Posted by: aronmwrites | May 28, 2008

Caution, road work ahead

Activism and advocacy can be tricky.  Issues are almost always, or at least should always be, close to the hearts of those that are most involved in the work.  But just like any other job, things can go wrong.  Sometimes terribly wrong.  Your boss could be a sadist.  Views of where a campaign should go – do we work on issue A by lobbying person X, or do we work on issue B by blockading building Y? – can be strikingly different.  A band of rabid monkeys could take over your office and slaughter all of your volunteers.  When and if anything goes wrong, emotions are heightened for all parties.  No one is there to make money or sell another product.   Everyone does this work because of “The Cause”. 

As much as anyone wants advocacy groups and non-profits to adhere to normal standards of workplace professionalism, often it seems impossible for people gain that kind of distance on the situation.  How could you possibly complain when they’re starting the groundbreaking for that mall development in the endangered butterfly habitat tomorrow?  How can you possibly be working too much when everyone, everywhere in the world doesn’t have adequate healthcare yet?

Hopefully you get the picture. 

This is all a roundabout way of saying that I quit my job with the transgender advocacy organization.  I’m still in the fellowship program at the other LGBt non-profit.  But my “dream job”?  I quit.  About three weeks ago.

I’m still processing what led to this resolution.  Suffice to say, it wasn’t rabid monkeys.  Lack of organizational capacity to adequately support staff, embedded conflicts of interest, and an abusive working relationship with a hypothetical boss all played their parts.  On thing I can say for certain is that I’m unlikely to ever take a paying position with a small non-profit again. 

But I haven’t really left yet.  Boxes and bins and piles of my work for them lay strewn across our apartment.  They’re the white elephant in the living room.  I am unwilling to touch them, to admit that my hopes and expectations for what seemed the most perfect job ever will never be fulfilled.  Every time I step lightly around the precariously stacked papers, books, and other materials, the weight of them in the room seems heavier.  They expand to take up more and more space. 

I love community organizing.  What could be better than for a genderqueer person that believes strongly in healthcare access to organize the trans and gender-variant communities around healthcare access issues?   And get paid for it?

Apparently a lot. 

I’ve never felt further from the trans and gender-variant communities than I do today.  I’ve also never felt more confused about my transition (which seems indefinitely on hold) or about my identification, both inside and outside of the community.  Who knew that working to gain better healthcare access for others to transition would make me question my own process so much?  And who knew that gender-variant and trans were so at odds with one another?  That I could feel the most invisible in terms of my expression and understanding of my own gender identity while working among other gender advocates?

I need to detox.  I need the ruins of my failed job out of my life.  And I need some distance and perspective. 

It seems that most people gather the strength to live openly, honestly, and genuinely from the support of those in their community.  I believe I may need the opposite – to push as far away as possible into my own little bubble to make a decision that is for me and for no one else.  I need to determine if my questions come purely from work that was too inter-meshed with my personal life and identity/identities, or if I’ve hit on something bigger.  

The first step is getting the campaign materials out of our living room.  Then maybe I can begin to decide if a genderqueer person is able to both transition to being fully male-identified while holding space outside a normative gender binary.  I thought I could do that as a genderqueer transman.  One foot in genderqueer, one foot in transgender.  Maintaining this complexity seems to challenge the identities of others far too much, however, for their own comfort.  I’m a threat to their being seen and becoming “real” – whatever real means. 

Organizing in the trans community has shown me its internal division.  Constant battling for basic rights can result in ugliness in any community due to the perverse powers of identity politics.  I was just unaware that the raw lines that divide the trans community also divide me in half.  Hopefully I can find wholeness without having to divest myself of large portions of my own identity, as well as finding a place from which to do advocacy that truly unites and strengthens rather than divides and tears down.  

For now, I can at least say that I am stepping back from formalized trans advocacy work that is highly visible within the community, at least until I clear my own head.  Whether or not I step away from transgender and into something else remains to be seen.  They’re all just words, right?  Doesn’t seem that way, somehow.

(An aside:  Has anyone else had a similar experience vis-a-vis conflicts within the trans community?  What about more generally between genderqueer identities and transitioning?)

