Starbucks, Please Don’t ‘Out’ Your Transgender Patrons

The image features a wooden table with coffee cups on it, with a large storefront window in the distance.

“Guess what, Starbucks? That isn’t my name.”

As a transgender person, I like to refer to my birth name – the name my parents bestowed upon me when I arrived on this planet – as my “dead name,” because it’s been dead to me for years now.

I’m in the process of legally changing it now for that exact reason.

My birth name represents the gender that was incorrectly imposed upon me. It’s a name that reminds me of all the struggles that I have faced as a trans person in a society that still struggles to affirm or recognize me. It’s a name that I never wanted and a name that makes my skin crawl.

So imagine my surprise when I heard this name flying out of the mouth of my barista and then scrawled on the cup of my beloved iced chai.

Ugh. Staaaaaarbucks! Why? We had such a good thing going.

Let me explain the full spectrum of emotions that I felt in that moment:

Embarrassed, because my birth name is private and not something I wanted to share with the entire café. Afraid, because I knew that folks might see my masculine presentation and hear my traditionally “feminine” name and figure out that I was transgender. Hurt, because this was a name that still caused me a great deal of pain.

And angry – like, ready to dump my iced chai on the barista’s head if I’m being honest – because guess what, Starbucks? That isn’t my name and, despite your usual policy, you didn’t ask me what my name actually was.

The barista looked at the name on my debit card and jumped to the conclusion that it must be the name that I prefer. In doing so, they assumed that all of us have the privilege of having legal names that align with our preferences or our gender identities.

That is simply not true.

There are countless trans folks who cannot legally change their names or don’t feel safe doing so. And should they walk into that Starbucks, they might have their birth name – a name that causes them distress and could potentially out them as transgender – called out in the café or written on a cup to broadcast an intimate piece of information to the rest of the world.

Not only could that make trans folks feel unsafe at Starbucks, but it might also make them feel completely unwelcome.

Respecting and affirming the identities of transgender people begins with calling us by our actual names, instead of assuming that what was written on our birth certificates or bank statements is an appropriate thing to call us.

Not long from now, the name your barista wrote on my cup will finally be buried in a sea of court records as my real name is finally legalized. But not every trans person has the privilege of being able to legally change their name. And they shouldn’t have to go through legal hoops and court dates just to be treated with respect.

Simply asking us for our name – every single time – can help us to feel safe in your café, knowing that we won’t be outed or humiliated just for ordering a drink.

I fought tirelessly to reclaim my identity from a society that tried, from the day that I was born, to force me into a role I did not want and give me a name that only obscured who I really was. And trans folks everywhere find empowerment in the names that we choose – names that help us capture the people that we were meant to become.

Starbucks, if you truly believe that transgender people are deserving of dignity in your café and beyond, here’s a place to start: Don’t call us by our “dead names” and out us to other patrons. Call us by our actual names and make sure that every barista understands how important this policy really is.

Help us in creating a culture in which we determine who we are and what we should be called. It’s one small step towards affirming the identities of transgender people everywhere.

And my name is Sam Dylan Finch, by the way. You can call me Sam. You didn’t ask, but I thought you should know.

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Why the Trans Community Needs to Ban the Word “Transtrender” for Good

An androgynous person stands at a gate, refusing entry to other trans people who stand, frustrated, outside the gate.

Illustration by Jessica Krcmarik.

The other day, I was called a “transtrender” by a trans woman who refused to acknowledge my gender identity because I have, up until this point, not hormonally transitioned.

Because the only thing that determines your gender identity is, you know, hormones (sarcasm).

A “transtrender” refers to a person who identifies as transgender because they think it’s cool to do so. This particular trans reader insisted that I was not a “true” trans person, and that I claim this identity only because it’s the trendy thing to do.

This isn’t the first time my transness has been called into question, but there’s something particularly sinister about this word that made me angry.

