Authors: S. Bear Bergman
Listen, no one is saying you should have surgery, or that you should take hormones, or that there’s anything better or worse about any of those options. Well, not true—people are. Other people have all sorts of opinions about what transpeople should or should not do to or with our bodies. I am here to say you can freely ignore them. But I am also here to say that that is, in itself, a miraculous thing. Transpeople have a lot of choices about how we embody ourselves, and I don’t just mean physically. We are none of us doing it exactly the way they did it at home. Okay, some things: I am making my grandmother’s chicken soup the exact same way she makes it, and I’m not giving that up. But overall, we have already learned that there is more than one right way. We have already learned that we can remain true to our hearts’ desires. That we should.
And some of us are making changes to our bodies. We’re taking hormones, we’re having surgeries, we’re at the gym, we’re in the bathroom with a secret tube of mascara brushing it onto our lashes or trying to make our goatees look a little thicker . . . um, maybe that’s just me. But regardless, we have our ways. We are making our ways, and we’re looking in the mirror every morning for signs of change, and when they happen we are so excited! So pleased to be moving toward what we need to look like, how we need to walk through the world, what it is we need to see when we examine our reflections in the mirror for ourselves. We’ve taken change in hand, and we’ve made it, and that is so satisfying. It is like living in a house you built yourself, paddling down the river in a canoe you built with your best friend, making something with great tenderness and great care that will serve you forever and give you a lot of pleasure. And that is why it is
to be trans.
While we’re talking about pleasure, can I just say this? Queers and transfolk have great sex. We do. No one wants to talk about this. There is a movement afoot in North America that says sex is frivolous and selfish, that if we talk about sex we will not be taken seriously, and so we edit it out. We have learned that when we talk about sex, it makes the religious fundamentalists go bat shit crazy and start lighting up the phone lines, and so we have stopped. We censor ourselves. And that is not fair. Sex is great! It’s fun, it feels good, it’s good for us—and let me tell you the truth about this. The fundamentalist right wing is not going to like us any better if we don’t talk about sex. They will not. They already think we’re irredeemably perverted freakshows, so let ’em. I am not going to pretend I don’t care about sexual pleasure in order to appease a group of people who are never, ever going to be happy with me anyway. Are you really prepared to let a group of mean strangers guide your life? Guide it more than your own pleasure? Your own wellness?
Queers and trannies, as a group, have better sex. I am sure of this, even though I can’t prove it. I can prove that people who have sex an average of once per week over the course of their lifetimes live longer and report much higher satisfaction with their lives, or at least I can point to the research that says so, and I want us all to live longer. As an elder, I want my world to be populated with old queers and trannies sitting around on the porch telling activist stories and raising up young people into our culture and dropping our napkins repeatedly so that the hunky nursing assistants have to bend down and get them. Ahem. So I’m just going to say this like it’s a fact—we are having better sex. We are having amazing, transformative, delicious sex. We started learning about our genders, many of us, through sex, and we learned that we can be anything we want while we’re fucking. That’s a lot of power, right there; a lot of possibility. While we’re busy doing things our own way, nowhere does that exist more than in bed (or alleyway or backseat or over the arm of the couch or whatever you’ve got going on). We already know that we can try on, or try out, new ways of relating, new genders, new sensibilities. We have already learned to communicate about sex, to say please touch me here and not there, please call my parts this or that, please touch me in a way that makes me feel okay about myself. We’ve already learned that we can choose not to have sex with people who won’t sign on to our comfort as a high priority, and we’ve learned that if you break the barrier and talk about how you want to be touched, you get to have much better sex.
Much better sex. I am just sayin’.
And we know how to try things out—do we not?—how to evaluate them to see if they are working. And again, we are not so excited as all that about How Everyone Says You’re Supposed to Do It, which is a key point for great, hot, intimate, transformative fucking. We do what feels good. We do what makes us shiver. We are not measuring ourselves against porno robots, and we are not letting ourselves get bullied into the idea that there’s only one acceptable way to have sex (which often suspiciously matches what the bully in question wants to do). Not that this has never happened to any of us, but we know better now. We know how to say no, thank you, to that. We know how to hold ourselves and others to the higher standard of what actually works for us, in our bodies, right now. And if you’re not there yet, honey, come on in—the water’s fine. It is okay to want to have sex, it is okay to want to have great sex, and it is okay to want to have playful sex, perverted sex, solo sex, partnered sex, group sex, tender sex, rough sex—all of it. And if all the hot tranny sex isn’t a good enough reason to say it’s
to be trans, then the fact that a university has paid me to come here today and remind you about it is.
We do know how to talk about things, and we know how to share information. We, as a trans community, take on the task of teaching our youngsters and caring for them, whether or not they are chronologically younger than us. We step up to that plate. We are aware that we are needed, that our experience is valuable, that there are people in the world who are tentatively standing in front of the exact same hurdles that we have already cleared, nervously looking at the same flaming hoops we have jumped through, and here is where we are amazing as a community. We do provide advice about hurdle clearing and hoop jumping and fire safety. We say, step here and push off this way. Wear long sleeves. We loan each other money for better metaphorical running shoes. We have even knocked down some of those hurdles for the next people who come along after us. We have extinguished some of those flames. We have not just learned how to master the system, we have started to dismantle it. We are educating doctors and agitating about the Harry Benjamin Standards and establishing WPATH to do better. We are passing along our therapists’ names after they have already been pretrained about trans stuff and queer stuff. My therapist likes to joke that I have made him a lot more interesting at cocktail parties. Those of us who are further along, who have more access and privilege and money and power, have used those resources to clear the way for the ones coming up behind us, and you know how rare that is.
