Antinomy, I learned from Spider Robinson, is the contradiction between two opposing principles or conclusions that are equally held. Robinson’s example was the devout Catholic who learns that his fiancée wants to become a nun. At the same time, as a devout Catholic, he should feel good about someone entering a life of service, but as a jilted partner, probably feels devastated. I confess that I’ve always found that to be a somewhat cerebral example — perhaps because I’ve never really met that kind of Catholic.
But a much more visceral example, for me, is the example of famous trans people. I’m thinking, at this moment, about Lana Wachowski; I just watched a video of her speech at the HRC and I’m fascinated that she’s trying to tackle, head on, the antinomy of visibility. There’s a part of me that doesn’t even want to point out her speech: I hate how trans lives have to be so public, and when you couple that with fame, even more so. You can’t be a normal person, and be openly, publicly trans. Part of me acutely perceives what she’s given up: she’s gone from “One of the directors of The Matrix” to “That trans director.” And I have never wanted to exacerbate that, so I’ve mostly avoided talking about her.
But her speech… oh god, her speech. How deftly she’s able to capture a set of almost-universal trans womens’ experiences. How she’s able to talk about the frustrating absence of language to describe those experiences. I’m reminded of Timmi Duchamp’s WisCon Guest of Honour speech, and her discussion about intelligibility:
I know that this sort of experience was commonplace, but at the time, I knew no stories like it. Of course, just ten years later, everything would have been different. But in 1970, the stories I needed weren’t there for me.
Duchamp describes her goal as making more stories intelligible. Hm. I can’t precis her. You should read her speech yourself; it makes more sense. For me, that’s what Lana’s speech is about: trying to make trans experience intelligible. And she’s also providing her story to all the trans people who know no stories like theirs. But to do so, she has to stand naked in front of a crowd that can be demanding, and hostile, and dismissive, and a whole host of other things. Lana knows what her turn as Lady Godiva costs, and what it purchases.
Part of me hates the attention being paid to her description of her suicide attempt — as if that’s shocking and noteworthy. At the same time, of course, society’s complicity in othering trans people never needs to bear similar scrutiny. But I also think that her inclusion of that part of the story is important. And maybe it’s good that cisfolk pay attention to that aspect of the story: God knows that too many cisfolk remain blissfully ignorant of the toll that suicidal ideation takes on our community. And this, I guess, reminds me of Leslie Feinberg’s words that I have quoted again and again because they strike a chord.
I don’t think the point is: Why are we different? Why have we refused to walk one of two narrow paths, but instead demanded the right to blaze our own? The question is not why we were unwilling to conform even when being beaten to the ground by ridicule and brutality.
The real burning question is: How did we ever find the courage?
I guess this resonates with me because I don’t really know how I found the courage. And I don’t mean the “oh, you’re so brave to do what you’re doing” courage thing that clueless people are always talking about. I guess I kinda mean I don’t know how I managed to not kill myself. I feel weird even saying that because I’m really happy with who I am and I really enjoy my life. But I, at the same time, can’t understand how it was to be someone who was that miserably alone and confused while also remembering it perfectly. Perhaps that’s another one of those examples of antinomy.
So I’m sorry, Lana, that I’m pointing to your story — that I’m helping to permanently etch your visibility. I admire that you know what it means to be this kind of exemplar to people who don’t have yet have these stories. I just wish that “paying it forward” wasn’t so pricey.