Here’s the funny (and sad) thing about a trans person calling me a transtrender: They aren’t just hurting me. They’re hurting our community, and undermining our cause.

There’s a lot of problematic implications that go with the term “transtrender.” It implies, for example, that a person’s gender identity is for outsiders to decide. It suggests that there is only one way to transition. It marginalizes a significant number of trans folks who cannot access or do not want to medically transition. And further, it closets trans people who may feel fearful of rejection by the community.

It says to cis and trans people alike, “Your gender identity is for me to decide, not you. And if I don’t like what I see, I don’t have to acknowledge your truth.”

Hm. Sound familiar?

This is funny to me because this the exact same thing that we, as trans folks, are fighting against. We’ve had gender, incorrectly, imposed upon us from birth. Aren’t we fighting for the ability to live our truth and express our (a)gender without outsiders forcing us into roles without our consent?

“Transtrender” is a perfect example of the hypocrisy that I’ve encountered in the trans community from time to time. We don’t want others to dictate what our gender identities are, but we’ll ostracize other trans people and invalidate them because they don’t fit into our newer, shinier boxes. We don’t want to be misgendered, but we’ll misgender other trans people because their transition looks different from ours.

We don’t want to be told our identity is a phase, a trend, or a lie, but we’ll turn to our trans siblings and tell them all of those things without batting an eye.

If trans liberation is just a duplication of the oppression I was facing before – being told to express my gender on someone else’s terms, to someone else’s specifications – I’ll pass, thanks.

If trans liberation is putting each other down and invalidating our identities because we don’t want hormones, we don’t need hormones, we can’t afford hormones, or we aren’t ready for hormones – I’ll pass, thanks.

If trans liberation is letting outsiders tell us what our gender is, creating new restrictive boxes instead of getting rid of the boxes altogether – I’ll pass, thanks.

If trans liberation is creating hierarchies in our community, measuring someone’s worth on the basis of what (often inaccessible) medical interventions they’ve accrued – I’ll pass, thanks.

If trans liberation is conforming to a certain idea of what gender should look like – yeah, I’ll pass, thank you very much.

And if trans liberation means excluding some trans people and including others, finding new ways to marginalize people who don’t fit into our idea of what transition should look like – you can take your liberation and shove it.

The trans community doesn’t need gatekeepers who get to decide who is “trans enough” and who is not. We are all trans enough, and our truths are for us to declare and decide.

If we, as a community, are asking the world to respect our identities, it is hypocritical to disrespect the identities of others in our community. And if we, as a community, are asking for the freedom to express our (a)gender in whatever way feels authentic, we must respect the journeys that our other trans siblings are on, regardless of how similar or dissimilar to our own they might look.

I don’t owe it to anyone to explain my reasons for not yet taking testosterone. I don’t owe it to anyone to justify my reasons for not pursuing surgery at this time. My transition is not a show or an exhibition that exists for the pleasure and satisfaction of other people.

My body is not public property – it’s not a public spectacle for people to objectify and misgender. It’s not a blueprint for you to impose your outdated ideas of what a transition should look like. And it’s not a lump of clay that you get to mold into something that makes you feel more comfortable.

My body is mine. And further, my legitimacy and validity as a trans person is not contingent on what my body looks like on any given day.

“Transtrender” is a word no person in this community should ever use or condone. Someone should douse it in gasoline, set it on fire, and let it burn (metaphorically, of course).

It is used, violently, to invalidate and undermine the identities of trans people. And when we invalidate the identities of our siblings, we give cis people permission to do the same to all of us.

My trans liberation looks like this: A community that welcomes, respects, validates, and uplifts everyone who finds a home there. And a world that, regardless of our bodies and regardless of our journeys, lets us reclaim ownership of our identities and our bodies.

Because if we tell our trans siblings that their identities do not belong to them, we perpetuate a culture where the naming and claiming of our identities belongs to someone else.

And I promise you, that is not liberation. That is not progress.

