There’s always a lot of talk about LGBT (GBLT or whatever – never TBLG) and whether it is coherent. It doesn’t cater for asexuals or pansexuals, which is odd, because on the face of it, it is all about sexuality. I suppose the reason is that these groups are much less visible and distinctive. But what is shared is societal attitudes to sex. Or gender. Maybe. In fact it isn’t about gender at all, it’s about rejecting people for being different in regards their non-heterosexuality. It is about equality for sexual dissidents, not in specific acts, but in eligibility. It’s about not exiling people who don’t fit the cultural regime into a place apart. Gay and lesbian people (and more as a consequence than deliberation, bi) used to have their own Siberia but, long before it was recognised that a province of that Siberia also held people who were transgender, they were allowed back.
Why did the ‘T’ people not come back with them?
The grounds of dissent are different. LGB folk were not dissenting about gender, but in a way were affirming the gender binary state, simply asserting that binary did not mean polarity. Trans* people are still out there in various forms of exile, dissidents of the binary state.
I do sympathise. I mean, how can we know where we are if we can’t label each other correctly, even with the addition of LGB? You’re a lesbian. OK, so you’re a woman, I can go with that. You’re male bisexual? OK, so you’re a man. I can go with that. You’re intersex? You prefer women as sexual partners … Oooo Kaaay. Right. So you’re male intersex, is that right? What? You identify as lesbian? And you’re not a woman? What shall I put on your tax form? Best put male, that way at least we go with your birth certificate and save a bit on the pension.
Yes, there is a real cruelty for intersex people, for whom gender decisions are often made at birth by people who have no idea what the person’s true gender is. And they get it wrong. And LGB tags don’t get them out of Siberia. It does not make them asexual or any less in need of love and intimacy. It just exiles them from most people, because the gender binary is so ingrained as an affirmation of other people’s own legitimacy.
Born that way, trying it out, deciding
These days we accept that people are born to be gay or lesbian, in the same way that birth assigns others to being intersex. It is not a state of mind, a disorder or a psychological aberration. The same is not generally held to be true of trans* people. In the same way that huge numbers of hetero people experiment with gay or lesbian relationships, so there are many people loosely under the trans* flag, for whom clothing, as an expression of fluidity, is a way of testing just how binary the world has to be. And the world notices, sometimes harshly, the lesbian who dates a man, or the man who wears a dress.
But they can all find where they belong, and settle back into acceptability within a gender binary culture. Just decide, then it won’t matter, because there will always be someone for you: another lesbian, gay or bi person who appreciates the sex of your body, and if it’s just your clothes at least we know what’s underneath. But how could anyone appreciate the sex of your body – male, female, intersex, transitional – without it affecting their sense of sexuality? No-one, in a binarist culture.
Out there in Trans Siberia, there are dissidents. It’s called internal exile. Same nation, but disqualified from full participation.
Some will come home as women, some as men, but while they are trans, it’s cold, and they stay where they are. Sometimes they hug each other for warmth, because no-one else will, except out of charity, or because they are an exotic accessory. But while they remain in a body developed by the wrong hormones for their heart and soul, they remain firmly gender dissidents (Kate Borstein’s term is gender outlaw, and I wouldn’t want to steal her thunder).
Imagine the Trans Siberian dissident on the day of exile. That final moment when sentence is passed, and it is decided: as far as we are concerned, you are neither a man nor a woman. You betray all sexual preferences, you confuse everyone, you break apart what we know to be right. You are now disqualified from being heterosexual, from being gay or lesbian. You must become asexual until you conform. And besides, how can we know how to tax you if we can’t decide what you are? We do not have the right forms for people like you; the cost of changing our tick boxes is too high. You can call yourself what you like, but just look at you. We know you aren’t one of us.
And the day after exile? I cannot embrace you. You are a dissident, and what you call yourself is no longer what I want, because to want you would make me something I don’t identify as. Never mind yesterday, your sentence changes how I can touch and interact with you. I understand that you are no longer qualified to have a legitimate sexuality label, that you are in exile from all intimacy, that everyone will say the same, except maybe your fellow dissidents in Trans Siberia. Can’t you find one of them to love you?
Yes, Trans Siberia is a place even those closest to you will send you. Some maintain a correspondence, but can no longer relate you as they did. Your dissidence disqualifies you from all the things to do with love and intimacy that conforming gender binary people take for granted. You really are not wanted for a having a body developed by hormones that your heart and soul did not choose. This is exile. And even if you come back ‘corrected’ into gender conformance you are not ‘real’ to everyone. You are the man/woman who used to be a woman/man. And if you don’t conform, you stay in exile.
LGB people are no longer dissidents in this country, but they recognise that those in other countries are still persecuted and exiled and killed. They know Siberia exists. But all too often there is an LGB Siberia and a Trans Siberia that hardly recognise they are neighbours.
Ticket or label?
I am a dissident. I have no idea what my labels should be. As far as I am concerned I am a woman, with a body developed by testosterone. The repairs will take the rest of my life in some ways. And I love a woman and have no attraction to men. Am I lesbian? Well, that depends on who lets me in. Some radical feminists will never admit trans women are women at all, so as far as they are concerned, I am not a man, not a woman and certainly never a lesbian. I am an exile. And normal, hetero women? Again, I am not a man, they understand I identify as a woman, and they want a ‘real’ man or a ‘real’ woman, because anything else threatens to change their label.
I am reminded of all those pictures of evacuees, of lonesome children, perhaps in their best clothes, with a suitcase. With a label. Like luggage. Is this their ticket to a safe place? Or just a label? What would happen if you dared to take it off? Would you get lost or left behind, or forget who you were or where you belonged?
We think our labels are tickets. Tickets that will give us entrance, acceptance, permission and identity. No-one wants to give up their label in case they lose their ticket to wherever it may be. I think this is a terrible misconception. I have no label anymore, so the ticket inspectors won’t let me in. I am an exile. And all the other ticket-holders in line look blankly at me. If they let me in, it would invalidate their tickets, their right to stand in line. To become the person who drops their ticket, leaves the line, and completely embraces the exile? Surely that would mean exile too; at least exile from self.
I am not in line. I am a Trans Siberian Dissident, in exile from intimacy. I tore my label up so you can’t read it, because it wasn’t right. And you don’t need it either. How much do you really need yours? Is it a label? Is it your ID card? Is it your ticket? Is it your vote for Trans Siberia?
Don’t get me wrong, the sun shines in Trans Siberia, and those of us there would rather be there than anywhere else that would require us to lose our self-identity. For many of us it is a rebirth, and a really wonderful experience. But it does lack a certain intimacy, a certain inclusion, a certain belonging among everyone else. We just want to be loved for who we are. Completely.
Disclaimer: as always this isn’t just about me, I am trying to voice what I know other trans* people experience too. And it isn’t despair, because I know there are trans* people out there with wonderful loving partnerships. But every day I also read the notes of many exiles who are less fortunate in finding love, and the root of it all is the cultural concept of binary gender and its impact on our sense of sexuality.