by cis people. And usually for their own good. To get in my usual dig at the annoyance of the moment, Cockroach Brennan does it all the time — her bullying is part of that sort of educational effort, and is predicated on the stuff that she has been taught by the ciscentric culture about trans people her whole life.
Only she knows its not true, which is why she puts so much effort in to spin and make trans related stuff into something horrible and demonize trans people. If she didn’t, people might actually start to think that trans people were, you know, worthy and just like everyone else.
Plus she gets to vent her entire life’s history worth of social struggles against the same stuff we fight against on a group of people to diversified, weak, and poor to fight back, which makes her feel good even after the adrenaline rush is gone.
They are taught to live their lives in bad faith (existential concept), and that’s pretty much being taught not being honest (honest not being the same as truthful). They are, as a whole, rather honest about other things, based on the experiences they have, and again, this isn’t applicable to every single trans person (and most of you will decide, for yourselves, that you aren’t one of them, even if, in truth, you are, and that’s ok, this is abstract shit, not real daily shit you have to live through and deal with so don’t stress it).
Just most of them. And most of them also learn that life isn’t black and white, simple and easy, and they learn to adapt to thing and develop a pretty rare skill overall called resilience that a recent survey said was the most incredible factor thereby.
In other words, you cannot keep a good Trans person down. They will get up, they will look you in the eye, and they will adopt a stance made famous in a series of battery commercials that likely came out long before most of those who read this were born.
And that, in turn, means that you cannot keep the trans community down.
Now, granted, I’m a sociologist, so all this stuff is pretty much clear as a bell to me, and I have an active and abiding interest in seeing all of this stuff and how it all links together.
But that’s irrelevant. It literally has no bearing on any of what I’m writing other than to give you a sense of how smart or wonderful I must be, when anyone who knows me is well aware I am neither smart nor wonderful.
I just think a lot.
But the community itself is something I watch closely because I see a trend developing that matches an earlier trend. I’ve predicted it, and all the rest, so I’m very comfortable in it. Now its just left to see if my hypothesis is correct.
That works like this: a while back, the word that everyone “in community” used was Gay. Then lesbians broke away (and it was a pretty big deal), and it became Gay and Lesbian. Then Bisexuals managed to get separated out. Then the T stood up and separated itself out (this was in the middle of the AIDS Crisis, when it was the Lesbians and the Trans people who did a lot of the care and support for the dying).
We are about to see that happen within the Trans Community. Separation and division *within* the overall setting as different groups build off the culture that has been laid down and grow it forward, just as was done previously.
That doesn’t mean they won’t be part of the Trans community.
It just means the Trans community will be bigger, more responsive, and more diverse, and will work to recognize more stuff about itself.
Just like the city or town or village you live in is a community that is more than just the middle class folks there.
That is perhaps the biggest mistake I see Trans people make — thinking that the Trans community is only just those people who are Trans. It includes our Allies — who sometimes are just as hurtful as they are helpful — and our Families. It includes our loved ones.
It even includes our enemies to an extent — the involvement that Cockroach Brennan (note that if you use that, be sure to always italicize the first part, please) has undertaken has made her just as much a part of the Trans community as anyone else, although we’d all rather she just go back to her own little pretending to be radical feminist community and spew her filth there. But one of the most interesting things about a real community is that you don’t always get to decide who is and who isn’t a part of it.
Communities are their own thing, and they have a life of their own. Indeed, in some ways of looking at what a community is, the ability to decide who is and who isn’t a part of that community is in and of itself what stops it from being such. Communities are more than Cliques, more than Members Only clubs, more than the things you want them to be, and always what they really are.
Sorta like Trans people.
Which may be why, in the end, I get what a community is, after all.