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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That is simply not true.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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Binding While Broke: I Tried All These Cheap(ish) Chest Binders so You Don’t Have To!

The image features two characters talking. One says to the other, "My binder is so old I can put it on over my head!" They laugh together.

Comic via Tumblr

So if you didn’t know, I got married last Saturday! Hooray! It was magical, and queer, and everything I had hoped it would be.

(And if you somehow missed the momentous announcement, this is a great opportunity to like our Facebook page so you’ll never miss another update like this again. Harhar.)

As someone who is trans and has a lot of dysphoria around my chest, one of my biggest concerns for the wedding was finding the right binder. It had to be comfortable enough to wear for the entire day, offer excellent compression for all of those wedding photos, and breathe so I could bust out my best dance moves without feeling gross. It also had to accommodate my larger chest and tummy.

Most importantly, it had to be cheap, because, like many trans folks I know, I have very little money.

For the last year, in anticipation of my wedding, I’ve been trying out a whole assortment of binders. And as a service to those of you who are broke but still wanting to bind, I thought I’d review three of the binders that I think are worth knowing about.

For the record, I’m not getting paid to review any of these binders… though if I’m being honest I totally wish I was (hit me up; I’ll be waiting!). I’m doing this because I know what it’s like to desperately need a binder but wonder if emptying out my wallet was really worth it.

From least impressive to most, here are the three cheapest (but still reputable) binders I could find, and how they held up:

Tri-top Chest Binder from Underworks

tritop

My smile is deceiving: This binder is a pain!

Compression: 5/5

Comfort: 2/5

Mobility: 2/5

Price: $30 + shipping

The tri-top is a really popular binder, priced at around 30 dollars. It’s often the first one that folks will try out because it’s such a recognizable name. But despite its popularity and hype, I’m personally not a fan.

The compression was superb; I am a very busty queer and getting things to flatten out is a real challenge. If your primary concern is compression, you won’t be disappointed.

It is an enormous challenge to squeeze into at first, but overtime, this binder will lose some of its shape; great, because it’ll be easier to get on, but not-so-great, because it will also lose some of that impressive flattening. This is the case with most binders, but it’s a complaint that I hear about tri-tops most often.

Even with its magical compression, I couldn’t get past how uncomfortable this binder was. The material has very little give to it, my mobility and breathing were noticeably restricted, and no matter how many hours I spent in it, it wasn’t the kind of binder that I “forgot” I was wearing – I seemed to be aware of its annoying presence almost constantly.

Even after trying a couple different sizes to ensure I had the right one, it never felt right. It’s a basic binder that is fine for shorter hours of use, but it’s not a binder I find myself wearing often, if ever.

Overall, I wouldn’t say this is the worst binder. It’s just not an exceptional one. It’s worth noting that there are folks who absolutely love the tri-top, and it tends to rate highly, so as with any binder, what it really comes down to is personal preference.

Just not my cuppa tea, it seems.

Extreme MagiCotton Sports and Binding Bra from Underworks

The image features the author waving a rainbow flag and saluting.

Thought I should look as queer as possible for this photo. Featuring: The binding bra!

Compression: 3.5-4/5* (depending on cup size)

Comfort: 4.5/5

Mobility: 5/5

Price: $35 + shipping

This is one of the best kept secrets of the binding world. Because this is marketed as a bra, most folks miss this one entirely. But if you’re binding or interested in trying it out, you need to know about this binder’s existence.

I first heard about this from a couple of trans guys who were buying these damn things in bulk because they were great for working out. A traditional binder just doesn’t offer enough mobility for exercise, so they sought out something specifically designed with athletes in mind.

In the time since I first wrote about this binder on Tumblr, I’ve found out that folks who have chronic pain and can’t wear traditional binders have also started trying this one out. I can confirm, as someone with on-and-off pain in my shoulder from an injury, that this is an option worth looking at if you need a binder that’s less harsh on your body.

An additional benefit for some is that, if you are still not out as trans and living under your parents’ roof, this passes easily as a sports bra and won’t raise any red flags.

The downside is that because of its stretchy material, you might not achieve the same level of compression, depending on your cup size. As a larger-chested queer, I definitely wouldn’t wear this binder if I needed complete and total compression, but I can assure you, smaller-chested folks need not worry about this.

With a little bit of layering, this can totally work as an everyday binder for larger-chested cuties; with a smaller chest, layering isn’t necessary at all.

I love this binder, and I wear it when I’m exercising or when my body needs to recover from a couple days of more intense binding. I now consider it an essential in my closet.

