OK, so here’s the thing:
This is a post I didn’t want to write. I’ve been perfectly happy of late to stick with poetry and nonsense on the blog, and save my energies for my “real” writing. Yet I know that this desire to avoid, rather than confront, my feelings about something that might (gasp) force me to be sincere and serious for longer than 45 seconds isn’t healthy, and probably means I need to grow as a writer and a person.* It was therefore necessary that I force myself to write it anyway, since we all can’t be Ron Swanson, running off to a remote cabin to shoot fish instead of facing our problems.
Like most transwomen, I know who I am. I’m cognizant of the hand I’ve been dealt by fate, and I do my best to deal with it every day. That said, sometimes even I get frustrated with my situation.
I’ve been out for a decade or so now. I’ve undergone (now-interrupted, thanks to poverty) hormone and hair-removal treatments; I’ve changed my name; I’ve lived as a woman for about five years. I am especially blessed in that I have many, many very sweet friends who I know love and support me unconditionally. They are a wonderful group of people who manage to overlook the heapin’ helpin of neuroses that garnish the Claire Combo. Yet even my dearest friends are always quick to decry and deny one inescapable aspect of my person by which non-friends (i.e. 99% of humanity) immediately evaluate me:
I am a giant.
I am, to borrow a phrase, a Big Scary Mexican.
Now, I know that many of you out there are saying, “Claire, we know you are a Lane Bryant shopper, but surely you are not a giant. The Nephilim all died out centuries ago, except for the ones on that secret NBA farm no one is supposed to know about inside of Yucca Mountain. Also, you are scary, but not because you are big or a Mexican.”
This is because many of you have not had to share a ride in a foreign-made car with me.
Of all the challenges that accompany Gender Identity Disorder (or gender dysphoria, or whatever the hell we’re calling it this week), I think the fact that my mind was placed in a body designed to battle Godzilla in the ruins of Tokyo is the most frustrating.
Don’t get me wrong. I know we live in a size-ist, youth-obsessed world, where one’s worth is primarily determined by one’s resemblance to the sort of people who willingly wear American Apparel. I know that ALL women, everywhere, struggle with our body images, because no matter how slim, or beautiful, or dark and mysterious, or blonde and sunny, or curvy, or waifish, there is always someone or something telling us we are not good enough.**
Knowing this, however, does not always help when it is 3 AM and I am looking in the mirror thinking, “Why the fuck do you bother?”
In addition to the wonderful friends mentioned above, there have been other people in my life; people who have imparted to me such nuggets of wisdom as, “You know you’ll never be a REAL woman,” or “If you are attracted to women, why not just be a guy?” or (my personal favorite) “You are going to be SUCH an ugly woman.”
Yeah, I get it. I know that certain parts of my life would be easier if I had decided to go on pretending to be a guy. I’m sure I could’ve married one of my exes (lucky them!), had some kids, and died of either a “mysterious industrial accident” or some sort of gigantic soul-eating cancer that would’ve formed in my organs by the time I was 35. I would never have to put up with the sort of cocked-head, squinty-eyed evaluations that occasionally accompany my entrance into bars or social events, and I wouldn’t have to deal with the sort of bullshit encounters that involve “manly men” taking a swing at me in public. I would be safe inside The Male Privilege Bubble, and still praying for death.
Because that’s what I was doing, you know. I normally try to sugar-coat this sort of thing for people who feel bad if forced to acknowledge how close to the edge such misery can drive a person, but yeah, I wasn’t living. I was waiting to die. Because, let’s face it: a life lived as someone you’re not isn’t much of a life.
That’s why I had to come out, in the end. Even now, knowing just how expensive doing so really was (I lost friends, had devastating exchanges with my parents from which none of us have fully recovered, had some REALLY weird interactions with extended family members, and nearly put myself in the hospital twice from exhaustion and stress), I’d do it again in a heartbeat. Because you can’t put a price on integrity, in the end. Either you are willing to be your whole self, expectations be damned, or you decide to fake it and hope you draw better cards the next game.
