By Gwendolyn Ann Smith
I recently had a delightful experience.
My partner and I were grabbing a train into town recently, when we came upon a fellow traveler. I spotted hir on the way to the platform, with a backpack festooned with various buttons and slogans. The biggest proclaimed the fun of playing with gender.
We kicked up a conversation that lasted much of the train ride, discussing where we’re from, what we’re doing, and all the other things one transgender activist might talk with another about. All the while, I was realizing how much the world has changed, and how happy I am for it.
When I first discovered a nascent transgender community back in the early 1990s, one could seemingly only fit within one of two categories: crossdresser or transsexual. You simply had to be one or the other and, once chosen, you would be encouraged to remain within that category. Woe be to those who might start in one faction, then move to the other side.
This never felt right to me, but I did what I could to fit within one of these two tightly-defined categories. Due to the prevailing wisdom of the day, I simply had to be a crossdresser, as transsexuals were only attracted to men. I should probably add that female to male identity was not even considered amongst these two factions I was introduced into, hence when I use these terms in this old school format, I’m being frightfully male to female focused.
Eventually, I discovered that this category was not fitting me, and I needed to move into a new identity. This in spite of the protests of many in the nearest support group, who cautioned that I was making a big mistake. Move on I did, taking the mantle of transsexual. This fit better than what I had before, but still seemed limiting, as if I had to edit myself in order to fit with the category. Frankly, I felt I had done enough self-editing before I found any sort of transgender community.
Finally, I realized I needed to travel further. I had started to find those few outlaws out there willing to look for new horizons, and saw parts of myself. At that point, I adopted another label, that of transgender, and have applied it in the widest terms I can find. Simply put, I consider it to fit anyone who transcends the gender rules assigned to them at birth.
I’m fairly traditional in my gender presentation. Nevertheless, I am glad to see so many others out there in this world who are willing to take it that much farther than I.
I’ve known many who are pretty uncomfortable with such. Seeing someone do something different with it, something that pulls a little from column “A” and a dash from column “B” just doesn’t sit well.
I’m not without compassion for them, but I have a different viewpoint. To me, those willing to push the gender envelope can help everyone in this thing called a transgender community. Transgender expression of all types is still viewed as something on the fringe in this culture – just ask anyone who has ever heard of the Jerry Springer show – and without those willing to push the boundaries of that fringe, how can we move forward. If we don’t move forward, we stagnate and wither – and yet we still end up with those who would attack us.
You see, by challenging these notions of gender, difficult as this may be, we may well secure a world where one can choose their presentation – even if it is within a clearly defined gender. We all can win when the rules are relaxed.
Even if I am not the most gender fluid being on the planet, I can applaud those who are, who are willing to transcend those places they’ve been told to be. More than this, those who are pushing through boundaries challenge me to do more, to explore deeper into myself and consider my own views of gender. That’s a challenge I remain up for.
So to this fellow traveler I came across in transit, I salute you. It is you who keep us all moving forward.