Transphobia, Instagram, and Why I’m Done Hiding

Confession: While I am out and proud as a transgender person, I’ve been afraid of what it means to be truly visible.

As a transgender writer and activist, I’m not difficult to find on the web – I tweet my love for Taco Bell and LUSH (we got married once, I think), I post thought-provoking content on LQTU’s Facebook page and my own personal page.

Hell, I have this blog. I’m definitely not a private person.

But many readers have pointed out that unlike many public figures, I am not particularly prolific when it comes to posting photos of myself. While many of my social justice heroes are reveling in their selfies and building entire communities around their Instagram shenanigans, it’s rare that I share my face with my audience.

More than once, I’ve been asked that if I believe visibility for our community is so important, why am I so invisible when it comes to photo and video content? And why is my Instagram – which many of you were clever enough to find – private and restricted while every other platform is easily accessible?

Transphobia. That’s why.

#TransLooksLike me, in this body, in this moment.

#TransLooksLike me, in this body, in this moment.

Secretly I was hoping that, when I finally get on hormones, when I finally “look” and “sound” like a trans person, I could emerge like a butterfly from the cocoon and finally share my life in this way.

Because I was afraid that, as a trans person who is in the beginning stages of their medical transition, I would be rejected as “not trans enough” if I dared to be too visible.

It’s rich, isn’t it? Because I talk a lot about how I am trans enough, exactly as I am (I was published in a fucking fantastic book saying this EXACT THING). But I’m still terrified that I’ll be labeled a fraud if people could actually see me.

I turned down speaking engagements and podcasts for this reason. I postponed the launch of my YouTube series for this reason. I ignored requests for phone interviews because I grew tired of hearing people call and say, “Is this Sam Dylan Finch? …really?”

I apologized so many times for not looking the way that I “should,” sounding the way that I “should,” and reasoned that if I just waited until testosterone “fixed me,” I could finally live as visibly and joyfully as I wanted to.

I’ve already been subject to so much criticism (especially and almost exclusively from other trans people), saying that I don’t deserve to be visible because I’m not “actually trans.” There are entire conspiracy theories online that state that I’m doing this to “become famous” and that, in my real life, I don’t actually live as an out trans person (a hurtful and malicious lie).

They reason that I don’t post photos very often because I’m an imposter, a transtrender, a fake. They’ve actually contacted my readers before through social media and, while misgendering me, stated that this is all a publicity stunt that “she” is doing for attention.

I would be lying if I said this kind of harassment didn’t affect me.

The criticism convinced me that it was better to wait for the hormones, better to wait until I was valid in the eyes of a transphobic society, than to share myself with my readers and take up opportunities that could make a real difference in my community and in my own happiness.

This kind of bullshit keeps so many transgender people closeted, because they fear that no one will believe them. This kind of bullshit is violence against transgender people who, for whatever their personal reasons are, cannot or do not want to medically transition. And this kind of bullshit creates a hierarchy of trans people, suggesting that some of us are more valid, more beautiful, more acceptable than others.

This kind of bullshit has to stop.

Today, I created a public Instagram profile and ditched the private profile once and for all.

Because I’m not going to let transphobia dictate how I live my life. I’m not going to let transphobia keep me closeted. I’m not going to let transphobia keep me from being visible as the curvy, queer, non-binary badass that I am.

And most of all, I’m done hiding because all trans people are valid. Each and every one of us – regardless of circumstances, regardless of our choices, regardless of our bodies – are valid and real and authentic in every sense.

No more of this “you’re not trans because you haven’t taken X hormone or gotten Y surgery.” No more of this “you’re not really non-binary because the only non-binary people are white, thin, able-bodied, Ruby-rose-esque.” Enough with the rules, the restrictions, the oppressive norms. Enough with these impossible ideals that keep people down and lead to violence.

Instagram might seem like a small thing, but being visible in this way has always terrified me and it’s a huge step in my self-love and self-acceptance. I don’t want to let transphobia rule my life. I don’t want to wait until the day when I’m finally deemed “acceptable.” My body does not determine whether or not I am transgender – I do.

#TransLooksLike me, with my awkward and unintentional bowl cut, my big glasses, my round goofy face, my big unapologetic smile.

#TransLooksLike you, no matter the skin you’re in, no matter the body you have, curves or no curves and every shape in-between.

#TransLooksLike all of us, in our diverse beauty, with the collective energy and power that we bring to our communities and our world.

I’m not going to hide to make other people more comfortable. This is what #TransLooksLike – yesterday, today, always.

I’m transgender because I say I am. Not because I look a certain way, not because I act a certain way, not because I follow some prescribed set of rules or expectations.

And I’m going to post so many damn selfies, y’all. Try and stop me.

I encourage you – especially if you know how it feels to be told you’re not valid, you’re not trans enough, you’re an imposter, you’re not binary enough, you’re not acceptable – to join me as we flood the internet with our gorgeous faces.

Tag me in your photos (/samdylanfinch on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) and use the hashtag #TransLooksLike. Let’s revel in how fucking beautiful we are. Let’s show the world what transgender really looks like.

