I am an existentialist not an essentialist.
I am also an out and proud atheist as well as a left winger, more anarchistic than Marxist.
I am currently reading Gail Collins book, When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present. I just finished the chapter on the Civil Rights Movement that took place in the early 1960s where she described SNCC and how participation in the beloved community had a lifelong impact on the lives of those who were a part of that community.
It became the defining moment of their lives and forever shaped them.
I was part of SDS, the Anti-war in Vietnam Movement, including Weather Nation, those of us who had gone with Weatherman when SDS splintered in 1969 and who were left when the leadership went underground. I had a deserter boyfriend during my pre-op days and for a year after with an off again on again relationship that lasted a couple of years beyond that.
I was shaped by Second Wave Feminism to the point where my primary question on any set of politics is, “Is this good for women?”
I read Kate’s book a couple of years before I first met her. We first met at a National Coming Out Day Rally at UCLA. I wore my Transsexual Menace t-shirt and realized that even wearing that didn’t necessarily out me.
Kate did a monologue from one of her performance pieces where she defined herself in negative terms. I am not this, I am not that. I thought of it as a rather nihilist approach because as an existentialist I define who and what I am by my history and by what I am currently doing, my dreams/desires to do in the future.
Later I met other ex-Scientologists and came to realize that Kate’s involvement in Scientology shaped her and her thinking even though she is no longer a Scientologist in the same way SDS had shaped me and how the people of SNCC were shaped by their life experiences.
Having been born with Transsexualism is a rather profound experience, having to deal with it and how we deal with it shapes our lives, even if we deny it.
Can we ever really escape what we were born with and what we went through as a result of what we were born?
Some of us deny our history and some embrace it. Most like me tend to compartmentalize it as something shared with close friends and perhaps on the internet. The strangest are those who are all over the internet proclaiming how “real” they are and denouncing all those who do not meet the precise standards laid out by those who see themselves as iconically the only true transsexuals (Oh I forgot. They aren’t transsexual, they are HBS.).
I can see how being born with transsexualism shaped my life by making me an outsider in the town where I was born, and outsider to the classmates I was otherwise identical to in class, race and religion. How it made me an outsider to that religion and even my family. John Rechy, author of City of Night has said that LGBT/T people are the only minority born into the family of the oppressor.
My difference led to my being aware of the oppression I faced by matter of birth, and my liberal left rearing led to my feeling empathy towards others who were also oppressed for reasons of birth in matters such as race and class, sex or sexuality.
For a while I was so alienated from the identity politics and the presumption that one facet of my being defined my entire being that I lashed out, hopefully more at the identity politics than at individuals the way some on the internet so obsessively do. I wrote in terms of hegemony and colonization because I was bothered by the way in which the identity politics of transgender as umbrella not only erased transsexualism and its particular uniqueness but turned WBTs into a tool to advance “the cause”. However, that wasn’t the only aspect of transgender as umbrella that bothered me. It also erased all those other unique experiences that shape us as individuals, even though we might be members of a class.
I saw that as very Stalinistic and not very realistic. Just as I was shaped by transsexualism, I was shaped by growing up working class and left. I was shaped by being a radical left wing hippie, by being a feminist. Just as Kate was shaped by having been a Scientologist.
Just as others were by growing up passing as male and receiving male privilege without having the the taking away of that privilege as an obvious transkid. Growing up Fundamentalist or in a right wing and upper class back ground also shapes people. Those who get their world view from Fox News and Rush Limbaugh become different people from those get their world view from MSNBC and Amy Goodman.
If the most influential books you’ve read have been the Bible and Atlas Shrugged you will see things different than if you found Being and Nothingness and The People’s History of the United States 1492 to Present to be the most influential. The obviousness of this should not require pointing out, and yet one issue identity politics levels out these distinctions, erases the individual in favor of a monolithic group where the one common featured trait overcomes all the differences that make us individuals.
For this reason identity politics has been a resounding failure, degenerating almost immediately into turf wars over hurt feelings. The success of the anti-war in Vietnam Movement was in its focus on the issue of America’s role in the war. That was also its weakness in that once the draft was ended and the shift was made to an air war as well as secret war run by the CIA, many lost interest.
The same was true regarding the reaction to the anti-feminist backlash endured during the Reagan Regime. Issues based struggle was lost to the time wasting matters of identity politics.
These days I blog. I work long hours and I see a multitude of issues that can impact not only people who have had their lives impacted by one trans-prefixed word or another but by issues of class and race, sex or sexuality.
Time to get back to existentialism, essentialism sucked when it was practiced by certain radical feminists and it sucks when practiced by certain people with transsexualism or transgenderism.
You are what you do and what you have done. You are not who you claim to “identify” as unless your actions are consistent with that claimed identity. Claiming identity is paramount is the suckiest form of essentialism for it is essentialism that ignores action.