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?

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6 Signs That You Might Not Really Respect Your Transgender Loved One

Originally published on Everyday Feminism.

When I first came out as transgender, I was surprised to find that many people in my life wanted to support me. I received a lot of encouraging words, often from the folks I least expected.

It meant the world to me to be surrounded by people who just wanted me to be myself and be happy! In a society that can often be so hostile towards transgender people, having loved ones in our corner can make all the difference.

But I quickly realized that there’s a distinction between stating your support and actually respecting my identity. A lot of people talked the talk – but that didn’t always translate when it came to actions.

I wanted to be patient with my loved one because I knew it was a learning process for everyone. But as time went on, some problematic behaviors never seemed to go away.

These behaviors – some of which were so subtle I’m not even sure they realized it – told me they may know that I’m transgender, but they didn’t really validate, believe, or respect me.

Maybe they didn’t know how. Maybe they were still caught up in their own feelings about it. Or maybe they really believed that they weren’t being hurtful.

But as I so often write, someone’s intentions aren’t as important as the impact that they ultimately have. You may not have meant to step on someone’s toes – but that doesn’t make it hurt any less!

Oftentimes, as we try to support the people we love, we can make mistakes – and that’s a normal and expected part of the process. And the best way to make it right is to learn a little more, do some self-reflection, and not just apologize, but commit to changing our behaviors.

Because supporting the people we love isn’t just about saying that we support them – it’s about doing the work to be supportive!

If you aren’t sure how, that’s what I’m here for.

Let’s talk about six signs that you might be disrespecting a transgender person in your life – and some ideas for how to do better next time.

1. You Still Misgender Them Behind Their Back

Maybe this scene is familiar to you: You’re talking to someone about your loved one, and when it’s time to use a pronoun, you stumble for a moment. He? She? They? How do I gender them?

In a panic, you resort to the wrong pronouns, with just the slightest pang of guilt in the pit of your stomach.

Why We Do It: You might be thinking that you aren’t really ready to educate this person about your loved one, and about what it means to be transgender. It would be easier, you decide, if I just misgender them – so I don’t have to get “into it,” or answer any uncomfortable questions.

But misgendering someone after they’ve asked that their pronouns be respected – unless they say otherwise – is never okay (I’ve written a whole article on why, which is worth the read).

It’s like saying: “I’d rather harm my loved one – and teach someone else to harm them – than deal with the temporary discomfort of navigating this situation.”

Instead: There are so many great resources (you can start with this guide) that can help you better understand and educate others. Nothing says “I love you” quite like taking the time to be informed and help inform others, so that your loved one doesn’t have to shoulder that burden alone.

And if nothing else, remember you don’t have to answer questions – just affirm your loved one by saying, “These are the pronouns [Insert person’s name] uses now. I hope you’ll respect that.”

Your discomfort in that moment doesn’t compare to the real harm that misgendering can do!

2. You Don’t Respect the Boundaries They Set

I knew a transgender person who asked her parents to take down a photo from her childhood because it was painful to look at photos of herself prior to her transition and because every guest in their home would gawk at the picture of her “looking like a boy.”

Time and time again, they argued about it.

Her parents loved that photo so much they didn’t want to take it off the wall – it reminded them of happy times together, and they couldn’t understand why she wouldn’t be happy when she looked at it, too.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard about the families of transgender people not really respecting the needs of trans people.

Why We Do It: There can be a lot of reasons for this. Most often, I see this in loved ones who are having a difficult time letting go of the past. This is a normal part of coming to terms with someone’s transition – which is understandable, but still not acceptable.

Here’s the thing: When a transgender person says that something is triggering, we should respect those boundaries. If something is hurtful, the “why” isn’t what’s most important – what matters is we’re harming someone, whether it was purposeful or not, and now we have the chance to make it right.

In the case of my friend, she started to feel like her parents thought their happiness was the only thing that mattered – and that her pain wasn’t important or real.

Transgender people set boundaries because they’re trying to navigate very painful situations. They may ask to not talk about certain topics, not be called by certain names, or try not to revisit certain parts of the past.

