I am Frightened and I Remember Old Skills

I’m an old woman. I am married to another woman who was also born transsexual. We are not obvious about it.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about my ambivalence regarding Day of Visibility. That extends to any 3D trans-visibility.

I grew up learning to hide my being trans. I learned to fight back even if the odds of my winning were overwhelmingly against me. Better to go down fighting and make the bullies pay a price than just accept my fate.

I am nearing the completion of my conversion to Reform Judaism. I often wear a Magen David pendant, I tuck it inside my blouse in certain situations as I am well aware of antisemitism. My wife expressed concern when I hung a Mezuzah on our door frame. I feel reassured and safer knowing the practice has been appropriated by many Evangelicals.

Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance day was last week. We say: Never Again! Yet people with tattoos of SS runes and swastikas are more willing to openly flash them for the world to see than I am of my tiny silver star. I watched the events of January 6th with utter horror. I listen as all sorts of racism, anti-LGBT bigotry, anti-immigrant bigotry, anti-Asian bigotry and antisemitism is spewed by the same sorts of people who spewed the same hatred in the 1930s.

I’ve spent my life studying history. I know how Germany turned from an extremely progressive country in the 1920s to the land of Hitler’s Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust in the 1930s.

While we say, Never Again. I can see the flood of hatred on line, in social media, Alex Jones, and Fox News. The lies, the stink of hatred and bigotry and I am afraid.

Last week Lilith posted a link on their Facebook page to an article they first published back in the 1994. In 1994 it seemed anachronistic, today it seems truly relevant, particularly for trans-folks but also for everyone targeted by the ultra right. See: How to Hide: Instructions from a Daughter of Survivors

In October of 1967 I left home. Life there had become dangerous enough to cause me to think my life might well depend on finding another place to live. People at the paper mill were threatening me and my father had ordered me to enlist in the military. Considering how I had been treated growing up I had reason to believe I would not survive military service, that one of the same sort of bullies I had been abused by my entire life would kill me.

I fled. Being transsexual was criminalized in New York City at the time. I learned that California’s laws making “cross dressing” illegal had been struck down so I became a refugee in my own country. I wound up living in a garage for a month with a couple of people who became the core of a family of choice, a commune or as we called it a collective. We pooled our resources, scrounged for food, drugs, money, lived in several different apartments before moving over to Berkeley. At first I didn’t dare come out for fear of losing even that tenuous living situation.

But then I hit the point where it was come out or commit suicide. I did. I worked the system. I was part of a group of radicals, we hid deserters. We found ways of getting fake papers. For about a year I had several different names and identification papers for different purposes. My actual identity papers went with a deserter to help him get into Canada. I learned to answer to different names. One for work that paid next to nothing, one for welfare and the name that would become my real name. After about a year and a half those other names died. But the skill set didn’t

A few years later I live in Los Angeles, on Sunset Blvd. My girl friend and I played with wigs and changing our appearances for photographs. In the world of spy novels practicing those arts is known as tradecraft.

I studied the martial arts after being raped and learned how to kill both with my bare hands and with edged weapons. I learn how to shoot a hand gun and other firearms.

I had grown up observing others and being alert to people following me. I practiced the art of avoiding dangerous situations.

Lately the Nazis who have taken over the Republican Party in various Republican dominated states have seen fit to introduce laws that closely resemble the Nazi Nuremberg Laws that harshly limited Jews ability to live in Germany and conquered European nations. It didn’t start with the Shoah. It started with dehumanization, with laws that formalized discrimination. This time they didn’t start with the Jews.

This time they started with transgender and transsexual people. Worse yet with children lacking resources to fight them. Bathroom bills that would deny trans-folks a place to use the public restroom. The insidiousness of the idea that assigned at birth cannot be amended to match adult reality. The denying trans-kids the right to play sports or have their real name and real pronouns acknowledged, insisting instead on dead naming them. Now Texas wants to take trans-kids from supportive parents and stick them into Evangelical homes where they will be abused and tortured.

Years ago some one coined the acronym TERF for Trans Erasing Radical Feminists. People scoffed when I pointed out their link not to actual feminism but rather to the radical right. It is time for a new acronym TEB for Trans Eliminationist Bigot, because erasure implies simply rendering invisible when they do not want us merely invisible they want to kill us and eliminate us.

In the process of my conversion to Judaism I gained a new name, a Hebrew name to be used when I make alyah. It means climb and is used to describe being called to the bimah for giving or receiving a blessing. It also describes immigrating to Israel.

So I think of different names and fear the need to flee. A few years ago I would have scoffed at these thoughts, written them off as foolish paranoia. Yet police are killing African Americans, Nazis are trashing the Capitol Building in a scene straight from one of those action films like Olympus Has Fallen.

Never Again! We must stop the scapegoating that is straight out of 1930s Nazi Germany.

Mean while this old autodidact history lover and bookworm has found an alias and is practicing thinking of herself as that person. Just in case.

3 Responses to “I am Frightened and I Remember Old Skills”

  1. Layla Leatham Says:

    I read your stuff and I follow what you say with interest.
    Initially because being a bit younger I cant help but see the 60s with rose tinted spectacles and for me you provide some kind of insight into what it might have felt like to live through those times.
    If only I had a time machine…

    I share your concerns about the way things are going today but you’ve just brought it quite sharply into focus with this piece.

    I have a friend who lives near Rockford Illinois and coming up to the last elections she was making serious contingency plans to cross the border into Canada to claim asylum or whatever.
    I cant explain how stressed out she became during those last few weeks and it took days to sink in that the orange peril had lost.

    Being in the UK I suppose the urgency isnt quite as acute but we are never that far behind you, maybe I should think about alternatives too although I cant imagine what they could be short of claiming asylum somewhere in the EU.

    Do you really think its going to get to that?

    • Suzan Says:

      I am of an age where my father served during WW II. I grew up in the shadow of the War. I was part of the 1960s and 1970s movements. The police opened fire on demonstrators who were far less threatening than those on January 6.
      Am I afraid of those with SS rune tats or swastikas? Yes I am. Afraid enough to exercise my legal rights to own a handgun.
      I am nearly finished converting to Judaism. Until recently I wouldn’t have even thought of making alyah. But I has been reading a heavy duty history of the Holocaust and last week we Jews commemorated Yom HaShoah or Holocaust Remembrance Day. Today we celebrate Yom Hazikaron in memory of those who died defending Israel. There is a saying that Israel does not exist because of the Shoah but rather so there will never be another Shoah.

      Do I think it could get that bad? In the words of Monty Python, “No one expected the Spanish Inquisition.,

  2. Karen Says:

    History can repeat itself…

    My father also served in WWII and my mother was a WWII DP who was in a German Forced Labor Camp ( though she was not Jewish ) that was liberated and came here as a refugee…

    There was a time I would have said it could not happen again and certainly not here…

    But all those who crawled out of the wood work and were emboldened by the last administration scare me…

    And equally scary is how many people bought into the extreme right wing conspiracy theories and still cling to them…. and believe it or not that includes some TSes… (Something I thought improbable )

    I am glad I live in a fairly liberal area… though a surprising number of neighbors supported the ex-president in the last election!

    -Karen


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