Saturday, October 22, 2011

To be out or not to be out- not even a question!

So I just completed the 4th week of my new employment with my new employer and I must say, I am astounded by new discoveries I've made about myself in such a short time.   For example, did you know I was socially inept?? Like a huge honking bore?? I had no idea!  In my life I've spent at least a solid decade schmoozing and seducing persons for a living, most of the time for my own survival.  I had thought myself very charming!  But somehow I failed to notice that the Alias Jane Laplain who is no longer terrified of losing cis male approval or the sympathies of whitefolk, has no idea how else to talk to people!!

The last few years of introspection and careful examination of all my -isms, traumas, and triggers has brought about lifesaving changes for me.  Whereas I existed in a perpetual mode of survival and self-protection, I can say without reservation I am actually growing as a person now. 

And yes, it scares the shit out of me.

To wit: my new employer is Huge with a capital H.  As in thousands of employees huge and 100's of locations thru out the country.  My particular campus features many (perhaps mostly?) black women in positions of authority. 

Now I've been a black woman all on my own for quite a while. In the circles I've travelled, I'd gotten used to being the only one, or one of the few in the room.   I'd gotten used to having to suppress a large amount of my own cultural self expression in order to "fit in" with my (usually white) peers.  However, my only prior personal experiences with being around this many black women was in college, back when I was openly and 'infamously' transitioning to female to nearly everyone's horror and LOUDLY expressed disapproval.  And then years later, while escorting in Houston, I began to hang out with a number of other escorts and other sex workers, most of us black most of them cis, and as sympatico as we felt with each other, none of us could really risk acting like our actual selves for too long, for fear of alienating our key client base (ie. rich white guys).

All of this is a long way of saying I've never had a job where I could be openly black before!!  Where my cultural blackness and womanhood were a common ground with my peers!!

Add to this that I spotted at least two other trans women (one of them also black!).   I know we are working stealth tho, and I know they know about me because we've all eyeballed each other in that "yes, I know, me too" way that only trans people who are living/working stealth would know.   It happens in a glance.  But oddly enough,   there wasn't the usual anxiety of"please please please stay away from me lest you out me" vibe that usually accompanies the glance.  Just a mutual understanding that "yes, this is a safer space for us in particular, and we intend to keep it that way."

Of course I could be delusional and making up all sorts of shared experiences in my mind.  But I don't think so.  What I do think is that this job is going to be a huge growth experience for me and there will be growing pains to accompany them.  I still feel  awkward hanging around a bunch of people, especially cis people, trying not to be too obviously different and yet not completely suppressing my actual personality for their benefit.  

Scratch that, I am learning that I have no idea what my actual personality is like in public terms (as opposed to the carefully constructed masks I usually wear to get along); I am struggling to express myself in ways that are authentic while still preserving my privacy around being trans.

I hadn't intended to write a post about this but I tried to explain all of this to an old friend of mine, a militant activist type who is openly queer (but NOT trans). He doesn't really understand why anybody LGBT would want to work in a place where they could't be openly LGBT.

There are many people like my friend and I certainly share alot of his concerns. But there are too many   who say that every queer person should be out to everyone as a living example of the queers who live amongst the normals, and if you aren't out then you are a coward, a selfish co-conspirator with an oppressive state yadda yadda...  Or maybe they say nothing so extreme but deep down you can tell they pity all us poor closeted fools....

These folks tend to fall under a few types.

1. The Professional Queer:  one of the shockingly few queer persons in the world who have been able to make a living directly from their queerness.  They do lots of public speaking, get paid to show up and talk about being L, or G or T (I've honestly never seen a professional B before!  Suggestions?). Perhaps they write a column or a famous blog, sold a few books about being LGBT.  Not every professional queer believes in being 100% out  and not every professional queer  is militant (in fact most professional queers are pretty pro status quo, for the most part, hrmmm)  but the ones who DO insist It Gets Better are usually fairly high profile, culturally white middle class,  having long ago lost touch (if they ever had it to begin with) with what people who are not all these things actually go thru everyday.

