Yesterday I had two different instructive adventures in trans.
The first was a visit to the Mechanics Institute Library and Chess Room in downtown San Fran. I have visited other chess clubs in other cities, including bullshitting my way in for a brief glance at the famed Marshall Chess Club in NYC, and based on that experience I was expecting something run down and seedy. Ha! The Institute is housed in a downtown highrise: imposing brass and glass doors, a uniformed attendant with a magnificent grey walrus moustache, spiralling marble stairs with ornate iron bannisters, 20-foot ceilings. Most of this was the library (members only), not the chess room, but still. The chess room was a pleasant space on the fourth floor with an attendant in an office. There were four long rows of old wooden tables with the chess boards built into them, and on the walls pictures of various chess legends who have passed through the club over the years. At four in the afternoon there were only about half a dozen players there, all older gentlemen. I played six or seven quick games and had a delightful time.
As noted in my previous post I wondered if my transness would cause a stir in the chess room, and perhaps discombobulate an opponent. What I forgot was that, while there are not huge numbers of trans chess players, I’ve hardly ever met a chess player who wasn’t eccentric some way or another. No one batted an eye, and my long list of places where my being trans doesn’t matter at all is now one place longer.
The other instructive trans adventure was a program called “Girl Talk” at the LGBT Community Center on Market Street. I had a couple of mistaken assumptions going in: One was that I was going to be attending a panel discussion between trans and cis-gendered women; it was actually an evening of spoken word performance. The other was that the topic would be what I deal with every day, which is the complex of connections and failures to connect between trans and straight cis women in the straight world. Silly me. The topic was the complex of connections and failures to connect between trans and Queer cis women in the Queer world.
All of the performers were talented writers and readers. There were some great lines and powerful insights, some very funny moments, some seriously artistic moments, and a great deal of community spirit. There was a lovely underpinning of vibrant activism. And, the audience was large, responsive, and enthusiastic. One comment: I could do with just a little less of the hard-driving short-phrased hip-hop-rhythmic poetry slam style of delivery...Honey, just talk to me...
I did garner one important political insight: clearly, even here, trans still struggles to establish and define itself within the larger context of LGBT culture. A great deal of work for change still lies ahead.
Now, in that room I got a strong sense of a nurturing, insular, and complete counter culture which I have the credentials to join if I want. Some aspects of this culture: a complex set of social rules; an emphasis on self...self-expression, self-actualization, self-consciousiness, self-involvement; and a stance of difference and defiance toward the straight world. I felt that I was standing at the center of the Queer universe...but I didn’t feel sure I belonged there.
Why not? First of all, most of the people in the room were ten to twenty younger than I. Second of all, a dominant theme of the evening was sex, which I don’t care about much these days. Thirdly, visiting all these big city folk from my little Maine town as I was, I was feeling rather provincial. And fourthly and most importantly, all my life I have lived and worked in the straight world. That hasn’t changed post gender-revelation; and by long habit and circumstance, if nothing else, that’s still where I feel at home. I am conducting my search for love in the world generally, not just within the Queer world. There’s at least a chance that I will end up partnered with a straight man. And, if I get facial feminization surgery, I will be able if I choose to pass almost all the time as a straight woman.
It seems I get to choose which world to live in. Is that an exclusive either/or choice? Can I change it depending on circumstance? Am I actually demonstrating that I am Queer by agonizing about whether I am or not? Who the hell am I really? I don’t have the answers to any of these questions.