Ask a Trans Woman: The Entirely Complicated Answer About All the Simple Answers

Trans PeopleLorelei Erisis, The Rainbow Times' "Ask A Trans Woman" Columnist.
Photo: David Meehan
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Lorelei Erisis, The Rainbow Times' "Ask A Transwoman" Columnist.  Photo: David Meehan

Lorelei Erisis, The Rainbow Times’ “Ask A Transwoman” Columnist.
Photo: David Meehan

By: Lorelei Erisis*/TRT Columnist—

I’ve been writing this column for a number of years now, and in that time, I’ve also become recognized as something of an “expert” on trans people and our lives and also a number of other intersectional and adjacent issues including gender, sexuality, activism, feminism, coffee and whiskey.

I put “expert” in quotes like that because, well, I’m not really sure I necessarily know more than anyone else. It’s just that it has become my job to think about all these things, learn as much as I can, and form intelligent and hopefully useful opinions about them. When people ask me for advice or guidance, which they do on the regular (kind of an expected side-effect of calling oneself an “advice columnist”), I want to be able to give them the best, most useful answer I can. Though I joke a lot, I am very serious about this.

In the course of all this thinking and advice-giving as well as over the course of my relatively adventurous life, I have developed a sort of ethos, a set of principles and beliefs that I use as a guide. This ethos stands as the solid foundation of any advice I might give or action I might take.

These guiding principles were not drawn whole cloth from any one source. They come from many sources, from a lifelong thirst for knowledge and experience and from a hell of a lot of thinking.

Two of the most important beliefs I hold, particularly with regards to this column, are a belief in complexity and in context. I believe the world is a gloriously complex place, and that the people in it are just as complex as the world they inhabit, and I think that’s wonderful! Scratch the surface of any issue and you will find a myriad of causes and effects and beliefs and influences and history behind it. [pullquote]Two of the most important beliefs I hold, particularly with regards to this column, are a belief in complexity and in context. I believe the world is a gloriously complex place, and that the people in it are just as complex as the world they inhabit, and I think that’s wonderful![/pullquote]

For this reason, I also find context to be incredibly important. If a trans person tells me they were misgendered and asks me how they should deal with it, the first thing I wonder is, was it the mailman or their mother? Either context may lead to quite a different answer. If it was the mailman, the answer will be quite a bit easier. Correct them the next chance you have, politely but firmly. They are a public servant, so you can expect them to get these things right and insist—again politely—that they do. If it was your mother, it’s going to be a different tale. It’s still important to correct her and to do so as politely but firmly as possible, but you may have to be a lot more patient. It’s a more complex relationship, and it’s going to be a longer journey. You may have to keep correcting her and even try to explain the hows and whys and wherefores to her. Now, if the mailman is your mother, that’s a different kettle of fish entirely. Good luck with that.

The reason I’m telling you these things, dear readers, is that despite my belief in the glorious complexity of the world and my desire to explore all the minute gradations of any issue, I recognize that very often I am required to simplify in order to present the answer most appropriate for a particular audience. For example, when a small child marches up to me and asks “Are you a girl or a boy?” (which happens with fair regularity, actually), my answer is usually, “Well, I used to be a boy and now I’m a girl.” This answer blithely ignores whole fields of study in gender theory, thrusts aside any pretense of nuance, and radically simplifies the issue! But, in the context of a small child’s world in which everything is new and shiny anyway, that’s the answer they need. That’s the answer that’s going to make the strongest, most memorable and positive impact on them. Now they know that sometimes boys can be girls and that gender is not always a fixed thing, and they can cross that off the list and go on to the next question, like wondering why the sky is blue. If at some point this answer makes them want to know more, they can go read Kate Bornstein, or if they end up particularly ambitious, Judith Butler, but for now, simplicity will do. [pullquote]For example, when a small child marches up to me and asks “Are you a girl or a boy?” (which happens with fair regularity, actually), my answer is usually, “Well, I used to be a boy and now I’m a girl.” This answer blithely ignores whole fields of study in gender theory, thrusts aside any pretense of nuance, and radically simplifies the issue![/pullquote]

Often, I have to simplify because I have a limited number of words or minutes in which to address issues that really should be discussed over an entire evening, possibly involving cocktails and a handy chalkboard. I want you to know these things because I want you to remember them, not just when you read my column, but when you read anything. I am always happy to answer your questions as best as I can. I’m honored to share the things I have learned and the conclusions to which I’ve come, which are the results of all that constant thinking and thirsting for knowledge.

Ultimately though, I want you to think for yourself. Take what you learn from me or from any other source and think it through, in your own context, taking into account your own complexities.

You have my promise I will continue to think about these things with you and give you the best guidance I can. My dream, however, is to live in a world of people who think critically about the world they live in and the things they are told to believe; a world of people living as deliberately as this sometimes haphazard and chaotic universe allows; a world of open eyes, open minds, open hearts, and of infinite and endlessly fascinating complexity!

*Lorelei Erisis is an actor, activist, adventurer, and pageant queen. Send your questions about trans issues, gender and sexuality to her at askatranswoman@gmail.com.

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