A reader writes,
It seems like the trans movement is at a watershed moment right now. Where would you like to see the movement go in the next 10 years? What should our goals be, and what pitfalls should we try to avoid?
Thank you for these interesting and important questions! I appreciate the chance to explore the topic. This is an amazing moment for the trans community. We are reaching new levels of mainstream acceptance and visibility, and we are connected, organized, and engaged like never before. I’ll first discuss some benchmarks I’d love to see us reach in the next decade. Then, I’ll examine our priorities–including a few things I hope won’t become priorities.
It’s difficult to answer this question concisely, because trans equality is intimately connected to justice for all people. Trans people are of every race, religion, gender, nationality, ability, class, sexual orientation, etc. We will never be really free while there are violence and oppression in the world. However, I will focus this post on a few issues specific to the trans communities I know and inhabit.
Before I dive in, a caveat. This is just my take as one trans dude/blogger/small-time activist. My thoughts reflect my position as a middle class, light-skinned, Jewish transsexual man in the US. I would love to hear different ideas and different perspectives on this. I’d like to invite others to offer their own answers to the questions above.
The Trans Movement in 2025
How will things change for the trans movement over the next 10 years? I don’t know, but here are four things I’d love to see.
In 10 years, I would like it to be safe to walk down the street as a transgender person. Being visibly trans or gender-nonconforming should not put a person at risk of discrimination, harassment or violence. As a transsexual man who hasn’t been misgendered in years, I am quite safe. Many trans people do not have this basic freedom, and it’s no coincidence that trans women, people of color and poor folks are all at greater risk.
I am nauseated to admit I do not think we will get there in 10 years. But safety is, of course, an essential goal. I recognize there are many places and situations where people aren’t safe, period, regardless of gender identity, expression or history. Still, I feel I have to put this at the top of the list. This is what I would most like to see: that we can move through our own communities without fear.
How we’ll know we’re there. The TDOR list will stop getting longer.
2. Healthcare & Transition
Many people are not able to access medically necessary, life-saving care because they happen to be transgender. In 10 years, I would like to see the disappearance of healthcare discrimination and much expanded access to transition.
It is unspeakably horrible that people are denied emergency attention or cancer treatment just because they are trans. In terms of transition, if we in the US still have our horrible health care system, I would at a minimum like to see transition care covered by insurance.
I would like to see policy changes that give trans people reasonable avenues to update their legal sex (some encouraging recent developments on this; when I changed my sex on my Social Security record just 4 years ago, I had to prove I’d had surgery, and that’s not the case now). I would love to see some kind of option for genderqueer people (and others who are neither male nor female) to reflect their gender on their records, if that is something nonbinary people want.
How we’ll know we’re there. People won’t die waiting for care that will never come just because they are transgender. People won’t have to get hormones on the street or forgo needed surgery because it’s too expensive. We won’t be walking around with mismatched identity documents (unless we want to be!).
3. Awareness & Acceptance
Transphobia and cissexism aren’t disappearing anytime soon. But I’d love to see us make huge gains in public opinion, and I think that’s possible.
In 10 years, I’d like “transgender” to be a concept that more or less all adults understand. I’d like the mainstream to have a basic sense of compassion and respect for trans people. There will undoubtedly be hold-outs who despise us. I hope they will, indeed, be hold-outs, left behind while the public learns to live alongside us. There are signs this is beginning to happen, but we have a really long way to go. This visibility ought to include nonbinary people as well as transsexual women and men, of course.
How we’ll know we’re there. There will be trans characters in popular books, movies and shows (this is starting to happen). Most people will have met at least one openly trans person (like the situation of gays & lesbians in the US now). There will be openly trans people in various occupations and roles. In many jurisdictions, it will be both illegal and unpopular to discriminate against us.
4. Mental Health
Being trans shouldn’t be a near-guarantee of depression and suicidal ideation. I would like to see greatly improved mental health within our community. If we’re safe, if we’re largely accepted, if we can access transition–that will go a long, long way towards alleviating our collective misery. I would also like to see mental health professionals improve and update their understanding of trans issues, so we can easily find professionals who know how to work with us (and, hopefully, actually afford mental health services–see number 2!).
