The just concluded month of November saw the world mark yet another annual Trans Awareness week. In the same spirit, we reproduce a heartfelt piece shared by celebrated trans activist Cleo Xulaye- the piece evokes emotion, self-awareness as well as forces one to do a self-search on what their role in transphobia is.
As shared on Cleo Xulaye’s facebook timeline.
Ever since I moved back home, and as a trans person, I don't do... no scratch that, I carefully choose which weddings, family, school, uni, church get-togethers I go to.
I am very picky about which of these get-together situations I go for, one or two a year is more than enough, even simply none is just fine.
I have always been a non judgemental person, partly and pathologically, because I over-compensated for my queerness by having to be super nice and a people-pleaser. As a person I’m also quite liberal about the human project (I say project because we will soon be done like all the species we are doing our best to rush to extinction).
Anyway me being me, and really because campus and experimentation, I lived through abortions that you never told anyone about but me, and nights that we cried together because he cheated on you, and exam sheets that I passed over to you because you spent the whole night raving and never read for the exam, but I did coz I had no social life and so I stayed to read for it. I lived through nights that I held your hair as you vomited, or carried you to bed coz you were zonked-- my whole life has been way too sober. Remember that pregnancy scare that no one knows about up to now, and that STI, HIV scare that we lived through.
I didn't miss anything in college and uni, I lived all my college drama through my friends, I found love, got my heart broken, took my first spliff and realised not for me, had pregnancy and STI scares all through my friends. The only thing I did myself was books, church and God-' those pews of Watoto Church central main auditorium upper deck, middle row, fourth from the top, know my arse and prayers.
And then came adulthood, which also coincided with my coming out, when you decided that I was too heathen for you (even if you did all and I did nothing in campus) but not that my transness tramped all your "adventurous "unwhite picket fence", questionable campus experiences-- no but we can't forget all that coz we were young and stupid and what happens in our pre adulthood stays in our pre adulthood, no questions asked.
So yeah, i choose which get-togethers I do, because my life is just too busy and full sometimes with my own situations and half the time i do not have the emotional latitude to deal with your myopia, selective amnesia, hypocrisy, bigotry and pretence--coz only i know that holier than though façade, is simply that--a mirage, even in your new-found puritan lives that have learnt to semi compromise because life and her lessons--but God forbid in walks my trans self in your cis heterosexual wedding affairs, my presence, my existence and the fact that I breathe the air you breathe and do so quite beautifully and splendidly disturbs you. Why is she even alive, why does she celebrate her aberrance?, why does she look so nice at it? I hear those questions as undertones in your piercing judging eyes. Get off that high horse, and you will be the better for it boo boo!. Because life, as am sure we both know is not about high horses and knights, its more punctuated and nuanced than our parents told us (Lesson: coz I have a boy--don't ask how, coz children come in all manner of ways, google it) tell your child everything, it doesn't help to whitewash life, as we do with Instagram filters and all).
Anyway, am choosey about which get together's i go to, because like with my extended family (and am speaking about African extended families, that have cousins I did not know existed or where kids when I left but are now young pre adults, or old aunties like me, hidden but now back in the fold, because old age and further realness). Anyway like in my family gatherings there are always those people who say, "Come, come its okay", and I always ask, "Does so and so know?, has their mind changed?, will people be fine?, and they just say "Just come", and then an hour later am in that get-together and we all know, cousin Kugonza just found out he has a trans niece and he is freaking out and deliberately keeping away, and Aunt Kabahuma is so amused at her brother's failed parenting because now I walked in and she has one on him, and that now my father even hates me more and even the people who wanted me here are now questioning whether it was too soon or even necessary.
So as I always do, I keep to myself, move around trying to be unnoticed, chat with whoever comes over, often being the people who invited me, often a younger liberal niece/nephew, a cousin who has since changed their mind and is finally apologizing, but in secrecy because God-forbid if family knew that they understood and accepted me, and ever so rarely but it happens there is always that other queer person who because am trans comes out to me--because my transness is safety, but even then goes back to their faux straight life, because they don't have the guts to be as daring as me. And at some point in the night, though sometimes I stay till the end, i will secretly disappear and do so until the next family affair a year or two later, usually at the birth, sickness or death of someone else--those things are humbling and unifying in their sadness and happiness and so usually not even my transness matters. And so I tell myself at least my nuclear family of 12--which is already an extended family number for some other families, approves.
Let me give you a rundown of a friend get together, similarly, there is this friend who is always like "Come over, come over", and I will say no usually, or say yes and then get cold feet and not come over, or honestly because I was busy with something, and sometimes bite the bullet and come over-- coz honestly I miss my friends sometime and we have the fondest of memories, and me I dont know wat irks people about me, I transitioned, almost a decade ago get over it.
