tl;dr Even though I’m still pretty young, I’m realizing that i am no longer the youngest. And, if nothing else, I would like that the work I do ensures the generation below me doesn’t have to do the same thing I’m doing.
One of the things I’ve been really thinking about recently is the fact that I’m getting older. Not in the bad oh-god-my-life-is-over way. And, to be honest, getting older doesn’t mean I’m old. I’m actually very very young.
That’s another thing I’m thinking about.
But, in terms of my place in queer communities, there is now a generation under me that is distinguishable from my generation. Part of that is just experience – I now have an undergraduate degree and the experience of involvement in queer circles while an undergrad student is pretty particular and has shaped me in specific ways, I also got to intern with a queer theatre organization, and lived with a ridiculously inspiring anti-racist feminist activist (and a bunch of other things) for a month and a half, whose entire approach to activism is something I am trying to adopt into my entire life and has left strong imprints on me over a year later.
Basically, a lot can happen in four years. And, in interacting with those who have not yet experienced those particular four years of their life, or even are just in the midst of experiencing it, I’m realizing that I am no longer the baby. It doesn’t mean I’m the wise elder either. Far from it, I’m still a confused, inexperienced youngster. But I’ve had some moments and I’m older.
For me, one of the hardest parts of the disastrous US presidential elections this year was watching the younger trans people I know respond. This is the second presidential election I’ve been able to vote in, this was their first. Not a huge difference, but enough for us to have different perspectives. I was watching panic. I was watching heartbreak and fear and hopelessness. And these were all things I was feeling too, but seeing it come from someone younger was a lot more painful than experiencing it personally.
For me, the most meaningful part of my community’s response to the disastrous US presidential elections came in the form of two facebook messages. Two older trans people I know here, outside of the US, from completely different settings, both British, simply had the thought to send me a message, let me know they/their respective communities were there for me, and ask how I was doing.
And, because I’m in this weird old/young middle place, I was able to experience both sides and gain the perspective of just how important my role is becoming in my community. And it will become more and more important as I get older.
In a way, that responsibility is daunting. But it’s a good reminder of who I am.
I’m currently dealing with institutionalized transphobia at my school. It was an easily-solved situation that the institution chose to extend and extend and extend. I am exhausted. I have had to justify and explain myself, my identity, other trans identities, and argue that transphobia has no place in academic discussions with my peers and teachers. And then the words I used were twisted around and thrown back at my face in an attempt to deny everything I was saying.
And staring at that, I nearly gave up. I don’t have the energy to deal with this. I am at this school to learn how to dance, not to argue with people that think transphobia is good for my education. I cannot emotionally balance a demanding course and workload while making myself the necessary amount of vulnerable to fight this.
But here’s the thing: There’s someone on a different course than me with a trans symbol on their backpack. We haven’t talked a lot. I’m not even sure if they’re younger than me (I think they are, but I’m also terrible at estimating people’s ages).
Here’s the other thing: One of the hardest things about being a professional-track trans dancer is that no one else is. In the US, we have Sean Dorsey. But I cried the day I saw him dance, because what I saw was a dancer that played with and fit into binary gender as much as any cis choreographer. His work is brilliant and his work in queer and trans-specific activism is excellent, but he cannot model the path I’m taking in dance. There’s something about not having a single person paving the way for you that creates this extreme loneliness and helplessness.
I’m at this school for less than a year. I could give up, keep my head down, get my education and leave. But what about that other dancer? They could have two more years at this place. And, maybe I’m wrong (I hope I am), but I have to assume they are, in some part, experiencing the same loneliness and helplessness I am.
It takes a lot of hubris to say “oh yes, I will be that person’s role model” and I don’t intend for a minute to try that. Someday maybe I’ll deserve that, but not today.
What I can do is take on the battle in front of me. No, it’s not my job to teach my teachers how to treat me with basic human respect, but no one else is doing it and it has to be done, if only so someone else further down the line doesn’t have to do it. I might not be able to find a resolution to this problem, but if I give up and don’t continue to challenge it, that’s just passing it on to the next person. There is definitely a part of me that just wants to go “yeah, fuck this, I’m dropping out”, but if I drop out, then the transphobia continues and the next person ends up in the same situation and mainstream dance will not have become any more trans-inclusive than when I started. In fact, they’ll have learned how to conveniently speak over trans people and avoid being called out for transphobia.
So basically, screw my education, screw my chance at a degree, screw letting my teachers and peers get away with casual transphobia. I’ve been shown quite clearly that the institution I am currently involved with is unapologetically transphobic and that is my priority.
Because I might be young, but I am definitely old enough to know how my actions effect those that are younger than me. And, if nothing else, I want the next generation’s battles to be different than the ones I fight. And, to be honest, this one is quite boring and I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.