The Trans Experience We Don't Talk About: Joy

By SA

INTRODUCTION

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Participants of the Trans Women of Color Demonstration at UW Bothell by Zoe Bear, 2016. Creative Commons CC BY-NC 4.0. From Feminist Community Archives of Washington.

In March 2022, a truly unsettling amount of legislation has been proposed and passed targeting specifically transgender youth in many places across The United States - and the forecast of the horizon promises much, much more on the way. Trans activists and allies have been fighting the fight for trans rights, even before this new legislation, winning many victories over the years - often with the help of partner organizations and the broader LGBTQIA+ umbrella.

While the fight for trans rights is important, sometimes it feels as though all there is to being trans is just to be looked down upon, spat at in the street, and quietly talked about in hushed whispers and judgmental glances askance.

Too often, the experience of being a minority is defined like this: by the struggles of being said minority; the pain, the oppression, the suffering. Trans persons are often talked about in terms of their dysphoria, struggles finding appropriate medical care, the often-difficult road to rebuilding an identity, and so much more.

But what about the good parts?

Why can't we talk about some of the amazing experiences that come alongside being transgender, too?

LARGE-SCALE EVENTS

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10th Annual Fantasia Fair Pamphlet by Eve Goodwin, 1984. [From Digital Transgender Archive]

Events such as the Fantasia Fair are perhaps the best place to begin. While in modern parlance, drag, cross-dressing, and being transgender (as well as a few other terms that are a tad outdated) are very distinct subcultures, a mere 30 years ago: the line was much more blurred. Still, it promised a safe haven for persons who wished to explore their gender expression to find what felt "right"; all in an environment where there was much less social stigma surrounding the conversation.

INDEPENDENT PUBLICATIONS

SUPPORT GROUPS

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Ingersoll Gender Center Pamphlet (ca. 1990-1999), CC BY-NC 4.0. From Feminist Community Archive of Washington (FCA-WA).

Support groups, such as those run by the Ingersoll Gender Center since the 1980s, are another trans joy lifeline. While they still touch on painful subjects (navigating legality, learning to pass, coming out, etc.) they're often the first real place a person questioning their gender has to turn for answers that are positive and foster an environment of self-acceptance rather than shame.

While for many the idea of "a support group" springs to mind visions of grief counseling, or Alcoholics Anonymous, many of the support groups that exist tend to be structured more akin to a close-knit friend group that can be useful for asking advice, sharing personal experiences, and even sometimes - when the time is right - political organizing.

Something often misunderstood by cis allies of trans persons is the amount of re-learning the little things that comes with changing one's gender; especially if the trans person has been suppressing their feelings for a long time. Support groups are key to helping bridge this gap in knowledge - a place wherein people can feel free to ask the sometimes-embarrassing questions.

CASUAL COMMUNITY GET-TOGETHERS

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Queer & Trans Community Potluck Flyer (2018) from the Lavender Rights Project. Creative Commons CC BY-NC 4.0. From Feminist Community Archive of Washington (FCA-WA).

Though not all events are necessarily so formal or structured. Popular in many areas across the US (including here in Seattle), small events like potlucks, picnics, and barbequeues that help people connect, relax, and simply exist without having to justify their appearance to another.

While important difficulties can be discussed in such a setting, even the most staunch activist sometimes needs to take some time away from all the woes of the world and just enjoy some food and good company.

ORAL HISTORY PROJECTS

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Interview with Valerie Spencer, 2017. Black woman (trans) From: Digital Transgender Archive.

Excerpt:"But today my response [to "God makes no mistakes"] is "You're absolutely right. I'm not a mistake. That was very intentional when he made this six foot black girl named me."

Also fairly informal is the ongoing project by multiple transgender activist groups to help capture the oral history of trans persons - providing a window into how they may have found answers to burning questions that may affect someone first coming to terms with their gender identity. There's a great deal of pain and struggle in these interviews, but also beautiful moments of joy - the eureka moments of recognizing and being able to identify what feels right.

