No place at the table

No place at the table (Tara Golden)

When I was in college, I took a ballroom dancing class. I took it because I needed a PE credit and because I thought it would be fun and give me a new way to enjoy myself after college was finished with my energies. I was wrong.  It was one of the worst, most difficult, frustrating, and anxiety-ridden classes I experienced during my academic career of over twelve years.

The reason it was so difficult was because I fell in between the binary system of ballroom dancing. Of course, my professor saw me as a male member of the class, and therefore he attempted to teach me how to lead in all the different dances we were taught. Whether it was salsa, merengue, or swing, I was horrible. It’s not that I lack rhythm; I can replay just about any drum riff by ham-boning it on my thighs, or the podium at work or… yeah, rhythm was not the problem. And it wasn’t that I was out of touch with the music; I actually brought in CDs for the professor to play for us to dance to.

The problem was that I did not agree with the demand that I lead simply because I was perceived as male. I might also have had similar problems if I had been perceived as female and demanded that I play the female role and follow someone else’s lead. I am somewhere in between; that is the life I lead and the dance I dance.

Now, fast forward a few years and here I am facing my own personal financial failure. Despite my graduate’s degree, there is no assurance that I will ever find my way back to zero again, let alone get ahead in my financial balance sheet. And as I walk around the city and look at the world from this perspective, looking up instead of straight across as I once did, I see a problem that’s a lot bigger than my personal situation. I see that I am a part of something larger; that the cracks I have fallen into, others have fallen into as well; that my own despair is the despair shared by others who also share my identity; that my lack of hope is the lack of hope that far too many of us have in common; that we are people without a place at the table, or even in the society we live within; that we have been forgotten, written off, abandoned, and left to die alone and unnoticed in the streets of every city around the world.

I have been reading Feminist Economic Theory lately. Feminist Economic Theory holds as its main tenet that the economic system is not equal. Men and women live and survive in different economic strata and niches. Men are seen as producers and providers. The “male” qualities of aggressiveness, competition and stoic perseverance are seen as being naturally part of the upwardly mobile world of business with no ceilings, no restraints, nothing to hold them back from their roles at the top of the heap: acquiring business and capitol with aplomb and limited only by their own personal restraints, not by the restraint of society or others as a whole (obviously here I am speaking to gender roles only without entering into the separate issue of racial and cultural discrimination which is the stuff of another complex subject). On the other hand women are seen as supporters, nurturers, and keepers of the home hearth. Just as in the male economic world, women are seen as having qualities biologically granted that explain her role as the invisible supporter of family and industry with numerous ceilings keeping her from rising to the heady heights that are possible for their male counterparts. It is an interesting field of study, lending many very plausible explanations to the inequality between the sexes that is obvious and persuasive.

What I noticed, however, is the uncomfortable void that exists between this binary economic construction. Men and women have their established economic structures, — unequal though they may be — but there exists no space for those of us who do not fit into the socially constructed binaries of the sexes. While women may not be recognized in many economic statistical line-item studies, and the legal policies that follow take advantage of this lack to further disadvantage women, those between the gender poles, those of us who define ourselves as either in transition between genders, or as having found ourselves and our home somewhere in the middle: in the “either-neither” shadow-world that exists there.

The real world reflects this theoretical void. It is clear that there are worlds in the job market that exist only for one or the other sex. While the jobs available for women have become more varied, it is clear by looking at any help-wanted section or Craigslist jobs site to see that the employment world is deeply gendered still. But those of us between the genders, those of us who do not fit into either gender (whether we find neither binary gender comfortable and therefore choose to live outside their restrictions, or find that nature has placed us in bodies that do not allow us to express our true gender accurately [unable to "pass”]), find that we have no place.

So we exist as best we can. We find niches. We work in the sex trade, where we become fetishized, or in the porn industry, or… wherever we can find a spot that has not been genderized in which to exist such as non-profits or academia… or we enter the limbo of the economically disenfranchised, working for the underground street economies that are neither recognized nor measured and thus find ourselves economically and politically silenced, made invisible and forgotten.

And this is where our community’s problems become a part of a vicious downward cycle. Our costs of living rise, with our need for expensive medical care, clothing changes, and the constantly rising cost of living that our cis brothers and sisters also face. So, we set up black-market, shadow, dangerous ways to achieve our ends: pumping parties (where industrial grade silicone is pumped into our bodies with syringes), black-market hormones (which may contain anything and are not formulated for our bodies), and hack plastic surgeons in third world countries that perform cut-rate cost and quality surgeries on us often leading to scarring, infections, and even death.

And far too often, the stresses of all these obstacles, the feeling of disenfranchisement, the loneliness, and the feeling of facing insurmountable obstacles leads us to find release in drugs, alcohol, or even the ultimate release in suicide (our suicide rates are astronomical, and I personally have contemplated for these reasons regularly).

How can we achieve change in the political arena; how can we struggle for equality and empower ourselves when we simply do not exist in the binary world of economics? How can we find a place for ourselves in a world that sees only in the male/female binary? How can we say “It Gets Better” to those who are in our community, when it cannot get better as long as this paradigm where we are invisible exists? How do we ever find our ways out of the shadows and into the brightness of life that others take for granted (which, admit it or not, demands economic space and chance of survival)?

This is what I will be studying, examining, and putting under a microscope, in a hope that in exposing this void that swallows so many of us  maybe a small light will begin to shine, and maybe, we can find our ways out of the darkness. And maybe, in the dim light afforded, I can find my place at the table, or if not… maybe I can at learn to dance.

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Tara Golden is an activist who recently returned to Portland Oregon after twenty years of life elsewhere.  Born and raised in Hawai’i, Tara moved to the mainland during grade-school and eventually, after a stint of living on the wild side, attended college at the University of Colorado, Boulder studying Literature and Fine Art.  Tara graduated with a membership in Sigma Tau Delta English Honor’s Society and returned to California for California State University, Sacramento’s graduate program in English Literature.  While there Tara came out publicly and became an activist in both the LGBT community and the Trans community.  Tara, after facing discrimination at CSUS, got into security work and fostered the rebirth of the Lavender Angels, a street safety team for the Lavender Heights area in Sacramento.  Since then Tara has trained with the Guardian Angels, the F.B.I. and local police and self-defense experts.  Now back in the NW, Tara is in the process of searching for her true self at forty-something, and although that may lead to further activism, along the way there may be art and writing.

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