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Nicole Arbour’s Video Didn’t Motivate Me to Be Healthy – But Body Positivity Did

CW: Fatphobia, disordered eating, mental illness, self-harm


The image features Nicole Arbour, making an

Arbour’s video “Dear Fat People” is symptomatic of a fatphobic culture.

When I watched Nicole Arbour’s video to fat people, I couldn’t help but be struck by her complete conviction that shaming fat folks would motivate them to be healthy.

The research does not back this claim – in fact, it consistently refutes it – and fat folks have asserted time and time again that shaming them does real psychological harm.

So I’m confused on how making people feel like shit is supposed to be encouraging, but okay.

Throughout the video, Arbour takes jabs at the body positivity movement, stating, like many trolls have before, that it promotes unhealthiness (while her very original insults and hatred of fat folks, comments that they certainly haven’t heard before, will definitely promote health).

Yes, against my better judgment, I watched the video. And Nicole Arbour’s fat-shaming did nothing to motivate me as a person who is “overweight.” Body positivity, on the other hand, has motivated me – it has made me a healthier, happier, and stronger person.

I spent most of my life as a very thin person. But secretly, I was also terrified of being fat. Most of my family was, which made me feel like I was constantly trying to outrun my so-called genetic fate, and being constantly praised for being thin made me feel like I had to work hard to maintain it, to make sure I didn’t lose it.

So when I was a teenager, I started skipping meals. And worse, I felt accomplished when I did. I felt like I did something good, something I should be proud of. In fact, if Nicole Arbour had seen me a few years ago – underweight and depressed – she would have assumed I was healthy and applauded me for my efforts.

No one ever told me to diet, but I started restricting my intake anyway. At one point, I wasn’t eating much more than an apple at lunch time and a protein bar at dinner. Because we live in a society that teaches us that there’s nothing worse than being fat. Controlling my food intake gave me a certain kind of pride, a sense of moral superiority to my fat relatives who just needed to “get their act together.”

You see, I wasn’t much different from Nicole Arbour when I was thin. I was an asshole that had a lot of problematic ideas about fat people. And I think that’s why I take it so personally – because it hits close to home, because I know deep down that the problem isn’t with Arbour so much as it is the society that teaches us to fear fatness, to shame fat people, and to reject them as fully-formed human beings.

When we place this morality around fat bodies and food, we create a very toxic culture that lends itself so easily to eating disorders, depression, anxiety, and yes, discrimination against and hatred towards fat bodies.

My disordered eating was rooted directly in the ideas perpetuated by Nicole Arbour’s video – a panic and a fear around fatness, a call for self-control even if it means self-harm, and a disgust with fat people – and those same ideas were what led to me being underweight, unhappy, and destructive.

As an adult, after spending years on a rollercoaster of suicidal lows and manic highs, I was diagnosed with disordered eating, anxiety, and bipolar disorder. And after my worst episode of depression, I was finally prescribed a life-saving medication that tamed my depression in a way that I had never been able to on my own.

I finally felt a sense of peace and stability that I needed to get my life back.

But the universe, in some kind of act of karmic retribution, gave me weight gain as a side effect of that medication. I went from being thin to gaining sixty pounds, and hearing a doctor tell me I was “overweight” for the first time.

And despite being in the healthiest place I had ever been – finally mentally sound and capable – people who had never been concerned about my health before suddenly started asking if I was okay, if I wanted dieting tips, and encouraging me to “take control.”

Ah, yes, taking control. You mean when I was restricting, underweight, and depressed as hell.

Internalizing all of that negativity around my weight gain, I started to feel self-loathing and I couldn’t even look at myself in the mirror. I debated going off of the medication that had saved my life – because to me, it was better to have unmanaged bipolar disorder with all of its dangerous lows than to be fat.

I think the real sickness in our society is that someone who finally achieved mental health would risk everything just to be thin.

And to the rest of the world that saw my round belly and my big thighs, they, too, would rather me be back in that dark place and be thin than be mentally healthy, happy, and “overweight.”

Attitudes like those present in Nicole Arbour’s video are the same attitudes that I started wrestling with when I looked in the mirror and no longer saw someone who was lovable, desirable, and worthy. Somehow having fat on my body made me “less than,” and made other people treat me as such.

When I finally lost the privilege of being thin, I had to come face-to-face with the fatphobia that I had clung to for my entire life – and I had to acknowledge that I had been perpetuating really awful ideas about fat and fat people, and doing harm to the people in my life that I claimed to love.

I can understand why Nicole Arbour would resist that kind of criticism from viewers, because she, too, would have to acknowledge that she is actively doing harm. It’s not fun to admit that you’re hurting people, that these beliefs that you’ve bought into are actually causing real suffering to people of all sizes.

I, at first, felt helpless when I realized how fatphobic I really was. I didn’t know how to unpack those ideas, and I didn’t know if I could ever feel okay about myself and be “overweight.”

The hashtags that Nicole Arbour mocked in her video are the hashtags that ultimately turned my life around. I discovered the body positivity movement through social media, and realized that my self-worth did not need to rely on an impossible ideal that most of us will never attain.

I realized that being thin is not a requirement for being happy or healthy or fulfilled, and when we break away from diet culture and fatphobia, it can be transformative in the best way.

