Friday, February 15, 2008

Getting Out There

A place I have meant to visit often, both in my visits to NYC and now that I have lived here for over a month, is The LGBT Community Center. The Center is mentioned in many news articles and is always the location of the most interesting meetings and discussion groups. For a long time I have meant to attend the Gender Drop-In Masculine Spectrum group. The Center also has Feminine Spectrum, Trans Families, and Trans Partners/Trans Amorous groups. I finally went this Wednesday and was really glad I did so. What happens during the group time is, understandably, confidential. So I’m going to discuss the group abstractly in a way I think will protect the stories we shared and our individual identities.

I was surprised to find myself surrounded by about 30-35 masculine people, mostly men. I know that the Twin Cities has an amazing support system and that there are many active, visible, positive transman doing good work there, but nothing can compare to the calming feeling of entering a room and seeing yourself reflected on the faces and bodies of other participants. I felt safe and supported.

There wasn’t a lot of out and visible diversity in the group. Most of us (and of course with hormones it’s hard to tell) were between 18 and 30 and light-skinned. I think the oldest person in the room was around 50. A number of the people with light skin in the room may have had mixed racial backgrounds, perhaps an ethnicity such as Italian or Irish that depending on their lineage may or may not cause them to identify as white. Many might have parents or grandparents of color and identify strongly along those lines, which is why I’m being careful not to say they were white. Even though we were talking about access to medicine and being out at work no one mentioned racial factors at all.* A handful of men stated a Jewish identity, and a few mentioned Christian upbringings. Depression was mentioned by many participants, both overcoming and struggling with it, but no other mental or physical disabilities were discussed. The building, being older, would probably be very difficult for someone in a wheelchair or using any walking devices although the front door and main area was wheel chair accessible.

Most of the men mentioned being out among families and friends, but simply identifying as male at work. I think one man phrased this very eloquently “You can call me transgender when you get to know me, but first you have to see that I’m a man”. There was a brief and disappointing discussion of misogyny, I hope we can return to that next week. I was the only one who mentioned being a tranny-for-pay during a discussion of outing oneself at work. After I said that I worked for an LGBT rights organization I felt the room become a little quiet. I wonder if that was a reflection on LGBT organizations or simply a realization of anger that I could be so lucky to not only have a well-paying job but also have my identity respected with no questions asked. There is also a possibility that I sounded like I was bragging or boasting, but I can promise that I thought my comment was only relevant if I mentioned what my work environment was like.

The experience of finding myself in such an affirming space has me excited to return next week. Many of the exciting and talented people my partner hangs out with are strongly Queer, Bisexual, or Lesbian identified. They are all very welcoming to me, and I am always excited to be with them, however this can also mean that when I’m going through something very rough about my identity, I go through it alone. On my day off, for instance, I have a lot of time to be “in my head” telling myself stories and analyzing experiences to the point where I forget to open up and talk about them. I recently finished reading the rather disappointing Finding the Real Me: true tales of sex and gender diversity, and the woman writing the final essay, on butch identity, sums this up nicely:

“To this day I still struggle to remember to share my inner thoughts and feelings with friends and lovers that I trust. I’m so used to having an inner dialogue with ‘me, myself, and I’ as a solitary person that it’s hard for me to imagine saying really personal stuff out loud as a normal way of operating in the world” – Butch: a work in progress by Jay Copestake

*There was one comment that I want to write about later. I’m fitting it into a discussion of damali ayo’s work and also trying to maintain confidentiality, so it should be up by next week.

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