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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The (Third) Elephant In The Room: Yet Another Gender Q&A

One reason why I’ve really enjoyed having a blog is being able to see how my views and self-insight have changed overtime. And this is why I’ve done a question & answer about my gender almost every year now — I want to demonstrate the ways in which gender can be fluid, and affirm that our ideas around identity and transition can shift or evolve (and yes, that’s totally okay!).

I’m a little late on this one (we’re like, halfway through 2017 now, can you believe it?), but if you’re new to the blog, this is something of a check-in to see where I’m at in my transition. And as always, if you have more questions, you can tweet me!

These are essentially the same questions as the last two years, with a few new ones thrown in that I’ve been coming across in my inbox lately. Here we go!

What is your gender? What pronouns do you use?

I’ve been pretty attached to the descriptors “non-binary gay boy.” I go with he/him pronouns, but I also respond to they/them.

What do those words mean to you?

“Non-binary,” for me, means that I don’t view my gender identity as being exclusively masculine or feminine. It gives me some latitude when expressing and exploring my gender.

The additional phrasing of “gay boy” kind of helps refine what I mean (non-binary is such a broad category, I think that’s why so many of us under this umbrella use multiple descriptors).

“Gay boy,” to me, acknowledges that I’m plugged into a specific subset of queer culture here in San Francisco (sometimes gendered language helps denote community ties, you know?).

It also pinpoints the gender role in society that I’m most comfortable occupying/being read as (in a binary world) without the expectation of cisnormative masculinity the way that “guy” or “man” gives off.

Have your self-descriptors changed since last year?

Yeah, definitely. This last year has been about confronting my relationship to masculinity. I’m not very invested in traditional, normative expressions of masculinity, so I’ve shifted to using language that better reflects that.

I use “genderqueer” less often and “non-binary” more often lately, though either is fine and both are accurate.

Are your gender identity (sense of self) and your gender expression (how you express it on the outside) the same? Different?

I’d say that they’re about the same! The cool thing about the language that I use is that it gives me a lot of room to experiment. My clothes are a little more masculine than I’d like them to be, but that’s because I haven’t had the money to replace my old stuff.

How did you know you were transgender?

I’m way less interested in this question than I have been in years past (I’ve answered it a few times, it’s out there on the internet if it’s important to you). I think gender is just forward motion, and this is my trajectory, whether I could anticipate it from the start or not.

“How did you know?” sometimes becomes a way to measure the authenticity of some trans people against others, and I think it’s worth restating that all trans people are valid regardless of their timeline. So that’s what I’ll leave you with.

Are you still taking testosterone? Do you have other plans for medical transition?

I’m offering up this information because I want to, not because I’ve been asked to (Riley has a great video on why this distinction is important).

I’ve been taking testosterone for… a year and a half now? I don’t think I look super different, but here are some photos for reference:

I have a lot more body hair (which I have pretty mixed feels about), my body proportions are different (narrow hips, broader shoulders), my voice has dropped a bit, and overall I think I read as a lot more androgynous which was my big goal when I went on T. My beard is also finally coming in — I have whiskers all over the place which might look silly to some people but I think it’s totally endearing.

As for surgery, I have my first consultation on July 10th. I should be overjoyed, but instead, I’m struggling with it. My future is kind of up in the air because I haven’t been able to secure a job here (and freelance writing just isn’t enough right now), so I’m not even sure if I’m staying in the Bay Area or moving out of state. Which means that my top surgery might end up delayed (again) if I’m forced to leave here.

Top surgery is vital for me — my greatest source of dysphoria is my chest. I don’t know what I’m going to do if it gets delayed again.

(If you want to help, becoming a Patron through my Patreon is a great way to support me. Hint hint, nudge nudge. I’m less active there than I should be, but I’m circling back, I promise.)

I’m trying to stay hopeful. But I’d be lying if I said it’s not really difficult right now.

How are you feeling about your transition so far?

I’ve written some pretty contentious articles talking about the complexities of transition. My favorite one is this narrative I published last April. Overall, I feel happy with where things are headed and I don’t have any regrets (which is good!). I also think it’s okay to feel conflicted or uncertain sometimes, too, and I’ve definitely been there on more than one occasion.

