The image of the clock to the side here is something that has been popping into my head for a while, and seems to show up whenever I start to think about the things that have my attention in the larger scheme.Time‘s Illusions” src=”http://www.dyssonance.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/clock.png” alt=”" width=”375″ height=”375″ />
I speak about perspective, I’ve recently noted the value and importance of nuance, and yet, all of it is still related, in various ways, because the way I see the issues and challenges that trans people as a whole face in intrinsically holistic, an enormous and at times overwhelmingly challenging thing that many, many people I speak to can sorta kinda see, but they don’t see how to solve it.
And that’s why the clock there keeps popping into my head. I grabbed a small bit of clip art and whipped it together, because there aren’t any easy ways to gain an image as simple and basic as that clock telling that particular time.
And the clock does indeed tell a particular time.
Can you tell what time the clock says?
Like much of what I see and try to find some way to address in the trans community — the larger issues and the smaller ones, the big questions, the little questions, the silly things and the awe filling ones — the clock there represents a kind of blindness that we tend to have culturally.
What time is it on that clock? To many people, who aren’t generally going to look for the nuance and then think outside the prescriptive boundaries of what we are taught, who are busy living lives that are far more focused on their own personal practicalities, who have a tendency to put their energies into things they need to do or want to do and focus on things that are important to them, but perhaps — maybe, and without any sort of slight on them — not as eager or interested in thinking more deeply on things that pertain to transness and solving these problems, that clock says the time is 6:30.
To me, on the other hand, that clock says I need to get a new clock. Because it is broken. And I know that clock, which, to remind you, is a symbol in this little tale of something not quite so concretely visible, so bluntly obvious, is broken because I know that if it were saying 6:30, then the longer hand would be roughly where it is now, but the shorter one would be about half way between the 6 and the 7.
About now, some of you, much like the people whom I’ve shown this too in the past, often hastily scribbled on a napkin during a dinner or lunch, when they get me going on the stuff that I am visibly energized by (as one person described, it is almost as if you suddenly turn a 60 watt light bulb — bright and shining as it is — into a 100 watt light bulb, hotter and brighter and just generally more (not that I’m a light bulb, mind you, but the analogy works)) are suddenly thinking to yourself, hey, she’s right, that isn’t how a clock looks at 6:30.
And yet, that clock does say 6:30 to many people, and if you were to put it out there and let random strangers check it they’d say the same thing because we really don’t spend time thinking about this stuff most of the day.
We don’t have time, and there are other things that are really important that we have to do.
I get that way, too — in some respects, I work hard to get that way because when I’m not distracted by all those things, the brain, it starts working and if I sleep or I take a shower or other things that are less likely to be spoken of in public, this stuff shows up in my head and I mull over it.
I forget a lot of it. I do have the problem of being readily distracted by bright shiny things, or stubbing my toe, or letting the shampoo slip from my fingers into the tub (seemingly dedicated to the striking of my foot).
But it comes back, and it is the massive number of times that things pop into my head that keeps it there, in some form, and eventually it finds its way out into some plan of mine or some post of mine or some article or chapter in a book or speech at an event.
And so when I share this stuff, when I talk about the problems that trans people face, what I have seen most often tis that people look at trans issues as if they are looking at that clock — there is no perspective, there is focus and intent and the only thing that applies, right then, if figuring out what time the analog clock says and if we are really lucky, we wonder why in the name of all that is revered is someone using an analog clock. Digital is much easier to tread.
I like analog clocks, in part, because they make me blink and have to think when I get up in the morning to tell what time it is. But damn, they can be annoying.
Now, this is all one big metaphor, wrapped in parenthetical statements that seek to render it conversational and everydayish in tone, but still it is talking about an idea that is fairly large. ANd that idea is that sometimes we see something but we don’t really see it.
And the solutions to many of the problems trans people face are that way. Indeed, the way to go about those things is visible, and we have the roadmap already laid out before us and we really don’t have to work as hard at it as we used to have to work at doing it and all of this is for a simple reason.
We aren’t the first.
We won’t be the last, either. I’ve heard and read people say now and again that Trans rights are the last great battle. That’s not true. It’s nto even accurate. For one, it implies that other efforts — notably the civil rights struggle and the women’s liberation struggle — are “finished”, that they got what they wanted.
I know, perfectly well, that’s not true.
But we are doing this and we are not reinventing the wheel here (unless we are being stupid, which does occasionally happen), and we already have the ideas of how to do it and what to do it and even the tools to do it with presently around us, existing, right now.
Because all the problems trans people face have already been faced by other groups and often they have solved the majority of them and changed things significantly.
But to do this, we have to bring from the past that which we can carry into the future.
Hence the title of today’s piece – the past into the future. I love that turn of phrase, it is attractive in its compelling and not quite superficial symmetry and it has many layers and many different paths down which it can take you. I have used that title before.
The past — not merely the past of trans people as a group, but the past of all of us, in all our respective countries, but, in keeping with my focus on the US because that’s where I live and work and breathe, our past as a culture, our history, the events which shape the world today, with consequences both intended and not — holds keys to overcoming the very things and it is that which I try to use.
Yeah, it needs to be “tweaked” — times change, but it is the core concepts that are inviolate, as everything else is just circumstance and strategy. Trans people have issues that none before us have had to deal with – and in turn, there will be those after us that have the same problem.