How we’ll know we’re there. Suicide & suicide attempt rates for trans people will be close to the rates of the general population. Family members will by and large support transgender loved ones.
What about goals and potential pitfalls? I really see just one issue here. Our priority should always be improving conditions for our whole community. We should let the most dire issues and the needs of the most vulnerable among us set the agenda. I hope that in 10 years, the trans movement will continue to be a vibrant, diverse coalition. I hope we will continue to address urgent causes, to question systems of oppression, to offer intersectional interpretations of power. I hope we will not take on an assimilationist focus that mainly serves trans people who are already privileged by race, class, etc. That is the pitfall that worries me–that instead of conditions improving for trans people in general, there will be widening inequality within the trans community.
What do you think? Where would you like to see the trans community in 2025?
In my last post on good questions and trans inclusion, I offered an answer to the question, “What is gender?” This time, I’d like to look at two more aspects of genderneutral’s question: How can we include all trans people in our understanding of gender? And, how can we view trans people as interconnected within the larger human story of gender?
If gender is part of being human, for better or for worse–so often for worse–and if we could think of it a bit like language or music, we have already entered radically new territory. We are no longer in the realm of rules, rigid categories, and so-called truth. Instead we have entered a realm of meaning, culture, communication and beauty. A melody may be especially pleasing (or not) to our own ears, and it may be of a certain style or format. In no sense, however, can a melody be “wrong” or “right.” Pay no mind to the few who try to say so out of snobbery. Those who claim some type of music is not music are always made wrong by history.
So we can let gender wax and wane, bend and change with the cultural seasons; whatever is good and real in it will endure. We can let people, ourselves included, be as they are. They are that way anyway, whether or not we see fit to grant our permission. I say, use your voice and try to sing, as best you can, the song that you were born singing. Or dwell deeply in silence, drinking in the rich space of your own quiet. To insult or drown out another’s song is an act of cruelty, which does nothing but introduce more hatred into the world. Such violence is a senseless and tragic misuse of your fleeting time on this earth.
In this logic, all trans people are always already included within the concept of gender. I will not spend any time justifying our dignity or legitimacy. Our existence is enough. I take this truth to be self-evident: that theory and ideology, if they are to contain any sense at all, must conform themselves to meet reality, and not the other way around. Any explanation of gender that does not include us contains a basic flaw, a broken promise–it does not describe the universe. Not this universe, any way.
In this universe, gender-variant people have always been part of human diversity. This includes those who, in this place and time, we call transgender, transsexual, intersex, genderqueer, agender, bigender, Two Spirit, and other terms. In other times and places, different words have been used, implying different subdivisions among gender and sexual minorities. It is wonderful to learn about the unique terms and traditions of various cultures, especially the more humane manifestations. But that’s somewhat beside the point here. The point is simply that we are real.
How, then, do diverse transgender people fit into the larger human story of gender? Like violin strings in an orchestra, like crickets in a summer night. What would springtime be with only one type of flower, or dawn with a chorus of identical birds? It is the imposition of a violent and unnatural monoculture that rejects our spice and nuance for the sake of its own bland, efficient machinery.
But human nature, like all nature, contains somewhere within itself the awesome intelligence of the ecosystem. The natural world is an interdependent wonderland containing order and chaos, harmony and discord, and dazzling uncountable myriad forms. So the genders need no more determine, dominate or detract from one another than the animals, vegetables and minerals sharing a bit of the earth.
All I have said so far confines itself to our understanding of gender–to internal shifts in our view of the world. How do we take such an understanding and shift the world? I think changing our understanding of gender, and living out that change, are necessary, but obviously not sufficient.
What is sufficient? I do not know.
A good question is a thing of tremendous value and use. Continuing the conversation on nonbinary people and the trans umbrella, genderneutral offers a great question:
Perhaps the question ought not be “what is trans” or “who belongs under the trans umbrella” but “what is gender, and what changes in our understanding of gender need to occur so that all trans people are included in the equation and are understood as part f the whole”.
This question is much deeper and much more difficult to answer. I think genderneutral is right that this line of inquiry is essential to the acceptance and inclusion of diverse trans people, so I’d like to offer an answer of my own. I would love to hear other answers, so please feel free to share. This post is part 1 of my answer; look for part 2 later this week.
