Laurie Toby Edison

Photographer

Trapped in the Wrong Body … Maybe, Maybe Not.

Laurie and Debbie say:

The oh-so-common cultural narrative of trans people is that they were born “trapped in the wrong body.” Of course, while this is the lived experience of many people, nobody’s story is simple.

Writing in Buzzfeed, Thomas Page McBee takes on the belief that “trapped in the wrong body” and trans are the same thing.

in the two years since I began injecting testosterone, I’ve grown increasingly suspect of the fascination with the “trapped” narrative. From talk shows to The New York Times, trans children to celebrities, the idea that trans folks are tragic or even heroic saddens me, because within the pity and pithy hope they generate lies a darker reality: The sensational portrayals dehumanize trans folks by making us strange. If I’ve learned anything by living in this body, it’s that when anyone’s dehumanized, we all are.

We’re more alike than not. Here’s my story: I saw myself, like a sculptor sees a face in the stone, become clearer and clearer with each passing day. I got to work on the business of being, constructing an approximation out of Ace bandages, then swagger, then surgery, then testosterone. I grew, over time, to be the man I am; and though I’ve felt the panic of dysphoria, I mostly had the sense of evolving. I didn’t feel trapped, exactly — only a sense of becoming.

McBee’s point is that sensationalism is dehumanizing. We take that one step further:

Single narratives are dehumanizing.
In her exquisite TED talk, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie applies this principle to xenophobia (fear of strangers):

When I left Nigeria to go to university in the United States. I was 19. My American roommate was shocked by me. She asked where I had learned to speak English so well, and was confused when I said that Nigeria happened to have English as its official language. She asked if she could listen to what she called my “tribal music,” and was consequently very disappointed when I produced my tape of Mariah Carey. She assumed that I did not know how to use a stove.

What struck me was this: She had felt sorry for me even before she saw me. Her default position toward me, as an African, was a kind of patronizing, well-meaning pity. My roommate had a single story of Africa: a single story of catastrophe. In this single story there was no possibility of Africans being similar to her in any way, no possibility of feelings more complex than pity, no possibility of a connection as human equals.

In his article about trans narratives, McBee goes on to talk about an upcoming British movie, My Genderation,, a documentary designed, says Raphael Francis Fox, one of the directors, to “provide a window on what it’s like to be trans* in modern-day Britain, without shock tactics or upsetting the person being interviewed.” (There’s a six-minute trailer at McBee’s blog post, and a lot of film clips at the movie link.)

What’s true of of complex trans stories is true of all human stories. “Why should you care about our stories,” says McBee (and Adichie would agree),

when they don’t follow the pristine arc that starts with being wrong and ends with us riding into the sunset, real at last? “We all have feminine and masculine in us,” Fox offered. “Gender affects everyone.”

The truth is, trans people illuminate a crucial aspect of the human condition, not anymore salacious, tragic, or beautiful than anything else. If there’s a lesson we can share, a great truth or tragedy, it’s this: We’re living it all, right in front of you, in our bodies and our many, varied tellings.

Thanks to kaberett for the McBee link.

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