This is what I wish people who identify as ‘truscum’ would try to understand.

This is an open letter to transmedicalists.

I’m being direct this time, because I don’t want to talk about you as if you are some faraway, distant other. I don’t think that helps anything. You’re real people, and no matter where we differ, I don’t want to forget your humanity.

I’ve talked in the past about harassment that I’d experienced years ago from trans folks who identify as “truscum” (so, for outsiders, transgender people who believe gender dysphoria and medical transition are necessary to identify as trans — otherwise known as transmedicalists).

Most recently, I took to Twitter to vent about it. And, not surprisingly, a lot of you weren’t super happy with me about it.

Your responses got me wondering if I could’ve done things a little differently. Because I’ll be honest — I don’t know that it ever occurred to me before then to speak to you directly.

I’m not going to pretend that I’m not angry or hurt. But I don’t hate you, as some of you suggested. I just really, really want you to stop hurting other trans people.

Based on your responses, though, I wonder if you even realize that you’re harming anyone. I think you’re caught up in some of your own pain, too, and that doesn’t make this conversation easy for anyone.

So I’m taking a deep breath and doing what I should’ve done in the first place — unpacking, very carefully, exactly what I’m struggling with. I’m going to explain as best I can why this “truscum” thing is upsetting for me as a trans person.

And I want to give you the benefit of the doubt, because even if you don’t see me as part of your community, I still believe that you’re part of mine.

Relentless optimist that I am, I like to think that someday trans folks might join hands around a campfire singing “Landslide” by Fleetwood Mac (I swear this song is a transgender anthem — just a personal, unrelated opinion of mine).

But I’d be pleased if we were just nicer to each other as a whole.

This is the longest blog I’ve ever written by far (sorry in advance). But if you’re wondering if I’m coming from a genuine place? Rest assured, I wouldn’t expend this much energy if I didn’t care about this very deeply.

If you’re rolling your eyes about how exhaustingly long it is, you can also bookmark it at any point and come back to it. It’ll still be here. And I’m breaking it up with headers, so hopefully it’ll be easy to find your place again.

So why am I even talking to you in the first place? That’s a valid question.

To understand why, you’ll need to know a little bit of my history.

The first thing you need to know is that I work in digital media. It’s important to mention this upfront, because it’s my public work as a transgender writer that got the attention of transmedicalists in the first place.

Back in 2015, I started receiving emails and tweets from self-identified “truscum” for a blog that I wrote about how much I hated the word “transtrender.”

I didn’t believe that the stance I took was especially controversial — but it drew a lot of attention to me as a trans person, and led to some targeted harassment, which continued for a while throughout my career.

The fact that I hadn’t yet medically transitioned led these folks to start asking invasive questions about my body. They were barging into unrelated conversations on social media to tell folks I was an imposter, contacting my followers with conspiracy theories about my transition (I’d made it all up apparently), and otherwise trying to discredit my work.

And of course, I was misgendered. Just to add a little salt to the wound, I guess.

The reality is, at that point, I’d never said I didn’t want to medically transition. It was that I couldn’t.

Initially, in 2014, I’d had issues with my insurance because I’d moved across the country. After that, it was my mental health status that led clinicians to deny me access to transition-related care (if you’re curious about how this nightmare happens, I interviewed other trans folks with similar experiences, and I wrote about it here).

So while this harassment campaign was happening, I was privately struggling with dysphoria that I could do literally nothing about. You’d hope that other trans people would see this as a rallying cry to demand better access to care. But these folks didn’t.

Instead, transmedicalists told me my lack of medical interventions made me invalid.

In a word? It was traumatic. I felt betrayed by my own community; I thought if anyone was going to understand my struggle, it would be other trans people.

It didn’t stop when I finally accessed hormones, either. Instead, transmedicalists had decided I was lying about that. When I posted a photo of me holding my testosterone gel, they suggested it wasn’t my prescription, and then they decided that because I hadn’t had surgery, I still couldn’t be believed either way.

Never mind the fact that I was desperately trying to access care the entire time.

These were my very first experiences with “truscum.”

I’ll be honest — never in my wildest dreams did I think that the folks harassing me would be other transgender people.

And it wasn’t just me, either. I watched this happen many times to others as well, including some of the advocates that I deeply respect and young trans folks who had only recently come out.

So I’ll just be upfront and say… you all didn’t exactly make the best first impression.

And I know, I know. You might be thinking, “But that wasn’t ME! I didn’t harass you! What has this got to do with me?”

I understand why the generalization might bug you.

But when you tell someone that they have the ability to determine who is and isn’t transgender, some people will use that mentality to justify some really abhorrent behavior. Whether you’re passively advocating for that or actively doing so, the ultimate result is that people then feel emboldened to play “gender police.”

They feel emboldened to decide who is and isn’t “trans enough.” And that means people get hurt.

That’s the crux of the issue for me. Regardless of what you’re intending, people are getting hurt.

And I have yet to see folks who identify as transmedicalists acknowledge that this is happening, and that there are valid concerns here.

If you’re still with me here — and if you are, I appreciate it — I want to explain to you exactly why transmedicalism as a concept is so troubling to me, with the hopes you can better understand the pain that I’m talking about.

Not because I want to lecture you or that I think you’re incapable of googling this. It’s just that I recognize it’s possible that folks just didn’t take the time to unpack it in a way you could hear it, and instead they became reactive in a way that felt dehumanizing to you.

So let’s establish my starting place (or bias, whatever) here: It’s true that I don’t believe the presence of dysphoria is necessary to identify as transgender.

I understand that from the get-go, that can touch a few nerves. But I want to explain why I think that’s an important place to start from, regardless of how it makes either of us feel.

I stand by those points in part because I don’t think dysphoria is a helpful measure in the first place — which I’ll explain in a moment.

I don’t say this because I don’t understand the knee-jerk reaction that can happen when someone says they haven’t been dysphoric. Because yeah, dysphoria is painful. It sucks. When I got my first rejection while trying to access top surgery, I began abusing alcohol to cope — it was not a fun time for me. The pain nearly killed me.

