By Rebecca Martin
Rebecca Martin is a local transgender rights activist and educator. She has been heard on CBC radio speaking with Ramona Dearing and the late John Furlong. She shares her knowledge and thoughts in community advocacy presentations on transgender issues, and writes about being a transgender woman in Newfoundland through her blog Trans On The Rock.
I’ve had this post in mind since before Christmas. I’d imagine I’m not the only one that gets caught in an ocean of nostalgia this time of year and reflecting on the last year I realized how different things have become.
It actually came to mind last night, how much my own feelings have changed. It’s easy to see these changes when the feelings smack you in the face. The contentment of seeing my now quite feminine body looking back at me in the mirror, the turmoil and close to defeat that I feel when I register I still have a penis, the warm glow from being treated a certain way by men and women (mostly men) that obviously see “woman” when they see me, These are all those sort of feelings, the kind that you can’t help but notice. It was last night though that I realized sometimes it’s the total absence of a feeling that has the impact.
It hit me last night that I have only lived a few years of my life not feeling totally caged in by life. The absence of a struggle that seemed so eternal and intrinsic that it was part of my base understanding of humanity. I assumed everyone lived like that, and if you listen to most people I think it’s difficult to not see it that way. My mistake back then was misunderstanding the degrees of struggle.
When you have only your mind to compare things to, you can make a lot of false assumptions, I’m starting to realize. I don’t like to say these sort of things often, if at all, but it has been a part of my journey to recovery coming to terms with how much “worse” the war of being transgender is compared to the troubles the average person has. So lemmie quantify that a bit.
The reason it has been part of my recovery is because my mind worked like this: Friend or relative so-and-so figured out years ago what they wanted to do in life (career, family, etc) and here I am trying to figure out if I’m a boy or a girl? If I’m attracted to boys or girls? How fucking far behind am I? How stupid am I?
The fact that I had no workable answers to the most simplest of self questions made me feel less than everyone else who seemed to have those figured out and are moving on with their lives. The reality is that explains exactly how little footing a trans person has in which to start their life’s journey. When you can’t answer these basic questions, how can you be expected to answer anything else?
I think I’ll leave getting deeper in to this for another post. What I wanted to talk about here is how I was unconsciously, by all parties involved, relieved of a feeling I couldn’t identify until after it was gone.
As some of you may know, I’ve been working with, volunteering for and partaking in the services of the women’s center in my little city. I can honestly say, I’ve never met such an amazing group of people. The sort of people that make a successful business person think “What the hell have I been doing with my life?”. The amount of aid these women give is staggering, outweighed only by the demand and their desire to help.
I entered their little world kinda from the side door. A presentation I was giving to them ended up in an invitation to join them, basically. It didn’t take too long before the center ended up being a reasonable chunk of my life. At first I had a lot of mixed feelings, the more pleasant of which being two things, I was helping people and I was doing something decidedly not “male” for lack of better terms. I had some worries and concerns too. Tokenism was one and a total sense of not belonging being the other. The tokenism is easy to explain, I was simply worried that I was being asked along mainly for them to ride the “transwave” that’s currently happening in North America. Honestly I only bothered myself with that thought because I have learned it is something I sorta need to guard against.
The sense of not belonging was the meat of the problem though. I felt like I was given the key to a room that I was told all of my life that I don’t belong in. The place is hyper feminine, I don’t mean girly, I mean anything you can think of that a woman needs or does or puts up with in her day to day life, it’s going on there. There is a massive, gargantuan, sun sized difference between being a man (a perceived man) in and amongst a woman’s world and being a woman in that world. That difference is the epicenter of both my longing and my mundane needs and wants that were never recognized in my long past.
I said all parties involved we unconsciously participating but as I write I think it was mostly me being unaware of just how empathic and caring these ladies are. There was a time during the year that I was going through a hard time and I started to pull away from them, and well everyone. Not only was I given my space and respect and offered help, a few of them were honestly, sly enough, to keep me from severing all ties. I seen it for what it was, and couldn’t help but cry a little, and then thank them a lot.
It was the comradery that women in these positions have. The sort that is built from seeing hundreds if not thousands of women come and go through most if not all of the horrors readily available for women to find themselves in. I think, in a sense, that’s how they are seeing me, a woman with a serious issue that will take time to work through.
I’ll end this with a little story that sums up brilliantly why I feel these women are so special. To me specifically, but undoubtedly to many people in their lives.
We had a little Christmas gathering for S.H.O.P., our/my little corner of the center at large. There was food and gifts, all of the trappings of a good Christmas party. One thing I didn’t know beforehand was two of the girls, the two I deal with the most, had stockings for the women to randomly choose for themselves. I’m not big on getting gifts myself, just a quark of mine, so I let everyone go ahead and took the last one home with me. After I got home I took a look at what was in the stocking. There was shampoos, makeup, bath supplies and the last thing to register what they were, tampons.
I think I had maybe a solid 2 seconds of puzzlement. “Hey what are those? Oh…..”
Followed by uncontrollable laughter.
It was an honest to goodness, laugh out loud, belly laugh. I honestly can’t tack down all of the feelings and thoughts I had at the time because there was just too many, I can place two though. First off I thought, “oh my god, I love these women” and second was the sense of making it through some unspoken, unknown, rite of passage.
It’s not like they didn’t know I had no use for them. It’s not like they didn’t have any opportunity to go out of their way to make sure I didn’t get tampons of all things for Christmas. The point is they either chose not to concern themselves, which is great, or it never occurred to them, which is even better. And I have reason to believe it was the latter, laziness playing not that small of a role, lol. (love you girls 😉 )
But that’s what I love about it. However you slice it, I was treated as “one of the girls” for the first conscious time in my life. I think the laughter was the only way I could have handled all of the emotions involved. It is one of those very rare occasions that I’m stuck with the total lack of English vocabulary to describe or explain in any meaningful way the intense feelings I was having. In fact it was more like the whole of the emotions I was having at the time was greater than the parts added together, equating to some kind of new feeling with no word for it yet.
Ultimately this little situation made me look back on a feeling I no longer have. Sorting that out is why it has taken me since Christmas to now to get this actually written. The sense of belonging that has been given to me by the women at the center had me suddenly reflecting on the lack of belonging I had always felt. Honestly, I don’t feel like I “belong” in the women’s center. As much as I enjoy the work I’m not as educationally qualified to be there as the majority of the women there are. I’m totally ok with that, I love the place, but the feeling I have isn’t like the feeling of belonging to an organization or a club. The sense of belonging I was given from them has been one of belonging to a gender. I feel far more at ease, more welcome, more myself, and more among others like me when around women for the first time in my life and it is almost entirely because of my time, experience and friendship with the women of the center.
The feelings of bitter uniqueness, of forced mental solitary confinement are gone, fluttered away. Beaten off by a few feminine hygiene products.