Maybe being transgender wasn’t a mistake.

This article previously appeared at Ravishly, republished here.

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I’ve been on testosterone for two months now. And while I do not believe in fate or in some kind of intelligent design, nothing in my life has felt closer to fate than this.

I find myself saying, “This was supposed to happen to me.” When I meet myself in the mirror, and I feel this electric and palpable ecstasy that travels across my body, I am convinced that this is the truth – my truth.

I have never savored something, loved something quite so deeply as this: The hairs on my hands, the contours of my face, the shapes and the smells and the erotic energy that swirl around in my brain.

“This is right,” I find myself saying, and my friends look at me, bewildered and happy, as if I’ve said the most obvious thing that could ever be said, and they tell me each and every time, “We know, Sam. We know.”

Two months on testosterone – while it may not have been fate, I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be.

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Do you know the feeling of falling in love?

Where suddenly your world is bigger, brighter, beautiful in a way that it never was before?

Transition has been a slow, steady fall. Every day I see myself more clearly and I feel love in ways I haven’t loved before; I find flowers growing where they never grew before.

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When I was a college student, I wrote a research paper on the idea of “lucid dying” in Tibetan Buddhism – the notion that, if we were enlightened enough, we could be aware as we came undone and transitioned from life to death.

My transition, not of death but of gender, has given me a kind of clarity of mind. I feel aware of every inch of my body. I swear, sometimes I can feel the choreography of my cells as they shift and grow and divide.

And I start to wonder if my body was never wrong. Maybe this transition is somehow a gift. The gift of lucidity, maybe. A kind of connection between body and mind that is so rare that some of us go our entire lives without feeling it.

Maybe the pain of being transgender is not random chaos in the universe, not my shame nor my mistake, but instead, the pangs of a deeper awareness.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say I’m enlightened, but I am wide awake.

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A hairdresser mistook me for a woman the other day and I laughed.

I laughed.

I’d never laughed about being misgendered before. But somehow, when she made the mistake, I found it funny because I thought, does she not see that I’m glowing? Does she not feel what I feel?

Because I could’ve sworn that this light that I’m carrying inside of me could be seen from outer space.

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No, Cis People, Being Trans Is Not a Self-Esteem Issue

“I have a lot of sympathy for transgender people,” someone once told me. “I know a little something about what it’s like to hate yourself, to hate your body.”

I can appreciate when cis folks (who haven’t lived the trans experience) try to create bridges of understanding and empathy with trans people. I think flexing those muscles and building on your compassion is an important part of solidarity.

However, when those attempts miss the point – and ultimately uphold stereotypes that harm trans people – it warrants a serious discussion about how exactly cis people have come to understand trans people.

The “self-hating trans person” trope is widely used as a point of reference for cis people and fuels a lot of misunderstanding around the trans experience. In a nutshell, it’s assumed that what makes a person transgender is that they hate themselves, hate the bodies they inhabit, and thus transition because they don’t like themselves.

Simply put, the idea that being transgender is a “self-esteem” problem just isn’t true.

Which isn’t to say that self-hatred isn’t an experience for some trans people.

Struggles with mental health are a staggering reality for us. But this narrative around the “self-hating trans person” is a false one. It oversimplifies and misrepresents the experiences of most trans people.

I want to unpack, in more detail, exactly why this trope is so harmful.

Here are four reasons why this myth needs to be put to rest – and the real harm it does when we perpetuate it.

1. It Ignores the Impact of Systemic Oppression

A lot of the pain that trans folks suffer is at the hands of an oppressive system, and it has nothing to do with the feelings we have about ourselves personally.

When we diminish the struggles of trans people as a personal problem, we completely neglect the systemic forces that cause immense suffering.

The state of transgender folks’ mental health is dire, but it’s not necessarily because we’re transgender.

When we’re hated by the culture at large, have our rights routinely denied, face the looming threat of violence and even death, struggle to access adequate healthcare, and are ostracized by our communities, how can we be expected to feel positively about our transitions and ourselves?

The transgender struggle is not just one of self-hatred – it’s one of trans-antagonism, and existing in a world that doesn’t recognize our humanity. Too often, that dehumanization becomes an internalized struggle, and we begin to hate ourselves not because we’re transgender, but because we’re taught from a young age to relate to ourselves in a violent way.

However, if you equate being transgender with being self-hating, as if it’s a natural condition of our lives, you overwrite the systemic origins of our suffering.

And in doing so, there is no accountability to create a world that is safe and affirming for trans people. It’s reduced to a personal issue with us, rather than a systemic issue that cisgender people must take responsibility for.

