"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.

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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.

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

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

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

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

What is your gender? What pronouns do you use?

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

What do those words mean to you?

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

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

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

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

Have your self-descriptors changed since last year?

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

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

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

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

How did you know you were transgender?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How are you feeling about your transition so far?

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

How does your sexual orientation factor into all this?

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

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

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

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

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

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

How was your first pride weekend?

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

Trans march was excellent 🌈🎉💕☀️👍🏻

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Me, back in the earlier days of my transition.

Me, back in the earlier days of my transition.

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

I was 19.

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

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

What a silly thing to tell myself.

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

Denial

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

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

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

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

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

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

That night, I had woken up a sleeping beast.

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

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

“I’m… I’m just confused.”

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

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

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

Guilt

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

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

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

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

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

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

My mother’s voice, “Excuse me?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And I’m sorry, Dad, but you’re wrong.

Negotiation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Depression

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So I did.

Acceptance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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If I’m a Stranger Now, I Will Be a Stranger Forever (Reflections on Testosterone)

A cursive lettered tattoo that reads,

My favorite tattoo and my simplest one, too. A reminder.

I was at a poetry reading when an older butch woman sat down next to me and started to talk to me about her experiences in the lesbian communities of San Francisco.

Typical Bay Area. Queers chatting up queers. And for a little while, it was just an ordinary conversation for two gays in the Bay.

But then I looked at her. I mean, really looked at her. I saw the creases in the corners of her eyes, the years settling into her smile, her pixie cut graying.

“I wonder who I’ll be when I’m her age,” I innocently thought to myself. “I wonder how I’ll look…”

That’s when I panicked. I faked an important text message, pretending that some urgent situation had suddenly arisen. I picked up my things, said a hurried goodbye, and took a long, solitary walk on a hiking trail nearby.

It wasn’t getting older that scared me, per se, but the thought that I might spend the rest of my life being seen as a woman, as something I was not. It was the idea that I would be trapped in a body that felt alien to me well into old age, and with it, bearing a lifetime of misgendering, dysphoria, and invisibility.

I had a tendency to only think of my life in terms of the here and now – something of a survival skill I’d perfected after years of living with bipolar disorder.

But the thought that I would endure this kind of pain for life, the pain of being alien to oneself and misgendered by everyone else, made me realize that my transition wasn’t just about the here and now.

I could survive in this body today, but what about five years from now? Ten years from now? Twenty?

Could I really do that? When I reach the end of the line, counting down the days in my old age, when I look in the mirror, who do I want to see staring back at me?

And while I could nurse my wounds each time I heard “she,” and I could pick myself up when my dysphoria knocked me down, and I could swallow my pain and shelve it for a more convenient time, it finally occurred to me that it was not something I could keep doing for the rest of my life.

Today, maybe. Tomorrow, maybe. But all the tomorrows to come, all of the days I have left?

As adamant as I was about staying put, fear shackling me in place, I’d forgotten how the world still moves forward, with or without me.

And it was there in the woods, the smell of eucalyptus hanging in the air around me and my heart pounding through my bound chest, that I promised myself that I would put the gears into motion.

I promised myself I would get on testosterone.

/

Transition is not always simple, and not always certain.

Sometimes transition is guesswork – discarding what you are not to get closer and closer to what you are. Sometimes transition is not precise, just in the way that the beautiful pictures in our minds are never quite as beautiful when we manifest them on the page.

Being non-binary, neither a man nor a woman, is something like that. It’s knowing what I am not, and creating new spaces, new expressions, new ways of being to get closer to what I am.

I avoided testosterone for a long time. I thought, “Why should I have to choose? Can’t I just be?” It took years before I understood that not taking testosterone was just as much a choice.

There is risk in not acting. There is risk in staying the same.

Just because it isn’t precise, that doesn’t make the endeavor less worthwhile.

So I take another step. I throw another dart with the hopes it’ll strike near the target. I pick up the brush and let it kiss the canvas.

Gender has always been intangible. And when dealing with the intangible, we use what tools we have to articulate our truth – the closest approximation.

/

This September, I am starting testosterone.

I know, I know. I’m genderqueer. “If you’re not a man and you’re not a woman, what’s the difference?” they might ask. “Why do this?”

Because standing still and wishing away the pain will not douse the fire.

Because if I’m a stranger now, I will be a stranger forever.

Because all I can do is stumble my way through and hope that, on the other side of this, there is a reflection staring back that no longer scares me.

Because they will not bury me with breasts. Because they will not bury me under a false name like they did to Leelah. Because they will not mistake me for a woman at my funeral. Because they will not bury me in someone else’s body when I die.

Because of all the tomorrows that are coming.

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

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

Illustration by Jessica Krcmarik.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hm. Sound familiar?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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