Mon, 18 Sep 2017

Tears for Transparent


I binge-watched season 3 of Amazon's "Transparent" show over the last couple of days. I really enjoyed the first two seasons and think that season 3 is probably the strongest one so far. In fact, I had an incredibly strong and unexpected reaction to one of the episodes.

One of the episodes follows young Maura when she's about 10 years old. (NOTE: Although Maura was not then known by that name, trans people generally prefer not to be dead-named and I respect that convention even for a fictional character.) Her grandfather has a bunker in his yard (this was the height of the 1950s nuclear hysteria) and Maura spends time there alone, dressed in her mother's clothes, jewelry, hair accessories, etc. Her mother and grandmother know about this and disapprove mildly, but do not try to stop Maura.

One day, there's an air raid drill and Maura's grandfather yells at everyone to get into the bunker. He enters last and sees Maura dressed in her mother's clothes. He yells at Maura, calling her a "feygele" (faggot) and saying she's sick and needs to see a doctor. Maura is frightened almost beyond words and promises never to do it again.

Well. That scene left me in tears. In fact, I could not control myself for about 10 minutes. I was thinking about the next 60 years of Maura's life, the feelings she would have, and the experiences that I know only too well.

There's the disconnect of looking in the mirror and seeing someone else, or seeing a grotesquely distorted version of who your mind insists you are. The shame and self-loathing as you try desperately to understand this strange compulsion to be a girl. The pre-Internet loneliness where you think nobody else is like you. The portrayal by media and entertainment of transgender women or crossdressers as either monsters (Buffalo Bill in "The Silence of the Lambs" or Robert Elliott in "Dressed to Kill"), or comic relief (Joe and Jerry in "Some Like it Hot"). And most toxic of all, the insistence by society back then and even now, in some quarters, that you are broken, defective, sick.

Although my family was and is extremely supportive and probably would have been even if I'd come out as a child, these toxic influences from society insidiously took hold, freezing me in fear for 40 years. And it's not just transgender people who are hurt by this; rigid gender roles, sexism and misogyny hurt everyone.

I knew how Maura's next 60 years would play out. And I knew she'd eventually reach the point where she had to overcome fear to save her life. This is a journey on which many transgender people embark and sadly one which many do not complete alive.

Over the past decade or so, we have witnessed an amazing new phenomenon: We are seeing transgender children openly proclaiming their gender identity and being supported by their parents. This is a portentous moment; we are on the cusp of a society that will have the first generation of transgender people not to have to suffer for proclaiming their identity; for whom their identity just is, rather than being something to struggle against and then to struggle for.

And on the cusp of this new society, we see the regressive forces of oppression fighting back. Trump's ban on transgender people in the military plays into the old narrative that we're sick, defective, unfit. Social conservatives bray about the mental disorder of transgenderism, not realizing that by the time a trans person transitions, they are healing, not displaying sickness.

Most unconscionable of all are those who target transgender children. These are people, who out of fear of change or out of vested interest in an oppressive system of gender classification and rigid gender roles, would condemn children---children!---to years of suffering and quite possibly to death.

Some of these social conservatives condemn supportive parents, claiming that the parents are "pushing" their kids to be transgender. I can tell you this: There is not a single parent alive who wishes his or her child to be transgender, given the difficulties trans people face. But good parents accept and love their children unconditionally, and we are seeing that.

I wish for the sake of these social conservatives that they have a transgender child to open their eyes; at the same time, I wish that none of them ever has a transgender child, for the sake of the child.

We are at a crossroads. We can turn to darkness, fear and divisiveness. Or we can continue expanding the group of people we consider worthy of human rights. We need to safeguard the bending of the arc of the moral Universe, to use Martin Luther King's imagery.

The choice is ours. And it is stark.

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