I don't think it was any particular moment, or mishap, or even a word spoken that changed my outlook on life. It was just that one morning I woke up sick and tired of reading about transgender people being murdered, or caught up in some legal case, that informed my thoughts on the power of language. And then I decided to do something about it. But, now I'm doing something about it by discharging words and learning to lighten up.
You see, I was raised up in the American South, in a family with religious and racial minorities. I was called a sissy from an early age, and I remember vividly in sixth grade being called a homosexual. Yes, it was that word. Not gay or nelly -- it was homosexual. The word stung me, and it hurt. Mostly during the same time on the evening news I would hear about the "homosexual cancer," or how the "homosexual activists" were fighting for their rights. I remember the boy who called me a homosexual, and who couldn't have known he would impact me in such a way. Some years after high school, that boy allegedly killed his estranged girlfriend and her boyfriend, and then turned the gun on himself. It's odd how we remember such small details of a lifetime when only a word is mentioned.
On my journey to womanhood, I stumbled often and had a number of medical issues, which set back my transition. Each time, I pulled myself together and I continued to seek medical treatment to properly align my physical self with my gender identity. It was hard. It is hard. There are great guidebooks to help and there are therapists and support groups. But, transitioning is truly a highly personal experience that can frustrate and confuse and exhaust the person who is going through it. There are hormones involved, which some days seem like hits of speed and other days make one a moody and emotional wreck. Volumes have been written about transition, so I won't get further into the technicalities of the subject. Just keep in mind that I have been through it, and I still go through it. Every. Day.
Back to my thoughts on language. Probably because I was a fat, feminine, nebbish child, I grew a thick skin early on. While some might say I internalized or never fully processed the hateful words and taunts hissed at me, I think I just turned to humor to deflect it all. I was always a great lover of comedy, and I quickly figured out that being the fat, funny, sissy was the ticket!
That went well until around the tenth grade. The November of my junior year, my very best friend died. I was too young, and going through too many changes to have to deal with death. You see, we were BFFs! Instead of just one outsider, we were two outsiders, and two was a better match than the lone weirdo. My friend died, and there I was: The outsider, weirdo, sissy who grieved so deeply that I, too, wanted to die. How would I ever survive?
A lot of years went by and many mistakes were made, but humor was a constant source of self-amusement in my life. I learned from very wise people that life is too short to take it so seriously. One such wise man was my great-grandfather who lived to be 94, and he kept his spirit of love and sense of humor up until the end. My life, like most reading this, has been no cake walk. There have been tremendous blows and setbacks. There has been more than one night spent in a psychiatric hospital. There has even been disease, poverty and disability. But, I'm still here. And so are you!
I wanted to tell you about all of these tough times (and I didn't even get into the really heavy stuff) because I want you, gentle reader, to lighten up! Yes, words do hurt and they yield powers, which can conjure bad thoughts. But, words can also be comforting and warm and gentle to our tortured souls. If you are like me (G-d help you!), you have forgotten that we have power over words. Just like your grandmother told you: Nobody can put you in hell, and nobody can make you something you ain't. Well, maybe your grandma didn't say that, but if you were Southern, she would have. The point is that there are a million and one beautiful things about you to not get frustrated over what you may hear on a television show, or read on a website. Your ability to have lived this many years in a world such as this means you are a survivor.
I have recently gotten involved with policing words and changing my personal lexicon in concern for care and sensitivity. I understand that many privileged people have not been called ugly words, or had their souls stomped on very often. And, for their comfort, and for the new generation of LGBTQ children coming up, I have chosen to be as good of an example as I can. I don't think any less of any of my cohorts who do not wish to be role models. I am still a fan of those in our community who are so punk rock that they have adopted certain loaded words to self-identify. Rock on, darlings! Just remember that there are indeed still prejudices and still impressionable minds who hear and see everything going on.
I had a really good talk with Lady Bunny last week. I don't think she would mind me writing about our phone conversation. What she wanted to know was why people were so worked up over the language used on a reality television show. I gave Bunny the spiel about responsibility and GLAADs best practices, and all of that. Miss Lady Bunny shrieked in my ear something about why in the world anyone would seek role models from television shows?
That reminded me that entertainment and information should and must remain separate for us to continue having any sort of national sense of humor. There it was. Just like that, I realized I had turned into one of those humorless drones who polices the media looking for a fight. That was never the type of transgender role model I signed up to be. I want to gently educate, to calmly correct. Not to yell screaming to the top of my lungs that someone on TV used an incorrect word, and must be fired! That's not me and it never was. I'm constantly evolving and so are my thoughts, but I will remain that same trans woman raised on punk rock and Aqua Net fumes. I'm flawed and scarred, and beautifully imperfect, and to quote another wonderfully flawed role model, "I'm here to recruit you."