‘The Date That Changed My Life by Michael DeMeo’ — a reply.
A plea to would-be allies to see past the struggles of queer life.
Thanks Michael. I read you account of you dare with a trans woman with interest. Especially after hyperbole worthy of a self-help book in title of your essay.
So this is your tale of brushing up against the edges of white, cishet privilege. I say that with no degree of judgement, it’s a simple statement of fact. You see it’s there, you recognise you’re that IN it, and you’re now trying to engage in the thought experiment of what it must be like to live on the other side of the wall. How much more dangerous, lonely, frightening the world might, in your imagination MUST, be.
This is laudable. Us queer folx will always commend such efforts. After all, the first step in avoiding a trap is knowing of its existence.
But, if, as you claim, you’re open to learning, to being quiet while life offers a moment to revelation I'd like to offer an extention to your exploration of how the world must be outside the cishet bubble you’ve been so thoroughly esconsed in since birth.
Everything I want to express is neatly summed up thus…
Queer life is, yes, a struggle in an overwhelmingly cisgender heteronormative world, but it has such joys as you will never comprehend.
I say this in love, not as a rebuke. But there is a tendency in non-queer people to start their understanding of queer life with empathy for our struggles. There’s nothing wrong with this, of course, it’s perfectly human for a first reaction to be ‘glad I’m not her’. That’s empathy, driven by pity. It’s almost ubiquitous.
You did this. Your recognition of June’s autheticity hinges on how hard it must have been for her. Again, this is OK. You can emerge from the other side of pity into admiration, as you appear to have done.
But I’d like to see you go a lot further. Beyond pity, through admiration, and straight on to the borders of outright jealousy.
Because June and I will enjoy a self-awareness you will never be able to achieve. Our relationships will have a depth that you won’t be able to plumb. And our community commands a solidarity you will never feel.
Those are fairly bold, even borderline confrontational, statements but if you’re the ally you say you aspire to be then I can trust you to sit still a short while longer as I break down these, just a few of the huge joys of being queer.
“Because June and I will enjoy a self-awareness you will never be able to achieve.”
As a good ally you’ll perhaps be aware that gender dysphoria is what drives a lot (NOT all) trans people. It’s a horrible condition, and certainty not something to be envied. Its treatment is often blocked by humiliating gatekeeping, not to mention huge expense and massive expenditure of emotional energy and time. It’s HARD. And that’s the fucking treatment! The condition itself can range from nigh non-existent to debilitating, even fatal (through its erosion of our mental health).
All pretty horrible and we’re back to pity. Hold that thought, cos the point of this was just context for the concept of gender euphoria. June and I have known an unparalleled mix of elation, tranquility, and of RIGHTNESS with our state of being you’re forever shielded from. We’ve known what it’s like to feel wrong, to be treated badly cos of who we are. We have known the most profound discomfort in our own skin. Yet measured against the life-changing affirmation and validation of being correctly gendered and hearing our true name said aloud by a loved one for that first time… Yeah there’s no contest.
For you, you’ve never had the agony of gender dysphoria, but neither will you ever know it’s corollary. Your gender just IS. You’ve never known any different. You’ve been comfortable, in your own skin, and in a world that wordlessly affirms you to the extent that it’s background noise.
Don’t pity me dysphoria. Envy that you will never know what the good days are like. Trans people are life’s winners, not its losers. We experience a triumph that has no comparison.
“Our relationships will have a depth that you won’t be able to plumb.”
These latter two points are, at their core, variations on the theme of the first. I want you not to take comfort in being a good ally by contenting yourself with saying ‘wow that person’s struggle really opened my eyes to how easy I have it. Boy, being a white cisgender heterosexual guy sure is swell’. Push further.
Like you, I was once a divorced dad with an infant, a daughter in my case. Then I embarked on a new relationship which led to my second marriage. I was twenty two years into that relationship when I came to terms with my gender identity. That's a profoundly powerful hand grenade to throw in the mix. A relationship that survives that (as mine has... thus far!) has that depth I mentioned.
Likewise any new queer relationship. All, by necessity, are built on foundations forged in a crucible that cishet relationships are seldom tested in. This is because queer people themselves are tested in a crucible non-queer folk never know.
