Storytelling as the Very Real Creation of Trans* Life

Jamison Green’s “Look! No, Don’t! The Visibility Dilemma for Transsexual Men” is provocatively titled.  The title itself constitutes a bit of a story—the story of an idea that is inherently in conflict.  And although it seems that most all pieces of trans* discourse must address the idea of narrative, of journey, of transition, Green’s piece has made the most explicit case for why this is so, and why it is not only “so,” but important to the trans* identity.

Besides describing the sense of purpose that he feels in telling his story publicly and the elicitation of excited reactions in audiences—from surprise at his passability (Green 500) to scrutiny of it (Green 503)—Green also describes how the body itself is a story of many pages, and not a single-sheet poster.  (The analogy is my own.)  He begins to do this most successfully, in my opinion, when he rather poetically segues into the “Look! No, don’t!”-beginning paragraphs (Green 506) toward the end of his essay—especially in the first paragraph of this type:

Look! No, don’t! Transsexual men are men.  Transsexual men are men who have lived in female bodies.  Transsexual men may appear feminine, androgynous, or masculine […] Some men have no beard, some have no penis, some never lose their hair, some have breasts. All have a sense of themselves as men.

Here, he is demonstrating how individuals are stories, for by choosing to present oneself in any way, one creates one’s own story because masculinity is never completely coherent.  This presentation of gender (the masculine gender, here) is an empowering and validating concept for anyone regardless of gender or sex, unlike Janice Raymond’s ironically debilitating, one-sided praise of the feminine.  By presenting female energy as a universal untouchable, she is erasing the creation of the feminine that occurs through the individual women carrying out their gender identities every day, interacting with each other, molding each other.  This is likely the precise point that prompts Green to praise Judith Halberstam’s acknowledgment of the process and project of gendering (Green 504).

The celebration of the story (and particularly of the power of one particular trans* story) led me to browse Eli Clare’s blog.  Clare, a genderqueer, transitioned disability activist and wonderful poet, does not seem to update his blog very often, but its most recent entry contains a rather lovely ode to storytelling as power toward change, and so I will share it here:

The trans* story is the story of the body—the process by which one comes to interpret themselves and become fully autonomous within one’s own skin, but also use that self-molded skin to fit into the “big picture” as they see fit.  Trans* stories are stories of interactions and of change, and these interactions are the basis for understanding the realities of interdependent life.  Pictures such as those painted by Janice Raymond are flat portrayals of a single identity, and this is why stories like Eli Clare’s and Jamison Green’s remain much more resonant. They force the reader, the listener, the watcher, to “Look!” at reality, and not the mythos of a concrete ideal of the gender binary.

– Marie Kosakowski


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