I know it’s hard to imagine someone as trans when they don’t understand that kind of pain, especially when it’s a pain you’ve known acutely for a very long time. I’m with you there.

I’ve reacted that way before, too. I’m human. Sometimes my first reaction to something isn’t always my kindest one.

In a perfect world, we would have some reliable indicator or litmus test for helping folks to figure out if they were trans or not — some singular measurement that erases all doubt. As a fan of simplicity myself, I get the appeal.

But the reality isn’t so simple — many trans people suppress those feelings of dysphoria, or they misinterpret them and struggle to connect them to their gender.

This can make it impossible to discern — especially as an outsider — if dysphoria is present. Requiring dysphoria to identify as transgender, for that reason alone, has way too much room for error.

A personal example: I’ve actually experienced some level of dysphoria for my entire life… I just didn’t know initially what it was.

I don’t want to do a deep dive into my history here, but suffice to say, the background that I came from made it very difficult to question my own gender safely.

So I experienced dysphoria, instead, as feeling profoundly self-hating and “ugly” (I wrote about this previously in this article, if you’re wondering). No one else saw me as ugly or ever said I was, but it was a feeling I couldn’t shake. I felt like, no matter what I did, nothing made that feeling go away.

I just thought it was a stupid teenager thing. Except that “stupid teenager thing” didn’t go away and I became a self-hating, uncomfortable, gross-feeling adult.

If you had met me when I came out in 2012, you would’ve said that there was no freaking way I was transgender. I knew I was miserable and I knew I hated how I looked, but “dysphoria” wasn’t a part of my vocabulary yet. While it had always been there on some level, I didn’t have any way to interpret what it meant.

And this isn’t an uncommon experience, trust me. Plenty of trans people come out and are still learning how to describe their experiences. For those folks, it’s sometimes much, much later on that they realize there was some dysphoria happening for them. Sometimes the label comes first — and that’s valid.

I didn’t grasp how severe it was for me until after surgery. Only when my dysphoria was considerably diminished did I understand just how heavy it was to begin with.

It was a kind of misery I was accustomed to, to the point where I was the fish in the bowl that couldn’t really see the water. You know what I mean? But now that I’m post-op, it’s like I’ve experienced a kind of joy and ease that I didn’t know was possible.

There’s also folks for whom their feelings of dysphoria progressively appear or worsen overtime.

I think of this as a kind of “hibernation.” People suppress all kinds of emotions, and dysphoric ones aren’t some magical exception. But as they start to experiment with language, and explore their identity and expression, those feelings start to surface. As the outside world begins to reject them, that can trigger those feelings they’ve managed to push down as well.

Some people also experience dysphoria only in the form of dissociation, or a state of unreality, numbness, or disconnection. They might not connect this to their gender at all, because it’s not an emotional state they can necessarily identify so quickly in the first place.

For trans people with other mental health challenges, trauma and mental illness might interfere with their understanding of their gender, and dysphoria becomes attributed to other causes (I also wrote about that here).

In other words, our brains work extra hard to try to protect us, which can make self-perception as a trans person a little wonky.

That’s what brains do with any kind of trauma. And this can show up as a total break from our own sense of dysphoric feelings, or misunderstanding the source or nature of those feelings. It’s more common than you’d think.

So when a trans person says they don’t experience dysphoria? It might be their truth at that particular stage in transition. But that doesn’t mean it always will be. Those feelings could surface in the future, become better understood and recognized overtime, or progressively appear as it becomes safer to process them.

But if we accuse trans folks of being imposters from the start, we might closet them before they ever figure any of that out.

So for me? One of the big problems with transmedicalism as a concept is its potential for “friendly fire.” When you use dysphoria as this “infallible” meter stick, you actually end up excluding a lot of trans people who are traumatized or vulnerable, and arguably most in need of support, especially if they’re emerging from denial or dissociation.

Transmedicalists are more likely to harm someone who is trans than successfully cast out an “imposter.” Because in actuality, more of us are traumatized than faking it.

When I first came out, I said that I didn’t want hormones and I wasn’t sure I wanted surgery. I am definitely the kind of “transtrender” that you would’ve rallied against (and, well, you did for a while).

Looking back, I have to laugh out loud. I can’t imagine not having medically transitioned.

With proper mental health care and, yes, incredible community support, I was able to get to a place where I could identify this resistance as a fear of rejection by society and my family especially. I was in deep denial because I was afraid of what would happen if I transitioned.

I didn’t want to lose my family. So instead, I lost myself. It took a long time (and a lot of support) to really come to terms with that.

That’s the thing, though: I needed space, support, time, and compassion to be able to figure out my path.

As of 2018, I’ve been on testosterone for a few years now, which drastically improved my life and my mental health. And I’ve had top surgery, which was the single best decision I’ve ever made. I am so much healthier and happier now.

But when you use a singular measure like dysphoria to decide if someone is worthy of those things, you run the risk of doing a lot of harm to folks who aren’t “faking” anything — folks like me who needed to process things before they could make the right choice.

And there are plenty of reasons why medical transition isn’t an easy decision, too.

Some people can’t access it for financial reasons or are denied access by clinicians. Some folks have chronic illnesses that would make medical transition risky or undesirable. Some folks might consider it safer to remain closeted. Some folks are in abusive environments where they can’t even begin to contemplate something like this.

And for some folks, right here and right now? They just don’t want to or aren’t ready to.

Maybe they’re questioning, maybe they’re afraid, maybe they’re overwhelmed, or maybe they’re just fucking tired. That could change and that may not… but it’s not up to us.

It’s not our business why and it’s definitely not our place to interrogate them, especially because we run the risk of doing serious harm for folks who might be going through some shit — shit that maybe they don’t even understand yet and can’t articulate.

You just. Never. Know.

It’s kind of like that quote, about how everyone is fighting their own battle. Even if it’s a battle you can’t see — because with trans folks especially, it’s the battles we can’t see that most often define our experiences.

So listen, I’ll give you this: Some disagreement over how we define “transgender” is bound to happen. It’s not the disagreement part that I necessarily take issue with.