Instead of assuming that all trans people are self-hating, the better question to consider is what kind of world we’ve created in which this kind of suffering is permitted and even expected.

2. It Imposes One Narrative onto All Trans People

This trope is a fallacy because there are plenty of trans people who don’t hate themselves. Full stop.

Our community is layered, complex. We have a variety of feelings about our identities, our bodies, and our transitions. To condense those experiences into a singular narrative and emotion does us a huge disservice: It completely erases the diverse experiences that exist within our community.

Some trans people hate their bodies, and some don’t. Some trans people hate being trans, and some take pride in it. Some trans people wish they’d been born cis, but others are glad to be trans.

There is no right or wrong way to be trans – but it’s problematic to assume all trans people share the same narrative and experience.

For me, personally, I don’t feel self-hatred in the way that cis people assume I do. I hate the ways that society has forced me to pretend to be something I’m not, and sometimes I even hate the body that obscures my truth. But I never hate myself as trans or otherwise.

I have a deep compassion and appreciation for myself and everything I’ve survived. Many trans people do.

The best way to build empathy for a trans person is to tune in when they share their experiences, and believe them when they do. Instead of relying on tropes and looking for misguided shortcuts to understand us, seek out trans people (plural!) who are willing to give you the benefit of their lived experience.

3. It Fundamentally Misunderstands Gender

Being transgender is not a self-esteem issue.

This implies that if trans people saw a therapist and worked out their feelings, their gender would somehow change, and they would magically become cis.

This just isn’t true.

When you say that transgender people just hate themselves, you overlook how truly complex gender is – and you assume that cisgender people are “right” and neutral, while transgender people are “wrong” and broken.

The trope of the “self-hating trans person” relies on one huge (and very wrong) assumption: namely, that being cis is the natural state of being that we reject out of disdain, instead of cis and trans folks’ genders being equally valid and authentic.

This completely undermines the sincerity and legitimacy of transgender experiences.

Claiming a transgender identity isn’t about rejecting the gender we were somehow meant to have because our self-esteem is too low. It’s about rejecting who we were wrongly said to be.

Being transgender is about embracing and manifesting who we actually are in a society that invalidates us, marginalizes us, and rejects us as trans. We can hate the (often violent) imposition of gender upon us without actually hating ourselves.

Gender is a deeply personal identity that we come to know throughout our lives. It’s who we are and how we relate to the world, to our bodies, to our culture, and to ourselves. The way that trans people arrive at that understanding is often very different from cis people, but it’s not inherently better or worse, and it’s certainly not flawed.

Asking to be recognized as we actually are is not an act of hatred – in fact, it’s one of the purest gestures of self-love that I know.

4. It Creates a False Parallel Between Cis and Trans Experiences

You don’t actually have to put yourselves in our shoes to have compassion for trans people.

In fact, you may never arrive at a point when you fully understand what it means to be transgender. And the sooner you can acknowledge this, the better your relationship with trans people will be.

What I dislike most about the “self-hating trans person” trope is that it assumes cis people who have struggled with their self-esteem or their bodies can understand what it feels like to be transgender. But I disagree vehemently with that conclusion.

The particular experience of being (wrongly) assigned a gender in a cisnormative, trans-hating society just isn’t the same as a cis person struggling to like certain things about themselves.

I’ve disliked my body. I’ve struggled with my self-esteem. I’ve dealt with a whole slew of negative emotions around who I am and what I look like. But those experiences, while they were difficult and raw and real, had very few (if any) similarities with my experience moving through this world as transgender.

For one, they were transient experiences that I could work through and even hide if needed. But being transgender is immutable. It doesn’t just affect how I feel on a day-to-day basis, but it impacts my access to power, safety, and resources.

It’s an inherent and complex thing about myself that extends beyond my self-esteem – it’s steeped in biological, sociological, psychological, and even spiritual understandings of myself.

When something is so deeply rooted and significant, a surface-level analysis will not suffice if you’re trying to find ways to relate and understand. The reality here is that when cisgender people are distracted by halfhearted attempts at empathy, they fail to see that being able to relate isn’t a prerequisite for solidarity, but listening is.

Cisgender people who diminish the trans experience by naming it as a simple emotion (self-hatred) – rather than acknowledging that embodied experiences of gender are much more complex – are participating in the erasure and oversimplification of the trans experience.