In fact, I’m pretty sure that’s where we started.

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5 Ways to Support a Trans Person Experiencing Body Dysphoria

Cross-posted via Everyday Feminism

My partner is pounding on the door, begging me to unlock it.

I’m sitting in front of a tall mirror, tears falling quietly down my face, as I clutch my shirt in one hand and a bottle of vodka in the other.

The amount of panic my chest has caused me in the last three months has reached a breaking point. I stare, helplessly, at a body that both confuses and terrifies me.

As I look at myself, my body trembling, I’m reminded of the times as a child when I would take the heads off of my Lego characters and place them on different bodies – only this time, the stakes are real, and the stakes are high.

I can recognize my face, but everything else feels so, so wrong.

My partner manages to pick the lock, and they push through the door. Their eyes widen with horror as they realize I’ve been drinking to cope with my dysphoria. They take the bottle from me, and I listen as they hurry down the hall, pouring the vodka into the bathroom sink.

They return and, helping me stand up, wrap a blanket around me, help me into bed, kiss my forehead and say, “I’m not angry. I’m just concerned.” As I mutter a drunken apology, they sigh, propping me up with another pillow. They squeeze me gently.

“We’re going to watch Netflix, we’re going to relax, and everything is going to be okay.”

* * *

Being a trans and genderqueer person who regularly experiences body dysphoria has been a challenge that few people in my life have felt prepared for.

Coping with body dysphoria, let alone helping someone cope, is not something we’re taught or expect to encounter.

Most who know I experience dysphoria never anticipate the extent to which it impacts my life – at my worst, I can spend days holed up in my apartment, suffer panic attacks in the shower, and before I got help, I could even turn to alcohol to cope.

While friends and loved ones can’t take my dysphoria away, they can help me to cope in healthier ways and ride out the inevitable waves. With the support of folks who loved me, we have learned together the best ways to manage my dysphoria – and it has made a huge difference in my life.

So if you’re wondering how to support a trans person in your life who is experiencing body dysphoria, this list of five tips is a great place to start.

1. Engage Compassionately and Validate Their Experience

No two bouts of dysphoria are identical.

The spectrum of emotions we experience with dysphoria can vary time to time, person to person, or even episode to episode. The severity can also range from mild to severe.

Some days, we might feel comfortable in our skin; other days, it can be intolerable.

Keeping all of this in mind, regardless of the severity or focus, it’s vital to validate that person’s experience.

“Is it really that bad?” is never an okay response. “Why can’t you leave your apartment?” is not an okay response either. And “Get over it, we all have insecurities” is absolutely, 100% an awful response.

All of these responses trivialize this person’s pain and suggest that what they are feeling isn’t worth caring about.

What a trans person needs from you is validation.

“I’m sorry this is happening” or “That sounds really awful” are responses that acknowledge this person’s pain – and moreover, validate that it is real and important. This is what we, as trans folks, need from our supporters.

Remember, too, that body dysphoria can impact more than just trans women and trans men. A whole range of identities – including genderqueer folks, agender people, neutrois, bigender, and so on – can all experience dysphoria.

The bottom-line is that every instance of dysphoria is valid and important, no matter who is going through it or how they experience it.

So, please, don’t interrogate, don’t argue, and don’t invalidate. We need—nay, deserve—your compassion.

2. Ask How You Can Help

Every trans person is different, and sometimes what helps us through our dysphoria can vary.

Keeping that in mind, asking the expert – the trans person themselves – is a great place to start if you’re looking to help someone cope with dysphoria.

Some trans folks need to get out of the house to do something fun, while others would shudder at the thought of being in public. Some trans folks might find talking through their dysphoria to be comforting, while others will only be more upset if they engage in a long conversation about it.

It’s best to ask folks what they need when they’re experiencing dysphoria. It’s as simple as saying, “How can I help right now?”