It’s miraculous (and incredibly rare) that anyone agrees unanimously about anything. There are some people, for example, who don’t like Nutella, and that I will literally never understand. The difference here is that when someone tells me they don’t like Nutella, no one is actually being harmed in the process.

I acknowledge that there are going to be growing pains for our community, and I think this is part of that. These aren’t the first pains, and they won’t be the last. Historically, in every community ever, there have been divisions and disputes.

What I’m questioning here isn’t the definition of transgender. It’s what actually happens in the real world when we rely on your definition specifically.

Using dysphoria or medical transition as the way to define transness results in gatekeeping — and gatekeeping doesn’t work, because it’s too easy to get it wrong. And when we get it wrong? Trans people get hurt. Period.

The people who end up hurt most often (like, overwhelmingly so) aren’t actually faking anything and just wouldn’t benefit from doing so.

I was one of those trans people when transmedicalists harassed me in 2015. I was struggling to identify and understand my own dysphoria. I was being denied access to gender-affirming care by clinicians. I was struggling with PTSD and mental illness.

It was a battle you couldn’t see, and instead of offering empathy, I was harmed by folks who should’ve stood by me.

Are there trans people who haven’t experienced dysphoria and never, ever will? There could be.

Regardless of what you think, I’m not convinced that the existence of trans folks who don’t presently experience dysphoria is justification for disbelieving people who come out of the closet.

Those folks might want to access transition-related care in the future anyway, because it could make them happier or healthier. They might uncover that they have been dysphoric as they learn more and gain more hindsight.

Which means that either way you slice it, you can’t know for sure if someone is transgender or isn’t, even by your own definition — because people change and grow all the time.

Otherwise, I apparently wasn’t transgender in 2012 but I was in 2014. I wasn’t transgender when I was too traumatized to grasp it, but I was when I was able to access and process my emotions. Which… doesn’t make any sense.

Personally? I think gender identity is a diverse and complex thing — which to me is pretty exciting — but we might never agree there, I realize.

But you don’t have to understand their experience to respect their process.

Folks need to be able to explore their gender identity without hostility, because we simply don’t know their internal reality and we never will. The paradoxical reality is that the more fiercely you try to keep “outsiders” out of the trans community, the more likely you are to hurt trans people.

It’s not effective. It’s not helpful. It serves no other purpose than to hurt people.

So if someone says they’re transgender? You should believe them (or at least leave them alone, okay?), no matter how you choose to define “transgender” at the end of the day. The risk of driving a trans person deeper into the closet is simply too great.

It’s far more important to make sure that anyone who is questioning their gender has options and support, and that those options are protected no matter what, than trying to suss out who does or doesn’t “belong.”

So the moment they say “I’m transgender,” I congratulate them and I move on. What the hell do I know? That’s between them, their support network, their therapist, and whoever else they choose to involve.

Otherwise, there’s too good a chance that a transgender person who needs support will be denied it, just because of a misguided assumption about how they’re presenting in a particular moment.

We already get that from cis people constantly. Let’s not be like them, okay?

That’s why, when I define transgender as “identifying as a gender other than the one you were assigned at birth,” I do so with very intentional openness.

I want to be inclusive of folks who are questioning, and I want to give folks permission to evolve or change their minds, because that’s the only way to ensure that trans people can make the choices that are best for them.

The reality is, very few trans people emerge from the womb with an immediate and full understanding of their identity.

But people don’t make awesome choices when they’re being shouted at or put on the defense. Or in my case, harassed. Transitioning within a community that feels like a pressure cooker, demanding a particular kind of conformity, is never going to lead to the best possible outcomes.

And honestly? Asking trans people to put the horse before the cart — to know what they need and who they are before they can entertain a label — isn’t how a lot of folks actually operate.

The label is often what connects folks to more information, support, and self-discovery. It helps them uncover what they’ve suppressed and who they might become. So being possessive over the label actually winds up failing a lot of folks in the community, because they need the language before they can find a framework to operate from.

I want to say, too, that I understand it might be hard to let go of that impulse to judge.

When we identify with our struggles, it can feel insulting when someone who hasn’t struggled in the same exact way takes on a label that has so much meaning to us — a label that you feel you’ve earned, while others seem to just be sauntering right up and grabbing it.

Even so, I think we need to all agree — at the very, very least — that this is much more complicated than simply walking up to a label and dropping it into your identity shopping cart.

We’re talking about psychology, culture, language, trauma, biology, intimacy, sexuality, even spirituality — what aspect of the human experience is gender NOT touching on? And that’s ultimately why I think reductionist definitions fail us as a community.

Gender is messy and abstract. If it weren’t, we wouldn’t be debating it literally all the damn time. The very fact that we don’t agree on this is simply proof that this is a complex thing we’re dealing with here.

And for that reason alone, I recognize that we will probably never agree 100% on what it means to be transgender. But I don’t think we have to — we just need to agree on how to treat one another.

You know, with respect.

So what do we do, then? For me, I’m just trying to do the least amount of harm. I’m asking you to consider doing the same.

There are so many different paths that people take to arrive at an understanding of themselves.

But if we close the door too swiftly on people who aren’t exactly like us, we run the risk of shutting the door on someone who needs us — someone with whom we might share a lot more in common with than we’d expect.

Personally, I don’t think people choose to be trans in a world that isn’t terribly kind towards trans people. And even if they did put on some kind of weird act, I’ve accepted that I can never know that for sure, nor can I really do anything about it.

But I can be kind and gracious with the hopes that, wherever folks end up, they find the path that’s right for them. Extending that kindness to them doesn’t harm me in any way, shape, or form.

At the end of the day, it’s more important (to me, anyway) to create a community that allows trans folks to thrive. Gatekeeping doesn’t allow for that — it makes us suspicious of each other, callous, and combative.

If we want trans people to be able to come out, we have to make our community a safe enough place for them to do so.

When I came out in 2012, I had so many incredible trans folks to look to, and I owe so much of my happiness and health to them now. If I hadn’t had their support, I would still be closeted, if I’d even be alive today.

Every person deserves the chance to question their gender and explore it freely, without pressure, harassment, or gaslighting. This isn’t just a “be nice” issue — this is about the mental health and resilience of this community.