And then it starts. there is always the table of friends, and so I get in do a quick scan to locate my high school and campus bullies and my friends--easy choice.
But even with my former friends there are some who have since turned foe because am now trans, so because of weddings and decorum, they choose passive aggressive stances over more overt verbal ones, and so we end up sitting on this table with one half that approves to different levels and will either speak to me for real or just say random things like "Your make up is always on point, bring me that lip stick next time you travel", and then there is that one half of the table that refuses to acknowledge my existence--like they blank myeout--some of my friends are incestuous, I mean that figuratively to say they married within our friend cliques, so sometimes the wife talks, but the husband is dead to emotion and conversation like a golem. And then I look over to my friend, who invited me, tirelessly like Switzerland trying to mend the broken table and is swinging back and forth managing my presence and yet even with all her efforts my presence like a horrible spicy tikka chicken fart seems to make it's way through the hoards of guest and I can see heads turning, silent whispers and questioning stairs between sheepish smiles from strangers, am tall and usually in heels, with long black hair and at the moment I wish I could disappear my self now and from their memories-- I also feel for you friend, I wish you know you do not have to do all that work, and that all your friends do not have to be friends now, just because we once were 10 years ago--even if I wasn't for my transness something else could have happened.
So usually at these things I watch, present, but only in my head, updating myself of developments because I have been away for almost a decade since school. And like in family gatherings there is that one person who apologises but ever so covertly lest their friends hear of their liberal perspectives about gender and sexuality, there is that friend who comes out, that friend sometime even a former bully who now has a confused crush on me at 3am in the morning because brown perky boobs, alcohol and failed marriages or careers, then there is that friend who continues to be sadistic but as I learn its because their life is a sad mess, and my presence just made them feel a little bit better about themselved--i don't know what about my being transgender makes people think am sad though-- and then there is that friend who will dare to speak of the pink elephant and ask what everyone is thinking but scared to ask--"So Ceasar (former name)?, So you are now Cleopatra and you are a girl?", asks as if a question but only as an attempt to make sense of what they see. And then comes the obnoxious question that everyone is thinking but can't ask. "So what do you have now?" ( Polite Ugandan for what genitals do you now have?). I can see my friend through the side of my eye, haggard from the whole evening really, but particularly from this rude question from Comrade O'chieng (Yes, it is usually my male friends who ask these questions about my private parts, figures?
So then my friend quickly jumps in, "You do not have to answer that if you do not have to, Cleo?" -- first of all friend, I hate being "saved" there is no shame to be saved from and trust me, I didnt get here through weakness and self doubt--i think to myself. And then O'chieng, thinking he has grabbed an injured gazelles jumps in to say, "But we are playing truth or dare and she chose truth? (at least he chose the right pronoun) Yes so pause! first of all, all this time like everyone else am like a spectator at my all crucification, watching as one party tries to save me and another to stab me to death, am usually half smiling amused at how inept people think I am in these situation coz am far from that-- am simply allowing all this to happen. Secondly, don't play truth or dare when you invite your trans friends to get-togethers, that is no way to make them come out or break the ice or consult before you do.
As I watch O'chieng feeling accomplished for asking this question that I know his friends put him up to, between drinks--because boys and wolf packs that stretch into manhood, my other girlfriends like a choir almost in imperfect unison go like "But Ochieng blah blah blah bullshit, don't do that" And all this time that is really a slowed down minute am watching and right now am looking at the whole group in a different lens and they all actually want to know, it is not perversion they are just curious. We all heard about transness but it is nothing we thought would happen in our lives, to our friends beyond the silver screen. So I will break the painful situation and first go like " Since we are discussing genitals, am happy to show if we are all willing to show because though we actually went through campus together we never got to see each others genitals, so since we are asking for the unveiling of my genitals how about we all show and tell and who better to start with than O'chieng for asking this deep troubling question?"