Let’s take a closer look at genderneutral’s question. I see a few queries here (I hope genderneutral will let us all know if I’ve misunderstood):
- What is gender?
- How can we understand gender in a way that includes all trans people?
- How can we view trans people as interconnected within the larger human story of gender?
These are some heavyduty questions with far-reaching implications. It would probably take a book–nay, a bookshelf–to offer a complete treatment of these issues. But if you think I’d let that little detail stop me from giving a bunch of sweeping answers in a couple of blog posts, then you, my friend, have probably not read many blog posts.
What is gender?
Gender is a culture’s set of norms and roles associated with sex–the state of being male, female or something else. Gender is highly variable across cultures and times. Cultures have different conceptions of masculinity, femininity and androgyny. Not only that, cultures recognize different numbers of sexes and genders, and have different ways of determining the sex and gender of an individual. And yet, as far as I know, all cultures seem to have there own set of norms and roles that we could call gender.
Why is that? My guess is that since it is so widespread, gender probably serves some important functions in our communities. Some of those functions are downright awful–for example, in many cases, as is well known, a primary result of the gender system is to consolidate power in the hands of some people at the expense of others. The gender system also intersects with all manner of other systems–including religion, racism, colonialism, economics, etc.–often producing horrible violence and inequality.
At the same time, human beings seem to have deep longings to express ourselves through gender. We have strong feelings about our genders (or lack thereof), and we cannot change the way we feel for any reason. We want others to honor that and to see us how we see ourselves. For some reason, from a young age, for the vast majority of people, it seems we just are some gender (whether we can say so or not). To me, this suggests that gender is just part of what it means to be human. We bring intrinsic inclinations to the table, which get filtered and expressed through our particular culture and context.
This is not to imply that we are all alike, that gender is some variable we can simply measure for each person. I see gender as similar to spoken language–a way of communicating that varies across cultures and is fundamental to what it means to be human. Just like some people have an unusual voice or are deaf, some people have atypical genders or just don’t “hear” gender the way most other people do. That doesn’t make those people inferior in any way, just a bit unusual. It also doesn’t make gender or spoken language less central to the human story overall. Trans people of all varieties have always been part of that story, whether our communities have recognized us or not.
Another way to think about it is to view gender in terms of archetypes–themes that reverberate through human consciousness like recurring dreams. Themes of masculinity, femininity, and androgyny, as well as personas like the warrior, wise woman and gender-variant healer, come up over and over in the human experience. For this reason they often carry great import for individuals and communities. Like other deeply rooted themes such as love and home, they have an aspect of universality (or how would we even talk about them?) and an aspect of extreme specificity (or we would all be the same, which we most certainly are not).
We could think of these themes like melodies we find ourselves humming. We would then be free to allude, borrow, experiment, improvise. We sing in voices that are all our own–yet we also sing in the musical traditions in which we’ve been steeped. Our compositions are therefore never total mimicry, nor are they totally new creations ex nihilo. We sing to create within limitations, as much to follow rules as to break them. Most importantly, we sing to hear, and to be heard.
Coming up: I tackle the rest of genderneutral’s question. How can we include all trans people in our understanding of gender? How can we view trans people as interconnected within the larger human story of gender?
I recently watched this TED talk by Norman Spack, an endocrinologist who treats transgender teens. It stirred up a lot of feelings for me. First, I’d like to say I appreciate Spack’s sincere concern about the well-being of transgender people. I appreciate that he mentions the appalling suicide rates and shameful lack of equality under the law for our community. I’d also like to say I think it’s great that some people get access to gender-affirming treatment as adolescents. This prevents incalculable hardship and I see it as a wonderful thing.
But there is also something profoundly transphobic about this talk. I am deeply uncomfortable with using the sexist, racist, ablist, heterosexist and cissexist standards of mainstream society to judge the “success” of trans bodies. As usual, it is women who are the main targets of these value judgments. Spack says it all when he says, of young trans people who never go through the wrong puberty,
They look beautiful. They look normal. They had normal heights. You would never be able to pick them out in a crowd.