And I so badly want to believe that the majority of transmedicalists don’t actually approve of the harassment that folks like me have experienced, and don’t want to see what happened to me happen to anyone else.

I want to believe that if they knew the full story and really thought it through, they would’ve been there for me, as a trans person who knows how hard it is to be trans.

But the only way to guarantee that we aren’t caught in the snares of gatekeeping, and harming one another, is if we end this culture of interrogation altogether.

When in doubt, we need to do the kind thing instead, and let people live. You may not understand where they are in their journey right now, but they deserve the freedom and dignity to walk that path and see where it leads them. They deserve all the time and space they need to figure it out.

They may or may not continue on that path — but it’s not for us to decide.

I’ve given you all the benefit of the doubt here, because I believe every one of us deserves it.

Will you please extend the same to other folks in this community?

signature

heart

Appreciate the blog? Please consider becoming a patron! A dollar a month might seem small, but it helps keep this labor of love going.

Need a therapist? If you follow this nifty link, you can get $50 off your first month of therapy with Talkspace. Not a bad deal! ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ Read more about online therapy with Talkspace here.

Photo by Josh Wilburne on Unsplash.

Advertisements

4 Things the Queer Folks in My Life Taught Me About Resisting Toxic Masculinity

I’m standing outside of a club with friends.

We’re standing in a circle, laughing and chatting and enjoying ourselves. Intermittently, we touch each other’s hair, we put an arm around the other, we kiss each other on the cheek, and we yell above the noise, “I love you so, so much.”

Gender stereotypes and norms might tell you that we’re a group of women.

But we aren’t. We’re a group of queer folks, all with different relationships to masculinity, flaunting a total disregard of gender norms.

When I made the decision to transition – changing my gender presentation and pursuing hormones – I knew that testosterone in particular would come with a host of expectations around performing masculinity.

And as a genderqueer, femme trans boy evaluating my relationship to masculinity, I didn’t know exactly how comfortable I was with that – especially since so many aspects of masculinity can be toxic.

While I would benefit from gaining numerous privileges associated with masculinity, I would also have to contend with the gender norms that harm so many men and masculine-identified people.

But when I fell into a community of queer folks – some transgender, some gender non-conforming, all navigating the expectations of “masc” together – I found a very different kind of masculinity. While they are by no means the norm, what I learned from them was transformative.

This community taught me not only what toxic masculinity demands of men and masculine people, but also the possibilities that exist outside of it.

In the process, I came to realize the kind of masculinity that I could be comfortable inhabiting.

Here are a few of the things that I’ve learned from them.

1. Masculinity Doesn’t Mean Denying Each Other Physical Affection

Men aren’t often seen hugging each other in this society. If they touch each other, even in a platonic way, it’s considered too “gay” or effeminate. As a result, we have men who seldom share physical affection, affirmation, or closeness.

While everyone’s personal boundaries are different, masculine-identified folks are never given the freedom to set their own boundaries. There’s one boundary and one boundary only, and it’s that men shouldn’t share physical closeness. This isn’t just limiting. This can be painful.

What I appreciate so much about the community of queer folks that I’ve fallen into is that we love on each other.

In my community of queers, we greet each other with warm embraces. We lean on each other and hold each other through difficult moments. We aren’t afraid to touch each other and express our affection for each other just because society says that men and masculine-identified folks shouldn’t do so.

Just imagine what friendships between masculine-identified people could look like if we felt encouraged to express our affection for each other in whatever ways felt comfortable for everyone involved.

Imagine the closeness, the reassurance, the comfort, the support, the vulnerability – these are very healthy experiences that are encouraged in female friendships, but never permitted for men and masculine-identified people.

Denying men and masculine-identified people a full spectrum of intimacy with their friends is one of many ways toxic masculinity hurts us. And rediscovering this intimacy with my friends has been profound.

For me, having this kind of consensual physical closeness has been healing. So much of toxic masculinity relies on the idea that men and masculine people must keep others at a distance.

But why should we?

From a simple mental health perspective, I know that this kind of shared affection between friends can help us feel connected to each other and creates a sense of safety within our community.

2. Masculinity Can And Should Involve Emotional Vulnerability

Men shouldn’t cry. Men shouldn’t be emotional. Men should deal with their shit on their own time.

When I began my transition, I was fearful that I would feel pressured not to express myself or my feelings. And in the beginning, this was absolutely true.

If you browse through my Instagram, for example, you’ll see that prior to testosterone, I took many selfies while smiling – but when I started testosterone, I took pictures with more serious and standoffish faces, thinking that they made me “look more masculine.”

I didn’t even notice at first.

This insidious idea that men shouldn’t have emotions had impacted even the ways in which I took photographs of myself. I had internalized this idea that masculinity was about distance and suppressing my emotions – even joyful ones.

Encouraging men to not be emotionally vulnerable is enormously harmful.

Expecting us to push down our feelings can eat us alive, deny us valuable resources and support that we need, and often puts the emotional labor onto other folks of marginalized gender (primarily femmes) who are put into caretaking roles.

I would even venture to say that the epidemic of violence coming from primarily white men in the United States can be connected to the suppression, hostility, and aggression that is expected of them as the only legitimate avenues to asserting their masculinity.

Finding a community of queer folks that are very expressive, share their feelings and their struggles, and support one another through them has been so important in pushing back against toxic masculinity that encourages us to isolate ourselves and lash out.

I feel empowered to be around people who aren’t afraid to show vulnerability and encourage one another to reach out during difficult times.

Their sensitivity, warmth, and compassion fly in the face of everything that hegemonic masculinity has told us to be.

3. Masculinity Isn’t About Rejecting What’s Deemed ‘Feminine’

The first people to comment on my sparkly, beautiful nails were the queer men in my life. Some of them applauded how rad they looked. Some of them remarked on how they, too, needed to get theirs done.

And none of them shamed me or questioned the choice.

I once wrote an entire article about how I was fearful that being on testosterone would take away some of my favorite, more “femme” parts of who I am – and how I was determined to hold onto these things.

Toxic masculinity greatly limits the emotional range that men and masculine people can have, and it also limits our gender expression as well. At the root of this is misogyny, which privileges what we associate with masculinity over what we associate with femininity.