How does your sexual orientation factor into all this?

I’ve really appreciated seeing the word “gay” evolve a little bit to have multiple meanings. It’s not just men who are into men. For me, I’m “gay” in that I’m attracted to (sexually and romantically) folks of similar genders. So non-binary folks, genderfluid folks, the occasional masc person.

I also identify as greysexual (on the ace spectrum), which I haven’t talked about much. But sex itself is not a big priority or drive for me, and it’s not a significant part of my life. So while I have partners, those relationships focus on emotional intimacy and companionship, and I’m perfectly happy that way.

What’s been the most difficult part of being trans for you (since you last answered these questions)?

Not having access to what I need. My top surgery was delayed over, and over, and over again. I only own one chest binder, which was sent to me by a super generous friend. Most of the clothing I own is from four or five years ago, before I really knew my own style or identity. It’s hard to feel comfortable in your own skin when you can’t alter your body or appearance to push back against the dysphoria.

Being transgender costs money and it’s a price tag that I really can’t afford at this place in my life.

It’s worth saying that this being my biggest challenge is a manifestation of privilege in some ways. For the most part, I don’t move through the world fearing for my physical safety, especially since I’m white and perceived as masculine. I want to keep that in perspective not to invalidate the dysphoria I feel, but to highlight that within the trans community, our struggles have different consequences, different realities.

How was your first pride weekend?

OVERWHELMING. I documented it over on Instagram. I’d avoided Pride up until now because huge crowds of drunk people sounded like something out of a nightmare. But I did go to Trans March! I’d never seen so many trans folks in my life, and it was empowering (and exhausting, tbh) to march alongside them.

Trans march was excellent 🌈🎉💕☀️👍🏻

A post shared by Sam Dylan Finch (@samdylanfinch) on Jun 24, 2017 at 1:05pm PDT

 

It took me like, the whole weekend in bed to recover. But it was worth it for sure.

What’s next? What do you see for yourself in the coming year?

If I can just financially stabilize, I can stay in the Bay Area, keep my apartment, and get my surgery. Finding a stable job has been my sole focus right now. I don’t know what’s next, but I do know that I’m not going to give up.

The reality is, especially under this administration, there will always be obstacles for trans people. But we’re resilient. I’m resilient. So we keep going, even when things seem uncertain and even hopeless.

I hope that by the time I answer these questions next year, I’ll have had my surgery and I’ll have the safety that I need in my life. I’m not going to stop trying until I do.

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BREAKING: Local Resident Comes Out as Non-Binary, World Doesn’t End

Originally published at Wear Your Voice Magazine and republished here with permission.

OAKLAND, CA – Residents are profoundly underwhelmed today after an Oakland resident, Tyler May, announced their non-binary gender identity. What was expected to be the literal end of times, residents say that they were shocked to find that the event has had little to no impact on their daily lives.

“I said over and over again that acknowledging more than two genders would signal the apocalypse,” a local cisgender man explained. “But then nothing happened. Literally. Nothing.”

“I had designed a bomb shelter and stocked it up with canned goods for the next five years,” another resident said. “Come to find out, all Tyler wants is for us to switch pronouns.”

Many locals had believed that by in any way challenging the gender binary, it would spontaneously combust, resulting in widespread fires and a complete breakdown of the social order.

But to the surprise of residents, some are beginning to speculate that someone else’s gender may actually be none of their business, and that when identities are mutually respected, the lives of residents may actually improve.

“This might sound wild,” one resident said, struggling to grasp the words coming out of his mouth. “It’s almost like… if we treat others the way we want to be treated, things are… better?”

Still, some residents are disappointed, seeming to prefer conflict.

“I’m a real transgender person, a transgender man,” one resident exclaimed proudly. “I don’t believe in this non-binary thing. I think it’s just a ploy for attention. I’ve talked about this at length on my blog, YouTube channel, Snapchat, Twitter, and Tumblr!”

Pulling the microphone closer to him and smiling, he added, “Is this being broadcast? Is this going to be online?”

