Being Brave … and Reaping the Benefits

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What does being brave, and being transgender (specifically, transsexual) have to do with the car shown above? That’s what this post is about.

As to being transsexual, here is how I understand the relevant scientific conclusions:

As a fetus develops, the initial development is all based on the “X” portions of the chromosomes. For a fetus with “XX” chromosomes, this pattern continues. For a fetus with “XY” chromosomes, the “Y” chromosome is dormant initially and then activates and starts influencing things to be male-shaped. For example, the body part that in an “XX” fetus will develop into the clitoris will in an “XY” fetus develop into the penis.

In a fetus that will eventually become a transgender (specifically, transsexual) girl, there is a weird genetic condition in which the “Y” part of the “XY” chromosomal development kicks in selectively. Some parts develop as male but the brain structure develops as female.

This is hardly evident at birth, so the shape of the externally visible genitals is used to determine what gender is legally assigned, and it’s only as time passes that the girl realizes that something is wrong, and that she’s essentially a person with a female brain and a male body.

By that time, she’s typically been raised as a boy and has been expected to fit in with boy culture. She probably felt it unnatural and perhaps she tried extra hard to fit in, to hide her own discomfort (at being, quite literally, a misfit) from others, perhaps even herself. By the time she reaches adulthood, she’s probably had an insider’s exposure to guy culture such as few girls are likely to have. One of the conclusions she’s likely to draw is that guys can be pretty darn harsh. Unlike mean girls, who wrap their malice in subtlety and subterfuge, guys tend to be simply and openly mean.

* * *

Part of my attempt to fit in, in 1970s and 1980s South African guy subculture, meant learning about and working on cars. I became very skilled at it … so skilled that today, in addition to being a software engineer, I’m also an automotive engineer and I manage a small company that specializes in classic Alfa Romeos, BMWs and Mercedes-Benz vehicles. And, yes, I do much of the technical work, in each of these two companies.

The automotive work involves interacting with others in online forums, so as to get and offer technical advice or explore commercial opportunities. And, these forums tend to be 99% guy culture, and pretty darn candid as such.

When I interact on these forums, I tend not to hide that I’m a transgender girl nor do I tend to run it up the flagpole. I tend to focus on the subject matter instead.

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On a forum that’s focused on the car shown above, I mentioned that the car is for sale. I also mentioned that I ended up owning the car due to being a blonde with poor impulse control. Someone asked for pictures.

“Whoa,” I thought. A classic way that transgender girls get themselves into trouble is to try to pretend they’re a genetically integrated (non-transgender) girl to an audience for whom the issue is material. Things go off the rails when someone thinks the girl looks pretty darn hot, then finds out she’s transgender and gets enmeshed in homophobia, with the flawed and messy premises of “that’s really guy” and “so I must be gay” and “that makes me a bad person.” Better to be up front about it, I think. That’s the approach I take, but it’s not always easy. It’s scary to me, the idea of telling a potentially hostile group of guys that I’m a transgender girl and before they ask for pictures they might wanna make sure they know what they’re asking for.

Anyway, I proceeded to be open about the issue even though I wasn’t comfortable about it.

It turns out that I’d misread the requester’s intent because he was interested in pictures of the car, not me. Darn it. But, by then, the cat was out of the bag, and my post drew attention.

A moderator pointed out that I had a great sense of humor, and that I WAS kidding, right, hint, nudge, hint … yes? No, I replied. Sadly, I hadn’t been kidding.

And then, the nicest thing happened. The person realized that I wasn’t trying to generate drama, but just to be honest and open, and he became very nice and sympathetic, and offered to exercise his moderators’ privileges to make the dialog disappear, if I wanted to. I thought about it, and decided that it’s actually better if the earnest and open discussion were available to people so that they can get used to the idea that transgender girls are part of the planet and they might also be part of an automotive forum. It’s sort of like what black people went through fifty years ago. The first black member of any association probably had to deal with similar issues until eventually the people came to realize that a dark skin and different style hair mean nothing as to the content of the person’s character, ideas, etc.

In addition, the moderator offered to be a sort of online security guard for me in case someone were to hassle me. So, the experience actually ended up being super-nice … and I never did need to ask for help. There was no hostile action.

There were, however, some forum posts from people who pointed out that my openness was exemplary and that I had made a good impression with that. One person mentioned that anyone considering my car for purchase would probably be more enthused to buy it since I’d shown myself to be basically honest, and that includes information about the car’s strengths and weaknesses.

The experience reminded me that being brave isn’t about being fearless, but is about being scared (from wary to terrified and all the shades in between) and still doing what makes sense, even so.

The benefits are, as history suggests, worth it.

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