When I gained weight, I was convinced that it was the end of my self-esteem – I had no idea that it was actually the beginning of an unconditional love for myself.

It’s a kind of love that we all deserve to have, a self-love that is not a privilege reserved for a select few that fit into our norms, but rather, a relationship that we are all entitled to by virtue of our humanity. Outsiders do not get to dictate the kind of relationship I have to my body and myself.

Body positivity taught me that health cannot be measured by a number on the scale, cannot be observed by a stranger, and is something that we, ourselves, get to navigate and define on our own terms. I learned that we all get to exist in our bodies, whatever they may be, and that we set the rules.

Body positivity taught me that love, and confidence, and happiness are possible and do not need to be determined by our size.

Body positivity taught me that I do not need to resort to restricting and starving just to be worthy, and that the real problem was never my weight, but rather, the poisonous conflation of thinness and happiness that I was convinced held the secrets to self-esteem.

Body positivity taught me that hatred disguising itself as “health advice” is still hatred.

Here’s the thing: What people like Arbour don’t seem to understand is that loving myself was the healthiest decision I’ve ever made. Living without shame enabled me to make good choices for myself, because no choice that is rooted in self-hatred is ever sustainable and no choice rooted in self-hatred can ever be healthy.

Being thin never made me feel confident. Being thin never made me a better person. Being thin never made me healthy. But now, with a body that most would consider undesirable, I finally feel happy and I live a meaningful life, one in which I contribute positively to the world, one in which I do everything I can to reduce harm towards myself and others.

And for naysayers who insist that I’m unhealthy because of my size, I can only laugh. Because if it weren’t for the medication that caused this weight gain in the first place, my bipolar disorder would have ravaged what remained of my life until I could no longer bear to live it.

But when you look at me, you can’t see that. Because health is not a size.

Toxic ideas about fat are feeding into an epidemic of self-hatred, disordered eating, and self-harm – an epidemic that Nicole Arbour perpetuates under the guise of “health” – that leaves kids as young as six dieting while they’re still in kindergarten.

If that’s the kind of world you want to live in, you need to own the fact that you are making it that way. You need to understand that these attitudes about fat people are actually harmful and discriminatory – stop hiding behind this so-called “health” crusade – because you aren’t motivating, you aren’t helpful, and you aren’t saying anything novel or new that the diet industry isn’t already profiting off of.

You do harm. And if you can live with that, so be it. But realize that you aren’t helping fat people – you’re hurting them, along with anyone who has ever struggled with their body, because at the root of that struggle is a fear of fat.

Honestly, sure, if I had watched this video when I was younger, I definitely would have felt motivated. Motivated to keep skipping meals. Motivated to celebrate my disordered eating. Motivated to scrape my dinner into the trash again. Motivated to starve myself into oblivion. Motivated to keep being cruel to fat people and making assumptions about strangers.

And if I hadn’t found body positivity, I would have been motivated to reject the medication that ultimately saved my life, because I thought it was better to be thin than to be sane.

And if that’s what health looks like to you… then I don’t want to be fucking healthy.

Editor’s Note: We use the word “overweight” in quotations because it is, indeed, a problematic term that suggests a normative weight. However, it is used for clarity and to make a distinction here because while Sam is not perceived as fat, he is also not perceived as thin, necessitating a term that acknowledges this “in-between” kind of space.

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Guest Post: The Softer Side of Catcalling

The image features a person with long blonde hair walking toward a grassy field.

Instead she leaned forward and whispered, “Pull up your shirt, honey. You’re showing.”

The first time I was catcalled I was 11 years old. But the first time I was looked at sexually without my consent was well before that. It wasn’t some creepy dude in a white van either – it was my kindergarten art teacher.

I remember thinking she had called me to her desk to compliment my work on last week’s art assignment. Instead she leaned forward and whispered, “Pull up your shirt, honey. You’re showing.” I yanked on my neckline and awkwardly made my way back to my seat, cheeks burning.

I spent the rest of the day feeling watched and peaking down inconspicuously to make sure my shirt was right – even though I wasn’t sure exactly what constituted “right.”

My clothing has continued to be policed throughout school and into adulthood. I don’t mean policed by dudes shouting out their car window, “Hey baby, what’s your number?” Instead it’s often been well-meaning older women who just want to help me be decent and modest.

By 3rd grade I’d been asked to stop wearing skirts to school because I liked to go upside down on the monkey bars. In middle school I was told to dress more feminine to make friends. In high school I was sent to the principal’s office because my tank top straps were too skinny. I’ve been subtly corrected by receptionists, nannies, professors, gas station attendants, relatives of every kind, and even children.

There’s been tons of discussion lately about the way women’s bodies are made public through sexual propositions known as catcalling. Our bodies are open to constant sexual commentary by any random stranger on the street, and that’s finally getting some much-needed attention.

What isn’t being pointed out is the reinforcement for catcalling provided by our mothers, aunts, teachers, bus drivers, bosses, and random ladies on a daily basis. When you single out a person for an assumed wardrobe malfunction, no matter how kind you think you’re being, you’re assigning certain values to their body. You’re imposing a “covered is better than uncovered” hierarchy that they may or may not share.

