(Un) Exceptional trans lives
“You’re so brave” goes the refrain, or, at least it used to. I always found it funny, and a wee bit off to be called brave just because I medially transitioned from assigned male at birth to female. It says a lot about the world and society when simply expressing who you are makes you brave. Bravery, in my books, are those who selflessly put themselves in danger for others, take risks, leaping into the unknown, almost exceptional. Me, well, maybe that was the case once, but I never felt brave. There was never this feeling I was risking my life just because of who I am, and for that I probably was very much a sweet summer child. I never frame myself as exceptional, as I have forged my own path through womanhood, as every other woman does. However, society at large tends to other trans folk, treating us as the exception, as exceptional to the rules that are millennia in the making.
My personal belief is that trans and gender transgression needs to be normalised, that it is the very exceptonalising of gender that makes it dangerous for us to exist. Our ‘otherness’ runs counter the wind, almost an exotic fruit that hangs from the tree, and is either plucked to appreciate or treated as a piñata to break apart with glee. If being exceptional, exotic, were ever a virtue we would be lauded and raised into high office; instead, we are left in the shadows, perceptible if you know where to look, but situated under red lights, rainbow flags, and online. At least, that is what the perception is.
Of course, the reality is far more complicated. We are situated at every point in society. From priests, elected officials, military officers to super market checkout assistants, call girls, and prisons. We exist in our unexceptional ways because that is how the flow of life is. Being trans is not a career or end point in and of itself; transitioning is not a race to be won and done. No, it is a process, lifelong, that is folded into our normality. When we are pushed legally and metaphorically to the margins we often have no choice in the jobs we take, and while many may choose their paths, often when we are given the hand of grace and mercy we soar. We discover computer science, fight for justice in legislatures, build amazing websites, construct your ships, indeed we are as boundless as all of society. We are only exceptional because you place us there.
Like exotic fruit, we are tantalising, salacious. We taste good in the moment, yet become easy to discard in the trash when the mood suits. We are the exceptional scapegoats run out of town, made to be the centre of every crisis because our otherness scares you. If you raise your fist and bloody our bones, what recourse do we have? We would hope the law, yet our exceptionalisation garners laughs, jeers, and first responders refusing to come to our aid. Our murders and beatings are viewed as justice, our rapes and abuse seen as fair game. This is where exceptional leads, why we are considered brave.
As bleak as this seems, when trans folk are brought in from the margins, our rights protected, our exceptional identities fade into the ordinary. Being ordinary is nothing to be scared of, in fact it is a place most people take for granted. Every person is exceptional in their own way, yet they are not treated as ‘other’ or exotic in the same way trans folk are. If even going to the grocery store and supermarket is an ordeal, that says something about the value of being ordinary. Being trans is not a curse, there is great joy and comfort in being free and honest with yourself, it is the world that decides if the fists and bullets reign down.
I am utterly at ease with my own identity, and for me it is ordinary. I face the world knowing that the best part of me faces outwards, and that the otherness that is wrapped up in my identity is far more than simply my gender. It is the intersections of my being, the heart that beats within for all the elements that make up my complexities. Every person is the same, and when you exceptionalise one part of a person’s identity you strip away all the other amazing intersections that form who they are. By unexceptionalising trans, by layering all the complexities of life, we turn the exotic into something more expansive. We become part of the tapestry, part of what makes the world so vibrant and colourful. I may be trans, but I do not wish to be exceptional just because of my gender. If people see me as exceptional or brave let it be because of what I say and do. For that is the mark I want to lay down on the world. Just, maybe, the world is not quite there yet.