Cis Writers: Do Your F#cking Homework Before You Write About Trans People

You tell me if this makes sense:

I know nothing about this topic, but I’m just going to wing it.

I think I have a vague idea what this word means? So I’ll just make up my own definition.

Lots of people are going to read this, but I’m not going to check this for accuracy.

It seems like no writer should ever utter those statements. In theory. And yet the number of cisgender writers taking this approach when they talk about trans people is truly astonishing.

Today was just one of those days. You could say I’m fed up. In this last week alone, I’ve come across countless articles that ranged from offensive to downright violent when discussing transgender people.

And here’s what I don’t get: Why aren’t cisgender writers doing their homework?

A quick Google search will reveal a Transgender 101 Guide that I personally wrote if you need to start at square one, and there are countless other resources, including media guides like the one from the folks at GLAAD and another from Trans Media Watch, that exist solely with the purpose of educating folks like yourself.

But let me be clear: A transgender person should not have to spell out where these resources are, because as a writer, being able to use the internet to get information is kind of in your job description. I am fairly sure if you don’t have a working knowledge of Google, you’re in deep shit.

Cis writers, it’s not often that I try to speak for all trans people. But I’ll take the liberty this once. On behalf of transgender people everywhere, if you can’t be bothered to put in a real effort to respect our community when you write about us, maybe you shouldn’t be writing about us at all.

I’m a writer and an editor for a living. I often talk about the struggles of marginalized people, either directly or indirectly. And with these roles, I understand the immense responsibility that I have as someone with access to a platform. I understand that it’s my responsibility to be truthful and accurate, and to not harm the communities that I write about.

If I do not have expertise on a topic, I ask myself two questions: Is this my story to tell? And if so, how can I do it respectfully?

Cis writers, I want to push back first on your impulse to cover stories on transgender people. Why is it your place? Is this article better told from the perspective of a transgender person? Hint: In many cases, you’re swerving out of your lane and you need to get a grip on your steering wheel.

But sometimes we are in a position where we feel we can take it on ethically (hopefully you’ve got a compelling reason, because I’m already suspicious), or we are trying to be trans inclusive on a piece within our usual beat (i.e. how can I make sure I’m being intersectional), and this requires us to talk about transgender people – sometimes for just a paragraph, other times throughout the piece.

More questions for you, then: Have you done enough reading to make sure you aren’t harming trans people with what you’ve said? Have you consulted a transgender person (or even multiple trans people) to review the piece? Are you compensating them for their time?

Yes, even for that paragraph you’re using to cover your ass so you don’t seem trans erasive (which, when it’s done right, I totally appreciate). If you’re talking about trans people, even for a sentence, you need to be diligent and responsible.

Learning By Example: We Need You to Do Better Than This

The article that broke my damn back wasn’t even explicitly about transgender people. It was a single paragraph in an article about something else:

Before I go any further down the rabbit hole, let me clarify that when I say "men," I'm not referring to all people who identifies [sic] as male, but rather cis-gender men – men who have been anatomically male since birth, free of any and all struggle that many other people who also identify as male have gone through. This one is about you, biological men. HELLO to you!

This was written by @GigiEngle – I won’t link it here – and unfortunately, a well-intentioned attempt to acknowledge trans people turned into a total nightmare. This writer fell down a totally different rabbit hole that many cisgender writers fall down. It’s what happens when you don’t educate yourself about trans issues, and start using whatever language seems right without checking it for competence and accuracy.

I’m going to break this down, so other cis writers (and yes, editors too) can get an idea of what exactly I’m talking about when I emphasize the importance of research. Because these mistakes are easy to make when you aren’t putting in a genuine effort to responsibly write about trans folks – yes, even for a single paragraph.

Let’s look at this paragraph for a bit.

If you are talking about cisgender men, talk about cisgender men. Using the word “men” to exclude transgender men is a shitty way of revealing that you don’t actually see transgender men as men – they’re secondary to you, not inherently a part of the word “men” but instead a detachable part.