Most importantly, though, these kinds of adjustments have everything to do with sex. They are about covering up parts of my body that a passing man might view as sexual. Therefore, they are prioritizing that anonymous man’s perception of my body over my own comfort and independent decision-making ability.

Assumptions about sexuality, race, class, body type, and gender play into these social interactions. Young people who defy standards of beauty imposed by our white supremacist, misogynist culture are at an increased risk of surveillance and correction. Our very identities are often considered transgressive and therefore our manner of expressing those identities must be curtailed for the comfort of the viewing public.

We know that these older women are not trying to hurt us. We know they’re simply trying to help or interacting with us based on an outdated model of appropriate behavior. Many of them even identify as feminists. The issue isn’t their intention, it’s the impact. It’s minor interactions such as these that normalize rape culture. They put the pressure for security, modesty, and control on the victim’s body.

It may seem harmless and insignificant to tell a young girl to adjust her clothing. You may think I’m making a big deal out of nothing. The fact is, it’s a short step to the next part of many of our lives – the part where we experience sexualized violence.

When this happens (and it WILL happen, whether it’s catcalling or rape; it’s unavoidable) the “harmless” comments become very harmful. The victim – having been taught for years to change herself so she doesn’t look too sexual – decides not to report the incident, not to tell her friends, not to leave a violent situation because the violence enacted on her is made to be her fault, as if the way she dressed justified the violence.

She’s embarrassed. She’s made to feel embarrassed.

Imagine if our first reaction to sexual violence was not embarrassment but anger. Righteous anger. We can teach the next generation of girls that they have a right to their anger, that they don’t need to change a single thing to deserve respect. In order to do that we first have to stop adjusting them. We have to stop telling them their body has to be covered, or feminine, or uncovered, or any of the thousand conflicting and impossible rules they have to follow in order to earn respect.

Everyone has a different comfort level for their body. Let’s celebrate that diversity instead of criticizing it.

The image features the author, Julia, wearing a yellow-knit hat with a flower on it, smiling toward the camera.Julia Cuneo is an activist and youth organizer from Detroit, Michigan. She is obsessed with her cat and social justice. Although Julia was introduced to political organizing through feminism, she now works closely with the People’s Water Board and on educational justice issues.

 

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Why We Should Think Twice Before Idealizing Ruby Rose

rubyroseThe internet is abuzz about Ruby Rose, a genderfluid actor, DJ, and model who appeared in Season 3 of Netflix Original Series Orange is the New Black.

While Rose is undoubtedly stunning and a perfectly lovely person, our idealization of Ruby Rose represents a larger problem in popular culture – the very limited portrayals of androgyny, and more specifically, who is allowed to be androgynous.

When the only celebrated expressions of androgyny are idolizing those who are conventionally attractive, thin, white, able-bodied, and assigned female at birth, many of us who fall outside of these expectations can begin to feel as though we are not enough as we are, and that we are not androgynous unless we can conform.

This is not just about Ruby Rose, either. This is a norm that has existed for a long time. Simply plug “Androgyny” into a Google image search, and you will see an overwhelming sea of white, hollow faces. Thin, curveless bodies will be hiding underneath suit jackets and pinstripe trousers.

The reality, though, is that there are many diverse expressions of androgyny – and they are seldom celebrated, let alone represented, in popular culture.

As an androgynous person myself, beauty norms around androgyny have left me struggling to feel valid. I have curves, I have fat – my body can’t disappear underneath a suit coat, and my cheekbones will never be sharp or defined. The pressure to contort my body into this ideal, though, definitely weighs on me each time a new Ruby Rose is glorified by the media.

It’s alarming that we have such wildly limited portrayals of androgynous and gender diverse people, and on my more pessimistic days I wonder if we ever will. We celebrate a very specific body ideal while leaving countless other folks on the androgynous spectrum to contemplate their validity and beauty.

We’ve been told, through pretty explicit messaging that there is only one way to be androgynous. The reality is that there is an infinite number of ways to be androgynous – many of which look nothing like Ruby Rose.

Androgyny has long been defined by the mainstream on the basis of “passing” – that we be the chameleons of gender, able to be perceived as men OR women. But it is a problematic way to define androgyny because it limits it as an exclusive club, and validates our existence ONLY on the basis of others’ perceptions and cisnormative standards of beauty.

It does not allow for self-determination. It does not allow us to own the labels that best represent our gender identities.

There are androgynous folks of every color and every type of body, but we rarely see them represented. Shockingly, claiming an androgynous identity does not require that you pose with a cigarette in your mouth and suspenders (seriously, why are there so many pictures like that?). It does not require that you be white, thin, able-bodied and conventionally attractive. The only requirement for androgyny is that you identify that way.

Holding Ruby Rose up as an androgynous ideal only reinforces the idea that the only valid androgynous people are those who can pass and conform. In other words, the fanfare around Ruby Rose is part of a harmful ideal that already exists in our society – the rules of who is allowed to be androgynous, and who is not.

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A simple Google image search for “Androgyny” tells us who is allowed to be androgynous and who isn’t.

