I Thought I Was Ugly. I Didn’t Realize It Was Gender Dysphoria.

For a long time, I couldn’t place why — I just felt ugly.

And not just in the insecure way, but in the something-is-so-wrong-but-I-can’t-place-what way.

No matter what I did, or how often my friends reassured me, nothing seemed to change the fact that something didn’t feel right when I looked in the mirror. And no one seemed to see it but me.

As someone assumed to be a girl, I figured that hating how I looked was a rite of passage. I could never articulate what I didn’t like, though. It wasn’t my nose, or my lips, or my teeth.

When people asked, I helplessly explained, “I don’t know, I’m just ugly.”

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When I look at old pictures of myself, though, I start to understand. For one, it doesn’t even look like me.

It wasn’t that I was ugly, so much as I didn’t look like myself. But not even knowing what “transgender” meant, I didn’t have a point of reference to understand my feelings at the time.

It wasn’t that I was ugly by some objective measure, or even that someone had told me I was and the comment stayed with me. It was that I was dysphoric — the body I was in didn’t feel like mine, and I could only react to it with discomfort and, at times, disgust.

There’s this narrative around transness, that we all knew immediately that we were meant to transition, meant to live in a different body, that the gender we were assigned is not the gender we actually are. For many of us, however, that’s simply not our story.

For me, none of that occurred to me consciously for a long time. I just knew that I didn’t like how I looked — that I was deeply uncomfortable with myself — and at times I felt that very strongly. It took much longer to understand why.

Transitioning happened for me a little haphazardly, and maybe a little organically, too. I was drawn to short hair, and after cutting it, I felt euphoric in a way I couldn’t deny. I loved androgyny as a style, and after experimenting a little, started to find new ways to express myself. I followed my intuition, not entirely sure where it would lead me, trying not to overthink what it said about me or my gender.

And then I noticed something: The further I moved away from the gendered expectations that came with being perceived as a woman, the happier I felt.

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Ugliness is such a profound, raw, and vulnerable emotional experience for some trans people. For me, it was the driving force in my transition.

“Ugly” was the only word I had to describe my dysphoria, which meant it flew under the radar for a long time.

It didn’t raise any alarms for the people around me. It just confirmed the sexist notion that women are supposed to be insecure, and therefore my discontent was an acceptable, albeit sad experience that came with the territory of my assigned gender.

But something intuitively pushed me forward. Part of that was finally meeting other transgender and non-binary people, who gave me the language I didn’t have, and filled in the gaps of knowledge I desperately needed.

I became acquainted with the feeling of gender euphoria — the sense of affirmation and even joy that comes with being “seen” as the gender you truly identify with. For me, I had waves of euphoria as I started hearing my new name, my new pronouns, and my new reflection staring back at me, being shaped before my eyes by testosterone.

Dysphoria is a complicated experience, and I think it’s very misunderstood, even by some folks in the trans community.

It’s not like I looked down at my body and saw a vision laid before me, immediately understanding that I wasn’t a girl. It was, more often than that, the sense of lingering discomfort, confusion, and profound emotional rejection that unsettled me, often on a deeply unconscious level.

Dysphoria, for me, has always been the battle between my conscious desire to take the easiest and safest route in life — one that cis people repeatedly told me would be living as a cis woman — and my unconscious and, at times, desperate need to transform my body so that I could live authentically and comfortably.

At first, it was easy to reject my dysphoria as feeling “ugly” and nothing more, because it felt safer to consider myself a cisgender person who felt ugly, rather than stepping into my life as a transgender person, considering the many risks and struggles that came with it.

Dysphoria never provided me an answer or a clear path forward, as it sometimes does for other trans people. For me, it created a problem, and it was one that I didn’t initially know how to solve.

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But as it turns out, transition was the right thing for me, even if it took years to understand that.

The profound anxiety that I had when I looked at myself has been replaced with a kind of joy — a joy I’d never had before transition, in which I can see myself and not only do I look good, but it looks right.

My friend Jes Baker, a fat activist and incredible blogger/human, said to me before that a lot of our unhappiness with our bodies happens when we look at the mirror expecting to see someone else (paraphrasing, but you get the idea).

In some cases, coming to terms with our bodies as they are can be our greatest act of self-love. There’s abundant messaging in this world that tells us to reject our bodies, and unlearning that shit takes time. But for others, change is how we make peace with our reflection.

I think it all begins with the question, “Who am I expecting to see looking back at me?”

Every day, I think the person I was waiting for is finally coming back to me. And I can’t even begin to describe how beautiful that feels.

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8 Things Transgender People Do Not Owe You

Nothing ruins a fabulous day for me more than entitlement.

I’m talking about the expectations placed on me as a transgender person that are never placed on my cisgender counterparts.

Take, for example, the number of times that cis folks have asked me, “Are you getting rid of…” Then, gesturing to my chest, they add, “those?” without batting an eye.

I’m not sure on what planet that’s an acceptable question to ask anyone, but it bothers me – endlessly – that so many people feel entitled to that information, so much so that they don’t consider my comfort level or privacy when they ask.

From time to time, I run into folks who – whether they’re “curious” about my existence or aren’t sure how to talk to me about trans issues – mistakenly believe that I exist as their real-life Caitlyn Jenner, a science experiment, a case study, or a source of entertainment.

And that entitlement can surface in a whole slew of different ways.

It can be seemingly “innocent” questions about our bodies, as if we owe you private or intimate details about our transitions. It can be tokenizing us, sensationalizing our being transgender and not actually valuing or recognizing our personhood.

It can even be requests to change our appearance to make cisgender people more comfortable.