Other transgender residents felt similarly. “I find it insulting that they can just identify with a gender they weren’t assigned,” a transgender woman explained. “Like, who do you think you are?”

“It’s almost like someone’s gender has no bearing on my life,” another cis resident complained.

Cisgender and transgender residents alike agreed that they had hoped for more chaos or at least something to live tweet about.

“Tyler tweeted that they were non-binary,” a cisgender resident recalled with horror. “And then everything stayed the same. No pyrotechnics, no street fighting, nothing.”

With tears streaming down his face, a cis man quietly explained, “They said who they were, and nothing happened to me.”

“Naturally, I started to wonder about their genitals, how they have sex, what bathroom they go in,” a cis woman explained. “But then my friends told me I was being inappropriate.”

Pulling a pocket mirror out of her purse and gazing into it, she whispered, “Am I… a creep?”

Perhaps the most devastating part of this experience was the introspection that transpired after Tyler May explained their identity. Many residents were visibly distressed after reconsidering the idea that two genders could really encompass the complexity of the human experience.

“It’s too much, it’s just too much,” one cisgender man explained, tearing at the hair on his head. “What’s next, telling me that I’m my own individual, not defined by the presence of a penis?”

Asked what they thought of their neighbors’ reactions, Tyler May looked bewildered. “Why do they care how I identify?” Shaking their head, they added, “People are so weird.”

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Am I the Only Transgender Person Sick of Transitioning?

This is not your “before and after” video that shows me ten thousand times hotter than I previously was, confirming your suspicion that transition takes you from an awkward caterpillar into a glamorous butterfly.

This is not your “I found myself” testimony, where I explain how transition fixed all of my problems and how I’m now living my best life in my best body, the life and body I was meant to have.

Nope. This is your “this sucks, why does this suck, why didn’t anyone tell me that this would suck?” blog entry, by a trans person who is just as confused as before, only this time with more acne.

As a genderqueer person whose desired body leans masc, desired expression leans femme, and overall identity seems to be “alien boy” but I’ll call it “well fuck, your guess is as good as mine,” trying to transition has been a puzzle at best, and a cluster fuck at worst.

About eight months ago, I threw testosterone into the mix hoping it would ease some of the social and physical dysphoria, and maybe answer some of my lingering questions (questions like, do I want to live my life being perceived as a man? how much body hair is too much body hair? can I grow a better beard than my brother? will this make my butt more compact? you know, the important shit).

Spoiler alert, on testosterone I’m totally emotionally unstable, I’m greasy and covered in acne, I have the ability to braid my leg hair, I’m building muscles in places I didn’t know I could develop muscle, and I’m growing (admittedly very cute) whiskers on my face.

So in other words, I’m a moody cat on steroids that desperately needs Proactiv. These were not my #TransitionGoals.

Everyone tells me that, having only been on testosterone for less than a year, I should be patient. But the thing that no one told me is that medical transition – and really, transition generally – can suck SO HARD.

No one tells you that not every aspect of transition will feel right or feel good. That the side effects of medical transition may make you more uncertain than ever of your choices. That sometimes it’s trial by fucking fire, learning what you want and what you don’t as you go.

That it can take a long time before you look in the mirror and say, “Aha!”

That some of us – and this is critical – don’t know what will work for us. We only know what isn’t working, and that’s valid, too.

For non-binary folks, this delicate balance is even more challenging to achieve. Some of us end up back pedaling with our dose or coming off of hormones altogether, trying not to swing too hard in one direction of the binary or the other. Some of us have to settle for something imperfect, others of us are too afraid to begin.

Pass the Tylenol, please – navigating hormones in a binary world is enough to give anyone the migraine of the century.

Truthfully, I spend most days worried about how testosterone hasn’t been this magical, life-affirming journey that has made me more certain of myself – feeling like I’ve done something wrong, or made the wrong choice if I’m not perpetually ecstatic about it. 

I’d like to think that there’s room for trans people to feel something other than endless joy – that actually, it’s an unrealistic expectation that every transgender person on hormones will have the time of their life.