I am not so naive as to think that somehow we can escape the trap that those who have been through this before have not been able to escape. We will still pick on those who are even further down the chain of discarding than we are — both as individuals and collectively. We will find ourselves dealing with being told we are on the wrong side of history, that we are not enough.
I worry, often that there is too much emphasis on hormones and surgeries in the community. Far too much emphasis there, and it is far more than typical that we come into the Trans community from outside it focused on how to get hormones and how to do surgery and it is so overwhelmingly common that it tells me that right there, we have a problem.
We didn’t do it ourselves, but that’s the story that we do reinforce, that’s the push that we gave to others. We helped in that, and we build that up within the communities and that is dangerous because it leads people to see this as just about surgery — about superficial short-term things, when what trans people go through — today as well as a hundred years ago well as a thousand years ago, no matter what they were called — is so very much more than that, so much bigger than that, so much more difficult than that.
But it is useful to point out that since transition is so much bigger than that, that transness is something profound and deep and abiding and think harder ya’ll if you think it is somehow a bad thing, or something that is fixed, that when those of us who do need that surgery have such a god awful and horrible time getting it, what with the expenses of the rest of life to deal with and the complications that can drop in there, that we do need to fix that surgery thing a bit.
Surgery, then, becomes like that clock. We see it, and we run with what we have been taught, but only somewhat, only a little — just enough that we fool ourselves into thinking that it is one thing when really, it is something else. Not because we are trying to do so, but because habit and experience repeated often, make it nearly automatic that we do so.
What I work on, when I’m not busy applying it with heavy doses of snark, cussing, and gotcha’s, can best be described as a kind of philosophy of Transness, building on the efforts of those before and around me, and insights can come from small encounters and large one.
But this remains constant — this has all been done before.
Some folks have started to feel as if there will never be a chance for equality. Others are terrified that should the wealthy leech without a clue be elected, that trans rights and the efforts and victories, small and not so small (hard to say there have been truly large ones, lol) will go by the wayside.
This has all been done before. The outcome is truly inevitable.
A guy named John Langston represented an organization named the National Equal Rights League.A large part of that organizations work was intended to help a marginalized group “organize to promote passage of the law in addition in promoting civil rights”.
Any idea what it was about, or when it was? It is important to know, because they were instrumental in getting a national law passed. Twice. Both times it was vetoed by the President in office, who was not considered all that friendly to them. Indeed, by many accounts he was pretty much hostile to them. So, on the second try, the Congress passed it again with a two-thirds majority in each house.
Some people really didn’t like the national law. So they got together and set up an amendment to the Constitution of the US. The reason they didn’t like the law was they saw it as giving special rights.
The law made it illegal to discriminate on the basis of a particular characteristic. People who really, vehemently hated the law took it out on the people it was meant to protect.
This has all been done before.
The when was 1866.
That is not a typo. Not 1966, but 1866. It was 96 years later that the Civil Rights Act was passed.
During those dark years, as well, things became harder for many. But one thing worked deeply — the people who were ostracised built their own systems, their own organizations, their own tools. They made sure that they took care of each other, because who the fuck else was going to?
We have allies. Many, many allies. And occasionally they tell stories about how some cis person takes the time to help out a poor trans person. They are usually a gay cis person, but still a cis person.
They were portrayed in the media as clownish — were we able to do the kinds of searches at our fingertips today on things back then, we would see they were used to sell things that were associated with them — cleaning products, basic, simple foods.
Today we are used for pathos and entertainment.
This has all happened before.
That’s just one example that’s readily available, One that people re generally familiar with, at least a little. I could have used examples from California in the 1880′s through the 1920′s. Most of which would focus on migrant families from China, Japan, Korea, and Malaysia. I could have taken elements of Europe from world war I or world war II. I could pull up stuff from Australia and New Zealand, from India, from the middle east.
From 4000 years ago to 40 years ago. We have 6200 years of dated history, and it is littered with such things.
It is just as much our history as anyone else’s. As Everyone else’s.
The struggle for women’s liberation is our struggle. The struggle for civil rights of persons of color is our struggle. The often bloody struggle to be free of the tyranny of nobility and kings is our struggle.
It is our past, just as much as our past includes 40 years of research on our lives being burned and lost for ever. It is our struggle just as surely as the earliest modern surgeries were being done on trans women — before the one who is named as the first was done.
IT is our past, and throughout it lies the keys to our future. And it will not take us as long to do it because we have the benefit of ever more useful and more powerful tools, ever faster communication (in 1866, it took an average of 8 days for a letter to travel across the us. Today it is one second.). We have the experience of others who have had to build organizations from the start — with many, many failures along the way.
It is said we stand on the shoulders of giants, and we do. Their names loom large in the myths our groups create for themselves.
You cannot truly discuss the trans community with any real authority or reality unless you are a part of it. And, like any community, it does not mean just those who are “native-born” to it. Those who move in, those who hate it — they are all part of that community too — they are not monoliths and even back in 1866 they weren’t monoliths.
There were black people who opposed the end of slavery because ti meant a lack of security — it was scary. Some of them even spoke of what was to come — that it would be terrible and that many would be killed and that it would be years before people would even really think about following the law.
Little things, like the hands on a clock that both point down to the six.