Which brings us, at last, to the Big Scary Mexican.
Back in the dark ages of the early 90s, I found out from my (considerably) younger sister that certain people in her peer group had (without knowing my sister was related to me) taken to referring to me as “The Big Scary Mexican.” The stories about the BSM were varied and vague; did I carry a knife? Was it true I spoke only Spanish and menacing English phrases? Had I, in fact, shot a man in Reno just to watch him die?***
We laughed about the BSM at the time (and still do, occasionally), but to me the BSM represents everything that frustrates me about being transgendered and non-stealth (I should note that many people often assume I am a cisgendered woman, albeit one from a rock farm in Eastern Europe or recently escaped from Yucca Mountain). The Big Scary Mexican is the caricature I fear being seen as by a world that doesn’t have time for much beyond stereotypes and shorthand.
We all have prejudices and preconceived notions about people with whom we have only passing familiarity; I, for one, like to imagine that a particular clerk at a shop to which I occasionally give custom sings like Snow White when customers aren’t around, little animated animals crawling from behind the displays to perch on her outstretched forearms.
I like to imagine that NASCAR drivers have a hard time turning right when driving on the street.
I assume that the girls who work in Victoria’s Secret try on the merch and have extended, slow-mo pillow fights to the music of Bebel Gilberto every night after closing.
You get my point.
The BSM is a part of my past, but whenever I feel especially “blah,” or patently unpretty, or some doltish and uncouth jerkwad “clocks” me and insists on calling me “Sir,” my mind immediately goes to that place; I find myself wondering if everyone is secretly giving me the once-over to make sure I’m not concealing a bandolero of old-timey machine gun bullets or an anchor baby.
I wonder if by trying so hard to make this fleshy prison into some semblance of who I REALLY am is a fruitless and comically absurd gesture, like someone wearing their Halloween costume all year without apparent irony.
Of course, that last analogy doesn’t really hold up, since I am, in fact, trying to remove the fucking costume before it does me grievous harm.
That’s right, my life is Halloween III: Season of the Witch.
So why DO I bother, you may ask. Why keep plugging away, trying to whittle this dodecahedral peg to fit a round hole?****
For a long time, it was sheer cussedness (a necessary trait, I believe, if one is ever to accomplish one’s goals). Like quite a few transwomen, I was so eager to escape the “hideous boy” box and climb into the “magical princess” box that I failed to understand that the latter was as far from who I really am as the former. Time and experience have given me the gift of perspective; I know that, even if I were magically transformed tomorrow into Salma Hayek’s hotter sister, I would still be the type of woman who prefers ironic t-shirts, cargo pants and sweaters so powerfully nerdish that they make passersby assume that we are in a research library and that I work there, even if we are, in fact, on the freeway or in the middle of a lake. I am a sardonic, razor-tongued dyke with a tiny charcoal heart and the fashion sense of a developmentally-delayed wombat. I like geekery and smartassery and things that please my brain wrinkles. I like girls who look like they fell off a mudflap but swear like a sailor and will happily engage me on the subtext of Britomart’s rescue of Amoret. I am often uncertain about the future, and (like all clowns) scared to death of being alone.
Piss me off, and yeah, I AM a Big Scary Mexican.
But I’m also a woman who has come to understand at last the difference between seeming and being, and between assuming and knowing.
Sure beats waiting to die.
* Then again, it could just be gas. ** I was looking at photos of Christina Hendricks from the Emmy Awards and a passing acquaintance said, “Whoa, she’s kinda fat.” Dear Hordelings, it took everything in my power not to use the monitor as a bludgeon. If Christina Hendricks is fat, then what chance to mortal women have, I ask? WHAT CHANCE? *** I’ve got seven on me right now; That’s just racist; To be fair, he started it. **** That’s what she said.