Trans anger

“How can it be that the continuing anger of the trans community keeps surprising me?”

Jill Soloway, creator of the television series Transparent, first encountered trans anger when they cast cis man Jeffrey Tambor in the role of the parent who comes out to his (her) family as trans. In She Wants It, the book about the series and Soloway’s journey from straight mother of two to identifying as queer and non-binary, they relate how by season four trans people were involved in every part of the production. And yet Soloway, despite becoming close to many of the trans people working for them, was still often startled by the anger that surfaced when they discussed the series.

Because I immersed myself in it when I was young, “the continuing anger of the trans community” doesn’t surprise me. I grew up in transphobic times when we had no say in how we were being portrayed. I considered most of what I saw as a form of hate against me and people like me, and I raged against it. That I had no place to express my anger only made it worse. I lived in a state of perpetual rage until it became a threat to my mental well-being.

I suspect my experience of anger isn’t far different from that of other trans people, maybe not so different from that of other oppressed groups. In Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, Shylock addresses the antisemitism he’s experienced by asking “if you wrong us, shall we not revenge? If we are like you in the rest, we will resemble you in that.” It’s human nature to lash out at our perceived enemies, but for trans people our anger seems at times to rise to another level. And it is not often our friend.

There are both political and personal reasons for that.

While righteous anger can feel cathartic, and it may even for a time motivate us to try to change the world, at some point we need to let it go. Changing minds is done the slow, hard way by calm reasoned argument not by hurling abuse. I know this is hard. You need to have the patience of a Zen Master to transform your rage into persuasion and explanation, but that’s what we need to do.

Transphobes know our anger, maybe better than we do. The Wild Women Writing Club claimed the reason they were using pseudonyms in attacking Torrey Peter’s novel Detransition, Baby was “because of the threat of harassment by trans extremists.” They make their transphobia sound reasonable and make us sound like the ones filled with hate. It’s an effective strategy, and yet our anger ensures that we keep falling into their trap.

When you’re in a rage, you’re not being rational and you say some regrettable things.

Let’s be clear. The oppression of women is the original sin of all oppressions. Women are our natural allies against the patriarchy. That some women don’t see that should not be a reason to fling invective at them. All women need to be respected. Our fury is no excuse for our behaviour.

This is where our anger crosses over from damaging us politically to damaging us personally. We hold onto it because we feel its righteousness and because no one can take that away from us. It becomes part of us, but it hurts people too, and it’s not something we should cherish.

When you’ve nurtured your anger for some time it is not something you can drop when you finally decide you’ve had enough of it. It doesn’t work that way. It seeds itself in you. When it’s not serving you any longer, you can’t just root it all out. Part of the rage that almost consumed me when I was young is still lodged somewhere in my psyche. At this point in my life, it serves absolutely no purpose. When it rises again it distorts my reality and disturbs my peace of mind. I’m old enough that it is no danger to my well-being, but I loathe this remnant of my youth, this transphobic wound that has taken so long to heal.

I have no illusions that this little essay on trans anger will change anything. Trans people are always in somebody’s cross-hairs and we’re tired of it. You give as good as you get. We would, however, do much better with more light and less heat. We would be wise also to heed Michelle Obama’s advice: “When they go low, we go high.”