I’m not unhappy, I’m just waiting for it to come together. I look at myself in the mirror nowadays and like anybody else whose body is rapidly changing, I’m just really weirded out. I haven’t had that big moment (is there even a big moment for everyone?).

I’m just sitting around like, “Whoa, bodies are totally STRANGE” and “Did my face get uglier or is it just the acne eating me alive?”

If anything, medical transition has raised more questions than it’s answered. Questions about my relationship to masculinity, what gender identity truly is, about the layers of my dysphoria, about the fluidity of my own gender (and if it’s so fluid, how do I choose a static representation?), and most importantly, what it means to transition as a trans person who is genderqueer.

I did not sign up for some philosophical obstacle course, but here we are.

Mainstream narratives convince us that transition is reserved for people who are brimming with certainty and clarity, neither of which I have. Mainstream narratives convince us that transition will be revelatory and complete us, but I have yet to feel enlightened or whole.

Is it just me?

I’d like to think that it’s okay – and that we can make room for these experiences, too. Transition is not amazing all the time. For some folks, it isn’t amazing at all, but necessary still. And if we don’t acknowledge this, we’re just being really fucking dishonest about what transition is actually like.

So y’all, I’ll just say it: I’m tired. All these bodily changes, all these lingering questions, and the work that goes into deciphering your non-binary gender in a binary world – it’s exhausting, and it sucks.

Word on the street is that it’s worth it, though. And I may not know exactly what’s in store, but there’s no way in hell I’m going back.

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Being Non-Binary and a Trans Guy Isn’t a Contradiction

When we think about non-binary folks, we often think about agender, neutrois, or “gender neutral” people who do not identify with the categories of man or woman in any conceivable way.

Those folks are real, and absolutely deserve visibility and validation.

But I also think this is a very limited understanding of what it means to be non-binary. If we only think about non-binary identities on these terms, we fail to encompass the diversity of this community and the radical ways of doing (or not doing) gender.

Non-binary is defined as someone who does not identify exclusively as masculine or feminine (thus apart from a cisnormative binary). This can actually include quite a number of people and (a)genders.

But we forget sometimes that non-binary can encompass more than just someone who disowns the binary altogether – it can include someone who reclaims it for their own ends, expression, or performance.

For me, I am a very femme and genderqueer trans guy, who occupies masculinity and femininity and androgyny in a pretty equal and eclectic measure.

My non-binary identity is important to me – but so is my identity as a trans guy. They are totally inseparable.

My experience of my gender is fluid and moving, non-linear, queer. So while I do identify as a trans guy, my masculinity and my body are experienced through a very queer and non-binary lens.

In other words, I can be a trans guy and be non-binary simultaneously.

I do not exist in an exclusively masculine, binary space. I can embrace all the queer, femme, glittery, tender, and alien parts of my gender while simultaneously honoring the masculine identity that they are wrapped up in.

And I would argue that if we held more space for folks identifying as men or women to queer their gender and expression, we might find that non-binary community exists in more places and in more ways than we’d ever thought possible.

I don’t believe that being non-binary is about rejecting the binary out of hand for every single person. For some of us, it’s taking back the binary from oppressive and rigid social norms and breaking down those expectations.

I think that there is a way to take what is meaningful, resonant, or beautiful about what we’ve uncovered within the binary and take back what’s rightfully ours, making it our own.

For me, there are elements of being a “trans guy” that speak to my experiences – but it’s not quite enough to hold all the other queer, femme, and fluid aspects that make me who I am.

Non-binary, for many of us, is a placeholder because nothing else could contain us.

And at the end of the day, who’s to say that there aren’t men and women that are so queer, so infinite that they need that space held for them, too?

We should talk about the power dynamics and privileges embedded in how aligned someone is with the binary, sure. But that’s a very different conversation from the ones I’m being asked to have.

I have found a certain amount of skepticism of my non-binary identity since I started claiming “trans guy” as an identity as well. Many folks felt these categories were at odds, and that I shouldn’t call myself a non-binary writer or seek to represent the community if it wasn’t my experience.