Often times, men and masculine people can fall into the trap of rejecting what is considered “feminine” because they feel it will affirm or legitimize their masculinity in the eyes of other people.

But well into my transition now, I am still rocking the nails, blathering on about my passion for interior design and stylish clothes, singing pop music at the top of my lungs, and crying over romantic comedies.

I don’t reject any stereotypically “feminine” aspect of myself just to cater to patriarchy. I am flipping the bird to a gender binary that says masculinity and femininity are these dual, opposing forces that, upon ever mingling, the universe will implode.

Thankfully, the universe has yet to implode from my queer, femme masculinity.

In reality, they don’t need to be in opposition, nor should one be valued over the other. In fact, femininity, masculinity, and even androgyny can be ingredients to each of our own individual, unique recipes that make up who we are and what we feel empowered by.

Or, you know… we can just ditch the binary thinking altogether and let people live.

I wouldn’t have felt like I could really be myself until I saw other queer men embodying this – a gender fluidity in which the limiting norms and rules of masculinity no longer apply – and embracing their whole selves, femininity unapologetically included.

They have rejected this binary way of thinking, refusing the “either/or” ultimatum of the gender binary (some of them, like me, even identifying as non-binary).

Seeing other men who are unafraid to fuck with gender has made me feel empowered to do the same.

4. Pushing Back Against Toxic Masculinity Means Acknowledging Our Privileges

Often times, women and other gender minorities take on the emotional burden and labor of educating men, in particular, about privilege.

It’s an unfair burden, to be sure, as folks who are on the receiving end of oppression should never be obligated to educate their oppressors, nor should privileged people feel entitled to their labor and energies.

What I’ve found so promising about the community that I’m surrounded by is that the men in my life have taken the initiative not only to have these conversations among themselves, but to act as interrupters and to educate other men and masculine people about their privilege.

One of the most eye-opening parts of transition has been seeing the ways in which I am treated differently as I move through public spaces. And in community with other queer and trans men, this has opened up many conversations about power, privilege, and interruption.

An essential part of dismantling toxic masculinity is men taking ownership over their own education around systemic inequality, and taking on the labor of educating other men about it as well.

It’s also about interrupting the manifestations of patriarchy when we see it. It’s about ensuring that marginalized folks feel safe in our spaces. It’s about being cognizant of the space that we, ourselves, take up. It’s about utilizing our power to amplify the voices of marginalized folks within our community.

It’s about tuning in when marginalized folks take the time to call us in, apologizing when we’ve fucked up, and taking ownership over our position of privilege.

And it’s definitely – definitely – about holding one another to a higher standard, calling in other men and being willing to be called in when mistakes are made. This is especially critical so that this labor is not left to people of marginalized gender who must endure microaggressions and harm to call us in.

When I identified as a cis woman long, long ago, I can remember feeling extraordinarily unsafe in groups of men, to the point where I wouldn’t be in those spaces at all.

Identifying now as a non-binary person with masculine privilege, I want to create the kinds of spaces where gender minorities can choose to be in community with me, knowing that the burden doesn’t rest on them to maintain the safety of our space.

I’m grateful that I exist in community with other folks who feel the same way.

/

When I first embarked on my gender transition, I was scared of masculinity. I was scared of all that it had come to represent. I was scared of all of the toxic expectations that would fall on my shoulders.

Unpacking those expectations and doing better as a person of privilege will be an ongoing process for the rest of my life. But I’m grateful to say that in community with other queer and trans men, I’ve found a space to do this processing in a healthy way.

Surrounded by queer men who push back against hegemonic masculinity, I’ve also been able to carve out a new kind of femme masculinity for myself – one that I feel is both healing and empowering, allowing me to be my authentic and most honest self.

Communities like these, however small they may be, give me hope that a new kind of masculinity is possible – one that is nurturing, sensitive, vulnerable, self-aware, and even radical.

Knowing that it’s possible, I am committed to resisting this paradigm until it finally collapses under the weight of itself.

Because when masculinity is toxic – when it actively harms not only those who are marginalized but the oppressors themselves – it can never be sustainable.

signature

Help keep this blog free, accessible, and queer as hell!

Follow the link below to donate as little as $1 per month, and unlock some pretty cool exclusive content when you do:

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

 

A version of this piece that I wrote originally appeared at Everyday Feminism.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Confession: I ask myself this a lot.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. What If I Regret My Medical Transition?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If you feel ashamed, you aren’t alone.

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

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

***

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

The feeling of being validated, seen, recognized.

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

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

But I want to encourage you to open up.

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

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

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

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

signature

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

This piece that I wrote originally appeared at Everyday Feminism.

How Can We Include Non-Binary People in Gendered Spaces?

nbmeme

This meme is basically my life.

I think it’s interesting to be writing about my gender transition so publicly. I am not always given the luxury of uncertainty or ambiguity.

But truthfully, I am still getting to know who I am and, by extension, how my gender manifests in the world.

I’ve used a lot of words to describe myself: Genderqueer, non-binary, transmasculine, genderfluid, genderweird, androgynous, agender, even bigender to name a handful. I’ve used ze/hir pronouns, e/em pronouns, they/them pronouns, he/him pronouns.

I think of these labels as hats that I’ve tried on at different points in my life, searching for what fits, what suits me.

I’ve made no effort to hide the fact that I’m a gender explorer. I haven’t settled anywhere just yet – and I am comfortable in that fluid space. I dabble in femininity, masculinity, androgyny, and agender expressions and I’ve found happiness in liberating myself from prescribed boxes and letting myself roam.

I’m still figuring it out. This is why I most often refer to myself as “non-binary” – I am holding that space as I learn more and more about myself.

Recently, though, I realized that not everyone is willing to hold that space for non-binary people.

Last week, I was banned from an online group of femme and non-binary writers. A cisgender moderator determined that because I’d used the word “transmasculine” in the past and used he/him pronouns, I was not, in fact, “non-binary.”

I was booted without discussion or question, labelled a “misogynist” for taking up space as a “trans man,” and slandered in writing circles that I had previously held in high respect.