By all means, we can appreciate Ruby Rose’s divine looks (and great performance in OITNB, no?), but we should be critical of why she is celebrated, while other androgynous and genderfluid people are seldom visible.

And if I haven’t made it clear by now, we should by no means place her on a pedestal for all androgynous people to aspire towards – because it is an unattainable ideal for the vast majority of gender diverse people.

We should push for more and better representation of genderfluid people – not just those who reach this ideal, but for folks of all sorts of diverse expressions of gender. That means moving away from these white, thin, AFAB, “passing” folks and featuring, instead, androgynous people of color, genderfluid fatties, gorgeous AMAB genderqueers, bigender cuties with disabilities, and every intersection in-between.

Holding up Ruby Rose as a sign of greater acceptance of gender fluidity is misleading, because Ruby Rose’s look has been celebrated in magazine spreads and movies long before she was born. This ideal precedes Rose’s fame, and is an ideal we need to break down in order to have true representations of androgyny, and other kinds of gender diversity.

So, by all means, swoon over Ruby Rose. I’ll be right there with you.

But while it’s exciting that mainstream media is having a conversation about gender fluidity, we shouldn’t call this progress. Glorifying a very limited, singular representation of androgyny and calling it gender “diversity” can do more harm to our community than good.

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Fat by Choice: Happy (and Healthy!) At the Intersections of Size and Mental Health

The illustration features a place setting with breakfast foods, and two hands: one clutching a spoon, the other clutching a bottle of pills.

Illustration by Jessica Krcmarik.

Almost two years ago now, I began taking a medication with the hope that I could finally manage the aggressive symptoms that came with mental illness. I was experiencing despondent, suicidal lows; I felt panicked, paranoid, and inexplicably angry.

But by far the worst part of what was happening was the feeling that I wasn’t a “somebody” and, instead, the host for this parasite known as bipolar.

And it was this feeling – the feeling that I was no longer a person but rather, a shell – that compelled me to try a medication that had not been around for very long.

To the surprise of both my doctor and myself, it worked. It worked astonishingly well. As the months progressed, I began to level out. The loud noise in my head began to dial back. The hopelessness gave way to a hesitant, fledgling optimism. The anger dulled and I was able to problem-solve without coming undone. I began to feel human again.

I remember thinking that it was too good to be true. In every fairytale I’d ever read, miracles like these came with a trade-off. You could have effortless beauty, but give up your first born; you could have strength or immortality or riches, but there was always the fine print.

Call it a self-fulfilling prophecy, but when I noticed my body beginning to change, I was convinced that my day of reckoning had come. I could be mentally healthy, sure, but in return, the universe was going to issue me a new challenge.

I know what you might be thinking. No, gaining weight was not the challenge, though at first I thought it was. Gaining weight is not inherently a bad thing. Bodies themselves are not inherently bad.

The challenge was dealing with the internalized fatphobia I didn’t even know I had.

I was a good little feminist. Wait, wasn’t I? I had no problem with fat. In fact, both my parents were classified as “obese” and I had some idea, as someone who considered themselves very committed to body positive activism, of what it might mean to occupy space as a person of size.

And yet, when I went from being a tiny, petite little queer to being a member of the Chub Club, I reacted in such a strong, visceral way, that it became obvious that this body change had come with a lot of baggage – and I’m not just talking about physical weight, I mean, the weight of internalized oppression.

Because, holy cow, the words that flew out of my mouth? I’d look down at my round and protruding belly and say something like, “This is disgusting. I’m disgusting.”

I’d glance at my stretch marks and say something like, “I failed. I should’ve been dieting. I should’ve been exercising. This is my fault.”

As if the fat on my body made me inherently bad, some kind of failure; as if being fat makes me some kind of disgusting and unlovable human being. These are the ideas I swore I’d never think, let alone say about someone, and yet here I was, taking a shit on myself.

Being thin had allowed me to bury the fatphobia and leave it unchecked. But having highly visible fat, rolls, stretch marks – the whole shebang – finally brought to the surface what was there all along. As thin, I had the privilege of not confronting my fatphobia. But sixty pounds later, I had no choice but to examine my attitudes, because there was nowhere to hide.

I not only could see the fatphobia in myself, but I saw it in others around me.

When I was thin, no one had ever questioned whether or not I was healthy. Now that I was “overweight,” people around me started to ask if I was “okay.” As I received my official classification as “overweight,” and doctors began to suggest taking away the medication that had finally stabilized my life, I was disgusted.

Disgusted because it was as if my mental health counted for nothing. At my heaviest, I was undoubtedly at my healthiest – I was mentally sound, happy, eating well, stretching my legs. I had never been this whole, never felt this human. I was able to live my life without the constant, looming threat of bipolar, putting my life in danger and turning me into something I could not recognize.

And yet, the idea was that it was better for me to be thin and suicidal than it was to be fat and mentally healthy.

At times, horrifying as it is, I found myself thinking this same thing.

Many people around me, doctors included, ignored the psychological aspects of health and the risks associated with a relapse of my disorder and, instead, obsessed over my weight. Everyone around me was more concerned for me when I was heavier than they ever were when I was depressed, empty, and thin.