This trope, when employed by cisgender people, is trans-antagonistic – and perhaps in the most selfish way – because it’s about satisfying the curiosities of cis people with an easy-to-digest answer, rather than letting trans people speak their own truth, even if that truth might be more nuanced and require more effort to understand.

This article, then, is a deeper calling – demanding that cis people do the work and believe trans people when we share who we are and what we feel. Our emotional realities and lived experiences are diverse, painful, complicated, and even beautiful.

Cis people need to hold the space for all of this and more. And that starts with tuning in.

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This piece that I wrote originally appeared at Everyday Feminism.

Trans People Too Often Harm Their Own. So Can We Talk About How to Do Better?

A lot of the time, we talk about the ways that cisgender people harm us. And yes, those are critical conversations. But right now, I want to talk about trans people harming other trans people.

Because at the moment, I’m seeing an awful lot of it.

I think it’s time we had a heart-to-heart about the ways that we treat each other.

Whether it’s telling other trans people how they should or shouldn’t transition, criticizing the language folks use to self-describe, centering ourselves and stepping out of our lane, or simply not believing each other when we come out, we can be our own worst enemies.

But we can do something about this.

We can renew our commitment to this community and to each other. We can be mindful of the ways that we’re upholding one another’s oppression, we can self-reflect, and we can call each other in.

Because in this moment, in a world that is so hostile towards and dangerous for trans people, the last thing I want to see is us hurting one another.

We need to show up for each other. We need to protect each other. In so many ways, we’re all we’ve got.

So where do we start? Here are five ways we can better support one another.

1. Believe Trans People

I remember when I found a slew of tweets in my inbox from other trans people, accusing me of lying about being transgender.

They misgendered me, hurled unfair accusations towards me, and they began a concentrated online campaign to discredit me in this movement.

They reached out to a number of my Twitter followers, calling me a cis woman and saying that I was only pretending to be trans in order to get “Internet famous.”

Why? Because I hadn’t yet started testosterone, and in their minds, the only valid transgender people were those who were medically transitioning.

There is a lot of gatekeeping in the trans community, and it’s really heartbreaking to see. There are countless trans folks who feel that they can decide who is and isn’t transgender, and they exclude other trans people based on their own assumptions.

Sometimes, like in my case, this escalates into harassment and even violence.

I’ve experienced it firsthand many, many times. And it has hurt more than I could possibly express.

When that online campaign to discredit me began to take hold on Twitter, the timing couldn’t have been worse. As someone who had been struggling to come out to my family and was unable to access hormones, it was a painful time in my life.

Being bullied because I wasn’t on testosterone – something I desperately wanted, but couldn’t access – made an already difficult time in my life even more agonizing.

Why were hormones even relevant in the first place? Since when do they know my gender better than I do?

I often wonder: If we want to convey to the world that misgendering someone is an act of violence and that gender is a deeply personal thing that belongs to each individual, why do we do this to each other?

Why are we such hypocrites when it comes to others in our own community? Why do we ask for our gender identities to be respected, and then completely disrespect the identities of others in our community?

Rather than attacking each other and attempting to ostracize one another, we should be investing that energy into advocacy and supporting one another – not tearing each other down.

2. Don’t Place Judgments on How Other Trans People Choose to Transition (Or Not)

The reality is that transgender people are incredibly diverse and no two journeys will look exactly alike. We all have to decide, as individuals who know ourselves and our genders, what decisions are best for us and our happiness.

We also get to decide the timeline in which we make those decisions.

Some of us will pursue hormones. Some of us will not. Some of us will socially transition. Others won’t. Some of us need surgery or multiple surgeries. Others do not.

It isn’t anyone’s business but our own what we do with our bodies. And we are not more or less transgender because of our choices – because being transgender is not about the bodies that we inhabit, but rather, our sense of self and our identities.

It took five years of identifying as transgender before I finally pursued hormones. Five years. This was largely due to a lot of internalized self-hatred that made it difficult to accept that I needed to medically transition.

With everything I was going through, I still endured a lot of judgment from other trans people who questioned my authenticity because I didn’t make the same choices that they did within the expected time frame.

Can we just let other trans people make decisions about their bodies without judgment?

3. Hold Space for Trans People Who Are Non-Binary, Non-Conforming, or Questioning

Alternatively, this could be called “not being an asshole,” but I want to dive a little deeper than that for a moment.

Not all transgender people are binary. Some of us have carved out our own unique identities and our own expressions. It doesn’t make our oppression less painful. It doesn’t make our dysphoria (if we have it) any less real. It doesn’t make our gender any less valid.