Ultimately, entitlement comes from the idea that transgender people exist for the entertainment, comfort, or curiosity of cisgender people.

And whether it’s intended or not, even the best allies can perpetuate this kind of attitude in their day-to-day interactions with trans folks.

So how can we break down entitlement and make the world a safer place for trans folks?

Well, to start, here are eight things trans people don’t owe you – and why these everyday examples of entitlement are so problematic.

1. Details About Their Body or Any Plans They Have for It

Whoa, whoa, whoa. My body? My business. Don’t ask me about what my plans are unless I’ve brought them up myself.

I can’t recall a single time back when I identified as cisgender that someone asked me, “Please describe in intimate detail what your genitals look like and what you hope they’ll look like in the future.”

Why are transgender people somehow fair game for invasive questions like these?

Just because I’m trans doesn’t mean I owe the world a detailed blueprint of what my medical transition is going to look like – assuming I even opt for a medical transition. That’s a personal question between me, my doctors, and those that I choose to share it with.

Trans folks are far more than their bodies and their transitions, and unnecessarily focusing on our bodies tells me that you see us as objects instead of people.

Not to mention, this overshadows the very real issues that are affecting our everyday lives.

2. Their Birth Name or Any Details About Who They Were Prior to Transitioning

Translation: Please tell me about a time in your life that you had no intention of sharing – and give me private details about it, too!

Again, sensitive information that could be triggering or painful is not something a trans person owes you by virtue of being trans. Your curiosity does not trump their right to privacy, ever.

Questions like these bother me because the moment someone learns that I’m transgender, they treat my past like a scandalous secret that is somehow more interesting or valuable than the person that I’ve fought to become today.

I will share my past with you if I want to and when I’m ready.

Please focus on who I am in the present – I promise, the person I am now is much more interesting.

3. A Friendship or Relationship So That You Can Prove That You’re Open-Minded

I’m not going to be a pawn in some kind of social justice credibility game. So stop introducing me as your “transgender friend” and pulling a Vanna White when we meet someone new.

Real talk: You are not a better person, a better ally, or a better activist because you know or fuck a trans person.

This is not proof of how radical you are or evidence of how open-minded you are.

And if you ever get called out for transphobia and pull the “I can’t be transphobic, my best friend/my partner is trans” card, I will drop you so fast that you won’t know what hit you.

I’m not your token, and I’m definitely not your shield from criticism.

4. A Gender Studies 101 Education

I get that you want to learn more about trans people.

Gender identity, gender expression – gender is a vast and complex topic, and it’s fascinating, too! You might have a lot of questions, and who better to ask than someone you trust?

But think about it. Chances are, you are not the only friend that I have. I have hundreds of friends who are just as fascinated and have just as many questions as you.

The reality: Trans people are constantly bombarded with questions and expected to educate others by virtue of being trans.

And it gets tiresome to have to explain our lives and even our trauma repeatedly just so that cisgender people can “get an education.”

So before you demand the resources and energy of a trans person for your own personal benefit, why not seek out existing resources online? I personally have written many other articles on trans issues.

This tells trans people that you not only want to learn, but that you respect their time.

5. A Sensational and Tragic Account of Their Life Story

My life is not an Oprah Winfrey special.

If you’re asking questions about my past because you want to hear a sad story, that tells me that you view me as entertainment before you view me as a person.

Check yourself.

6. An Apology When Asking for Respect

“Your pronouns are so confusing. Can’t you just respect that I’m trying?”

“I get that this isn’t the name that you’re using, but don’t you see how hard this is for me?”

“Your grandparents don’t need this drama right now. Can’t you come out later?”

Transgender people should never be made to feel like their identity is an inconvenience or burden. They should never be guilted into apologizing for who they are or making their needs known.

Trans people do not owe you an apology for being honest about their identity. Trans people do not owe you an apology because their transness is unfamiliar and “difficult” to you. Trans people do not owe you an apology just for existing.

Being who we are in a world that still does not accept us is difficult enough (not to mention the incredible rates of violence and discrimination).

If you don’t have something supportive to say, please process your feelings on your own time.

7. Justification for Why or When They Are (Or Aren’t) Transitioning

Transition is about my comfort – not yours.

So asking me to explain why I’m making certain choices about my body, as if I have to defend them to you; asking me why I can’t wait for hormones or surgery until it’s a more convenient time for you; or pushing me to make decisions that will make you feel more at ease instead of supporting me are not okay.

These are gestures that tell me that you prioritize your happiness and comfort over mine.

Trans people should not have to transition in a way that makes everyone around them happy.

Their transitions (or lack thereof) should be guided by their own needs, their own desires, and what makes them feel best – not by cisgender people in their lives who just happen to have an inappropriate opinion on something so personal.

Trans people do not owe anyone a justification for their choices when it comes to their bodies and their (a)gender(s).

The truth of the matter is that while this may affect you, trans people are the ones who are most impacted by transitioning. And at the end of the day, they have to live with the choices that they make.

Those choices might impact you, but they aren’t about you.

8. Anything

Transgender people, just like anyone else, get to set boundaries in their lives, and those boundaries should be respected. The truth is, transgender people don’t owe you anything.

The problem with entitlement and the many ways that it surfaces is that it erases the humanity of trans people. It treats us like an object, a prop, a source of entertainment, or something to impose demands upon before we are ever fully recognized as autonomous human beings.

When you dehumanize trans people in this way, whether subtle or overt, you give the rest of the world permission to disrespect or even hurt us because we are seen as exploitable – something that people can use for their own purposes instead of actual human beings.