But I believe that non-binary is a spectrum of experiences that can be held by people of many (a)genders, and that we can make room for all of those experiences without stepping all over each other or denying someone a label that really resonates with them.

If non-binary is to mean “not exclusively masculine or feminine,” we should be open to the possibility that anyone of any gender – especially in a binary system in which few, if any truly fit – might find themselves looking for language that gives them permission to be who they are.

And really, we should always be cautious and self-critical if our skepticism of someone’s truth is turning into identity policing. Denying someone the right to identify as non-binary is simply upholding the binary and imposing it onto someone else.

As non-binary, isn’t the imposition of that binary the last thing we want to be participating in?

I don’t believe that non-binary men or non-binary women are contradictions at all. If anything, it’s an indication that people are catching on.

The binary, on absolute terms, serves very few – and at least for me, being non-binary is about making room for every part of myself. I’m not surprised that others feel that way, too.

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The (Second) Elephant in the Room: Another Gender Q&A

elephantinroom

The elephant in the room!

About a year ago, I answered some questions that readers had about my gender.

It felt strange to do this, knowing that my identity was constantly in flux and that I was still figuring myself out. But I can never resist a good Q&A!

With 2015 coming to a close, I revisited that article for old time’s sake. And, of course, I was not surprised to find that not every answer held true for me in the present day.

So I figured, why not make this Q&A something of a yearly tradition? It might be interesting to see how my sense of self shifts over the years.

If you’re new to the site and wondering what in the hell my gender is, or if you’re a veteran reader who’s just curious to see what has changed this year, this Q&A will give you some insights into my gender identity and my transition.

It’s a new year and a new Q&A. Let’s do this!

 

What is your gender? What pronouns do you use?

I identify as genderqueer and non-binary.

I use he/him as my pronouns, though I’m also a fan of they/them, so I respond to both!

 

What do those words mean to you?

To me, genderqueer means that I don’t identify exclusively as masculine or feminine. It means I fuck around with gender and I’m content with the ambiguity. Non-binary is essentially the same in that I reject the gender binary.

 

How have your self-descriptors changed since last year?

I used to self-describe as transmasculine, meaning I identified more with masculinity than I did femininity. I realized that this felt safer for me. I thought that I had to reject femininity to be seen as a valid AFAB (assigned female at birth) transgender person.

However, in the last year, I’ve found that language to be really limiting. I’m reconnecting with my own femininity and I’m seeing how there are a lot of layers to my own gender.

So I’m back to using “genderqueer” as my primary descriptor.

 

Are your gender identity (your sense of self) and your gender expression (how you express it on the outside) the same? Different?

Last year, I had a pretty non-binary identity but a decidedly masculine expression, meaning that while I didn’t identify with any particular gender, the way I presented myself to the world was very masculine.

In part, that was motivated by that binarism that says AFAB trans people must transition to be masculine, and AMAB trans people must transition to be feminine (which is SO not true and such a limited understanding of transness).

Part of that was also just the trauma of being misgendered and feeling that I needed to be as masculine as possible in order to avoid being read as a woman.

I’ve slowly moved away from that and have started looking for ways to incorporate all kinds of gender expressions into my everyday life. That’s felt super liberating for me. It’s no longer about other people – it’s just about me now.

 

How did you know you were transgender?

There were so many little moments building up to this that it’s hard to say which one was my “aha” moment. My two biggest moments, I think, were when I saw an androgynous character on television for the first time and when I started wearing a chest binder.

I’d suggest reading this memoir piece (which is easily the best thing I wrote this year) and this article on internalized transphobia (another one of my best pieces) to get a full sense of what my journey has looked like so far.

 

When did you come out and what were the reactions you received?

I came out to close friends a few years ago, and was really lucky to get a mix of affirmations, support, and curiosity.

I came out to my family gradually – subtle conversations, tap dancing around it – but came out completely this last year. There was fear, hesitation, confusion… but underneath all of that, there was love. It’s the love that’s carrying us through right now. I have an incredible family.

 

Does your family know about your writing?

Every single year, I get asked this question a few times.