Please don’t exclude us or ostracize us from the community because we don’t conform to your arbitrary rules. Instead, support us, include us, and celebrate us.

Not all transgender people are even sure of what their gender really looks like or how it manifests in the world. Some of us are still exploring this. Some of us aren’t sure what we need. Some of us have more questions than we do answers.

Please don’t push us to the margins because we aren’t so sure. Hold us in compassion, support us, and give us the room to figure out who we are without judgment.

Sometimes trans people can be very protective over the idea of what it means to be transgender. But this needs to be said: It is oppressive to deny people the right to self-identify. It is oppressive to exclude people because they do not fit your idea of what transness should be.

And it is a real waste of energy and effort to marginalize other trans people when we could, instead, collectively endeavor towards our liberation.

4. Be Mindful of Centering Yourself and Advocate for All Trans People

Trans folks of privilege – those who are white, able-bodied, or have class privilege, for example – may feel tempted to place their experiences and needs at the center of this movement. But in doing so, they fail to uplift all trans people.

This often happens when transgender people who have privilege assume that their narratives are representative of all trans people, or they fail to include diverse voices in their organizing.

Trans women of color, for example, feel the compounded effects of transphobia, misogyny, and racism. They face higher rates of violence, harassment, poverty, incarceration, suicide, and endure countless obstacles in their transitions.

Ignoring this reality and prioritizing the voices and experiences of white trans people only serves to further marginalize trans people of color, whose needs are arguably most urgent and life-threatening.

Giving more visibility and resources to trans folks of privilege does not liberate all trans people – it only upholds other systems of power that already benefit those with more privilege, and it serves only a small part of our larger community.

This is why it is crucial that trans folks who have privilege be constantly mindful of the ways that their privilege operates both within the community and outside of it.

I know in the work that I’m doing, I’m constantly assessing and reassessing where my lane is and how to stay in it. And truthfully, I don’t always get it right.

But self-reflection and self-criticism need to be an intrinsic part of the work. We keep working at it, because we care about one another and we want to liberate everyone, and not just ourselves.

We must acknowledge difference rather than assuming that our community is a monolith in which we are all the same. We must work collectively to ensure that the voices of all trans people – especially those who are most marginalized – can be amplified and given a platform in our movement.

A movement that only aims to benefit those who already have privilege simply replicates existing oppressions. And that? That’s not justice.

5. Call Other Trans People In

This is one of the most important pieces of the puzzle. When we see other people in our community engaging in problematic or oppressive behaviors, it is important to call them in.

When I was being attacked by other trans folks for not being “trans enough,” there was a shocking amount of silence from others in the community who would privately console me, but make no attempt to stand up for me.

The harassment continued for some time because very few people stepped in and made it clear that this kind of behavior wasn’t tolerated in our community.

I’ve seen trans people engage in vicious gatekeeping, followed by radio silence from the folks around them because they’re afraid to call in one of their own.

I’ve seen trans people find out that someone in the community is an abuser, followed by complete inaction because they aren’t willing to show up for survivors.

I’ve seen white trans people observe racist behavior, followed by complacency because they didn’t want to make things “awkward.”

I’ve seen trans people speculating about the authenticity of other trans people’s identities (“but are they really trans?”), followed by, you guessed it, no willingness to challenge that kind of behavior.

When someone in our own community is doing harm, we are arguably in the best position to engage. Our ties to one another and shared struggles mean that we can call each other in skillfully, if we’re willing to step up.

I know this is difficult work, because we share very intimate spaces with one another, spaces in which we can’t avoid each other. And obviously, when our safety is at stake, it can get more complicated.

But how many opportunities have we missed to make this community safer and more affirming because we were unwilling to make ourselves uncomfortable?

And I’m not exempt from this, by the way. I’ve missed a lot of opportunities, too, when I reflect back.

Our connections and ties to one another position us to do really transformative, healing work with each other. I think it’s worthwhile work to be doing. And I want to see our community embrace that, especially those of us that already have access to power and have the least at stake when they engage.

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If we don’t believe each other, support each other, uplift each other, how can we begin to create a world in which transgender people are thriving?

If we continue to hurt each other in these ways, where will trans people go to find a safe space? If we don’t have each other in this struggle, who can we count on?

The transgender community has shown up for me in so many ways, ways I will never forget.

It was a small community of trans people in Lansing, Michigan that embraced and affirmed me when I first used the word “transgender” to describe myself. That’s a moment I will never forget — that room was filled to the brim with validation and care.