If you feel that you are owed something from a trans person – their body, their time, their decisions – it’s time to reflect. Toxic expectations do not exist in a vacuum. They feed into a culture that denies transgender people their agency and views them as inherently less-than.

This might seem overwhelming. You might be thinking, “Wow, can I interact with a trans person at all without seeming entitled? Am I doomed no matter what I do?”

What it boils down to is this: We want to be seen as whole people, just like anyone else.

So deep breaths. I promise we’re not fragile. Just treat us with respect, be open to learning from mistakes, and apologize when you make them. And, you know, don’t ask about our genitals. You really need to stop doing that.

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This piece that I wrote originally appeared at Everyday Feminism.

5 Reasons Why We Need to Stop Saying That ‘Women Are Half the World’s Population’

Feminists, I have a pet peeve that I really want to talk about. Namely, this business about women being half the population.

Have you heard this before? An activist is explaining why focusing on women’s rights is so necessary, and as they passionately make their case, they tack onto the end of their speech, “After all, women make up half the world’s population!”

And of course, there’s agreement all around – we can’t perpetuate an injustice against half of the world. That simply won’t do!

I’m not a woman, but I understand the impulse to advocate for women by pointing out just how many women there are. No doubt, it’s compelling to talk about the sheer number of people being denied their autonomy and human rights.

The more people suffering, the greater the injustice, right?

Here’s the thing: I don’t see this “women are half the world” thing as being intersectional, nor do I see it as being correct.

And perhaps most importantly, I don’t see it as a step in the right direction: It marginalizes other people in a heck of a lot of ways, trying to uplift women at the expense of others – specifically people of marginalized gender and sex.

Not cool.

When I was a wee baby feminist – name-dropping bell hooks in conversation and proudly displaying my new nose ring – I didn’t realize how ineffective and harmful it was to hinge my arguments about women’s rights on a percentage.

It didn’t occur to me until I began my gender transition, identifying now as genderqueer, that the phrase started to rub me the wrong way – because it erased transgender people like me, for starters.

That’s why I’m writing this article.

If we want to make a case for women’s equality around the world, we need to do it in a way that doesn’t erase or harm people of other genders and identities. We need to be bringing in a more intersectional approach.

It’s time we did away with this talking point once and for all. Because as you’ll see, it’s not doing women – or anyone else, for that matter – any favors.

Here are five things to consider the next time you’re thinking of spouting off the “women are half the world” argument.

1. It’s Ridiculously Cisnormative

Let’s be real: This phrase isn’t logically correct. When we’re saying that women are half the world, what we’re actually saying is that roughly half the world is assigned female at birth.

We aren’t talking about gender (and therefore, women) at all. We’re talking about sex, and assuming that everyone assigned female at birth must identify as a woman.

This is totally cisnormative – reinforcing the assumption that being cisgender is the default, and centering the experiences of cisgender people, effectively erasing transgender people – and makes this phrase really problematic.

Think about it: This “statistic,” focusing on birth assignment, technically includes me – someone who doesn’t identify as a woman, but was assigned female at birth.

And more importantly, it doesn’t include trans women. Since this is a percentage that relies on assignment at birth, we’re inherently excluding transgender women – who have a different birth assignment – in favor of propping up cisgender women.

In doing so, we are replicating the kind of cisnormativity that not only assumes everyone is cisgender, but actually privileges cisgender people over transgender people – with transfeminine people in particular getting the worst of it, as per usual.

Why are cisgender women the only women that count in this statistic?

This phrase ultimately fails us as feminists because when it confuses sex and gender, it’s only really speaking to and about cisgender people. And while trans women may not be a huge percentage of the population, your movement is not for women if it doesn’t explicitly and intentionally include all women.

Which leads me to my next point…

2. It Upholds the Gender Binary and Erases Non-Binary People

Let’s see here. Women are half the world. So men must make up the other half of the world. That’s 100%. So presumably, this includes everyone! Right?

No, it really doesn’t.

Gender exists on a spectrum, and thus, there’s no concrete way to measure just how many genders there really are. What we do know for sure is that there are more than two – but this so-called “statistic” relies on the idea that this isn’t true, and that everyone fits into this binary of men and women.

Anytime we normalize a phrase that says there are only two genders, we’re erasing anyone and everyone who identifies differently.

As non-binary myself, when I hear the saying “women are half the world’s population,” I not only feel erased, but I feel misgendered. The saying upholds a binary that has never quite fit. And I know it’s really talking about sex assignment – so by extension, I’m being labeled a cis woman.

Honestly, when I identified as a cisgender woman, I didn’t notice these issues, and the phrase felt empowering – it felt radical to claim our collective power as women!

But when I started my gender transition, I immediately saw the ways in which it reinforced my own oppression as a non-binary trans person and pushed me further to the margins – just because I didn’t fit the binary, and because I didn’t identify with the gender I was assigned.

Cis privilege can make us oblivious to the harm present in the things we may otherwise find empowering. And that’s why it’s important for cis folks to tune in when transgender and non-binary people are naming their pain.

I’m naming mine now.

There are better ways for women to advocate for their rights – ways that do not further oppress people outside of the gender binary.

3. It Erases Intersex People, Too

Yes, the phrase “women are half the population” focuses on sex. And so what, right? Sex is a 50/50 deal, so it’s not totally inaccurate.

Nope.

This mentality – that we are born female or male and there’s no in-between – is actually the source of a great deal of oppression and pain for intersex people.

The reality is that biological sex also exists on a spectrum. But those who don’t “acceptably” fit the binary we’ve created are violently forced to conform through invasive and non-consensual surgery.

We need to stop buying into this man/woman, male/female binary. Just like it hurts transgender and non-binary people, it harms intersex people, too. It doesn’t allow for any human diversity. And when we create these rigid rules, we’re harming everyone who doesn’t conform.

