hacklikeagirl

Beth 'pidge' Flanagan's blog. Open source queer.

A letter to my generation of trans women…

“Calling somebody else fat won’t make you any skinnier. Calling someone stupid doesn’t make you any smarter. And ruining Regina George’s life definitely didn’t make me any happier. All you can do in life is try to solve the problem in front of you.”
‘Mean Girls’

It’s been a few months since I last posted and I *know* I promised that I would post soon but haven’t. I’ve been thinking a lot about what I wanted to say and sometimes processing complicated stuff takes time. Sorry if this is all disjointed, but, I’m trying to talk about a lot of complex stuff here and I *still* haven’t got it sorted out, but, this is long overdue… so…..

I was at the Philly Trans Health Conference a few months ago. It’s always weird going to these things because of the circles I travel. There’s the old lady circle. The punk rock trans chick circle. The drag/street/sex worker circles. The internet trans girl activisty folks which overlaps a BUNCH with the punk rock circle.

I think it really dawned on me how split those communities are during this. Popping back and forth from one circle to the next, my trans mom in tow, having her both get news from the old lady and drag circles, then popping over to the punk rock and internet trans girl circles to give history lessons really drove what I want to talk about home.

I’ve always felt more at home with the punk rock trans girls circles since they gave me less of a rash of shit for being a queermo, tattooed trans dyke who felt more at home in divey punk bars than in gay discos. It’s not that I haven’t made a place in those other spaces. I have. But home for me is always going to be the basement show, the protest march that turned into a riot, the dyke bar with a row of motorcycles out front.

This home of mine, of awesome punk trans women, is relatively new to me actually. I’m sure that there were glimmers of it before I came along, but if so, it was very small. The internet really fueled it and maintained it. It’s funny.  This community that I had sooo much love for, so much in common with, essentially sat on a server somewhere far from home. I’m not even sure if I could call it a community, right? Like, communities are people, face to face, and I saw folks maybe once every few years or so. The rest of my time was navigating cis-space, dyke-space (which is still traumatic, thank you transmisogynistic assholes), and what little trans space I could stomach.

I sat in Tattooed Moms during PTHC, drink in hand, looking over at 40 trans women, laughing, joking when I realized that this community of mine has grown to a *thing* without me paying attention. I can’t help but think of all the women who made it possible and how this thing that is happening now, as imperfect as it is (and I’ll get into that in a moment), is the culmination of 20 years of them fighting like the hard, tough women they are. I was sitting there trying reallllly freaking hard not to cry because, how the hell did we win this? This community that I wanted, as imperfect and as fucked up as it is? How did this happen? We don’t win, right? Everyone knows that.

The thing that really spiked my heart was when I was sitting with this woman who I knew from the Philly in the way back, talking about a mutual friend of ours who once did the drag circuit and is now heavily into drugs. It pains me, because, these are folks I love, as imperfect and as fucked up as they (we) are all. The woman who were were talking about I really like. She was one of the few folks in that community to not give me shit for who I was, for who I loved. I don’t think most of the folks in the trans/drag community gave me shit to be malicious. It was because they were trying to be something that every fucking indicator of cis society told them they had to be. I think, if we’re going to talk about the word “tranny” that is the fucking conversation we should be having. About cispeople telling us what we should be. About us (and yeah, Andrea and Calpernia and all the rest. I’m looking at you) enforcing those fucked up standards.

But I think it’s tragic right? Because you folks, no matter which one of the circles I travel in, are the keepers of my history. History is this weird thing, right? Folks expect it to be all rainbows and kittens but really sometimes it’s someone lying dead on the street. And there is this serious lack of connect with younger generations which honestly was happening when I was a kid.

Let me tell you a story that I’m sure you’re going to find as funny as I did. I’m standing outside the wooden shoe in philly, listening to these trans kids talk about all the trans children they saw at PTHC and going on about how lucky and easy they’re going to have it and I couldn’t help but snort. Because, hi, yeah, I think I probably had that SAME conversation word for word, years ago about those kids. The thing is, I can’t really fucking blame them for not having a context to put this into because we really didn’t give them any.

