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May 7, 2012 | by  | in Features |
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Found in Translation

Salient talks to Connor Amos and DeeDeeWitt.

Recently, members of the transgender community have been portrayed in the mainstream media as egotistical, confused attention seekers. Kelsey Harvey sat down with Connor Amos and DeeDeeWitt to meet those behind the label and dispel the myths perpetuated in broader society. Many thanks are due to Connor and Dee for their willingness to share their stores of both the problems they have faced, and the personal conquests of their everyday lives.

How do you identify?

Dee: I identify as a transgender woman, or in some circumstances I’ll use transsexual.

Connor: I identify as a transgendered male, but I would say just trans or trans guy.

Was there a process of coming out to different people or did you just come out to everyone all at once?

Connor: About this time last year I came out to my friends and my work mates and then after I’d come out to pretty much everyone in Wellington, I finally told my family who don’t live in Wellington and they were actually really annoyed that I hadn’t told them first and that everybody else already knew. It was the hardest coming out to them so I left it ‘til last.

Dee: The first person I had to come out to was myself. It takes quite a while to actually work these things out or to be able to accept things about yourself. I started coming out about 5 or 6 years ago,  to my partner at the time and close friends, then my family and then I moved down to Wellington. During that period I started being more androgynous, and once I got down here about 3 years ago I started transitioning and pretty much came out to everybody, I guess all the people that mattered anyway.

How did your family react? Did they already have an awareness of transgendered people?

Connor: They already had an understanding of it that was, I believe, quite skewed, and therefore I actually had that view as well when I first started thinking about transitioning.

My family was all really sad, it was a grieving thing. They thought that they lost their sister and daughter; they were like “We don’t know this new person”. Once they got over that they started to understand. My Mum in particular has been amazing, she went out and bought a whole heap of books and read them and she’d send me little scanned pages of things. For my Dad it was almost like a realization that he doesn’t really know me and I think that he’s started to make an effort and try to get to know me.

Dee: Well, the majority of my family is quite strict. My sister has been absolutely fantastic, unfortunately she lives on the other side of the world at the moment so I don’t get to see her, but as soon as I told her she changed using pronouns and to her I guess it just made sense. She was very understanding. With my parents and my extended family it’s been rather slow going, my parents have always been the kind of people that when something comes up they deal with it in that space and time, and then never talk about it again. I thought they might have questions or want to talk to me about it, but not at all. I’m sure a lot of other people have it harder with their families, like divorce themselves from all contact. My family hasn’t done that though, they still ultimately love me, it’s just a slow grind.

How significant do you think that the awareness and educating of people about the trans community is to the acceptance of it?

Dee: It’s completely about education and understanding, and understanding the different forms of gender outside of the cis-gender binary where sex equals gender. Acceptance can just come from people just being open and caring towards other people. You don’t have to necessarily understand where someone’s coming from to accept someone.

Connor: I think a lot of people won’t really ever understand unless you actually go through it, but it’s just about how you treat people and how accepting you are, not about how much you know.

What do you do as a member of the Wellington queer community? Where does the trans community fit within it?

Connor: Before I came out as trans and I was identifying as a lesbian and I was not part of the queer community at all. It was only when I started to transition that I decided to get involved, maybe because I needed more support or maybe because I finally felt like I was in the right place, like I belonged. Now I really love being a part of the queer community. I am involved in quite a few different projects, I’m a facilitator at School’s Out, which is a support group for queer youth, helping teenagers to work their way through the school world being queer. I am involved in Tranzform, which is a support group for mainly trans people. I also write a blog about my own experiences of being trans and apply that to the real world and where it fits into the big picture.

Dee: I wasn’t really involved in the wider queer community until I came to Wellington and started transitioning. Mainly because at that point I was straight, I guess, whatever that means, but now I facilitate Tranzform, a support group for people in their transition that helps them through it. Also, I’m an artist and I try to use my work as a platform to help get people thinking about gender and transgender issues. I do performance art at the moment and I take ideas from queer theory, trans theory, feminist theory and representations in the media. It gets people to specifically think about how gender expectations are married to physical bodies and the way that they are presented in the media.