When we divide the world into halves, what we’re saying is that there are only two ways to be. Two ways to do gender, two ways to do sex.

If this “women are half the world” thing is meant to advocate for gender equality, why is it upholding both the gendered and sex-based oppression of entire marginalized populations?

Intersex folks are some of the most badass people that I know. They may not be half the world, but they count. Their lives are important. Their struggles matter.

And any kind of “empowerment” mantra that further erases them is not pursuing social justice – it is selfishly pursuing its own interests at the expense of others.

And I don’t know about you, but I’m not interested in throwing intersex people under the bus under the banner of “women’s rights.”

4. It Assumes That Women Are a Monolith

When I talked to women about this article, a complaint that we talked about most often was that the phrase “women are half the world’s population” was problematic simply because it lumped all women together – as if their issues were universal, and their experiences largely the same.

This is where intersectionality comes into play again.

Even if it were true that half the world identified as women, that doesn’t even scratch the surface when it comes to advocating for their rights.

Factors like race, disability, size, class, sexuality, gender identity, citizenship, nationality, and more all intersect to shape a woman’s experience of power, privilege, and oppression.

While the sentiment behind the phrase is powerful – look how many women there are, you can’t deny our power and our dignity! – it may, in fact, be oversimplified. A universal experience of womanhood, many would argue, just doesn’t exist.

And when we advocate for gender justice, the conversation needs nuance and intention so that those most marginalized are empowered.

Motherhood, for example, is often assumed to be a universal desire among women – but we actually know that many women choose not to have children, cannot have children, or do not consider parenting to be a significant part of their identity.

Menstruation is often held up as a rite of passage for women, and yet transgender women do not have this experience, numerous transgender men and non-binary people do, and plenty of cisgender women do not have a menstrual cycle (or have an atypical cycle) for various reasons.

You could easily argue that women are more diverse than they are similar – but that doesn’t mean they can’t unite to fight patriarchy together.

Womanhood – and a/gender as a whole – is so much more than a singular identity that everyone understands and relates to in the same way. Different aspects of our identities will shape how we move through the world as a/gendered people.

One shared category is not a guarantee that our experiences are uniform or even similar, and awareness of these differences is important.

When we talk about advocating for women (or any marginalized group), we definitely have to acknowledge everyone’s unique situations – because if the movement isn’t intersectional, it’s bullshit.

And if the language we use to uplift women isn’t intersectional, I suspect it’s bullshit, too.

5. Because Equality Shouldn’t Be a Numbers Game in the First Place

Here’s one of the reasons I hate this phrase the most: The dignity, autonomy, and rights of a marginalized group should have nothing to do with how large or how small that group is.

Social justice is not a popularity contest, and shouldn’t be treated like one.

Women don’t deserve their rights because they are a large percentage of the population. They deserve their rights because they are human beings. Full stop.

As far as transgender people go, I recognize that we make up a much smaller percentage of the population. I recognize that there are many people in this country that have never met someone like me. I recognize that my own parents still struggle to understand me. I recognize that when I move through the world, I am an oddity to most.

I am not half of the world’s population. In many places, I am barely a small sliver of a big pie. But that doesn’t make me less worthy or less entitled to my rights. That doesn’t make me less important. That doesn’t make my struggle less real.

I really despise the underlying message of “women are half the population” because it implicitly communicates to me that because my community isn’t as large, the fight for transgender rights is somehow less of a priority or less significant.

Every marginalized community is important, no matter how many people occupy those spaces.

And I think if we are using language that suggests otherwise, we need to reevaluate our concepts of “justice” and our own sense of entitlement. We can do better than this. And we need to.

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Here’s the thing: It’s important that when we build our movements, we create language that reflects our values. And if you take anything away from this article, it’s that we must be intentional about our words – because our words mean something.

As genderqueer, people like me are not “half” of this world. But I’d like to think that, however small a percentage we occupy, our experiences are still important.

So many women in my life are my fiercest advocates, and I try to show up just the same – when our movements work together, I know that we’re stronger.

But our language has to reflect this kind of commitment to each other, to being anti-oppression across the board.

If we want to tackle systemic oppression, we can’t uphold one kind of harm while trying to address another.

That’s why I think examining our language is so important – it says something about who we are and what justice means to us. And in my opinion, “women are half the world’s population” reflects a kind of movement that I don’t think feminists want to be a part of.

We can do better than a lousy 50/50 percentage that lacks nuance. We can do better than a so-called “statistic” that erases people of marginalized gender and sex. And we can definitely do better than a phrase that upholds oppressive binaries.

It not only hurts women, but it hurts people of many genders – and this kind of harm is not what feminism is about.

If we’re going to make a case for women’s rights, let’s start with dignity. Not with erasure.

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PLEASE CONSIDER DONATING AS LITTLE AS $1 PER MONTH TO MY PATREON CAMPAIGN TO HELP FUND MORE FREE RESOURCES LIKE THESE, AND ACCESS EXCLUSIVE CONTENT WHEN YOU DO!

This piece that I wrote originally appeared at Everyday Feminism.

ETA: I no longer identify as a trans guy — this piece was mistakenly published by an editor before the correction was made.

"IMG_0866.JPG" by Aimee Ardell is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

5 Totally Normal Questions Transgender People May Be Afraid to Ask, Answered

One of my favorite concepts that I’ve encountered as an activist is the idea of “holding space.”

To break it down further, “holding space” is about making room for certain experiences, feelings, or perspectives to be acknowledged and affirmed that may otherwise be pushed aside or invalidated.