About 15 years ago I was involved in this messageboard. I’m going to avoid naming it so I don’t cause the folks who ran it grief (but if you know how to FUCKING ARCHIVE A YUKU MESSAGEBOARD, let me know). It was were a lot of what is modern trans feminist thought got hashed out by a really rad bunch of trans chicks. So, I was talking to this kid I met in Philly and she had been doing all this searching for trans feminist/punk/riotgrrl history and she was coming up blank. Anne Tagonists zine (which was AWESOME). A few other things. So I pointed her to a few places and she was all “HOLY SHIT! YOU FOLKS WROTE ABOUT THAT IN 1998!”

And I get it. Who the hell knew we were doing “important” stuff back then? Not me. And as we all got older and started kind of getting on with life, we abandoned those communities. I think in part this was because we didn’t really need them so much anymore and that technology changed (people still use messageboards, wtf?). And now we get to watch this entire new generations make the same fucking mistakes we made, except this time on Tumblr and Twitter. Fucking rad, right?

I dunno, part of me wants to and then doesn’t want to show them that history. Because, I think one of the things that made the trans punk feminist whatever communities we made fucking awesome is that in order for us to exist we had to break up with, to some extent, the old trans community. But, I also can’t help but think that we lost something in doing so and that by not telling that history, they’ll be the worst for it.

I get it. I do. Y’all got your lives to live. Screw having to deal with people who don’t know what we went through, right? Except, as much as folks want to wave trans acceptance as this “we’ve made it moment” the fact is, right now, it still sucks. Ok, maybe if you live in a big metro area it sucks a bit less, but for the rest of the world, it sucks just as bad as it did years ago if not worse. I still have kids that are doing sex work to make rent and I’m still dealing with people who are super fucking traumatized and I’m looking around and I see people with my life experience either so fucking damaged there is no way I would ever send someone to them or people still healing from all the shit they went through or people just barely holding their heads above water or people who actually *are* doing that work. But it’s like trying to keep your head above a tidal wave.

One of the things that I’ve been dealing with this past few months is abuse in trans communities and at how we STILL FUCKING won’t deal with it. Like, we dealt with it shitty 20 years ago and deal with it shitty now and part of me thinks that we should just let the kids run off on their own and do their shit and let them make their own fucking mistakes because then at least maybe they won’t make this same mistake we’ve been making for freaking YEARS. And then part of me is adamant about saying “NO! They need to know about this! This bullshit has gone on long the fuck enough.”

I think this whole T-word crap is a symptom of a larger issue that we need to talk about and it’s a hard talk to have. But community isn’t always potlucks and parties. Sometimes it’s having shitty conversations about tough things. About our history. About privilege. About these growing pains all communities have. About trauma. About how hurt and damaged people lash out.

———
So, let me take a moment here. To talk to a small segment of you, the ones who like to play this game transgirl highlander (“There can be only ONE true trans woman!”). To the ones who think Andrea and Calp and the rest are right on and that they’re somehow helping with trans women’s communities.

Stop it. You are part of the fucking problem. That doesn’t mean I don’t love you. But it means you’re letting your hurt and anger dictate your actions and you are not doing yourselves or anyone else any good. You’re playing this bullshit “true” transsexual game and it’s crap and it does NOTHING to move forward. It’s not original. It’s not clever.

I get it. I do. You think the kids don’t know our history. You think the kids don’t respect what we went through. You think the kids are being jerks and disrespectful and all you want to do is sit there waving your cane at them telling them to get off your trans community lawn because they’ve been here for a whole of a few years? Let me tell you how to do it.

1. Get the fuck over it and yourselves.
2. Stop acting like a bunch of mean girls.
3. Swallow your pride, say you’re sorry and start communicating.