It was a trans man that opened up his home to me when I first moved to the Bay Area, when I knew literally no one here. Total strangers helped me get my bearings, find housing, find community, and find my way thousands of miles away from the life I’d left behind, only knowing that I was trans and believing that this made us family.

Hell, when I was psychiatrically hospitalized and at the end of my rope, who visited me in the hospital? Who sent me books? Who wrote me? (A lot of you did, trans readers, and while hospital staff misgendered me and while I came undone, your emails reminded me that my life had real value and importance, that I always had a community to come back to, a community that truly saw me.)

I would not be who I am today without the love and support of transgender people.

That’s why I’m so passionate about trans people supporting other trans people – not because I want to pick apart our community, but because I see the difference that this support makes in each of our lives.

I believe in the power of our community. And that’s exactly why I believe it’s important that we are accountable to each other and that we strive to be a safe and supportive space for all trans people.

It’s my hope that we can and will do better. It starts with each and every one of us. And it must begin now.

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

I Thought I Was Ugly. I Didn’t Realize It Was Gender Dysphoria.

For a long time, I couldn’t place why — I just felt ugly.

And not just in the insecure way, but in the something-is-so-wrong-but-I-can’t-place-what way.

No matter what I did, or how often my friends reassured me, nothing seemed to change the fact that something didn’t feel right when I looked in the mirror. And no one seemed to see it but me.

As someone assumed to be a girl, I figured that hating how I looked was a rite of passage. I could never articulate what I didn’t like, though. It wasn’t my nose, or my lips, or my teeth.

When people asked, I helplessly explained, “I don’t know, I’m just ugly.”

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When I look at old pictures of myself, though, I start to understand. For one, it doesn’t even look like me.

It wasn’t that I was ugly, so much as I didn’t look like myself. But not even knowing what “transgender” meant, I didn’t have a point of reference to understand my feelings at the time.

It wasn’t that I was ugly by some objective measure, or even that someone had told me I was and the comment stayed with me. It was that I was dysphoric — the body I was in didn’t feel like mine, and I could only react to it with discomfort and, at times, disgust.

There’s this narrative around transness, that we all knew immediately that we were meant to transition, meant to live in a different body, that the gender we were assigned is not the gender we actually are. For many of us, however, that’s simply not our story.

For me, none of that occurred to me consciously for a long time. I just knew that I didn’t like how I looked — that I was deeply uncomfortable with myself — and at times I felt that very strongly. It took much longer to understand why.

Transitioning happened for me a little haphazardly, and maybe a little organically, too. I was drawn to short hair, and after cutting it, I felt euphoric in a way I couldn’t deny. I loved androgyny as a style, and after experimenting a little, started to find new ways to express myself. I followed my intuition, not entirely sure where it would lead me, trying not to overthink what it said about me or my gender.

And then I noticed something: The further I moved away from the gendered expectations that came with being perceived as a woman, the happier I felt.

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Ugliness is such a profound, raw, and vulnerable emotional experience for some trans people. For me, it was the driving force in my transition.

“Ugly” was the only word I had to describe my dysphoria, which meant it flew under the radar for a long time.

It didn’t raise any alarms for the people around me. It just confirmed the sexist notion that women are supposed to be insecure, and therefore my discontent was an acceptable, albeit sad experience that came with the territory of my assigned gender.

But something intuitively pushed me forward. Part of that was finally meeting other transgender and non-binary people, who gave me the language I didn’t have, and filled in the gaps of knowledge I desperately needed.

I became acquainted with the feeling of gender euphoria — the sense of affirmation and even joy that comes with being “seen” as the gender you truly identify with. For me, I had waves of euphoria as I started hearing my new name, my new pronouns, and my new reflection staring back at me, being shaped before my eyes by testosterone.

Dysphoria is a complicated experience, and I think it’s very misunderstood, even by some folks in the trans community.

It’s not like I looked down at my body and saw a vision laid before me, immediately understanding that I wasn’t a girl. It was, more often than that, the sense of lingering discomfort, confusion, and profound emotional rejection that unsettled me, often on a deeply unconscious level.

Dysphoria, for me, has always been the battle between my conscious desire to take the easiest and safest route in life — one that cis people repeatedly told me would be living as a cis woman — and my unconscious and, at times, desperate need to transform my body so that I could live authentically and comfortably.

At first, it was easy to reject my dysphoria as feeling “ugly” and nothing more, because it felt safer to consider myself a cisgender person who felt ugly, rather than stepping into my life as a transgender person, considering the many risks and struggles that came with it.

