Friday, April 13, 2007

Measuring Yourself ... and Remembering

No, this isn't a post about something crude or vain. Maybe I should've chosen a better title for this post. But then again, perhaps this is good marketing: giving this a vague, almost controversial-sounding title that's a bit underwhelming and misleading after all.

Got a note today from a couple of friends I hadn't heard from in quite some time, asking how I was doing, curious they hadn't heard from or about me in a while. In talking with them, the subject briefly steered toward reminiscences. The memories briefly bathed me in those warm memories, kinda like a warm spring barefooted walk in the sand on Padre Island (or simply "the Island" as we used to refer to it). The conversation touched upon folks we used to know, our second-youth in those transition days, and a seeming sense of invincibility in those heady days ten years ago. Promise was there for the taking, we all appeared on an upward track, dreams were bearing fruit and our voices were clear and strong and making a difference.

That was only six, eight, ten years ago. Now, looking back on the Millennium era, it seems like a lifetime ago. Somebody else's lifetime, even! It's amazing how vastly different things are less than a scant decade ago. It's like waking up the morning after a bender in a cheap honky-tonk and asking yourself, "Did I really do that? Did all this really happen?"

As the reality sets in, you realize everyone drifted in different directions like branches on a live oak tree. You also begin wondering what became of not only them, but yourself and the initial directions we set out in. Just as with the live oaks, where influences or natural conditions cause the tree or branches to move, bend or twist in different directions, our lives likewise grow places we didn't see ourselves. As with nature, sometimes we can't control that portion of the outcome -- only survive it.

The flipside of memories is that they do require a visit to those headier days, and the obligatory comparisons. It's a way of measuring your "now" to the "past" and all the hopes, dreams, plans that were still vivid at that time. Sometimes measurements are reaffirming, showing the ambitions and their results based on your gameplan. Often, though, it shows what reality brought *instead* of the initial idealized desires. Kinda like hoping for Homecoming Queen and getting awarded Miss FFA Hog Farmers instead.

For most of the transsexual community, surgery and going on with a successful life was the goal, with a happy relationship being the icing on top. For a few, it came to fruition in greater or lesser degrees. For most of the rest, it became life's mocking reminder. Indeed, I started out with the intent of a life of seamless transition, surgery, job, relationship and woodworking (stealth) lifestyle. But as I mentioned to my friend Kristin last night, circumstances got in the way. Unemployment, then the retirement of a local activist pushing for name-changes sans need of legal (i.e. expensive) resolution, the creeping realization that I was part of a massive rank of similarly marginalized, acceptance of no safety nets or escapes, taking action, working hard and seeing the beginnings of change and progress.

Then the bottom fell out.

Where we once had our own voice, we later were muzzled in favor of new more equivocating voices forced upon us. Where we once saw promise, we now saw a circling of the wagons with us firmly locked out in favor of the acquiescent supplants. Where there was once a ladder for upward mobility, there's now ashes of what burned beneath our feet and the firm affirmation that privilege is for the chosen few, whether by birthright or deigned so by the power-holders.

"Did they get you to trade your heroes for ghosts?
Hot ashes for trees?
Hot air for the cool breeze?
Cold comfort for change?
Did you exchange a walk on part of the wall
for a leaf-roll in a cage?" -- Pink Floyd

We gradually awoke to a creeping awareness of how vulnerable and imperiled we trans folks really are. If you don't believe so, read closely the federal Real ID Act, for starters. The ball of clay we once held and hoped to mold our lives with morphed into a ball of feces, much to our horror. We never even realized how hypnotic our media-fed complacency is, and most of us still don't. These things only become clearest in hindsight, measuring where we once were with where we are currently -- and also where the trend points toward.

Personally I view my own history in advocacy as a lesson in punitive failure of the most severe kind. Not only did it deter me from pursuing any of my personal goals or desires, it was extremely expensive, emotionally taxing, and (thanks to Google and the information age) a career-killer. Dreams disappeared upon the awakening. The future died a few years ago. Now is the reckoning of the lesser-life and moving on to what's next, in activism and especially in personal life. The lesson in this? Don't make sacrifices to your own detriment, it will only kill you. If you're an unwavering trans activist, this only plays into the hands of the vindictive types who wish to make examples of you. Speak out any way you possibly can, stay in the fight, but play smart and do so without the personal sacrifices.

Yes, there will be a measure of progress -- but only enough to placate the restive masses. Keep in mind that used car salesmen aren't in business simply for the altruistic desire to see that every used vehicle has a loving home and doesn't spend a minute more than it should orphaned on a dirt lot somewhere. It's about making the sale, and maximizing the profit, baby. We'd be unrealistic to think that those we rely on, politicians or professional advocates, will be working themselves out of business any time soon. Perhaps that was the grassroots trans advocates' downfall: we worked to find the quickest way possible to get our community whole into jobs and businesses in order to make successes out of producing whatever in our respective professions. We didn't view advocacy as a product.

Don't curl into a ball and just die off. Keep your voice, and keep it strong. While the carcass-feeders would appreciate your silence, it does nothing for us personally nor any of the lower 90-something percentile that remain firmly and unmistakenly marginalized.

"A man saw a ball of gold on a mountaintop;
So he climbed for it, and eventually he achieved it --
And found it was only a ball of clay.
... but when the man went back down the mountain
And looked again,
Lo, there was the ball of gold." --- Hart Crane

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