Consider, for a moment, the following story:
“But how did you know?”: Oh that age old question asked just one more time, and never for the last.
They sighed. A sigh so softly expressed so many times. A sigh so soft and understated that only a person accustomed to such moments would understand it. Barely visible to the casual observer, those in the know would recognise their hearts sinking as they prepared to answer the inevitable and recurring question. At least they weren’t being asked about the configuration of their genitals or their sexual preferences though. They’d been spared that indignity on this occasion. It was at least a tolerable question, and once more they found their selves giving out the very personal details of their personal childhoods.
“I always got on better with boys,” he said, “and then when puberty hit it was a nightmare. I just knew I had to do something, but I didn’t know what”.
“Oh, it was a bit like that for me to,” she interjected, “except I got on better with the girls. I used to like playing with dolls but my parents would take them from me when they caught me. My mum caught me using her makeup once. I guess I was just born this way.”
Why? Why, oh why, oh why must we go through this standard narrative again, and again and again? Yes, I’m as guilty as anyone of this, but surely this is the sort of thing we should be telling our nearest and dearest -should there be a cause or desire for them to know- and not random strangers or acquaintances? If you actually like answering these questions and the ‘standard narrative’ applies to you, then sure, why not… but for the rest of us: Why?
Really speaking, this pretty much applies to LGB people as much as it does to trans people. We collectively feel the need to justify our existence by offering narratives, terminology and ideas that can be readily digested by the rest of society. We explain our histories and our existences according to the frameworks provided for us, which are inevitably designed to fit in with the pre-ordained rules of a hetero-normative society. We often seem to instinctively try to avoid standing out, and instead try to shape ourselves to fit the mold at the expense of our own unique individualities. Not even cissexual people their selves are immune to this effect, from the schoolyard bullies, to the neighborhood yobs and interest groups hitting out at and questioning anything that poses the smallest challenge to the normative status quo, marking it as somehow different and inferior by its mere existence. For LGBT people though, there’s a difference – we tend to accept it, consciously or not, as being part and parcel of being LGBT, and it runs right the way through society.
While anti-abortionists claim that a woman’s right to do as she likes with her body is superseded by the rights of the unborn child in a similarly vitriolic battle over what choice women should have over their bodies, the argument against LGBT people is predicated differently. It is based on the idea that we, in ourselves, are disgusting and morally wrong simply for our very existences… and I ask – why? Why must we be special cases having to explain our origins? Why should we be subject to attempts to cure us? Why should we be considered as worth anything less than anybody else because of who we are in spite of the fact that we do nothing wrong, and nothing to harm anybody else? Ironically, there is even a section of the feminist community that believes in a person’s choice over their own body, and yet would deny trans people that choice – one feminist famously wanted to “mandate trans people out of existence”. The anti-choice argument at least contains some kernel of reason (whether you agree with it or not), whereas the argument against LGBT equality does not. Such a lack of reason was seen recently in the UK, where a popular soap opera showed two men cuddling in bed and provoked outrage from some quarters, while hetero-centric casual sex, violence, threats and even rape have been deemed unworthy of complaint by the same people.
This argument that we are some kind of scourge on society, and that we’re somehow exotic or explicit material that should be kept out of the eyes of children spurs us on to justify ourselves with a whole host of purported medical, evolutionary, sociological, genetic, or psychological reasons. In doing so, we are the ones that create our own oppression. Instead of standing up to such questions, and instead of requesting the civil courtesy of the respect afforded to everyone else, we give in. In giving in and answering their questions with narratives that fit their views, we perpetuate a cycle where they feel they have the right to ask. They feel they have a right to know. A right to pry. A right that wouldn’t exist anywhere else, and thus lends itself to a sense of the normal vs the abnormal, which of course transforms itself into issues of right or wrong, above and below, inferiority and superiority. We hand them power. We give them privilege over us, and all by trying to fit into their world, rather than staking our place and our claim on our already being a part of their world, and one that’s worthy of equality and respect. I’m not going to seriously use terms like kyriarchy or patriarchy to describe top down systems of oppression. Power is seen to work like that, but only because that is the way we have organised it. If every fighter put down their weapon, we’d see an end to war – it’s unlikely to happen, but it’s true. Similarly, can you imagine a situation where every LGBT person responded with “That’s a personal question”, or “My body, my choice. I’m not hurting anybody else, so what’s the problem?” Admittedly, for some trans people it’s a choice between surgery or death – but that’s still a real choice, if an obvious decision to make (clue – death isn’t the obvious and logical solution to such a problem.)
Then, of course, there’s the other problem with the standard narratives for trans people especially – they hurt other trans people. In some ways, the formation of the narrative has been clinician led… but it’s our internalisation of the narrative that’s perpetuated it. As more and more people repeat their stories, it becomes the accepted basis on which medical services are allowed. Nobody knows what causes transsexualism any more than what results in the existence of neutrois or other gender variant people that don’t fit the narrative… but it is the narrative that grants access to medical treatment. If you don’t fit it, you don’t get it. If you’re not transsexual, then you must surely have some sort of body dysmorphia that needs talking therapy or psychiatric drugs – it’s not right, and it’s not fair. Change isn’t going to happen overnight, but it’s likewise going to be even longer coming for as long as the ‘One True Narrative’ prevails. Is it right to leave other people out in the cold like this?
For bisexual people – if same sex attraction is not a choice, and “homosexuality is OK as long as you don’t act on it” is not a reasonable view, where exactly does that leave bisexual people? While “Being gay is not a choice” is great for defending gay and lesbian people, it leaves bisexual people open to the accusation that they really do have a choice, and should choose only to sleep with members of the opposite sex.
We need to stop clinging to the standard narrative – and many of us are unknowingly guilty of that, as we tend as a species to frame things in the language we are surrounded with. We need to stop giving away our power and subverting ourselves. We need to stop internalizing the narratives, and instead to proudly state the truth of our own individual existences. To live that truth. To love that truth, and to be that truth. We need to stop policing others for questioning the standard narrative and expressing opinions which stand against it. We need to stop crying “transphobia”, “homophobia”, “hetero-centricism” and “cissexism” at the slightest opportunity, stop tarring and we need to start living by example. Sure – there is transphobia, homophobia, hetero-centricism and cissexism in the world and it’s wrong, but overuse of the terms devalues them, and just makes us look irrationally angry and combative… all the while, of course, focussing our attention on why certain people think we are wrong rather than on why we are just as worthy and awesome as anybody else. It’s perhaps telling that I myself am wondering if I’m going to lose friends and contacts over this article – I don’t profess it to be gospel truth, but I do feel it raises a few interesting points and questions.
I’m going to tell you that truth now. It’s actually a very simple one, as most truths are – we are people of diverse backgrounds and experiences just as all human beings are, but in one thing you are just the same as anybody else…
… You are beautiful, and your existence is no less valid or rightful than anybody elses. You have a right to be yourself. You don’t need a cure. You don’t need a reason. You don’t need to explain yourself to all and sundry. You don’t need to justify your basic existence. Why you are the way you are doesn’t matter. What matters, is that you are who you are, and you exist – and you are beautiful for it. At the end of the day, we’re all just people, and we should be people. Live.