I know, I know, it’s Friday! Whoa, Sam, what is this about? Yes, I don’t usually blog on Fridays, as you may know. But something came up, and I wanted to address it.
After yesterday’s entry discussing my experiences as a transgender university student, I received a number of tweets, emails, and comments that called into question whether I was “truly” transgender. This was certainly not the first time, but it was the most intense by far.
A number of people felt it was acceptable to interrogate the legitimacy of my identity as a trans* person, and implied that I am only transgender if I present a certain way, take hormones, and get certain surgeries. As if there’s only one way to be transgender, and I failed to pass their test.
No matter what the intention behind these comments were, the impact is that a transgender person, who has struggled for years with their identity and their body, was attacked on a public platform for not conforming to gender stereotypes about masculinity and what it means to be trans*.
And I think that really, really sucks.
Perhaps what was most upsetting about these comments is that they primarily came from transgender people who should know better than to impose their idea of what gender is onto another person.
Being transgender simply means that you do not identify with the gender you were assigned at birth. In other words, what makes someone transgender is their sense of self. There is no rulebook that says you must transition medically to be considered trans*. There is no law that says your body must look a specific way or conform to a certain stereotype to be a valid, trans* body.
Hormone levels do not make someone transgender. Haircuts do not make someone transgender. Surgeries do not make someone transgender.
“Transgender” is a label of self-identification, and there is no right or wrong way to be trans*.
Secondly, this needs to be said: What someone chooses to do with their body and their genitals is not your business, just as you wouldn’t ask a stranger on the street to describe their junk to you in detail. And transgender people are more than their bodies, and their struggles run so much deeper than just the bodies they inhabit.
I have chosen not to share (yet) how I intend to transition, because I do not think it is relevant to the work that I do here, nor is it anyone’s business. Whether or not I opt for certain medical interventions is my personal journey. I may share these things in the future, but that will happen on my own terms, when I decide that it’s right to do so.
That information is not relevant, for example, when I’m talking about the way transgender students are treated on college campuses.
And whatever I do with my body and how it changes overtime does not make me more or less transgender than I was yesterday.
So who is exactly is transgender, then? And where on that spectrum do I fall?
Well, for one thing, who is and isn’t transgender isn’t for you to decide.
“Transgender” has become an umbrella term that describes quite a large spectrum of identities. The common thread is that these folks do not identify with the gender that they were assigned at birth, but ultimately it means something different to each and every person.
In fact, I’d say there are as many genders as there are people.
Some folks identify as binary trans men or trans women, which means that they were assigned female at birth but identify as men, or were assigned male at birth but identify as women.
Others identify as transmasculine (like myself) or transfeminine, meaning they do not necessarily identify as men or women, but rather, if you placed us on a spectrum, we tend towards masculinity or femininity.
Some folks are genderqueer (also a term that I use), meaning they do not identify as men or women, but rather, possess elements of masculinity and femininity, or simply do not identify with the construction of gender at all (also known as agender).
There are also gender fluid people, bigender, neutrois, and a whole bucket of awesome labels that folks use to describe their sense of self. These, too, can fall under the umbrella of transgender.
As you can see, there is immense diversity within the transgender community, and wherever we fall on that spectrum, we are not “more trans” or “less trans” than the person next to us.
No matter what labels we choose, there is no telling how someone will self-actualize this identity — in other words, even if I did identify as a man, it doesn’t necessarily mean I will start taking testosterone, now or ever.
We need to stop assuming that all transgender people transition in the same exact way, and moreover, stop assuming that we are entitled to that knowledge just because someone is trans*.
I am a transmasculine queer. Or to use less jargon, I tend towards a masculine presentation, and do not identify as a woman or man. What this looks like for me, and how I plan on altering my body, is personal. I am under no obligation to share, and it isn’t appropriate to ask.
Curious minds have asked how I knew I was transgender. This answer is different for each and every person, and our answers do not decide whether or not we are “enough.” We are all enough.
The story is long, but I will keep my answer brief:
Realizing I was transgender, for me, came step by step. It was many realizations that happened over the course of years.
I knew I was transgender when I realized that being feminine felt like a performance instead of who I was, a role that I was failing at and should never have been cast for.
I knew I was transgender when I wore a chest binder for the first time, and felt more at home than I ever had, like something about that silhouette made more sense in my head.
I knew I was transgender when every “ma’am” felt like a knife in my side that I couldn’t pull out.
I knew I was transgender when I was doing shots of vodka in the dead of a Michigan winter, trying to numb the agonizing realization that I couldn’t stand the sight of my body.
I knew I was transgender when my partner found me on the floor, drunkenly throwing punches at my reflection in the mirror, and told me, “You can’t live like this anymore.”
I don’t tell you this because I feel like I need to prove something. I tell you this because I want you to know that when you call me an imposter, this is the kind of pain that you resurrect.
When I finally declared my trans* identity, it was the most alive I had ever felt. It was like coming home. It was like filling my shoes for the first time. It was right. When I found the words to express the dysphoria, the pain, the confusion – I finally had just a little peace of mind. It helped me move forward, and to begin to live my life without shame.
And since I came out, I have never looked back.
This is not everyone’s story. This is just mine. There is no “trans* narrative” or singular story that encompasses every experience of being trans*. “Transgender” is a word, and it’s the people that claim this word, not a dictionary or an academic, that give it meaning.
There have been moments, throughout my life, that have affirmed this identity for me – and whether or not I or anyone else shares those moments with you does not determine whether or not we are trans*.
In the end, my identity, my story, and my body belong to me.
I am transgender because I know who I am. It is up to you to respect that.
No one gets to decide, based on their antiquated ideas of what gender is and isn’t, what I am and what I am not.
And for transgender folks especially, who have suffered endlessly due to gendered assumptions being shoved down their throats: To impose that violence on me is unthinkable, outrageous, offensive… and worse yet, hypocritical.
To expect others to validate your identity, but to refuse to do that for your transgender siblings, is a betrayal and a shame that you bring onto your community and onto yourself. You need to dig deep and reflect on the ways you are upholding the oppression of other people in your community – and you need to change.
If we are going to create a society where everyone is free to explore their identity, and live their most authentic lives, it starts with validating others when they self-identify. Instead of pushing your idea of what gender should and should not be, you must trust that others are the experts on their own lives.
To be clear, there is nothing wrong with asking how exactly I identify, what my pronouns are, and what my journey has been like. I am grateful to all the readers who take such an active interest in the triumphs and struggles of transgender people. Asking questions, in itself, is not inherently bad, and many of the questions I’ve received have been sensitive and wonderful, and I appreciate that.
But to suggest that transgender people must all go about transitioning the same way, or else we are imposters – that is a dangerous myth that oppresses so many transgender people every day.
The idea that transgender people must all “present” a certain way is simply taking one oppressive idea of gender and replacing it with an equally oppressive and sexist one.
No matter what my body looks like or what form it takes, I am still transgender. No matter how I move through this world and what choices I make, I am still transgender. And no matter how many times you call this into question, my identity is not for you to decide.
I am transgender. And I am “trans enough.”
Sam Dylan Finch is a freelance writer and queer activist, currently living in the San Francisco Bay Area. He is the founder of Let’s Queer Things Up!, a queer and feminist perspective on current events and politics.
Visit his official website: www.samdylanfinch.com
If you want more information on how to be a great ally to trans* people, please check out GLAAD’s guide for allies by clicking here!