It’s time to stop gawking at trans bodies
As I see another call- out from a production company for trans people to share their transition journeys – their very intimate stories of coming out, of hormones and sometimes surgery – it strikes me that many people struggle to see our process of becoming authentic as a personal journey, as a private journey.
I understand that most people don’t know a trans person and I understand that sharing on-screen is a form of second-hand, perhaps even secondrate experience but I also know, from personal experience, that so much of our “transition process” is already structured around pleasing others, about being heard and believed, and about trying to ensure we’re treated with dignity. So much of that process, our process, is in the hands of others, literally.
Many trans folk still risk so much in the process of becoming their authentic selves – family, work and surgery – that I can’t help but think, isn’t it about time that the largely cis desire to witness our process stops? Just stops.
Since the 1980s we have been treated to a whole litany of “documentaries” that focus on us as a process. Transitioning (actually a really small segment of any trans life) has all the makings of a soap episode; fear, rejection, sadness, joy and occasionally reflection. But trans folk are at a completely different stage now. We need to explore our own bodies, pre-, during and potentially post-surgery. What’s more there’s now a greater freedom in our diversity, so not everyone will go on to a binary endpoint and rightly so. But we are so much more than a fragile, finite piece of time as captured and frozen by TV.
Can you imagine if every programme about lesbians or gay men centred on them as simply people defined by “coming out”? It’s utterly reductive and dehumanises us, reducing trans people to a series of markers; told family – tick, saw GP – tick, queue for surgery – tick, society accepts me – tick/no tick?
But just because it may make good salacious or even empathic viewing doesn’t make it right. For far too long trans people have been denied their intimacy and their bodily autonomy by the NHS, society and history. The GP who asked to see my vagina, my trans vagina, as they’d never seen one before, the therapist who questions your femininity via your choice of clothes and the people who feel it is their right to discuss where and how we should pee.
It has been open season on our intimate lives for far too long. Our processes are hugely personal and shouldn’t be seen as a tool to educate the masses. That journey can be explored through Google.
I want to own my body, I want the secrecy and delight of intimacy so that my vagina is mine and not something to be discussed over a take-away meal on a Friday night. So that my surgery – terrifying, liberating, problematic and ultimately beautiful – isn’t fodder to “understand the trans experience”.
I’m not saying that trans people won’t be queuing to take part, they probably will, but I am saying that the programme doesn’t need making. My Transsexual Summer should have been a full stop. On the whole, it presented a group of people going through their processes with some respect but even then the desire to gawk at our genitals slipped through. They couldn’t resist it because that’s the money shot. That’s the one that makes headlines and punchlines the next day.
I believe that as a community we are entitled to keep stuff back, that in seeking to educate we also seek to strengthen our own understanding of our bodies, our desires and our aspirations. We take pride in being more than just a process.
Simply put, we don’t need to keep telling everything to make them like us.