I debated if I would talk publicly about what happened. But I think this is a prime example of the many fundamental misunderstandings of non-binary people and their experiences, and raises two really important questions:

What is the place of non-binary and genderfluid people in explicitly gendered spaces? And how can we be inclusive of non-binary people in spaces like these?

So I’m going to talk about this.

First, I think we should pinpoint what it means to be non-binary. Non-binary refers to experiences of gender that are not exclusively masculine or feminine. It’s an umbrella of experiences.

I have identified as non-binary for five years. This is because my experience of gender is fluid – I have a fluid expression that I am still exploring, and I don’t identify as a man or a woman.

I use he/him pronouns not because I am a trans man or because I’m exclusively masculine. I actually respond to both “they” AND “him” (and if you’ll notice, many interviews and talks I’ve given have used these interchangeably).

However, “he” is easiest and my preference is not particularly strong, so I have defaulted to “he” overtime.

It’s also worth noting here that pronouns are also not necessarily linked to one’s gender. Pronouns are words first and foremost, and they can have deeply personal meanings to each individual.

Some of us use binary pronouns to keep us safe, to adapt in the face of trauma, or because the pronouns we desire are simply not accepted in a binary world.

This is why it’s really best not to assume someone’s identity on the basis of pronouns – it could be much more complicated than you realize.

This particular group, though, consisting almost exclusively of cisgender people made the assumption that “he” meant I could not be non-binary and consequently misgendered me as a “trans man.”

No questions asked, I was banned because I did not use the language that cisgender people wanted me to.

But here’s the thing: At the end of the day, it’s not up to cisgender people to decide the language non-binary people should use to describe themselves. It is not your experience nor your place.

It’s arrogant to assume that, as a binary person, you could possibly advise or understand. And if you are trying to build a space that is inclusive of non-binary people, it is your place to listen – not to assume, impose, or erase.

This kind of smug, violent assumption – that cisgender people somehow know what it means to be non-binary better than we do – is why many non-binary people do not feel welcome in these spaces in the first place.

It’s this bullshit that makes non-binary people feel silenced and excluded. Even when we try to articulate our experiences, so many cisgender people reject them and instead, take their binary framework of the world and impose it onto us.

I’ve said I am not a man. I’ve never called myself a man. So why call me one? Because you don’t believe me or because you are unwilling to hear me out on my experiences?

Transphobia. This is transphobia, plain and simple.

And this is erasure: Being so unwilling to tune in when we are talking about our experiences that you simply deny our identities altogether.

I think another fundamental misunderstanding of gender that came up during this situation was the idea that gender is somehow static.

When we create gendered spaces – spaces that are exclusively for folks of a certain expression or experience – it immediately assumes that all people have a fixed understanding of their gender.

This is patently untrue.

As non-binary, I fluidly move between expressions. There are countless bi/trigender and genderfluid people who do not occupy a fixed point on the spectrum.

And if we do not hold space for folks who are more fluid, how can we claim to be inclusive?

This group could not imagine a scenario in which a non-binary person might dabble in masculinity and still call themselves non-binary. They couldn’t imagine a scenario in which a non-binary person’s identity was not fixed like theirs.

Not only that, but they didn’t feel it was relevant or important to actually ask me how I experience my gender or believe me when I said I didn’t identify as a man or woman.

If you are looking to hold space for “non-binary people” without qualification, that means all non-binary people – even those who are questioning, even those who are fluid, even those who occupy multiple spaces simultaneously.

I think this comes back to the idea that many spaces that claim to be inclusive of non-binary people are actually just offering lip service.

They don’t bother to educate themselves, they don’t consult NB people when creating these spaces, and they don’t care to know about our lived experiences.

As a non-binary person who writes for femme-centric magazines and holds space in communities that are femme-centric, my rule of thumb is to always ask who the spaces are intended for, and only enter into these spaces when I am invited.

It’s something that I hope all non-binary people do when weighing whether or not to be part of a particular community.

But I take serious issue with spaces that applaud themselves for being inclusive of non-binary people, but make no intentional effort to ensure that we are not erased.

NB folks often feel so grateful to be included and do not want to derail the focus of these groups that we feel helpless to advocate for ourselves. These spaces receive no pushback or accountability because NB people feel disempowered in spaces that are not designed with them in mind.

We are invited in word only, but never engaged with on a meaningful level. We’re not asked if we feel included; we are there as tokens and tokens only.

So as a non-binary person who is ridiculously fed up with spaces exploiting my community – by using us as props to hold up as proof of their “inclusiveness” – I want to offer some advice to communities, online and off, who are genuinely committed to holding space for non-binary people:

  1. Realize that not all non-binary people are cut from the same cloth. Some of us are mostly masculine with a femme edge; some of us are utterly androgynous or void of gender; some of us are demiboys or demigirls; some of us are genderfluid or gender-questioning or gender nonconforming. We are not a monolith. Don’t treat us like one.
  2. Be specific about who your space is for. If you want a group for feminine-of-center people, say so. If you want a group for masculine-of-center people, say so. NB people have varied experiences of power and privilege, so it’s important to qualify where needed. Don’t lump us all together and expect us to understand who your space is for.
  3. Believe us. Do not call into question what our gender is. Do not assume what our gender is. It is transphobic to disregard someone’s stated identity because they do not express themselves or articulate their experiences the way that you would prefer. Non-binary people don’t exist for your comfort and our genders are for us, and us alone, to declare.
  4. Let us speak for ourselves. Do not impose your narratives onto us. Do not try to place us within a binary framework to make it “easier” for you. We can discuss our experiences for ourselves. We are not men unless we say so. We are not women unless we say so. We are only what we say we are – so ask us if you’re unclear on what that means.
  5. Hold space for non-binary people to be uncertain. Recognize that because there are so few visible narratives or scripts for us to follow, we may still be in the process of questioning or trying to articulate our experiences. We may still be sorting this out. Keep this in mind if you are inviting us into your space.
  6. Do not make judgments on whether or not we belong based on our appearance. Non-binary people can express themselves in varied ways and may be expressing themselves a particular way for our own safety. This does not mean we are “faking” being non-binary.
  7. Do not use gendered language to refer to everyone in the space. This is a no-brainer – don’t invite non-binary people into your space and then refer to everyone as women or men.
  8. Don’t include us if you don’t plan on doing the work. If you aren’t committed to listening, educating yourself, and creating policies that ensure we are safe in your space, don’t bother. We do not want to be props in your social justice credibility game.

