The danger of the ‘Acceptable Trans People’ narrative

The danger of the ‘Acceptable Trans People’ narrative

At the many queer and trans* community events I attend, I’m often encouraged to tell “my story.” I’ve stopped doing that, however. I’ve stopped because mine is too familiar – people don’t need to hear “my story;” they can already write it themselves.

Thanks to media portrayals and social privilege, trans* people like me (i.e., white, employed, well-educated) are able to have their voices actually reach some eardrums. Therefore, the cis mainstream actually has a surprisingly detailed preconception of what the story of a trans* person like me probably entails. But do these portrayals represent all of us? No. Do these stories help all of us? Again, no.

So instead of telling my story, I try to talk about the expectations and assumptions current Western culture has trained us all to have about trans* people, our experiences, and our stories. I see this manifested most noticeably of late in the emergence of an “acceptable” trans* narrative.

This is the story everyone can write: Ever since childhood, so-and-so felt they were “trapped in the wrong body.” They wanted to wear the clothes and play with the toys of the other gender. They were bullied and ostracized. As they grew up, they became depressed. Perhaps even suicide was considered or attempted. Eventually they got the help they needed and transitioned to the opposite gender through hormones and surgery. They’re much happier now, but things are still tough and they struggle sometimes.

It’s not my intent to pass this narrative off as cliched or diminish its authenticity, but I would like us all to think about why it’s so familiar – even those who don’t personally know any trans* people know this story.

We all know it because this is the narrative our media and our political movements have chosen to portray, over and over. And why have they chosen it? Because it is the easiest to understand. Because it’s the least threatening to the actually-somewhat-limited political goals of the mainstream LGBT justice movement. Because this is the scenario our health-care industry has a treatable, profitable answer for (not even the answer, mind you, just an answer). Because it does not challenge the established poles of the gender binary.

We know it because it is an entertaining, satisfying narrative – problematic beginning, turbulent middle, climactic confrontation, conclusive hopeful ending. Those who hear the story can slap a bow on it… and then walk away.

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