Holding space can be powerful. I’m a big believer in giving people the space to open up – and in doing so, building greater understandings of where someone is coming from. A little affirmation can go a long way in making someone feel whole.

And one thing that I’ve noticed as a transgender person is that people hold very little space for us.

Society at large has a very particular idea of what the trans experience is – and it doesn’t give us room to have honest, real conversations about what we’re going through, especially when it contradicts this narrative.

This leads us to struggling internally with some big questions that we’re afraid to ask – because in asking them, we’re fearful that it undermines our identity or will lead others to question our authenticity.

So today, I want to hold a lot of space for the complicated feelings that sometimes arise when we’re coming to accept ourselves as transgender.

Because what we’re told is that we’re born with a crystal-clear understanding of our gender, embark on binary medical transition, and achieve ultimate happiness and certainty. Right? But what I know from experience is that, for many of us, it’s much more complex than that.

So let’s talk – and I mean really talk – about some of the questions many transgender people are thinking about, but might be afraid to ask. And together, let’s hold space for all of the complicated feelings that arise as we explore them.

1. Am I Really Trans? What If I’m Making This Up?

Confession: I ask myself this a lot.

“Wait, Sam,” you might be saying. “You write publicly about your identity! You’re active in the community! You’re even taking hormones! And you mean to tell me that you’re unsure if you’re trans?”

Yes, that’s precisely what I’m saying.

In fact, I can assure you from firsthand experience that many, many transgender people grapple with this question – even years into their transition.

And I have some theories as to why, too – if it helps.

If someone told you your whole life that you were a terrible dancer and suddenly you received a first prize trophy for a dance competition, you’d probably feel like an imposter, right? Similarly, when society tells us we’re cisgender (and that being cis is the only option), it can take years and years before we feel secure in ourselves as trans.

Not only that, but trans people are often called into question for not being “trans enough,” are accused of “faking it” for dubious reasons, and are met with disbelief when we first come out.

There’s this culture of interrogation around transness – namely, that trans people have to prove that they’re trans (to get respect, to get healthcare, to find support).

We constantly have our validity called into question by cis and trans people alike. It leads us to internalize this voice of doubt and to intensely question ourselves as society at large does to us.

Feeling invalid or like an imposter is actually a totally normal thing to feel as transgender. It can be difficult to believe in ourselves when people seldom believe in us.

Getting past that hurdle can take time (look at me, I’m still trying), but it’s good to keep this in perspective and remember that feeling this way does not undermine who you are or make you any less “trans” than someone else.

2. Is It Okay If I Wasn’t Always Like This?

The short answer: YES! That’s absolutely okay!

Unless you screamed, “I’m queer and I’m here!” as you exited the womb, it seems like society is dissatisfied with trans people when they come into consciousness at a later age (it’s actually a double-edged sword: We’re too young to actually know, or we’re too old and we’re supposed to know sooner – we can’t win!).

The dominant narrative says that transgender people are expected to have always known – on some deep, intrinsic level – that we were destined to identify with a gender other than what we were assigned at birth.

But we all have reasons for when we came to terms with being transgender.

For me, it was trauma that delayed my realizations around my gender. For others, they didn’t know “transgender” was even a thing and never thought to question their assigned gender. And for some, their safety was at stake if they tried to explore their gender.

Whatever the reason, people come to terms with being trans at different places in their lives.

And there’s no “right time” or “correct way” to arrive at that conclusion – whenever you discovered your gender identity, you are completely valid, and it doesn’t mean you are more or less trans.

Identity in general is very complex – and everyone, trans or otherwise, will grow and learn about themselves at their own pace. Figuring out who we are doesn’t happen in a day. It’s okay to take your time.

Instead of viewing it as a race in which other trans people are your competitors, try viewing it as a journey that is for you and you alone. It’s my hope that the trans community will be beside you, cheering you on.

3. What If I Regret My Medical Transition?

So it’s important to first say that not all transgender people will medically transition. That’s a completely valid choice; medical interventions do not make someone more or less trans.

But for those of us who do pursue some form of medical transition, it’s unbelievably common to worry about regret.

Because our validity as trans people is always coming under fire, it doesn’t surprise me that we question our choices – especially when these choices involve some form of permanent or semi-permanent change.

Lots of transgender people worry about transition regret for different reasons.

For some, they may not feel ready to make such a big change because of other issues they’re grappling with. They may not feel prepared to come out to family, which medical transition can require (showing up to a family reunion with a deeper voice and beard without forewarning is apparently frowned upon).

Fears around transition regret can also come from a lack of knowledge – whether it’s myths about surgical regret (often pushed by anti-trans activists) or an “all or nothing” understanding of hormones (for example, the misconception that non-binary people cannot hormonally transition).

For me, I resisted medical transition because I was actually deeply ashamed of being trans (which I’ll talk more about later in the article).

I think if you’re having questions about medical transition, it’s a great idea to seek out a support group, community center, or gender therapist to help you figure out why you have these hesitations.

Fear is a normal part of transition – but confronting those fears can be a major part of healing.

4. What If I Don’t Know Exactly What My Gender Is?

Hey, welcome to the club! Here’s your official badge. Let me teach you the secret handshake and anthem.

Seriously though, I think the world would be a much better place if we stopped putting pressure on people to know their gender identity and, instead, encouraged people to explore their gender identity and expression.

Because while it may seem that most people are incredibly sure of themselves, I’m betting there is a huge number of people who are actually really unsure. And I’m baffled as to why this has to be a problem.

Uncertainty can be unsettling, but it’s also an opportunity to explore who you are and give yourself permission to step out of your comfort zone.

