The Shame of Being Me


I am Toni D’orsay.  That is how I identify. You can describe me however you might like, but some of the terms that are accurate are trans, transgender, transsexual, woman, female, Arizonan, desert dweller, sociologist, psychologist, writer, dilettante, pedant, and almost certainly a few more that I’ll skip because  there’s three that I want to touch on here, with such an ominous Title.

I can also be described, accurately, as Black, African-American, Lakota, Native American, White, and European American. As with the other descriptions I provided above, I do not identify as such things.

I am also said to be none of the above, depending on who you ask. The reason I identify as Toni D’orsay — more properly, Antonia Elle D’orsay, aka Dyssonance — is in part because of what I said, yet again, recently: identity is a zero sum game.

But I also don’t identify as any of those “colors” — that black and white and red all over that I use to introduce myself when I walk into training sessions and on panels and all the stuff I do that involves me stepping in front of others to try to get them to be kind to other people — because I have spent my entire life being taught not to do so.

Because based on where I am or who is talking about me, I can be all of those things and none of those things, because in being all of those things I am not, really, when it comes right down to it, Black or Red or White or Woman.  I am something Other.

I am something that people don’t really know how to deal with.

I am not dark-skinned like the President or Thandie Newton. And so I was taught that dark-skinned people were the only ones who could claim that link to Africa — despite all of us having that link, no matter what shade of brown our skin is. I am not white, though, because I was reminded by people who were not part of my family (where, bluntly, the normative is pale, and I am blessed by them, for they never had this in their minds) all the time that I was unwhite, and that meant I had to be black.

And then I dig into my parental past, and I find struggle, and I find ties that run back to a reservation, and I find that I cannot be enough native because I wasn’t born on the Res. And that the marriage of grandparents there was not considered legal, but was tolerated, because at least it wasn’t one of them marrying a white woman.

In short, my entire life, I have been taught that to be black was bad, to be white was bad, to be anything at all was bad, and yet everyone I met would ask that question at some time, and so I developed a way to get them to ask, because I have walked in many different shoes and sometimes people say “hey, wait a sec, I thought you were” or “what nationality are you?” or “where are you from” or something else meant to figure out why it is that I have broad lips and curly hair and a broad nose and cheekbones and WTF is up with that skin color that changes according to how much sun you have had?

You can likely imagine that I took this all in stride.  After all, I was Trans. And my Transness was something I was taught was bad as well. I was taught my walk was funny.  That I wasn’t manly enough. That I was probably going to end up funny.

And not the funny ha ha variety.

I used to frequent Pam’s House Blend a bit. In part because for as much as the comments generally did everything they could do to avoid that “third rail” of race issues in the LGBT, Pam didn’t. And that means something to me. means something to ,me on a deep, deep level that most people are probably not particularly keyed into.

My wife was aware of it.  I suppose she still is — past tense doesn’t quite work in any way I handle that, lol. Then again, she was also very much aware of what being Hispanic meant, especially when she was dating/married to such a “white dude”. Who grew up here and knew the same songs she knew because how the hell do you avoid tex-mex in Phoenix? Seriously. Whose father and family proudly dubbed me a member of La Raza, adding yet another level of shame and guilt and fear and concern to my already loaded plate (don’t ask me about my half siblings via my father. Suffice to say that blood relations to me cross pretty much every major “race” line there is and some that likely haven’t been invented yet as well as some that are long forgotten).

There are incredible people out there in the world who all have their own little blogs.  Most of them are far more varied in content than mine is — I talk about transness.  I talk about it in poorly typed but emphatic and verbose postings that scan across all manner of what it means to be trans, but only a few times in the past have I spoken about race with the same sort of passion.  Usually it is detached from myself.

Or I use myself as an exception. Or I mark myself outside.

You see, I don’t feel welcome in Black Spaces. For good reason — it takes a while for people to get around to asking me that question that they always ask. And, until they do, I am the White One.

I don’t feel welcome in White Spaces — because when *they* finally ask that question, it changes how they treat me. And they do not see it. And then, because I make race a key part of my work and a focus of my approach to Trans folk and their needs, I sometimes have to deal with people who are uncomfortable with the frankness with which I discuss it.

Who usually are looking at my pale arms and their pale arms and wondering where the fuck is this girl coming from.

Unless I change my hair color. But I will get to that in a moment.

I do feel welcome in Native Spaces. Or at least, the ones here, because everyone there has already asked me that question or asked someone else who has already asked that question and they know that I take it seriously.

But here’s the odd part to all of this — I never feel wholly part of any of them, even when I am welcomed. And that isn’t their doing, that is my doing.

Because for all the work on freeing myself from the clutches of the stigma and shame that surrounds Transness, I really don’t spend a lot of time dealing with the same shame and stigma that I feel when I deal with my own relationship to my race(s), and yet it is that very relationship that I do have with it that informs and speaks to everything you’ve ever seen me write about transness.

And it gets ugly sometimes for me.  It gets brutal, sometimes, for me, because I *am* mixed race and I see people talk about race as if it is only something that people deal with singly — and that burns me. That hurts me.  I’ve had to deal with Oreo and high yellow and all the depths of colorism and I’ve also had to deal with being told that I lied on an application and turned down for a job because I was just too complicated for the team. Mulatto was a word I never needed to learn before I was ten. Half breed was not a term I needed to become familiar with.

And when I see Monica talk about stuff I feel really proud to have her and when I see Isis and Janet and Harmony and Laverne I am really proud, and yet I have to remain a respectful distance from all of them (well, Moni is an exception, ’cause I’ll nick her a note if she ever disses the mixes).