2. The Hypocrite:  The person who thinks that because they are so vocal about the importance of being out in their blog or in their support group or their social circle that it gives them the right to badmouth people who aren't out for any reasons other than they live in a small conservative town where they would be lynched on sight (the only "acceptable" reason to be closeted about one's queerness, natch).  They even show their real pictures online!! See how out they are??  Meanwhile they aren't all that out themselves  at large beyond one or both of their parents and a few friends.  They "don't try to hide it" tho!  And that's what counts!

3. The Queer Theorist:  This is someone who has other re$ources and thus no real fear of  ever having to support  themselves financially as an openly non-cis person.   They are often partners of Professional Queers. These people usually possess a great deal of passing privilege (either passing for cis, and/or passing for straight) and aren't all that readable as queer to begin with.   However they are passionately involved in all movements queer except the ones that actually affect them most, and are constantly complaining about how invisible they feel and how they wish they didn't have to constantly out themselves to other queers in order to be seen.  You can almost hear them saying  "Don't you visible freaks know how LUCKY you are?  Don't you know how much I suffer seeing what you go thru??"

4. The Youthful Idealist:  the militant queer youth who thinks zie knows the right answer to ending all oppression already (and zie might even be right),  is soooooooo fed up with the "status quo" (and who could blame zir) and  is (rightfully) disgusted by the constant and unending suffering zie's already witnessed in zir short life. And yet zie hasn't yet had the life experience one needs to be able to empathize with others real life choices, especially not with persons with whom they disagree politically.  Zie hasn't yet seen the limits of what their own outrage can do for them or for anyone else.  But they will, honey.. they will. 

These of course are gross generalizations I've observed in my time, composites if you will of various character types.  And please don't think I stand in sneering judgment of them.  In fact I'm probably best considered a Hypocrite type myself. But trust me I have been nearly all of the types mentioned above at some point, and in combinations... I meant well, and I tried.. but I didn't know, I just didn't know.

I didn't know the price of being out as young and unprepared as I was, would mean years (YEARS) of  homelessness, abject unemployability, humiliating compromise for my own survival, and constant public harassment or fear of it.   I didn't know the choice limits, the legally sanctioned harassments, that would force me into circumstances where I'd be left wide open for horrors both physical and psychological from which I am still struggling to recover years (YEARS) later.  

Do I regret my life?  No.  Would I change anything if I could go back?  I don't know but probably, YES and a hell of alot.   I think alot about the course my life has taken over the last 20 years, and I always come back to this:   My peers at the time may or may have not learned deep life lessons from meeting their very first real life tranny.. but I DID NOT BENEFIT FROM BEING THEIR TEACHABLE MOMENT IN THE SLIGHTEST.

You got that?  I am saying I don't yet see what was in it for ME.  And what's in it for ME is a damn good question for anybody to ask themselves, ESPECIALLY for someone facing any oppression.

So I will never apologize for intending to directly benefit from my own existence. Sorreh!!

None of this is to say I will never be out again.  Or that I won't eventually at some point be outed and have to face those consequences.  It's not as if I am knocking myself out to hide being trans anymore.  But that's part of my social adjustment.. learning to not hide without being a hypocrite who thinks they aren't hiding even as they go out of their way, consciously or unconsciously, to appear to be someone who has nothing to hide.  (So far I'm still very much a Hypocrite.  *sigh*...)

 If it should turn out I had a real opportunity to become one of those Professional Queers I was talking about, I'd seriously consider it.  I have always thought I'd be able to help others with a higher profile life than I've led, I do wish to be able to speak openly about ALL the issues that concern my life eventually.  But then again the longer I live, the more enamored I become of living an unremarkable life that meant everything to me and nothing much to the world.   At any rate, I will never again live my life at the expense of my own ability to survive in an oppressive system I have no option of leaving.

So, where do I go from here?  I haven't a clue but I guess I'm about to find out and I get the feeling this new gig is starting me down that road.

Stay tuned.

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