There are two main reasons it is so difficult to be transgender. There is an intrapersonal element, our discomfort with our bodies, our need to express who we really are. And there is an interpersonal element: others’ many assumptions and judgments, which at best ruin our days and at worst end our lives. The two are completely intertwined in the lives of real people. You can never really address one without addressing the other.
I completely agree with Spack that it’s a disgrace to deny these established treatments to young trans people. But it’s also a disgrace to deny us full acceptance–acceptance that doesn’t depend on how well we blend in with cis people. In his zeal for helping trans teenagers “look normal,” Spack has neglected the other half of the struggle: creating a society where we don’t have to be invisible to be acceptable.
There is no treatment that can make anybody not trans. We can use the names and pronouns that fit us. We can inhabit a congruent social role. We can take hormones, have surgery, and bring our bodies into line with our genders. But we will never be cisgender.
The young women in Spack’s photographs do look “normal,” and that means they look cis. But they’re not cis–they’re trans. Being easily recognized in their true genders will make life much easier for them, and that’s a good thing. But it’s not enough.
Real justice is not superficial. It’s not enough to recognize that they look beautiful and look normal. We will not be equal until it is acknowledged that they are beautiful and normal–and so much more than that.
If trans people succeed only insofar as we look cisgender, we have won the battle and lost the war. It’s not enough for trans people to look cis. It has to actually be okay to be trans.
In my circles, it’s commonplace for women to express greater comfort around other women. Is it socially acceptable for a man to say he’s more comfortable around other men?
In class recently, we watched a video of a group counseling session. At one point, a male group member said he had difficulty trusting the group. When pushed by the facilitator, he noted that he had an easier time trusting men than women. This particular group had three or four male participants and ten or so female participants. In context, he was saying he found it easier to be emotionally vulnerable with men. I have noticed that many people feel more comfortable discussing personal, upsetting matters with others of a certain gender.
During the discussion, one woman in my class made a dismissive remark about that moment in the video. Basically, she made a joke to the effect that she felt uncomfortable when he said that, that perhaps he disliked women, and that she would have wanted some distance from him. Another woman chimed in along the same lines. They shared a laugh.
These comments got under my skin. As a man, I am used to women saying they prefer the company of other women sometimes. I completely accept it. Many women have had bad experiences with men, while others just feel another woman will be more likely to understand them. At the crisis hotline where I volunteer, I don’t work a single shift without a woman calling and asking to be transferred to a female volunteer. It doesn’t offend or upset me in the least–I know it has nothing to do with me.
I acknowledge that because of the very different social positions of men and women, female-only space and male-only space are not the same. To take just one important example, women are much more likely to have experienced violence from a man than the other way around.
Still, in a mental health context, it is imperative that we take individuals’ unique needs seriously. The fact that men and women have different experiences on average means nothing about the needs and experiences of a specific person. Men are less likely to receive mental health treatment; I attribute this to a masculine imperative around not asking for help. If an all-male environment makes it easier for some men to do this difficult work, I think we should encourage it.
It really bothered my that my classmate inferred that the man in the video disliked or disrespected women. What he said was that he found it more difficult to trust women. Note that he didn’t say, for example, he found it difficult to trust women with important responsibilities. He said he found it difficult to trust women he’d just met with his emotions and struggles.
I can relate. When I was in counseling recently, I asked for a male counselor, because I knew I’d feel more at ease. The only time I have been in group counseling, it was a group reserved for trans men. I love women, I respect women, I have wonderful close relationships with women, and I am an ardent feminist. But when it comes to the rather odd situation of sharing my personal struggles with someone I just met, I feel more comfortable with other guys. It’s easier to speak frankly about private and difficult topics. It’s easier to share challenging emotions. I feel less need to downplay bad things, to use inoffensive language, to look like a strong, tough dude.
“Safe space” is a concept we usually reserve for an oppressed group. While the gender system does privilege men over women, it’s not a simple case of one class of people unilaterally oppressing another. The gender system does profound, specific violence to men as men. Emotions and intimacy are huge, crucial areas where gender norms harm men. This happens in ways most women probably don’t understand.