Uncertainty is not, however, proof that you are not transgender or an indication that you are “less than” other trans people.

I feel like my understanding of my gender changes by the day, sometimes even by the hour.

Uncertainty can often mean that you’re on the right track – that you’re moving away from what felt safe to open yourself up to the possibility of something more honest and fulfilling.

So I say embrace the uncertainty! It’s not at all a bad thing – and I, as well as many other trans people, know it well.

5. If This Is My Truth, Why Do I Feel So Ashamed?

The hardest thing about being trans, for me, has been coming face-to-face with the fact that I deal with shame and guilt around being transgender.

When you grow up with the idea that there’s a “right” and “wrong” way to do gender, it’s a perfectly reasonable response to suppress or resist who we are or who we want to be in favor of what feels safer or more socially acceptable.

We’re taught, in subtle and overt ways, that straying outside of “gender norms” is wrong, disgusting, embarrassing, or even immoral. It’s normal and even expected to feel ashamed in a society that teaches us to be ashamed if we are not perfectly cisnormative.

In this way, being proud of being transgender and being ashamed are not even mutually exclusive – you can be proud of your identity but also grapple with the shame that comes with claiming it, and they’re both valid emotions and experiences.

My shame around being trans led me to grapple with every question on this list.

Shame convinced me that I was “making up” being trans because I couldn’t deal with the truth. Shame made me question if my journey was valid because it felt like I was doing it “wrong.” Shame made me fearful of medically transitioning because I feared my own happiness. Shame left me suppressing my identity and making it difficult to ever feel secure in myself.

I’ve written before that I didn’t even want to be transgender and compared being trans to the stages of grief (if you’re dealing with shame, I encourage you to read them or bookmark for later). The responses that I got to these articles pointed overwhelmingly to the fact that shame is a common part of the trans experience.

I talk about shame not because I want to discourage people from being trans – it’s because I want us to be honest and to validate the very difficult emotions that come with being trans in a transphobic society.

If you feel ashamed, you aren’t alone.

To deal with my own shame, I’ve found it helpful to talk about what I’m going through with other trans people, to seek out support groups (online or offline), to find a trans-competent therapist, and to journal about my transition so I can be aware of these feelings as they come up.

The important thing to remember is that shame does not have to make your decisions for you. It doesn’t have to hold you back. And feeling shame does not make your truth any less real or your identity any less valid.

***

There’s one last feeling I want to hold space for. If you read this article and found yourself saying, “Wow, this is me,” I want you to take a moment to sit with that feeling.

The feeling of being validated, seen, recognized.

I want you to remember this moment the next time you’re struggling with these questions, and to know, always, that you are not the first person to ask these questions and that you aren’t alone in what you’re feeling.

Too often, we’re afraid to be honest about our experiences because we fear that being this vulnerable opens us up to be ridiculed, interrogated, and questioned. As trans people, we already face this kind of interrogation in our daily lives – so it makes sense that we hold back on what we’re struggling with.

But I want to encourage you to open up.

At the very least, I want you to acknowledge the weight that you’ve been carrying around in trying to shoulder this alone. I know that weight well. That weight has kept me down for a long, long time.

It’s time to chip away at that heaviness. Let’s start here: I want you to know that your fears, questions, and doubts do not undermine your truth or your identity.

You are enough. And what you’re going through and the feelings that come with it deserve validation and respect.

You, my friend, deserve validation and respect. And I hope that this article is just the beginning of all the space you’ll hold not only for your own struggles, but for the struggles of others in our community as well.

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This piece that I wrote originally appeared at Everyday Feminism.

Queer People Deserve Nuanced, Dynamic Conversations About Our Bodies

It is undeniable that how we experience our bodies is often impacted by the identities we hold. I’ve known this deeply as a transgender, queer, and mentally ill person, trying to navigate self-love and body acceptance in a world that routinely denies my humanity and my worth. Our bodies are, perhaps, the most politically-charged battleground that we know; how we honor, protect, touch, and understand them often collides with the de/valuing of those same bodies in the culture at large.

Having conversations that acknowledge this complexity is a rare thing. Queerness, by its very nature, complicates the way that we move through the world — and by extension, the relationship we forge to our bodies and to each other. It’s worth talking about, and yet we are only beginning to collectively unravel this dialogue.

I’ve never known a queer person who hasn’t had some kind of complicated relationship to their body. Dive deep, and you’ll find there’s an abundance of perspectives and experiences. It’s normative ideas about what queerness “looks” like; the privileging of some bodies over others; the ways in which embodied violence intersects with different oppressions; the ways that our aesthetic and expression codes our gender, sexuality, and community ties; the notion of who is most and least desirable; the suggestion that only binary experiences exist; and the erasure or inescapable visibility of our queerness depending on how we present.

It’s all this… and it’s so much more.

If it sounds like a lot, that’s because it is. We could talk about this for days and still only scratch the surface.

So when we consider mainstream ideas of “self-love” and “body love,” it becomes apparent that what queer people need from this conversation is real nuance. It is impossible for queer folks to have these conversations without some kind of acknowledgment about the unique ways we connect with and disconnect from our bodies — especially when we consider our bodies a site of struggle, trauma, and even violence.

EveryoneSquare

When Elizabeth Cooper invited me to be a part of the Queer Body Love Speaker Series this year, all of these messy, half-formed thoughts really came to the surface for me. We need spaces like these, and we need vulnerable, dynamic, layered conversations from a multitude of perspectives.

We deserve unique resources that help us untangle the messy profoundness of our queer bodies, at every intersection they live in. We need to move beyond Lisa Frank bopo and stretch mark selfies, and sink our teeth into the very real work of queer liberation, beginning with our bodies and extending to one another.

