Friday, May 27, 2011

Growing Up in the Closet

TRIGGER WARNING: Frank, uncensored quotes of cissexist people and attitudes follow.

I was born in 1970. 

For perspective, that was roughly 18 years after Christine Jorgenson was outed in the press; eleven years after the Cooper's Donuts riot; four years after the Compton's Cafeteria riot; two years after Gore Vidal published Myra Breckenridge; less than a year after Stonewall.

I was too young for the Rocky Horror Picture Show, but that's OK--it was still a cult favorite when I was in high school, and remember the call-outs my friends would sing in remembrance of their wild Saturday night fun: "In just seven days of oral sex, I can make you a fag, just like my dad!" And this was supposed to be a celebration of being transgender?

I was too young to remember the initial controversy around Renée Richards, but I remember Gallagher singing, years later, to the tune of "This Old Man": "He can play mixed singles by himself!"

I was too young for pornography--but driven by curiosity in the taboo, I looked at it anyway. And thus I got introduced to the litany of objectification and othering that fill cis narratives of trans women. Women with something extra. Pussy on a stick. Girlyboy. He-She. Shemale. Perverse creations of medical science with unbridled appetites for all sorts of sexual escapades. The frank if humiliating portrayals of trans women in porn was in stark contrast to the near-absolute silence in polite society, save for the occasional joke. We existed to shock, to titillate, to arouse, to satiate, to submit--but we didn't exist on our own terms, for our own reasons.

Just the bits I've mentioned so far was enough to keep me deep in the closet--worse, when my father discovered my stash of women's clothing, I pushed myself so much deeper into the closet that I refused to even think about such things, and instead weathered accusations of being homosexual--irritatingly conflated with transgender behavior--through my formative years. The most ironic insult? "You'd get laid more if you dressed like a girl!"

And of course there were movies, and the themes they draped over cis-supremacy's fantasies about how trans women were. Tootsie. (Manipulators!) Bachelor Party. (Perverts!) Soapdish. (Villians!) The Crying Game. (Vomit-inducing!) Silence of the Lambs. (Psychopaths!)

So as you might imagine it took a while to disabuse myself of all these negative images and embrace the fact that I am a trans woman. One might wonder how much better off I would have been if I didn't have to deal with such extreme cissexism. Never mind that--I wonder how many trans women would still be alive....


Jaye Ramsey Sutter said...

I found the discussion of transgender in The Silence of the Lambs to be interesting. Remember that Lecter doesn't judge. He merely states that Jame Gumb was not transgendered. That he had been turned down for surgery several times. That he had a terrifying pathology--murder.

But the image of Gumb and the notion of him making a woman suit was too powerful for the idiotic American audience. Writer Thomas Harris is more sophisticated and wouldn't link transgendered persons with murder.

Popess Lilith said...

(BTW, this blog is now just an echo of my Posterous blog, at

Just bear in mind that, as a cisgender person, you don't get to decide what's offensive to trans people. For that matter, Lecter said that Gumb wasn't transsexual. "Idiotic" or no, it's not just the audience to blame for that interpretation. Harris could be sophisticated but that doesn't mean he can't ever perpetuate negative stereotypes, especially ones that are so widely encouraged as those against trans women.

A minor detail--please don't say "transgendered". The word "transgnender" is sufficient as an adjective. Thanks.

Jaye Ramsey Sutter said...

Not harsh at all. No I don't get to decide and you are quite right about that. And bear in mind that cisgender person we can be offended, too. By the stereotypes. I want to go over to the newer blog because I want to talk to you about a case in Texas that should interest you. A fireman's widow--s/he married a fireman. He died in a horrible fire. She has a claim for the pension. But she is fighting for recognition as his legitimate wife.