Sometimes I Feel Like I am Watching “Paris is Burning”

When I was young I used to go to Drag Bars, the nasty sleazy kind, as if there are any other, because in the world of gay and lesbian bars those that let queens and trannies in are generally at the bottom of the lumpen prole level of social standing.

I was friends with a bunch of queens, trannie hookers, who would now be elevated to the status of transgender sex workers, an exercise in title inflation with no improvement in pay or benefits that is so characteristic of the post Reagan/Thatcher world of neo-liberalism and neo-conservatism (fascism).

Nothing ever changes.  John Rechy wrote of the scenes in these sorts of bars in late 1950s Los Angeles and I witnessed it in the mid 1970s.  Paris is Burning was shot in the 1980s and one can view the slightly up-scale version in the on-line world of trannies on a daily basis.

Youth and realness are prized.  The ability to walk down the street as yourself without getting beaten or verbally harassed is a source of both admiration and pride.

I was part of an elite clique when we were going through the Stanford Program, I lived in Berkeley, not in the Tenderloin, worked the phone and not the street.

In my early 20s I was teenage hippie girl pretty, and real to the point that when a couple of my BFFs first met me they thought I was a Berkeley psych student researching a paper.

I didn’t spend any time in the bars prior to SRS.  I was in a common law marriage with Jerry and worked at the Center.

My clique was composed of sisters who were also young and pretty, self described “divas”. We attended the group sessions at Stanford, which were clearly misnamed as a “grooming clinic” and which were much more like rap groups where relationships and employment problems as well as questions regrading “the operation” were discussed.  Because our Center was on Turk Street, in a low rent space on a nasty block Jan and I referred those of us who were the young and the pretty as “The Tenderloin Terrors” a play on the names of Roller Derby teams of the day.  Those from San Jose who were older and more established were “The San Jose Bombers”, a reference to the aero-space industry that pre-dated the electronics/computer industry.

About 10 years back I wrote a piece called “Mean Teen Queens and the Mothras”.

This should be an indication that the HBS or Hairy Bull Shit and “Classic Transsexual” is just a post-modern rebranding of a game as old as queens and trannies.  John Rechy wrote about it in City of Night, specifically the chapter “Miss Destiny’s Fabulous Wedding”.  For all I know it went on in the blind pig, private drag bars of 1880-90 New York City.

There is one thing, one element of that I saw during the period of 1973-74 when I was hanging out with the trannie sex workers of Hollywood Blvd, photographing them and documenting their lives as well as my own for my approach was as a participant observer.

That is the competition over realness.  The whole, “I’m real and you are not.” thingie.

In Paris is Burning one of the older queens, I believe from the House of LaBeija explains the difference between reading and throwing shade.  Reading is one sister calling another sister a trannie.  Well when both are trannies what sense does that one make?

So people throw shade and put others down as not being as real or as much woman.  Which is pretty weird since we all started out as transsexual or transgender and had an operation or didn’t.

Now over the years I’ve seen those who get carried away like Amanda Lapore.  I’ve seen the silicon disasters and the huge implants.

I’ve also seen the pictures of some of the folks doing some of the nastiest name calling.  Not even trannie chasers would be attracted to them.

There is a lot of isolation, substance abuse and anger.  It goes with the territory of growing up trans and abused.  The on-line world has given some people a way to vent their resentment and like what one sees among other groups of lumpen folks rather than fighting their oppression many would rather engage in hostility towards each other.

As someone who has been part of various movements over the years  I view this as both a waste of time and as having negative impact on all who are involved.  Particularly since those who tend to do the most stone throwing and name calling tend to set themselves off as not only better than every one else (those lying about being intersex) or claiming deep stealth in spite of being all over the internet.

Transgender and transsexual are vastly different in some very real ways and for many people with transsexualism certain problems that tend to be life long for people with transgenderism are transitory and end with the legal recognition one gains with SRS.  Other problems remain the same.  Isolation from family and structures cis-sexual/gender people take for granted.  Discrimination, relationship difficulties and myriad of issues including substance abuse.

Sometimes the discovery that as a woman, particularly as a middle aged woman one disappears and is so ordinary as to be ignored is a bitter pill to swallow after all the attention and being treated as special during transition.  I suspect a good deal of lashing out is a cry for attention, a way of saying “Look at me!  I am special.  Not like all the other trannies.”

You see way back when I was part of the group considered the divas, we didn’t find it necessary to put people down because we sort of basked in their admiration and acted with a certain noblesse oblige, after all it was our responsibility to those who admired us.

