While there have been two good things that occurred in my personal life this August (my high school class reunion, my marching in the pride parade), there was one situation that really bummed me out. Now that I’m slowly putting it behind me, I will start my explanation of said situation by highlighting a change you may have noticed this month: My Gravatar profile description. You know, the one listed under my smiling face you see on the right of your compute screen. (Uh, you are reading this on a computer screen, right?) Here is how that profile previously read:
Take note of the first three sentences in that description: “Full-time middle-aged male. Long-time overworked office drone. Part-time female fashion plate.” A witty and rather innocuous way to describe myself… or so I thought. The thoughts of those three sentences, or at least how a very important gatekeeper interpreted them, prevented me from taking part in the perfect venue to showcase my poetry skills (such as they are).
Here’s how it went down: As you regular readers of this blog already know, I am indeed a budding poetry writer. And last month, I dressed up as Allison and performed some of my poetry live in front of an audience for the very first time. The euphoria of that night has inspired me to seek out or at least consider more opportunities to perform as Allison. I’ve performed at one other show so far as of this writing, an open mic evening at Mother Fool’s (the site of that previous first performance) where I didn’t present poetry but did a somewhat freeform storytelling about who I am and how I discovered a certain sack of women’s clothing in a spare bedroom.
Late last month, I learned about a live event highlighting the art and performance talents of those in the transgender community. I thought, wow, this would be a perfect show to present my poetry. With that, I submitted some of my poetry to the organizers for consideration, along with a brief (under 50 words) bio about myself. Once they received my submissions, the organizers would review them for content and trigger warnings and would get back to me. Most of the ten(!) works I submitted were what you’ve already read on this blog, as well as a couple of new compositions I have not yet posted here but hoped I would have debuted at this particular performance.
Looking back on it, my first mistake was taking too long to get those two new poems just right and just perfect. I say this because by by the time I did submit all of my work, the lead organizer — who, for the sake of reference, I will respectfully refer to as “C” for the duration of this post — let me know that the event operates on a first-come first-served basis, and that despite my beating their deadline, all the available performance slots had been filled. Aw, bummer, I thought… though I perfectly understood the need for timely submissions. The early bird gets the worm, as the saying goes.
However, “C” did make a couple of suggestions: First, of all the ten(!) or so pieces I submitted to them, “C” thought that one — and only one — of my submissions stood out and was worth performing, and that they would be willing to squeeze me in between the already scheduled performers who submitted ahead of me if I was game to do so. This poem was the only one that “C” recommended I perform.
Secondly, “C” had a problem about the 47-word bio I submitted with my poems. Said bio included the theme communicated in the old Gravatar bio I included in the above screenshot. Matter of fact, this is the exact wording of the bio I submitted:
“Allison M. is a full-time male and part-time female (cross-dresser is the category she falls under) who has gone beyond just dressing up for the camera to sharing thoughts (and, yes, even some poetry) about the cool things of life in general and LGBT life in particular.”
That’s when I started to get confused about “C’s” concerns, and I respectfully responded back to them to request clarification. The response from “C” was two-pronged: First, “C” took offense to the “full-time male, part-time female” allusions in the bio, stating that such an articulation could be perceived as if gender identity were as easy as taking off one gender’s clothing and putting on another gender’s, and that all-inclusive verbiage would be best. Secondly, the works I submitted to the event, save for the one poem “C” wanted me to perform, harbored these “clothing as gender identification” stereotypes “C” complained about.
In my reply back to their concerns, I started to get a bit defensive, to my ever-loving regret. I didn’t complain so much about my bio (okay, I could reword it a bit) so much as the fact that the poems “C” turned down were, in my mind, trans-oriented in a general theme, including the two new works I submitted to the event organizers for consideration. I pondered to “C” that if their event was geared towards the general trans audience, the other poems I had submitted would have been able to move the hearts of the audience a little better than what “C” chose, as those poems did indeed reflect positive thoughts the trans community and their allies could relate to, including a couple other submissions that reflect the general mood of the broad progressive/LGBT community going into 2017.
(A side note: The one poem that “C” really liked is one I was proud to have written and to have submitted, despite it being a bit too broad, not being specifically trans-oriented, and not being one of my strongest works, or so I would like to think. That’s not to say that said poem has gone unappreciated. In fact, a friend of mine from the trans/CD support group I’ve been frequenting loved it so much that they would print out the literary quote that inspired it and tacked it to their office desk.)
With that, I respectfully asked “C” to withdraw my name for consideration into the event, feeling that just a token reading of one poem from one crossdresser who probably isn’t as talented as the other accepted entrants (I’m being modest there) would have been a waste of everyone’s time. I did remain very respectful in my response, even going so far as to ask for recommendations on classes or groups I could join where I would be able to help perfect my poetry writing skills; it was my thinking that if they’re welcoming poets among their participants, perhaps they would know about outlets where an up-and-coming poet could hone their talents. “C” replied with an e-mail that, basically, told me that my broad work at this point would never be a good fit for their event, and that they desire work that is respectful yet more self-critical and reflective of the broad trans community.