This isn’t to offend you.

It’s because we’re trying to heal after struggling to accept who we are, and we need the space to be ourselves without being constantly reminded of that struggle.

Instead: When your loved one sets a boundary, respect it. It’s really as simple as that.

And a helpful hint: If you’re struggling with your feelings around their transition, that’s totally okay! But it’s important to process that on your own time – maybe with a therapist, in your journal, or in conversation with someone you trust – without burdening your trans loved one in the process.

3. You Try to ‘Bargain’ with Them

I see this all the time with loved ones who are having a tough time dealing with their transgender loved one’s transition. I’ve personally experienced it, too:

  • “You can start hormones, but please don’t get surgery.”
  • “I’ll call you by that name, but only at home.”
  • “You can wear a dress, but you can’t wear it to school.”

Why We Do It: Sometimes, this comes from a place of wanting to protect someone. Other times, it’s because you feel emotionally unprepared for the steps ahead. These are very understandable emotions – but that doesn’t mean acting on those feelings is okay.

Asking your loved one to accommodate you, rather than encouraging them to be the most authentic and happiest version of themselves, is harmful.

It’s a gesture that can be easily misunderstood – as if to say “My comfort matters more than yours” or “I’m not actually okay with this after all.”

And it’s a big red flag.

It tells me that rather than working on that discomfort and processing your fears, you’re asking your loved one to change for you and ultimately endure more suffering on your behalf.

It unfairly places the burden on them, instead of challenging you to work through your feelings about their transition.

Instead: When you feel the urge to bargain, ask yourself: “Is this about what my loved one needs to be well, or is this about what I need to feel comfortable or safe?”

At the end of the day, their transition isn’t about you.

Transitioning isn’t a negotiation between the two of you – it’s the sole decision of a transgender person and their right to their own body and autonomy.

4. You Make Excuses Instead of Apologizing

 If you have a transgender loved one, “sorry” will become a very familiar part of your vocabulary.

I say this because the learning curve can be very steep and because every trans person is uniquely different in what they need and expect.

Even as trans myself, I’ve stumbled many times over what to say or do for the other transgender people in my life, especially when they first came out to me.

Why We Do It: It can be really difficult to admit when you’ve messed up. It can make you feel like a bad person – and feeling guilty about this can be uncomfortable to sit with. This is why many people with transgender loved ones can wind up very defensive.

But being defensive about your mistakes serves no one.

It doesn’t push you to learn or do better, and it can lead your loved one to believe you don’t feel remorse or regret – which is often quite the opposite of what you’re actually feeling! This is what defensiveness can sound like:

  • “I can’t help that – I’m still learning! You should be more patient!”
  • “You expect way too much of me. You need to lower your expectations.”
  • “If you’d just teach me instead of getting angry, we wouldn’t have these problems.”

Have you ever said something like this before?

Notice how your mistake is suddenly the fault of your loved one – and how deflecting responsibility means you never actually take ownership of the harm you’ve caused.

Instead: Realize that making a mistake doesn’t make you a bad person. The real issue is when you’re unwilling to make it right. Take a deep breath, acknowledge the issue, and commit to doing better. It’s simple!

It helps to learn how to give a proper apology, and to know when a situation just calls for a quick correction (like misgendering in conversation), or when a situation requires deeper reflection (like the examples in this article!).

5. You Center Your Feelings and Disregard Theirs

This is far and away one of the most common mistakes I’ve seen loved ones make. If this sounds like you, trust me – you aren’t alone!

  • “This isn’t easy for me, either!”
  • “Hard on you? I feel like I’ve lost my daughter/son.”
  • “You aren’t the only one feeling hurt.”

Why We Do It: I think it’s a very human thing to want our pain to be acknowledged, and a gender transition can definitely come with a lot of grief and confusion for loved ones. The difference here is whether or not it’s an appropriate time to ask for our pain to be seen.

A lot of the time, we’re trying so hard to keep that pain to ourselves that it comes out at the wrong time. We wind up blurting it out at the most inopportune moment, most often when our loved one is trying to have their suffering acknowledged.