My partner knows that when the dysphoria comes a’knockin’, we’re going to be spending our night watching Parks & Rec or playing Nintendo. Bonus points if there’s popcorn involved.

In some instances, a trans person may need help setting up a GoFundMe for top surgery or may need to brainstorm how to start HRT. Maybe they need help saving up for a new binder. But not every trans person will opt for these things, however. Instead of suggesting a specific intervention, allow them to bring it up. If it’s on their mind, they will tell you so.

Bear in mind that sometimes we don’t know what we need. And that’s okay! That’s when the next tips come in handy.

3. Suggest Distractions or Fun Activities

Bust out the coloring books. Marathon your favorite movies. Order Thai food and play a board game. Brainstorm some fun distractions that can get their mind off the dysphoria – and if there are laughs involved, that’s even better.

Make sure the activities you suggest aren’t triggering.

For example, getting into a swimsuit and going to the pool isn’t always the best idea if you’re having dysphoria related to your body.

Similarly, going to a funhouse full of mirrors might not be so much fun for someone who wants to take their mind off of their body.

If you’re selecting a movie, a documentary about plastic surgery might not be the best choice.

Try to choose an activity that is both enjoyable and far removed from the crisis at hand.

And remember that sometimes we’re not in the mood for fun stuff. If that’s the case, a cup of tea and a shoulder to cry on can be just as helpful, too.

4. Send (Or Bring!) Them a Self-Care Package

Care packages are awesome. They can include delicious snacks, lotions or soaps, cuddly stuffed animals, a favorite movie or book, a journal to write down our feelings, crayons or colored pencils and a sketchbook, or anything you can think of that might be comforting.

Sometimes trans folks don’t want visitors when they’re feeling dysphoric. That’s important to respect – and a great reason to opt for a self-care package if they’re not looking to hang out.

Mailing it or leaving it on their porch (with permission) is a great way of saying, “I care and also respect your boundaries.”

If you know that they aren’t in the mood to cook, you can also offer to send them food from their favorite takeout restaurant – or deliver a meal to them yourself.

If all else fails, an e-gift card to a favorite store can encourage them to treat themselves, and it doesn’t require the creativity of assembling a care package yourself.

5. If Needed, Encourage Them to Seek Help

The day after I drank vodka to cope with my dysphoria, my partner sat me down and helped me schedule a therapy appointment.

Dysphoria is a beast – and sometimes that beast takes more than just willpower to tame.

If your loved one is engaging in harmful or unhealthy coping behaviors, or is grappling with suicidal ideation, it’s time to seek outside help.

A trans-competent therapist, for example, can be an important safety net for a trans person coping with dysphoria; a local support group at an LGBTQIA+ community center can also be a great resource.

In the case of dysphoria accompanied by suicidality, contacting the Trans Lifeline Hotline, National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (call 1.800.273.8255 in the US), or if there is a plan and intent to act, calling 911 may be a necessary step. Transgender folks are especially vulnerable as suicide is too often a silent killer in our community.

Sometimes the very best thing you can do for someone you love is encourage them to seek out the resources and support that they need to ensure their wellness in the long term.

* * *

My partner did everything right that night when I made the mistake of drinking to deal with my dysphoria.

They didn’t waste time questioning the legitimacy or extent of my struggle. They didn’t invalidate my pain. Instead, they compassionately expressed their concern without placing judgment on me or my choices. And after making sure I was safe, they helped by comforting me and distracting me.

When the dust settled, they encouraged me to reach out for the professional support that I needed to ensure that nights like these would not happen again.

Dysphoria can be painful, and at times, traumatic. That being said, the support of a loved one can make all the difference.

You may not be able to take away the pain and discomfort that comes with body dysphoria, but with compassion and respect, you can help make the burden just a little bit easier for us to carry.

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8 Things Non-Binary People Need to Know

The image features the non-binary pride flag.

The non-binary pride flag, via Gender Wiki

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

Haha, that’s funny.