Dysphoria never provided me an answer or a clear path forward, as it sometimes does for other trans people. For me, it created a problem, and it was one that I didn’t initially know how to solve.

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But as it turns out, transition was the right thing for me, even if it took years to understand that.

The profound anxiety that I had when I looked at myself has been replaced with a kind of joy — a joy I’d never had before transition, in which I can see myself and not only do I look good, but it looks right.

My friend Jes Baker, a fat activist and incredible blogger/human, said to me before that a lot of our unhappiness with our bodies happens when we look at the mirror expecting to see someone else (paraphrasing, but you get the idea).

In some cases, coming to terms with our bodies as they are can be our greatest act of self-love. There’s abundant messaging in this world that tells us to reject our bodies, and unlearning that shit takes time. But for others, change is how we make peace with our reflection.

I think it all begins with the question, “Who am I expecting to see looking back at me?”

Every day, I think the person I was waiting for is finally coming back to me. And I can’t even begin to describe how beautiful that feels.

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8 Things Transgender People Do Not Owe You

Nothing ruins a fabulous day for me more than entitlement.

I’m talking about the expectations placed on me as a transgender person that are never placed on my cisgender counterparts.

Take, for example, the number of times that cis folks have asked me, “Are you getting rid of…” Then, gesturing to my chest, they add, “those?” without batting an eye.

I’m not sure on what planet that’s an acceptable question to ask anyone, but it bothers me – endlessly – that so many people feel entitled to that information, so much so that they don’t consider my comfort level or privacy when they ask.

From time to time, I run into folks who – whether they’re “curious” about my existence or aren’t sure how to talk to me about trans issues – mistakenly believe that I exist as their real-life Caitlyn Jenner, a science experiment, a case study, or a source of entertainment.

And that entitlement can surface in a whole slew of different ways.

It can be seemingly “innocent” questions about our bodies, as if we owe you private or intimate details about our transitions. It can be tokenizing us, sensationalizing our being transgender and not actually valuing or recognizing our personhood.

It can even be requests to change our appearance to make cisgender people more comfortable.

Ultimately, entitlement comes from the idea that transgender people exist for the entertainment, comfort, or curiosity of cisgender people.

And whether it’s intended or not, even the best allies can perpetuate this kind of attitude in their day-to-day interactions with trans folks.

So how can we break down entitlement and make the world a safer place for trans folks?

Well, to start, here are eight things trans people don’t owe you – and why these everyday examples of entitlement are so problematic.

1. Details About Their Body or Any Plans They Have for It

Whoa, whoa, whoa. My body? My business. Don’t ask me about what my plans are unless I’ve brought them up myself.

I can’t recall a single time back when I identified as cisgender that someone asked me, “Please describe in intimate detail what your genitals look like and what you hope they’ll look like in the future.”

Why are transgender people somehow fair game for invasive questions like these?

Just because I’m trans doesn’t mean I owe the world a detailed blueprint of what my medical transition is going to look like – assuming I even opt for a medical transition. That’s a personal question between me, my doctors, and those that I choose to share it with.

Trans folks are far more than their bodies and their transitions, and unnecessarily focusing on our bodies tells me that you see us as objects instead of people.

Not to mention, this overshadows the very real issues that are affecting our everyday lives.

2. Their Birth Name or Any Details About Who They Were Prior to Transitioning

Translation: Please tell me about a time in your life that you had no intention of sharing – and give me private details about it, too!

Again, sensitive information that could be triggering or painful is not something a trans person owes you by virtue of being trans. Your curiosity does not trump their right to privacy, ever.

Questions like these bother me because the moment someone learns that I’m transgender, they treat my past like a scandalous secret that is somehow more interesting or valuable than the person that I’ve fought to become today.

I will share my past with you if I want to and when I’m ready.

Please focus on who I am in the present – I promise, the person I am now is much more interesting.

3. A Friendship or Relationship So That You Can Prove That You’re Open-Minded

I’m not going to be a pawn in some kind of social justice credibility game. So stop introducing me as your “transgender friend” and pulling a Vanna White when we meet someone new.

Real talk: You are not a better person, a better ally, or a better activist because you know or fuck a trans person.

This is not proof of how radical you are or evidence of how open-minded you are.

And if you ever get called out for transphobia and pull the “I can’t be transphobic, my best friend/my partner is trans” card, I will drop you so fast that you won’t know what hit you.

I’m not your token, and I’m definitely not your shield from criticism.

4. A Gender Studies 101 Education

I get that you want to learn more about trans people.