Yes! And they’ll read it from time to time. Hi, Mom, I love you.

Some of my extended family found my work online and they’ve been wonderfully supportive. Hey, cousins, what’s up?

 

How has your transition been so far?

Last year I used an equal number of negative and positive adjectives when answering this question, even using the word “painful.” It definitely speaks to where I was at the time with my transition.

This year I have almost exclusively positive adjectives: Beautiful. Affirming. Life-giving. Scary. Magical.

And like I said before, only with more conviction this time: Exactly what I needed.

 

Are you taking testosterone? Do you plan to?

Last year I said I wasn’t sure. It’s funny to me, because I couldn’t be more sure now.

Back in May, I had this realization – that I couldn’t keep living my life in this body and in this way. It’s the kind of epiphany that you feel at the core of your heart. I knew from that point on that it was something I needed to do.

On December 9th, 2015, I started testosterone (and every Wednesday, I write a weekly column at Ravishly, “Testosterone and Tea,” where I reflect on that week’s experiences – you should follow along if you haven’t been already!).

It was absolutely the right choice for me and I’m glad that I waited until I felt ready.

 

Have you always known that you were transgender?

It seems like every day, as I let go of the shame that I felt around being trans and I start to heal, I am able to really connect with my past and begin to see the ways in which I was struggling with my gender for a long time.

I haven’t always known and I definitely wasn’t born this way. I also think the trauma of having bipolar disorder meant that I had to focus, first and foremost, on my own survival.

But in all the reflecting I’ve done this last year, I can see that this was a long time coming.

 

If you aren’t a man or a woman, what is your sexual orientation?

Hahaha. I laugh because it’s like, I could care less about my sexual orientation. I am at that point in my life where it’s just irrelevant. I’m queer, and I’m polyamorous, and I’m happy; I date whoever I want.

I will say that I date mostly other trans people and/or folks with mental illness. It’s not on purpose. I think it’s because I just feel understood and validated and safe around folks who have struggled with similar shit. It allows me to build the kind of closeness that I need to be with someone.

 

What has been the hardest part of being trans?

I want to be more specific this year and say that it’s hard to be non-binary.

Because so few people understand or want to understand, so few people see you as you actually are, and you’re juggling a lot of different forms of oppression coming from cisgender and [binary] trans people alike.

This year I decided to stop playing it safe and calling myself “transgender” all the time when what I really mean is non-binary.

I realized that it was a revolutionary act to openly and urgently name myself as a non-binary writer and advocate. And I knew that my community needed me to be upfront about this, because we’re so invisible in so many spaces.

With that has been an avalanche of really important self-reflection. Reflections on how to claim my identity, how to stop apologizing for it, and how to navigate what it means to be a public figure who is also genderqueer.

It’s been a worthwhile process. Because while it is true that I am transgender, it is equally, if not more true that I am non-binary. And opting for neutral language just because it’s more accessible does not challenge people to learn about me or my community.

Sometimes we have to work a little harder to be seen and understood, even if it means taking a stance that isn’t neutral or palatable, because being seen is a fundamentally important part of our liberation.

Shout-out to my non-binary readers who encouraged me to start using this language, and continue to boost the signal on my work. You are the heart and soul of this blog.

 

What do you think is in store for you in 2016?

A lot of body hair (thanks, testosterone!). A lot of selfies (thanks, Instagram!).

And kind of unrelated, but I’m determined to launch a YouTube channel (which you can subscribe to early if you’d like, follow the link!) and to get a cat.

Because seriously. Why don’t I have a cat yet?

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Update: Turns out I just had to wait one extra year!

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When Your Violin is Supposed to Be a Cello

This article was originally published by Ravishly.

cello.

They promised I would “grow into it.”

When I was small and new to this world, my parents placed a radio beside my crib.

“We used to play classical music for you,” they told me. “You loved Bach.” For years, I fell asleep to the sounds of 12 different violin concertos, the music bouncing off the walls and into my tiny ears.

My mother swears that this is why I took up violin.

My parents eagerly exposed me to any and every song with a violin solo. I went from Bach to Riverdance to Dixie Chicks, the music captivating me. By the time I was 12, I told my parents that I wanted to make beautiful music like the people on the CDs.

