When it feels like the world is against you, it’s instinctual to attack back, but Judy Virago says the key to victory is building bridges not tearing others down. We’re stronger united.
During my first year on hormone therapy I was a Goddess of Destruction; pumped full of estrogen and angry at the world. My anger didn’t always warrant my actions, but that didn’t stop me from carving my path with a hyper-vigilant fire. Late one evening, a casting director I worked with asked if I’d be interested in appearing on another project for her. It was to be a music video featuring people who were battling literal and figurative scars to show the world that there is beauty behind them. She thought I might want to bare mine for the camera.
She said, “I can assume that you’ve embraced your lifestyle, as you do such great work and share it with whoever wants to support it.”
Now, the word ‘lifestyle’ in the context of gender and sexuality can be, um, a tiny bit of a trigger for me. Adrenaline and cortisol coursed through my veins. She was asking me to be vulnerable, I felt exploited. My gender journey was not a scar. Being trans was not my trauma. Other people’s assumptions were!
While her intent was supportive and celebratory, it just didn’t land that way with me. Instead of calling her and having a conversation to create understanding, I harnessed what felt like righteous anger and unleashed my transgender rage in an overwhelming torrent of fury. I snapped back at her invitation like she was the very problem her music video was trying to address.
When you’re in survival mode, every little micro-aggression feels like an attack on your right to exist. When your world is a genuinely unsafe place you don’t have the freedom to pick your battles, you can never take off your armour.
I see many gender diverse people waging war for causes I don’t connect to, but their actions make sense to me. It feels far more empowering to fight (even if just from behind a keyboard) than to freeze. But I’m concerned that much of our beautiful, powerful transgender rage is often misdirected at each other. Some of the most transphobic abuse (verbal, physical and psychological) I personally experienced in my early years was perpetrated by other trans women. Some of the nastiest comments I’ve read online have been between gender diverse people of different generations.
How do we open a dialogue between generations of trans folk when the only thing we have in common is our difference?
I’d like to see more positive intergenerational connection, instead of frequent clashes. Younger trans folks get rubbed the wrong way by the outdated terms used by older trans folk. They get cancelled in a heartbeat. Older trans folk sometimes gate-keep, create rules around ‘who can be trans’ and feel that the younger ones don’t appreciate the real trauma they’ve lived through. We can all do better. We can use our shared hurt to heal each other. We can develop vicarious resilience as we take strength from vulnerability.
While being a goddess of destruction was exhilarating, it’s even more exhausting. Cortisol comes crashing down eventually. A week after the initial incident I apologised to that casting director for the way I turned on her. I hope she heard the hurt in my initial reaction more than the rage. It’s never too late to change course and find common ground, even when the ground is on fire.
Judy Virago is a Wellington-based showgirl, educator, and community consultant.