so i was asked to give a short speech, a meditation if you will, to start out the evening at the Hulk 101 event that the wonderful homeroom put on last night at the hungry brain in chicago. the entire evening was fantastic and deeply interesting, a dialogue about gender that i enjoyed immensely.
this is what i said:
Remember the Hulk TV show with Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno in the 70s and 80s? Maybe I’m dating myself to say this, but that’s the version I grew up with.
Remember Dr Banner’s origin story in that one? His wife died in a car crash because he was unable to lift the flipped vehicle off the ground enough to free her from the flaming wreck. He was haunted by his weakness and started studying ways of enhancing human strength, especially in those high stress moments when your adrenaline spikes and gives you that extra push.
That’s where the gamma rays came in. He thought they could alter the mechanism for finding that superhuman strength that sometimes comes to a person when most needed, so he blasted himself with a ton of radiation in search of that hidden power. Guess what he found? Yep. Getting angry caused him to turn into a hulking green rage machine that smashed everything in view.
He was a menace – that big green guy – there was no good way to control or stop him. He was Dr. Banner’s anger made manifest, and it both frightened and shamed him. The hulk was a curse, but one he’d brought on himself. And finding a cure became his purpose in life.
This is the story I fell in love with.
Because as a tomboy who was fiercely adamant about being as good as, if not better than, all the boys on my block, I can’t tell you how many times I wept with rage at my weakness. Even my little brother, younger than me by almost two years, was stronger than I was. It hurt. And when I felt hurt, I got angry. I was a little white-hot rage machine of my own, especially when you tried to put me in a dress.
I know I have a hot temper and it’s something I still work on, but honestly that’s how boys are taught to function in our culture. They aren’t taught how to feel, they are taught how to rage. Hurt? Get angry. Annoyed? Get angry. Sad? Get angry. The Hulk seems to be society’s teacher of what a man is. Some folks chalk this problem up to the patriarchy, others to Testosterone—that gamma ray of puberty that can often be used to excuse the unleashing of the id.
But I am equally reluctant to deal with either one of these answers, or at least, not in large amounts.
Yes, I’m transmasculine, but I’m also genderqueer. I’m not trying to go from one end of the gender spectrum to the other as I only really feel comfortable in the middle. And because of this I have come to realise that ‘transition’ for me isn’t something you go through once and you’re done. For me, it’s a constant process. My concept of myself, as well as the way I am viewed by others, is always in flux. The former is my own doing, the latter, I have no control over. (starting to sound familiar?) Is it any wonder, given my problems with anger, why I’m reluctant to shoot myself full of the transman’s gamma ray every week?
I love the Hulk, I always have. And yet I love him, not in a I-want-to-be-you-when-I-grow-up sort of way, like many superheroes, but in a dying-inside-at-how-painfully-familiar-this-feels-to-me sort of way. And I think I knew that when I was six years old and watching the slight, mild-mannered Dr. Banner lose his temper and then lose his mind in the monstrously large body of the he-man-like hulk. I won’t say that I saw myself navigating the gender split back then, nor was I seeing the hulk as a cautionary tale, I can’t pretend to have been that savvy. But I can tell you that aside from the loss of control of his body and the shame that came with it, (which was a huge thing, don’t get me wrong) the other thing that struck me was how over and over again the raging Hulk was calmed by a woman. Any woman, really. Whatever damsel in distress he’d found that week. When the men were chasing after him with guns, calling him a monster, it was the woman who saw his humanity and brought him back to himself. We cannot live, we that call ourselves men, without some access to the feminine self. Even the Hulk knew that. We would do well to remember it.