in defense of being ugly

I went to a picnic earlier today. It was a trans-related thing, and if there’s one thing the picnic made very plain is that there’s lots of sizes, shapes, colors, and sorts of trans women, something that no media outlet and most of trans leadership would never let you think.

And it’s great to have picnics, but unless you’re sticking to someone to do introductions, it’s still looking at a very closed world when you’re an Other/outsider. I mean, it is literal evidence that these people do exist, though!

So…why are trans-focused social spaces still nests of vipers? Why do they broadcast their exclusion openly (“cuties only!”) or tactitly (..having to survive the hazing ritual that is the support group)?  Like…if we exist, how the hell are we supposed to connect?  It’s frustrating to know there’s a world there, but you don’t know the way in.

But why do the people who maintain power have such a strong relationship with a rather narrow, ableist, racist, you-name-itphobic ideal of who is Good Enough? What about trying to square the reality that what trans leadership wants is to be acceptable to cishet white men and pretty much literally nothing else? It’s troubling that I’ve been blogging about this shit for seven years and literally nothing has changed.

It’s the support group or nothing, because that’s how it’s always been, and when you can’t survive the hazing, you can’t go to the support group. The scathing, vengeful review of everything that they’ve decided is “wrong” with you is incisive and hurtful, because it’s supposed to be: the support group is what the people so bitter and self-loathing about being trans become. You know when you have chili that starts out too watery and they tell you to put masa in there to get it thicker? Masa’s for amateurs. You cook that chili down low and slow into thick delicious fragrant goodness. Works with curry, too…you can taste when someone didn’t make that shortcut. But that’s the support group: the thickened, concentrated hate of people who hate themselves for being trans, and believe it’s their mission to make everyone else miserable, too. It’s concentrated internalized transmisogyny.

That’s what the support group actually is. It’s where people who have chosen to be cruel, chosen to be wicked go to abuse the misfits and to keep their concept of having something that’s ours. I know these are often folks who have chosen horribly, because I get the stories whispered in my inbox, spoken over coffee; I know what these people say, and I know that maybe they don’t intend to be evil, but they do a great job doing it.

But trans community relies on the support group, or that one is rail-thin enough to fit a white trans woman’s idea of who is a “cutie”.  Lemme give you a hint: there’s never any other fat people who wanna go when the “screw off” is written on the tin.  I’m pretty sure boundarying groups like that is a desire for it to be a meat market, and nobody wants to deal with pesky fatties getting in the way of their suspiciously cisnormative/ableist/racist body policing. Like…don’t you know disabled people don’t have sex? Gosh.

(Well, we do, but…you know…we don’t tell the ableds about it. Well, that or we’re..okay we have sex alright just please don’t ask how it works mmkay?)

We need a middle space.

Something that is a social environment where talking to other humans in a low-pressure way that indicates “hey I am a trans person and I want to socialize with other trans people.”  Something with a no staring rule.  A “use your words” policy about explaining issues with things; you have no idea how tiresome it is to hear things described as problematic with no definition of what actually *is* problematic; it’s become one of those words which has been overused to a point that it becomes meaningless. A “no means no” policy, which I can’t believe in the year of our Lord two thousand nineteen needs to be restated in a policy, but…it does. Something that breeds real relationships with connection and not just ticks off a checklist about if you’re white enough to be a “cutie”, which is, by the by, one of the most unintentionally toxic words ever because of the people who realized that meant they got to gatekeep.

But I don’t know how to make a middle space happen, because people don’t trust random Others or random outsiders, and I’m…both.

I want a space where us ugly people can be, and the not-so-ugly people, too. And that’s what’s been driving a lot of my thought lately: how that can happen without becoming the same kinds of circular firing squads that punctuate white-centered liberal communities. How to have a space which is for everyone, since the Q Center here in Portland won’t give out more space because, you guessed it, the Friday night support group is there for trans women, donchaknow.

And that’s the place I feel…ugliest. That our leadership protects the people who do horrible things over and over, and that our leadership continues to treat trans women of color like we’re disposable, but it’s so tragic when we’re gone. But that these people still expect me to serve their interests, because that’s what they expect the ugly people to do. Can’t hack the support group? Not hot enough to be in on the fuck circle? You’re worthless.

I’m on the wrong side of forty; I have given up any hope of being a pretty pretty princess, because I feel like if I take any risk in presentation and get any shit for it, I’ll be told by my peers that I deserved it. I have given up any hope of being able to be out at work, because when you’re a cog in the machine outside the tech world, that just isn’t an option. I’m not gonna be able to change anyone’s mind about trans people, and playing this game of “well let’s fall in with a new circle of cis people” and hoping it’ll be different this time isn’t working. I don’t believe that there’s going to be any real changes to how trans people view each other, and how trans women and especially trans women of color are treated as disposable by queer circles.

We need to do something better for ourselves, and it’s gotta happen soon. See, here’s the thing: the people that constitutes white trans leadership and the “cuties only” sorts…we outnumber you pretty significantly by the looks of it.  Now, I’m not saying y’all are ugly; you’re not, and in fact are probably really lovely people. But we are the people our leaders call “ugly”, our support groups treat as emotional punching bags, and by the looks of it, we’re many.

So…why do we stick with this broken system? What are you getting out of it? Because to the vast majority of us, the sheer number of bodies I saw, it was kind of amazing. There was no support group facilitator barking at anyone about how much the FFS they “need” will cost.  Why can’t we have more of this, and maybe more of this where it’s explicitly okay to, like, come alone…introduce yourself to others…all these things that are not incredibly complex outside the world of trans stuff but are 45-dimensional chess inside.

Because guess what: fuck you, I’m ugly, I’m very aware of this, and I’m sick and tired of it meaning that other trans people get to deny my gender or claim that because I’m fat (or because I’m “low IQ” or because I’m a survivor…but it’s usually fat) I don’t get to be there.  We need more than a meat market for those under size 10, abled, and white (which is what “cuties only” means) and the distributed torture that is the support group.

I might be ugly, but there’s more of us, and maybe we want to be around other people like us. Why can’t we figure out a way to nurture these connections rather than confound them? That picnic was promise, it was illuminating. Now what?

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