Thankfully, there were good doctors in my life, too, just as there were good people, who assured me that health was more than just a number on the scale. I began seriously investing in my practice of self-love, challenging the fatphobia when I felt it kicking in.

I became an advocate for myself, and discovered what it meant to put body positivism into action – not just as a way to boost my feminist cred, but when I face myself in the mirror and decide if I will smile back or pick myself apart.

To this day, I am still on that same medication that transformed my body. This is my choice. I will proudly remain a member of the Chub Club, and rock this curvy, chunky, fabulous body with pride.

I refuse to return to the days when the thought of ending my life was as mechanical as brushing my teeth in the morning. I refuse to return to the days when depression was a given, and happiness was a stranger. I refuse to return to the days when I had no hope, no desire, and no purpose.

And moreover, I refuse to buy into the idea that health is not possible at every size. I’m healthy in all the ways that count, and I know better than to equate thinness with wellness; I know better than to equate fatness with bad, with ugly, with less than, with harm.

When I look at the stretch marks, pink and fresh and new on my body, I’m reminded of all that I’ve weathered to get to this place of health, wholeness, and happiness.

Why would I ever apologize for that? And why would I choose any differently?

Editor’s Note: We use the word “fat” in the title to be an alternative to “overweight,” as we believe that “overweight” suggests a normative weight and upholds the privileging of some sizes over others (hence placing it in quotations throughout the piece). We in no way seek to undermine the struggles of folks who actively identify as Fat and are perceived as fat in the world, which Sam only experiences to a very limited extent.

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8 Things Non-Binary People Need to Know

The image features the non-binary pride flag.

The non-binary pride flag, via Gender Wiki

Coming out as genderqueer and non-binary was this big, beautiful, scary thing for me. I didn’t know what exactly I was moving towards – I only sensed that I was moving in the right direction.

Navigating something as complicated as gender with just my intuition was like running through a corn maze at night. There were a lot of dead ends. There were a lot of bumps and bruises. And it was, at times, totally exhausting.

There’s so much that I wish I had known when I started transitioning that I simply wasn’t able to find. There’s a lot of validation that we all need, but fail to get.

The internet is still tripping about our existence, so there are plenty of articles about what we are and there’s lots of 101. But our lives exist beyond 101. We need something more than that.

That is why, this week, I wanted to write an article – by a non-binary person, for non-binary people – about the important stuff that we need to hear but often don’t.

If you don’t identify as non-binary, you should read this anyway. You’ll learn something, I promise.

So to the non-binary folks out there, here are eight things that I really, really need you to know:

 

 

  1. You don’t have to be certain and yes, you can change your mind.

People assume because of my confidence or something that I have a very clear idea of what I’m doing.

Haha, that’s funny.

Do I want testosterone? No clue. Do I want top surgery? Uh, maybe? Do I want a more fluid presentation or a decidedly “masculine one”? Ask me again later.

I’m the magic 8 ball of gender. You can ask me the same question ten times and you’ll get at least five different answers.

I don’t know what I want. For a while, though, I felt like I needed to know exactly what I wanted, and I spent too much time agonizing over it. I wish I hadn’t. I wish someone had given me permission to be confused, to be unsure, to be afraid.

You don’t have to be sure about your (a)gender, your presentation, or what steps, if any, you’re going to take. And guess what? You can change your mind! You can change your mind as many times as you’d like, and you are still valid in every single way.

Take your time. Gender is not a race to the finish line; gender is not a competition that you can win or lose. It’s your personal journey, and you can take as much time as you need.

 

  1. You are valid, and you are doing it “right.”

Regardless of what you do, regardless of what choices you make, your identity and your gender (or lack thereof) is 100% valid.

There is no right or wrong way to do gender. And yet there were times when I didn’t feel “trans enough,” times when others questioned my transness, or times when I was excluded because I didn’t fit into this box of what it means to be “trans.”

Others will gender police you, even other trans people, or try to push you back into those boxes – but I want you to know that when they do, they are in the wrong, not you.

You are enough. Always.

 

 

  1. You deserve respect – so don’t apologize for demanding it.

I spent a lot of time apologizing when I asked people to use my pronouns. And that was a ridiculous thing for me to do in hindsight.

I deserve respect; I shouldn’t be misgendered, I shouldn’t be excluded, I shouldn’t be made to feel unsafe. So asking people to respect me should never have been something I apologized for – and you shouldn’t apologize, either.

People will, at some point or another, make you feel like your identity is some kind of burden on others, or that they’re doing you a favor by treating you like a human being. But you don’t need to kiss anyone’s ass just because they treated you the way that you should be treated.

And your identity is not a burden – society’s strict adherence to the binary, and failure to recognize and affirm you – is the real burden here.

The constant misgendering, microaggressions, harassment and even violence that we face as non-binary is a burden that far exceeds what anyone who calls YOUR identity a burden will ever experience.

You deserve respect without pandering, without begging, without people asking for cookies or pats on the back. You deserve respect, period.

 

  1. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

I know firsthand, from being in the community and connected with you all, that NB folks often grapple with depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues. And because we’re afraid of being misgendered and we’re afraid of having our identities dismantled or interrogated, we’re less likely to seek help.

