I think the worst thing about being trans is the way your entire existence is a political problem.
There’s a polite society social norm to not be too political in public or when on show and so forth. An assumption of a cultural neutrality. If you’re at a dinner party with semi-strangers or running a small organisation, you should talk about your job or animals or hobbies while dressed “normally”. You don’t do out there stuff, like wearing a clown costume or talking about sex or politics or trying to convert guests to your religion or getting into fights about veganism.
Unfortunately for transgender people, and for LGBT people more broadly, the very fact that they exist is regularly seen as a weird out there lifestyle quirk which ought not to be admitted to polite society. It’s unspeakably depressing.
It’s normal and neutral to, say, mention your partner or invite them to dinner; but if you’re dating someone of the same sex it is not seen as normal and neutral by everyone, but as you making some form of pushy outré statement, a form of aggressive over-sharing, a faux pas like turning up in fetish gear.
And then for transgender people, it’s an even worse scrutiny targeted directly at your skin and your body and your shape. Like, no one ought to wear hot-pants or pajamas or a chainmail bra to a formal dinner or when representing your organisation. But unfortunately, some people see “being transgender and garbed in your preferred clothes” as a similarly weird dramatic statement of peculiarity which ought to have been left in the bedroom. Even if you’re doing exactly the same as cisgender people: wearing an appropriate item of formalwear and chit chatting about the weather and sport.
No matter how chill you are, there’s always a risk someone will take the fact that you exist as an unacceptable political act for their nice, neutral, “normal” environment. And either demand you be more normal, leave, or just be earth-swallowingly snippy about it the entire time.
So long as people have extreme political views, and do not see LGBT people as an ordinary and dull part of human variation, we will have an inability to be apolitical. Even when we want to be.
Anyway, I’m trying to find a re-enactment society again.
It’s hard not to feel pre-emptively glum about the whole thing. When I was a small human, I wanted to join the Jane Austen society at home – but was put off by the sense I would not be permitted to attend in male garb, and even then I knew that wouldn’t work for me. I was a long way from being out, but already I knew the idea of showing up as a Jane instead of a Bingley would make me feel low and not-right. As you may guess from this blog, historic menswear is a particularly fraught thing for me: my personal identity and sense of self is really strongly rooted in these romantic, historic male images. It’s the only way I can make anything make any sense, pretending to be a Victorian don like Houseman or a bohemian author like Baldwin or a regency highwayman; I don’t recognise myself at all in the mirror, or even when I try and crossdress in contemporary ways – but when I travel back in time, suddenly I understand. And I understood that at 15 too, not wanting to attend a hobby club where I had to watch other people wearing cravats and being stuck in a spencer.
But now we are looking to join a Vikings/Anglo Saxons group, and those same feelings are coming right back up. I’ve found the crossdressing rules for the Regia soc, and they permit it under strict circumstances so long as you pass perfectly. None of that sounds like fun; not having my authentic need judged by a panel of strangers, nor my realness and ability to pass assessed for convincingness.
And I can’t fault Regia for their code. Their primary goal is high quality authentic displays. They don’t even permit people to wear glasses, and if you can’t wear contacts, would rather you went without. But it’s not my goal to:
- start political topics/make things political
- wreck the authenticity of the display
- make everything about me
- Even to make a point about the longterm historic existence of LGBT people, including in the Viking period.
More than anyone, I absolutely don’t want to be in a living history exhibit, explaining contemporary gender politics to strangers who take an interest in the display. I just want to show up and blend in with the other blokes and wear appropriate clothes.
Which takes me back to the same problem I have everywhere, wanting gender to not be a “marked” or “unusual” factor. If this was just a re-enactment problem, that would be annoying; but it’s a problem I have everywhere, no matter what I’m doing.
Wanting to just fit in, and be dull. And be left alone.