I have been reflecting on my own journey to understanding the issues that transgendered people face as they come to terms with being transgendered and beginning the process of transitioning. I find it interesting that for me the seeds of understanding were planted quite a while ago, when I was in high school in the 1970’s.
In high school, I was very naive about any issues relating to being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered. At that time these issues were not discussed or addressed in my family or my circle of friends. Since we travelled a lot and lived overseas at the time, I was exposed to many other political and cultural issues, and I had good awareness of many groups who were struggling for freedom or equal rights. However, for whatever reason, LGBTQ issues were just not on my radar.
We were living in London, England during my last 3 years of high school, and during that time there was an in depth, 3 part series in the newspaper about a woman who had transitioned from male to female. While I don’t remember the specifics, and I can’t find any direct reference to this series, I believe it was likely excerpts from the book by Jan Morris called Conundrum. Conundrum was published in 1974, and is a memoir about the journey of being transsexual and transitioning from male to female. These articles gave me huge insights about what it felt like to be born a woman in a male body.
Since I have always been very interested in understanding other people’s experiences, I was deeply affected by reading this first hand account of being born into the “wrong body.” Jan Morris is a writer and was able to portray her experience and her transition honestly and openly. It helped me to understand that sometimes our bodies betray us, and our sense of self does not fit with our anatomy. It also helped me understand the yearning to be true to ourselves, even in the face of rejection, judgement, and a lack of support from society. In other words, long before I had a sense of the larger cultural context or the barriers that are faced by transgendered people, I was introduced to the personal experience of someone who made the transition, and her own reflections about the meaning and significance for herself and those around her.
It was many years before I dealt with my own coming out process and gained more perspective on LGBTQ issues. Since then I have had more exposure and more awareness about what it’s like to be transgendered in our world. Over the years there have also been a few movies which have touched me deeply, and have contributed to my awareness and understanding.
A movie that touched me deeply and has stayed with me over the years is called Ma Vie en Rose (1997). It is the story of a 7 year old boy who wants to be a girl. “When his family discovers the little girl blossoming in him they are forced to contend with their own discomfort and the lack of understanding from their new neighbours… [This is] a movie that addresses trans-gender and gender issues in general through the eyes of a child.” * In this movie we can see the spirit of this child struggling to be true to self in the face of a world that does not understand and tries to change him. His parents are doing their best to support their child, but this child’s reality is totally outside of their experience, and they are living with their own struggles. I love that this movie shows how the experience of one family member impacts all the members of that family, and how challenging it can be to support kids in their experiences. There are no easy answers, but the honest portrayal of this child and his experience is absolutely enlightening.
Another movie that opened my eyes to a new world is a documentary called Paris is Burning (1990). This movie is “a chronicle of New York’s drag scene in the 1980s, focusing on balls, voguing and the ambitions and dreams of those who gave the era its warmth and vitality.” * While this movie is about cross-dressers, which can be a different experience than being transgendered, it gives fascinating insight into a world that is rarely understood by those that are not part of it. And I think that there are some parallels and intersections with the transgendered community. It is refreshing to see this world through the eyes of the participants, to hear them talk about themselves, and to see their courage in sharing their community with others.
I’m sure that there have been other experiences and movies along the way that helped to shape and inform me. But these are the ones that had the most impact and for which I am most grateful.
What are the experiences, the books or the movies that were important for you in your journey towards new insight and understanding? If you would like to share them, please comment on the blog on my website.
* taken from Plot Summary / description of movie, imdb.com
Transgender Resources You May Find Helpful
When Kathy is Keith, a book by Surrey psychologist Wallace Wong (2011) for and about transgender children
www.genderspectrum.org – Gender Spectrum provides education, training and support to help create a gender sensitive and inclusive environment for all children and teens.
genderfork.com – Genderfork is a supportive community for the expression of identities across the gender spectrum.
genderqueer.tumblr.com – images of gender-bending, trans and queer people of all sorts, meant to empower and celebrate the beauty within all gender expressions.