The Man Who Sold the World
Yes, I know it’s a Bowie song. But our dear departed Man Who Fell to Earth, Thin White Duke, Supermodel husband and Space Oddity is unfortunately not dancing on the tinfoil surface of my brain right now. There are some people who have so much inside them that they outgrow each persona like last year’s lace-up bodysuit. Bowie contained universes. Our dear departed Kurt, God bless him, never gave himself the chance to explore much beyond the feedback squeal of his acid-gargling grunge laments. The 90’s must have been hard for him, because damn, they were hard for me.
Think back to the 90’s. Has there been another recent decade more drenched in hairy upper-lip, sweaty armpit, semen-stained testosterone? Bruce Willis was big, Horn-dog Clinton was in office, and unshaven Grunge was on the radio.
But I have no problem with Kurt. It was his flannel-frocked fans who were the problem. It was his flannel-frocked fans who moshed in the mosh pit and who banged their heads and who locked me in my locker when they realized I was petite enough to fit in there.
My brother was one of these fans.
I won’t go into it, but I don’t talk to my brother anymore. But my brother is the focus of this memory, my brother who somehow got the hairy upper-lip, sweaty armpit, semen-stained genes in the family. My brother who was a member of the Field Hockey team. My brother who left pubes in the soap and skid marked chonies on the bedroom floor. My brother liked Nirvana. And one day I walked in on him strutting around our shared bedroom to this song, wearing our sister’s dress just like Kurt on the cover of The Face.
In case I haven’t mentioned it before, I’m trans.
First thing for all you straight girls and boys who may not be familiar, I have to clarify that drag and trans are not the same thing. Girls in drag are always at their best. Because drag is about putting on a show. Drag is about the false eyelashes, the sequins, the MAC Cosmetics. Drag is tucking and pushing-up and hairspray and neon. Drag is about a night out.
Trans is the opposite. Trans is about living every day. Trans is about running out into the street in the piss-yellow light of six a.m. in flip-flops and three-day-old leg stubble when you realize you forgot to park the car out of the street sweeper zone because your desk shift at the clinic ran long when someone ransacked the supply closet and the manager thought it must be you. (Hint: it wasn’t me.) Trans is wearing dirty sweat pants to the emergency room when you cut your arm open on a jagged can of three-bean salad.
So whether I’m talking about my brother strutting around in our sister’s dress to the strains of Nirvana or Miss Thang in a hot-pink bouffant at Ray-Ray’s on a Friday night lip-syncing to the strains of Gloria Gaynor, I know they’re as different from what I am as a pancake from a prostitute. And there have been times when this has really pissed me off.
Don’t get me wrong. I like my caramel-colored skin and my size nine feet. But there have been times when I’ve boiled over watching straight boys putting on eyeliner to go to the Smashing Pumpkins concert, or bachelorette parties going to the drag club lining up outside the drag club. These things have pissed me off exactly as much as the white boy who used to drive down my street every evening in his Subaru Outback blasting Public Enemy. These kids get to play at being black or being trans, but without the downside. And the downsides are many.
When trans people (I prefer the term “Fantabulistix”) talk about gender, or when people of color (I prefer the term “Exquisitudinians”) talk about race, straight white people think that’s all we can think about. That’s because it’s always there on the surface, like that delicious froth which rises to the top of all those straight white people’s Americanos. And that can be a burden, even if you like Americanos.
But what I now know, at the wise old age of 26, is this: it’s culture as much as legislation that legitimizes the Fantabulistic Exquisitudinians. It’s the Bowies and the Kurts, God bless ’em.
When I was a kid I always wondered why there were no blue M&Ms. My mom said it was because the blue dye was cancerous. Well, it turns out the blue dye is not cancerous, it’s just that people think it’s unnatural. But you know what? These days kids eat the blue M&Ms without thinking twice about it.
I could never hate Bowie or Kurt as much as I hated my brother that day. But what I’ve learned, I guess, is that by enacting these fantasies, the straight white dudes who might otherwise shove me in a locker are getting to experience just a little bit of what I’ve experienced. And tasting a blue M&M can never be a bad thing.