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

You are enough. Always.

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

  1. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

There weren’t any bodies that looked like mine.

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

  1. You are not alone.

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Illustration by Jessica Krcmarik

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“We’re…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Connect with SDF: Website ; Facebook ; Twitter ; Tumblr

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

The Elephant in the Room: Your Questions About My Gender and Transition, Answered

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Photography by dana at the outlaws photo project

[The photo features the author, Sam Dylan Finch, standing near a lake. He is a white, androgynous person with dark-rimmed glasses and a colorful, knitted sweater. He is smiling and looking off toward something in the distance.]
  

IMPORTANT NOTE (2/1/2016): I answered these questions over a year ago now. Time sure does fly! My sense of my own gender is constantly shifting. The answers here may no longer reflect how I describe or perceive my identity. Check out this updated version to read my most recent answers to these questions!

 

I write a lot about my identity as transgender. And thus far, it has created some thoughtful, interesting dialogue around gender and transitioning.

However, there was never much of a “coming out” to my readers. To this day, I receive a lot of questions about how I identify, what it means, and how I arrived where I am now. These are great questions! And leaving them unanswered has, at times, felt like an elephant in the room.

So today I wanted to pause and take a moment to answer some frequently asked questions about my gender and my transition. Hopefully this helps readers better understand my perspective and my journey as I write more about trans issues in the future.

It’s important to know that you aren’t entitled to any information about someone’s transition, body, or gender identity. Remember that other trans people may not be comfortable answering the questions that I have chosen to answer here.

Ready? Let’s go! Here are some of your questions:
    

What is your gender? What pronouns do you use?

I identify as transmasculine and genderqueer (defined below, don’t fret!). You can also describe me as androgynous.

My pronouns are he/him/his.

 

What does genderqueer mean to you?

Genderqueer most commonly refers to a person who does not identify as strictly man or woman, but rather, identifies as both, neither, or some combination.

At my core, I am an androgynous person; I don’t feel that I fit in any kind of gender box. I’m not a man, and I’m not a woman.

I use the word “genderqueer” to describe my gender identity.

   

What does transmasculine mean to you?

If we imagine a spectrum of sorts, I express my gender in a more masculine way than I do a feminine way. Masculinity and femininity are subjective terms that describe the way that we “perform” gender, and can be useful markers in helping us figure out our own sense of gender.

A person of any gender can take on qualities or an appearance that is more closely associated with masculinity or femininity.

While I don’t identify as a man, I still express my gender in a way that is considered more masculine, thus I use the word “transmasculine” instead of “trans man.”

I typically use the word transmasculine to describe my gender expression.

 

What is the difference between gender identity and gender expression?

Gender identity refers to someone’s sense of themselves, their subjective experience of their own gender. Simply put, it’s what’s on the inside. It’s who we know ourselves to be.

Gender expression refers to how someone performs or presents gender. This is what we see on the outside. It’s our costume, our performance, our exterior – and it may or may not reflect something about our identity.

On the inside, at my core, I am an androgynous, genderqueer person. On the outside, I express my gender in a more masculine way through my choice of clothing, haircuts, and body modifications.

 

So how can someone be “non-binary”? I thought there were only two genders.

Actually, the idea that there are only two genders is pretty flawed and outdated.

Many cultures in our world recognize more than two genders. The idea of binary gender, or two genders that are contingent upon anatomy, is a pretty Western phenomenon.

Even anatomy itself is not binary, as is the case with intersex people. Sex characteristics are variant and diverse, and the lines between “male” and “female” are very blurry and arbitrarily assigned.

The point is, there could really be as many genders as there are people, depending on how you look at it. The idea that there are only two is something we as a society uphold, but that doesn’t mean it is an objective fact – just a cultural phenomenon.

As it turns out, many people like myself experience their gender outside of those parameters, which is evidence that perhaps this binary system isn’t so perfect after all. The binary system leaves a lot to be desired.

