That Old Familiar Feeling
Trans people need community more than most. We’re also especially good at making life hard for each other.
At the beginning of my transition, I would go to the big chain bookstore in the strip mall at the edge of town and buy any book written by a trans person.
I had moved to a semi-rural area (hence the only bookstore being a big chain inside a strip mall). There was not much in the way of “trans community,” and what there was centered around the local college, so the people were much younger than I was. It felt creepy to be involved. I had come out in my late thirties — not late, for a trans person of my generation, but my experience of being seen as a straight wine mom did not prepare me to interact with other queers, and I knew it. There was a culture of which I was largely ignorant. There were rules I never learned how to follow.
So my relationship to gender was mediated (isn’t it always) by capitalism. I could not meet another trans man who could tell me how to behave, but I could shop for one. I could buy distilled trans expertise, and tell myself I was putting money back into “the community;” I was engaged in political action, redistributing my middle-class cash to support people I had never met, but whose welfare was, nonetheless, my business.
I went on trans book sprees, shopped my way into a sense of community, until I had been out at work for about six months, at which point until I discovered — accidentally, by clicking a Twitter thread in which several prominent trans men and mascs were discussing me — that on at least two occasions, I had bought (and vocally recommended!) a book by someone who hated me.
These authors didn’t hate people like me; they didn’t disagree with me or dislike my general aesthetic. These authors literally hated me, me personally, the dude who had recently given them money. At another moment, this might have been annoying. To a middle-aged author with a sometimes-willfully-controversial public presence — which is what I am, on paper — it’s just part of the job.
To a shy eleven-year-old boy on his first day of school, which is what I was emotionally and even hormonally at the time, it was devastating. I cried for days. I was on vacation. I stared…