Saturday, September 17, 2011

New Semester - Go Stealth or Carry a Torch?

It’s a brand new semester in College. I always liked the beginning of a new year, new books, new shoes, new working clothes, new faces and a chance to start over. Maybe I got hooked and possibly that’s why I’m still in Education as a full time day job years after I graduated High School. In some ways it’s sad, like we’re the ones who got left behind after everyone else ventured out into the glaring light of the ‘real’ world.

Actually it’s not quite like that, sorry if you already knew. I’m a Teacher’s Assistant in a Community College. We see everyone here, our courses tend to be vocational, I deal mainly with young people for whom High School didn’t quite work out, who want a more ‘hands on’ approach to learning. My students tend to age between 16 and 18. On the face of things not an ideal group to work with on my first job after starting my transition! My students tend to say exactly what they think and the observe very closely. Are 16 year olds programmed to root out difference and expose and ridicule it?

That’s how it seemed six years ago when I began working here, in the early stages of electrolysis.  I had only just started HRT and was living full time. It should have been awful but I’m eternally thankful that it wasn’t. Yes there were complaints about restroom use, the inevitable use of the ‘T’ word, so many intrusive questions, requests for the birth certificate I didn’t possess and difficulties with time off for medical appointments. But actually the overwhelming majority of people were okay. I was puzzled. A long time female friend summed it up for me:

‘You walk, talk and behave like any other woman. Why are you so surprised that people accept you as one? You ARE female, I’ve always thought of you like that, why should you pretend to be anyone else other than what you are inside? That would be stupid!’

That made me look around me and think. I had spent my whole life comparing myself to a blueprint of what I thought everyone expected a man or a woman to be. In my mind I emphasized physical appearance but I’d been ignoring the obvious. Your gender is not the clothes you wear or the way you do your makeup, it isn’t a function of what people call you, it is simply who you are. No one can make you male or female if you are not, nobody can force you to be something against your will.

It was a revolution, and it allowed me to carry on doing what I needed to, to do my job, to be a Mom, to live and get on with my life. Okay, so, it wasn't easy, but I fnally had confidence that people might notice me for who I am, or rather NOT notice me because I was just like any other woman around the place.

That was the beginning of wondering if one day I could just melt into the background and go stealth.  It seemed like an ideal to aim for, something to aspire to.  Last year it became pretty much a reality.

At one time, I think that that is where I would have left things.  But then last year I also had a couple of gay students in class. The College prides itself on preparing students for the world of work.  Employment law gets discussed a lot, diversity, equality and attitudes.  Debate gets pretty heated around those subjects and I found myself uncomfortably close to discussions about issues close to my heart.  I saw that the Gay kids who are out come in for a lot of teasing, much of it good natured but incessant and demoralising all the same.  I found myself questioning and challenging others about why they said what they did in order to defend them.  I realised that stealth or no, you can't stand by and be an observer.  Sometimes it must be fairly clear what my position is.

I know that some of my Gay and Lesbian colleagues in the education system have no problem with standing up for others, with carying a torch for LGBT rights.  I have to be honest, the thought of being like that has sometimes scared me.  I'm way from being able to carry a torch. I have feared being 'outed' when in reality I'm 'out' anyway by just being me and living and working full time as a woman. Strange isn't it?  No matter how sacred I am however, I'm quite clear that I don't want to see others put down because of their sexual preferences or gender. So what do I do?

There are no clear answers to this one are there?  I would love to know how others in the Trans community cope with this.  I suspect that there are as many answers as there are people :)

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