You know how much our culture encourages us to consolidate power, to expand privilege, to climb the ladder and then pull it up behind us. But we don’t do that. When I was outlining my vision a minute ago about being old trannies together in the old folks’ home, raising up our youngsters, everyone nodded along with me. We share a vision that this is vital to the survival of our community, and we are willing to put in some time to mentor the next generation. We are willing to talk about the parts of our experience that are hard for us, even though it would be easier for us to bury them, because we know that information is needed and may help some person we don’t even know yet.
We share information, we trade experiences, we field hysterical middle-of-the-night phone calls, we swap doctor referrals. We talk about the great parts. We hand down our clothes and our packers and binders and gaffs and falsies and wigs and spirit gum and who knows what all else. We talk about surgeries, if we’ve had them, and how they turned out and how much they cost and if we liked our doctors; we show each other our scars, our actual tender places. We make casseroles for the next person having surgery, and we offer to clean their bathrooms for them on week two because only trannies know that the second week after surgery is the moment at which you’re finally well enough to be horrified at how grungy your bathroom is but still a little too sore to do much about it. We understand, as a community, that we can take care of each other and we have made a decision, as a community, that we should, even when it’s scary. Even when it involves nakedness, or hard conversations, or a toilet brush. And so we do not leave our newest members alone to prove themselves. We help them and we ease their way and we try to get them through the first parts better than we managed when we were there—and that?—that is why it is
to be trans.
And while we are evolving, and helping and negotiating and fucking, we are learning like crazy. We are learning how to speak righteously (and not, I am hopeful, self-righteously). But when we are shoved out of our comfort zone, when we recognize that we were born into an enemy camp, we learn how to talk. How to talk about ourselves, how to talk to others, how to explain, how to debate. How to ask questions that lead people to the answers we want them to come to, how to break it down. And while I am endlessly frustrated with the way society feels like it can ask any transperson or genderqueer person or gender-adjacent person any kind of rude or intimate or insulting or probing question anytime it likes, I am also aware that we are using this to our advantage. People think I am crazy when I say this, but I firmly, absolutely believe that a team of transpeople could negotiate a solution to almost any problem, that there should be crackerjack all-tranny negotiation and mediation squads ready to deploy at a moment’s notice (and if you think that I have already figured out a totally cute uniform for this squad, you would be correct). But tell me: who has more experience existing on both sides of a border? Who has more experience reframing conflicting or contradictory pieces of information until they eventually complement each other? Who has more experience in continuing to sit down with those who are screaming and crying until they can get their acts together and talk like grown people? And in the real world, we can do it in a walk—and this is why it’s
to be trans.
Now, are there bad things? Of course there are. Could I give just as long a speech about them? Of course I could. But what I am here to say today, in addition to speaking about all the ways in which being a tranny is fabulous, sexy, honorable, and a good job skill, is to say that we do not have to be defined by the bad things. We can choose to create and tell another story about being trans, one in which the story does not stop when hardships are overcome. A story that makes our triumphs as powerful as our tragedies, that makes our triumphs more powerful than our tragedies, no matter how much the Nice Liberal Ladies who want us to Tell Our Stories encourage us to lean on the hard parts. We can say: “My happy and successful adult life is at least as important as my miserable childhood.” We can say: “The hot sex I get to have now is just as valid as the years of celibacy when I never let anyone touch me because I couldn’t bear it. ” We can say: “All those years I wore clothes I hated are not as important as how fucking fabulous I look now. ” We can speak up and speak out about our wellnesses, our pleasures, our satisfactions, and we can choose not to internalize the message that we are pathetic or deceptive creatures.
We can quit practicing the dramatic monologue all the damn time and instead do a little stand-up, and maybe a musical number. We can have a little fun. We may be starting off in life with an especially odiferous batch of shit-smelling compost, some of us, but please let us stop pruning back the gorgeous flowers and the delicious, nourishing vegetables, and the sweet, sweet fruits that grow in the compost so we can point to the mound of shit more effectively. Put the damn shears down. Those good and sweet things? You did that. That is the fruit of your labor, yours and all of ours. That is the gorgeous ground you have cultivated with your hard work and your tender patience and your skills and abilities. Sit and enjoy what is growing, enjoy how far you’ve come from the mound of shit. Enjoy the people who helped you mulch and hoe and cultivate when there was not much to look at and everything was dirty and it stunk and they stood by you anyway. Revel in it. Sit in the sunshine of having come as far as you have with one of those flowers in your hatband and feel warmed by it. Send some flowers to the worst bully of your childhood, who may still be suffering in the dirty muck of meanness and shame. And then invite everyone you know and like over to dinner. Invite them over, and cook them some of those gorgeous, delicious vegetables that you raised up with your own gorgeous, capable hands, and sit and talk. Sit down with your shared bounty, and talk about how
it is to be trans.
S. BEAR BERGMAN is an author of two books and three award-winning solo stage shows, a storyteller, a gender-jammer, and a good example of what happens when you overeducate a contrarian. Ze is also a longtime activist on behalf of queer and trans youth. Bear lives in Southern Ontario with hir husband j wallace, and works at the points of intersection between and among gender, sexuality, and culture (spending most of hir time keeping people from installing traffic signals there).