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Responses

  1. “The first step is getting the campaign materials out of our living room. Then maybe I can begin to decide if a genderqueer person is able to both transition to being fully male-identified while holding space outside a normative gender binary. I thought I could do that as a genderqueer transman. One foot in genderqueer, one foot in transgender. Maintaining this complexity seems to challenge the identities of others far too much, however, for their own comfort. I’m a threat to their being seen and becoming “real” – whatever real means. ”

    Boy, can I relate to this paragraph!! I identify very much as a genderqueer transguy. I try to explain to people that I’m transsexual, as in changing my sex, but that my gender actually remains the same: genderqueer. My own special little blend, my own special little brand of androgyny. It’s just that I want that in a male body.

    Yes, it is hard to reconcile sometimes. My outward gender expression is on the boyish side so I wonder myself sometimes. But I feel it very strongly. Being genderqueer and hating the male-female binary system that was imposed on me was a barrier to my decision to transition for a long time.

    As for it making it hard to deal with other trans folk, sometimes I find that. I do know some transsexuals who adhere very strongly to the binary and are comfortable with it. Some of them are OK with others being genderqueer, and accept me the way I am. Others are really freaked out by it because it somehow rocks the boat that they are trying to keep still.

    As for community work, I love it too. I was involved with a bi group for a number of years as a volunteer. I got sick of it because it gets hard to do advocacy on an issue that is so close. It often felt like my politics and my sexuality were too enmeshed and I couldn’t enjoy either anymore. Not that they aren’t connected anymore but I try to maintain a balance.

    Lately, I’ve been asked to be more involved in the local trans group but, in spite of my strong drive to want to get involved, I’ve been keeping my distance, only doing little things like French to English translation.

    My advocacy these days is mostly centered on Native rights. A bit close since I am part Native by blood but not THAT close since I was never raised in a Native culture and haven’t suffered the oppression that Native people face in Canada.

  2. Obviously I have no experience at all WITHIN the trans or queer communities, but I have seen many of the same people who claim to be breaking down categories – in many areas, not just gender identity or sexual orientation – simply creating new ones. I’m glad I know you, even if we don’t really talk any more, because you remind me that people are people. I admire you for searching for the place where you can be yourself, instead of falling into the trap of searching for someone else’s category.

    I’m sorry I’ll miss you while you’re in Sacramento.

  3. Moe,

    You’re ferocious. I admire you because you exercise your identity however messy it may be for yourself, or others.

    Like Jacky I related to this portion of your post a great deal:

    “Then maybe I can begin to decide if a genderqueer person is able to both transition to being fully male-identified while holding space outside a normative gender binary. I thought I could do that as a genderqueer transman. One foot in genderqueer, one foot in transgender. Maintaining this complexity seems to challenge the identities of others far too much, however, for their own comfort. I’m a threat to their being seen and becoming “real” – whatever real means.”

    It touched me because knowing you has challenged my own identity in a way that I was looking for it to be challenged.

    I think its been interesting to look at myself, how people perceive me, how I see myself. We have a great deal in common… Masculine ID-ed, unruly Curly Hair, Critical Theorists, Class of ’07, OCD!, too smart for our own good (LOL), addressed TOO often by the wrong pronoun!

    I could go on…But suffice to say that I am thankful to you; for existing. I appreciate your whole self, genderqueer, transman, everything that you once were and all that you will become. And I hope that you begin to find peace. I hope that we both do.

    I think the problem in working in our advocacy type positions, where the issue hits too close to home, is we can see where the work is falling short. It pains us to see it done poorly and it’s frustrating when are endlessly taunted by what we are seemingly unable to change.

    I am sorry that your “dream job” gave you so much grief, and I know that it indeed gave you that, but I hope that you will be able to see the positive. Perhaps that experience was a needed push to get you thru this next patch of discovering who you are. And perhaps it will challenge you to create your dream job on your own terms.

    Ok I’ll stop there because I feel like I’m beginning to sound a little bit too much like THE SECRET.

    Paz Homie!

  4. “What about more generally between genderqueer identities and transitioning?”

    Yup. When I was 14, I realized that I didn’t feel like a “woman”, but I didn’t feel like a man, either, so I totally rejected transitioning. A few years later, I discovered genderqueer, and I decided that’s what I felt like.

    Now I want to transition my body and my pronouns, while retaining some of my “female” nature somewhere. I’ve been considering partial transition: taking T for a year or so, then stopping (if the medical establishment lets me).
    But I’m still grappling with the choices.

    Thanks for keeping this blog!


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