At that moment he realizes am still the same clever bastard I have always been only now with boobs and he realizes it was a horrible mistake thinking that my new trans femininity was a weakness. I see him scanning his friends, sheepishly smiling as he says " But you all know am a boy because I have always been a boy, it is you who changed" And he says that looking for his pack to flunk him, he realizes them abandoning him--as all boys do, and half sheepishly laughing while mentally saying " Man, we are outta here" "No O'chieng, as surely as you are sitting here as a man, to a passerby, am sitting here as a woman, so prove to me your manhood and I will prove to you my womanhood" I realize he's wounded and so I go for the jugular--now it is not a joke on me but on him now. "The circle " as we usually sit at in these things is now filled with static. I decide to break the static because no one should be put in such a place-- my lesson is done here (trans people are not their genitals and honestly you cant shame me for what is or isnt between my thighs). But I still felt philanthropic, so I decide to make another lesson out of this moment. "We all have backgrounds in biology here, so I will not spare you the scientific lingo", and I proceed to give them the talk about the 8 determinants of sex and about how none is scientifically more paramount than the other and how the only differences are human-imposed, I speak to them about how there is no universality about sex, sexuality and sex determinants across all forms of life and about how transphobia is an artificial construct only found in homosapiend and even then not ubiquitous across time and space. I further spoke to them about the erroneous paradigm of the sex genes being X and Y in homo sapiens and about the gradual erasure of the Y chromosome and asked them if indeed the X and Y chromosomes where the ultimate determinants of sex, whether that will lead to an end to sex or maleness or whether the human being will adapt to reproduce differently-- we hypothesized, I reminded them about genotypes and phenotypes and about how its only in computer science that binaries and homogeny makes sense, because nature and genetics love variations and diversity and all homogeny is artificial and not sustainable, lastly, I reminded them about the law of natural selection and the failures of artificial selection as transphobia is doing so now, and how it never works,blah, blah, blah. My university friends can only appreciate science, and now they realize they can't argue with my science--and remember the nerd I always was and notice I am still in there, only with a different package. So we laugh at it and the rest is history--Ice broken, thanks O'chieng, I meet him at departure to say I was sorry for putting him on the spot, he says he did not know better but now he does, and then we are back to our own siloed lives.
I am human, so I do miss people, but I made a choice when I transitioned that I will not allow anyone to impose themselves on my life any more than I will impose myself in theirs--in urban lingo "Do you and I will do me", the world is big enough for my heathen self and for you hypocritical holier-than-though puritan self.
So anyway I am 33 and for the past 10 years since we left campus (read university/college) and entered the workforce a couple of my university friends have been at different points in their lives over these 10 years, performing adulthood as we all are. And the adult thing to do is usually to make an honest woman/man of some lass/lad, get married, copulate like hamsters, procreate, and raise children.
As ironical as is life, doesn't matter how well planned our lives are, life has been sure to throw in one interesting hiccup or call it modification in each of their lives be it their first experience with failing to find themselves someone willing to do the long term marriage thing with or them deciding to settle down for second best because biological clocks and spider webs, or finding the right person and after the "i do's" discovering infidelity, disease, horrible in-laws, questionable fetishes, addictions, horrible sex, or sterility on either side and not knowing what to do with it. Because we've decided to live our perfect white picket fence lives. Trying forever to get a child and finally getting one and then what the hell with congenital diseases that threaten lives and sometimes horrible death.
And the thought has crossed my mind, but I am not saying all this to say in some way, that mother fate was in some way playing a cynical of delivering reality to my friends' "perfect lives". More than often am too busy going about my life but most times, I actually care for their pain and want to connect, and sometimes am allowed, yes coz there is a conscious decision made about re-engaging the black sheep, and some times honestly especially in cases like death-- death humbles us, and people don't care where the shoulder and assistance comes from. But as I learned a while ago, sometimes my help is carefully sanitized and wrapped so that it is either anonymously presented, or made as an after mention, sometimes people just blurb it out, because life is the greatest wake-up call, people. If you are 33 or older and haven't smelt the caffeine that is life's realness, you will my dear and it will pain like hell but you will be the better for it once your eyes are open--because ignorance is not bliss, ignorance is stupidity, blindness, and infancy and sooner or later your eyes will open, as it has for all of us, in time, honestly in multiple moments.
For me one of those times was when I came and then publicly transitioned, and how so magically my so-called friends and family miraculously vanished. And that was the good part coz my phone was not silent, it still rang and my inbox was full and my facebook page dramatic like the Jerry Springer show (if you know, you know).
There was always someone who came in to deliver their anger and disappointment and reminded me how I do not exist anymore in their lives. Wow, people, wow, though! So many years later, I am still here, being me, performing adulthood like we all are, and so the admonishments get less and quieter-- also because re my paragraph up there, life becomes more real and true and our plates fuller. Because, and I say it, anyone, who has time to remind me that my transness is hell, either has not met the realness that is life, or has met it and is just choosing to make me feel sad about my life to match their sadness- Sadism 101. Sweetheart and I say this in love, am sorry for who hurt you and broke your heart, but it wasn't me, and if life has refused to give you a break enough for you to find a job, a man, a child, or whatever it is you value in life, am not to blame, half the time I do not even care or know you all (to my random facebook self-appointed mothers/fathers/pastors).
So if I missed your get together now you know why in my mind it is a traumatizing situation that I need to be mentally ready for, and sometimes am happy for the gesture and our friendship but you do not have to prove it by inviting me to your thingie--am okay being your side hustle till the world remembers that they were stupid wasting money and time on how I look or who I lay with--the planet is dying and we might all--puritan and heathen alike--not have a planet to call home.
If you got to the end, all this was inspired by a dream I just had ( so nothing is crushing), but also all scenarios are real.
Also Happy Trans Awareness Month, even as close it.