What everyday obstacles do you face that you think are specific to being trans?

Connor: For me, a lot of is just people that feel that because I’m trans and because I’m quite open and happy to talk about it people feel that they’re allowed to be more invasive than they would with other people. For some reason they think it’s ok to ask me about my genitals and all sorts of really personal stuff that you wouldn’t ask just anyone. I do like people asking questions and I do like educating people but there’s a line that you have to draw and say “you need to Google that”. Also, a basic thing like using the bathrooms in a public place when they’re obviously gendered. I go to the male bathrooms but it’s not always the most comfortable thing to do and being misread on an almost daily basis by people who aren’t even aware that there are people out there who don’t identify with the gender that they might look like they do.

Specific to trans man, when I meet some alpha male guys and I say that I’m male, they almost don’t believe me unless I prove it, and for them that’s objectifying women and being a misogynistic dick, but I’m a feminist. Sometimes it’s like do I want to be read as male or do I want to be ‘not a dick’. I hate it.

Dee: The obstacles kind of change as you transition. The further along you transition the more comfortable you get with yourself and so generally the more comfortable others are with you, but a lot of it is just to do with safety. You can’t always guarantee that you’re going to be safe out in public, especially when you first start transitioning, because a lot of the time you’re not passable at the beginning and that’s when people are most likely to be abusive or violent towards you.

One of the main obstacles for trans women is voice. To get a passable voice you need to do a lot of practice towards it. Whereas if trans guys are taking testosterone, it just naturally lower, but that’s already happened to trans women during puberty and estrogen doesn’t reverse that.

Lately I’ve become really aware of what I’m saying, such as “hi guys”, to any gender.

Dee: That’s a really curious phenomenon. People think it’s alright to call mixed groups or females by more masculine terms or pronouns, but if you were to say something feminine to a group of men, so many people would take offense to it. In the scope of masculine and feminine; masculine is the dominant.

It’s almost like the default.

Dee: Exactly, like ‘mankind’.

Connor: I think that part of transgendered and genderqueer people’s problem is that everything is so ingrained in the language that we use, so subconsciously we’re being really cis-sexist every day. Even within the trans community, there is a bit of a focus on gender binary. If you are transitioning from one gender to another it’s really easy to fall into the trap of thinking “now I’m this gender, so now I must have these set words and actions”.

Dee: It’s so ridiculously prescriptive.

What is gender policing?

Dee: Gender policing is just reinforcing stereotypes of the gender binary so if you step out of line from your prescribed gender a lot of the time someone will kind of push you back in place and say “don’t do that”.

Connor: My transition so far has been a journey of how my masculinity and my femininity work together and how they’re both really important. I think that everybody should just be aware of what their gender looks like and know that they’re somewhere on the gender spectrum.

Since coming out as trans, how is your life easier?

Connor: I always struggled to fit into groups of people and I just didn’t really know who I was or where I belonged, and since I’ve come out as trans I’ve worked that out and I know what I want to do with my life. I’ve always been a really good writer and now I have something to write about. When I finished school I never went to uni, I just got a job and worked full-time, and now I’m starting to feel comfortable just being myself and I’m ready to go to uni. I’m finally starting to see myself.

Dee: I definitely agree with the comfort statement, it’s much nicer to be me now. It feels like I have a more worthwhile life, because before, I was never able to imagine any kind of future that involved me. Now I’m actually able to start imagining myself in the future. I also think that being trans gives you a certain kind of privileged perspective of the world and people, it gives you a much more in-depth understanding of something that is so human and intrinsic to our society and it can help you see more right into the heart of it, and that’s pretty awesome.

What message would you like to leave us with?

Dee: People should question why the gender binary is so important. There are more possibilities in life than a simplistic binary that categorizes people. Don’t limit yourselves.

Connor: The more people that learn that there is not really a gender binary, the more people will look again at where they belong, and the more we will fight the binary. Bring it on.

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