The damage you are doing. The cruelty in how you are espousing your opinions. It’s gross. It’s shameful. It’s nasty and mean. You are better than this. WE are better than this.  Want to be elders in the community? Want to be respected and honored? Then act like adults and do things that allow people to say “hey, there’s someone who I’d like to emulate” instead of being someone they should fear.

Keep acting like you are now and you will continue to be marginalized as the mean girl club that you’ve become.

Want the kids to know your history? Tell them about it and LISTEN to theirs. Calling them “disabled /diseased victims”, “nutty trans hacktivists”, “shut ins” etc? Yeah, brilliant. Way to fucking make a connection with the kids? Good going there (eyerolls out of my freaking head). Winning hearts and minds through insults. Wonderful.

One last thing. The whole “It’s noteworthy that the most vocal anti-RuPaul hecklers are trans women who are primarily attracted to women.” Golf clap. Shades of Bailey, Blanchard, Lawrence, right? I’m surprised the term autogynophile wasn’t tossed about. How ironic would *that* have been, amiright?

———

So yeah. In conclusion, I don’t have any answers. I wish I did. I wish this was all straightforward and simple and with a wave of a magic wand we could make things better. But we can’t. But can we at least have this conversation without being cruel to our own?

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3 responses to “A letter to my generation of trans women…

  1. Auriel Kitsu August 8, 2014 at 4:46 PM

    I’m not a enamored of RuPauls assumptions about the Trans* as a whole but then I watch a lot of people within what passes for the Trans* community say some of the same trash. If I let my blood pressure get spiked every time somebody made those outdated, unenlightened comments I’d be old before my time. I actually used to have a lot of respect for him but then there was a time when Calpernia and Andrea respected me and had me on their short list of Facebook friends. Those day are gone.

    I have no ill will towards RuPaul, Calpernia and Andrea or any of the rest of my generation of Queer and Trans people. I’m just not living the kind of life they can look at and relate to. It makes me sad at moments like this because Calpernia in particular reached out to me during some of the hardest times of my transition and was loving and supportive. Doesn’t feel right not seeing eye to eye. I also have worked hard to create something for Trans* people of all generations and been hurt by realizing that they think it’s a fool’s errand I’m on. They didn’t say that but they both unfriended me on Facebook which in my world carries a message.

    So I’m reaching out to the Trans and Queer communities to Sex & Gender Minorities of every kind and making new friends and I hope you Beth are amongst them. Look forward to reading more of your thoughts. I invite you to comment on mine. There is a long road ahead of all of us and being mean and thoughtless just makes the journey unpleasant for everyone when if we inculcate a generous and loving fellowship about us we often aren’t even mindful of the long road ahead just of the moment we are sharing here and now.

    Until the next revolution I bid you peace Ms. Flanagan.

  2. threekidsandi August 8, 2014 at 6:36 PM

    I am in the beginnings of a community of others like myself. We are in the beginnings of coming out, right now focused on rescue and support. I appreciate all your hard work, it means the world to other alternate lifestyle folk to have other communities pave the way and provide the examples.

  3. wren gayle romano August 12, 2014 at 12:44 AM

    I remember back in the late 1990s how we had debates about the role of history in community, about the sort of existential crises that lead communities to choose to betray the ancestral trust & abandon their history, and about the ramifications of that choice on future generations who often feel lost and wish to reconnect with that history. And I remember how, after all these debates, we still felt that abandoning the histories of the generation before us was better than the alternative. I don’t know whether you were involved in any of those discussions, but some of your comments seem to suggest you were.

    I can’t help but think that a lot of the conflict going on today isn’t just the inevitable clash of generations, but rather is due to our generation’s decision to abandon the histories of our predecessors. Back during the discussions of the late 1990s I remember a few of the older generation talking about how they had chosen to break from the generation before; and now it seems like it’s about to happen all over again. As such, rather than engaging with the particulars of the current conflict, it seems like the most pressing thing is to try to instill in the younger generation the communal importance of carrying on histories— even when those histories are troubled and problematic. Perhaps then we can break this cycle, and when their successors decide to go their own way, they won’t feel like they have to abandon their predecessors to do so.

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