Yeah, the event’s rejection really bummed me out, especially the outright dismissal from “C” about my broad body of poetry. Here I was doing a U-turn from an awesome bridge (this particular performance event) because the gatekeeper forbade entrance, but still holding out hope that I could cross it in the future. But the rejection from “C” sounded as if they were napalming that bridge forever. On top of that, “C” would later get into a tizzy on Facebook, posting a rant about all of this and stating flat-out that just because one identifies with the trans community doesn’t mean that they haven’t internalized any phobias of any kind, including “antiquated” gender norms and identifications. (Ouch!) They even criticized the specific term I identify under: Crossdresser. (Double ouch!) The rant led to a boatload of responses in the post’s “Comments” section; many agreed with “C” but several others came to my defense, including at least one who did not appreciate the dragging of someone from the trans community out in the open. Yeah, the rant turned into a serious conversation (about 100 or so comments, or so I counted at one point).
(Okay, two side notes about “C’s” Facebook rant: First, they were respectful enough to NOT include my user name in this conversation; we do not follow each other on Facebook, and it’s possible they don’t even know I’m actually on Facebook. Second, the only way I learned about “C’s” rant is through an indicator in my Facebook feed that one of my Facebook friends “liked” the post.)
Needless to say, all of this left me in a real writing confidence funk. Okay, I thought, there’s always the Mother Fools of the world; I’m sure a non-exclusively LGBT audience will still appreciate my work, such as it is. But that’s not to say I did not take all of “C’s” concerns and criticisms to heart. It got me to serious thinking about how I identify myself to the world, or at least the verbiage I use to identify myself. What I had thought was three paragraphs of wit and charm that perfectly summarized myself was to some folks nothing more than a flat-out dismissal of anyone who was not the same as me… which, in reality, is nowhere near the truth. I mean, if I was dismissive of anyone who was trans, would I be identifying myself as being trans? Of course not.
But it was clear to me that a modification of the terms I use to describe myself was in order. So, it was farewell to “full-time male, part-time female,” and hello to… this:
Yeah, it’s still got a little bit of the wit that my previous bio, but it also has a little bit more self-honesty (I really do think I’m more expressive when presenting to the world as Allison). And by saying in that first line that I’m “a part of the trans community,” it definitely shows more respectfulness of those in said community.
Note, though, that the new bio still includes the word “crossdresser.” Yes, “C” indicated in their rant that they’re no fan of that word, but how else am I going to specifically describe myself? “Transgender” is apropos for our entire community, making it a bit too broad to fit me specifically. “Questioning” is too broad as well, although I think it would apply to me in terms of sexuality (I’m always wondering if I’m attractive to guys, gals, or both). “Gender fluid” or “non-conforming” makes it sound as if I mix and match. (Hmm…) And “transvestite” is… well, I’m on the record as saying that is too stigmatic of a word. But until someone somewhere thinks of a better word to describe a man who wears women’s clothing, I’m going to have to describe myself as a crossdresser.
Admittedly, I still felt a little bit of doubt about myself as a writer and a person. I admit that I wasn’t sure about the fellow TG/CD people I regularly meet up with. Would they be in agreement with “C” and make me feel down even further? Well, I won’t disclose too much from what’s supposed to be private conversations, so let me just say that… well, they’re mostly supportive of me. They may have one concern or two (and one or two said I should’ve taken the one-poem offer), but they have mainly reminded me of the axioms of “you are who you are” and “write what you know.” A couple of them even suggested I should have kept my bio as it was (“full-time male, part-time female”)… but, nah, I’m going to keep the new bio for at least a while (I actually do like its honesty). I feel humbled to have gained their support and kind words… including the ones who have written their own prose. Yep, I’m not the only poet in our group (their prose sounds better than mine, to be honest).
The trans festival took place the very afternoon of this post (Sunday the 27th). For obvious reasons, I did not attend (not even in male mode), as it still would’ve felt awkward to join in on the fun. I sincerely hope those who did take part enjoyed it, and that they received sincere applause and compliments for their performances. As for me, I am slowly putting this episode behind me, but I know there are lessons to be learned, or at least be reminded of if I knew them already:
- For one, I know that just because I identify as LGBT and a crossdresser, it doesn’t mean I should be immune from criticisms from our community, nor does it give me the unconditional right to participate in any and every LGBT-oriented event.
- It also reminds me that I should never, to borrow a term my grandparents would’ve used in an instance such as this, get a bit too big for my britches. No, I didn’t entirely feel this way, but as I alluded to in the above bullet point, there will always be someone ready to pop my balloon (perhaps with justification) should it get too full of air.
- I also must remind myself that I’m definitely not perfect — not as a person, not as a crossdresser, not as a poet… and as it pertains to my bio, not as a self-describer. While I should try to remain confident as possible (and, again, not get too big of an ego), I should always try to challenge and improve myself. Only through self-improvement will I become better as a person and as a writer, as well as become confident enough to participate in more poetry performances. (Which reminds me, there’s another trans-related art event in November, one with different organizers as today’s event. I will definitely consider it, but definitely not make the same mistakes I made this time around.)
- And I should remember to not only be who I am and write what I know… but also listen to my audience. If they give me praise, I should accept it. If they offer constructive criticism, I should listen to it. And if they throw brickbats my way… well, I should try not to let the Statlers and Waldorfs of the world get me down while they hurl barbs from their online balconies.
I will close this post with a quote forwarded to me by someone I’ve connected with in our trans support corners and who has complimented me on my writing (they say I am a great writer and that the critics don’t know what they’re saying). When I expressed my self-doubt to them, they shared with me the following quote from Theodore Roosevelt. I’ll hang on to this quote to remind me the importance of dusting myself up, picking myself up, and moving forward from disappointment.
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”