We knew who the Mothras were and just recently my last surviving girlfriend from that era reminded my of how bad some looked.  But she also mentioned how much courage they had and how some were so nice that you couldn’t help but feel their pain.

Sometime when I read some of the vicious stuff slamming other people because they are less real than the person doing the slamming I am stunned by the lack of empathy that gets shown on line.

Perhaps it is the nature of the media and the generalize anonymity as well as ability to hurl insults from the safety of one’s own home causes people to say stuff that they wouldn’t on the streets.  But having hung out in drag bar while photographing that scene in Hollywood I sort of doubt it.

The funny thing is I listen to Sirius Radio’s “Out-Q” Show “Derek and Romaine Show” during my evening drive time.  Yesterday Tina and I were going to dinner and listening, we find their show hysterically funny, and they had a queen named Hedda Lettuce on.  Hedda proceeded to dish and trash all the other queens who perform in the same venues that she does.

Some timmes the phrase, “Your roots are showing.” isn’t about needing a touch up with the dye bottle.

3 Responses to “Sometimes I Feel Like I am Watching “Paris is Burning””

  1. Willow Arune Says:

    Gosh! You may not publish this – that’s totally up to you – but once again we agree….

    Now, the “expert” on transsexuality and who is and isn’t, one JU of SF, says that you have lost your way. Actually she said something far worse but we can ignore that.

    This sentence was a delight:
    “I’ve also seen the pictures of some of the folks doing some of the nastiest name calling. Not even trannie chasers would be attracted to them.”

    And:

    “Sometime when I read some of the vicious stuff slamming other people because they are less real than the person doing the slamming I am stunned by the lack of empathy that gets shown on line.”

    It would be nice of some late transitioners stopped attempting (and failing) to “pass” as another type of “true transsexual” and concentrated more on raising the standards of their own group. Unhappily, just as there were many “false czars” in the course of Russian history, there are now many pretenders amongst that group. For whatever reason, they seem to feel that what they are is not “good enough” and thus they strive to change into what they are not. in this, by appearance and behaviour, they fail miserably. It is often tinged with black humour – the appearance of a newbie at a support group meeting, looking like the very worst type of “man in a dress” who asks all “Do I look alright?” with the response of all predictably “You look just fine”. The simple polite inquiry of a nurse that is turned into affirmation of the desired status; the bragging when polite reserve is treated as affirmation of “passing”. She says “They didn’t clock me!”; they say “What is that freak?” – a cartoon.

    Worse yet, it has turned to the image transsexuals into a caricature. How, one is rightly entitled to ask, can the most masculine of behaviours witnessed on some of the Internet groups be committed by those who loudly proclaim their feminine being? In recent years we have had to witness the nadir of civil discourse amongst transsexuals, the majority of whom were old enough to know better. The more loudly and vilely the proclamations by these of their “true transsexuality” (or other such faddish term, as adopted from time to time by inmates of the asylum), the more comic they appear.

    To me, it seems little more than the cry of a spoiled child “I want to be one of them!” when what the child is is just fine, just as he or she is.

    As Lawrence has written, there is a condition – a mental condition known – that does certainly offer a valid explanation for this type of behaviour. Perhaps there is more, perhaps it is a symptom of something deeper and as yet undefined. In all my years, now advancing, I have never witnessed such vile behaviour as in the past few years of TS history. Little if any of that soccer mob mentality has come from those regarded broadly speaking as “primary” – those who transitioned in teens or very early twenties, who sought medical intervention very early in life, who never married as men nor became fathers. No. It came from supposedly mature TS most of whom were masquerading as what they were not. Like the supposedly devout Christian who mouths phrases from the bible while breaking every commandment, these are known by their deeds (and past lives) and not their words.

    Not all have behaved in this outlandish manner. But far too many have, enough to provide any outside observer with a stereotype that is – to say the least – unflattering in the extreme. Had all that energy been applied in “improving the brand” instead of attacking others, how different that stereotype would be today.

    Frankly, the only thing that shades my life is the stereotype that has been recently created by those who’s behaviour towards professionals and others has been so totally abysmal. My goodness, I am most certainly not one of “those”.

    You can certainly write your own novel, but you cannot force others to live in the dream world you have created.

    • Suzan Says:

      Willow,
      I actually do read your posts and while you are moderated your posts will be approved as long as you don’t take them off on a tangent.

  2. Willow Arune Says:

    Me??? On a tangent??

    I may ride a horse from time to time but I most certainly refuse to ride a tangent. None in my stables, but I shall look for one on my next ride (Sorry – too many years of “The Goon Show” on BBC…)


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