 

The conversation around non-binary inclusion is an important one. What happened to me is not uncommon – NB people are routinely erased or even banned from spaces by cis and trans folks alike who do not understand their experiences.

I write this not because being banned from this group was the end of the world (there are plenty of spaces that are designed with me in mind, spaces that I am infinitely grateful for), but because there are bigger questions at play here.

I write this because what happened to me exposes a serious systemic issue that exists in many social justice spaces – how non-binary people are “invited” to the table, but are driven away through erasure and transphobia the second they arrive.

If you are more interested in applauding yourself for inviting us instead of doing the work to include us, you are not socially just – you are simply the oppressors under another name.

If you claim to be a space that is inclusive of non-binary people, deliver on what you promise. Because we are done being your footnotes or afterthoughts.

signature

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

I Didn’t Want to be Transgender

testosterone

I remember that field and that body and my undeniable ecstasy before waking.

I was ashamed.

I was so ashamed of being transgender that I held out for years, thinking if I waited long enough, this part of myself would retreat into the dark spot of my mind – the trapdoor where all the bad memories fall in and disappear.

When the gender therapist asks me why I waited until now to start testosterone, I want so badly to explain that I didn’t think I would need it – I had the headstone picked out, the flowers – because I believed that this part of me would die quietly if I was good, if I was patient, if I was persistent.

With my hands over my ears, I shook my head when friends used to ask, “But can you imagine if things stayed the same?”

I threw blankets over mirrors, I kept my eyes fixed on the wall, I tried to forget my body the way we try to forget bad dreams.

Maybe the secret can be found at the bottom of a bottle, I said, or maybe it’s underneath my skin. But drinking didn’t destroy my queerness – just my liver – and not a single drop of blood could tell me where else to look.

I want to say I’m sorry now, sorry to everyone that was afraid for me. You remember and I do, too: Sprawled out on the floor of my childhood bedroom, hysterical because I had dreamt for the hundredth time that I was running through a field in a different body.

That was the night I said that I would wake up tomorrow and be cisgender or I wouldn’t wake up at all.

When the gender therapist asks me what I am looking forward to, I remember that field and that body and my undeniable ecstasy before waking. I remember the way the sunshine fell on my back and my beautifully broad shoulders. I remember feeling so light.

I tell him that I’m looking forward to being able to carry things. Testosterone gives you more muscle, I say with a dreamy smile.

Maybe I’ll be able to lift the heavy things (I think of moving last summer, how my knees buckled as I tried to carry my belongings up two flights of stairs) or the heavier things (like the years of denial and the lies I told my family).

I have a running fantasy.

It goes like this: I gather up every lie about my gender that I’ve ever heard, starting with birth. I return to the field. I plant every mishap – every “she,” “ma’am,” “her” – and I bury them like seeds. When I say my chosen name, its rich and deep resonance is like an incantation. Flowers, flowers as far as the eye can see, burst from the ground, opening up to face me.

They cannot hurt me now.

The gender therapist asks me when I realized that testosterone was necessary. May 1st, 2015, I say. Why that day, he asks. I tell him the truth: It was the day I became afraid to look at my own face and too embarrassed to leave my house.

Do you know what it’s like to feel naked even when you’re not? I ask. I think better of the question. I don’t wait for a response. I tell him that one feels naked all the time when their body is betraying them.

The gender therapist says he’s honored to be a part of my journey. I wonder if he says this to everyone he sees. I wonder if he means it; I decide that he does and I tell him that I’m glad, too.

I hold the consent letter in my hands and I run my fingers along the edges. My body is trembling. I walk downstairs and I let the clinic take five vials of my blood. December 7th, they tell me, and I whisper that date under my breath a thousand times as I step out into the cold autumn rain.

I’ve waited for this. Even when I was afraid, I was always waiting.

signature

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

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.

signature

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

I was ashamed of being transgender. This is my story.

Originally posted at Everyday Feminism. Content warning for trans/homophobia.

Me, back in the earlier days of my transition.

Me, back in the earlier days of my transition.

 My first packer was made out of a sock, and it sat in my dresser for weeks before I even contemplated wearing it.

I was 19.

I knew that if I gave in to my curiosity, any chance I had at being cisgender would be dissolved. That if I let myself dabble, there would be no going back. I thought if I held out, if I was patient, I could thwart this queer urge and be “normal.”

Then one night, while lying around in my bedroom after everyone had gone to sleep, I told myself, Maybe it’s like an itch that needs to be scratched, maybe if I do this thing once, maybe if I let myself wear it, that will be enough.

What a silly thing to tell myself.

What they don’t tell you about being transgender is that sometimes, the transphobe is you.

Denial

My hand traced around it, slowly and deliberately, but never quite touching it. For that first night, after I put it into place, I wouldn’t let myself actually touch it, look at it, or acknowledge that that part was there.

Instead, I stared at the wall in front of me and whispered under my breath, “Faggot. Faggot. Faggot. Faggot.”

I thought that if I punished myself, I wouldn’t want to be this way anymore. If I demonized my transness – if I were cruel enough and I was patient – I could chase it away and it would never come back.

What they don’t tell you about being transgender is that, sometimes, it doesn’t begin as a glorious epiphany, a relief, a moment of clarity.

For me, it began in the darkest part of the closet, not quite believing that it was possible to be happy and to be trans.

That night, I didn’t sleep. I had worn a packer. And there was a very real part of me, underneath the guilt and disgust, that enjoyed it.

That night, I had woken up a sleeping beast.

Over the course of the next few months, I could feel my gender kicking and screaming whenever I looked in the mirror. It made demands and held me hostage: my gender wanted shorter hair, and my gender wanted me to bind my breasts, and my gender wanted me to wear the packer again.