That’s garbage. And this is easily avoidable if you just say what you mean: Cis men.

Or at the very least, if your editor is resistant to modifying the word “men” every time you use it, at the beginning of your work you should explicitly state that you’re focusing on cisgender men – and state why you’re doing this, instead of starting an irrelevant, sideways conversation about genitals.

Because really, penises had nothing to do with it. Cis men are not “biological men” because the category of man (and men) have nothing to do with biology. “Anatomical male” does not mean cis man either, because the biology of cis and trans men exists on a spectrum, and there’s nothing inherently male (or female) about it.

If you’d done your research, you’d know that phrases like these are not only unnecessary to your point, but have been used to oppress trans men (and trans people as a whole).

Cis folks, I want you to sit down and look at the terms you’re using, and really ask yourself what you mean when you’re saying it. Spell it out. And you’ll likely find that underneath those words are some really icky and problematic ideas about transgender people.

(And if you’re still confused, read this.)

You had it at “cisgender men” in this paragraph but lost it when you fell into essentialist rhetoric that harms transgender men and is downright inaccurate. And all of this has been written about – again, and again, and again. If you want to be inclusive, there are better ways to do it. Read up.

The really puzzling part about this article as a whole (which again, I won’t link, not interested in driving traffic there) is that it’s an article about toxic masculinity in relationships, particularly the trope of the “fuckboy.” And believe me, I love bashing manchildren and fuckboys and all the other bullshit ways that patriarchy encourages men to behave.

But notice how I said men, not cis men. Somehow transgender men are deemed exempt in that paragraph, as if they don’t perpetuate these behaviors? It suggests that you really, really don’t see transgender men as men at all, like they are a special breed that is untouched by misogyny and privilege.

If you’re a cisgender writer writing about gender and gendered norms especially, you really should be asking yourself: Am I being inclusive of transgender people? If so, have I done my homework? If not, what are my reasons for not including trans people? Have I stated that clearly, correctly, and responsibly at the beginning of my writing?

And as always, whenever possible, if it’s writing that impacts transgender people, involving a trans person or two to review the piece (for compensation) is critically important.

I’m going to need cisgender writers to do a hell of a lot better than this – and I know that they can.

You Aren’t Just Offending Us – You’re Harming Us

I get asked all the damn time why I’m so angry when I encounter writing that doesn’t get the whole ~transgender thing~ right. I’m told about how the writer is trying, or they meant well, or that no one is perfect.

I mentioned this on Facebook, too, but it bears repeating: Why is every fucked up article about transgender people deemed a teachable moment for cis people, rather than violence towards trans people?

Why are transgender people thrown under the bus and spoken about in ways that harm us, uphold our struggles, and outright oppress us, and cisgender people aren’t held accountable because “no one is perfect”?

To me, that sounds like a really awesome (read: shitty) way to dismiss any responsibility we have as writers for what we put out into the world, and the impact our words really have.

As a writer, I know that when you have access to a platform that people read, what you say on that platform has the potential to uplift people. But it just as easily has the ability to disempower people – we can fall into narratives and stereotypes that make people’s lives a whole lot harder.

And in the case of transgender people, who are already so often victimized and brutalized in our society, when we speak about trans people in ways that are dehumanizing, we literally encourage people to view us and treat us as less than – which far too often leads to violence.

Cis writers, you should care about how you talk about trans people. Your words are the microaggressions that make us feel like the “other.” Your words are the hostility that shatters our psyche and self-esteem. Your words are the battle cry for those waiting for an opportunity to bully us, assault us, or even end our lives.

If you’re a writer, you don’t need me to tell you how powerful words are. You already know that. And you wouldn’t be a writer if you didn’t believe that.

What trans people are asking of you isn’t hard. We’re asking you to think deeply about your choices as a writer. We’re asking you to be critical, to stay sharp, to be responsible. But more than anything, we’re asking you to view us as human beings worthy of dignity, respect, and truthful representation.

And frankly, we don’t deserve anything less.

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BREAKING: Local Resident Comes Out as Non-Binary, World Doesn’t End

Originally published at Wear Your Voice Magazine and republished here with permission.