You might congratulate yourself that cishet society is now enormously tolerant of queer people these days. And it's true that things are better. But look at that word 'tolerant'. It's telling. And it's also such an incremental improvement in the quality of queer lives that congratulations are hugely premature. That coming out is still such a fraught consideration for so many of us speaks volumes.
So when we get into a queer relationship (which you, Michael, might have found yourself in, had you and June not been in such different places) we have already challenged so much. And overcome.
Are queer relationships better or easier? No! They're still just relationships. And the persistent pressures and challenges of living a queer life in a cishet world mean our relationships can succumb to outside stressors that cishet folk are simple NEVER subjected to.
My wife shouldn't have to cradle my racked, sobbing face, as I snottily bawl through my recounting of the latest bit of transphobic bullshit life's thrown at me. But she does. She deals with that stressor she could never have predicted having to face because, as a result of have a gay, trans-cis marriage in a binary cishet world our relationship has a depth to it that is hard won.
“And our community commands a solidarity you will never feel.”
And so yes, this is more of the same. That cisgender, heteronormative society is so ubiquitous is far from the same as suggesting that there's solidarity between all you white, cishet dudes. Your hegemony is simply too monolithic to need to rally around a shared threat to your existence and in the absence of that, and in a world built from the ground up, as a matter of primacy, around the needs and desires of men like you, you will simply never know the sense of kinship I share with my queer sisters, brothers, and NB siblings.
It's a camaraderie built not only on a shared struggle. I won't to be clear on this. With all three of these points. As I said I want you to push through pity to the edges of coveting what we have. Because this solidarity is also built on us sharing good stuff as well as bad.
As queer people our identity means so much more. Always having something, always being able to take it for granted, devalues a thing.
I know I could go on Twitter right now and talk about the abuse I got yesterday because of my gender identity and receive, as a response, an outpouring of compassion, understanding, and love. And I mean genuine love, not parasocial pseudo-love. I've been both recipient and wholehearted supplier of this solidarity. I've put myself in harm's way to protect my siblings. And I've been lifted and carried by them when I've been unable to drag myself where I needed to be.
Put it another way, I can walk into certain spaces and events and receive a hug and a warm welcome just because of who I am. That never happened when I was pretending to be a white, middle-aged cishet dude. It just... Didn't.
Michael, I said at the outset, I say these things in love. I meant it. I bear cisgender heteronormativity no ill will. It is what it is. But you have to understand this... If you want to be the fullest ally you can be, don't stop with recognising our struggles and using that as the metric for our joys. Yes, our travails to become our authentic selves cost us. But we push through and we live those lives, that are made harder by this world of ours, because it's damn well worth it.
Let me finish with this. I'm a trans woman. Never been a cis man or woman. Never can be. But it's been put to me more than once, and in a variety of ways (not least by my wife!): don't I wish I was cisgender? No! Hell no! Was that empathetic enough? Well why not, having acknowledged that my being trans has caused me significant additional heartache and struggle? Simply put I don't wish to be cis because I'm not cis, I never was cis. Most people tend not to wish themselves to be other than that which they know themself to be. More usually what we're railing against is a society whose inflexibilities make certain things much harder, think like being black, or gay, or trans. And for clarity, no, of course I'm not equating the struggles of race with queerness Cmon! But the point stands that it's not so much we want to change ourselves as we lament that society treats us so demonstrably worse because of conditions we either have no power, or far more to the point no desire, to change.
I will always lament that I wasn't born a cis girl. Yes, despite the periods and the childbirth and the other supposedly ubiquitous and uniformly ghastly aspects that utterly define womanhood, according to some. But it's entirely hypothetical. I could wish that I could settle for being a cis man. I tried. I tried for 48 years. And I drank heavily for 30 of those. I don't put to fine a point on it by suggesting I would be a dead cis man by now, rather than a happy, LIVING trans woman.
Being transgender in cisgender society is hard, yes, but it's worth it because it's who I am. And because I bring certain insights with me. I kept the crux of this essay to those 3 points above for brevity and to punctuate. And they can often be applied outside trans life or even broader queer life. I won't claim to speak for all minorities but I speak from one.
Don't pity the underdog, Michael. Cheer them on and party hard even time they win. As June undoubtedly did.