It’s important that we take care of our bodies as we bind; binding definitely takes a toll. I’d recommend that everyone who’s interested in binding give this one a shot, especially if comfort is your primary concern.

GC2b Half Binder from GC2b Transition Apparel

weddingphoto

Before the wedding ceremony! Featuring: The GC2b!

Compression: 5/5

Comfort: 4-4.5/5* (depending on size)

Mobility: 5/5

Price: $33 + shipping

Let this photo from my wedding speak for itself.

There’s Ray on the left (my spouse, whoa) and me, wearing the GC2b, on the right. This binder not only made my chest look terrific, but I was able to dance at my reception and party the night away, comfortably and happily. I forgot I was even wearing a binder.

Seriously, I forgot. It was amazing.

And, y’all, you would have never guessed that I have a large chest, right? It’s magic.

I’d first heard about this binder through a rave review at Autostraddle, and from there I kept seeing gushing reviews popping up all over the net. I was skeptical, but as it turns out, I didn’t need to be – this binder is fabulous.

The design is quite brilliant and one of the reasons why folks are so excited about it. There is a panel on the front that flattens, but the material on the back is more of a stretchy mesh – which means the binder can expand and contract as you breathe, but the front will still compress just the same. It also means it’s more flexible than your typical binder, making it easier to get on and off.

This thing is comfortable as all get out, which, if you didn’t know, binding is seldom a comfortable affair. I was amazed that this was nearly as comfortable as the binding bra I mentioned previously, but was much more effective at compressing.

There are some downsides – the cut won’t work for everyone, especially us chunkier babes who may find there’s some arm spillage or a little more pressure around our ribs depending on sizing. I’m actually in-between sizes, so I own both a large and extra large (the large for when I want extra compression, the extra large when I want more comfort).

It’s a lower cut, which I recognize can be a good AND bad thing. Good so that you can rock that v-neck with no problem, but bad if you’re dysphoric and the last thing you want to see is cleavage when you bend over or take your shirt off.

That being said, this is now my favorite binder and the one I rely on for near-daily use. Usually you have to sacrifice some compression for comfort or vice versa, but I find that it binds exceptionally well without sacrificing your comfort or safety.

This binder gets my absolute highest recommendation. I’ve heard mixed reviews here and there, but I’m in love with this binder and I think it lives up to the hype.

* * *

But, hey, wait. Before you run to grab your debit card, here’s some shit I want you to know:

First of all, binding isn’t a walk in the park. It can leave you feeling a bit sore, constrained, and uncomfortable. But that being said, if binding is causing you a noticeable amount of pain, you, my friend, need a different size or a different binder altogether.

Do not settle for pain or think that pain is a necessary part of binding. Binding shouldn’t hurt and it shouldn’t make it difficult to breathe.

Too many people – particularly trans folks – are somehow convinced that hurting themselves is just part of the process when, in fact, it shouldn’t be.

It’s also worth knowing that a binder could be recommended a thousand times over, but it just might not be a good fit for your body. The tri-top comes with some serious praise, but no matter how I contorted my body and what size I tried, it just didn’t work for me.

In other words: It’s silly to think that there is one binder that’s ideal for every single person. It’s just a series of trials and errors before you get something that works for you.

Lastly, I recognize that 30-35 dollars isn’t “cheapish” for everyone (and honestly, it’s a stretch even for me these days). So I want you to check out Micah’s list of binder resources over at Neutrois Nonsense (and just familiarize yourself with Micah’s work because it’s fantastic), which includes some binder exchange programs.

I also hope folks will weigh in via comment if they know of any great initiatives that help increase access to binders or have any thoughts about binding more generally.

That’s it for now! I’m off to enjoy my “honeymoon” now (ie Netflix, eating leftover wedding cake, and cuddling with my sweetie, because what else could a queer need?).

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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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Illustration by Jessica Krcmarik (http://www.jessicakrcmarik.com)

How Did You Know You Were Non-Binary?

Header illustration by Jessica Krcmarik.

I was watching an episode of Bones, oddly enough, when I first realized that I might be transgender.

No, I’m not kidding. I wish it were a more exciting story, but I have to be honest. I was just sitting on my couch, watching television, when the light bulb began to flicker.

In this particular episode, there was a distinguished anthropologist who had joined the team temporarily to help solve a case. I remember, vividly, the first moment that I saw this anthropologist on screen. They were androgynous — visibly outside the binary, sending the other characters into a complete panic as they tripped over pronouns and social conventions.