This also stems from a place of resentment – that if only they had stayed the same, we wouldn’t have to deal with all of the emotions coming up in this transition.

But remember: This isn’t about you. They aren’t transitioning to upset you – they’re transitioning because this is what they need to be a happy, whole person.

Instead: Get a therapist. Write in a journal. Find a friend or loved one to process with. Join a support group. Whatever you do, don’t blame your loved one for your struggle to come to terms with their transition.

When you decenter their needs and prioritize yours, you’re putting a wedge between you that’ll only hurt you both.

6. You Say That You Don’t ‘Get It’ – But You Also Don’t Try To

I hear so many loved ones talking about how they don’t “understand” the whole “transgender thing” – but when I’ve asked if they’ve done any reading or watched any videos, they tell me they haven’t.

On the surface, this seems like a funny little contradiction. They say they don’t understand, but they’re also not trying to.

Why We Do It: Most often, when loved ones don’t take the time to educate themselves, it’s because they’re avoiding reality. They don’t know how to deal with the feelings that come up when they think about their loved one’s transition – so they pretend, as often as possible, that this transition isn’t happening.

But that doesn’t help anyone. It means that loved ones remain in the dark, and transgender folks remain misunderstood.

That’s a divide that ultimately strains the relationship – and makes trans people feel unloved, uncared for, and unimportant.

Instead: Here’s the good news: You’re already doing the “instead” part (go you!).

You’re reading this article. That means you’ve decided it’s time to start processing your feelings, and you’re making an effort to connect with your loved one as they are – and not how you wish they could be.

Remaining grounded in the here and now – accepting and affirming them for who they really are – is how you can build a more respectful and healthy relationship based in unconditional love and trust.

The fact that you’re taking the time to reflect on the ways in which you might be doing harm tells me that you care – and is the first of many steps I know you’ll take to do right by your loved one.

And that, my friend, is not something to feel bad about. That’s something to celebrate.

 

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Am I the Only Transgender Person Sick of Transitioning?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is it just me?

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

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

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

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What Being Institutionalized As A Trans Person Made Me Realize

Back in the days just before I started testosterone, I used to say, “If HRT were to start causing problems with my bipolar disorder, there’s no question – I’d stop the hormones.”

I swore, over and over again, that I would never sacrifice my sanity for my transition. But this is not what I said in the psych ward, when the psychiatrist asked me, “Would you be willing to stop testosterone?”

Repeatedly, day after day, doctors would ask me about stopping HRT and my answer was the same every time.

“That’s not an option.”

My self of six months ago would have been aghast if he knew I was refusing to stop HRT despite being institutionalized.

But it wasn’t six months before. It was present day.

Present day, under a 5150 – wishing I weren’t alive, hearing voices that told me I was better off dead, and drinking more than my fair share to cope with both – the Sam that had hair on the back of his hands where there wasn’t any before, the Sam that was losing his curvy shape by the day, the Sam that looked in the mirror and felt whole for the first time, went against medical advice and insisted that they find another way to help him.

And I think that if you aren’t trans – and maybe even if you are – you might think that’s absolutely crazy.

But in my mind, I would’ve rather struggled to find medications that allowed my transness and bipolar to coexist than give up on my transition for the indefinite future, losing any hope of being in a body and inhabiting a self that felt right.

It would’ve been trading one kind of anguish for another. Which, to me, didn’t feel like a real solution at all.

For the cisgender medical providers around me though, they couldn’t wrap their heads around why I would refuse to stop HRT.

They couldn’t comprehend why I was willing to sit in an institution for however long it took to find a medication regimen that stabilized my bipolar disorder without denying me my transition.

And I say this not because I’m taking pride in being stubborn, but because cisgender people in general don’t know or understand the lengths trans people go to – the sacrifices we make, the trauma we endure – just to be who we are.

Cisgender people don’t understand that even in spaces that are supposed to be “safe,” trans people are subjected to harm that cis people will never endure.

I didn’t expect my hospitalization to be one in which my transness was understood, but I was blown away by just how little support there really was available to me.