OAKLAND, CA – Residents are profoundly underwhelmed today after an Oakland resident, Tyler May, announced their non-binary gender identity. What was expected to be the literal end of times, residents say that they were shocked to find that the event has had little to no impact on their daily lives.

“I said over and over again that acknowledging more than two genders would signal the apocalypse,” a local cisgender man explained. “But then nothing happened. Literally. Nothing.”

“I had designed a bomb shelter and stocked it up with canned goods for the next five years,” another resident said. “Come to find out, all Tyler wants is for us to switch pronouns.”

Many locals had believed that by in any way challenging the gender binary, it would spontaneously combust, resulting in widespread fires and a complete breakdown of the social order.

But to the surprise of residents, some are beginning to speculate that someone else’s gender may actually be none of their business, and that when identities are mutually respected, the lives of residents may actually improve.

“This might sound wild,” one resident said, struggling to grasp the words coming out of his mouth. “It’s almost like… if we treat others the way we want to be treated, things are… better?”

Still, some residents are disappointed, seeming to prefer conflict.

“I’m a real transgender person, a transgender man,” one resident exclaimed proudly. “I don’t believe in this non-binary thing. I think it’s just a ploy for attention. I’ve talked about this at length on my blog, YouTube channel, Snapchat, Twitter, and Tumblr!”

Pulling the microphone closer to him and smiling, he added, “Is this being broadcast? Is this going to be online?”

Other transgender residents felt similarly. “I find it insulting that they can just identify with a gender they weren’t assigned,” a transgender woman explained. “Like, who do you think you are?”

“It’s almost like someone’s gender has no bearing on my life,” another cis resident complained.

Cisgender and transgender residents alike agreed that they had hoped for more chaos or at least something to live tweet about.

“Tyler tweeted that they were non-binary,” a cisgender resident recalled with horror. “And then everything stayed the same. No pyrotechnics, no street fighting, nothing.”

With tears streaming down his face, a cis man quietly explained, “They said who they were, and nothing happened to me.”

“Naturally, I started to wonder about their genitals, how they have sex, what bathroom they go in,” a cis woman explained. “But then my friends told me I was being inappropriate.”

Pulling a pocket mirror out of her purse and gazing into it, she whispered, “Am I… a creep?”

Perhaps the most devastating part of this experience was the introspection that transpired after Tyler May explained their identity. Many residents were visibly distressed after reconsidering the idea that two genders could really encompass the complexity of the human experience.

“It’s too much, it’s just too much,” one cisgender man explained, tearing at the hair on his head. “What’s next, telling me that I’m my own individual, not defined by the presence of a penis?”

Asked what they thought of their neighbors’ reactions, Tyler May looked bewildered. “Why do they care how I identify?” Shaking their head, they added, “People are so weird.”

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When You’re Too Mentally Ill To Transition

Nearly seven months ago, I made the decision to start testosterone as a part of my gender transition.

I remember feeling so overjoyed that this part of my journey was beginning. The torment of being in a body that caused me so much distress, and being misgendered left and right adding salt to my wounds, made HRT not just a desire of mine but a real necessity.

If you’d asked me where I’d be by now, my self of seven months ago would talk about how high my dose would be, all the changes that would be happening, my desired date for top surgery (would it be September? December?), and how I’d be so much closer to the body I needed to have – closer than I’d ever been.

But none of that is true. In fact, I’m almost exactly where I started.

I’m still here because my testosterone dosage is only half of a typical starting dose – extraordinarily low and nearly ineffective, because there’s not a single doctor willing to increase it.

I’m still here because I was denied the recommendation needed to move forward with top surgery.

I’m transgender and I’m trying to transition. But the door keeps getting slammed in my face again, and again, and again.

There’s not a lot of conversation happening around the specific challenges that transgender people with mental illness are facing. I first wrote about this when I discussed my experiences in a psychiatric hospital, where I was almost denied my hormones altogether.

