Monday, April 23, 2012

Secret Identities

Get to know a few trans folk and you'll notice a trend: a lot of trans people love comic books, video games, Star Trek or anime.  Or all of the above.  I'm partial to all of these, though less so with anime.  While I love comics of all genres, superheroes have held a special place in my heart since the age of 5.  Especially Batman, my first love in the comic book world.  Superheroes are our modern mythology.  Even if we're not big fans nearly every American can tell the origin story of Batman or Superman.  Like the Greek gods before them they are perfect metaphors for so many aspects of our lives.  But the one that interests me the most is the Mask itself.  The "secret identity" of a superhero reflects our own need to create a socially acceptable persona, keeping our "true selves" secret from all except a few trusted loved ones.  While this metaphor is relevant in all our lives, it is especially so for growing up trans in a cis world.

Let's take a look at Batman, my favorite superhero.  One of the biggest questions surrounding his mythology is "Which one is the created identity?  Batman or Bruce Wayne?  Is the "True Self" Batman or Bruce Wayne?  Every writers different answer to that core question will shape who their Batman is.  Now let's compare this to a baby trans girl growing up in the woods of Arkansas.

Let's go back in time.  Arkansas, year 1995, home of Dorian, a mild-mannered, bright, young man.  Dorian's parents have recently divorced and he's having a hard time adjusting to his new school, but he's a good big brother and does everything he can to care for his family.  Dorian can't seem to shake the feeling that he's not like any of the other boys.  If he was really honest, he was a lot like some of the girls, who made most of his friends.  Usually he shakes off this creeping feeling and focuses on something else, but one day while doing laundry he lingers on one of his sister's dresses.  He wonders what it would be like to wear a dress and soon feels a powerful urge to try it on.  It's so strong that it scares him and so he pushes the dress into the washer and starts the load.  Later that night while taking a bath, Dorian notices another one of his sister's dresses on the bathroom floor.  The strong urge takes hold again and this time, it wins.  Dorian quietly steps out of the tub and dries his body.  He picks up the dress and simply studies it at first.  The fabric feels so soft and delicate in his hands.  Gingerly, he pulls the dress over his head, suddenly thankful for his small size.  The dress is not a perfect fit, but Dorian is lost in the reflection in the mirror for several minutes.  He's overwhelmed with a calm sense of "right" in the world.  It's as though a huge weight has been lifted from her shoulders.  Wait, her shoulders?  Dorian quickly removes the dress and throws it on the floor.  Although he can't realize it yet, Dorian has just discovered a "super-power".  The ability to change into a girl.

There was a time in my life when I literally had no idea who I was.  Most people can fall back on a few certainties, like gender, but I was at a loss.  I could not put together which identity was the real one.  Was the "True Self" Dorian or the Girl in the Mirror?  The duality of our society, and thus our mythology, had led me to believe it was an either/or decision.  It wasn't until many years later that I realized I was both and neither.  There was no denying I was a girl, that much became obvious over time, but what did that mean?  Did it mean I needed to act super-feminine and sacrifice my personality?  Of course not, but at the time I seemed to think so.  It took me a while before I was able to merge the two into something much more genuine and real.  I outgrew the need for a secret identity.  Not having a secret identity can cause some big problems, but in a way it makes us superheroes when we start living without them. 

Come to think of it, if I was a superhero I hope the promo would go something like this:

The Amazing Atheist Trans Woman!  Fighting gender discrimination, queer ignorance and theocracy wherever she goes.  Whenever there is a transphobic slur, she will be there!  Whenever a citizen claims America is a "Christian Nation", she will be there!  Whenever a queer youth believes their lives are worth less than another, she will be there!  Tune in next week kids to witness the ongoing fight for social justice.  Same Trans time!  Same Godless channel!

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