If we aren’t suffering at the hands of someone else, we’re suffering the emotional trauma of being trans in a system that does not yet know how to affirm us, help us, or treat us.

In my case, there wasn’t a single doctor that could tell me if I would be allowed to continue on testosterone – because there’s simply not enough research around treating mentally ill trans people.

I had to sit in a psych ward, my mind eating itself alive, waiting helplessly to see if it was lithium that would win this fight or if I would be denied hormones because it was considered too risky to continue.

I had to wait, day after day, knowing that the hospital could take my hormones away at any time.

Thankfully, it was lithium that won out, this time.

But I quickly learned that even the best psychiatrists struggle to know what to do with transgender patients.

And when you’re locked in the psych ward, being treated like a medical mystery is not reassuring when your life and your transition are on the line.

This doesn’t even begin to capture the utter incompetence I experienced in the hospital, from staff members who did not know how to talk about trans people to the rampant misgendering despite my files clearly being marked “FEMALE TO MALE.”

I went there to heal but instead, panicked doctors and nurses encouraged me to stop HRT, they unapologetically misgendered me despite being repeatedly called on to do better, and a facility that assured me it was trans-competent turned out to be more invalidating of my gender than any mental health facility I’d ever been in before.

I was supposed to be a patient. But I was forced into the role of advocate and educator, at a time when I barely had the energy to care for myself, let alone teach an entire (rotating) staff how to treat transgender people.

In the San Francisco Bay Area, of all places, in a psych ward where suicide attempt survivors and suicidal trans people – of which there are many – will be going to receive care and begin their healing.

In a hotbed of insensitivity, cluelessness, and even violence.

It begs the question: For a community that is in dire need of mental health support, where do we go when we’re in crisis?

For me, I had no choice but to go to the ER when my breakdown happened. And I fear for other trans people who are similarly left without viable options, and are subjected to transphobia that wears them down during a time when they should be healing.

And I fear for the number of mentally ill trans folks that were denied hormones before they were ever given a chance to find an alternative.

I was released from the hospital yesterday, now very stable on both lithium and testosterone.

But I’m alarmed by the number of professionals that told me stopping HRT was my only solution, the amount of transphobic microaggressions I experienced in a hospital of all places, the number of battles I had to fight in a place I should’ve been cared for.

I’m outraged for my community, and the trauma they’ll endure in psychiatric facilities that are supposed to be for healing – not for harm.

There’s a glaring deficit in research, treatment, and care of transgender people, especially those with mental illness.

Until we acknowledge this, transgender people will continue to be failed by the mental health system – and will continue to end their lives instead of getting help. And facilities like the one where I stayed aren’t just responsible for doing better. They’re complicit in this epidemic of lost trans lives.

“Don’t transition” is not a solution. “Don’t be in crisis” is not a solution.

Transgender people with mental illness need and deserve better.

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

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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.

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It’s Not a Race!

123 4567Justin’s note: As I’ve stated in previous comics it’s important not to forget that when it comes to wellness, personal safety is at the top of the list.  Not everyone falling under the LGBTQIA umbrella is protected by that umbrella.  So while it’s important to love yourself, express who you are, and take as much time as you need? it’s more important to survive so that you can do all of those things.

For some that might mean turning 18 and leaving home.  For others that might mean immigration!  Let’s also not forget that expressing your gender identity could get you fired in some states!

If any of the above describes your situation, then apply the “baby steps” principles to your escape plan.  Take the time to cover your bases, find a safe space (or better yet, safe spaces), and get out when the time is right!

The image features Justin wearing dark-rimmed glasses and a blue sweater.Justin Hubbell is a cartoonist and freelance artist from upstate New York. In an attempt to serve the greater good, he aims to create volumes of work revolving around the social politics that govern our daily lives. He posts his cartoons weekly at justinhubbell.com.  He has also been featured on The Good Men Project, UpWorthy, Digital America, Kabooooom, and submits comics regularly to local publications.  He has no preferred pronouns, she is a unapologetic nerd.

Editor’s Note: Transcript for this comic is pending and will be posted soon. Thanks for your patience!

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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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