I love this video over at Sexplanations about gender that I think is helpful if you’re interested in this topic.

 

How did you know you were transgender?

I realized after a while that I dressed and behaved in ways that were “feminine” because I gained social approval that way. People complimented me when I wore a dress. Folks fawned over my stylish makeup and shoes. I performed femininity because everywhere I turned, I was given praise for being “good” at femininity.

When I took a gender studies class in college, this performance began to unravel. I realized how much of what I was doing was because I craved the affirmation I received when I was the woman I was expected to be. I realized how I’d been inundated with so many expectations and ideals – the expectation to be beautiful, to be thin, to be soft, to be curvaceous, to be… a woman, whatever that meant.

I’ve always said that “woman” was a label I was given, but never a label that I chose. When I started to understand the ways that “woman” didn’t fit or make me happy, I learned about what “transgender” meant. And I owed it to myself to explore if that could be true for me.

This was back in 2010.

Around the same time, I saw a character on television that was androgynous, and I fell in love with the idea of “becoming” that. Though I didn’t have the words “transmasculine” or “genderqueer” yet, I started to wonder if I would be happier as an androgynous person. It had never occurred to me to try it until I saw someone else living it.

Over the course of the last five years, I’ve transitioned toward queerness and androgyny. I cut off my hair, began binding my breasts, changed my name, got some tattoos, opted for new pronouns, acquired some prosthetics, and began living full-time as genderqueer.

Most importantly, I stopped allowing gendered expectations and roles to colonize my mind. Instead of seeking the approval of others by conforming to my assigned gender, I carved out my own vision for who I wanted to become. And it has been incredibly rewarding, exciting, and fulfilling.

 

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

I’ve had mixed reactions. Some friends were supportive – a great many of them, in fact – but some were resistant or hesitant.

I came out to my mother only recently, and she seemed unsurprised. I’m fairly sure neither of my parents were surprised for various reasons. I’m still in the process of coming out to most of my family, but I’m taking it at my own pace.

    

Does your family know about your writing?

They do, and they’re supportive. However, I’ve set the boundary that we don’t discuss my articles unless I bring them up. This takes the pressure off of me – I can write honestly without worrying about what they will say.

 

How has your transition been so far?

Beautiful. Heart-wrenching. Confusing. Worthwhile. Painful. Inspiring. And exactly what I needed.

 

Are you taking testosterone? Do you plan to?

I am not sure if I want to transition hormonally. It’s not a decision I feel ready to make. I am comfortable saying that I don’t have all the answers and I don’t know where my transition will take me. I am taking my time. It’s not a race.

 

So what’s in your pants? And will that change?

That’s not really anyone’s business.

    

Have you always known that you were transgender?

I didn’t. I didn’t have any clue until my late teens. Being trans is different for everyone, and we don’t all share the typical narrative of “I was born into the wrong body and I knew it from the time I was a toddler.” There’s nothing wrong with that narrative, but it sometimes overshadows the realities of many other trans folks who don’t figure things out until later in life.

For me, being trans was like… this sounds silly, but kind of like cooking? I tried new gender expressions until I found something that I loved. I tasted femininity, and masculinity, and androgyny, and I mixed things together until I found the perfect recipe for my happiness. I didn’t know what I was missing before, but now, I can’t imagine my life without my transition.

I think it’s possible that I might have gone on living my life as a cisgender woman if I hadn’t gone to college, and maybe I would have been okay. But it would never have compared to the happiness I found when I transitioned. It doesn’t matter if I figured this out at age 4 or age 18 – it’s still who I am, regardless of how soon or in what ways I arrived at that truth.

 

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

I think “pansexual” is the closest approximation I have. I’m attracted to all sorts of people, and gender is not a deciding factor for whether or not I’ll date someone.

    

What has been the hardest part of being trans?

