Educating Others

I am constantly surprised by how little the average person knows about trans people. This is particularly the case with people I consider to be educated about LGB issues, “good liberals,” and those that study in fields related to gender in some form or another. I am all about educating people, but I do find it tiring to hear people refer to “the surgery,” or need to be walked through the most basic things. It’s really puzzling to me, since people like Chaz Bono have recently transitioned so publicly and information is so readily available online. It’s 2013, if you’re curious about a topic than there’s a way to find out way too much information about it relatively easily.

I enjoy educating people about trans people, HRT, my own transition, etc. At least, to a point. This past year that I’ve been stealth I have more or less fallen off the “educating people” wagon, with the exception of the work I do online. I’m actually embarrassed at how little I’ve corrected people’s misconceptions and problematic language, simply because I’ve felt it was best to fade into the background instead of drawing attention to myself and having people question my connection to trans issues. Every time an otherwise well-meaning person says something totally ignorant about trans people, however, I feel like I can’t just trust that the information that someone might find online or learn from another person is enough. I feel like I need to speak up and actually start setting people straight.

It isn’t just that educating people might out me, though, I think that my main problem is that educating people is awkward. If people knew more about trans issues and I wouldn’t be such an oddity, I actually might be comfortable being out. I want to live my life normally, and being stealth allows me that. When I was out, people constantly looked to me to be a spokesperson, and brought their awkwardly personal gender questions to me whenever they saw fit (for instance, “when you have the surgery will you be able to produce sperm?”). The pressure is enormous, and frankly annoying. It occurs to me that there should be some sort of middle ground, some way for me to be open about being trans without it defining me and opening myself up for poking and prodding.

I’m thinking about this because I recently visited the Castro district in San Francisco and saw that it was an area in which GLB people (well, maybe just GL or just G, as an outsider it was difficult to tell) were able to be open and have their sexuality be just a taken for granted part of their lives. It is that freedom that I wish existed somewhere out there for trans people. Somewhere where people could just happen to be trans, without it being a big deal. I thought the Castro would be like that, and I think it is becoming at least a little more trans knowledgeable/trans friendly (at least judging from the level of trans inclusion in the glbt history museum there), but it still felt as though I was as alien as I was in any other part of the city (and the country….and the world). The only places where I have felt able to be both out and normal are at trans conferences, although those aren’t really my style.

This is a bit of a ramble, but what I THINK I’m trying to express is that there is some tension for me between educating people and my desire to live a normal life and not allow being transgender to completely define me. I am a lot of things, and a walking, talking encyclopedia on gender studies is not one of them. However I also see people’s ignorance and it cries out to me, like I should be DOING SOMETHING. I feel well equipped to educate people, and in a position where many of the people around me might actually listen. Still, it is my personal philosophy that the burden of educating others should not rest on the shoulders of members of marginalized groups. That burden is simply just too much. So, how can we educate others without sacrificing our privacy and comfort? What place does educating others fit in determining whether or not someone should be out or not? Do some of us owe it to other trans people to educate others?

I haven’t come to a conclusion on those points.