I dissociated from it because I didn’t want to believe that the urge to transition was my own. It was a circus of denial, of finding new ways to invalidate my queerness or remove myself from it.

“I’m… I’m just confused.”

“It’s an androgynous phase. It’s fine.”

The packer’s presence in the top left drawer of my dresser was like a siren song, and despite my disgust, I kept finding myself going back to it.

It was the sweetest kind of torture, where you both desperately want and intensely despise something – a contradiction that I found myself repeating every night.

Guilt

The denial waxed and waned until it gave way to guilt.

As I crafted makeshift binders, cut my hair, and stole shirts from my older brother, the person who stared back at me in the mirror started to resemble my father in ways that scared me.

I thought about what he might think, now that this person he called his daughter looked more like his son, like the spitting image of him in his reckless teenage years.

I thought about what the people I loved might think if they knew what I was doing late at night, if they knew I was—well, in their words—a “cross-dresser.”

I thought back to the time when the world stood still, when my worst fear was confirmed, when I knew my parents couldn’t accept me as trans. I had made a careless joke, a really innocent joke – I was asking for seconds at dinner, and I called myself a “growing lad.”

I remembered my father dropping his silverware, his face turning bright red.

My mother’s voice, “Excuse me?”

I told them it was a joke. I told them it was harmless. I back-pedaled as hard and as fast as I could.

My father, standing up now, looked me straight in the eye and said, “You are not a boy. You will never be a boy. Do you understand? You will never, ever be a boy.”

Yet, here in front of the mirror, I was all boy, every bit of me.

And when I imagined their disappointment, my body began to tremble. I pulled my shoulders back, puffed out my chest, and tried to appear larger than I actually was – the way that you’re supposed to take up as much space as possible when confronted with a bear or a lion or a monster.

Those days – 19 and under my parents’ roof – I was so, so small.

Those days, the only words I knew how to say were, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.”

They never tell you that being transgender can sometimes feel like a run-on string of apologies – I’m sorry for being here, I’m sorry for being this way, I’m sorry for disappointing you, I’m sorry for your expectations, and I’m sorry for mine.

And I’m sorry, Dad, but you’re wrong.

Negotiation

When my tongue grew tired of apologies, and my heart grew tired of pretending, I tried to negotiate – I tried to find ways of being trans at a more convenient time, in a less committal way.

After the denial and after the guilt, I tried bargaining – because what they don’t tell you about being trans is that it’s all the stages of grief, sometimes all at once. You’re losing who you were told to be to become what you really are, and sometimes that hurts – they won’t tell you this, but sometimes it really hurts.

Sam, I said, Sam, if you just pack at night, can that be enough? (No.)

Sam, I’ll buy you this binder, but you have to promise me you’ll only wear it when you’re out with friends. (A promise I won’t keep.)

Sam, we can buy the nice packer, the one that’s like a real dick, but you can only wear it alone, no one can see it, no one can know. (This didn’t last long.)

Sam, you can try out new pronouns, but please don’t get attached. (I got attached.)

Sam, you can be transgender, but it can only be our secret. It has to be a secret. (Does it?)

And when you keep your queerness a secret, every “she” and every “her” and every “daughter” is a reminder that you are only the sum of the lies that you tell, and that you’ve all but disappeared.

Depression

There is a kind of depression I never knew until I clipped my own wings because I was afraid of being seen.

What they don’t tell you about being trans is that sometimes we are our own destroyers, we are our own killers, we are our own mutilators – sometimes we cause ourselves more pain than anybody else, because from the time that we were young we were told, sometimes quietly and sometimes loudly, that we weren’t meant to exist this way.

At first, I only knew how to hurt because I thought that people like me were supposed to hurt.

When you exist in a society that tells you that who you are is wrong, the violence enacted on you is a song and dance you know by heart, and at first, it feels perfectly natural to hate yourself because you were groomed for this stage, for this act, for this spectacle.

More times than I care to admit, I said to myself, “You’re disgusting, you’re wrong, you’re fucked up.” And I could hear the applause rattling in my brain, because while I knew that this was a terrible thing to say, it was the only way I knew how to communicate with myself.

But it’s tiring to keep fighting someone who won’t fight back; it’s tiring to keep kicking someone while they’re already down. I sucker punched my own reflection so many times but my face never cracked.

Could it be any worse than this – bruised knuckles and hoarse screams – if I just stopped fighting? If I laid down my arms, if I embraced the truth?

So I did.

Acceptance

When I was 21, I made a plan. I started gathering up my most prized possessions and giving them to friends.

Slowly but surely, I emptied out my room. My violin, my laptop, my favorite volumes of poetry, my Buddha statue, my teapot collection, my stuffed animals.

I told my friends that I’d be back, that they should keep those things safe.

After a week of quietly moving my things, I told my parents that I was moving away. My mother cried, not understanding why I would go. My father’s eyes glazed over in disbelief.

I watched as they moved through denial (you can’t leave), guilt (was it something I did?), negotiation (we’ll give you a later curfew), depression (empty stares and trembling hands), and finally, handing me a box full of towels and toiletries and quietly saying, “If you need anything, just call us.”

I wanted to tell them that I was transgender right then, tell them that I couldn’t be who I was meant to be until I had the space to figure out who exactly that was.

I wanted to tell them about the chest binder, the overwhelming joy I felt when my breasts disappeared under my shirt.

I wanted to tell them that it wasn’t their fault, that I just couldn’t bear to see the disappointment in their eyes as I transitioned.

I wanted to tell them that I was sorry for being a coward, for running away instead of telling them the truth.

I wanted to remind them of that day they told me I could never be a boy – that they were right, in a sense, because it wasn’t safe to be one in that house, in those walls.

But I didn’t give them that explanation. I didn’t come out, not then, and I left them behind. Because I wasn’t ready yet.

Because I needed the words to explain who I was before I could ever explain it to them. And I needed to love myself first, before I could teach others how I wanted to be loved.

The binder, the androgynous clothes, and yes, the packer were all shoved into a duffel bag, slung over my shoulder, as I walked out of my old life.

And even as I said my goodbyes, I didn’t look behind me.

signature

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