They made me promise that I wouldn’t quit after just a few weeks. I would’ve promised them the moon in the sky or my allowance for every week of my life to have a violin of my own.

They conceded. We went to a store filled with violins from countries all over the world. I had my eye on one that came from Germany. I remember holding it, expecting to make a triumphant sound like all the musicians I’d listened to since infancy, and was shocked that I could hardly make it croak.

“You’ll get better after some lessons,” they told me.

“And after you get some rosin on the bow, of course,” the salesman added with a wink.

It was a little too big for me, but the music teacher at school promised that I would “grow into it.”

I’m not sure I ever did.

* * *

I believed that Lily Peters was the prettiest girl at Rhode Middle School.

And I was the luckiest kid at Rhode Middle School, I reasoned, because I was one of her closest friends. We were cast in the school play together and for those three months, we were inseparable.

I remember looking at Lily with so much envy.

Lily was idyllic in my mind. I grew out my hair and wore it just likes hers, with the messy bun perched right on top of my head. I got contact lenses and I carefully applied the same powdery shade of blue around my eyes. I begged my mother to let me wear high heels for the school dances, the slip-on sort that Lily would wear.

I dragged my mother to the store to buy pleated skirts, but they could only be pink — Lily only wore the pink ones. And they could only be from Limited Too, the only acceptable store for Lily’s taste.

I tried doing all the same things — like it was an equation, and if I did the math just right the product would be the same — but was left with the lingering sense that it was some sort of farce.

When Lily became friends with Cameron from Speech class a month after the play was over, I could feel myself being pushed to the sidelines. I started to feel less and less important. Not even my pool party at the local recreation center — the one with the amazing water slide and the lazy river — was enough to regain her favor.

It all came crashing down one day in English class, when a giggling and mischievous Lily passed a note to Cameron. Cameron, delighted by what she saw, started to giggle uncontrollably behind me.

“Can I see?” I asked, feeling left out.

“I don’t think you want to,” Cameron said, smirking and shooting Lily a look.

Grabbing the note from Cameron’s desk, I opened it up expecting to laugh along with them. Instead, I saw the words, “Don’t you think Sam is really weird?” scribbled in Lily’s flawless cursive writing, a heart dotting each “i.”

My face began to burn, tears blurring my vision. Lily’s assessment was not unfamiliar. It was one that I’d pondered many times — why, no matter the equation or the formula or the number of pleated skirts I squeezed my body into, was girlhood so evasive?

Why didn’t I belong?

Lily never said. But the farce was confirmed, on perfect pink floral stationery, no less.

* * *

The teacher said that I was a gifted musician.

I was first chair in the Rhode Middle School Honors Orchestra, the best of the best. I was ecstatic to be the best at something. I was on my way to making beautiful music, like the violinists I now listened to on my CD player on the bus every morning.

I tried to move my wrists like they did, to make the vibrations hum and tremble, to make my violin weep the ways that theirs did.

We didn’t have anything but violinists in my old orchestra, but it was at Rhode that I heard a cello for the first time. While the violin made me excited, the cello had a stranger effect on me. The cello was deeper, more emotive, and twisted my heart until I thought it might burst.

Every day in orchestra practice I would stare at the cello players in awe. Their music made my high-pitched violin — something I once felt so accomplished in — seem so inadequate, so empty.

But it was too late, I reasoned. My parents had bought the violin and they would never stand to invest in another more expensive instrument, to pay for more lessons, to start over.

Besides, this is what I was destined to do. From the crib, remember? I recalled the stories my mother told me, when the Bach violin concertos lulled me to sleep. I remembered the Dixie Chicks concert when it was broadcast on the television, when they pointed at the violinist under the spotlight and said, “That’ll be you someday.”

I practiced diligently every day after school. Remembering, as I went over my scales repeatedly, the way my mother would squeeze my hand when the violinist at Riverdance played faster, and faster, and faster.