I’m so excited to be able to share the Queer Body Love Speaker Series with my readers. It’s a series of video interviews with queer activists, leaders, and artists that expands the conversation of “body love.” It’s such a rare, accessible (the whole thing is transcribed AND captioned!), and wonderful resource for queer folks and those that love them. It’s been inspiring to watch this unfold as both a viewer and a participant, two years in a row now. It’s easily one of my favorite projects I’ve ever had the honor to be a part of.

This year’s question is one that I’ve grappled with a lot since beginning this work: How do we love ourselves, our bodies, and each other in the face of oppression? 

Elizabeth invites you (and I do, too!) to explore this question with our amazing crew of queer speakers. She writes:

Personal and spiritual development in the Western world often tries to forget that we are humans living in bodies in society. And… we are humans living in bodies in relationship to other people. Our cultures and the systems we live in affect how we see ourselves and literally how we feel in our bodies.

It makes sense if you’re struggling with really experiencing your own, embodied sense of self worth. Most mainstream cultures teach us to de-value our authentic selves.

And there is another way.

Choosing self-love isn’t an individualistic endeavor. We need each other. We need to hear and know that we are not alone in the struggle to love ourselves. We need possibility models, hope, inspiration and practical ideas and tools to support us in really committing to self-love.

That’s why I’m so excited to share these amazing interviews with you. It’s time to explore what it really means to take pride in all parts of ourselves. It’s time for us to learn from each other how we CAN love our ourselves and each other in the face of oppression — and through it, to the other side.

You are so worthy. Let us show you how you too can believe that.

This is a resource that creates real opportunities for self-insight, healing, and community-building. If you’re interested in learning more, I encourage you to check out the website here and sign the heck up! Not only did Elizabeth interview me and some incredibly rad activists, but my cat, Pancake, makes a guest appearance as well… so it’s obviously worth it.

Sign up for the Queer Body Love Speaker Series by clicking here. (It’s free!)

See you there!

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Capture Bonding: How I Both Need and Grieve My Gender Transition

If we were to believe the dominant narratives around gender transition, we could only conclude that it’s a magical, affirming, and life-giving process. With these stories—and the glorious “before and after” photos that accompany them—we’re told that the uncomplicated truth of transition is that when the transformation is complete, we emerge on the other side whole and shimmering.

I am not whole, nor am I shimmering.

I often wonder: Can it be true that I can’t inhabit this body anymore—with its curves and parts that alienate me—but am still bonded to it? Top surgery is on the horizon for me. While I can’t fathom living the rest of my life with this chest, a part of me is grieving this loss. These curves were always guests (never residents), but their absence still means something to me.

I understand it only in metaphor. Imagine the kidnapped person who bonds to their captor. Imagine that the trauma forces them to forge a bond that will sustain them and wound them all at once. Imagine the attachment that is both real and illusory, born out of a need to survive.

For many transgender people, we find ways to form attachments to the assigned bodies and identities that harm us so that we can bear the burden for another day. And so the euphoria, disgust, and the fear come all at once. Behind the joy, my transition has been grief. My transition has been letting go. My transition has been hard.

I am losing the face that I knew. I delight in my beard, yet I long for the softness that was once underneath. I am angular in all the right ways, yet I still have affection for the youth I once held in my cheeks. And I wonder if it’s possible that the face I rejected (the dysphoria and the distress still real) wasn’t mine to keep but still meant something to me.

I know the feeling of being misgendered, like a knife perpetually wedged between your ribs. And I know the feeling of entrapment in a body that isn’t “right,” a fleshy coffin that conceals and suffocates you. And someday, I hope I’ll know the relief of having broken free of those things—to recognize myself fully when I look in the mirror.

But I live in the real world, too, where the pretending had to be so emphatic, it flirted with the truth. I had to be something I wasn’t long enough to reasonably convince myself, and the feelings there are residual, even now. My breasts disgust me, but they are familiar to me, too—sometimes I cringe, sometimes I cry, sometimes I laugh, sometimes I even smile, and sometimes I feel nothing at all.

When your body is the captor, and your urge is to survive, how do you go on? For some of us, we dissociate, we separate, we detach. But I believe that some of us form attachments, too—to our dead names that our protectors used to coo as they cradled us in their arms, to our bodies that lovers used to gently trace with a finger or lusted after from across the room. And while we know in our hearts that we must change, the intimacy and meaning of what we were was never lost on us.

And it’s this attachment that too many trans people are deeply ashamed of. How can I be seen as valid if I am not willing to abandon the entirety of what I was, of what that felt like? Am I truly transgender if I am unsure, afraid—or grief-stricken, even? If this is everything I need, but it hurts just the same? How can I hold this contradiction if it threatens my existence?

My brother, on occasion, slips and calls me his “sister.” Like a good trans person, I correct him. But some part of me cannot admit that when he says it, I am sometimes comforted—not because I am a woman or was ever a girl, but because I remember the warmth and protection his voice carried when he said it to me, when I was small and still new to this world.

When he says “sister,” it evokes a memory—a very particular one—of blood. When I cut my head open when I was 13, and despite his undeniable phobia of blood, he held his breath and a towel firmly against the wound while I cried. He was brave and he was sensitive and he spoke so softly to me. Then, and many times over, I was so proud to be his “sister.”

I admit that I am still learning to be proud of being his “brother,” too.

Like many trans people, I am learning to reattach to new words and new parts. I imagine what my body will be with immense joy and fear, worried and wondering what of “me” I’ve gained and what of “me” I’ve lost. Every year that passes, I fall more deeply in love with my name—Sam Dylan Finch, which rolls off the tongue like a tender incantation—while still wondering if the name I buried lives on someplace else. The unfamiliar becomes sweetly familiar, while the once familiar nips at my heels like a neglected dog.

