By Your Life You Tell Me It Can Be Done

What can I learn from you
In your lifetime, in what you’ve been through
How’d you keep your head up and hold your pride
In an insane world how’d you keep on tryin’
One life can tell the tale
That if you make the effort, you can not fail
By your life you tell me it can be done
By your life’s the courage to carry on

Heroes
Appear like a friend
To clear a path or light the flame
As time goes by you find you depend
On your heroes to show you the way

What can I learn from you
That I must do the thing I think I cannot do
That you do what’s right by your heart and soul
It’s the imperfections that make us whole
One life can tell the tale
And if you make the effort you cannot fail
By your life you tell me it can be done
By your life’s the courage to carry on
–Ann Reed, “Heroes”

I first heard “Heroes” at the Minnesota Trans Health and Wellness Conference in the spring of 2009. It wasn’t officially part of the program; I had slipped into the auditorium slightly before the ending ceremony was about to begin, and this song was playing on the laptop of one of the conference coordinators. Nevertheless, this song struck me as just being really fitting for the conference.

Not all of my heroes are trans, but many of them are, and the phrase “by your life you tell me it can be done” absolutely speaks to me regarding being trans. The majority of my personal heroes are trans, genderqueer, gender non-conforming, gender-variant people I know.

There was a time when gender seemed predetermined. It didn’t seem to be a choice; it didn’t seem like anything malleable. It simply was. There was a time when it seemed that there were only boys and girls, men and women: anything else wasn’t even on the radar. There was a time when it seemed that the only way to not be seen as a women was to embrace a very specific form of mainstream masculinity. After twelve years of Catholic school (thirteen, if you include kindergarten), six of which at a girls’ school, the rules about gender were pretty clear. We at Vis were girls, the students at STA were guys, and that’s all there was to anything.

The first transguy I ever met was a student at Bryn Mawr. The first genderqueer person I met was also a Bryn Mawr student. I learned about gender as a social construction and the gender binary at Bryn Mawr. I learned about gender as a spectrum and preferred pronouns from Translate Gender at a workshop they did at Bryn Mawr. I learned about the reality of non-binary gender and the concept of trans as being more than the classic “born in the wrong body” narrative from a friend. I read everything I could find about trans and genderqueer people and issues. Kate Bornstein, Riki Wilchins, and Leslie Feinberg became my heroes, and then later Dean Spade. All of them look at gender in a new way — all of them live gender in a new way, a not strictly binary way. Still, I don’t know them: I know their writings. I know about them; I don’t know them.

Since coming to Chicago, I have met so many amazing people through GenderQueer Chicago. They show me that being trans can be done — just through their lives, I see such a multiplicity of options. Gender, in GenderQueer Chicago, almost means something different than it means in the rest of the world. Gender is ours — something to mold, something to make serve us, something to play with or break down, something to mess with. Gender doesn’t need to box us in or tie us down. Gender is what we make of it.

It’s not just GQC, though — I’ve met fabulous people through TJLP, and I have friends from other places who are equally fantastic. A rainbow of genders and expressions and possibilities — that’s what I see in the lives of my friends. Of particular importance to me is the range of masculinities I see — masculinities that involve flamboyance and nail polish, animated hand gestures and unrestrained smiles. Masculinities that involve gentleness and eye shadow and skinny jeans, love for Disney and adoration for lovable little dogs. Masculinities that involve genuine affection for each other and lots and lots of hugs. Their very lives show me that there is so much more to gender than I ever thought possible when I was young; their lives show me that what I’ve dreamed about regarding gender theory in the abstract can be made into reality.

“By your life you tell me it can be done”

My heroes show me the way.

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2 responses to “By Your Life You Tell Me It Can Be Done

  1. Pingback: Nail Polish isn’t just for women, but Alphanail is NOT what I had in mind | Beyond Bryn Mawr

  2. Pingback: 30 Day Song Challenge: Day 1: Your Favorite Song | Beyond Bryn Mawr

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