Because, you see, I *am* pale. And because, you see, my African-American heritage is a lot closer than many — I am not descended from slaves. My grandmother crossed the Sahara as a child north during unrest, and fell in love and fled and it is her that my surname comes from.

Because the Lakota are matrilineal in many respects.

So what do I say? Me, this pale child who benefits from a privilege that is, itself, tied to the very racism I’m attempting to eradicate from my life and the lives of others — if you ever want to know why I so despise that word, now you have answer. I know for fact it is a racist term pulled from the community of the poorest.

I know where many of our terms came from, and when I speak of Stonewall, I know that it was a many-colored fight that started from the same place many of them came from.

It is why I don’t have a problem when people use Queen. It is why I know that one can be a trans person and a drag queen and the two are not mutually exclusive.

I have walked many paths.

There are photos of me here.  My favorite is of my hair when I had it done professionally by a wonderful person in Los Angeles. Who did it for free, because, (here it comes) I only have 400 a month and I still gotta do stuff.

Unique Ziar, btw.

In most of the photos I play up the whiteness.  I have blonde hair. So does my mother and my sisters (waves to Becks, and Cor, and Ali). It is kinda my style and I am *very* picky about the color.

That is what my hair would almost certainly be like had I transitioned younger, because that’s how it grows. Well, where it grows, which is another story.

In my self description here I note that I can change my hair at whim, not because I want to but since I can, what the hell, you know?

I have.

I look pretty good in darker hair. In dark hair.

In Black hair.

And, oddly enough, when my hair is black, I become black. Not Hispanic, PR, not CR not any Latina which is what I’ve been guessed as by most white folk (and some other people of color). But black.

Remember how I said that people treat me differently when they know? Well, that hair is a whole ‘nother magnitude of different.

So when Pam talks about her hair stuff, I want people to listen.  Because folks do not understand that.

And I see proud young Black Women on tumblr who screech about privilege because they know that there is this thing that they experience, and they can only put that name on it.

And let me tell you something about being all of this stuff and none of this stuff and identifying only as Toni:

You know that whole “well, that’s stupid, it’s like saying you want to wake up tomorrow a different race” people sometimes throw at you for being Trans?

Well *waves* howdy!  Guess what I can do *at whim*.  So I guess it ain’t as silly or improbable or whatever as you thought it was you racist piece of shit who said it, because apparently, you forget that a lot of the girlslikeus out there did everything they could to change their race.

Hell, there are entire movies about the horrible consequences of doing so.

And it was transition that brought my complicated relationship with my race, with my past, with my history, with my color, to the forefront of my mind.  Because I said I would only live honestly.  And that means I embrace all the aspects of my life.  Every bit of it, and so when I was speaking yesterday and I said that I was taught how to see myself in many places, I mean that literally.

I was taught to see life through the lens of a kaleidoscope, shifting and pretty and many-colored. When I say I do not see myself reflected, I mean I do not see any part of myself reflected.

Where are the Latin@? Where are the Black trans women? Where are the Native Trans women? Hell, where are the white Trans women that reflect me when I see them everywhere and I know that more of them read what I write than any other group simply because more of them *can* read my writing than any other group.

My attitude towards NCTE and Mara changed a few years back. They had just released the Injustice Survey results. And She stood up before a room of activists who really, seriously, gave a hard-core damn.

And she said that if you want to make a difference for Trans Rights, if you want to see a political change, if you want to see a social change, then you had damn well better be working on race.

She won me.  Because in the last several years of working here, I can say that if you do not deal with race, you are not dealing with trans people.

I can tell you that if you attend a support group and the people there are all of a kind, then you aren’t supporting the Trans community.

And I can tell you that to do it, you have to come and join me in a space that seriously sucks.

There is no safe space for me. I can walk into a room and be the most color it has seen in years. Me.

The one that is ashamed to stand with her people not because of her privilege, but because she’s been told for far too many years that she is not allowed to do so.

By all of them.

And that means I am not comfortable in any of those spaces, really.  In part because of me, and in part because I have touched that fire one time too many, and I am reticent to get burned again.

Yet here I am right now, in front of the whole world, and I am indeed touching it once more.

You know why it is that I adore Halle Berry? Why I really support Obama now that he beat Hilary? Because they have had, in at least some way, similar stuff in their lives.

And I was desperate for someone, anyone that I could look to figure out how to navigate this area of my life.

It was a TED talk, of all things, that helped me greatly. By Thandie Newton.

And it was in her words, and her exploration of the kind of struggles that I’d faced, which are both so similar to my fellow trans sisters but also so very different because of the gulf that has separated me from them, that I saw the little truth that I struggle now to let people see.

If you spend too much of your energy being one thing, you miss out on all the rest of you that there is — but you cannot spend your energy in denying any part of you, or you will fail just as readily.

I am more than the sum of black and white and red and trans and woman and whatever else one wants to hurl at me as a description that, even at its best, merely captures a pat of the Oneness that is my Otherness.

There is, in the end, only one thing that can encompass the whole of that, only one thing that means all those things at the same time, instead of in bits and chunks joined by conjunctions.

And that one thing is my name.

And while I still struggle with those Othered parts of my life, I know simply that were I to identify as Transgender or identify as Transsexual, I would be laving out the parts about female and woman and black and white and red all over. And that is a disservice because Transness is black and white and red and more, all over and all at once and if people do not see that, then they do not see Transness for the wonder and glory that it is.

 For it is not wrong. It is not something that is fixed. It is not something that one is trapped by. It is not something one should fear or loathe or castigate, any more than one would fear or loathe or castigate someone who’s skin wasn’t dark enough to be black or white or red.

It is not those things because I am not those things.

And so the shame I have for being me is this: I cannot give this gift to others, fast enough, or well enough, or strong enough, or kindly enough.

But I shan’t stop trying…

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