But sometimes, when I was all alone, I’d stand the violin up on my lap and pretend, just for a moment, that it was a cello. I would close my eyes and imagine the deep bellowing of Bach’s Suite No. 1 rattling in my chest, the most dizzying and captivating melody I’d ever heard.

But the vibrations of my violin against my chest, too high a pitch, were a tragic reminder of what I lacked.

I grieved — and the grief, at the time, was so unexplainable to me — contemplating the mistake I could not utter aloud. The mistake, the very undeniable fact that my violin could never produce such rich and deep and lovely sounds.

My violin would never be a cello.

* * *

I wanted to be good at femininity, the kind of femininity that girls like Lily and Jessica and Courtney could wear so effortlessly but I never could.

I wore the homecoming dress with the high heels, my feet aching, my stubbornness forcing me to wear them until everyone, especially the boy I liked, had seen me.

It was a performance, I knew it, but I gave it my best — lusting after the affirmations, the encore, someone or anyone to tell me that I had done good.

I didn’t want to be myself, but that was OK. I just wanted to be beautiful, to be worthy.

So I practiced applying mascara the way I practiced my scales: repeatedly, persistently, and with great attention to every lash and every note.

* * *

My best friend in high school, Lucas, was a cellist. At our director’s urging, Lucas decided that we should enter the state competition as a duet. He chose a concerto by Mozart and invited me over to his house after school one day to give it a whirl.

He brought me down to his basement and into a makeshift practice room, with sheet music strewn about and his cello leaned precariously on its side. He carefully tipped it upright again and, sitting down, drew it close to him.

As I removed my violin from its case, he began to warm up with a G major scale. I paused, letting the notes wrap around me and echo in my ears.

I wondered what it must feel like, to keep your instrument so close to your heart.

He looked up at me and smiled, setting down his bow.

“Hey,” he said with a laugh. “Do you want to switch instruments? For fun?”

“Yes!” I exclaimed, with a little too much excitement in my voice.

Handing over the violin to Lucas, I made my way to the cello, hands trembling.

What if I was terrible at it and all my dreams dissolved in a single moment? Or what if, miraculously, I was so proficient that I could convince my parents to let me switch instruments? The moment was ripe with possibility and heavy all at once.

Bringing the cello near — tilting my head and bringing my ear as close to the strings as I could — I took a deep breath. I pulled the bow across the strings in a hesitant, slow glide, and felt the weight of each note in my chest.

Something about the richness and depth of the sound, reverberating in every bone in my body, felt so tremendously right.

Playing each note so carefully, I looked at Lucas and confessed, “I should’ve played the cello.” The confession was drowned beneath the vibrations that filled the room.

In a single scale, I broke my own heart.

* * *

I can tell you the exact moment I realized, without a doubt, that I was not a woman.

It was when I put a chest binder on for the first time, during a freezing Michigan winter, late at night. It was when I recognized my own queerness for the first time.

Shocked by my own silhouette, I could feel everything shifting. I ran my fingers across my chest, studying myself intensely in the mirror, trying to resist the joy that was coming over me. I did not want to love what I saw, but I could not take it back.

“What do you think?” my partner asked me from the other side of the room.

What would the future be now? Now that I knew the truth?

“I think it’s…” I was holding back tears. “I’m trans. I really am transgender.”

“Yes, I know. Why are you sad?” they replied.

I recalled the moment that I held Lucas’ cello near me, and all the years after, when, no matter how beautifully I played my violin, I never felt whole or satisfied. The way my scales withered on the vine, how every pass across the strings was empty, and how the notes were always too shrill.

And the regret that washed over me — intense, relentless — when I watched Lucas every afternoon, swaying side to side as his cello beckoned so sweetly from across the room.

“Because nothing will ever be the same,” I whispered.

A thousand Bach violin concertos swirling around my crib, imprinting those melodies on my brain, had not changed the fact that I was meant to be a cellist. And a thousand “she”s, beginning from the moment that I was born, had not changed the fact that I had grown up to be a “he.”

It was in that moment — imagining who I might be, and the terrifying and glorious possibilities that it held — that I realized that the instrument we’re given is not always the one we’re meant to play.

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