So I think that, in mental health services, men should be able to ask for safe space. Maybe, just maybe, it will make men more willing to seek help and more able to really use it when they get it. These spaces harm no one and might really help some.
The appropriate response for women who hear men express these preferences–especially women who are aspiring mental health professionals–is not derision or laughter. It’s not taking it personally or as some kind of larger comment about women. The appropriate response is compassion.
I am a feminist.
I am both passionate and ambivalent about this label.
I claim it because I am committed to gender justice, because I recognize the role of sexism in the power structures of my society, because my politics are indebted to many feminist thinkers. I claim it because it’s an excellent shorthand for some of my most closely held principles. I claim it because most people aren’t feminists. I claim it to see the look of surprise people get when a man says, “I am a feminist.” I claim it to remind myself to practice a nonviolent masculinity.
I am ambivalent about the label because I have huge problems with many feminists and large swaths of feminist thinking. Feminism has often failed to take an intersectional analysis, centering white, well-off women and ignoring issues of race, class, nationality, sexual orientation and ability, to name a few. As a trans person, I am disgusted by the cissexism and transphobia that flourish in some feminist circles. As a man, I can’t be entirely enthusiastic about a gender justice movement that grapples so little with men’s experiences. I have respect for anyone who avoids the word “feminist” because of the failings of many feminists.
At the same time, feminism is what brought me here. I got my first exposure to ideas like systems of oppression, hegemony, and allyship through feminist spaces. I followed the path of feminism, and it lead me to people working for all kinds of equality. The principles of feminism, distilled to their most basic core, guided me to my current understanding of the interlocking matrices of power that operate in my society. Feminism lead me into a world of activists and thinkers much greater than the term itself could contain.
Feminism lead me to critiques of feminism. The deeper I went into feminist thinking, the louder the protest became. I was soon reading the work of women of color, working class women, lesbians, and trans women who illuminated flaws and blindspots in feminist discourse. I encountered men who explored the male experience of the gender system, sometimes criticizing feminism, sometimes valorizing it.
My level of comfort with the term “feminist” has shifted across the phases of this journey. First, I was curious about feminism, but wouldn’t describe myself that way. Then I became an ardent feminist. Some time later, as I learned about the inadequacies of feminism, I became uncomfortable with the word and stopped using it for myself. Now, I use the word when appropriate, with an awareness of its strengths, shortcomings, and context.
In my life, feminism emerged, became its own opposite, transcended itself, and was reborn. I honor feminism as a wide net that sets many on the journey to critical consciousness–a journey much bigger than any one struggle.
Do you call yourself a feminist? Why or why not?
Thanks to Alma for the interesting conversation that inspired this post.
A wave of anxiety crashed over me. I was overcome with the sense I had made an embarrassing mistake, like walking into the wrong bathroom. Looking around, I first saw only female faces. But I wasn’t in the women’s restroom. I was in the first day of Theories of Counseling and Psychotherapy. Me, a male professor, another male student, and our ten or so classmates–all women.
I just started my second semester of grad school in mental health counseling. My program, like the field as a whole, is heavily skewed towards female. (The faculty, on the other hand, includes plenty of men–interesting bit of sexism, that.) I knew this when I applied and didn’t give it a second thought. I am comfortable around people of all genders. I reject the sexist forces that push more women and fewer men into this profession. And I think it’s important that more men get involved.
Counseling is a pink collar perfect storm. Caring for people–check. Low paid (relatively speaking)–check. Under appreciated–check. Warm and fuzzy–double check. I think most men just can’t picture themselves doing it. Those who are interested in mental health might opt for a different track, perhaps one more associated with authority, science, and a big paycheck.
I think that’s a loss. Men are less likely to seek counseling, but there are many who do, and some might be better served by a male clinician. Men are also much more likely than women to be in court mandated counseling. Some women and non-binary folks might prefer to work with a man. Many boys could benefit uniquely from working with a male counselor.
I’ve seen a handful of counselors myself, and the counselor’s identity has made a huge difference to me. I was in counseling as a child and adolescent, during transition to get a letter for surgery, and in the last few months as I process my grandmother’s death. My most recent counselor is a gay man of color, while all previous counselors were older white women (at least one was definitely straight, not sure about the others). I really wanted to see a male counselor when I needed my surgery letter–I had a lot of male-specific stuff on my mind at the time–but I couldn’t find one. While working with my most recent counselor, I found that I was much more comfortable speaking frankly with him. The fact that he is gay and Latino also really helped. I could see myself in him.
