by Lyn McGinnis
Living as a gender-variant person in a society that still has issues with any sort of variance from cis gender heterosexuality can be a challenge. Mainstream culture does not distinguish between gender and sexuality. This leaves a broad spectrum of identity and behaviour out of the human imagination, and many people suffering with fear and doubt.
In my teens and twenties, I chose one route to peace, through conformity. I dressed and acted the way I thought I was supposed to. This led to a miserable life where I fooled no one, especially the person I furtively saw in the mirror. This face was always filled with confusion and self loathing. Mainstream society did not reward me for my efforts, but saw through the sham and punished me for it.
While there were many tentative steps along the path of self acceptance, one seminal moment stands out. I also identify as bisexual and polysexual. As a young adult this aspect of my life blossomed and one evening I was at a party. There were several bleached blondes like myself in attendance and given this home was filled with all sorts of drag paraphernalia we decided to have a Marylin Monroe lookalike contest. We had everything we needed and there was a flurry of activity to squeeze into outfits, pluck eyebrows, glue on eyelashes, slather on lipstick et cetera. I was focused on separate items up until we had the contest — which I won! The revelation did not come until I went into the washroom, where there was a full-length mirror. I looked at this glorious apparition and it was as if heavy weights on my shoulders dropped off. It truly was a physical as well as emotional release of tension and distress. I would call this a defining moment in my personal history.
It also brought a life challenge into sharp relief. I suddenly loved the person in the mirror, and by doing so I had declared war on mainstream society. Part of this war involved figuring out why I was in this position. This involved reading and research, it also involved growing a political and social consciousness. Resilience is not only a matter of persisting in the face of opposition. It has to have a root, a source of value exceeding the easy path of conformity. I found that my ‘inner Marylin Monroe’ could stand up to all the bland, ignorant and fearful controlling faces around me. Once she looked back at them from inside my eyes, they averted theirs and the truth was revealed — the majority had no power over me!
While a lot of this work was done alone, the true source of my strength has always been community. I came out as bisexual and then again as transgender, although I prefer gender variant and gender queer now. I know some people are uncomfortable with the term ‘queer.’ This is because this used to be a slur used by homophobes against us. The point of our using this term now is our taking this on is an act of empowerment. By saying not only “why yes, I AM queer!” you take the intended shame and turn it into pride, when groups shout out “We’re here! We’re Queer! Get used to it!” you turn the term meant to indicate weakness into one of power.
I am a proud member of our LGBTIQ community. This acronym translates into Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex, QUEER. Our alphabet soup of letters take different forms with different users, more letters and numbers may be added or less. That is diversity for you. This diversity ensures we remain open minded and adaptable. It means we bring different perspectives and strengths to the table. In North America our community grew out of the 1960s liberation movements around us, the Civil Rights movement, the Women’s Liberation Movement especially. One phrase that stuck with me from this era was “The personal is political!” This is the quintessence of the dilemma of finding personal peace meaning your life becomes a social challenge.
This community worked through many challenges. Up to the 1950s to be anything other than ‘normal’ was taboo. The church condemned us. The police and courts punished us. The medical profession ‘pathologized’ us. One individual could do nothing facing such odds. A community, filled with courageous, brilliant and committed activists, coming at these institutions from every angle, could erode and break down the ignorant and hateful pillars of these seemingly unassailable fortresses.
What may surprise some is beneath this united challenge to external threats, our community has often been wracked by internal dissension. When I came out as bisexual at a GLOW meeting at the University of Waterloo, I was not greeted with universal acceptance. Notwithstanding our experience with straight society, narrow, dogmatic, exclusionary thinking could still be found within our community. Gays and lesbians sometimes had an uneasy relationship with each other and usually split off into separate groups. Both were initially suspicious of bisexuals, calling them ‘fence sitters.’ Everyone agreed to laugh behind the backs of gender variant persons. On two fronts I found mixed reception to my B and T nature. While a great deal has changed and newer generations are far more open to the full diversity of our community, pockets of resistance remain.
We have come a long way, the horrors of present-day homophobic Russia and many other intolerant countries in Africa and Asia are no longer in force here in North America. This is because we have persisted in our struggle. For me, true resilience comes from personal clarity and community engagement. We are social beings and have the best life in community with others. That said, I still bat my ‘inner Marylin Monroe’ eyes at you and smile!
Thanks Lyn! You are one of the most authentic, congruent people I know! And to have travelled the road to that level of authenticity in this culture that judges and condemns daily is truely remarkable!
I think lots of people will understand the choice of a route to peace through conformity, however, it doesn't bring true inner peace. True inner peace means being truely rooted in oneself. That means that your values, behaviour, thoughts and words reflect who you are and who you choose to be. A lot of people choose who they are based upon the culture around them. (Ie. fashion choices, careers, hobbies, size of house etc etc) However, you can only be at PEACE if this reflects what matters to you as a value inside.
So go outside and be who you are! That's what this world needs.....more people being authentically themselves and experiencing the inner peace that comes with that. Stop judging, both yourself and those around you. It leads to nothing that will grow in a healthy way. Well....try anyway. If you catch yourself judging then the first rule of resilience is always to have grace and forgiveness towards yourself and then.....just like with addictions to substances and not just thoughts.... you have to live 'One Day at a time'....and try again!
And for an enjoyable and allied response to trans people who serve in the military, here is James Cordon's response to Trump's decision to not allow transgendered individuals to serve in the military!