In the interview with Valerie Spencer, MSW, taken by a member of the University of Minnesota Minneapolis Library's Tretter Collection, Ms. Spencer takes the opportunity to talk about her family's reactions (both good and bad), the wonderful journey she took of self-discovery (between highs and lows), and even the reconciliation she found between her own faith and spirituality that was thought to be at-odds with her existence as a transgender person.

LIVING YOUR LIFE OUT LOUD

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Trans Day of Rememberance Virtual Flier from the Newark LGBTQ Community Center, 2020. From Newark Queer Archive.

While pain does exist for trans people - as it does for many minority populations - it should not be the thing by which trans existence is defined. The conversation around what it means to be trans is, too often, focused on this negativity. Vigils, such as the one highlighted, can sometimes deteriorate into grim reminders of what it means to be trans in this time and place.

It's important to remember that trans persons do, indeed, have good parts to the trans experience - that the entirety of their existence isn't just the oppression, the pain, the discomfort; it's also joys of self-discovery, unique companionship, and a much more in-depth look at who you are as a person than most cis-gender people consider in their lifetime.

As any activist will tell you: time is fleeting, life ephemeral. Thus, we should take the time to enjoy our stay while we're here.

If not for ourselves: for those we have lost along the way, and for those we can yet save.

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ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

Ingersoll Gender Center - https://ingersollgendercenter.org/

Trans Lifeline - (877) 565-8860 ; https://translifeline.org/

Transgender Law Center - https://transgenderlawcenter.org/

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

A sincere and heartfelt "Thank You" goes out to the following amazing people:

Dr. Julie Shayne (she/her) - Oversight, creation of assignment, and a continued quest to raise up the stories that go untold.

Jesse Blaire (they/them) - Research assistance, Omeka wizardry, and a huge relief with trying to settle on a topic.

Penelope Wood (they/them) - Research assistance and archival magicking to find just what you're looking for.

Denise Hattwig (she/her) - Research assistance, Omeka admin assistance, and technical wizardry.

CITATIONS

The Boulton & Park Society. (n.d.). Gender Euphoria - The Journal of the Boulton & Park Society. Gender Euphoria (August-September 1990) - Digital Transgender Archive. Retrieved March 8, 2022, from https://www.digitaltransgenderarchive.net/files/3197xm05t

Expressing Our Nature, Inc. (n.d.). The EON Accord. The EON Accord Vol. 1, Issue 5 (September, 1992) - Digital Transgender Archive. Retrieved March 8, 2022, from https://www.digitaltransgenderarchive.net/files/sx61dm50d

Fantasia Fair, Ltd. (n.d.). 10th Annual Fantasia Fair Pamphlet. 10th Annual Fantasia Fair - Digital Transgender Archive. Retrieved March 8, 2022, from https://www.digitaltransgenderarchive.net/files/dz010q234

Ingersoll Gender Center, Ltd. (n.d.). Informational pamphlet from the 1990s about Ingersoll Gender Center. cdm16786.contentdm.oclc.org. Retrieved March 8, 2022, from https://cdm16786.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/p16786coll12/id/138/rec/240

Lavender Rights Project. (2018). Queer and Trans Community Potluck Flyer. cdm16786.contentdm.oclc.org. Retrieved March 8, 2022, from https://cdm16786.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/p16786coll12/id/695/rec/398

Queer Newark Oral History Project. (1970, January 1). Transgender Day of Remembrance Flyer. Queer Newark - Oral History Project. Retrieved March 8, 2022, from https://queer.newark.rutgers.edu/events/transgender-day-remembrance-virtual-vigil

University of Minnesota Minneapolis Libraries. (2017). Interview with Valerie Spencer. Interview with Valerie Spencer - Digital Transgender Archive. Retrieved March 8, 2022, from https://www.digitaltransgenderarchive.net/files/v118rd85q

University of Washington Bothell . (2016). Participants of the Trans Women of Color Demonstration. cdm16786.contentdm.oclc.org. Retrieved March 8, 2022, from https://cdm16786.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/p16786coll12/id/206/rec/365

The Trans Experience We Don't Talk About: Joy