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Two Communities (1995)

Two Communities (1995)

©1995, 2013 by Dallas Denny

Source: Denny, Dallas. (1995, August). Two communities. AEGIS On-Line News, V.1, No. 3.







Two Communities

By Dallas Denny


There are two transgender communities. The members of one community correspond with each other via long distance phone calls and e-mail and Priority mail. Members of the other community don’t “do” letters, have no computers, and their phones are as likely as not to be disconnected at any given time. They tend to run into one another in bars and nightclubs, or in the laundromat. One community is composed primarily of persons with college educations and stable and even exceptional work histories. The other community is plagued by homelessness, legal problems, and drug and alcohol dependency. Most of the members of one community have been married (heterosexually, prior to transition), and many have children. Most of the members of the other community have never been interested in members of the other biological sex. HIV rates are low in the first community; rates of infection in the second community are among the world’s highest.

These two communities exist largely independent of and remain largely ignorant of each other. Members of each community typically have little idea of the problems and frustrations of the members of the other community.

What everyone in the two communities have in common is what has been called gender dysphoria, transexualism, transgenderism, gender identity disorder. It is a powerful feeling, an incredible desire to express oneself in ways Western society has considered inappropriate. Those in the first community have typically kept those desires hidden or repressed, and gone through their lives in the gender roles that was expected of them. Those in the second community have been unable or unwilling to do that, and have freely expressed themselves, typically at a very young age, despite the usually harsh consequences.

The consequences of those who start crossliving when very young are typically devastating. Rejection occurs at all levels of society. Parents kick them out. Officials refuse to allow them to attend school. No one will hire them. Typically, they wind up on the street, with all of the temptations and danger which lie there: violence, prostitution, alcoholism, drug use, promiscuous sex. Having nothing and no one else on whom they can rely, they often turn for a source of income to their only asset:their bodies. Some do so with eagerness, most with resignation, for prostitutes, and especially transgendered prostitutes, are devalued by our society. No one cares if transgendered street workers are beaten or murdered. Few care about their health. A few people try to help them, but as exploitation often begins with a profession of friendship, and from authority figures; they become suspicious of those who claim to be their friends. There are no rewards for being honest or dependable; what pays off are scams and hustles. Friendship is a rare thing, and hard to risk, for friends get murdered, die of AIDS, get carted off to prison, make off with your belongings, or simply disappear.

Under such circumstances, honor takes a form almost inconceivable to those who have not lived the life: don’t rat on others, don’t cooperate with the cops for any reason, never give a sucker an even break. Erratic or abnormal behavior becomes the norm; those who act “normal” don’t survive for very long. And experience is not guarantee of safety; even the most streetwise wind up victims to violence or disease.

Those who have maintained some semblance of stability in their lives have little conception of the ways in which life on the street molds personality, damages psyche, and places its own variety of Golden Handcuffs on those who live it—or on early influences like physical and sexual abuse which can damage an individual so that he or she is incapable of functioning in middle-class society. They see only how they have bettered themselves by hard work, and consider those who are on the street to be lazy, shiftless, or otherwise morally flawed. They don’t understand how their lives as males (or as females) have imbued them with privilege that is lacking for those with acknowledged transgender status. They see only that they have worked for what they have become, and what they have accumulated; they don’t see how their relatively stable lives have left them relatively psychologically intact enough to work towards those ends, or how people have basically left them alone as they have worked towards their goals. No one gets left alone on the street.

Those who transition later in life tend to resent the natural femininity (or masculinity) shown by so many on the street, while simultaneously detesting them for their lifestyles. They never realize that it was the pursuit of self which has resulted in the lifestyles that they find so distasteful.

People on the street, on the other hand, tend to be resentful of those with middle-class lifestyles. Many are not in their situation so much by choice as by circumstance, and a journey to a middle-class lifestyle is an improbability, at best. They are stuck on the street in the same way that so many middle-class persons are stuck in their original gender roles. There is a great amount of inertia to overcome. Just as most transgendered individuals who achieve middle-age without transitioning never do so, most men and women on the street never overcome the inertia that keeps them there. They see no way out. They see those with more than they have, who are not as “pretty” as they are, and assume that such persons have had an easy route. What they don’t see is the anguish and psychological damage which has been caused by the years of denial and the bodily changes which have occurred as a result of not dealing with one’s transgender nature until middle age.

To be honest, many of those who have had the advantage of a middle-class lifestyle rarely give any notice, or especially much money, to the organizations which exist to support them. They certainly don’t give money to organizations which serve people on the street. Many phone organizations like AEGIS and IFGE repeatedly, asking for advice and referrals, but don’t join or otherwise support those organizations, and don’t donate either their time or money to building community. The social and support groups in the community are hard-pressed to serve those who come to them, and either through oversight or lack of funds and volunteers make little attempt to structure events for people on the street, who find an evening in the bars eminently preferable to support groups in which they are expected to sit around in a circle four three hours, baring their souls (support group) or sipping tea (social group).

To be equally honest, most of those on the street are more interesting in taking, also, and do little to contribute to community, even when they can. They find it easier to drink or smoke or snort away their money rather than using it to improve their situation, and tend to complain about their lot and sometimes to protest the activities of the “other” transgender community than to form their own organizations or conduct their own outreach and education programs.

I don’t have any magical solutions for how these two communities can work together. But I believe they should, for it is our histories and our present circumstances which make us different much more than any strength or weakness of character. Those in both communities are battling the same internal feelings, the same shame and guilt.

It’s perfectly legitimate to be a member of either community, or as a few of us are, of both. Perhaps those with a foot in each community can work to ensure that both communities keep in mind the ways in which they are the same, and the ways in which they are different, to stop (when they aren’t ignoring each other or denying each others’ existence) blaming and envying one another for who we are and what we do, and to learn to work with one another.