The first feeling I had when I realized that I might be transgender was not pride. It was not relief or a sudden clarity. It was not a grand revelation that left me feeling liberated and enlightened. I wasn’t eager to take the next steps or proclaim my truth. No, what I felt was shame. And even though there were many queer people in my life that would support me, there were still layers upon layers of internalized transphobia. Every time I “gave in” to my desires — binding my chest or fantasizing about the body I didn’t have — I felt a compulsion to punish myself for it. I didn’t have pride. I felt like a failure.
And you would think, a couple years later, that I would have somehow reconciled this sense of failure. But I would be lying if I said that I have reached a place of peace with who I am. I’m not always brave. And I’m not always proud. I still refuse to throw away two of my old cocktail dresses — I even packed them and brought them to California with me — because I’m still waiting for the day that I wake up and suddenly realize this was all a phase and that I am, in fact, a cisgender woman. Every time I wear my binder, I feel as if I’ve lost a battle in an endless war against myself. Whenever I’m asked about top surgery, I quickly reply, “I can’t, not now. What if–” Because I’m still holding out for the day that I change my mind, and suddenly the reflection in the mirror doesn’t frighten me.
I am proud of this community. I am proud of all we’ve accomplished; I’m inspired every day by the passionate and tireless advocates that are, quite literally, changing the world. They are challenging some of the most fundamental and ingrained ideas about gender and sex. The ground is shifting right underneath my feet. My transgender and queer siblings have laid out before us a promising vision for the future that feels more tangible than ever. And despite all of the hope that this gives me, today I still told my partner, “What if I just pretend?”
Today, I still told my partner, “What if I can make it go away?”
Today I didn’t have pride. Today, I was afraid.
And yesterday, I cried because, despite knowing I am trans and having known this for a while, sometimes it just hits me and I feel like I’m discovering it for the first time all over again.
I don’t always have pride.
I heard a trans woman say recently that she wouldn’t change a single part of her journey, and I envied her. I even felt a little angry. Because even on my best days, I’m still swimming upstream, hoping that the pull of the water will weaken. That maybe, if I am ashamed enough, if I am afraid enough, if I resist enough, who I am will change.
It’s been a few years now, and who I am has not changed.
But that’s okay. Being afraid is okay. Not having pride 24/7 is okay, too. It’s a very real part of the process for so many transgender people. We don’t emerge from the closet perfectly comfortable with ourselves and ready to wave our pride flags. It is okay to struggle with one’s identity. The overwhelming BE PROUD narrative doesn’t always align with everyone’s experiences of being transgender and it’s not always realistic — especially in light of how much internalized transphobia we have to contend with as a product of living in a cisnormative culture.
Today, I am afraid. But I’m less afraid than I used to be, and that’s something.