So both my politics and my experience tell me that pursuing counseling as a man, and particularly as a Sephardic Jewish trans man, is a great idea. But that didn’t prepare for how it actually felt to walk into a classroom that was almost all women.
I felt embarrassed, anxious and confused. I kept wondering how being transgender played a role in my decision. Would I have thought of this path I weren’t trans? Would I have entered this program? I felt like there was some unspoken guy signal I hadn’t heard, an open secret that only I missed.
Of course, there are a bunch of other men in my program, and as far as I know they are cisgender. But that didn’t stop me feeling like I’d made an unbecoming mistake.
I guess I wanted to think that being transgender didn’t have anything to do with it, with any choice I make or thing I do. Maybe part of me wants to think being transgender doesn’t have anything to do with me. It bothers me to think I might do something a cis guy wouldn’t–even though it’s a point of pride that I do certain things (being a feminist, for example) that most cis dudes don’t.
But being transgender has everything to do with it. Not because I missed some male socialization signal that would have turned me away from the helping professions. Not because I shouldn’t be there or because a cis guy wouldn’t want to be there. Being transgender has to do with it because I have years of firsthand experience with depression, anxiety, and mental health professionals. Being transgender has to do with it because I know it’s possible to make changes that make a difference in your wellbeing. Being transgender has to do with it because it’s given me more empathy for others. And being transgender has to do with it because I know I don’t need to live my life according to stereotypes. I did not transition just to trade one suffocating box for another.
I’m feeling much better about it this semester. It would be nice to see more guys around, but it does make it easy to become friends with the dudes who are there. We have a certain solidarity.
I still dread walking into a class to realize I’m the only male student. You can imagine my relief when I sat down in Human Development Across the Lifespan yesterday. I counted eighteen students, eight of them guys.
Skye83 expresses frustration as a genderless person in the trans* community, which is often dominated by trans men and women. (The way they explain this might be bothersome for some trans folks.) They also describe themself as nonbeliever in gender who would like to see gender eradicated. They ask,
What do femininity and masculinity mean? I wish someone would give me an answer to that question… but no one does!!
I have actually said this myself, numerous times, verbatim. Reading it in skye83’s words made me realize I now have an answer. Below is an improved and expanded version of the answer I gave in the linked thread.
Femininity is the set of behaviors and attributes associated with women in a given cultural and historical context. Masculinity is the set of behaviors and attributes associated with men in a given cultural and historical context. Androgyny refers to a blending of these culturally specific feminine and masculine behaviors and attributes. It is also possible for behaviors and attributes to be neutral or associated with some other gender.
Masculinity and femininity are social constructs that vary across place and time. The categories of “men” and “women”–and any other genders recognized in a given society–are also social constructs that vary a great deal. Looking at the historical and anthropological records, I notice that the vast majority of human communities (all, as far as I know) make use of these constructs in some way.
The content of the constructs varies widely. What is considered “feminine” or “masculine” may be very different, even opposite, from one society to another. We can also see changes in gender norms and roles in the same society across generations.
What doesn’t vary so much is that gender exists in some form. People make meanings from the human body, sexuality, personality, reproduction, work, and related social roles. I would call this combination gender.
I see gender as similar to language. It’s a tool for meaning, communication and social organization that is part of the expressive repertoire of our species. Just like languages vary tremendously among groups, so does gender. People from different communities may be as confused by one another’s gender norms as they are by one another’s speech. Nonetheless, each is likely to have and use an idiom. Perhaps we are born prepared to learn gender norms, just like we’re born prepared to acquire language. The fact that it is so widespread suggest that, like language, gender is probably doing something pretty important for us. People seem to have strong intrinsic inclinations that pull them toward particular ways of being in the world, which they express through these culturally specific channels.
This view of gender has several implications. One is that gender is probably not going anywhere. Another is that, while we may be stuck with gender, we’re not stuck with the status quo. It follows that we are obliged to seek a gender system that is as egalitarian and nonviolent as possible.
