Guest Opinion: Telling our stories as an act of resistance

  • by Miles Borrero
  • Wednesday November 15, 2023
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Author Miles Borrero. Photo: Courtesy Regalo Press
Author Miles Borrero. Photo: Courtesy Regalo Press

In 1999, before I even knew I was trans, I sat in a dark movie theater watching "Boys Don't Cry." I was a junior in college and one of the only people in the theater that afternoon. As I write in my memoir "Beautiful Monster: A Becoming," upon first seeing Hilary Swank as Brandon Teena on the silver screen, "What are you? An angel? A god? I had never seen my kind before. ... For all I knew up until this point, we didn't exist at all. We were made-up musings, dreams of a world that could be ... I had no words for it, no images. No context. I understood that Brandon was somehow a boy, but I couldn't comprehend the complexity of it. ...

"Still, in the belly of that dark, empty theater, a small ember of possibility sparked. A what if, a could be. ... And then my emotions plummeted from reverence to sheer horror — cover your eyes with your hands kind of horror — witnessing the sickening reality of the violence that took Brandon's life. A violence inflicted on his gender, his sex, and every inch of who he was in the world. Meant to diminish, humiliate, and dominate in the most absolute and final way. By the end it was clear that whatever my connection to Brandon was didn't matter, because it could and should never be acknowledged. It's something to see yourself for the first time as such a sublime creature meeting such a violent end."

In 2023, 24 years later, it is something altogether different and much more horrendous to have seen myself over and over in other real-life beautiful people who have met similarly violent ends. This year alone, 22 trans people killed, 12 of them trans women of color.

Back then we had no visibility. Now we have all the visibility. So much so that any Tom, Dick, JK, or Ron thinks they can argue and legislate us out of existence without even contending with facts, science, or evidence-based research. Our country, along with other colonialist powers around the globe, is laser-focused on upholding the system of white supremacist, capitalist, cis, hetero patriarchy it was founded on. But trans people know and live the truth: increased visibility can be exceedingly dangerous with no scaffolding in place to protect us from harm or help us get the care we need. Those of us in marginalized communities become casualties, our bodies policed and politicized endlessly.

So, where do we go from here? Where do we go in a world where disinformation is winning and unleashing a torrent of hateful, fear-driven laws meant to eradicate us? Where do we go when it seems likely things will get much worse before they get better? What do we do to counter the many forms of violence rising up against us?

One essential act — of myriad efforts propelling our resistance — is to continue to tell our stories. Without our stories centered and told in our own voices, the movement for trans rights and trans lives risks being overwhelmed by misunderstanding, misinformation or, worse, hateful rhetoric. If and when we feel safe to do so, telling the stories of our full, human lives erodes the idea that we are different in a way that is monstrous.

Six years ago, when I began writing "Beautiful Monster," I thought I was compiling essays based on my long-running blog about how the rubber of yogic philosophy met the road of my life. But as disinformation about the trans community overran our political and cultural landscape, I realized the story that needed to be told was a different one. I had to tell my story. To simply share my humanity — in all of my quirks and questions and mistakes and growth. In the writing of it, I realized that sharing my vantage point was my own grassroots effort to push back against fear and the hate that comes with it. Because the thing that extinguishes fear is connection.

"Beautiful Monster" traces 40 years of navigating the pressures to perform femininity — half in Colombia, half in the U.S. — until my father's impending death catalyzes something essential in my understanding of myself and my desire to transition. Within all its particularities, the story of my becoming and embracing my truest self is filled with the triumphs, heartbreaks, family dynamics, humor, spiritual pursuits, and relationships that all humans share. It encompasses so much more than my transition. And it is a love letter to my family, my community, and all the ancestors and spirits who have walked me along my path. I knew that love, humor, and connection had to be the starting points, in order to access the reader's desire to listen and engage in the story as if it were their own. My greatest hope is that it provides a mirror of a regular human, moving through life with all of the regular human things — both for queer and trans folx searching for resonance in this world, as well as any reader having a regular human experience. Yes, our individual paths are unique, our stories divergent, and our walks of life distinct, but the broad base of our humanity is so wide within us, so shared, that it is much more compelling, ultimately, than any of our differences.

This, to me, is the next frontier of trans visibility: stories of trans people living our full human lives, with hopes and dreams and joys and hilarious experiences. To push back against fear of the "other" by finding threads of commonality in the most mundane of details. To push back against sensationalized, reductive trans narratives that do not reflect who we actually are. The jury's still out on whether minds that have been made up to hate us can be changed. But the heart — the heart is a muscle that can stretch and expand as much as it contracts.

On this Trans Day of Remembrance, I grieve the beautiful, ordinary, unique trans lives we've lost, in all their exquisite wholeness. I remember Brandon Teena. I feel the pain of these losses, knowing how little separates me from each of them. I offer them my own story, in my own words, as a way of honoring the fullness of each of their lives. For my trans community, in resistance and as a prayer of protection, I offer you my story.

Miles Borrero, a trans man, released his new memoir, "Beautiful Monster: A Becoming," last month.

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