My heart raced throughout the entire episode. I don’t remember the murder, much less who the culprit was, but I do recall how captivated I felt by this character and their androgyny.

And then there was a thought that bubbled to the surface, one that changed my life.

“I want to be them.”

I wanted to be this person. Desperately. No, not an accomplished scientist, though that would be cool. I wanted to be androgynous and have everything that I imagined went with it.

I thought about how I might achieve that androgynous look, to confuse others and exist beyond categorization. But more than that, I wanted the freedom I felt they had — the freedom to be who they were without others forcing a label onto them.

Maybe I felt this way because, for a long time, I could feel so many gendered assumptions being forced onto me.

“Woman” had always felt like a filter that reduced me somehow, like it diluted me or masked me. I felt like an outsider to it, like it was a story I was told but never believed with any certainty. I had been wrestling with my gender, trying to fit in or at least coexist with it, but instead I came up empty and I didn’t know why.

I didn’t know at that time who or what I was. But I had a sense of what I was not. And I had known, for a long time, that I was not what people told me I was. I felt lonely and misunderstood without the words to express why. There was something about being perceived as a girl, and then as a woman, that made me feel alienated.

The image features the author, Sam, looking down contemplatively. I often wished that these labels didn’t exist at all; being called a woman was like being backed into a corner I couldn’t get out of, and the sense that I was trapped was, at times, suffocating.

I took baby steps at first. I cut off my hair and immediately felt a weight lifted. I stopped wearing makeup. And I started reading up about androgyny, contemplating my next move. And then something amazing happened — I met someone like me.

I met Ray, a genderqueer classmate who, much like the character in Bones, was spectacularly androgynous. And again, I could feel my heart bursting at the seams. I was envious, too, of how they seemed to blur so many boundaries. I thought of how liberating it must feel. I thought of how much I wanted to be rid of the labels that made me feel so uncomfortable.

Ray gave me resources, guidance, support, and yes, the language that I needed to begin to describe how I felt. I finally understood. I was drawn to androgyny — people like the doctor on Bones, Ray, and other queer people that I met not long after — not because of how they looked, but because my assigned gender itself was making me unhappy.

I realized that I wasn’t a woman because I knew, on an intrinsic level, that this did not align with how I experienced my gender and myself.

The discomfort with parts of my body and how I was seen, the deep longing for escape, the sense that I didn’t belong, the inexplicable sense that I was misunderstood, the painful desire to be “something else” but not knowing what that was, and finally, the uncontainable excitement that I felt each time I met someone who was visibly androgynous made me realize that I felt this way because my gender was something other than what I had been told.

Maybe I had other options. Maybe, instead of calling myself a woman, I could embrace this androgynous space that I felt so at home in.

I was transgender, and at age 19, I finally understood.

I knew that this angst around being seen as a woman, and my fantasies about “escaping” my assigned gender, meant that something was not aligning with how others saw me and how I really saw myself.

It’s hard to explain how we know our own gender. It’s often just a sense of who we are, filtered through culture and the words we have available to us. We know, with tragic cases like that of David Reimer, the existence of third and even fourth genders around the world, and the countless stories and experiences of transgender people, that gender is more than just anatomy.

But with something so intangible, it can be difficult to express who we are. When the language around gender is still evolving, we are limited in what we can say. It’s approximations, it’s our best guess, it’s prodding at the unknown.

So here’s what I know: Each step I took towards the gray — the in-between, the neither here nor there — made me feel more comfortable, more at home, more whole. And calling myself genderqueer has been perhaps the most honest thing I’ve ever said.

Identifying as non-binary was my way of saying to the world, “I know what I am not. And I am on a journey to discover what I am.”

I am still on that journey. And the excitement I felt when I saw that androgynous scientist for the first time is now the excitement I get to feel each day, when I get closer and closer to articulating what it is I feel and who it is I want to be.

There is a conviction I cannot shake, one that urges me forward, a certainty in my bones that tells me that who I am exists beyond this binary. A binary that, no, cannot contain me and no, was never meant to.

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

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

Illustration by Jessica Krcmarik.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hm. Sound familiar?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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5 Ways to Support a Trans Person Experiencing Body Dysphoria

Cross-posted via Everyday Feminism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

1. Engage Compassionately and Validate Their Experience

No two bouts of dysphoria are identical.

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

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

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

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

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

What a trans person needs from you is validation.

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

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

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

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

2. Ask How You Can Help

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. Suggest Distractions or Fun Activities

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

Make sure the activities you suggest aren’t triggering.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5. If Needed, Encourage Them to Seek Help

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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