As someone with bipolar and a whole assortment of other diagnoses, I continually come up against obstacles in my transition that I would not otherwise face if I were neurotypical. 

I’ve been told before to stop taking hormones. I still remain on a dosage that barely alters my body – because there are concerns about how the hormonal changes will affect my sanity, despite having no evidence that it will and knowing we could lower the dosage if it did.

Most recently, I was told that I couldn’t move forward with top surgery because I was in a mild depressive episode, and that we would have to wait a few months to revisit the possibility of surgery. Seeing as the waiting period for surgery can be anywhere from six months to 2 years, it’s unclear to me why we couldn’t address my depression while I was on the waiting list for surgery.

Transition can already feel like it takes centuries just to get an inch closer to where we need to be.

So imagine, then, that you are a transgender person with mental illness, who not only has to deal with the typical challenges of gender transition, but you must also navigate the exhausting barriers that therapists, psychiatrists, and doctors place in front of you.

Imagine having no idea when you’ll be permitted to access the care that you desperately need – that you’ll remain imprisoned in a dysphoria-induced hell until you pull it together and become acceptably sane for your doctors.

It’s true that transgender people with mental illness have needs that are unique and important, due to the biochemical nature of both medical transition and mental illness. And it’s true that making life-altering changes during times of turmoil can sometimes do more harm than good.

But it’s also true that countless mentally ill transgender people have been denied hormones or surgery to their own detriment, causing real and even lasting damage.

It’s true that the woeful lack of research around mentally ill transgender people means that many medical professionals simply don’t know how to support this vulnerable population.

And it’s absolutely true that being unable to transition can worsen a transgender person’s mental health – and clinicians who do not take this into account, treating medical transition as optional rather than urgent and necessary, are contributing to the very mental health crisis they wish to avoid.

As I sit here with the inability to go further in my medical transition – stuck in a desperate situation that continues to eat me alive every day – it is obvious to me that mentally ill transgender people are being failed at every level.

If our only “solution” is to not transition, we need new and better solutions.

Assuming my bipolar stabilizes further, there will most likely be a time – I don’t know, hopefully this year? – when I can move forward, after more than half a year of being held back.

And while I’m hopeful that I’ll be able to resume my transition, I remain paranoid and fearful that it can be taken away from me at any time.

If this is what it looks like to be a mentally ill transgender person in the San Francisco Bay Area, I’m terrified to know what it looks like elsewhere in the country, where care is even less accessible and trans-competent clinicians are few and far between.

We deserve better than this. If a medical intervention is what a person needs to be well, why would we ever treat it like it’s optional? How are our gender transitions any different?

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Why Aren’t More Trans People Denouncing Truscum?

harassment2

“I’m sorry, are you publicly asking me about my genitals or am I mistaken?” @SamDylanFinch

If you asked me where the vast majority of my online harassment comes from, you might be surprised to know that it comes from other transgender people.

Ever since I published this article on why body dysphoria is not what makes a person transgender, the pushback on social media by a small but vocal minority has been intense.

The efforts to silence me, all on the basis that I am not “trans enough,” has revealed a really dark side to the trans community that I never knew existed.

This minority has consisted of transmedicalists (also referred to as truscum), who believe that the only valid transgender people are those who experience body dysphoria, desire a “binary” medical transition, and are pursuing hormones and surgery.

All other trans people are not considered “true trans,” and are referred to as traps, imposters, transtrenders, or fakes.

harassment1

Are you offering to buy it for me? How sweet.

I remember the first time I was ever harassed by a transmedicalist. I had been (desperately) trying to navigate a complicated insurance policy, having been living in Michigan where testosterone was not covered and now being in California with the same insurance but distinctly different laws.

It was an emotionally exhausting time as I tried to figure out what my options were for beginning my medical transition, coming up against legal hoops and road blocks galore.

It was around that same time that a transmedicalist appeared in my Twitter mentions, accusing me of pretending to be trans for attention and tweeting to followers of mine that they should withdraw support from me because I was not yet on testosterone.