Gender identity, gender expression – gender is a vast and complex topic, and it’s fascinating, too! You might have a lot of questions, and who better to ask than someone you trust?

But think about it. Chances are, you are not the only friend that I have. I have hundreds of friends who are just as fascinated and have just as many questions as you.

The reality: Trans people are constantly bombarded with questions and expected to educate others by virtue of being trans.

And it gets tiresome to have to explain our lives and even our trauma repeatedly just so that cisgender people can “get an education.”

So before you demand the resources and energy of a trans person for your own personal benefit, why not seek out existing resources online? I personally have written many other articles on trans issues.

This tells trans people that you not only want to learn, but that you respect their time.

5. A Sensational and Tragic Account of Their Life Story

My life is not an Oprah Winfrey special.

If you’re asking questions about my past because you want to hear a sad story, that tells me that you view me as entertainment before you view me as a person.

Check yourself.

6. An Apology When Asking for Respect

“Your pronouns are so confusing. Can’t you just respect that I’m trying?”

“I get that this isn’t the name that you’re using, but don’t you see how hard this is for me?”

“Your grandparents don’t need this drama right now. Can’t you come out later?”

Transgender people should never be made to feel like their identity is an inconvenience or burden. They should never be guilted into apologizing for who they are or making their needs known.

Trans people do not owe you an apology for being honest about their identity. Trans people do not owe you an apology because their transness is unfamiliar and “difficult” to you. Trans people do not owe you an apology just for existing.

Being who we are in a world that still does not accept us is difficult enough (not to mention the incredible rates of violence and discrimination).

If you don’t have something supportive to say, please process your feelings on your own time.

7. Justification for Why or When They Are (Or Aren’t) Transitioning

Transition is about my comfort – not yours.

So asking me to explain why I’m making certain choices about my body, as if I have to defend them to you; asking me why I can’t wait for hormones or surgery until it’s a more convenient time for you; or pushing me to make decisions that will make you feel more at ease instead of supporting me are not okay.

These are gestures that tell me that you prioritize your happiness and comfort over mine.

Trans people should not have to transition in a way that makes everyone around them happy.

Their transitions (or lack thereof) should be guided by their own needs, their own desires, and what makes them feel best – not by cisgender people in their lives who just happen to have an inappropriate opinion on something so personal.

Trans people do not owe anyone a justification for their choices when it comes to their bodies and their (a)gender(s).

The truth of the matter is that while this may affect you, trans people are the ones who are most impacted by transitioning. And at the end of the day, they have to live with the choices that they make.

Those choices might impact you, but they aren’t about you.

8. Anything

Transgender people, just like anyone else, get to set boundaries in their lives, and those boundaries should be respected. The truth is, transgender people don’t owe you anything.

The problem with entitlement and the many ways that it surfaces is that it erases the humanity of trans people. It treats us like an object, a prop, a source of entertainment, or something to impose demands upon before we are ever fully recognized as autonomous human beings.

When you dehumanize trans people in this way, whether subtle or overt, you give the rest of the world permission to disrespect or even hurt us because we are seen as exploitable – something that people can use for their own purposes instead of actual human beings.

If you feel that you are owed something from a trans person – their body, their time, their decisions – it’s time to reflect. Toxic expectations do not exist in a vacuum. They feed into a culture that denies transgender people their agency and views them as inherently less-than.

This might seem overwhelming. You might be thinking, “Wow, can I interact with a trans person at all without seeming entitled? Am I doomed no matter what I do?”

What it boils down to is this: We want to be seen as whole people, just like anyone else.

So deep breaths. I promise we’re not fragile. Just treat us with respect, be open to learning from mistakes, and apologize when you make them. And, you know, don’t ask about our genitals. You really need to stop doing that.

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This piece that I wrote originally appeared at Everyday Feminism.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Confession: I ask myself this a lot.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. What If I Regret My Medical Transition?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If you feel ashamed, you aren’t alone.

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

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

***

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

The feeling of being validated, seen, recognized.

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

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

But I want to encourage you to open up.

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

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

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

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

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This piece that I wrote originally appeared at Everyday Feminism.

Capture Bonding: How I Both Need and Grieve My Gender Transition

If we were to believe the dominant narratives around gender transition, we could only conclude that it’s a magical, affirming, and life-giving process. With these stories—and the glorious “before and after” photos that accompany them—we’re told that the uncomplicated truth of transition is that when the transformation is complete, we emerge on the other side whole and shimmering.

I am not whole, nor am I shimmering.