Being hated by complete and total strangers simply because I don’t conform to their idea of what I should look like. The constant fear that I’ll be attacked or harassed for looking “too queer.” And the constant anxiety that I’ll be rejected by people I love because they don’t understand or don’t approve of who I’ve become.

Maybe even more difficult than that is grappling with internalized transphobia – these really pervasive, negative attitudes about trans folks that really impact the way that I perceive and treat myself. It’s insidious, it’s hard to describe, but it’s present and something that I’m still working to undo, even now.

    

Did I answer all of your questions!?

If you have other questions that aren’t answered here, feel free to [respectfully] ask them in the comments below! I will do my best to answer as many as I can.

 

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I Could Have Been You: An Open Letter to Leelah Alcorn

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Illustration by Jessica Krcmarik

[The image features the name “LEELAH ALCORN” in uppercase letters on a ribbon banner. Above the banner is a young girl from the shoulders up. The girl is trans teen Leelah Alcorn. She has side-swept hair framing her face, a loose t-shirt, and deep, thoughtful eyes staring straight ahead.]

Leelah,

When I was a teenager, I was convinced that I would not live to be eighteen years old. I couldn’t imagine a future that didn’t involve the depression, anger, and agony that had come to define my teenage years.

As a transgender teen with bipolar disorder, I was convinced that I did not belong in this world. And like 41% of transgender people in America, I tried to take matters into my own hands.

Miraculously, I survived.

And as it turns out, I was wrong about my future. I became the adult I never imagined I could be – happy, fulfilled, and ambitious.

Leelah, I wish your story had ended like mine.
On December 28th, 2014, you said your goodbyes and ended your life, a suicide spurred on by callous abuse at the hands of parents and so-called therapists.

The letter you left behind – your words raw, the pain seething from every syllable – has been seen around the world, an undeniable rallying cry that echoes from every corner of the globe. 

That pitch is trapped inside my eardrums, a piercing sound that hasn’t gone away since I first heard about your death.

Your story is a reminder that we need to do better. And your story is a reminder of all the ways we continue, in 2014, to fail transgender people and especially trans youth.

When I read your letter, it hurt my heart to know that you will never be able to manifest all the beauty, passion, wit, and endless gifts that you had. You will never know what kind of adult you would have been, what kind of life you could have lead, what kind of woman you were meant to become.

You will never know what it’s like to be on your own, to be a #RealLiveTransAdult, and write the triumphant end to your story that you should have written.

Instead, you died before you could know what it truly felt like to live.

You said in your letter that your death needed to count for something. And yes, so long as I’m still here, I will do everything I can to honor you.

But I’m angry that we live in a world where suicide was the only choice you had left. I’m angry that only in death did you feel like you could “count” for something. I’m angry that death was the only way to shine a light on the abuse, suffering, and agony that you felt.

I’m angry that, to this day, LGBTQIA youth need to die before they can truly be heard or seen.

I’m not angry at you, but at a society that has created a world that makes us feel like we don’t belong, that we can’t be happy, that there is no future worth holding onto.

We still live in a society that would rather extinguish the beautiful light inside of us than let us be who we are meant to be. We live in a society that cannot see the courage it takes to be unapologetically ourselves. We live in a society that cannot see the ways in which a world where transgender people are free is a better world for us all.

Leelah, even in death I still see your light. Leelah, even in death I still see your courage. And Leelah, though your life was cut short, I still believe that you have made this world a better place.

I will not stop fighting for you and for all of my transgender siblings, who deserve to live happy, healthy, and meaningful lives – lives in which they are seen, heard, respected, validated, and safe.

I only wish you could still be here to see it.

Take Action:

Sign the Petition to enact “Leelah’s Law,” and end conversion therapy for transgender people.

Sign the Petition to ensure that Leelah’s headstone will have her actual name, rather than her birth name.

Need Help?

Call the Trans Lifeline:

US: (877) 565-8860

Canada: (877) 330-6366

Learn more about (or donate to!) them here.

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