Imagine the hell I was already in: I wanted testosterone and I couldn’t access it. I was struggling to figure out how to come out to my family, fearful of rejection. Every day I was trapped in a body that I could not change, sitting on a secret that I was convinced would destroy my family.

And then a transmedicalist – someone in my community – was punishing me for not having the very thing I was trying desperately to get. It was a slap in the face.

I can’t describe the pain to you. After all of my struggles as trans – the self-hatred, the desperation, the dysphoria, the self-harm, the confusion – I was being told that I was faking it.

Faking it.

I hadn’t known up until that point that there were actually trans people that thrived on being violent towards other trans people. I didn’t think a transgender person would ever intentionally misgender, harass, and silence other trans people.

But they’re real. They’re out there. And every so often, they pitch a fit on social media, hurling violent language in my direction. They ask me invasive questions about my body, intentionally misgender me at every opportunity, interrogate my validity as a trans person, and mock my transition.

harassment3

Misgendering me AND making fun of gender-affirming surgeries… cute!

It can be tempting to say that these folks are simply an exceptional bunch – not really representative of the community, something we should ignore or disregard.

It can be tempting to write them off as a small minority that poses no real threat to the larger community.

But I’m not here to do that.

I’m exposing this harassment publicly – including just a fraction of some of the tweets I received in one day – because the trans community needs to acknowledge that these kinds of toxic ideologies exist in our spaces.

We can’t maintain the attitude that if we keep them out of sight and out of mind, everything is okay.

It’s not okay.

The reality is that our community can’t continue to ignore a harmful, violent minority that actively excludes, attacks, and misgenders people under the guise of “protecting” transness.

Our community can’t continue to ignore the harassment that non-binary people in particular are enduring because we refuse to speak out against toxic and exclusive definitions of transness.

Our community can’t sit on the sidelines while this violent rhetoric continues to silence, shame, and harm trans people everywhere.

If we give other trans people a free pass to attack our integrity and our identities, what do you think will stop cisgender people from doing the same?

Transgender people are not defined on the basis of their bodies. They aren’t the surgeries they may get or the hormones they may (or may not) pursue.

Transness is an identity, a sense of self in relation to culturally constructed ideas about gender. It’s how we identify; it’s the framework that we place ourselves within to better understand who we are. And it’s fucking personal.

Every person should be able to define their gender on their own terms. Otherwise, what the hell are we doing? We fought to reclaim our genders from those imposed on us at birth. So why would we impose it again onto other trans people?

Real talk: “Transgender” is not an exclusive club that we can bar people from because they refuse to conform to cisnormative ideas about bodies and gender.

When we deny transgender people the right to self-identify, that is an act of violence. How can we demand respect as a community when we aren’t willing to respect one another?

There are countless transgender people who either do not want to pursue a medical transition (their prerogative), or are unable to access it due to financial barriers or abusive caretakers.

They are arguably the most vulnerable in our community, and they are subjected to abuse not just from the outside world but from people in our own community.

If we are not denouncing this kind of violence against other trans people – if we sit idly while they spew this kind of hatred – we become complicit in it.

We allow people in our community to be degraded, erased, and attacked when this kind of behavior goes unchecked and unacknowledged. And by extension, we give transphobic people outside the community full permission to engage with us in the exact same way.

Transmedicalists are not unicorns or make-believe. They attack me and countless others on a regular basis, with more fervor than the time before, feeling emboldened by the total lack of accountability.

It’s easy to say they aren’t really a part of our community. It’s easy to ostracize them, block them, dismiss them.

It’s more difficult – and yes, truly necessary – to realize that underneath the violence is a shaken, fragile, and troubled transgender person who is still a part of our community. For that reason alone, we must call them in.

It’s more difficult to say that, as a community, we must act – because if we don’t, the violence will continue.

Yes, it’s our responsibility to hold them accountable, and to stand in solidarity with those who have suffered at the hands of their abuse.

Because if we aren’t taking care of each other, who is going to stand up for us?

Today, I was harassed. But tomorrow, it could be you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That is simply not true.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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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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