If gender is part of how we communicate as humans, I think this suggests that everyone has a right to use this language. Therefore, we should seek a gender system that maximizes expressive opportunity. A good gender system doesn’t just avoid singling out some people for oppression, marginalization and punishment. Violence is a huge, terrifying problem with most gender systems, and it’s still the most pressing issue we face. But it’s not the only one. A good gender system gives as many people as possible the chance to truly express ourselves–to inhabit our bodies, relationships, and communities in an authentic way, to live in alignment with our deepest selves.
What do femininity and masculinity mean to you?
One thing, and one thing only, delayed my transition for many months.
I had come to accept my masculine gender and my body dysphoria. I had let go of a lot of fear and shame. I had told my friends and my parents that I was questioning my gender and considering transition. I changed my name. I changed my gender presentation. I knew, beyond all doubt, that I wanted to transition. I desperately wanted to start hormones and have chest surgery. I knew in my bones I was like the trans guys I had seen and read about. I could imagine two possible futures: growing up to be a man and death.
But one thing was really, really difficult to chew over. It took longer to digest than denial, longer than my fears of being a freak and a monster, longer than my fear of rejection.
It was my fear of selling out.
My commitments to justice and solidarity form the absolute core of my value system. Growing up as a Sephardic Jew and the grandchild of Holocaust survivors, I learned that standing for the just treatment of human beings is the single most important thing a person can do. As a young gender-variant person, I developed a strong queer identity. My marginalized positions as a queer and Jewish person became deeply connected for me. I worried that by transitioning, I would somehow betray my principles and my community.
Why? For one, spending years in feminist circles, I had heard a lot of rhetoric that frames transsexual people as traitors. I had heard that people who transition harm the cause of equality by supporting the binary. I had heard that butches who transition are just grabbing at male privilege. I had heard that after the revolution, there will be no need to transition because all our genders will be respected. The message was basically, “It’s okay that you have these urges, just don’t act on them,” dressed up in feminist clothing. (Note: This applies to a subset of feminists, which is small, though sometimes loud.)
There is one thing that is always more important than ideology, though, and that of course is human life. After wrestling for quite awhile, I realized that I have the right to fight for my own survival, to seek my own wellbeing, to live the best life available to me. And so I made a big circle past my principles and right back to them again. Compassion is the reason for justice, and I had to learn to give a little to myself.
I am happy to report I have in no way sold out. Six years after I began questioning my gender and three years since my transition, my commitment to justice is as passionate as ever. I still cultivate a critical consciousness and speak out whenever I am able. I am going to school to learn to help people in better, deeper, and more lasting ways. I remain actively concerned about issues of race, class, gender, sexuality, trans* status, ability, and many more dimensions of diversity. I am a more complete advocate now that I am at peace with myself.
So don’t believe the hype. Surviving isn’t selling out. Our principles emerge in our words and our actions, not in our gender presentations, medical histories or hormones.
Image: Caroline’s Cakes
I am well-versed in anti-oppression thinking and activism.
Coming up as a young trans dude, I read a lot of about gender issues. I read everything I could get my hands on about gender, sexuality, and struggles for equality. I got involved with LGBT youth activism, and found a community of passionate, thoughtful people.
I was quickly immersed in powerful conversations about gender, race, class, religion, ability, and more. I learned about institutional, interpersonal and internalized oppression, about intersectionality, and about the history of activist movements. I began this journey in the eighth grade, so anti-oppression thinking has truly shaped me as a person.
I cannot count the benefits of these experiences. I learned a lot about myself, other people, and the larger society. I learned to think critically. I lost a lot of shitty cultural assumptions. I am better able to communicate with and act as an ally to others. My deepest values and highest goals have been formed in response to these lessons. I even met my fiancée through activism we did as teenagers.
Being trans certainly isn’t the only way to get this kind of education, but I probably would not have had all these experiences if I weren’t trans.
What are some good things about being trans*? Send your answers to firstname.lastname@example.org or submit anonymously.
In this series, I highlight individuals’ positive experiences. You probably won’t relate to every entry, but maybe some will resonate with you.