I didn’t come out as trans to my therapist until much later in our time together, because I was afraid of being forced into an educator role in a situation where I was supposed to be the client. I silently and needlessly suffered from gender dysphoria because of that fear.

If you are struggling with your mental health or with dysphoria, ask for help. Please, please, ask for help. I know it can be uncomfortable to be put on the spot, and I know misgendering, especially by so-called professionals, can be grueling. But your mental health is important, and if you need help, it’s important that you get it.

Seek out a therapist. Seek out a healer. Seek out a support group or an online community.

And don’t settle for lousy care – if you aren’t getting what you need, keep looking. You are worth it.

 

  1. Your body is a non-binary body, no matter what it looks like.

When I was trying to get an idea of what I, as non-binary, wanted to look like, I couldn’t help but notice that there was an abundance of thin, traditionally masculine, able-bodied white people without a single curve to be found that were being advertised as androgynous bodies.

There weren’t any bodies that looked like mine.

But here’s the truth: You can be fat and curvy and be androgynous. You can be a person of color and, undoubtedly, be neutrois. You can have boobs and be transmasculine.

What makes a body non-binary is not what it looks like – it’s the person that lives in that body, and identifies that way.

If you feel pressure to pass, to conform, to look a certain way just to feel valid as your gender, I hope you know that your body is a valid non-binary body no matter what shape or form it takes.

 

  1. External validation is great, but self-love is revolutionary.

It’s powerful when we receive validation from others. But I wish someone had reminded me a little earlier on how important self-love is, too.

Over at Everyday Feminism, I wrote a little about the importance of self-love as trans folks.

The gist of it: As we weather microaggressions and dysphoria and oppression, we need to take care of ourselves.

The act of loving ourselves in a society which seldom acknowledges us or affirms us is politically powerful, and psychologically necessary.

While it’s important that those around us respect us, it’s equally important that we put in the work and respect ourselves.

How often are you practicing self-care and self-love? If it’s not often, it might be time to reevaluate your priorities – and put yourself first for a change.

 

  1. You are not alone.

It can feel that way, to be sure. The loneliness is compounded because most folks still cannot see us the way that we see ourselves. It’s complicated to exist outside of what most people have never been asked to imagine.

Yes, being non-binary can be a lonely road.

But it’s worth remembering that you are not the only non-binary person in this world. NB folks have existed everywhere, across cultures and across time. You are not alone in your feelings, experiences, and fears.

If you are feeling isolated, there are so many resources (and more resources, and more), as well as online communities that are waiting for you. And you can come exactly as you are – you don’t need to be out, and you don’t need to be certain.

Sometimes it helps to know that you’re not the only one going through this.

 

  1. Your voice is important, and you deserve a seat at the table.

Your experiences of marginalization, oppression, and fear are important. And every community that you are a part of – whether you’re a person of color, a person with a disability, working class, atheist – should be including you, and valuing your unique contributions.

We are too often pushed to the margins, both in the trans community but also in other communities that we are a part of.

And I want to remind you that your voice is important to all of those conversations – you should never be excluded from any discussion that you are personally connected to.

As an atheist who is also non-binary, for example, I often wonder why the most vocal and visible atheists at conferences, panels, and events are white, cishet men.

Similarly, when transgender folks are talking about transphobia, are they including non-binary people? Why or why not?

It can sometimes feel like we don’t belong in these communities, despite identifying so strongly with them. But your perspective is important, and you should have a seat at the table in every discussion in which you have something at stake.

If you’re being pushed out, don’t apologize for pushing back. Spaces that do not succeed in including you need to confront their failures – especially those spaces that present themselves as being socially just.

* * *

There is so much that I wish someone had told me when I first came out.

In the beginning, it felt as if I was completely in the dark – and I withstood abuse, aggression, and loneliness that, in hindsight, I didn’t deserve.

Sometimes I was convinced I was doing something wrong because I was unsure.

Sometimes I let others step on me because I didn’t feel worthy.

Sometimes I settled for disrespect because I thought respect was too much to ask for.

Sometimes I felt like I wasn’t “enough.”

Sometimes I felt alone and I was afraid to ask for help.

Sometimes I hated my body because I thought it wasn’t an “androgynous body.”

Sometimes I thought the validation of others was more important than how I felt about myself.

Sometimes I let others exclude me because I thought I had to wait my turn.

This was my early experience of life as a non-binary person. It was difficult, and scary, and oppressive. And while in some ways things have remained the same, thankfully most things have improved a lot.

I wish someone had stepped in to let me know that I was worthy of respect, worthy of love and support; I wish someone had told me that there was no right or wrong way to be non-binary, as long as I was being myself.

Most of all, I wish I had realized sooner that I wasn’t alone in everything I was going through.

I hope that my words can offer some comfort and validation, and act as reminders of how deeply worthwhile and important you are. In a society which tries so hard to erase us, it can be easy to forget.

I wish you, and all of my non-binary siblings a safe, healthy, and beautiful journey as you explore your (a)gender. Please know that I am with you every step of the way!

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I Am Queer, I Am Non-Binary, and I Don’t Know What it Means to Feel Safe

[The image features the author, Sam, glancing nervously over his shoulder while a hostile stranger smirks from across the aisle of the bus.]

