Something crossed my mind yesterday, in another context, which I've been meditating on ever since. There's an element to my experience with this transition that I don't think I've ever seen explicitly addressed in all the reading I've done on this and related subjects.
Most of you few, noble readers know me well enough to know something of my life situation but for those who don't: I live in a small southern town of a little over 5,000 people. I'm part of a sometimes struggling marriage (due mostly to the difficulty of dealing with transition) and am the parent of two boys, one grown and one soon to be. I'm employed in a low-pay retail job (after almost 2 years of unemployment), despite holding a BS degree and, at one time, a license to teach. I'm also 49 years old and struggling to lose a significant amount of weight before it causes more health issues than I can possibly overcome. A lot of that isn't relevant to today's point but I figure if you are laying out the background you might as well get it out there at once, eh?
So, anyway. In a town this size, statistically speaking their ought to be 5-10 trans people among the population (albeit the rate statistics for this thing are all over the board, I'm taking the most conservative figures when I say that). I'm aware of at least 2 others, one of whom is reportedly completely stealth, and another one or two who may be but do not identify as such. Expand the population to the county level (over 22,000) and you should find 20-40 (probably on the low end since one assumes distribution would not be equal due to migration). But not everyone who IS trans has accepted that identity, and not all those who have are out of the closet. Of those that remain some achieve stealth and the casual person doesn't know.
I can assure you there's not even double figures of out and known trans people in this county. In fact I'd argue that if you surveyed the population, over 95% of the people would say that there is either none, or only one, in this county – me. Of the others that I'm aware of, none are to my knowledge married.
The practical every-day result of this is that, laying aside pejorative connotations of the word, I'm a freak. An odd-ball. Every consideration, every adjustment, every effort at understanding, no matter how broad they apply in theory, apply in principle only to me and those connected to me. If you consider for instance whether you want to be welcoming in your church to trans people it's a lot easier to be intolerant when there's just the one local freak you are excluding and not a whole group of people like another race or whatever.
So, let's just take for example an issue common to the trans experience pretty universally – the question of what bathroom to use.
No matter how many local people are my friends, no matter how many are supportive, no matter how many more are at least compassionate – the bottom line is that I'm in the position of challenging a strong social convention ALONE. If I want it recognized that I have a right to use the ladies room like any other woman, I'm in the position of asking EVERYONE else to adjust their feelings and views for ONE person (insofar as they know). There's no one else who is here to stand shoulder to shoulder who can say “this affects me too.” If there's a confrontation, I stand alone. If there's humiliation, it's mine to bear. If there's even arrest or violence – it's on me. I love and appreciate my friends who support me but if I fight for my rights and lose, THEY are not directly affected – just me.
I can make all the reasonable logical discussion points my mind can conceive, and there are a great many, I can pour out my heart about the emotional impact of having my self-identity rejected, but ultimately no one else knows from experience that it is an important thing, not a trivial stunt. The same applies to housing, employment, whatever. I can't tell you how often we hear some version of “why can't you just do that at home, or out of town, or some such with the unstated implication “so that normal people don't have to put up with you.” As if this were a hobby, or an optional thing that could be turned on or off at will. From their point of view, it's not discrimination against a group – it's just this one weirdo we want to go away.
By the same token, my sons are the only ones in this community who have to admit to a parent like me, my spouse is the only person who's “lost” a husband to this. You can find an understanding sympathetic soul who can say “I know how you feel” if your husband beats you, or your wife cheated on you, or your husband dies, or your wife becomes paralyzed, or whatever. But she has not one person close by who can say to her “I know how you feel.”
Again, I don't want to minimize the tremendous value of having supportive friends (nor the flip side, the considerable heartache that can come from non-supportive “friends”) but still, it's almost impossible to not feel a huge sense of isolation. In virtually any situation where your entire interaction is with cis-women (or men for that matter) who know your history, there's always the lingering doubt that they are “humoring” you, that as nice and compassionate and big-hearted as they are – they don't REALLY see you as a woman like them. That's always a faint shadow on any interaction, but it is magnified greatly when a situation, like the bathroom thing, which arises where they don't have a direct stake in the outcome.
All this is perhaps the major reason why, if circumstances permitted, I would so love to get out of this little country town. As much as I love the woman I am seeing more and more in the mirror, I really don't enjoy being the only member of my “kind” that I know on a face-to-face basis.
But don't let anything I've said discourage you from being supportive of me, or of trans people in general. If I had no friends who supported me despite not understanding how this feels, it might have been too hard to do. Certainly there are those who will come after me, or who even now are facing things alone (or so it seems to them) who need allies. I'll close by sharing with you a link. This column is a remarkable argument for being a supporter of trans people even when you yourself have no personal stake on the surface. It's good to know, no matter what my transitory feelings of isolation might suggest, that such people are out there – may they grow in number.