Did you ever hear the one about the trans guy who walked into a bar? No? Unsurprising. It seems that folks are allergic to humor about trans people. Gay folks get their fair share, from comments about lesbians and u-hauls to jokes about gay men and fashion sense. Trans people, though? We get diddly squat. Our people come up in conversation and everyone prepares for a serious talk about the pain of coming out to mom and dad or hopelessness over whether we’ll ever be able to afford whatever operation we’ve set our sights on. Now, these are important topics but, honestly, I’m sick of them. For one thing, there are severely limited options for non-jerky responses to such stories. Think: understanding and empathizing comments, sometimes paired with soothing pats on the arm.
See, I envy the lesbians whose bed death is getting mocked. Not for the lesbian bed death—that’s really pretty tragic when it happens—but for the fact that people are laughing about it. Many straight identified folks I’ve met are comfortable laughing about lesbians or gay men in a way that cisgendered folks aren’t comfortable joking about trans people. Being trans is perceived by lots of people as this doom and gloom affair. I, in contrast, think it’s frickin hilarious. C’mon. Some girl is flipping out over whether she’s showing too much cleavage on a first date while her trans guy date is worrying about whether his dick is going to slide down his pants leg and land on her foot. How do you even explain that moment? “Is that a…” “No, no! It’s my stress ball. I just keep it in my fictional inner-lining-of-the-pants-pocket for special occasions. Really!” But having a detachable dick isn’t all anxiety and awkwardness. Cisgendered men have the classic “dick in a box” trick at the movie theatre. I just put my dick in my older brother’s coat pocket and wait for his hands to get cold. Guess who’s laughing now, “Mr. I was born with a penis?” Yeah, that’s right.
Sometimes I tell people that I’m trans height. I say that I was born short but identify as a tall person and would like them to treat me that way, complete with looking up at a point above my head when they speak to me. I don’t tell the joke because I truly identify as 6’3 but rather to poke fun at how much of a mindfuck it is for some people to understand trans identity. Here we are in a society where people truly, passionately believe that sex and gender are incontrovertibly, undeniably, tied together. And, of course, there’s the glass half empty interpretation of that reality: life is bad for us because the world doesn’t understand us and is committed to ideas that deny our existence.
I see it a little differently, though. Of all the things I could be born without that would serve me in life, I’m missing a dick. And, despite the fact that I can grow more facial hair than an ape, can bench press more than many cisgendered men and like to watch sports for hours on end, supposedly all marks of manhood, there are people in the world who claim I’m a woman. Why? Because I lack a flabby collection of nerves that hangs between the legs but stiffens and shoots white goo when stimulated. Seriously? I’m not saying I agree that any of the other bits I listed qualify anyone as a man—it’s much more complicated than that—but the suggestion that a floppy tube defines masculinity is just so weird. I really just have to laugh when someone looks at me and can actually say with a straight face that I’m a woman. Whatever they’re smoking, I’d love to get some of that.
See, I did the trans guy angst thing once upon a time. I hated my body, I cried over not having the money for surgery and I wrote countless livejournal posts about how my parents would never understand me. And the truth is that for a lot of trans people, there’s nothing funny about the level of danger and anxiety caused by their trans status in a world that is very unforgiving of anyone different. The thing is, though, I’ve now been trans for over six years, I eventually earned and saved the money for surgery, I changed my body and my parents came around to loving their son for who he was. I’m certainly not every trans man but I’m not the only one in my position, either. And I can’t speak for all of the guys out there who aren’t depressed over being trans anymore, but I’ve been laughing about this stuff for years and am ready for the rest of you to catch up. Who’s with me?