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Transgendered: More Than Meets The Eye

Philip Burrowes

Your sexuality should not determine your life. The moment your driving daily desire becomes tactile interaction is the moment you lose clarity in relations with potential objects (and, to a lesser extent, “competitors”). Whether or not the same is true of any relationship between individuals is a philosophical question, but just pick up any issue of Maxim and you’ll see the deleterious effects of carnal-centricity. Unfortunately, once people even suspect another is transgendered -- whether it is a matter of sexual orientation or not -- they often react as if that person’s thought process is dominated by homoeroticism. All that places this week’s celebration of “coming out” in a sensitive context, beyond its significance for particular participants. It is unwise to believe that the grand focus of people who transcend conventional gender roles would be dealing with others of specific groups, yet if the importance of accepting one’s identity is de-emphasized too much, then the entire concept of coming out is undermined.

We can all agree that “don’t ask, don’t tell” is, at the very least, a cop-out. Either perfectly reasonable, perhaps even beautiful, behavior is literally rendered taboo, or deviancy is silently condoned. It doesn’t address the issue of education that the opposed extremes want to give to each other, but, more importantly, the silent majority. People in the middle, who don’t contemplate gender identity, have to become comfortable with ideas of one group or another for their respective messages to do any good. Not that coming out is solely some sort of pedagogical tool for the masses, but a great deal of its purpose lies in the fact that people in the closet are often afraid of what “the masses” will think.

It may seem ridiculous to believe that announcement of a personal preference is a political exercise, but if it were merely an internal assessment, then what would be the point of coming out to anyone but oneself? At the simplest level, the more people that are “out,” the less abnormal those in the closet will feel, and the more comfortable they will feel with their own gender. Someone only just coming to terms with an identity, however, does not need to be bombarded with reminders of that decision. Nobody tells heterosexuals that the instant they start to mature sexually, they should go clubbing.

Hopefully by time this article reaches print, the promotion of the week’s events will not have degenerated into cliquish, carnal-centric tactics, but that is a distinct possibility, as this is, after all, a university. Advertisements for fall’s first Rainbow Coffeehouse, for example, displayed images of same-sex couples in playful embraces. While certainly no more insidious than your average frat-party flyer, that does not make it excusable. Implicit in this type of targeting is that someone would be interested in the Rainbow Coffeehouse because it’s a great place for to hook up (or go if you’re a couple). This deters people who just want to go and be comfortable, to simply know that for once their identity will not make them an outcast. (Perhaps this distinction was intended, and the GSC wanted to provide an alternative to the overtly ’ro parties which litter the campus every week, but given the size of the Rainbow Lounge, and the existence of a club event later that week, that seems unlikely).

Moreover, this deters any “straight” people who would be the least bit interested in getting to know people on a platonic basis, or letting those coming out feel welcome. We have to realize there is little difference between being a homophobe and not wanting to be considered homosexual. Theoretically it is possible to differentiate the two, but in practice the distinction is nonexistent; rarely do heterosexuals genuinely want to preserve their gender identity. Some (perhaps most) guys, for example, really do enjoy their heterosexuality so much that their lives would be changed drastically without a physical attraction to females, but would refuse to accept any burgeoning bisexuality as much as they would deny being homosexual. None of these people will attend a Coming Out Week event if they think it is premised on people getting to know each other biblically.

Anyone that would be insulted if someone of his sex hit on him is probably a poor target for any of this week’s programs. There are, however, heterosexuals who have reasonable concerns about being mistaken for coming out. Inevitably, some acquaintances will be less tolerant than others, and where being a “sympathizer” might be bearable, individuals will likely be ostracized if perceived to have “switched teams.” Can a person in such a situation be expected to give up established relationships to learn more about strangers? Nor can any different be expected of someone unsure of coming out. Unless groups refrain from presenting themselves as homosexuals gathered for reveling in homosexuality, they will exclude those they would best serve.