Illustration by Jessica Krcmarik

From the moment I stepped onto the bus, there was something about me that didn’t sit right with you.

You couldn’t put your finger on it, but I knew what it was from the start, from the way that you looked at me.

You heard my voice as I greeted the driver. As you eyed me up and down, searching for my curves, you decided that I was, indeed, “a woman who was trying to be a man.”

And I think that’s what got your goat. I think you didn’t like that I had the nerve to stray outside of what you thought I ought to be.

I took my seat, and after I did, my partner – a masculine queer who, shocker, you also didn’t care for – sat next to me. You crinkled your nose at us, as if we smelled vile, as if we were rotten to you. But you moved over a seat to be closer to us anyway, to be sure that we would hear you when you spoke to us.

“You getting married soon?” you ask us. This would normally be a harmless question, but you say it with a growl in your voice, staring daggers. You say it in a way that sounds angry, hostile.

I begin to feel afraid, wondering how many of my trans siblings had conversations that started just like this one but ended with blows to their skulls.

“We’re…”

I remember the time we were nearly run over by an SUV, the way I screamed expletives down the street while bystanders pretended that I didn’t exist and that I didn’t hurt. I remember being told, shortly after, “Sam, the police don’t care about hate crimes. Let’s go home.” I remember our friend being beaten with a baseball bat, found unconscious and bloodied and broken. I remember all the close calls that felt too close, too near, and too present.

In my panicked state, I blurt out, “We’re… sisters.”

I pretend to laugh, and my partner, playing along, nervously chuckles.

“I want you to get married,” you push. “I want to be there. I want to watch.”

Your eyes widen, and you laugh, licking your lips like a carnivore staring down fresh meat. I begin to feel nauseous.

My partner and I get up to move to the back of the bus, and when I turn around to see if you’re following, your face contorts as your throat makes a deep hacking sound. I watch, seemingly in slow motion, as you rise from your seat to spit at us. I watch your phlegm splat onto the bus floor, inches away from my heels.

I want to yell obscenities at you. I want to tell you to rot in hell. I want to scream until I fracture your ear drums.

But I say nothing. I say nothing at all, because being transgender means never knowing if a small altercation could lead to violence. And because getting the last word between us runs the risk of those being the last words I ever speak. And it’s a risk I won’t let myself take.

The driver says nothing, and the other passengers on the bus say nothing, and you, satisfied with yourself, take your seat again.

I shroud myself in the silence, and I try to steady my shaking hands. I spend the next fifteen minutes – which feel like a lifetime – pretending to stare out the window, while I feel your eyes on me, your mouth forming a gleeful, delighted smirk.

You’ve put me in my place, haven’t you? Seeing me so powerless makes you feel something, something you enjoy, something that makes you straighten your spine a little and bare your teeth.

I try to imagine what you must be thinking. Maybe it’s the same thing that teenage boy was thinking when he tweeted to me, “Die, tranny faggot scum.” Maybe it’s the same thing those men were thinking as they blew that red light, nearly hitting us as they yelled, “Straights have the right of way!”

Or maybe, just maybe, there were no words for it and, instead, you imagined a perfect, circular wound in the center of my forehead, matching the bullets held in the belly of your shotgun.

I can’t ride the bus for a week after the incident. I skip all my classes. I order takeout instead of going to the grocery store, and I call in sick to work. Not because this is the first time it’s ever happened and I’m shocked, but because it happens all too often and I am afraid that the next time will be the last time.

Every time I approach the bus stop, I can see your face, and the foul, disgusted looks you give me. When I close my eyes, I can hear the crackling sound in your throat as you prepare another loogie to spit in my direction. And everywhere I turn, I wonder which ones are like you, the ones who have forgotten my humanity. The ones that see me a wild animal to be put into submission.

For too many of us, when you are transgender, there is no such thing as feeling safe.

I try to remember a time when I could ride the bus, or walk the streets, or encounter a stranger and not feel that sudden twinge in my gut, that wound up feeling that readies my body for fight or flight. I try to remember a time when I was more gentle, when I smiled at people I didn’t know, and I met the eyes of every person who looked at me and I did not look away.

These days, my head hangs low, and I look through everyone as if I were walking amongst ghosts.

Sam Dylan Finch is a queer activist and feminist writer, based in the SF Bay. He is the founder of Let’s Queer Things Up!, his blog and labor of love. With a passion for impacting change through personal narrative, Sam writes about his struggles and triumphs as genderqueer and bipolar with the hopes of teaching others about his identity and community. When he isn’t writing, he’s probably eating takeout and dancing to Taylor Swift.

Connect with SDF: Website ; Facebook ; Twitter ; Tumblr

Editor’s Note: We at LQTU! want to acknowledge and affirm that, by and large, trans women of color carry the burden of violence in our community. That being said, Sam shares his experience with the hopes of offering some insight into his fears and experiences around street harassment as a white queer and non-binary person. We previously wrote a brief piece about the street harassment that trans women face as well, and today’s piece is not meant to talk over, compare/contrast, or ignore this reality. We encourage anyone in the trans community to share their stories and contribute to this ongoing conversation.