Trans Man, Trans Woman, Trans Author, All Human
To you I am neither Man nor Woman— I come before you as an Author only— it is the sole standard by which you have a right to judge me— the sole ground on which I accept your judgement.
I've been a writer ever since I learned to read. But I didn't publish anything till after I transitioned, since which I've published nine books, written 15 short stories and 44 poems, blogged weekly, and done 100+ paintings and an art show. I don't say this to brag but to note that finally being my true self exploded my creative production.
But my transition didn't make me an artist.
I didn't become Bethany. I've always been me. As I now live unchained as me, so my art lives through me. I'm not a trans writer/artist but a writer and artist who happens to be trans.
Connection, Take 1
Hannah Gadsby debunks the bandied notion that great artists wouldn't have been so without suffering, angst, mental illness, and self-medication:
Do you know why we have the sunflowers? It’s not because Vincent van Gogh suffered. It’s because Vincent van Gogh had a brother who loved him. Through all the pain, he had a tether, a connection to the world. And that is the focus of the story we need—connection.
Jim Morrison wasn't a great poet because he did drugs and alcohol. Nor was the pain that led him to self-medicate responsible for his art. The lords of the music business saw to his agony. Jim already had a connection to humanity—and therein his art—long before the Doors scored Billboard hits.
If Charlotte Brontë hadn't written Jane Eyre, someone would have. But it wouldn't be the Jane Eyre we know.
Gender, as well, doesn't make the art. A book with a heroine doesn't have to be written by a woman, as C.S. Lewis' Till We Have Faces readily demonstrates. If Charlotte Brontë hadn't written Jane Eyre, someone would have. But it wouldn't be the Jane Eyre we have.
Critics on one hand praised the work, then said a woman couldn't have written it. The gender notions of the time did not abide women claiming agency through word. History has whitewashed female artists, from Enheduanna to Artemisia Gentileschi to the Brontë sisters, whose works were paraded as those of men … only because the prevailing society refused to believe greatness could come from a woman.
We now take for granted that genitals and chromosomes have no more to do with artistic output than having one ear does.
Nonetheless, their works endure into today, not as the products of women but as art, period. We now take for granted that genitals and chromosomes have no more to do with artistic output than having one ear does.
Yet … Jane Eyre wouldn't be Jane Eyre without Charlotte Brontë.
And I would not have produced my current body of work if I hadn't transitioned. Not because I'm trans, but because I'm connected to who I really am, like every person yearns to be. I don't do that connection flawlessly any more than my art is "flawless."
Art occurs in the mysterious realm in which a person lays down pretense and illusion and embraces their limitations, working within the bonds of the medium to transcend that medium, to make us see.
Art occurs in the mysterious realm in which a person lays down pretense and illusion and embraces their limitations, working within the bonds of the medium to transcend that medium, to make us see, instead of a painting, sunflowers, as they are really to be seen but that only Vincent Van Gogh could show us. Not his suffering. Not the alcohol. Not the ear-severing.
My trans identity is not the wellspring of my art but rather my engagement with something I see, hear, and feel in a irreplaceable way and make others see, hear, and feel. So long as I pretended to be something I'm not, I simply could not connect with either my vision or a way to communicate that vision.
From now on, I owe it to you and to me to communicate it via (not despite) my flaws.
Connection, Take 2
In transitioning, I was for the first time seen, heard, and felt by myself and the world as I truly am. My transition and my art are not causally related but are themselves both caused by something bigger than both of them—what Hannah Gadsby calls "connection."
My trans identity is not the wellspring of my art but rather my engagement with something I see, hear, and feel in a irreplaceable way and make others see, hear, and feel.
I don't do "trans art." I don't write "trans books." I am trans. I paint and write because embracing my personhood connects to a bigger reality that you and I share.
The Stars We Might Not Have Seen
It's a starry night, indeed, that we wouldn't glimpse had Vincent Van Gogh not dared to paint it, to strip away the blinders that others assume are "the way things are." In tearing the veil in a way only he could, he makes us see those stars uniquely. We don't have to sever our ears. We don't have to have a penis, vagina, uterus, or testicles.
We just have to be human, each of us in our own irreplaceable, connected way.