It all had to mean something—and in a parallel universe, I think it still does, living on just as it was—because for this life to be bearable, I had to make meaning of these things. Because while the trauma of my assigned gender was at times like a clenched jaw around my body, it was, at first, the only thing I knew. And I created safety with what little kindling I had; I built a fire. Though it may have burned me and even, for a moment, engulfed me, it also kept me warm.

The truth of transition, they will tell you, is that it is pure and unadulterated joy and discovery. It makes for a touching story, to be sure. But quietly, I hold the space for something more—the messy reality that mingling with that joy is also raw and relentless grief, a letting go that too many of us struggle to make sense of.

To live these lives—to survive the trauma of being transgender in a world that denies us, invalidates us, destroys us—we’ve struck a delicate balance of detachment and attachment, forming bonds with our captors that we are unlearning as we become who we’re meant to be.

They tell us that those bonds make us confused or invalid. But I write these words to speak the truth: those bonds are a testament to our resilience. And whether you choose to break them or protect them, what matters most is that you’re still here.

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This piece that I wrote originally appeared at Unapologetic Feminism.

Debates About My Gender Have Convinced Me Of One Thing: It’s Time To Get Louder

If you’ve been following me on Twitter, you may have noticed that I’ve gone down the Laci Green rabbit hole. Green, a popular feminist YouTuber and sex educator, gained quite a bit of popularity — and now, incredible notoriety — in social justice circles, positioning herself as an advocate for comprehensive sex education and gender equality.

I’ve been subtweeting about Laci for a hot minute, especially recently. She’s gotten cozy with anti-feminist YouTubers, whose vitriol have fueled a great deal of harassment targeting feminist and marginalized content creators. Lately, she’s been tweeting and creating videos that perpetuate transmisogyny (which I talked about quite a bit in this Twitter thread), even going so far as to call Kat Blaque, a Black trans woman and fellow YouTuber, a “sociopath.”

She has described herself as being a proponent of open and respectful dialogue, yet has responded to feminists calling her in in dismissive, hurtful, and arrogant ways. Most recently, she hosted a live debate around gender and the existence of non-binary identity, suggesting that invalidating and policing our identities should now become a spectator sport. This kind of “dialogue” has relied upon the assumption that the opinions of cisgender people are somehow of equal importance and validity to those of trans people when discussing our own lived experiences.

And while I believe that there’s a lot of worthwhile education that can happen with an open dialogue, this is not the dialogue I think any of us had in mind. I find it highly suspect that this “debate” is being dominated by cisgender folks (many of whom are openly hostile and even violent towards trans people), and led and organized by a cis woman who is not trusted or even respected by the community to begin with.

However sympathetic Laci claims to be, her insistence on positioning herself at the center of this conversation — the “rational,” moderate authority — legitimizes a ciswashed account of gender, sex, and identity.

She encourages a kind of cultural voyeurism in which transgender and non-binary people must repeatedly defend themselves for sport, while a white cis woman plays referee.

Sigh.

As a non-binary writer, I’ve personally felt the cultural backlash against non-binary people as we’ve made real strides in visibility. As someone who has published a lot of written work around gender and non-binary identity, I’ve been the recipient of harassment and abuse from total strangers who take issue with how I define my own experiences. I’ve also watched as other non-binary folks in my community have had to endure the near-constant pain of erasure, invalidation, and even violence.

But these aren’t the conversations that cis people want to have. They want to have the “is he or isn’t he lying about his identity” conversation, the “let’s turn your lived experience into a fun intellectual exercise” conversation, or my personal favorite, the “I see no problem with suggesting you don’t exist” conversation. And Laci has no problem capitalizing on it, either, even if she self-identifies as an “ally.”

But there is one thing I have to give her credit for: I’m pissed. I have never tweeted so furiously, for one. And I’ve never felt more fiercely protective and invested in my non-binary community. I started to ask myself, “When was the last time I donated to a non-binary YouTuber’s Patreon?” “Have I messaged any non-binary activists to thank them lately?” “Am I subscribing to, supporting, and boosting the signal on other non-binary content creators?

And I wondered, when so many of our battlegrounds are digital… maybe more of us should be taking up space as loudly and defiantly as possible.

So quietly, I pulled up my bucket list, and crossed “Start a YouTube Channel” off of my list. Because I figured, if you’re going to tell me that I don’t exist, you’re going to have to say it to my face. And because I hoped that, by building community with other non-binary folks on YouTube in particular, I could help to reclaim a dialogue that continues to be derailed by the folks who have the least at stake, with little consideration of those who could lose the most.

I’m annoyed that I have to give Laci, or any binary person with feelings about how I identify, the time of day. But that’s exactly why I want to see more non-binary folks connecting with one another, networking, signal-boosting, donating, and showing up for each other — because so long as our existence is relegated to the status of “debatable,” making noise and taking up space is one important way that we can resist.

Fat and disabled enbies, non-binary folks of color, agender elders, all of us — every one of us is a necessary part of this conversation. Start a blog. Become a YouTuber. Write a letter to the editor. Become a patron, send a supportive tweet, or share a video — if nothing else, let the folks doing this work know that you affirm and appreciate them. (And hey, tweet me and let me know what you’re up to and how I can support you. I’ve got you.)

My hope is that if non-binary folks take anything away from the Laci Green nightmare, it’s that we need to take ownership of this conversation. Hike up your leg and take a long piss on this “debate.” It’s ours.

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