I often wonder: Can it be true that I can’t inhabit this body anymore—with its curves and parts that alienate me—but am still bonded to it? Top surgery is on the horizon for me. While I can’t fathom living the rest of my life with this chest, a part of me is grieving this loss. These curves were always guests (never residents), but their absence still means something to me.

I understand it only in metaphor. Imagine the kidnapped person who bonds to their captor. Imagine that the trauma forces them to forge a bond that will sustain them and wound them all at once. Imagine the attachment that is both real and illusory, born out of a need to survive.

For many transgender people, we find ways to form attachments to the assigned bodies and identities that harm us so that we can bear the burden for another day. And so the euphoria, disgust, and the fear come all at once. Behind the joy, my transition has been grief. My transition has been letting go. My transition has been hard.

I am losing the face that I knew. I delight in my beard, yet I long for the softness that was once underneath. I am angular in all the right ways, yet I still have affection for the youth I once held in my cheeks. And I wonder if it’s possible that the face I rejected (the dysphoria and the distress still real) wasn’t mine to keep but still meant something to me.

I know the feeling of being misgendered, like a knife perpetually wedged between your ribs. And I know the feeling of entrapment in a body that isn’t “right,” a fleshy coffin that conceals and suffocates you. And someday, I hope I’ll know the relief of having broken free of those things—to recognize myself fully when I look in the mirror.

But I live in the real world, too, where the pretending had to be so emphatic, it flirted with the truth. I had to be something I wasn’t long enough to reasonably convince myself, and the feelings there are residual, even now. My breasts disgust me, but they are familiar to me, too—sometimes I cringe, sometimes I cry, sometimes I laugh, sometimes I even smile, and sometimes I feel nothing at all.

When your body is the captor, and your urge is to survive, how do you go on? For some of us, we dissociate, we separate, we detach. But I believe that some of us form attachments, too—to our dead names that our protectors used to coo as they cradled us in their arms, to our bodies that lovers used to gently trace with a finger or lusted after from across the room. And while we know in our hearts that we must change, the intimacy and meaning of what we were was never lost on us.

And it’s this attachment that too many trans people are deeply ashamed of. How can I be seen as valid if I am not willing to abandon the entirety of what I was, of what that felt like? Am I truly transgender if I am unsure, afraid—or grief-stricken, even? If this is everything I need, but it hurts just the same? How can I hold this contradiction if it threatens my existence?

My brother, on occasion, slips and calls me his “sister.” Like a good trans person, I correct him. But some part of me cannot admit that when he says it, I am sometimes comforted—not because I am a woman or was ever a girl, but because I remember the warmth and protection his voice carried when he said it to me, when I was small and still new to this world.

When he says “sister,” it evokes a memory—a very particular one—of blood. When I cut my head open when I was 13, and despite his undeniable phobia of blood, he held his breath and a towel firmly against the wound while I cried. He was brave and he was sensitive and he spoke so softly to me. Then, and many times over, I was so proud to be his “sister.”

I admit that I am still learning to be proud of being his “brother,” too.

Like many trans people, I am learning to reattach to new words and new parts. I imagine what my body will be with immense joy and fear, worried and wondering what of “me” I’ve gained and what of “me” I’ve lost. Every year that passes, I fall more deeply in love with my name—Sam Dylan Finch, which rolls off the tongue like a tender incantation—while still wondering if the name I buried lives on someplace else. The unfamiliar becomes sweetly familiar, while the once familiar nips at my heels like a neglected dog.

It all had to mean something—and in a parallel universe, I think it still does, living on just as it was—because for this life to be bearable, I had to make meaning of these things. Because while the trauma of my assigned gender was at times like a clenched jaw around my body, it was, at first, the only thing I knew. And I created safety with what little kindling I had; I built a fire. Though it may have burned me and even, for a moment, engulfed me, it also kept me warm.

The truth of transition, they will tell you, is that it is pure and unadulterated joy and discovery. It makes for a touching story, to be sure. But quietly, I hold the space for something more—the messy reality that mingling with that joy is also raw and relentless grief, a letting go that too many of us struggle to make sense of.

To live these lives—to survive the trauma of being transgender in a world that denies us, invalidates us, destroys us—we’ve struck a delicate balance of detachment and attachment, forming bonds with our captors that we are unlearning as we become who we’re meant to be.

They tell us that those bonds make us confused or invalid. But I write these words to speak the truth: those bonds are a testament to our resilience. And whether you choose to break them or protect them, what matters most is that you’re still here.

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This piece that I wrote originally appeared at Unapologetic Feminism.