Intro: unbuilding walls

14Jun10

He must go on, and he could not go on. The wall stopped him. A painful, angry fear rose up in him. [. . .] They were pointing, showing him something there on the ground, the sour dirt where nothing grew. A stone lay there. It was dark like the wall, but on it, or inside it, there was a number [. . .] the primal number, that was both unity and plurality. ‘That is the cornerstone,’ said a voice of dear familiarity, and Shevek was pierced through with joy. There was no wall in the shadows, and he knew that he had come back, that he was home.

-Ursula K. Leguin, The Dispossessed (Avon: 1975), pp. 26-27

“[. . .] I’m going to go unbuild walls.”
“It may get pretty drafty, Takver said, huddled in blankets. She leaned against [Shevek], and he put his arm through her shoulders. “I expect it will,” he said.

-Ibid., p. 267

So, readers. My name is Quinne. I’m a girl. Unfortunately, I have a rather distressing medical problem — I was born into a male body, everything about which feels deeply wrong. Five weeks ago, when I graduated from college, I decided that I would do something about it; I began seeing a gender specialist and made my intentions clear to my parents and a few close friends. Even in that select group, not everyone gets it or is respectful — in particular, my parents are very far from treating me as female.

Nichola, in her wonderful blog (which I haven’t gotten around to commenting on yet — sorry!) uses the metaphor of a wall to describe the forces that hem transgendered people in. Indeed, we have lived our lives as prisoners in so many ways — like prisoners, we are denied the use of names that reflect who we are, and forced to wear clothes that we would not choose to wear. We often become isolated from the world because we are ashamed to interact with others while presenting as a gender that we know doesn’t reflect us. And even when we do live in the world, there are so many things that we can’t talk about like everyone else, so many things we can’t share.

And, of course, when we try to break down the wall and escape with the help of a few trusted friends, we get in deep trouble. Who are we to destroy the walls erected by the community, by society, at public expense? Who are we to shed our prison drab for the clothes that others wear unthinkingly? Some rebuild the prison and try to entice us back in — you’ll never survive outside, they say; you have a target on your back. Others try to restrain us by force, and when they cannot they sneer: you’ll always be a prisoner, whatever clothes or hair or body you adopt. I know who you really are, they shout, even if they know nothing of us as individuals, and only falsity of us as a group.

Well, it may be drafty outside, but I am fairly sure that I prefer the bracing, invigorating air of truth — even if it may knock me off my feet — to the dank, hungry, isolated, depressed black hole of my prison. And once I am out, I will fight to open the doors of all the other prisons, that they may be evacuated and unbuilt; that society may reconstitute itself as something greater and more open that it was.

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